Archive for October, 2010

What Is Truth?

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Reformation Sunday, October 31st, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church. San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message
 

What is truth? In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” But what is the truth?  Well, our message this morning is truth!  It is the Word of God in Law and Gospel; it’s that Word, which sets people free!  Our truth this morning is the living Word of God, Jesus Christ who is with us this very moment giving us His truth. God the Father is a God of truth.  Christ is truth.  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth and He guides us into all truth.  Because God is truth, we must worship Him in truth; walk before Him in truth; serve Him in truth; rejoice in truth; speak to one another in truth, and meditate on His truth.  Those who are found without the truth are punished for their lack of it.  Because the truth is the Gospel, it can come only through Jesus Christ…and that’s the truth!  The truth is purifying, justifying and sanctifying.  In your baptism God clothed you with the truth; truth is your robe of righteousness.  Truth is abundantly and daily revealed to you who are loved and called according to His purpose and it always abides with you always.  God desires that the truth be acknowledged, believed, loved, and obeyed, and by His Spirit of Truth you are able to do this very thing!  This is most certainly true! 

I. In order to help us know what the truth is, let’s briefly discuss what the truth isn’t.  In the early 16th century, a young German monk named Martin Luther desperately wanted to know the truth about God.  The church taught him since he was a child that God was an angry God, who relentlessly kept track of each and every person’s sins, patiently waiting for the moment of judgment so that He could punish their sins!  Luther was taught that if there was any hope for him at all it would come through the traditions and teachings of the Church.  Luther was also taught that through a prescribed series of religious exercises, he and the rest of humanity may be able to find favor in God’s eyes.  But Luther soon found himself in a dilemma; how was he to know if he performed enough religious exercises to please God?  So in response to his desire to “know the truth” the young monk was sent to Wittenberg to attend Seminary and to become a priest.  It was during his study of God’s Word, that He discovered the truth that set Him free, and that truth was found in the very Epistle lesson we heard read this morning: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. [Rom. 3:21-25,28]  

These words, these living Words were the very truth that Martin Luther knew to be the key that explained all of God’s Word.  For years, he lived under the tyranny of God’s Law alone, but he discovered that God’s Law was only half of God’s truth, because you see, it lacked God’s Grace, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  So now armed with the whole truth of God’s Word, this young monk became consumed by the word of God!  He could not stop reading and studying.  And as he read, he was changed.  He quickly began to see the folly of sinners who placed their trust in the church or their own good works.  

ILLUS: If Luther were here this morning, he would tell us this about the devils lies and God’s truth: The devil wants us to look at God and see Him as one who is angry with us and out to punish us when we sin.  He is encouraged when we ask ourselves, “Why is God punishing me?” because this type of thinking is what he uses to get us to abandon our faith.  But if we see God this way, then we don’t see Him correctly, but instead “we’re looking at him as if a dark storm cloud has been drawn across His face.  God’s Word tells us that if we truly believe that Christ is our Savior, then we have a God of love; and to see God in faith is to look upon His friendly heart.”
    “So when the Devil throws your sins in your face so that you will abandon your faith, and when he declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it?  For I know one who suffered, died, and paid for my sins; His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God and where He is there I shall be also.”

II. So what is truth?
  Jesus graciously answers this question for us with these words, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” [Jn. 8:31-32]  Friends, the word of Jesus is the truth because it is the Word of God.  It is the Word alone that brings spirit and life; without the Word there is only spiritual death.  The only way to know God is through the Word, and if we want to live in truth we must live in the Word.  Jesus said, “If you remain in me, and my words I will remain in you.”  Whether we are babies in the faith or the most honored elder of the congregation, we are all equally held safe by the same power of God’s Word.  It is this truth, this Word that holds us within the true faith.  This relationship of faith can only come from the Word and it can only be retained through a continual reliance on that same Word, through which the blessed power of truth and faith are given to each of us.  So the truth dear friends, is found in living out God’s Word and sharing that truth with others.  No one who rejects God’s truth can ever find saving faith.  No one who refuses to be led by God’s Word can expect to hold on to it.  God’s Word must have its way with us or it will not live within us.   

III. But what is the purpose of truth?  Well Jesus answers this question pretty well when He says, “and the truth shall set you free.”   If it is only truth that sets us free, then we can surmise that without truth we are in bondage…we are slaves.  But slaves to what, or to whom?  This was the question of the unbelieving Jews who were mixed in with the newly converted Christians when they said: “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” [vs. 33]  Can you hear the pride and sarcasm in their voices?  It’s like they’re saying, “If the truth you’re speaking about is only good for slaves, then don’t bother us with it…WE ARE Abraham’s children and we have no master except God Himself!  We have rules that we follow that God Himself gave to us.  And by following these rules we will appease God’s anger and find salvation!  And to this, Jesus, the Living Word of God, gives them more truth: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”  He says to the Pharisees and he says to us, “So how are you doing with keeping God’s rules?  Have you ever broke one?  Have you ever sinned?  Of course you have, and you will continue to sin…You are a slave to sin…you are in captivity of it and there is nothing you can do to save yourself!”  

