Archive for June, 2015

Counsel Without Knowledge is Dark, Indeed!

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

June 21, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

We’ve all been in that dark place of fear, worry, doubt, and anxiety, and we all have fallen back on the old tried and true method of dealing with these things… panic!  It is in the time of panic that we try everything imaginable to bring courage, stability, certainty, and peace.  Advice from those older and more experienced than ourselves sometimes helps; but advice from our father or father figures is meant to teach more than reassure.  You see, in order for the teaching to help it has to make sense, and in the middle of tragedy, who really wants to listen and learn.  So if our fathers or father figures are wise in regards to God and His ways, they will encourage us to slow down, and then with a humble heart and mind, direct us to take it all to the Lord and call out to Him for help.

But what happens when we feel we’ve done that and have been doing that very thing, and nothing seems to be changing; nothing seems to be bringing us relief?  Then we may be tempted to grow angry and bitter with God, or worse yet, we may doubt that He even cares.  This is precisely where Job was within our Old Testament lesson.  But God does see, and God does care, and to assume that He is clueless and distant is to follow a dark counsel without the wisdom of the Spirit.

This is precisely the message that God gave to Job when He declared these Words to Job, in the form of a question: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge.”  When God addresses Job, He does so using His exact and personal name, Yahweh, or Jehovah.  When God speaks to Job, His name tells all of us that “I Am” IS the God who knows all things and allows all things, so that in the end they will work together for the good of those He loves, for those who love Him.  This all knowing, all seeing, and all powerful God then addresses Job and us, with these words of challenge. “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.”  In other words, this will be a contest; competition to see who it is that knows all; to see who it is alone that can declare in the end that it will be well with your soul.

Within His Words that follows, God desires to do a great work of faith, both within Job’s heart and our hearts.  God desires to purge all of us of pride, and then force us to see our own sinfulness and helplessness, and then lead us to trust in God and His saving love; the love of our Eternal Father, strong to save

In our Gospel lesson (Mark 4:35–41), the disciples are being taught that exact lesson by the very Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Every time I read this portion of scripture I can hear the underlying question beneath the disciples’ words recorded, and it is, “Jesus, don’t you care that we are about to die?”  I think that is also our underlying question when we are going through the storms of life.

Dear saints, our central problem is not the storms of life, but instead it’s our sinful tendency to focus only on the storms.  I think you will agree with me that it is hard to remember that Jesus is in the boat with us when our attention is consumed by the life threatening waves outside the boat that are now spilling into the boat and threatening to capsize us and pull us deeply down into the sea of despair.

Why do we so easily loose sight of Jesus in times of trouble and focus so heavily on the storms of life.  Why do so many of our storms, life problems at the time seem so unsurvivable, but afterwards we can look back and see that we made it through, with even stronger faith?  Because dear friends, one day, maybe sooner than we know it will be one of those storms that does end our earthly existence.  Within this perspective of fear and worry, it’s hard to remember that Jesus is in the boat with us; it’s not easy to remember that God is on the job when the waves are in your face, and your boat is quickly filling with unwanted water!

Sometimes when we encounter these life storms, we can become like Job and his friends; we want to understand the storms.  And so we ask, “What have I done to offend you Lord.”  Or we may ask, “O Lord, don’t you care that I’m in trouble?”

We so desperately want to know the answer to things like” “Why did I lose my job, or why can’t I find a job?  Why did the one I love and need so badly have to die?  Why am I so sick?  Will I ever get better?”  Or perhaps even today we may be asking, “Oh Lord, why did you allow the evil to control that young man who killed nine of our brothers and sisters while they were praying to you at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC?  We ask why because we hope that by knowing the answer to the unknown we will find a way to bring calm to our minds and peace to our souls.  But the truth is that even through our best efforts of gaining knowledge we will always fall short of understanding the mysterious infinity of God’s mind and will; we will always be frustrated by the feeble limits of our own human intellect.

