Archive for December, 2016

It’s True!


Sunday, December 25th, 2016

Christmas Morning, December 25h, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

6a00d8341c3e3953ef0148c6ea2e05970c-400wiWe all know the Christmas Gospel, but some people think of it more as a story. The truth is, all people do not hear it in the same way. Some listen to it as though it were only a children’s story, with maybe a little bit of historical truth to it.

Let’s first make something clear to ourselves; the writers of the gospels relate all of the information to us because they are convinced that these things actually happened.

Listen to how Peter attest to the truthfulness of the Gospel message: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” [2 Peter 1:16-21]

Luke especially calls upon eyewitnesses and states that he has carefully done research about everything from the beginning. So we can confidently say that the Scriptures are speaking of history, but they are also relating to us important facts about the birth of Jesus much like an artist paints a picture. In a few vivid flash-pictures the Scriptures give us the important facts. The background is stylized. All unimportant bits of information fade into the shadows or into forgetfulness. So the Scriptures aren’t necessarily precise records. This is why it’s always important to ask questions as we seek to know the things that Scripture chooses to reveal to us. But what the Scriptures do tell, in all the precise simplicity of the story, is better than what any stenographic record could have given to us.

Here is what we know…

Jesus was born in the beginning of the great census taking of Caesar Augustus. That is well known to historians. About the year 7 B.C. Quirinius was given the authority to govern the area. Jesus was most likely born in that year. Egyptian records show that each person had to travel to his home town at the time of this great census-taking. The Christmas Gospel states the same thing.

And since Joseph was of the lineage of David, he traveled to Bethlehem from the town of Nazareth, where he probably lived only on a temporary basis. Matthew and Luke give only slight suggestions of this, from which we can’t develop a complete picture. We are told that Joseph also went up to the city of David, since Bethlehem lies on the ridge of the Judean hills, nearly 2,400 feet above sea level. God’s guidance was in this journey to Bethlehem, because it was here where the prophet Micah in our Old Testament lesson [Micah 5:2-5] insist that the Christ was to be born.

In the height of biblical criticism today, the stories of the birth and childhood of Jesus are considered by many critics to be something that was added to the Gospels at a latter date. But this opinion is unsupported by the facts. These stories as they call them, were first told in the local Semitic language. They belong to the materials that were used in the earliest congregation of Christians in Jerusalem when they spoke of Jesus. And anyone who reads them today without a prejudiced mindset can’t fail to notice that Matthew told the story simply and faithfully the way that it was told to him, while Luke must have had his original record from people who had heard the story from the lips of Mary. We too need to read and hear the story fresh and new and let its timeless message find its way into our hearts and minds. 

So let me help us do just that…

What we learn from our Gospel lesson is that God comes to places and people that we least expect.

Since Joseph and Mary were not the only travelers who came to Bethlehem for the registration, there was no room for them in the village inn, and evidently no other home had a vacancy. And so they eventually found a place that they could rest and prepare for the birth of Jesus. Contrary to popular opinion, this place was not the village stable; it was most likely the home of a distant relative of Joseph, a small home that typically had only one or two rooms. But even these smaller homes had what we would call a storage or utility room attached to the home. This was the room where the animals were kept along with items not suited for storage in the home. It probably was un-kept and smelly. This was the place where Jesus was born!

Are there any small unseemly things in your life or heart that you’ve kept hidden away? These are the places Jesus wishes to be born into, brought into today!

And meanwhile, out in the fields—in the desert, at the very edge of Bethlehem—there were some shepherds, a few of the working class of Israel, men doing the roughest kind of work, and receiving very little pay. It was to these kind of people that God chose to appear to first, through His own angelic messengers, and then use them as messengers too.

These are always the kind of people that God is wanting to use to spread the truth and power of the Gospel; every day hard working folks. It’s a message that declares: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you has been born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. A baby who was born to die for the sins of the world… even your sins!”

