Archive for January, 2012

Do You Know Who He Is?

Sunday, January 29th, 2012

4th Sunday in Epiphany B, January 29, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Mark 1:21-28

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“The Lord Your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to Him you shall listen”. [Deuteronomy 18:15]

Ask ten different people who Jesus is and you’ll most likely get ten different answers.  Some will tell you that He’s their higher power.  Some will say  that He’s their source of peace.  Some will answer, it’s not who He is but who He was as an historical figure that matters.  I think one of the funniest  answers became popular in the early 90’s on bumper stickers: “Jesus is my co-pilot.”  And then several years later, another bumper sticker declared:  “If Jesus is your co-pilot, move over.”  And from that bumper sticker came the ever popular country song, “Jesus Take the Wheel”.

Do you know who He is… do you know who He really is?  He is the one that God raised up, a prophet like Moses from among the Hebrews, and it is to  Him we must listen!  And what’s His message?  Well, it’s a new message with authority and power; a message that’s clear, and concise; a message that  drives out demons with a single Word.

Can you imagine being in that synagogue in Capernaum when Jesus taught his simple message of repentance and forgiveness.  While He was declaring  that the kingdom of God was at hand it broke out right before them in power!  Everyone was astonished at His teaching, because it was new and it had  authority.  It was new because it declared God’s forgiving love for repentant sinners.  And it had authority because it had the power to drive out  demons.  “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit (a demon).  And he cried out, “What have you do to with us, Jesus of Nazareth!  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”  And what did Jesus do?  With authority and power, He commanded the demon to shut up and leave the poor man.  And immediately the demon did exactly as Jesus commanded him!

I wonder how many people there that day knew who Jesus really was?  They should have known, because what they went out and told others, were the very words that were prophesied long ago.  They said that what they heard and witnessed was “a new teaching with authority!”   But prophecy can be a tricky thing.  As the Chinese wise man once said, “It’s very difficult to prophesy, especially about the future!”

In a sense, prophecy is a little like space travel.  We’ve learned a lot about our past and gained insight about the future of our world by going into space and looking down on our earth.  We’ve learned about weather patterns, location of past and present oil and other natural resources, and we’ve even learned a lot about how our climate is changing.  In a sense, we’ve learned things we never could have until we were given the proper perspective.  And in a similar way, prophecy takes us out of the limitations of our current perspective and allows us to take on the big picture.  And that’s what God was doing through Moses when He promised that a new prophet was coming, a prophet that would speak a new Word from God!

Why did the people need a new message?  Well, because they just weren’t getting the old one.  When God spoke the Ten Commandments to Moses, He was speaking something about His own nature.  He was speaking in Spirit and in truth.  He was teaching them that He alone was holy, perfect, and righteous, and His people must become the same.  How?  By hearing God’s Word in spirit and in truth.  They had to first be honest with God and then themselves; they had to confess that they couldn’t be as God commanded them to be without His divine help.  Soon, God’s sinful people realized this very truth.  In Exodus 19, they cried out to Moses: “Speak to us yourself and we will listen.  But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

And yet God must speak and they must listen, because it’s only through His Word that forgiveness and new life can come to sinful men and women.  But why must God’s Word make us afraid of Him?  Because our fear to force us to see and deal with our own sin.  That is always the primary purpose of God’s law.  But our sinful nature tries to twist the purpose of His law to fit our sinful desires.  So at first we might try to ignore our sins, which the law shows us, or maybe down-play them.  We might incorrectly see the law as a self-help tool and say, “Finally, some teaching I can sink my teeth into.”  But this kind of approach to God’s Word lacks spirit and truth; it stops us from realizing just how perfect God is and how sinful we are!  So God’s law like a great spotlight keeps shinning His truth into our sinful lives until we realize that no matter how hard we try to be good, we will always fall short of the demands of His Law.  After we fail over and over again to be perfectly good, it’s God’s will that we’ll finally arrive at this frightening conclusion: There is no hope for me unless God is the one who brings it to me.

Now the devils don’t want us to hear this new Word from God, so they work very hard to replace His new Word with a different message, a false gospel.  This is where false prophets come in.  Led by the devils and their own sinful pride, they teach that a happy life, a life that pleases God is possible if we just keep working at it.  These false teachers have an assorted array of “easy steps” that we can follow which will ensure happiness and peace with God and our fellow man if we just keep working the plan.  They will gladly share their new message with melodious voices and a big smile on their face.  They claim to have all kinds of messages that are sure to give your life meaning and make you feel complete!  They have a plan for a healthy marriage, a promising career, obedient children, and just about everything else you could ever want, it’s all yours if you will just follow their “easy steps.”  The only problem with that teaching is that it never gets rid of the one obstacle that stands in our way… our own sin and our lack of spirit and truth!

I’m afraid that this teaching of techniques only gives us false hope from an eternal perspective.  And these steps prophets are new prophets alright, but they are not the ones that Moses prophesied about long ago.  These step prophets are false prophets because they bring false hope that always leads to suffering and eternal death.  Why?  Because their teachings aren’t centered in repentance and forgiveness of sins, but on the ingenuity of other fallen men and women.  And if you aren’t careful, these false prophets will have you traveling with them to a new paradise of their own making, in a foreign land, gathered around cyanide-laced Kool Aid.  “Drink of it, all of you,” they say, “and you will find a beautiful death” that is until you wake up in hell!”

