Archive for the ‘Joy’ Category

The Power of God’s Love!

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Sixteenth Sunday in Pentecost, August 31st, 2008

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


“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
” [Romans 12:12]

 

INTRODUCTION: Why would anyone set out to suffer and die?  Why would anyone choose humiliation over triumph?  To the world this is a ridiculous concept!  That’s why in our gospel reading, when Jesus said that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed Peter answered, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”  The other disciples must have been thinking, “Good for you Peter!  This can’t happen to the one we love.  How can a suffering, humiliated, or worse yet, a dead Mesiah save us!”  But to this, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Poor Peter, just days before this our Lord had praised him as being the model confessor of the church, because he confessed Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  How could someone who seemed to have everything so right, now be so terribly wrong?  Our Lord answers that question so that we can see the error: “You aren’t looking at things from God’s plan, but from the plans of men!”  Well what’s the difference?  Both ways of thinking identify Jesus as the Savior, right?  Well yes, but the difference is in the kind of Savior!  Peter and the others wanted to glory in victory now!  They wanted a majestic conqueror—one that would by the power and might of man make all things right in the world.  They were appalled when Jesus said it was necessary for him to suffer and die.  They were so appalled that they missed the part that came next—the gospel!  “On the third day I will be raised from the dead!” 

 

The truth is friends, God’s love is always demonstrated as sacrificial love, and that is why Jesus said that “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Without the self-sacrifice of Jesus, there would be no victory over sin death and the devil; without self sacrifice there can be no power in love.  And for us, if we want to truly live a life transformed by the “Power of God’s love” we must pick up our cross, and follow Jesus in the way of sacrificial love.  This is the truth that we will explore this morning in our Epistle lesson.  Please take out your Bibles and turn with me to Romans Chapter 12.

 

(Vs. 9) “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”    Right from the beginning of our Epistle lesson this morning, Paul is making it clear to us that everything that follows is centered in love.  But this kind of love is not your run of the mill, here today gone tomorrow kind of love; you know the kind I mean don’t you?  The kind of love that is ablaze with passion on the wedding day, but cold as ice on the 5th anniversary of that wedding night.  No this is the kind of love that is the ultimate fruit of God’s love for us.  It is the kind of love that gives you faith to believe that Jesus is your Lord and Savior because “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son on the cross so that you would be saved!”  This isn’t the fake kind of Hollywood love, no this is the giving kind of love.  It gives everything it has so that the person receiving it knows they are loved.  With this kind of love, God chose to love you a sinner, and with this kind of love, as we will see latter, we are enabled to choose to love our enemies.  This is real love.  This love isn’t just words, but its action and truth! [1 Jn. 3:18]  So how do we demonstrate this genuine kind of love? “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”  Hate everything evil and sinful and be permanently stuck to everything that’s good!

 

ILLUS: Perhaps the best way to demonstrate this truth is to illustrate its opposite.  Within our own community, just a couple miles down Imperial Avenue, you will be in neighborhoods that are plagued by drugs of all kinds, including the worst drug of all, Crystal Methamphetamine.  Hundreds of our neighbors are addicted to a drug that contains, phosphorus, methylamine, acetone, chloroform, iodine, ammonia, hydrogen chloride, lithium, ether, and muriatic acid.   When all of this is mixed together and cooked, it creates a crude version of Methamphetamine, and when smoked or snorted it produces an intoxicating euphoria that causes one to feel that everything is good and right in the world.  Friends, the truth is for these poor souls, nothing is right!  Any one of those ingredients alone can cause death.  These poor people have learned to love the very thing that is killing them, and they hate anyone that comes between them and their drug.  How many families have been destroyed because of this drug?  How many lives have been lost?  Yet these poor souls have become addicted to it!  They are living out the opposite mindset that Paul is asking us to live out.  When Paul says that we should hold fast to what is good, he means that we should be permanently stuck to it!  We should be addicted to what is good, and we know that there is no one or nothing good but God Himself!  Friends, we hate illegal drugs because they are evil and because we love God!  Now because we love God, we find ourselves hating anything and everything that separates anyone from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus!  Now Paul will show us how this type of love will work in our church.