And to our insatiable desire to have God explain Himself, God asks us His own question: “How can you the creature ever understand I your Creator outside of what I have told you; outside of what I have decided is enough knowledge?”  But this isn’t the answer we want, is it?  No, secretly within our hearts we want God to explain Himself.  So, our sinful nature loses sight of God’s love for us and instead of faithfully trusting in His presence and care, we begin to focus our worried minds on the unknown instead of the known.

The truth is friends, God’s love and grace sound good to us when things are going well.  We will easily trust in His love, but sadly, when the storms of life come, and they will come, then the littleness of our faith appears.  And when this weak faith becomes evident, Jesus speaks from within our boat and says, “Why are you being so cowardly?  Don’t you have faith?”

Dear friends, the solution to our fears is to remember where Jesus is and who He is.  We are reminded where He is, within His question of why we are afraid, and why we lack faith, we may be tempted to hear a scolding within the Words; that is we may receive the Words as just another accusation of God’s Law demonstrating how helpless and faithless we are.  But if you hear Jesus Words that way, you have forgotten Who Jesus is.  He is not speaking as a Judge, but as a Savior and a Comforter.

The Son of God is with you in the boat, traveling with you through the storm upon the sea of despair.  After all, it was this Christ who told you to get into the boat with Him in the first place.  He is the One Who died for all so that you would know that just as death had no power over Him, it likewise has no power over you.  It’s not just the wind and sea that must listen to Him, but also sin, death, and the devil must obey Him.

Through His completed work upon the cross we are a new creation; through His Word and sacraments we are able to trust in His real presence with us, even when our own storms over power us.  Through His presence, our little faith becomes strong faith, as we rest with the other disciples within this gospel ship we call the church.  Because of Jesus, we don’t ever have to fear the storms of life again, because we know that through Him, God the Father is always for us and never against us.  Within the waters of our own baptism we have been splashed with a power greater than all of the angry seas combined.  Because the love of Christ controls us, we can trust in God’s kind heart, and through His love for us, all of our fears can be calmed and replaced with certainty.

Dear friends, in response to our cry, “Don’t you care that I am in trouble?”  God doesn’t offer us understanding, but instead He offers us His presence within His precious promises.  He Who said to the waves, “Thus far and no farther,” says to us, “Fear not, for I am with you always.”  He assures us the He knows what we can never understand, and He is able to handle what ever we can’t.

Today dear friends Jesus tells us to stay within the Gospel Ship, even this little boat we call Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.  He wants us to look around and see this truth: There is still room and time to bring more fearful and frightened sinners aboard, so that they too, along with us, can find salvation and peace.  There will be storms, but Jesus will always be with us in the boat as we pass through the storms.  And while He is with us, He is teaching each of us to trust Him and have faith—faith in the Fathers love for each of us.  Oh sure, there will be times when it will seem as if God is silent; as if Jesus is asleep, but fear not little ones, even though He appears to sleep, He is with you in the boat.  So take comfort, because the one who sleeps is also the one who never sleeps.  He is the your Savior and Champion who promises to never leave nor forsake you.

He has permitted the storm to come your way so that you may know and trust Him deeper than you could ever imagine.  But one day, your very last life storm will come, and that will be the perfect storm, because that will be the one that will take you to your perfect home in Paradise.  Let us pray…

“O God our Defender, there are right now storms raging around us and within us, and they are causing us to be afraid. Rescue your people from despair, deliver your sons and daughters from fear, and preserve us all from unbelief, unbelief that tries so hard to separate us from your eternal love.  We ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Things Are Not Always What They Appear

Sunday, June 14th, 2015

June 14, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Things are not always what they appear to be, are they?  I am thankful for the warning in the side mirror on my vehicle that states: “Warning, objects in the mirror are closer than they appear to be.”  I tend to forget that, I need that reminder.

I also need to be reminded that the Kingdom of God in eternity is not what it appears to be in our time; it is not what the world supposes it to be.  They see the Kingdom of God as a bunch of superstitious people gathered around and antiquated Bible, a little water, a scrap of bread, and a sip of wine.  And as they scoff, we gather and find forgiveness, peace, and the promise of eternal happiness and joy, within those very things.  Why the disparity?