Friends, Jesus is asking us to understand and believe that everyone of us who does what is sin is enslaved by it and can never on our own break away from it.  We are, without question trapped in spiritual soul slavery, and that is the worst kind of slavery you can ever be captivated by.  He is asking us to accept the fact that we do sin in thought, word, or action every day, every hour, and even every moment.  If God were to put us on trial, our very own conscience would be the best witness against us.  So what are we to do?  Nothing…nothing but confess that there is nothing we can do, and then we rest in our own helplessness and receive the help of God.  What is that help?  Well it’s His truth, the true and Living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  He is your champion who speaks God’s grace to you:  ‘Friend, even though you are guilty of many sins, I forgive.  Even though you have ignored my presence in your life and refused to enter into a relationship of trust with me, I shall show your mercy and love.  By the power of God’s love through Jesus Christ you are forgiven.  “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” 

ILLUS: At a certain seminary in Chicago there’s an outdoor gathering in the summer where modern thinkers can come and lecture. On this day each attendee is encouraged to bring a lunch to be eaten outdoors in a grassy picnic area. One year the school invited a modern religious scholar who spoke for two and a-half hours trying to prove that the resurrection of Jesus was false. He quoted scholar after scholar and book after book. He concluded that since there was no historical evidence proving the resurrection then it must not be the truth.  He said that the faith of orthodox Christians was based on groundless, emotional mumbo-jumbo, because it relied on a relationship with a risen Jesus, who, in fact, never rose from the dead in any literal sense. He then asked a stunned crowd if there were any questions.

After about 30 seconds, an old, dark skinned preacher with a head of short-cropped, white hair stood up in the back of the crowd.  “Excuse me sir,” he said, “I got one question.”  Now all eyes were turned toward him. He reached into his sack lunch and pulled out an apple and began eating it.  “Sir” he said while crunching his apple.  “My question is a simple one.  Now, I ain’t never read them books you read and I can’t recite the Scriptures in the original Greek like you can.  I don’t know nothin’ about them other fellas you keep quotin, but…” Now he  finished the apple. “All I wanna know is, this apple I just ate, was it sour or sweet?”

The scholar paused for a moment and answered in exemplary scholarly fashion: “I cannot possibly answer that question, for I haven’t tasted your apple.”  The white-haired preacher dropped the core of his apple into his crumpled paper bag, looked up at the scholar and said calmly, “And neither have you tasted my Jesus.”

The 1,000 plus in attendance could not contain themselves as they erupted with applause and cheers. The scholar thanked his audience and promptly left the platform. Have you tasted Jesus?  

CONCLUSION: Friends, I believe that each of us must answer that question.  It’s really an old question; it’s one that can only be answered yes or no.  How do we taste the Lord?  By faith!  How do we acquire this faith?  By being in the Word of God.  So tasting the Lord is being in His Word.  Tasting the Lord is believing in His Word.  Either you believe or you don’t.  But be warned, you can’t pick and choose which parts you believe and which parts you don’t.  It comes as a whole; both the Law and the gospel!  It’s like that old preacher’s apple, you gotta taste it and eat the whole thing in order to know the sweetness of its truth! 

Let me close with a portion of truth this morning, a portion of Psalm 34: “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.  My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!  I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.  Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.  This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.  The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.  Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” [Psalm 34:1-8a]  May each of us taste and know by faith that the Lord is good!  In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost… AMEN!

Humbled by the Mark of Cain

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

22nd Sunday after Pentecost C, October 24, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

Our starting point for this morning is this portion of our Old Testament reading: “And the Lord put a mark on Cain”. [Genesis 4:15a]

Many wonder what the mark was that God gave to Cain.  Some say that it was a tattoo, while others theorize that it was a physical affliction or deformity.  The truth is we don’t know… no one does.  Whatever it was, it was evident to everyone that Cain was evil; he was someone that you shouldn’t mess with.  This morning we’ll look at a chain of sinful events that moved God to put that mark on Cain, and hopefully we’ll understand Cain and ourselves a little better.  And as we look deeper into these sins of Cain, we must remember that they are all related to the original sin of Adam and Eve.  Remember, Adam and Eve’s sin was pride; they desired a degree of independence from God; they wanted to know as God knows.  They didn’t like mysteries; we could say that they lost their faith in God. And that was the cause or the sin that moved God to banish our first parents from paradise.  But God didn’t remove them without hope.  He gave them the promise that from the bloodline of the woman, that is from her future offspring, paradise would be restored and mankind would once again be able to relate with God through love and trust.  So through His promise of a Savior, God was still with Adam and Eve.  He didn’t leave them to fend for themselves.

In verse 1, we see that even in a fallen and sinful world, life goes on.  We see this in these Words: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.””  And here is the first of five events that led to the demise of Cain.  It is our first indication that the sin of Adam and Eve was still at work, still trying to separate sinful man from their loving Creator.

1. The first sin that led to the mark of Cain lies in the actions of the boy’s parents.  You see, Eve chose a name for her first born son that would keep her eyes and the eyes of her son not on the Creator but on the creature.  Did you notice that she didn’t say “I have gotten a son with the help of the Lord”?  Instead she said, I have gotten a “man”!  Why?  Well, she didn’t like unanswered questions.  Because she didn’t want to wait for the Lord to identify who that “Savior” would be, she decided that Cain would be “her” descendant that would destroy Satan and return her family to paradise lost.  But God never told her that; no she was telling God that “this boy IS the man who will be our Savior.  Can you imagine what kind of childhood that boy had; always being reminded that he was chosen by God to be the champion of creation?  And what about her other child Abel?  Why was there no prophecy spoken about Abel?  Scripture only says that “she bore his brother Abel.”  Poor Abel, he was only a footnote or an afterthought in his mother’s heart.