Is there someone God has been leading you to share the gospel with, yet perhaps you have hesitated because you fear that bringing up such a subject might offend them or threaten your relationship with them? It may be as easy as inviting them to a church function or maybe even a worship service!

Though God comes through His Word and in all of His glory and power to sinners, the message that both the church and you are to declare as God’s messengers is very simple: Fear not! Don’t be afraid to hear God speak to you. He comes to replace your fear with joy and give you peace. He is not interested in how you have lived your life in the past but rather how you will live your life from here on out with Him. He comes in mercy, that is out of His love for you, He does not give you what you deserve, but instead, He gives you love; He desires to rescue you from the sin that so easily entangles all of us. Fear not!

Who is this Christ, this baby born to die upon a cross for the sins of the world? He is…

The One who is to be Ruler in Israel (and the world). This King was born from Judah, and yet Micah in our Old Testament lesson [Micah 5:2–5] prophesied that He was going to rule also over Israel, even though it was clear that the kingdom of Israel would never be brought back. It had been scattered throughout the entire world, and as we know, it never returned. From this we see, that the kingdom of Christ will be a spiritual kingdom. This is something that many people still do not understand today. Yet Micah is prophesying that this Ruler would reign over both Judah and Israel. Who then are Judah and Israel? They are you the baptized, who rest within Christ’s church today, even our little church here.

But Christ is also the one “Whose origin is from of old.” That Ruler came forth at the time when the days of the world began. He was at the same time with the beginning of all creatures. He does not come forth first from Bethlehem after the Babylonian captivity but He came forth a long time before that. This is the One Who John describes as eternal: “In the beginning was the Word.” [John 1:1] In his song, Moses sings: “From everlasting to everlasting Thou art God.” [Psalm 90:2] There Moses used the same expression that Micah uses here, that is: “You did not begin with the world, but, when the world began to be, You already were.” Christ also says about Himself: “Before Abraham was, I am.” [John 8:58] Christ, the Son of God, was brought forth with the beginning of the world. And from the beginning it had been determined that He would come to us so that every accomplishment that sinners call good would amount to nothing. He was given to sinful mankind purely out of mercy, and not because we had deserved this or had wished for it, but because this is the way God had decided to work from eternity.

This is the message that is so consistently spoken of throughout Scripture. It is reliable and true. It is a message that declares that “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” [Titus 3:4-7]

This then, is both the gift and the message from God the Father, regarding His Son, Jesus the Christ. This message is reliable because God the Holy Spirit has placed His stamp of verity upon it. It is a gift that is for the entire world, yet it is specifically tailor made for you, and has been applied to you within the waters of your own baptism where He saved you by the washing of regeneration and still does so every day, through the renewal of the Holy Spirit, Whom is poured out upon you richly through Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior. May you continually both desire and use this gift, now and forever more. In Jesus name… AMEN!

Jesus… The True Christmas Gift

Sunday, December 18th, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Advent-HL, December 18h, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

 

“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” (Deut. 18:15)

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Isn’t it true that the best gifts we receive always come from those who are closest to us, who love us unconditionally, who truly care for us and know us? Isn’t it also true to say that the best gifts are those gifts that truly come from the heart? This morning we will be looking at the heart of the Giver of the greatest gift we will ever receive. This morning we will be looking at the gift of Jesus and why He is the very heart of God.

God has kept His Word. He has made good on the promise that He made to the Israelites long ago on Mt. Horeb.

 When the people heard God speak as in the peels of thunder from the top of Mt. Horeb on the day that they gathered for worship, they were terrified. They could not bear to hear God speak, in person… in truth. In the book of Exodus, as God was speaking to the assembly, the people could not help but hear and listen, but they were also terrified. And so they pleaded with Moses in this way, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” [Exodus 20:18, 19] And God heard the fear of His people and He agreed to speak through Moses. And the Lord said to Moses. “They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my Words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.” [Deuteronomy 18:17, 18]

The fear Israel felt at Sinai is the kind of terror people still feel when they’re faced with God’s perfect demands and are forced to come to terms with their own sinfulness. None of us can fully understand how far we have fallen and failed to live up to God’s perfect demands. We can never understand how impossible it is to keep God’s law until we’ve tried our very best and still fall short of the mark.