Faith. Faith is the one thing needful. Lack of faith is what causes a mighty nation, full of life and vigor to decay from within, dry up, and die.  That was the cause of the nation of Israel’s demise, it was the cause of the death of all of the empires that have ever existed, and it will be the demise of our country if its citizens continuously reject faith.

It was the demise of the way of worship for the Jews, which we can call the old church.

Where is their temple worship?  It is gone!  Where is their temple? Destroyed!  Jesus said as much when He said, “The time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” [Luke 21:6]  WHY?  Again they had lost their faith in the promise of God and the mercy and forgiveness He would bring to all through the Savior who was to come.  And when He did come, they rejected the very means of Salvation that God had promised since the fall of creation.

But you have not lost that faith, have you?  You are still here, so out of love, out of charity I will gladly assume that you still trust God to make all things new; to make all things right.  I trust that you have faith in the Savior who has now come and will come again.  You have faith in Jesus Christ, the very Son of God!

You have Faith in a Who and a Promise! Unlike what the world thinks, things are not as they seem.  Your faith is not simply in some printed words found in a book, but in the living Word of God that both spoke and ensured by the power of His Spirit that His Word would be preserved for you, so that you would have faith.  What kind of faith?  Faith to believe that simple water when combined with the promises of the Word of God would bring both forgiveness and peace with God.  Faith to believe that a scrap of bread and a sip of wine are also, mysteriously the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, broken and shed, eaten and drank for the forgiveness of sins.

You are that sprig that God says in our Old Testament reading (Ezekiel 17:22-24) was removed from the lofty top of the great cedar that was Israel, which is now withered and abandoned.  You are the church, the very mystical body of Christ that has been planted by God Himself upon the high and lofty mountain, which is the long awaited Paradise restored.  You are part of something inconceivably vast and powerful; you are even now part of the Kingdom of God; a Kingdom, which throughout the eons has not only promised but given rest to the weary and joy to the broken hearted.  You are part of the Kingdom of God fulfilled.

The Kingdom of God is the Promise Fulfilled! Yes the promise fulfilled, but also the promise not yet seen.  To be sure, those who have died in the faith, are now absent from the body and present with the Lord; that is they see with their own eyes both the glory of the Lord and the beauty of their eternal home in paradise.  But we are still here; we must still walk by faith and not by sight.  Faith assures us that the promise is fulfilled and there is a place reserved for us too; a body and home, tailor made for us by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

We are holy by faith, because He is holy.  We are holy simply because we are forgiven and loved, so we forgive and love as well.  We are holy because we are sustained by the power of God’s Spirit and the means of grace, which He gives to both create and sustain our ability to see by faith.

And we need that faith to live within God’s promise fulfilled, because things are not always as they seem, and this truth creates tension.

The tension of living by faith and not by sight. In our gospel lesson this morning (Mark 4:26-34), Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God can be compared to a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds commonly known at the time, “yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” And here is precisely where the tension is experienced; there are birds nesting in our branches that bring all kinds of strange and peculiar things with them; things like poverty, sickness and disease, rude behavior and domineering spirits.  Many times they don’t come simply to rest in our gospel tree, but to take it over.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate what I mean is to change Jesus illustration of birds resting in the Mustard tree to one of the Phasmida, or as they are more commonly know as, the “Walking Stick.”  The walking stick insect looks just like a twig of the tree, and it blends in perfectly with the tree.  The camouflage is needed because other animals that live outside of the tree fly around looking to eat the little walking stick.  But when they are within the canopy of the tree, they may rest safe and free from harm, because they look like they are part of the tree.  But they’re not, are they?  And while they rest within the safety of the tree, they begin to eat the leaves and find sustenance from the tree itself.

Are you a part of the tree, or are you like the walking stick simply finding sustenance and safety.  Only you and God know the answer to that, not me.  But I will tell you what I do know; God does not want you to be a walking stick; He wants to graft you within the tree itself.  God wants you to simply quit hiding and surrender to His wonderful grace; his forgiving love and mercy.  And here is the wonderful news, you do not need to do a thing, simply surrender to the same means of grace and mercy that brought the rest of us into the body of Christ.