(Vs.10-13)Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, and serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Be devoted to one another with warm family affection and brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.  These words sound good; everyone wants that kind of love in our lives and in our church.  To Paul, this family-type devotion to one another is much more than friendship. It’s the type of love that involves commitment like that experienced in a good family.  When one person in a family is hurting, sick, or in trouble, all of the other family members rally around that person and help in any way possible.  This type of sacrificial, self giving love then is the fulfillment of “Honoring one another above ourselves”. When one of us is in trouble all of us respond.  But the truth is, this type of love can be a real inconvenient; it can even intrude into our personal lives at the worst moment, but this is God’s way, the way of sacrificial love.  It is God’s will that if one of us is in a time of testing, due to financial crisis, sickness, sorrow, or pain, rather than try to hide our tribulation, we should rather embrace the love and support of our church family,  and pray, waiting on God to supply our needs.  It is precisely during these moments when Christ’s church becomes the model of true love to the whole world.  This kind of love is a radical concept to the unbelieving world, but it is the only kind of love that matters to the church.  Paul says that the only way we can demonstrate this kind of love is if we are “fervent in spirit”. 

 

The actual Greek word that is translated fervent means “seething—be seething in spirit.”  Just as water and steam  violently bubbles and seeths out of a covered pot of boiling water, so too we are to be seething in the Spirit.  If you find yourself lacking that fervent, seething spirit,  Paul has just the way to obtain it—“Be constant in prayer!”  Through God’s Word we are given faith and empowered by a relationship of love that allows us to call our God and Creator, Father!  And because of this loving relationship, we are not only encouraged to bring to Him all of our own needs but the needs of others as well!    When we pray for a Christian brother or sister, God’s Spirit is active in our own hearts causing us to be seething in the spirit, so that He may love and care for that person through us, and when God is working through us it is not a chore to love someone, instead it becomes a blessing. 

 

ILLUS: Some years ago a Lutheran church in Oklahoma, divided. The split was so bad that one faction began a lawsuit to dispossess the other and claim the property for itself. The local newspapers picked up the story, and the locals followed what was happening with a lot of interest. The judge decided that it wouldn’t be a matter for the civil courts until the church authorities had made a ruling. After much discussion, the church authorities awarded the property to one of the two factions, and the losers withdrew and formed another church in the area.  Think about how different things would have been had those in that church followed Paul’s call to mutual commitment: Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.   Be seething in the spirit!”  Now that we have an idea of what our love should look like inside of the Church, Paul brings everything together into one picture.  Here now comes the type of love we are to have everywhere.

 

(Vs. 14-16) “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”  Do these words sound familiar?  They should, because they are a paraphrase of Jesus’ own Words: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and “bless those who curse you” )Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27-28).  Think of Jesus last words upon the cross before he died, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  “Well He was the Son of God, of course He could bless and forgive.  No man could do that could they?”  Well what about Stephen, who opened his mouth in a blessing upon those who were stoning him to death?  Do you remember the last words that he uttered? “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60)

 

Friends, the way of the world says that we should curse those who are unjustly persecuting us, but the Christian prays for bullies and tormentors.  Why?  So that they might repent, so that God might forgive them.  Bless, Paul says, and do not curse them, don’t speak evil against them behind their back, because it is never right to both bless and to curse at the same time.  No, instead, we Christians must model the same love that Jesus has loved us with.  When we follow the way of our Lord, we learn to “live in harmony with one another”. Oh yes, and Paul adds something else, “Do not be haughty, (that is prideful and stuck-up), but associate with the lowly.  Never be wise in your own sight.”  Just as you don’t like to be bullied or persecuted, be sure that you aren’t doing the same thing to others—by way of neglect or preferential treatment.

 

ILLUS: Have you ever heard of Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes. When he was appointed the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by President Herbert Hoover in 1930 he moved to Washington, and transferred his church membership to a church there. It was the custom in that church to have all new members come forward during the morning service and be introduced to the congregation. On this particular day the first to be called was a Chinese laundryman named Ah Sing, who had moved to Washington from San Francisco and kept a laundry near the church. He stood at the far side of the pulpit. As others were called, they took positions at the extreme opposite side. When a dozen people had gathered, Ah Sing stood painfully alone. Then Chief Justice Hughes was called, and he significantly stood right next to the laundryman.  Friends, we are Christians, and we are to associate with everyone—the ordinary people, the unimportant, even the outcasts of society; even those who are being persecuted. If we can’t get along with one another, if we can’t be the champions for the oppressed in our own church, how can we ever face our enemies?  And that is precisely where Paul is taking us next…