So how are we to know the true message of God?  Well how did the people of Capernaum know it when they heard Jesus speaking?  They knew it because not only was it different than the law centered message that Moses gave, but it came with power and authority.  What power?  The power to forgive sins and the promise to make everyone who received it right with God!  What was the authority?  Well, the type of authority that sets the captives free!  Free from what?  Well, Jesus answered that when the demon was cast out.  Coupled with the greater promise of forgiveness of sins, they knew, and we can know also that in Jesus, God was giving them not just a new message, but the only prophet who can provide complete victory over sin, death, and the devil!

So, while we must still hear what Moses and the Law of God have to say, we must then let the Spirit of God move us from a message of death to a message of life!  It’s this new message alone that will be our only source of hope and power in this life and the life to come!  This new message is of course the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is the only message that God’s prophets are to speak unto eternal life.  It isn’t a message of steps or strategies, but a message of forgiveness and hope.  It is the Words of Jesus and His true prophets.

Listen to some of this hope and let it’s message breath new life into you: “Rejoice because your names are written in heaven”” (Luke 10:20)  This is a message of certainty that those who hear Jesus Words and believe them are saved from their sins. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “You are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” [1 Cor. 6:11]  And Peter declares this message to Christians scattered throughout the world: “You were like sheep going astray; but you are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” [1 Pet. 2:25]   Likewise, John speaks this Word of hope and peace to the church: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as he is.” [1 John 3:2] Nowhere in God’s Word do you find the prophets creating the perception that salvation can be found by following a series of strategies or steps.  Instead, the consistent message is that this new prophet that Moses promised would come has come, and He alone makes us right with God through His Work and teaching of forgiveness of sins.

This new teaching, the good news about forgiveness of sins is a simple one.  The Kingdom of God is here through the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Fully God, yet born of a woman so that we can call Him brother, He was sent by the Father to save you from the evil presence of the devil; He was born to die upon the cross for you.  He was born to suffer at the hands of sinful men so that by His stripes, His suffering and death you might be free forever from your fears concerning your own sin that separates you from the love of God; so it’s stripes, not steps that bring you an eternal and abundant life!

What is the abundant and eternal life?  It is freedom from not just your sins, but also death and the devil!  Jesus has come to set the captives free!  By a Word of command He silenced the devil that day in Capernaum, and with that same power, He proclaims that in your baptism, your old sinful nature along with the Devil has been destroyed.  Through your baptism, He casts out all things demonic and pronounces you clean.

This morning I proclaim to you that there is one stronger than the devil and your own sinful flesh that is with you this very moment.  His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living and faithful God, and where He is you shall one day join Him, because He has washed you clean; forgiven all of your sins.  He has given you freedom from your old sinful nature, victory over the devils, and peace and joy with your Heavenly Father.  That is who Jesus really is.

The demon in our gospel reading knew who Jesus was and he identified Him immediately as the Holy One of God.  The people who saw and heard everything that day stood in amazement.  They knew that they had heard and seen things that were new and powerful; they knew they had witnessed the authority and power of God in action.

It is my prayer that you will know these things also, and that you will, like the people in that Capernaum synagogue, leave here and at once spread the good news about who Jesus Christ really is, and what that means for the people in our community.  I pray that you will tell them about a holy and perfect God who cannot tolerate sin, but made a way out of it, so that they could be free of not just sin, but also shame, addictions, and death.  I pray that you will be enabled by God to declare to your neighbors that Jesus is the only way to God’s forgiving love.  Tell them, and then invite them to come to church with you and see for themselves.  I ask this in Jesus name, AMEN!

Love in Action

Saturday, January 28th, 2012

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Friday Night Gospel Celebration, January 27, 2012

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“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:4-7)

INTRODUCTION: A woman was injured as a streetcar derailed and veered slightly off the track and onto a portion of the platform where she was standing.  She was caught beneath one of the cars. The police sent for a crane to lift the car off her body. While waiting for the crane, a crowd of people gathered out of  curiosity.

One man pushed through the crowd, crawled beneath the car that had been derailed and was teetering precariously, and said to her, “Take my hand.” As she  took his hand, she felt warmth and courage. This calmed her and prevented her from going into shock.

After the crane arrived and the woman was released, she said, “I never thought an outstretched hand could mean so much.”

We all love to hear heroic, self-sacrificing stories like this one because they communicate some of the best qualities of love that people can display.  We  celebrate this kind of “self-sacrificing” love when we hear about it, and God agrees… we should celebrate!  And yet, God doesn’t want you to just admire and  celebrate this type of love, He insists that it should be alive and central within each of us!  He wants you to be a doer not just an admirer!  Listen to how Jesus  uses love to sum up the all of the 10 Commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.   This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law  and the Prophets.” [Matthew 22:37–40]

Tonight dear friends, God is stretching out His hand to you in this sinful world and He wants you to grab onto Him through His Word.  He wants His Word to change you and rearrange you so that this type of self-giving even self-sacrificing love WILL be natural within you.  He has already begun this great work within your heart through your baptism, and now he wants to continue that work.  Listen to the Words God gave to St. Paul and let His Spirit work within you.