You may become a branch of this tree, by simply seeing that the safety and security that you have enjoyed for a time, can be yours for eternity by simply surrendering to God and believing that He gives precisely what He promises through His powerful Word, a splash of water, a scrap of bread, and a sip of wine.

What are you waiting for, or better yet, what are you hiding from?  He has already found you; you are here in the gospel tree, the church.  Why not truly belong and become that which the world thinks is both foolish and pathetic?  Why not belong and become what the cross of Jesus Christ has already provided and announced for all sinners throughout the world… you are forgiven and loved by God. [John 3:16]

Look around you; things are not what they appear to be.  You see first with eyes of flesh, and you see sinners.  But now look with eyes of faith at those sinners who have gathered around God’s means of grace and promise, and by faith, you see instead sinners who have become and our becoming saints by faith.  If you can rest in this truth, then you along with all of us struggle together as saints for eternity and sinners only for as long as we live in these tents; these temporary bodies of sin.

We all struggle together with putting to death the sin that is within us, and during this struggle we groan in anticipation for the day that we will be free of that struggle and then rest securely in our new resurrected bodies within our new home.  Each of us together are becoming by grace what God has declared we are through Christ; holy, perfect, and righteous.  And for each of us, the battle to belong and become will not be complete until God calls us to our new home… Paradise.  [2 Corinthians 5:1–10] AMEN!

The True Name It And Claim It!

Sunday, June 7th, 2015

June 7, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson,
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

ASSIGNED READINGS: Genesis 3:8–15, 2 Corinthians 4:13–5:1, Mark 3:20–35

TEXT: “Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak”. [2 Corinthians 4:13]

Spoiler Alert!! The words in our text may not mean what you think they mean.  You may discover in today’s message that you too, have been duped by the devil.  You may be unknowingly walking straight into the devils trap; a trap designed to strip you of your faith in the eternal promises of God.

In our Old Testament reading, we are shown a tragic and stunning example of what happens to men and women of God when they forget that the devil and all of creation are liars when they contradict the promises of God found in His Word.

Listen: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. [Genesis 3:1-7]

Do you see what the devil did to dupe Eve?  With a little word-smithing, He took a command of God, twisted it, and turned it from Words of love that were meant to protect Adam and Eve, and he turned those Words upside down, and made them seem as if God was overbearing and cruel.

“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  Now think about this for a moment… Eve had no business even talking with this creature about God, unless it was to praise His name.  Remember, Adam and Eve have been given dominion over all creation.  She did not need to defend Him, because He is the Creator God; He even created the sinful mouth that was spewing forth those sinful words.  All that Eve needed to do was to call out to God and ask Him to rebuke this vile creature.  Or… she could have deferred to her husband, who was right there with her, but she didn’t do that, and Adam never said a mumblin’ word.  Why?  Because they had been entertaining desires that were unhealthy, and the devil knew this.  So Adam allows Eve to speak for both of them with these words: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Now it is Adam and Eve’s turn to twist the Word of God; to make it communicate a message it was never meant to declare.  Nowhere in scripture did God ever say that if Adam and Eve touched the fruit they would die.  He simply said that they could not eat it.

So now the devil sees clearly what is in the heart of the first couple and he begins to use it as a shiny lure in order to trap them with the hook of full-blown sin.  “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  In other words, God is not the God of love you think that He is.  He has been holding out on you; there is another completely different level of knowledge and existence that you are missing out on.

And so the first sin is committed when Adam and Eve with one heart and mind reach out and take and eat.  And from that point on, their eyes were opened and they knew that they had disrupted, no destroyed their relationship of love and trust with their Creator God.  And when God approaches them as He always had done, He asks them specific questions that will lead them to confess their sin.  But instead of taking responsibility, what do they do?  They begin to play the blame game.  “The woman you put here made me do it.”  And, “the Serpent you created tricked me!”

So if we had to put a name on the very first sin, what would we call it?  Coveting?  Well sure, that sin is there, but before it can come, I submit that one must first set aside their devotion and love for the Creator God.  So this is really a first commandment issue.  “You shall have no other God before or beside me” says the Lord your God!  Do you see friends, all issues in life and all sins that are committed are directly related to the very first commandment.  In other words, there are two ways to look at all things in your life, from God’s perspective or from the worlds perspective.