2. The second sin that led towards the mark of Cain was Cain’s own pride.  He came to believe that because he was the savior of mankind, his status was more important than his relationship with His creator.  Instead of seeing paradise restored as God’s own work of unfailing love and mercy, he saw the hope of mankind being placed on his status as the first born.  But God wouldn’t let this pride remain in Cain so he lovingly pointed it out to him.  In verse 3 we read: “In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portion.  And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” [vs. 3-5a]

Why did God receive Abel’s offering as good but then reject Cain’s offering as evil?  Was it because of what they offered?  No!  It was because of the heart of the person that made the offering.  And this has been the purpose of God’s probing into sinful men and women’s hearts ever since.  It is why God delivered the 10 Commandments through Moses and it is why those commandments are written into every person’s heart, even yours. 

This truth becomes evident in our Gospel reading.  Listen to the words of the self-righteous Pharisee “God I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector (standing over there trying to pray to you).  I fast twice a week; I give (to you a 10th) of all that I get.” [Luke 18:11,12] Can’t you hear the pride in his words?  I, I, I!  Friends, God does not hear the prayers of a self-righteous fool and neither does He accept their service or their sacrifices to Him!  But He does hear the humble, the heart that knows it neither deserved nor earns God’s love and forgiveness.  He receives the prayers of those who humbly trust in God’s promise of mercy and forgiveness.

Listen to the words of the tax collector who beat his breast in fear and desperation and said “God be merciful to me, a sinner!”  It is to this honest and humble confession that God hears and gives His peace.  Jesus assures us of this truth when He says, “I tell you, this man went down to his house (forgiven and saved), rather than the (self-righteous Pharisee). [Vs.13,14]   

Abel in his gift to God was acknowledging that he was unworthy of forgiveness; he was saying that he was a poor sinner.  And with that type of heart he took refuge in God’s mercy; he believed that his creator was gracious, forgiving, and willing to show compassion.  And so God looked at the hearts of the two brothers and judged one justified and the other condemned.

3. The third sin of Cain that led to the mark was his choice of ignoring God’s warning about the sin in his heart. Instead of agreeing with God, he chose to become angry and jealous of his brother’s favor in with God.  And because God knew the heart of Cain, he asked him a very pointed question and then offered Words of hope and forgiveness.  He said, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted?” [vs. 6]  In other words, God is saying, “Snap out of it boy!  Your solution isn’t in what you do for me, but instead it’s in what I promise to do for you!  You either believe that I am your only hope or you don’t!  Your brother believes and that’s why I am pleased with Him.  Now quit looking to your own strength and turn to me in faith!”  And God ends his discussion with this warning: “Sin is crouching at the door (of your heart).  Its desire is (to own) you, but you must rule over it.”

How?  How was Cain and how are we to rule over our sin?  If we think that we have the power to rule over your own sin, then I’m afraid that we’re just as lost and confused as Cain.  The Law, or God’s demand that we do good can never be satisfied because we are sinners!  So it only stands to reason that our help must come from outside of ourselves… it has to come from God!  Why did God ask Cain and Able to bring a sacrifice to Him as part of their worship?  So that His Gospel Word of promise could be attached to it!  Why did God institute circumcision, temple worship and sacrifice?  For the same reason!  And why does God give us simple things like water, bread, and wine?  So that through His gospel Word of forgiveness and these simple things, we will know that we are forgiven, and that our salvation isn’t a result of our own work but God’s work.  Friends, God has always used simple things to remind and assure us of His forgiving love.  But for many these simple things are rejected as insufficient.  They seem to always want to add their own work to God’s promise of forgiveness.  That was the problem with Cain, and it’s what led to his next sin.

4. The fourth sin of Cain that led to the mark was refusing to allow God to help Him master his sin.  And this refusal led to his act of murder!  Cain allowed the sin in his heart to determine his sinful action.  When he refused to agree with God that He was hiding sin, he allowed that sin to own him!  And like Cain, we too fight that same battle today. Will you agree with God that you are poor sinners in need of a Savior or will you hide your sin?  If we choose deception then I’m afraid that we will follow the same path as Cain, a path that led to his next and final sin.

5. The fifth and final sin of Cain that led to his mark of shame and judgment was denial.  Why didn’t he know that the God who knew his secret sin of jealousy could also see his open sin of murder?  Because he was arrogant!  Listen: “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?  (Cain said), “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”  Even now, when facing his almighty Creator there’s pride and defiance in Cain’s heart!  It’s the heart of a condemned and damned sinner.  And now he must face the judgment: “And the Lord said, “What have you done?  The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.  And now you are cursed… you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” [Vs. 9-11]

Here in these Words we learn two things.  First we learn that Abel’s blood cries out to God.  In other words, his plea for mercy and forgiveness because of his faith in God’s promise of salvation is heard by God and counted to him as righteous.  So Abel is the first saint who is welcomed back into paradise because He had faith in God’s promise of forgiveness and mercy.  Second we learn that Cain is the first person to be condemned to hell.  He no longer has God’s presence.  He can no longer seek God’s mercy and forgiveness.  But there is a third thing God would have us learn, and we hear it in the final words of our reading.  Listen: “Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear… I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”  Then the Lord said to him, “Not so!  If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.”  And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. [vs. 13-15]  What was the mark of Cain?  I don’t know, but I submit to you that it was something physical that carried with it the threat of God.  It was a touchstone that spoke God’s Word. Remember, God always chooses to use simple things to communicate with us.  But unlike the simple elements of water, bread, and wine that carry God’s promise of peace, this mark carried with it God’s threat of punishment to anyone who harmed Cain.  Was this mark enough to protect Cain?  No, not really.  You see eventually Cain would die and he would have to face the eternal punishment for his sin of pride.  But the sins which caused the mark of Cain did not die with Cain, no instead they were passed down to His descendants who were all killed in the flood! 