I. Love is patient and kind: A better word I think for patience is “longsuffering”.  Love is longsuffering and kind!  This world we live in is full of evil people; dare I say there are even evil people in Christ’s church.  When evil confronts us, when a Christian brother or sister deliberately sins against us, our society advises, “Pay them back!”  But God’s Word says, “No!  Because you are to love me, you must then let that love step in and take over.  Don’t pay evil for evil, instead love your enemy; pray for them.  Don’t follow your natural instinct because it is sinful, instead suffer long, and be kind to that person.”

I know, already we’ve been confronted with God’s Word in a way that really makes us uncomfortable, and yet that is the true meaning of what God demands from us within His commandments.  But our text tonight takes us even deeper; deeper to the point of despair.  Listen as God explains how we must love each other:

A. Love does not envy!  Another way to say that is, “Love does not speak or do evil out of jealousy!”  That green eyed monster called Jealousy is never happy with what it has, but it’s always eyeballing what someone else has and saying, “That should be mine.  I deserve that too!”  You know, if we let it, that monster would trample over anything and anyone just to get what it wants.  But if you really love as God demands, you won’t let jealousy control you!

B. Love doesn’t boast or brag! We know envy is wrong, and so, to combat it what do we do?  We brag about what we do have, knowing that these very words may lead others to become jealous!  So, love does not envy or boast!  Not in words and not in actions!

C. Love isn’t arrogant! In other words, if you really love, you will not be “full of yourself” but full of God’s love for others; when your ego is bigger than your heart, someone will always get hurt.  Is that what you want?

D. Love is not rude! Another way to say this is, “Love never behaves improperly!”  True love is always concerned for what is right in God’s sight and then it goes out of its way not to offend others.  Paul uses this same word in other places when he talks about how people are shamefully and improperly led by their sexual desires.  If you really have love, then you will act properly!

E. Love doesn’t insist on its own way! What this means friends, is that love is not self pleasing.  If you know others are watching you and will be offended by something you do or don’t do, don’t simply say, “Well I’m saved by grace so I can do or not do whatever I like!”  No friends, true love is always interested in the welfare of others!

F. Love isn’t irritable… it isn’t easily provoked into anger!  Well these words speak for themselves, so we’ll let them stand.

G. Love isn’t resentful! Or another way to say this is that love does not keep a list of wrongs on someone else.

H. Finally, love doesn’t rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth! If we love friends, we will not keep silent when we see something happening that we know is wrong!  If we love, we wont let political correctness or peer pressure keep us from speaking the truth in love!  Wrong doing will hide the truth, but God’s love is displayed in His Word!

God’s Word… so full of love but so full of truth, and truth can be a hard pill to swallow!  God’s truthful Word comes to our sin like a bright search light searching for any threat to God’s perfect righteousness.  It shows us what we must discover…something we would rather not discover.  And when we see it, we try to pretend it isn’t there!

ILLUS: A wealthy old woman was staring at an image she had never seen before in the city’s art museum. She called to an employee and said, “Come here young man! What is the meaning of this awful picture you have displayed here?  I find the image shallow and revolting! What do you call it?” The employee answered without even the slightest expression, “That madam, is a mirror.”

You know friends, God’s Word is also a mirror. We may pick it up and read it simply to evaluate it with a critical eye, but in the end, we always find that we are the ones being evaluated. It shows us how we really look..  But if you are willing to force yourself to look, and if you will fight the urge to turn away, Jesus will show you a more excellent way!  He will step in front of your reflection and cover it with His own and say, “Let my reflection be yours!  Look at my image and then see your new reflection; a reflection that I gave to you within your baptism.  Look now at my love and let it change you!”

II. Well, let’s do just that.  Let’s look at the same list that describes perfect God-given love and see how Jesus did with it.  Let’s see what a marvelous reflection He’s exchanged for ours:

A. Love does not envy! Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” [Jn. 6:37-39]

B. Love does not boast or brag! As the all powerful Son of God hung upon the cross, “knowing that all was now finished, (He) said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” [Jn. 19:28]

C. Love is not arrogant! “But (He) made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” [Phil. 2:7]

D. Love is not rude! “When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” [Jn. 18:22-23]

E. Love doesn’t insist on its own way! “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent Me.” [Jn. 6:38]

F. Love isn’t irritable… it isn’t easily provoked into anger! “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem (Jesus said), 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!” [Lk. 13:34]

G. Love isn’t resentful! “And when they came to the place that is called (Golgotha) The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” [Lk. 23:33-34]

III. Dear friends, Christ has really replaced your sinful reflection with His own.  He has covered your “unrighteousness” with His righteousness; He did this long ago upon the cross… the tree of love and longsuffering.  He chose to be planted and crucified upon the hard rock called Golgotha so that by His pain, suffering, and death your hard rocky heart of sin might be smashed and rebuilt into a heart of love.  And all of this work was made yours in your baptism.  In your baptism, Jesus promised you that you are not alone!  Like the man in the story who crawled under the street car with the trapped and dying woman to hold her hand and encourage her to hang on, Jesus is with you!  He is reminding you that His love and long suffering are now yours and He is encouraging you to take it.  This love friends, is a spiritual gift which moves your heat and hands to serve and become a Christ-like person for your neighbor.  True God given love dear friends, is the name not for the act of love, but for the heart that feels it!  This sinful world might be able to imitate the actions of love, but without Christ love implanted within their hearts, their work is simply as St. Paul says, “Like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”  It is nothing!