“I believed, and so I spoke”.  Are these powerful spiritual words that unlock worldly treasure and rewards or is there a deeper spiritual meaning to them?  You don’t have to go far to get your answer.  St. Paul was simply quoting King David in Psalm 116, verse 10, and through that quote he was pointing out that his faith in the promises of God find their origin and power through the same source of Spirit given faith that King David was given.

In that quote of Paul, he is assuring us that what he is preaching and teaching boldly and willingly is exactly the same thing that David proclaimed.  Both Paul and David were very familiar with hard times; they knew all to well sorrows and threats of danger and harm.  And both Paul and King David were sustained and motivated by the exact same faith.  Like Paul, King David was delivered for a purpose, so that he could walk before the Lord in the land of the living and proclaim the truth of God, which alone is able to defeat the lies of the devil and sinful men and women.

While the world may chose to preach, teach, and confess positive thinking and word of faith as true faith, we like St. Paul and King David must be realists.  We know that there is suffering, sickness, disease, poverty, racism, and violence through out this world.  Simply proclaiming some hidden power to be protected from this reality is just plain stupid, especially when nowhere in His Word does God say that if you have a strong faith you will be immune from these things.  Instead God calls us to place our faith in what is not seen; in what He declares to be our eternal reality.

What does this kind of life centered in the eternal promises of God look like?  Well, again, let’s look at St. Paul’s life for the answer.  In the middle of all kinds of danger, danger like folks trying to kill him in every town he goes to visit simply because he is proclaiming the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the dead, in the middle of these threats, St. Paul remains brave and steadfast; why?  Because He knew that the same God who raised Jesus from the dead would raise him and all believers in Christ as well.  This is the right kind of name it and claim it that we are called to proclaim and believe.

True faith is always connected to Jesus and the promises that He gives to His church.  The true faith of a Christian never forgets that it is in the world but not of the world.  True faith remembers that the life that we are living is always following Jesus from sorrow and death, to resurrection and glory.

Dear friends, we face the same things today that St. Paul dealt with.  Like Paul we too wait for Jesus to come again and end the destruction and sin that has overtaken all of creation, and we wait never knowing when He will come, but only knowing that His return is imminent.

To be sure, St. Paul and the early church preachers took great comfort in their baptismal guarantee of being resurrected, but their comfort in all of their trials and tribulations ran deeper than that.  You see they also took comfort in the promise of God that within their message of forgiveness, was the actual power of God’s Spirit, which actually does save the world from sin, death, and the devil, through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ What gave them even greater comfort and power was the promise of each believer’s resurrection; the fact that Jesus resurrection would also be the reality for all who receive and believe the promises of God that are given in Holy Baptism.  In other words, St. Paul was comforted by the expanding Kingdom of God one sinner at a time, which now includes you!

Dear friends, St. Paul and indeed the entire church after him believe and also speak and work with all of their hearts to bring others into this same faith, because only then will these others also be given the resurrected life of the blessed.  So within the heart of Paul and all Christians is the God given gift of faith that is paired equally with a great gift of love so that as many who are willing to believe will be presented together before God as the body of Christ, and together with one voice sing out praises of thanks giving before their Creator God.

This is the work of God’s champion, the Son of Adam and Eve and the very Son of God, Jesus Christ, and it is this work alone that God calls us to put our faith in.  And through this faith we know that even when this temporary tent which is our human bodies is destroyed, whether through sickness, disease, famine, or violence, we have an eternal body, a mansion within Paradise restored that God has prepared for us through His Son Jesus Christ.

It is there in paradise, that we will finally know by sight and not by faith a life of true pleasure and glory with God and Christ.  It is there where we will dwell eternally in a permanent, glorious, infinitely blessed existence in heaven.  So believe and confess that this temporary existence is not your eternal reality, and endure patiently with the rest of the church militant, as we wait to join the rest of the church triumphant who are already in eternity living with and glorifying their God with praises!   AMEN!