Archive for the ‘Repentance’ Category

Jesus… The True Christmas Gift

Sunday, December 18th, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Advent-HL, December 18h, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church

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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” (Deut. 18:15)

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!

Jesus Walks With Us!

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Jesus Walks With Us!
Pastor Brian Henderson, Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
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This morning dear friends, God’s Word comes to us in all 3 readings bringing parts of the same message: Repent and believe!  As God spoke to Abraham at Mt. Moriah, He also speaks to us: “Take your pride and your joy, along with your fears and worries and offer them to Me as a sacrifice of faith.  Do not doubt, but trust my work in your life.  Give these things to me so that you may draw closer to me and enter into a relationship of love, the likes of which you have never experienced before!” 

What is meant by our pride and joy, fear and worry?  Well friends, we don’t have to look any further than our present economic condition to get an answer to that question.  If you let the media and the government control your attitude, you might just become a little worried and afraid.  Questions race through our minds like, “Will my job survive this crisis and if not how will I take care of my family without that income?  Will my retirement annuity be enough to support me until I die or will I end up being a burden to my children?  When these fears and worries begin to control our thinking we may tend to lose our confidence in God’s care and love and look to other things like money as our source of strength and security.  Friends, our source of hope cannot be found in President Obama, the stimulus package, or the republican tax cuts.  If we trust in these things we will only be disappointed, and this disappointment will invariably lead us to think and do things that we would normally never dream of.  What things?  How about cutting back on your offering to God but continuing your spending on entertainment and non-essential food items and drinks?  How about lying on your taxes so that you can get a better return?  How about over charging your customers for services rendered?  How about stealing from your employer?  After all, they have more than they need, and you are in need!

I recently heard the story about a Christian woman who claimed that God takes care of her by bringing law suits her way.  If her coffee is too hot and she burns her mouth she sues.  If the floor is slippery in a store, she claims that she twisted her ankle and she sues.  If she is visiting a friend’s house and their dog jumps on her to great her with a kiss, she sues!  Why?  Well it’s because she says that they are all better off than she is, and God wants her to be blessed too!

All of these examples can only be described as sin; sin that separates us from the love of God.  What is the solution? The very same solution that Abraham gave to his son Isaac: Believe that “The Lord will provide!”  Friends, don’t trust in anyone or anything for hope but God alone.  

When testing and temptation come, we must learn to draw closer to God.  Now for some, this is much easier to say than to do.  It can be so tempting to take matters into your own hands and find an immediate solution to your problem.  For others, you might not want to hand your problems over to God because maybe you blame Him for letting things get so out of control.  Dear friends, please hear me, this is precisely the time you must turn to God by faith and trust in His promise; a promise that says that “for those who love God, all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose.” [Rom. 8:28] To this we might say, “But why then if God loves me is He allowing these things to happen to me?  Doesn’t He know I am hurting and in need?  Doesn’t He love me enough to help me?”  Yes friend He knows your hurting and in need, and He hasn’t left your side for a moment, and that’s precisely the point.  That’s why you should not be afraid.  He’s with you and He’s teaching you to go through the tough times with Him so that you will learn to stick to Him, trust Him, and experience His great love for you.  Now someone might ask, “How can I experience His love and concern when everything seems so dark and hopeless?”  The answer dear friends can only be learned through Jesus Christ! 

Jesus is God’s assurance that we will be protected from all of life’s hardships and He is our insurance that nothing can ever separate us from God’s eternal love, presence, and care!  God teaches us these truths through His Word, which when heard and read creates and strengthens our faith, and then in-turn creates and strengthens our love for God and our reliance on His care for us.  You see, love for God and trust in His care is really the result of our faith.  The Lord’s promises to you stimulates your love for Him; it is God’s love that assures you that He will never leave or forsake you because you love Him.  He delights in giving you the crown of eternal life.  Just as your faith strengthens you when you are under trials, so also does your love for Him who first loved you and died to save you.

Now all of this being true, someone might ask, “But why then does God choose trials and testings when He knows I will be tempted and fall into sin?”  And to this, our Epistle lesson answers, “Let no none when tempted say: “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts on one.  But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by (their) own desire.” [James 1:13-14]

How many here remember that old 70’s T.V. show Hee-Haw?  In one skit, old Doc Campbell is confronted by a patient who says he broke his arm in two places, to which the doc replies, “Well then stay out of them places!”  The point is, we can’t regularly put ourselves in the face of temptation and not be affected.  You can’t pray “Lead us not into temptation” and then go right in!  God did not lead you there, you did, and this is the test.  Will you follow God’s leading our your own selfish desires and lust.  Scripture says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” [James 4:8] How do you resist the devil?  Repent!  Turn away from your sinful desires and thoughts and turn to Jesus.

Turn to Jesus as your source of strength during times of testing.  Turn to Jesus as your shield in times of temptation.  And when you fail and fall into sin, and you will fail, turn to Jesus as your source of repentance, forgiveness, and faith.

Now I can’t close this message without addressing one last question from our assigned readings this morning, and it is this: Why was Jesus baptized?  Wasn’t he perfect?  Yes friends, Jesus was perfect and He was baptized in order to fulfill all God’s righteous demands on us.  How did He do this?  By walking the slow and painful course that ended in His bloody death upon the cross.  His walk started at the banks of the Jordan River where He received John’s baptism of repentance for your sins.  It was your sins that moved the Holy Spirit to drive Him into the wilderness to be tempted for 40 days by the devil.  There he withstood every temptation imaginable and He defeated every attack that Satan threw at Him.  And when He had defeated that prince of evil, He put Him on notice that each of you had a new champion that fights for you, and His name is Jesus Christ the Holy Son of God, and wherever you go, He goes with you!  But His walk did not end in the wilderness; no, His final battle with sin, death, and the devil would take Him to Golgotha, where He suffered and died for you!  Why?  So that you might realize that where ever you go, Jesus walks with you, allowing you to experience God’s love for you through the hearing of His Word of life, which then continually moves you to repent, believe and receive eternal life…and that through this gift of eternal life you might choose to live your life here abundantly, without fear or worry. 