CONCLUSION: Tonight, if you find yourself falling short, go to the one who is long-suffering and patient, kind and loving!  Go to the only person who never fell to envy or pride!  Go to your brother who is never arrogant or rude.  Go to Jesus Christ, your brother and your friend, who is also your God and your Savior.  Confess to Him how you’ve fallen short of His love and then hear His Words of forgiveness and restoration new and fresh!

Believe that through His Word first given to you in the waters of your Holy baptism you were born again.  Believe that through His Holy Meal you are allowed to hear, see, smell, touch, and taste forgiveness.  And then leave this place refreshed and forgiven for a purpose… you are to be Christ for your neighbor!  You are to be a person who loves and lives for others!

You will be this person, because He who began this good work in you long ago will complete it!  We pray this truth in Jesus name… AMEN!

It’s Not What You Feel, But What You Know That Matters!

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

3rd Sunday in Epiphany B, January 22, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Jonah 3:1-5, 10, Mark 11:4-20

Click here for audio of this message

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe.” [Mark 1:15]

What does a traveling preacher with a divine call and one of the most sinful cities known to man have in common?  Both were separated from  God because of their sins, and both heard God’s invitation to turn to Him for forgiveness and faith, and they did; both are examples of  repentance!

Many of you are familiar with the story of Jonah.  God ordered him to go to one of Israel’s arch enemies and announce the need to repent or be  destroyed.  Jonah threw a fit; he didn’t want them to repent, he wanted them to be destroyed, so he booked passage on the nearest freight ship  intending to get as far away from Nineveh as possible.  Why?  Because he knew the LORD “is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and  abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”  In other words, he knew that if his enemy repented God would even love and forgive  them!  Isn’t that something?  At the expense of his own salvation, Jonah refused to play a part in bringing salvation to an entire city.

Well, eventually Jonah did repent, but it took the help of an angry boat crew who threw him overboard and the God  directed presence of a big  fish or whale, that swallowed him and safely spit him up at the shores of the very place he was trying to run from… Nineveh!  Through God’s  work in the circumstances of Jonah’s life, Jonah was put back on course for Nineveh and salvation; he returned to the call and will of God.

Now if you think that was miraculous, what about the entire city of Nineveh repenting?  That’s huge!  Christians throughout our nation have  been praying for that to happen right here in the good old US of A, and well, it hasn’t happened yet!  Abortion is still legal, even though God  say’s it is an evil abomination.  So if we as a nation haven’t repented yet, then what happened to save Nineveh?  Well, it was the very same thing that caused Jonah to repent; the Word and work of God.

The people of Nineveh heard the Word of God, both the law and the gospel.  The law was the Word of truth that the Living God was angry with their sin and about to destroy their entire city.  The gospel was the truth that this same living God was giving them 40 days to repent, to turn and confess their sinfulness and receive mercy and forgiveness.  Through both the law and the gospel, God created faith in a city full of faithless hearts.  In the darkness of sin, He created a city of light!  Could that happen in this country?  Could we ever repent of the sin of abortion?  Yes, but only through the work of God causing us to repent and turn to His forgiving love!

So what is repentance?  Really it’s a person’s pain over their sins and a turning of faith to a God who will show mercy and forgiveness.  It’s realizing that everything that you’ve done apart from God and faith in Him, is nothing but evil and darkness.  Everything?!  Yes, everything!  God’s Word confirms it, listen:  “None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one!” [Romans 3:10—12]

Do you understand what that means?  It means that no matter how hard you try to change your life, to become a better person, you will never succeed in pleasing God!  Why?  Because God can see into your heart; he knows that whatever you do or try to do will be self-serving; that is you will only be trying to save your own skin!  Just as it didn’t matter if the whole city of Nineveh voted and decided to take care of the poor with their vast amount of wealth, God was still going to destroy not just the city but everyone who lived in it!  Even if they decided to never make war again, and even if they freed every one of the slaves from every country they ever conquered, God was going to destroy them, unless… unless they confessed that they deserved His punishment and acknowledged that the true and Living God was the only one who could save them.  But this work of repentance, this one work that was pleasing to God was impossible for them to do, unless… unless God desired it to happen.  And here is the miracle, God did desire that very thing, so he created faith in the hearts of all of those sinful people through the preaching of Jonah; He created faith  so they could see the truth about their sins and turn to the LORD who is gracious, merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  When they turned to God’s forgiving heart He relented from bringing down punishment for their many sins.