But did those sins die in the flood also?  No, those sins are still with us today. Parents still neglect to teach their children about sin and God’s means of salvation, the Son of God Jesus Christ.  The truth is friends, this sin is even more condemning for us, because we no longer have just the hope of a coming savior; instead we know that our Savior has already come!  It is Jesus Christ, who is God in our flesh; a God who came to us and lived the perfect life on our behalf and died the death of Cain for us; a death we deserve to die.  But the benefits of Christ work will be shut off from us if choose to live like Cain and believe that our salvation and hope comes from our own resourcefulness.  It will be our own sinful pride that will cause us to reject God’s Savior and His completed work upon the cross at Calvary.  But, if we are like Abel and the tax collector we will see another way back to paradise.  We will see a boy born to Adam and Eve after the death of Cain and Abel.  We will see a boy named Seth who was the ancestor of Noah, the same Noah saved from the judgmental waters of the flood.  Through Seth we will see hundreds of people who are his descendants including King David who was promised that his Son, his offspring would be the Messiah, the Savior of the Word.  And then by faith we will see a simple virgin girl who was a descendant of David, Noah and Seth.  And through the off-spring of this simple girl we see God’s means of grace.  We see the Living Word of God, the Gospel attached to our human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.  And because we see, we know by faith that we CAN turn to God in humility and cry out “God have mercy on me a sinner!”  And through this cry of faith God hears us and opens a way for us back to paradise.  Because of this truth, God humbles us through His Word and He turns us to another mark… the sign of the cross that was placed upon our brows and upon our chests in the waters of Holy baptism; it is a mark that has sealed us by God’s own Spirit.  And through this mark God assures us that paradise is now open to us forever!

May God continue to grant each of us the faith to believe this truth; I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

“Wrestling with God”

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

21st Sunday after Pentecost C, October 17, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

Would you agree with me that living out our Christian faith is a battle?  Sometimes when stuff happens, when life happens, it can seem as if we are actually wrestling with God.  The truth is, bad things happen in this world all the time!  Yes, there are plenty of good things too; happy endings so to speak.  Why just look at the miraculous rescue of those 33 miners in Chile.  Do you think their families are praising God for their blessings?  Sure they are, but there is one family member in Chile who might think that God is punishing her.  I am talking about the wife of the one cheating miner who discovered that her husband’s mistress would be there to meet him when he was lifted out of the dark pit of despair and into the joyful and thankful world.  How joyful and thankful do you think that wife was?

In hard times and tragedy, we might be tempted to ask ourselves something like this: “What’s wrong with my faith in God?  Maybe I don’t love Him enough.  Maybe He’s punishing me?  If God loves me as much as the Bible and the preacher say, then why is my life so hard?  Have you ever thought like this?  I think we all have had these thoughts.   At some time in life we have mistakenly learned to associate God’s grace and love with living the “easy” life; a life without struggle and pain.  And when struggle and pain come into our lives, when things don’t seem to be going our way; when our faith in God doesn’t reward us with the American dream, we begin to question whether our faith in God is sufficient, as if we are being punished for little faith.  We may even begin to wonder whether our God is the real God!  This dear friends is one way we wrestle with God!

The truth is, bad things do happen to Christians, even strong, faithful, and hardworking ones.  Sometimes we look at all of our faithful service as some magical force field that should protect us from the bad things that happen in life.  I have heard more than once, a faithful Christian parent say to me when their child gets in trouble or turns away from their faith, “I don’t understand why this is happening pastor.  I am a good parent.  I raised my child in the church, I taught them to pray, I read the Bible to them; I taught them by example through my giving of my time, talent, and money, and now this is happening!  Why?”  But friends, this is the wrong way to think about God’s love and grace.  It isn’t what you do or don’t do that brings you peace with God, instead it is what He has done and is doing for you that brings you these things.

In our Old Testament reading this morning [Genesis 32:22-30] we join Jacob wrestling with a strange man who he latter discovers to be God Himself.  Oh they wrestled all night long!  Finally the sun began to shine and the God-man said to Jacob, “Let me go (man), for (its morning already).  But Jacob said, (I’m not letting lose) unless you bless me!”  You see, even Jacob thought like we do sometimes.  He figured that since He fought with God all night long there had to be a reward in it for Him.  Now why would God bless a deceitful man like Jacob?  Yes, I said deceitful.  He was called a liar at birth.  His very name means deceitful.  Think back now… how did Jacob get the blessing of His father Isaac?  He got it by deceiving his father and pretending to be Esau, his older brother.  And yet God was still with him; He still loved him!  And God told him to leave the country of his father Abraham and go out into parts unknown, to a strange country, where God would bless him.  And God did bless him!  He gave him a beautiful family and made him rich beyond belief.  He had more things than he knew what to do with.  He had angels attending to him and God Himself speaking to him in dreams.  And when it was time to go back to the land of his father and come to terms with his brother, the same brother he stole the birthright from, he fell back to his deceitful ways.  He sent all of this things and his family ahead of him as a gift to his brother Esau, hoping to spare his own life.  He was avoiding the time of reckoning that he knew he had to face; he was trying to avoid the struggle that waited for him on the other side of the river.

And now, he was left alone.  Stripped of all of his stuff and all of his family.  He must have felt that he had lost everything as he sat there alone on the bank of the river.  But he wasn’t alone; God was with Him; God proved this to Him by coming to him in a struggle.  And as Jacob and the God-man wrestled, God proved to Him that He was still with Him and He that still loved him, even though he didn’t deserve that love.  God’s blessing of love became apparent to Jacob after hours of struggle and a dislocated hip, but it came nonetheless.  And during a break in the wrestling action, God asked Jacob a simple question: “What is your name?”  And in a moment of honesty, Jacob answers, “(I am) Jacob (the deceiver).  And in answer to that confession of sin, God pronounced the absolution with these Words: “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob but Israel, (which means) you have wrestled with God and with men, and you have prevailed.”