 

(Vs. 17-20) “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  There is no question that the man who does us evil ought to be paid back with the exact proportion. This is God’s own principle, and Paul isn’t ignoring that. But if God applied only that principle to us, where would we be?  And that is the point, without God’s grace through Jesus Christ we would be damned along with our worst enemy.  Friends, it is God’s work alone that saved us, and we should do everything to glorify Him and bring honor to His presence in our lives by living a life that demonstrates same grace.  Nothing that we do or say, should ever bring shame to our Lord and His gospel, and that is why Paul says, “give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all”. To that same end, Paul tells us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” That would include peace with believers and nonbelievers, those in the church and outside of the church. You know friends, it takes two to fight, and if you as a believer aren’t seeking revenge, then there should be no long-lasting disruption of peace that involves you.

 

But what about justice?  To this Paul answers, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  Here is Paul’s answer. A juster hand than yours and mine is in control, and He will hand out the most perfect justice that is due to every unrepentant sinner. Friends, by choosing to not avenge ourselves, we aren’t abandoning justice, but rather we have chosen to trust God with the whole matter.  Remember friends, God saved you, and he doesn’t want anyone else to perish either.  So God is restraining his punishment with hope that your enemy will become you brother. So we wait; but while we wait, we aren’t just patiently endure mistreatment, no instead God wants us to seek to change our enemy, if possible, to bring him to repentance.  How?  By feeding him when he is hungry and giving him drink when he is thirsty!  These are only two of many possible examples, but they are good ones.  But why must we be nice to our enemy?  Paul answers that this way, “for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Or we could say that by being nice to him, we allow God’s Law to work within his heart, causing him shame, which will then hopefully cause him to repent of his sin and turn to the same source of love that saved us, Jesus Christ!

 

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, the summary of all of this can be found in Paul’s won words: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” God demonstrated this principle for us long ago, when He sent His only Son to die for you upon the cross.  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!  Just as Jesus prayed for us long ago upon the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” so too, we must pray for those who hurt us.  We need to pray and ask God for love as we try to show kindness to our enemies. Will they take advantage of us? Will they hate us even more? Only the Lord knows. Our task is not to protect ourselves but to obey the Lord and leave the results with Him.  Friends, even if our enemy refuses God’s love, we will still have experienced the love of God in our own hearts and we will grow in His grace.

The Joy of Fellowship!

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

Fellowship; Joy; Witnessing; Acts 2:42-47; Easter 3A

Good Shepherd Sunday
Fourth Sunday in Easter, April 13, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click Here For Audio of  this message.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you dear friends from God our Father and our Savior Jesus Christ!  Our message this morning comes to us from our reading in Acts (2:42-47).  I have asked our Organist Dale to softly play a series of notes for a few minutes to illustrate something that is expressed many times in our lesson this morning (In the background the organist begins to play a series of dissident notes).  There is a word in Greek, just one word that communicates a series of wonderful word pictures; it is Homothumadon. What you hear being played would represent the opposite of homothumadon.  Listen…it is unsettling, even uncomfortable to listen to isn’t it?  Hear how those musical notes seem to be working against each other?  These notes are called dissident notes.  Each pitch is fighting the other; each vying for supremacy.  But when we adjust the notes so that they compliment each other, they become pleasing to the ear, pleasing to the soul—they become homothumadon. Do you hear how the notes are moving together with one mind, with one accord, and with one passion?  It is a fellowship of sounds, each complimenting the other.  They are homothumadon, or a joyful fellowship of sounds.  As the notes of the organ harmonize in pitch and tone as Dale determines, we see an illustration of how God desires to work within His Church using us as His great symphony that declares His majesty and glory among His people and to those separated from Him by sin within the world.  The church, our church becomes God’s symphony of homothumadon when it adherers to 4 things: doctrine; fellowship; worship; and witness.