Now, there are some here this morning who are in the very same predicament as the people of Nineveh.  You’ve been living a lie; you’ve been telling yourself that if you try real hard to live a good life, God will see that and help you to be better.  But like I said, that’s a lie.  You have to see, like the people of Nineveh had to see that you can’t do better; you can never get rid of all of the evil that is in your heart.  You can’t erase all of the sins you’ve committed and you can’t prevent the sins you’re going to commit.  So what are you going to do?  Nothing but the only good work that God counts as righteous; you must by faith turn to God and confess that He is right and you are wrong.  You must call out to God for mercy and pardon and do what He tells you!

And that friends is the obstacle you can never overcome unless God wills it; unless He creates faith within your heart to see this narrow doorway into His kingdom of forgiveness and peace.  It’s like the little boy who got His hand stuck in His mother’s expensive vase.  His parents tried everything to free him; they tried soap, cooking oil, lard, even engine grease, but nothing worked.  Reluctantly, the father went to the garage to get a hammer to break this expensive vase.  It was then, when the boy asked one simple question that changed everything: “Dad, would it help if I let go of the quarter I dropped into the vase?”

And that is what some of you need to do this morning.  You need to let go of your own efforts to please God and do the one and only thing that will; you need to hear Him speaking to you this morning and let go of the ways of this sinful world and turn to His forgiving heart and be freed, changed, forgiven, and loved!  You need to agree with God that you can’t change yourself, and that your only hope is for you to allow Him to change you!

In our gospel lesson this morning, God’s only means of salvation is made to stand right in front of us and speak the only Word’s that will make us right with God!  “The time is fulfilled” Jesus said, “and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe.”  What time is he speaking of?  The time when God will bring both judgment and salvation.  The time that everyone, including the evil city of Nineveh was waiting for… the time of God’s final work; God’s solution to sin.  It is the time to repent and believe.  Believe in what?  Well, the better question is: Believe in Who?  You see the what and the who are the very same thing.  Believe in the good news of God’s forgiving love; believe in the Living Word of God Who is telling you that through Him alone, God will forgive you and save you from your many sins!  Believe in Jesus Christ!

As Jesus spoke to the people in Galilee, He not only proclaimed God’s forgiveness, He demonstrated it.  Standing before them was God in human flesh; their only means of forgiveness and salvation.  What must they do to be saved?  The very same thing we must do; hear the Words of eternal life and receive them.  Repent and believe.  Even now, God is working within our hearts to provide faith, faith to receive this message and live.  Jesus is inviting you to let go of your past and to receive your future.

Listen to this poem by Theodore Brennan and see if it doesn’t describe your life and your heart as well: “I looked upon a farm one day, that once I use to own; The barn had fallen to the ground, the fields were overgrown.  The house in which my children grew, where we had lived for years—I turned to see it broken down, and brushed aside the tears.  I looked upon my soul that day to find it too had grown, with thorns and nettles everywhere, the seed(s) neglect had sown.  The years had passed while I had cared for things of lesser worth; the things of Heaven I let go while minding things of earth.  To Christ I turned with bitter tears, and cried, “O Lord forgive!  I haven’t much time left for Thee, not many years to live.  The wasted years forever gone, the days I can’t recall; if I could live those days again, I’d make Him Lord of all!”

Friends, if that is how you feel, then God is working a mighty work in your heart right now.  That pain you feel over your wasted life, your sinful life is called contrition.  Now the only thing left for you to do is hear God’s gospel Word and receive His forgiveness.  You are forgiven!  Leave those feelings of regret behind and turn to Jesus Christ and live.  You see, it’s not about what you feel, or even how you felt in the past, instead it’s about what God says to you now… you are forgiven through Jesus Christ!

You know, we’re all a lot like Jonah when you think about it.  We have been forgiven and loved by God.  We’ve been washed clean in the waters of our baptism, and yet we can get caught up in our own anger and disappointments to the point where we can no longer see Jesus upon the cross crucified for us.  We can sometimes get to a place where we no longer see the miraculous life giving work God did for us in our baptism.

And now, here is Jesus standing before us in His Word, saying to even we life-long Christians, “Repent and believe.”  Put to death that old angry and sinful nature that was drowned in your baptism and turn to God’s forgiving love; a love which can only be yours by turning to Jesus.  That was the only work that the people of Nineveh could do that pleased God and it is the only work that we as Christians can do.

When you let go of how you feel, and grab onto Jesus and His Word and believe that He alone is your source of hope and salvation, something amazing begins to happen… you begin to change.  The good things that you use to wish you could do but failed become the very things you can do.  And as you do these good things, God begins to give you right feelings to replace your old feelings of guilt, anger, and disappointment.  He gives you a feeling of peace and satisfaction, as you realize that it isn’t you doing these good things, but God doing them in you and through you!  That’s the message that saved all of Nineveh from their sins, it’s the message that’s saving you, and it’s the message that can save even our great nation from the sins of abortion and many others.  All it takes is turning to God in repentance and receiving His forgiving love as we forget the sins of the past and embrace God’s will.