This morning friends, God is asking each of us, “Who are you?”  And like Jacob, we must answer, “I am a deceiver; I am a sinner in need of a savior!”    Just as Jacob was left stripped of all of his earthly riches, we too must be striped of anything the world calls good, and we must turn to God alone and receive only what He gives to us.  And what does He give us?  He gives us the absolution; He gives us forgiveness of sins and salvation.  This gift of salvation doesn’t find its source not in our efforts but in the will and heart of God and the work of His only Son, the God-man Jesus Christ, who died for you!

How can we know this is true?  Well, we must have faith that God is for us!  Ok, but believe me when I tell you that all of the other religions will claim the same thing.  Let’s look at this truth in a more familiar context.

Many people love to quote that salvation and God’s blessings come when we have faith, and they’re right.  They like to point out that God’s love is simply a gift that we neither earned nor deserved, and that’s also right!  But they forget that this faith doesn’t come naturally but supernaturally.  They forget that it isn’t something that you just inherit from your parents, if that were the case, then only children raised in a Christian home would become Christians.  No, there must be something more if we are to truly be able to have and hold onto our faith in God!  And there is something more.  It’s not just something it is the only thing that gives you faith, grace, and Jesus; it is of course the Holy Word of God!

In our epistle reading [2 Timothy 3:14-4:5], St. Paul is in the middle of perhaps the greatest struggle of his life.  He is rotting away in a Roman prison, and soon his life will be ended by execution.  At the bottom of a dark, wet, and smelly pit he is still rejoicing in his blessing of grace and love from God.  There in a place where others would find only despair and fear Paul has found joy and hope, and he wants his young assistant Timothy to be assured of that same joy and hope that he has.  Yes his hope is in God’s grace and Jesus Christ.  Yes, he had great faith that God would complete the work of grace and faith within Him, but how did He know about God’s grace and how did he receive faith?  Through God’s Holy Word; through the Holy Scriptures!  Listen to what he tells Timothy: “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.”  Where did Timothy learn about God’s love and grace; how did he receive faith to believe that Jesus was HIS savior?  It wasn’t something his mother or grandmother gave to him; instead it was God’s own Word that taught him these truths.  It was God’s Word alone and the presence of the Holy Spirit that was able to make him wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ!

All scripture is breathed out by God through the wind of the Holy Spirit, and able to create faith.  It is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.  This breathing of the Holy Spirit is direct and its personal.  Children can and do receive the Word of God from their parents, neighbors do receive a testimony and witness from a Christian neighbor, but faithful parents and faithful neighbors always lead others to the source, the living Word of God!

But what makes the Christian Bible the true Word of God?  In this question is another way we struggle or wrestle with God!  And during the struggle we discover that it’s God Himself who makes the Word the true Word.  It is the Holy Spirit who teaches you that this Holy Book is like no other.  It is only through this Word alone that the entire world is taught that they are a lost in sin with no hope of salvation outside of God’s grace that is theirs through Jesus Christ.  Through each and every Word of the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, God Spirit speaks life through direct inspiration into every sinful heart.  But each of us must read it for ourselves, and as we read we will discover through the work of the Holy Spirit that this Word alone is indeed profitable for teaching, refuting error, and restoring anyone lost in sin!  By the very faith produced by God’s Word, the true child of God believes that “All Scripture is God-breathed.  “No prophecy of Scripture comes from a sinful person’s own interpretation.  For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit!”

Yes friends, we thank God that through His Holy Word, we have been taught about our Savior Jesus; we have been shown His work, His death upon the cross, and because of that work we are saved by grace through faith in that Word.  But as I stated earlier, this belief in grace can sometimes trick us into thinking that a graceful life means an easy life.  There are some within Christ’s church who think that to be saved by faith is to be delivered from not just suffering and sickness, but also deliverance into wealth and prosperity.  These unfortunate Christians are told to name and claim their blessing from God!  And when the blessings don’t come down as they desire, they are left to wonder what is wrong with their faith.

But this wasn’t the life that our Lord had in mind when he called his disciples to take up their cross and follow Him.  He made it clear that His disciples who are saved by His death and resurrection aren’t to live a life of glory now, but instead we are to follow Him and expect suffering as we carry our own cross!

In our gospel reading today [Luke 18:1-8], Jesus is encouraging us not to loose heart.  He wants us to remain faithful.  How do we remain faithful?  By staying in God’s Holy Word and by praying that God will keep us safe!  Keep asking God to protect you from the evil in this world and don’t grow weary of asking.  Even though sometimes you may feel like you’re alone in your walk of faith, even though you may feel that God is not with you, remember that He is always there with you in your struggle.  He has never left nor forsaken you!  Listen to your Savior assure you in these Words: “(Won’t) God give justice to (you His chosen child), (you) who cry (out) to Him day and night?  Will he delay long over (you)?”  Jesus says, “(No) I tell you, he will give justice to you speedily.”   

Jesus ends our gospel lesson with a question, and it is one that each of us must ask ourselves this morning:  “When the Son of Man comes, (that is Jesus), will He find faith on earth?”  That is when you take your last breath on this sinful earth will you open your eyes in heaven?  Will you still have faith the size of a mustard seed that assures you of God’s love and salvation?  If you stay in God’s means of grace, His Holy Word and Sacraments you will.