After we’ve tried over and over again to be good but have failed every time, only then will we finally arrive at the frightening moment when we turn to God and say, “If there’s any hope for me at all, it has to come from you. I confess I can not do it!”

And this is precisely the heart of a person that will truly accept and treasure the gift that God has given and wants to continue giving. It’s a gift that expresses God’s true heart; a heart that does not want men and women to live in fear of Him, but it joy and peace. A peace that surpasses all fear, and a joy that always sees the love of God in the gift He gives through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Next week we will begin to unpack this gift of Jesus, the very Son of God but also son of Mary. But for now let us just simply ponder that new born baby in a manger.

In this sweet baby, though without speech as all other babies are, is the very voice of God that made the people of Israel tremble in fear. But this baby also is that Great Prophet that God said would come and speak to His children so that fear would not be the last Word, but hope; Words of hope that would bring joy and peace. And this was the very Prophet that John the Baptist was commanded to prepare the world to receive.

John comes to prepare His way so that all who will hear and listen to Him will hear the true heart of God; a heart of mercy and love.

The message that John brings is one of repentance; that is it is a message that calls us to turn to God’s loving heart that can only be received through the Word of Jesus Christ. When we repent, we are preparing the royal highway by turning away from our sinful lives and making our hearts ready by ridding them of pride and self serving desires. When we repent, we are simply saying once again, “I give up Lord. I have tried it my way and it just hasn’t worked. I am ready for your gift of new life through Your Son, my Savior Jesus Christ.”

John himself models how this is done and what this kind of prepared heart will look like when he evaluates the ministry of baptism he has been called to with these Words: “I baptize with water, but among you stands One you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” [John 1:26, 27] What John is saying, what he is demonstrating is that this great ministry that he is performing through the baptism of repentance and forgiveness, would be nothing without God’s gift of His real presence within the application of water. He is saying that it is the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ that makes the water of baptism more than a simple washing.

John is making everything dependent upon this Jesus, the Son of God. John is saying that next to Jesus, he is lower than a servant who’s job it is to untie his master’s sandal so that his feet may be washed.   John is clearly telling all of us this morning that to know Jesus, to truly know Him is to live a life that decreases in personal gain so that Christ can increase.

This should also be the desire and prayer of each of us. “May I decrease as you increase Dear Lord. Make me small so that I may fit into your heart.” The Only way that this can become our reality is by receiving God’s gift of Jesus, which comes through His Word. And Jesus can only be received through God’s gift of faith.

Faith in Christ is the way of Salvation and eternal life.

“Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have eternal life.” [John 3:16] Jesus says it Himself: “I am the way and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” [John 14:6] “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” [John 6:40] “Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” [John 11:26] “Whoever believes in me (will) not remain in darkness.” [John 12:46]

This is also the core of the entire New Testament message. This is what the apostles constantly proclaimed. “To Him all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sin through His name.” [Acts 10:43] “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved… Whom God put forward as an expiation by His blood, to be received by faith… because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…. Every one who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God.”

That you receive this gift of faith is so important to God, He proclaims this warning to those who teach His Word incorrectly, in such a way that they damage the faith of one of God’s little ones: “… but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” [Matthew 18:6]

How then does one acquire such a faith?

The truth is, “Not all have faith.”

Faith is the work of God. But it is also a work that sinful people can frustrate, fight, and even refuse. It is through His Word that God creates faith in a human heart. Faith comes by preaching, if preaching by preaching of Christ.” [Galatians 3:1] The Word of God possesses power to create faith because it portrays Christ to us, and it makes His image a living one that permits God’s Word to reach us. God’s power resides in His Word. His Words are “spirit and life.” This is why Scripture itself testifies that it alone is the “power of God unto salvation for all who believe.” [Romans 1:6]

Scripture alone and faith alone are two of the three great fundamental truths that Luther rediscovered when all of the Bible was placed into his hands and into his heart. This is the center of all evangelical Christianity—that forgiveness of sins is granted to us by faith in Christ and God’s Word, which gives us this faith when we allow it to be our guide. These two fundamental truths are to often forgotten and misunderstood in our time by so called teachers and theologians. This is the reason why so many people imagine that they can be a Christian without going to church if they only live a decent and honorable life everyday. But this is not what God’s Word says to us. “And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have not heard?” And how are they to hear without a preacher?” One becomes a Christian through the living Word of God that abides forever.