So you see, it really isn’t about what you feel, but it’s about what you know.  And what is it that you know?  In God there is forgiveness; there is new life when you receive Jesus’ work upon the cross, His suffering, death, and resurrection, as your only source of hope and peace in this life and the life to come.  I pray that you will hear Jesus message of repentance and not just believe it but share it with your neighbors.  I pray that you will let this forgiveness of God cause you to be salt and light, as you continue to speak the things of God even to your elected officials, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Good News!

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

January 15, 2012
Rev. Douglas Shamburger, Assistant Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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NOTE: Only the audio is available for this message.

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he
stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty
to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And
he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”” (Luke 4:16-21, ESV)

The Happy Exchange

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

Baptism of Our Lord B, January 8, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Romans 6:1-11 and Mark 1:4-11

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“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” [Mark 1:9]

Every year the church celebrates the baptism of our Lord, and every year we try to answer a simple question: “Why was Jesus  baptized?”  Last year, the answer was, so that He could fulfill all righteousness.  In other words He did what was necessary to complete  our salvation.  This year, we will answer that question with the same answer but from a different perspective… our perspective.  So let  me rephrase the question a little differently, “Why was Jesus baptized for you?”

Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan River to be washed.  That is what the word baptize literally means; it is a washing.  Whether you  splash, sprinkle, or immerse, you are washing or baptizing.  So what kind of washing is baptism?  Well for each of us, baptism is a  spiritual washing, where the old creature within us is drowned every day.  We learn from personal experience that we need to drown  that old sinful nature every day, because, well it sins every day.  But there’s another part of living out our baptism, and that is turning  to Jesus every day for forgiveness and renewal.  In this way of God, every day our new identity, a new person rises up to live before  God in righteousness and purity forever.  Or as St. Paul puts it in our Epistle reading, “We were buried with Christ through baptism into  death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we, too, are to walk in a new life.” [Romans 6:4]

But what sins did Jesus need washed away?  None, He was, is, and always will be Holy, perfect, and righteous.  But in His baptism, He announced for the first time publicly that He who knew no sin, had come to become sin for us… for you!  So, in a sense, when He entered the waters of the Jordan he was clean, but when He left, He was drenched and soaked with not just your sins, but indeed the sins of the world.

In exchange for your sins, Jesus would spend the next three years of His life obediently walking to the cross, where He would suffer and die.  On Good Friday, every one of your sins that He took upon Himself would be paid for with His very life.  Think about that, all of your sins were locked within the only place that God refuses to see, the tomb of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ!  But the tomb isn’t where Jesus work for you ends, no it ends in His resurrection!  In His resurrection, His rising from the dead, Jesus won eternal life for all sinners; He created a way back to paradise!  This is what we might call a happy exchange.

Now I know that for many of you this is the very best news you could hear, but for others this is just foolishness!  For some they would call this exchange a hilarious exchange, because to them, it’s just foolish!  And that’s always the way it is for those who are just fine with their sin or struggling to make up for their sinfulness in their own way.  They refuse to acknowledge that God’s ways are right and their ways are not just wrong, they’re evil!

They can’t understand that when God chooses to use the simple things that are foolish and weak in the world’s eyes, He does it to shame the sinners (1 Corinthians 1:18-30); He chooses to shame them so that they might see their sin-filled and lost condition, and then receive God’s gift of life as a happy exchange.  He wants everyone to see that the life and death of Jesus reveals both the ultimate love of God for sinners and His eternal punishment for those who will not turn to Jesus as the only cure for their sin.  It’s God’s will that each and every sinner would see that while foolish men did their best to put Christ away in the tomb, He came back to life so that He could free even them from their existence as a sinner.  He came back to give them and us new life!

So what is it that prevents so many people from embracing this happy exchange?  Well, certainly it’s their sin, but it’s also our sinful society.  If there’s one thing that this old world teaches us, it’s that there are always strings attached; nothing is as good as it sounds; there is always a catch!

That’s what my wife and I thought back in 1997, when a young lady called our home and said that my wife won a brand new Ford, Mustang convertible.  After she told my wife she won, my wife promptly answered, “I didn’t enter any contest and I’m not interested!”   She hung up the phone and told me it was a salesperson with another come-on trying to sell a car.  Well a few seconds later, the phone rang again and this time I answered.  The young lady on the other end said quickly and nervously, “Sir, please don’t hang up; I know you didn’t enter a contest but you really won a car.”  I asked, “And just how did we win?”  She began to explain that several months ago, my wife applied for a Von’s shopping card, and every time she used it to get the “Von’s discount” she was entered into the contest to win a car.  She also explained that there was nothing we needed to do, but simply show up at the nearest Von’s store to get our certificate and instructions on how to redeem it for our new Mustang.  Wow!  We became loyal Von’s shoppers after that.

In a way, that is what this happy exchange is like.  You didn’t do anything to enter and win eternal life, God just put your name in those waters at the Jordan; God had you soaked into Jesus’ very flesh.  On Good Friday, Jesus had your name on His mind and in his heart as he suffered and died upon the cross, and on Easter Sunday He announced you and the whole world as the winner!  But announcing this gift to the whole world and assuring you of this gift personally are two different things, aren’t they?  If you don’t hear about the victory, how can you claim it?  So God has to notify you personally, and He does this very thing through the preaching and sharing of His Word!