Dear friends, let me encourage you to struggle against this sinful world.  Fight your doubts and fears.  By faith, grab ahold of God’s grace through Jesus Christ!  How can you do this?  By staying in God’s Word!  Yes I know it’s hard to find time to read the Word, but that’s part of the struggle, part of the wrestling with God.  But when you open His book and begin to read, you will discover along with Jacob that God has always been with you.  And when you see this truth you will also be strengthened to believe that He will never, ever leave you!   So stay in the Word dear friends, stay in the Word.  I ask this very thing for me and you, in Jesus name…. AMEN!

Encourage One Another!

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

Friday Night Gospel Celebration, October 15, 2010
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church. San Diego, CA
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Tonight, God’s Word brings us Words of comfort and encouragement, but He also brings us Words of warning.  These Words of comfort and encouragement are the certain promise that the death isn’t something that we should fear, but instead it’s something we should anticipate with a feeling of joy.  Now I know that these words might sound a little strange, because death is well…intimidating.  We’ve never died before.  Let’s be honest, when we dream of the future we don’t dream as far as after death.  We can sum up all of our thoughts and worries about death with just one simple word: MYSTERY!  It’s a mystery because, well we never died before.  But friends, there were a lot of firsts in our lives, things we never did before, but after we did them and the mystery was removed the fear was removed right along with it.  Isn’t that true?

Tonight, St. Paul through the Holy Spirit seeks to remove some of the mystery and fear from death and replace it with anticipation.  He tells us that God doesn’t want us “to be uninformed, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” [1 Thess. 4:13] Did you catch the word St. Paul used for death?  He said asleep!  Now at first this might seem a little confusing; we might say, “Now wait just a minute…I have always been taught that the minute I leave this body of flesh, I will immediately be present with the Lord.  You know, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.”  Do you mean I will be in some kind of suspended animation?”  No, not at all…NO!  Paul isn’t saying that our soul, or our consciousness will sleep, but simply that our tired old bodies will be at rest until they are raised new at the resurrection of all flesh.  He is comparing the death of our flesh, with a deep and pleasant sleep that in no way should be feared.  Why?  Because your savior has already conquered death for you.  He has already gone ahead and prepared a place for you.  Not just a place for you to wait for the resurrection, but a real place for you to live forever in the joy your Savior has provided for you!

Let me share a story with you that makes this a little clearer.  There once was a dying Christian man who was very afraid of death, even though he believed that in his baptism, Christ gift of salvation was given to him. He expressed his feelings to his Christian doctor, who was making a house call. The physician was silent, because he didn’t know what to say. Just then a whining and scratching was heard at the front door. When the doctor opened it, in bounded his big beautiful dog, who often went with him as he made house calls. The dog was glad to see his master. Sensing an opportunity to comfort his troubled patient, the doctor said, “Did you see that?!  My dog has never been in your home before, so he didn’t know what it was like in here. But he knew I was in here, and that was enough, so he bounded right in. In the same way, I’m looking forward to heaven. I don’t know much about it, but I know my Savior is there, and that He’s waiting for me. And that’s all I need to know!”

Friends, we don’t really know what kind of life is waiting for us on the other side of this one, but we do know that it will be an eternal world with God filled with love, joy, wonder, and peace; it will be like nothing we have ever experienced before.  We know that it’s going to be off the hook, because our master, Jesus the living Son of God is there waiting for us.  We believe this because He said that it’s so.  But why do some find this truth so easy to believe and others find it frightening and worrisome?  Well let’s go over to the gospel of Matthew (Matt. 25:1-13) and let Jesus answer this question.

Jesus said, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.” [vs. 1-2]  Here Jesus is telling us that those who wait for heaven can be divided into two different groups, the foolish and wise.  What separates the two?  In Jesus story it is the lack of or the presence of oil for their lamps.  Think of it like a ticket to a Chargers game.  Either you have it or you don’t.  You can go down to Qual Com Stadium on a Sunday morning and holler all you want, but without a ticket you aren’t getting in!  With the ticket, you are gladly and easily admitted into the Stadium.  In Jesus story, both groups of virgins wanted to be at the wedding banquet.  Both had lamps and the desire to use them, but only the ones with working lit lamps actually made it into the banquet.   Friends, the oil in the lamp and the ticket for the ball game both represent the very same thing, God’s grace; His undeserved forgiveness for our many sins.  “But God’s grace is free?”  You may counter.  Well certainly it’s free, but you have to have it working for you in order to benefit from it!  How? 

Well in Jesus story, you had to by oil for your lamp ahead of time.  If the oil represents God’s grace then the money to buy the oil represents God’s Word!  Friends, in order to live within and under grace we must be in God’s Word, because it is only through His Word that you will be able to believe and live out the truth that God’s forgiveness and mercy are truly yours.  “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing the message of Jesus Christ!”  The five wise virgins were proven wise because they acquired and used the oil.  What would have happened if they bought the oil, but never used it?  They too would have remained outside, separated from the wedding banquet.  They would have been just as foolish as the other five.