This then is the true gift that we received on that first Christmas morning. A prophet like Moses yet far greater than Moses. A Prophet of our own flesh, yet all of God contained in that flesh. A gift that allows sinful men and women to see by faith that the love of God came down to you and granted you new life through the suffering and death of a baby born to die for this sins of the world. This love is lavished upon each of us within the waters of Holy Baptism, which without the gift of Jesus born of the Virgin Mary, suffered and died under Pontius Pilate, and resurrected of the third day, would simply be a sprinkling of meaningless water, devoid of the power of God.

Jesus is that power; Jesus is your gift from God. Jesus is your gift that brings you faith and the forgiveness of sins. May you cling to this gift always, AMEN!

What The Future Holds


Monday, December 5th, 2016

Second Sunday of Advent-HL,
December 4th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” [Romans 15:4]

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The Song you just heard, “Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends” by Ronnie Milsap, will act as our audio and mental hook to hang our message on this morning. In spite of Ronnie’s desire and probably most people’s desire to remain ignorant of the end of all things, God does indeed in His Word tell us how the story ends; He tells us what the future holds. And what it holds should give you hope.

What a treasure scripture is in our hands.

With it, we can search through the will of God like a detective searches through his case file, or as a student looks through their notebook, as they prepare for an exam. God gave his people His plan for life. How happy the devil is when God’s people are ignorant or neglect that plan. How angry he becomes when we make faithful use of it. Do you want to frustrate the devil? Keep remembering and proclaiming just how close we all are to the Last Day and to Christ’s judgment over evil, and rejoice in the truth that God is in control.

The Word of God speaks in some places about how, as the world nears its end, children will turn against their parents and parents will turn against their children. Our world is full of examples that this happens and is happening even now. Parents commit the ultimate in child abuse—when they neglect their children’s souls. They don’t care where their children will spend eternity. They’ll spend money for their children’s bodies, education, and entertainment, but they neglect to tell their children the commands and laws of God, to talk about them on the way, to write them in their homes and on their hearts.

But there are also those parts of scripture that declare that as the final day grows closer and closer, parents and children will be talking to each other and turning to each other. There will be good families. God will see to it! In our day when we sometimes feel like despairing because there are no good families left, there are good families. Families do pray together and do stay together through life. This is the greatest turning together of hearts, parents talking to their children about the Savior, children talking to their parents. Their hearts are being touched by the only thing that changes hearts, the Word of God.

In our Old Testament lesson (Malachi 4:1-6), which is the very last book of the Old Testament, the very last Word it speaks is one of prophecy; a Word that tells us how the story ends. But the end will come as a time of hope for God’s children of faith who are baptized into the name of Jesus Christ. And this hope will restore families and bring strength to the faithful as we wait for the end of the story. But before we go to the end, we must start in the beginning of God’s New Testament of hope.

In the fullness of time Christ came to our world.

Every thing that had taken place before pointed forward to this singular event. And everything that has happened since finds its meaning and importance through Christ. Even right now, this particular moment in history has its goal in Christ. “He is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead.” [Acts 10:42] Whether we believe it or not, all of us are moving forward to the great day when we shall meet the Lord.

This is why God asks us to believe that there is definite meaning in all of world history. Throughout our history, it has been both God’s command and desire that the Gospel be preached to all people. The great net of the kingdom of God must be drawn through the sea of time, and at last the great catch will be cast upon the shore, where all the evil and the righteous will be separated from one another.