In His Law, He shows each of us clearly that we are sinful and in need of His work of recreation, and in His gospel He assures you that your sins really have been paid for through Jesus death.  And through this same gospel Word He promises that in your baptism you’ve received a new identity; you are a saint!  This morning God is reminding you that He has chosen you!  In your baptism, He took that very Word of salvation and applied it to you in the washing of the water and the Word!  Jesus died for you, have you received it?  Even now, God is equipping you to open your heart and receive His gift; to receive His promise that through Christ Jesus you are saved!

Now some people will think that this offer from God is just foolish, and they’ll want to hang up on God’s offer, and that will be the end of it.  And others, well they’ll be wondering how it can be that simple.  They will doubt and want to hang onto their old life, but that’s only because they can’t see the beauty and the love in God’s offer.

Listen friends, God wants you to give to Him all of your sins, the things your ashamed of; He wants your hurts and disappointments.  He wants all of the pain that people in your life have caused you.  He wants the bitterness from your broken marriage and the misery of your past and present addictions.  He wants to take away the emptiness you feel from the loss of a loved one. He wants the fear and worry that consumes you as you struggle to find a way to feed your family and pay your bills.  How does He do all of this?  By teaching you to rest in your relationship of love with Him that comes through the washing of the water and His Word.

In Jesus baptism, He points us to our own baptism.  In Jesus, all wrongs are made right, and death is left behind for life.  Through the cross and the waters of our own baptism, Jesus is asking each of us to follow Him.  He’s asking us to follow Him in faith and trust that all things will work for our good, simply because we’re resting in His work and trusting in God’s love for us!  In this happy exchange, Jesus takes our old sinful nature and He crucifies it on the cross; He drowns it in the waters of our own baptism and He seals it away in the tomb.  And all that He asks of us is that we rest in and trust this work that was done for us!

Last week, I asked a very simple question several times throughout our message, and it was this: “Who are you?”  Well this morning, I would like to answer that question again, so that you will see the need to receive and rest in this happy exchange.  You are God’s own child through the work of Jesus Christ alone, and that identity was given to you in your baptism.  In baptism you were joined in Christ’s death, where He buried your old sinful nature once and for all.  So quit digging up that old no good sinner!  Instead of digging him up and letting him take the joy out of your salvation, spit on his grave and remind him that he’s dead.  And then remind yourself that not only were you joined in death with Jesus you were also joined with Him in life.  In your baptism Jesus raised you to a new life, a new identity.  Christ victory over sin, death, and the devil is your victory!  Your old sinful nature, your old life and sins were crucified with Jesus once and for all in your Baptism.  So because that old nature is dead, it’s no longer that nature living but Jesus nature; your new nature.  And that new nature by faith simply rests in Jesus and follows His nature, as God’s Word reshapes you into the very image of His Son!

Dear friends, let’s allow God’s Word to remind us every day that this happy exchange isn’t just a one-time gift; it’s an eternal one that keeps on giving.  What does it give?  Well first and foremost it gives you forgiveness of all your sins, past, present, and future.  But it also gives you faith to receive this gift everyday as you fight to put to death your old sinful nature.  Every day, God’s Word reminds us that not only did our sinful nature die on the day of our baptism, but with God’s Spirit we are taught to put it to death every day for the rest of our lives as we follow Jesus in the crucified life, where we live out our baptism.  This is the result of Jesus living in us and among us.

Listen friends, when the world, the devil, and our own conscience accuse us of being weak, inconsistent and ineffective; when we begin to doubt God’s gift of forgiveness and peace, let’s allow His Word and the family of God to pick us back up in forgiveness, and together let’s loudly proclaim to the devil and this sinful world, “I am baptized into Christ!  I am baptized into Christ!”  So you see, it’s not about you, it’s about the finished work of Jesus on the cross for you.”  To God be the glory for the great things He has done for us and in us through Jesus Christ… AMEN!

His Name is My Name Too!

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

Circumcision and Name of Jesus B, January 1, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Galatians 3:23-29 and Luke 2:21

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The old jingle about John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt says, “His name is my name too!”  Did you know that in your baptism, Jesus gave you His  name?  So who are you?  Are you living out the new identity that Jesus gave you?

Let me tell you a story about a mother eagle and four eggs.  One day the mother eagle flew off to find food for the soon to hatch eaglets.  While she  was gone two of them hatched early, and they decided to go down the mountain to see the world.  They found a bunch of wild turkeys and lived with  them for a while.  As the two eaglets grew, they discovered that they didn’t look anything like the turkeys and they didn’t want to eat what the  turkeys ate.

So they decided to go back to where the nest had been to see who they really were.  As they got close to the top of the mountain a full grown eagle  took flight and began to soar into the wind.  That was when the eaglets realized who they were.  Who are you?  Are you living like a turkey, like a  sinner when you’re supposed to be soaring, living like a child of God?