Friends, God’s Word is here with us tonight; it has always been with you, but the truth is, for some, it will not always be with them.  Will you be wise or will you be foolish?  There are some here right now who have not been taking their faith seriously.  They’ve been simply going through the motions.  Oh they started out with the real deal, but ever so slowly the practice of their faith in Jesus Christ simply became a habit.  Get up early, get ready, go to church (never mind bible study), shake some hands, share some coffee and conversation and go home and get on with life, but their Christian faith and involvement in Christ’s church started out so much differently.  At first, they even actually enjoyed attending Bible Study, and their personal devotions were always an anticipated private time with their Savior.  But something happened over time…life happened and God’s Word and the Worship of His Divine presence in their lives became boring.  The first indication that something wasn’t right was the habitual daydreaming during the worship service.  Then, personal devotions began to fall.  Then there was no more time for Bible study, because, well…just because.  The result, the oil runs out.  God’s Word no longer has its way with them, but instead they have their way with His Word.  This sounds very much like our gospel reading; “As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.” [vs. 5] 

Tonight dear friends, Jesus is nudging you; even now He’s whispering in your ear…even now He is screaming “WAKE UP!  Nap time is over.  Let me give you oil.  Fill your lamp and be ready before it is too late!  Listen to this message.  Read and study my Word.  Let me prepare you so that it will not be too late when you hear this, “‘The bridegroom is here! Come out to meet him.’” Friends, if we haven’t been prepared by God’s Word, Jesus says something like this will be the result: “Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.” [Vs. 6-9] 

Foolish virgins, why didn’t they come prepared?  Everyone knows you need oil to use an OIL-LAMP!  But why ask why of a fool?  The reason they act foolish is self evident…they are fools!  They are fools, but what are we?  Are we expecting to have faith in God’s grace without being anchored in His Word?  If you are then I won’t ask you why, because well, it’s self evident.  But I pray that if there are any foolish Christians here tonight, God would use His Word to make each of us wise before it’s too late.  “For (when you least expect it), the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air”. [1 Thess. 4:16-17b]  Then dear friends, it will be too late to acquire the truth that sets us free.  It will be too late hear the Word that gives us faith in His promise….too late.  But not too late if….through living in God’s Word and by the power of that Word within us “we (are enabled to) believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring [all of us made safe by that Word] with him, [everyone of us] who have fallen asleep.

 Please let me close with one last story.  When my son Thomas was very little, he was stung by a bee.  That bee sting seemed to make him always terrified of bugs of any kind.  One day when he was a little older, we were riding in my old Datsun, on our way to our favorite fishing hole, when a bee entered through an open window.  It began to dart around madly and Thomas was again terrified.  What could I do?  I didn’t want to stop because the road conditions didn’t permit it.  Instead, I reached out my hand and grabbed the bee and let it sting me.  This made Thomas scream even louder, until I had him look at my hand.  “Do you see the red spot in my hand son?”  Yes he whimpered.  “Do you see the stinger?”  Yes he moaned.  Then don’t be afraid anymore, because a bee can only sting once, and I took the sting away from the bee so it couldn’t sting you!” 

 Dear friends, this is God’s grace…this is the message that He wants you to be filled with through His Word!  Jesus took the sting of death for us.  Another way to say this is that He took the sting out of death.  “We believe that Jesus died (he died the death that we should have died, but we also believe that Jesus) rose again, (and) through Jesus, God will bring with him (all of) those who have fallen asleep.” [1 Thess. 4:14]. 

Oh friends, this is the wonderful message that God’s Word continually declares to us.  It is a message that He wishes to make a part of our very essence so that when the end of this world for us comes, and it will come soon enough, either by our natural death or Jesus’ second coming and the resurrection of all flesh, we will be filled with only joyful anticipation.

 Listen friends, we have such a wonderful message of grace to declare to each other don’t we?  We really need to be reminded of it as often as possible.  We need to take this wonderful message outside of these walls and into our community.  Let’s pray for this now: Dear Lord, strengthen us with your message of peace and grace, and empower us to encourage anyone who needs comfort with the truth that one day we will meet our Lord in the air, and then we will always be with Him in peace.”  In Jesus name…AMEN!

Kingdom Building Through God’s Word

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

Lutheran Women’s Missionary League Sunday, October 3, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path.” [Psalm 119:105]  There are many ways to get lost.  People get lost driving from point A to point B all the time on our local roads and freeways.  But contrary to what my wife may tell you, I am never lost while driving, just a little confused.  “Honey” she says, “why don’t you stop and ask for directions?”  “What for” is always my response, “I’m not lost; I know where we are!  I’ll get us there; don’t worry!”  She was greatly relieved when I finally broke down and bought at Garmin Street Navigator. 

But we can also become lost in a world that hates our faith in Jesus Christ and our love for God’s World.  I want to tell you a wonderful story about a man who found himself lost in just this type of situation.  He didn’t need a Garmin or a Tom-Tom to find his way; instead it was God’s Holy Word that ended his confusion.

Shortly after Vietnam fell to the Communists, Hien Pham, a committed Christian and translator for American missionaries was arrested. He was accused of aiding and abetting the Americans; he was in and out of prison for several years. During one long jail term, the sole purpose of his jailers was to indoctrinate him against the West – and especially against the Christian faith. He was cut off from reading anything in English… especially his Bible! After months of brain-washing, Hien began to buckle under the pressure. MAYBE, he thought, God doesn’t exist. Finally, he made up his mind; he would no longer pray or ever think of his Christian faith again.

The next morning, he was assigned to clean the latrines of the prison. It was the most dreaded chore, shunned by everyone, and so with much distress he began the awful task. As he cleaned out a 50 gallon cans filled with waste and toilet paper, his eye caught what he thought was English printed on a piece of paper. He quickly grabbed it, washed it off and slipped it into his pocket, planning to read that night.  Later, after his roommates had fallen asleep, he pulled out a small flashlight and began to read the top corner of the paper, “Romans, Chapter 8.” Literally trembling with shock, he began to read: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Rom. 8:28, 31, 32, 35, 37-39]