But to say that the movement of history has meaning is not the same as saying that we can understand or discern that meaning. Each of us have grown accustomed to believing as our culture teaches us, that the world is moving forward and upward, and that little by little things will be getting better, and that it will become increasingly easier to live.

Perhaps some of you are fans of Gene Rodenberry’s utopian portrayal of mankind in the 24th century, as described in the various presentations of Star Trek. Within Rodenberry’s fictional account of mankind, through technology, humankind has progressed to a point where there is no more hunger, racism, and economic status; position and status has been nullified, and even war no longer exists on the planet earth.

But the Word of God gives a more realistic view. It is true that technology and science have made incredible strides forward. Man has been given dominion over nature and even over the vast universe. But this does not mean that evil is less active. Evil too has made vast steps forward; evil too can utilize technology and science.

As time moves forward, the battle of evil becomes bitterer against Christ and His church. Wars become more brutal, and the catastrophes of world history become more destructive. The Book of Revelation paints this kind of picture very vividly and also makes it very clear why things do not get better in spite of all the warnings God gives. People simply do not wish to repent! They continue in their former foolishness and sin. As the end draws near things will get worse, says Jesus: “Because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold.” [Matthew 24:12] Our observations after two world wars, two police actions, and now an international war on terror in our generation ought to have taught us how true our Lord’s warning is.

But our hope is not defined by the world around us but by the very Word of God that tells us how the story ends.

Knowing how the story ends helps us live out our part of the story with hope.

Today you have heard it declared that the Sun of righteousness will rise soon above what seems to be dark and ominous skies. This is the very news that gives us hope; it is what we the church, have been looking for and waiting for. There has long been that pre-dawn glow in the sky, and so we know that the Sun is coming. We who once lived in darkness have seen a great light. Now it peeks above the horizon and soon it will leap into the sky in all of its splendor. It brings healing too; an eternal presence that no longer knows sickness, disease, poverty, violence, or even pain. The utopia that so many long for becomes a reality. As this Sun of our righteousness rises we can bask our cold stiff joints, limbs, and hearts in its glow. It heals and restores. It brings eternal life!

Besides this wonderful, warming Sun there is the picture of calves released from their stalls after being penned up all winter. They feel good. They want to run and jump for the sheer joy of it. That’s the way it is even now with Christ’s people, you the baptized who understand and appreciate that Christ’s birth, life, death upon the cross and the empty tomb has set them free.

No sick calf feels like jumping, but we have been healed in the blessed waters of our baptism. The sickness of sin is past! Our spirits feel good! They want to kick and frolic in God’s sunshine forever—and they shall! Nothing can hold us back. We the saints stream into our final pasture. The Good Shepherd has kept his word. All is well and good. And that truth, knowing how the story ends makes all of the difference.

In life as we wait, we wait in hope. We gladly work to love God with all of our being; we greatly desire to love our neighbor as our self, in fact these things have become our passion. We desire to live a life that demonstrates the love of God to others, because in Christ, God first loved us!

The truth is friends, our outlook for the future would seem rather hopeless, if there were no Christ.

But now even this is woven into God’s good plans for us who love His Christ. And these plans, culminate in the victory of Christ and a new world where no sorrow or crying or tears shall be. And so compelled by the Holy Spirit, we confidently live our lives refusing to sink into despair or drop out of life when all the things Scripture warn us of begin to happen. Instead we can lift up our heads. Now our redemption is drawing near. Now the Son of our eternal summer is approaching. And so we remain awake and alert. We remain steadfast, both in calm moments and in the middle of life’s storms. And we also continue to be soberly realistic.

With the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, we will not panic when things seem to be moving toward catastrophe. These moments of tragedy must take place, but they alone do not mean that the end is at hand. But if it does come, if and when the end happens, we simply remember that all is happening exactly as our God warned us it would. Heaven and earth may pass away, but never God’s Word, nor he who believes it and holds fast to it.

May you always cling to Christ and His Word until that very hour… in Jesus name… AMEN!