Who are you?  I know who you were; before God gave you faith, you were someone who was held prisoner by the law.  You needed to be held prisoner, because your sinful nature was in control.  Within your sinful nature was the potential to be a thief, sexual deviant, liar, and even a murderer.  You were forever separated from the love and presence of God because of your sin.  So it’s true, “Before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.” [Galatians 3:23]

But faith has come; the Living Word of God, the promise of God that He would come and be the Savior of the World has come to us, in our own flesh.  He was born of the Virgin Mary, presented at the temple of God for circumcision and a name.  The act of circumcision was done so that Christ would be held accountable to the law of God just as we are; the only difference is he kept the law perfectly.  The name that was given to this baby God-man was Jesus.  What is in a name, well in the name Jesus, there’s a whole lot.  You see Jesus or Joshua means God saves!  In this child is God’s answer to the sin of the world; even your sin that separates you from His love.  In this child is the only One who is the begotten Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary.  He is the one who has suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.  He alone is the one who not only gave His life for sinners separated from God, but He took it back up again by rising from the dead on the third day and He ascended into Heaven, where He forever sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

All of this, He did for you.  He did it so that you would be free from the bondage of God’s Law that always declares, “You are a sinner.  You don’t deserve God’s love or His forgiveness.  No matter how hard you try to be good, you will always fail; you will always fall short.”  So, who are you, really?

Well, let me tell you who you are!  Through faith, because of faith in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God!  Through faith, because of faith, only by faith are you right with God.  It has nothing to do with what you did or wanted to do, it’s by faith alone.  Listen to me now, you are a son of God.  Don’t change it to daughter, because this has nothing to do with your sex.  It also has nothing to do with your race or economic status.  You are a son of God exactly and precisely as everyone else who has received this gift of faith.

It’s a gift that you received in your baptism, and it’s a gift you’ve confirmed you still want, within the rite of confirmation.  You see, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  You have put on His identity, His persona.  And what is that identity?  You are one who is holy, perfect, and righteous before God the Father.  There is nothing that you need to do to have this new identity, it was given to you 100% in your baptism.  All that you’re asked to do is live out this identity.  And that dear friends is where the struggle comes in.  In our baptism, we were given Christ’ identity, Jesus name once and for all.  Our old sinful nature was drowned in the baptismal waters where we were washed by the water and the Word of God.  But now, every day God directs us to live out this identity by daily drowning or putting to death our sinful nature.

Every day we are asked to turn away from our sins and turn to Jesus for forgiveness, faith, and strength to live for and with God.  It’s a little like learning to climb a telephone pole.  In order to climb, you have to have a belt that goes around the pole and you have to wear spike shoes.  The secret is to lean back and depend on the belt so that the spikes can dig into the pole.  Leaning back, I mean really leaning back and trusting in the belt is hard to do, because it’s in your nature to be afraid and doubt the effectiveness of the equipment.  All beginners go through this period of doubt.  The first few times they try it, they get partially up the pole, panic and slide down, getting splinters in their arms and other places.  Eventually, each beginner is faced with a decision, give up and look or another profession or lean back and trust the belt.

In your walk of faith, God wants you to follow Him by trusting in and depending on Him.  When we are hurt by splinters or falls and failures, He wants us to recognize that the successful climb has already been given to us, He just wants us to keep following Him and learn to depend on the faith and strength that He gave to us in His name, which is our name too!

Who are you?  Are you someone who’s defined by your failures or someone who’s defined by Jesus victory over sin, death, and the devil?  Every morning, when you get out of bed you have a choice; you can live as a victim or as a victor.  You can follow Jesus and watch as His forgiving love remakes you into His image, or you can shrink away in anger, hurt, or disappointment.  Who are you, really?

God wants you to always remember that in your baptism, you were given a gift, the gift of faith.  It’s the same gift He gives you every time you come to His table of mercy and receive His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine.  Faith is a gift from God.  So is the air, but you have to breathe it.  So is food, but you have to eat it.  So is water, but you have to drink it.

So who you are depends on whether you will receive and live out this gift.  How do you receive it?  I’ll tell you one thing; it doesn’t depend on how you feel, because “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” [Romans 10:17]  Faith isn’t something that you need to sit down and wait to experience, instead it comes when you take God at His Word, and that Word says that in your baptism, through the gift of faith you have been made a son of God!  You have been made right with God!  You either take that truth and live it out and let it change you, or you walk away from it and go back into bondage.

I’d like to close with a story about a young boy who was doing chores in the yard with his Dad.  He was doing his best to lift a rock that was too large for someone his size.  He grunted and groaned as he tried to lift the rock.  He tried all different methods to move it, but nothing seemed to work.  His father finally walked over to his son and asked if he was having trouble.  The boy answered, “Yes, I’ve tried everything, and I can’t move this rock.”  The father knelt down to his son and asked, “Are you sure you’ve tried every possibility son?”  The boy looked up with frustration at his Dad and grunted, “Yes!”  With kindness, the father bent over and softly said, “No, son, you haven’t tried everything.  You never asked me to help.”

How often are we like that little boy, struggling with our problems, unable to solve them, and forgetting that we are children of the Most High God.  We forget that we have a new identity, a new nature, and a new name, and a Heavenly Father who loves us because we carry His Son’s name!  Jesus, God Saves, His name is your name too, so trust that name and in prayer continue to ask the Father for His help and protection!

Who are you?  You are a Christian now go and live out that identity.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!