I. When we adhere to the Words of Jesus as taught by the apostles we are said to be following sound doctrine.  The disciples in our lesson this morning adhered to the teaching of the apostles as they recalled all that Jesus taught.  We can adhere to good doctrine as well because we have all that they taught recorded for us in our Bibles.  Everything that God wants us to know about Him and His will for us is recorded there.  If we study His word and live out His will, we will experience homothumadon.  But the devil’s desire is for you to be dissident to this will.  The devil desires friction and turmoil; he always has!  So the devil attacks the spread of Jesus Words and will.  That is the bad news, but the good news is, no matter how hard Satan and his devils try to prevent us from adhering to good Biblical doctrine, God—will—intervene!  When the devil tried to scatter the disciples in fear on Good Friday, God’s angel gathered them with the proclamation, “Jesus is risen, He is risen indeed!”  When the Jewish leaders led by the devils tried to force them behind locked doors, Jesus miraculously appeared and gave them the peace of His eternal presence through the gift of the Holy Spirit, which in turn empowered them with courage to go out and be His witnesses to the entire world until His return. As these witnesses spread throughout the world proclaiming the gospel, Satan tried to stop their witness once again by putting many of them in prison and eventually to death, but God again intervened by converting the tormentors.  He even converted Constantine, the Emperor of Rome into the fellowship of believers. 

So God’s people flourished and grew.  But Satan couldn’t stand to see them adhering to the true doctrine, so he used their ease to once again interrupt their fellowship with dissident doctrine—unbiblical teachings.  Satan began to attack God’s fellowship of believers from the inside—from the top down.  But God began to raise-up faithful stewards of His Word from within the church.  So began the seeds of the reformation.  Many brave reformers were imprisoned and even put to death for their insistence on Biblical doctrine, but one voice could not be silenced.  Martin Luther, by God’s grace rose up and boldly declared God’s message that has always been the source of our doctrine—we stand in the presence of a loving God by His grace, through faith in what our Bibles teach about Jesus Christ.  We stand by these things alone, and in this God is helping us and ensuring that this fellowship will not fail!  This is the doctrine that we still follow and insist on adhering to.  This is your inheritance indeed it is your legacy to live out and pass on to the next generation!  We find strength to live out this truth when we…

II. Adhere to Christian fellowship.  This Christian fellowship is first a fellowship of all believers—the universal church of true Christians unseen by all except God alone.  But the Christian fellowship is also a physical church, our church, and many other churches, and together we are all Christ’s church.  We are a fellowship because we adhere to one faith in Christ and one teaching, scripture alone.  We are a fellowship because it is only by God’s grace that we have been called out of the darkness of sin and into the light of eternal life and Christ’s body, the church.  This gives us great joy, because Christ first loved us while we were still sinners! 

Because of this truth, we along with the disciples of old, find it easy to support the fellowship, and to give to each other and to the ministry of this fellowship generously as the need arises.  We give out of our bounty because we know that if we are ever in need God will ensure that we are cared for as well.  This type of generous giving was never forced on the early church and it is not forced upon us.  We give because the Holy Spirit has recreated our sinful hearts and minds into something wonderfully new!   

Before the coming of our Savior, the people of faith, the Jews lived under the Mosaic Law, which was very specific about the care for the needy and downtrodden present within their fellowship of faith.  Under this law, God was teaching His people that it was His will that none of His children of faith should go hungry or be in need.  But if we read our Bibles, we will see that it is replete with example after example of the homeless, beggars, and helpless widows and orphans in need of but seldom receiving care.  These helpless ones were all people of faith.  The fact that they were not taken care of is proof that the Law of God cannot change a sinful heart!  No, rather it is only through God’s recreation, through the gift of new life that this type of giving and care can be assured.  So God changed the hearts of the early Christians and because of this change they gave not because they had to, but because their Lord asked them to.  They gave out of their love for Jesus because Jesus first loved them.  And friends, Jesus first loved us as well.  While we were still sinners He loved us, and He loves us still, so we give.  We bring our offerings as God leads our hearts so that each may be blessed by the ministry of this fellowship.  And when we feel our hearts growing cold and hard as they tend to do so easily in this sinful world, we pray.  And when we pray, we wait to be answered by God; we seek to be filled with His gifts.  But in order for this to happen, we know that we must…

III. Adhere to the fellowship of worship.  It is during worship that God will continue his work of ensuring that our old hearts that are hard and cold are destroyed and our new hearts are continually strengthened by His real presence and warmed with the gentle touch of His gospel.  We come just as the disciples of old came—hungry for the gifts of God—salvation through the forgiveness sin!