Hien wept. He knew there was not a more relevant passage of conviction and strength for one on the verge of surrendering to the threat of evil. He cried out to Jesus, asking for forgiveness, because that next morning would have been the day that he had determined not to pray or recall scripture. Evidently the Lord had other plans.
The day came when Hien was released. He promptly began to make plans to escape from the country. After several unsuccessful attempts he began to build a boat in secret. About fifty-three other people planned to escape with him, and Hien was taking the lead. All was going according to plan until a short while before the date of their departure four Vietcong soldiers knocked on Hien’s door. When he opened it, they accosted him and said they had heard he was trying to escape. “Is it true?” they demanded.  With great fear but greater faith, Hien resignedly gave his answer, “Yes, I am, with fifty-three others. Are you going to imprison me again?” There was a pronounced pause. And then they leaned forward and whispered, “No. We want to escape with you!”  And they did!  Eventually Hien arrived on American soil where today he is a businessman – forever grateful to God and His saving Word!  Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

Does God still miraculously intervene in our lives today?  According to our Lord’s promise in our gospel lesson, the answer is a resounding YES…ABSOLUTELY!  Listen to His prayer for His apostles and His prayer for you: “(Father) I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.  I have given them Your Word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world… I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their Word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” [John 17:13-16, 18-21]

What is it that Jesus prays that we will have?  His joy!  Not just any joy, but His joy!  When you are confused and afraid, and think that you’ve lost your way in this dark world, remember that Jesus has prayed for you and He is right there beside you, praying for you; He’s praying that you would not loose His joy.  And what are we to have as the source of our joy?  His Word!  Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

The next thing that we learn from Jesus prayer is that we are not of this world!  We’ll what’s so bad about this world?  Well for starters it is ruled by Satan and his devils.  They are the princes of this world.  Second this world is so dark and lost in sin that people hate God’s light; they hate his only means of salvation… His Word!  Now this is where things get a little dicey for us.  We are each called to be a light, God’s light in this world of dark sin.  Remember you are not above your master Jesus.  The world hated and crucified Him, and they still hate Him because He is the living Word of God; He is the only light in this dark evil world that can’t be extinguished.  So if they hate Him they will also hate you!   The prophet Isaiah proclaimed this long ago when he wrote: “Lord who has believed what he has heard from us?”  As I said, this can be a little dicey, in fact this hatred of the world and the devils is the very thing that causes some Christians to be silent and avoid speaking about repentance and turning to Jesus for forgiveness.  Some have even abandoned their faith completely and become eternally lost in the darkness and confusion of sin.  For this reason Jesus prays something incredible for us and in this prayer we have a promise. 

What is it that Jesus prays and promises?  Jesus prays that the Father will protect us from the evil one and the sin of this world; He prays that the Father will continually set us apart as His holy ones!  And what does He promise?  He promises that He, God the Father, God the Son Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit who began the good work of salvation in us will continue this work and keep it safe until it is complete.  He is telling you that He promises that He will complete this work if… oh yes there’s always an if; if we stay in His Word.  Why His Word?  Because His Word is truth!  It is the very thing that has saved you, is saving you, and will save you, so we must not leave the Word.  Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

Think of the Word this way.  In a world pitch dark with sin, you can’t count on your eyes you need a source of light.  Have you ever been in a dark place with very little or no light?  Isn’t it true that your eyes can play tricks on you?  Well that is the way it is in this sinful world.  We need to quit trusting in experience, that is in sight and we must learn to walk by faith; we need to learn to trust Jesus and be led by God’s Word alone.  God wants us to use His Word as a lamp for our feet and a light for our path.  He wants us to let the Word alone guide our way; it alone must lead not just our feet but also our hearts.  Jesus is asking us to remember that it is the lamp of God’s Word that creates faith, but not necessarily understanding.  We don’t always need to understand, but we do always need to have faith and trust in Jesus prayer for us and God’s will.  Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

With God’s Word as our lamp and light, Jesus prays that we will have faith to do what we do not know how to do, go where we do not know the way, perform what we don’t understand, and follow the Word even when it seems we risk becoming stupid and foolish in the eyes of our community.  When we follow the light and path of the Word we will by faith also follow the path of obedience.  And what is that path of obedience?  Well let’s get back to Jesus prayer and let Him answer that: “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world… I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their Word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” [Vs. 20, 21]

Dear friends you have been saved by the Word because God is love… because through Jesus Christ, God has not only shown you His love like a bright light, but He has also made that love yours.  In His Word He promises you that no one and nothing can ever separate you from His love which is your through Christ Jesus!  But He has saved you for a purpose.  He has given you the light of His Word so that you can remain in this dark and sinful world for a reason.  What is that purpose and what is the reason?  The purpose is so that in the darkness you can seek and save other who are lost in sin.  The reason you are to seek and save the lost is because “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, so that whosoever believes in Him through the illumination of the Word of God shall not perish in darkness but have everlasting life!  God’s Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths.  God’s Word alone keeps us on the path of salvation while it also acts as a search light to find lost sinners.  God’s Word alone is how God builds His kingdom.  Kingdom building then is living in God’s Word and reflecting the light of that Word into the darkness of this sinful world.  You reflect that gospel when you share God’s Word and love with whoever you meet on the gospel path.  The kingdom of God is built one heart at a time. 

What is the kingdom of God?  It is God’s Word which teaches us that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, into the world to redeem and deliver all sinners out of the power and kingdom of sin, death, and the devil, and to bring us to Himself so that He may rule us as a King of righteousness, delivering us into a new world of righteousness, eternal joy, and peace.  On this path, many are led by the Holy Spirit through the Word into the Father’s kingdom of grace so that together with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we will each become joint heirs with Jesus and eternally remain in God’s kingdom of grace and light, a kingdom that has already begun and was given to you through His Word!  Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

May we forever stay in that light, God’s Holy Word and we ask this in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost… AMEN!