Our new heart hungers for and receives God’s Word as often as possible, even as the disciples of old gladly received His Word daily.  We hunger for and receive His Holy Supper, just as the disciples of old did, and through this breaking of bread and this drinking of the cup of the new covenant, our new hearts feast upon His very body and blood, making them joyful and our fellowship meaningful.

Now, with God working within us, we begin to hunger for a deeper fellowship with each other.  We long to celebrate another type of breaking of the bread…the fellowship of community meals.  Whether its coffee and donuts, church potluck or picnic, we long to gather together.  Not because we must, but because we desire the company of each other.  We have discovered as did the disciples of old that we need each other.  We need each other’s prayers and love.  We need each other’s support and care.  We need each other because we need Jesus, and we know that Jesus lives and works within each of us.  So we gather in our fellowship out of love and out of need.  But we are not yet complete, because we find God’s Spirit compelling us to…

IV. Adhere to the fellowship of proclaiming the gospel. It is only through the proclamation of the gospel, our witness to Jesus presence in this sinful world that the family of God will grow.  This morning Jesus says: “Even though you meet day by day, and you continue steadfast with one accord attending worship regularly together and breaking bread and receive your food together with glad hearts; even though you praise God for all of this, are you allowing me to add to your fellowship more and more people saved by grace and faith through scripture alone?  Do you want me to add to your number?  Do you want your fellowship to grow?”  And to this we say…Yes Lord!  Please teach us how.

Hopefully this illustration will do just that.  When I was a boy growing up in Wisconsin, there was a lot of water around.  I had wonderful adventures around lakes, ponds, and streams.  In our village park there were three bodies of water very close to each other, a pond, a river, and a spring fed stream.  The pond was fed every spring by the overflowing river.  When the winter snows melted, the pond teamed with life…I loved to play there and catch frogs.  The spring fed stream on the other hand was not as interesting to me.  It wasn’t nearly as spacious and inviting as the pond.  The spring bubbled water up, only to gush it down the banks of the little steam.  Everything there seemed so urgent. 

The pond on the other hand seemed to have everything I needed.  I could walk its edge at my leisure and let my mind wonder off on great “What If” adventures.  But every summer, something dreadful happened to that little pond—it died!  No longer was there the presence of life teaming around this water, instead there was brackish water and the stench of death and decay was everywhere.  Yet to my surprise I discovered that just a few hundred yards away, the stream was still teaming with life.  The water was still bubbling up and sending itself quickly downstream; but to where?  I followed the stream for almost a half mile and found that it met up with the Fox River.  And there within the river was all of the wildlife I came to love within the pond!  While the pond became a place of death, the stream kept bubbling life.  The stream continued to draw from the underground springs at its source and it gave life freely as it went along. 

Friends, it is God’s will that we travel out from this place as bubbling life.  He wants us to bring life to people and places where the decay and stench of death now exist.  What must we do?  Simply allow Jesus presence within us to lead and guide us.  Others will sense His presence and they will be drawn to you, because they are drawn to Him.  Within God’s Word, Jesus gives us this teaching when He says: “Give, and it will be given to you,” (Luke 6), and “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matt. 10).  Jesus also taught His disciples of old and He teaches us today, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6)  You see, we gain by giving and lose by keeping.  But we can’t grow by keeping to ourselves.  We must go out and intentionally share God’s love with others, then they will see Jesus within us and hear our witness.

Before His death upon the cross, Jesus shared the key to living in an empowering fellowship with Him and others in our fellowship.  He told the disciples of old and He tells us today, “Love one another as I have loved you.  All men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)  Friends, God’s plan for all believers includes the demonstration of His righteousness in and through a loving community.  Jesus’ church is to demonstrate to the world that righteousness, homothumadon, when correctly understood means love and joy!  And this love and joy can only be demonstrated in His fellowship; His fellowship within us, around us, and through us.  When this transformation takes place, we are nourished in our growth towards becoming like Jesus through the ministry of each other.  In the acceptance and love of each other, we also begin to not just more deeply sense God’s love for us, but we also begin to reflect that love towards a dying world in great need of homothumadon…fellowship with God!  May God ensure that this is so within each of us…in Jesus name…AMEN!