May God the Holy Spirit move each of our hearts by faith to know that all of these good things from our Heavenly Father are ours eternally through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior…AMEN!

Repent and Rejoice!

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

 Repentance; Salvation; Witnessing; Acts 17:16-32; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21; Easter 6A
 Sixth Sunday in Easter, April 27, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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Perhaps the most important question someone will ever ask and have answered is, “How can we get to heaven?”  When you ask people this question as often as I do, you will be surprised by the many different answers you receive; most of them have nothing to do with how God has determined is the only way to come to Him.A little boy named Billy was caught being bad, something easily done for little boys who venture outside of the watchful eye of their parents.  His mother, who had become frustrated, asked him, “How do you expect to get into heaven acting like that?”  Billy thought for a moment and then said, “Well, I’ll just keep running in and out and keep slamming the door until they say, ‘For heaven’s sake Billy, either come in or stay out.’  Then I’ll go in!”  And that is the same foolish idea that many today have about pleasing God and entering into an eternity of peace.This morning I have a message to communicate to you that is so simple that it can be summed up in just one word, yet because of its simplicity many find it difficult to receive, so I will preface that simple Word with this story.
There was a couple many years ago that went through the long process of adopting a child.  Those of you who have been through the process can attest to how grueling and frustrating adoption can be.  When this young couple was finally approved as adoptive parents they were called down to the agency to meet and take home their new baby boy.

They arrived at the agency several minutes early and they were escorted to a waiting room upstairs.  After a few minutes they heard someone else come through the front door, and slowly walk up the same stairs.  Then they heard muffled voices and a door to a room next to them open and close.  Again they heard muffled voices but this time the voices were accompanied by uncontrollable sobbing, deep with anguish the sobs continued for several minutes.  Then suddenly, all was silent and they heard once again the same footsteps going down the steps, the same door closing.  After a few minutes, the case worker entered their waiting room and asked the couple to follow her into another room.  As they entered, they immediately saw a crib, and within the crib was a beautiful baby boy!  On a chair next to the crib was a brown paper bag that contained a change of clothes and two sealed letters from the birth mother, the woman they heard sobbing.  One of the letters was addressed to the adoptive parents; it thanked them for providing a loving home for her baby and accepted that under the terms of the adoption she was to have no contact with the child.  At the end of this letter the young mother added one request—Would they allow her little son to read the other letter on his 18th birthday?  She assured them that she hadn’t included any information about her identity, but rather simply wanted to communicate one thing in life that she had learned was more important than anything else.

The story never told what was in the letter; it’s point was to illustrate the enduring love of a mother for her child, a child that she could no longer care for.  But I can’t help but wonder what she wrote.  If you had to condense all that you feel about life and love into a few precious words, what would you write?  You wouldn’t have time for trivial things; you’d have to get right to the point.  Friends, this morning I find myself in a similar position along with the Apostle in this morning’s lesson from the book of Acts.  I must start and end this message with one thought, indeed with one word.  I pray that you will hear and understand this message clearly.  Please don’t listen to my accent; don’t worry about my hair or tone of voice; don’t think about my race or my education.  See past me and hear the word of God, “REPENT!”

This morning we find St. Paul delivering a message of repentance and salvation to the people of Athens.  Turn with me now in your Bibles to Acts 17:16-31. Starting in vs. 16 we read: 16Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.
 19And they took hold of him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

We’ve caught up with Paul waiting in Athens for his partners in ministry to join him there.  While he’s waiting he begins to observe things that really bother him in his spirit.  All around him are idols and evidence of false worship.  As Paul is trouble in his spirit, he felt compelled to address the cause of that trouble.  So Paul began to engage the citizens of Athens in discussion and debate about the One true God.  As he did this, it became apparent that there were two groups of thinkers that seemed to control all of the discussion about religion and faith; they were the Epicureans and the Stoics. 

The Epicureans believed that true religion was discovered in the pursuit of enjoyment.  If life was difficult for a person then that meant that, that person was searching for happiness in the wrong place.  If you were living a comfortable life then that was considered evidence that you were on the right path.  We could say that their motto was “Eat, drink, and be merry!”  The Stoics on the other hand believed that all of life was nothing more than a collection of atomic particles whose existence and order were predetermined by an unseen and unknowable force.  If one wanted to find happiness in life, then it was necessary to discover this force’s movement and follow it.  We might say that the Stoics motto was “Go along to get along” or “Go with the flow!”  Does any of this sound familiar?  We live in a consumer based society.  Every day we see people living their lives in the pursuit of things.  Young people, your parents and grandparents had a saying for this style of living—it was called “Keeping up with the Jones’”.  “My neighbor or friend has this gadget or that thing and they seem happy, so I need to somehow get it too!”  The problem with this style of living is that no matter how many things we collect, it’s never enough, we always want the next big thing!  But, we also can find another type of person whose philosophy is “It doesn’t matter.  The rich keep getting richer, and the poor just keep getting poorer.  What’s the use? I’ll never have a comfortable life style, so why bother!  I just won’t work for anything.  I’ll just settle for whatever the government and charities give me.  I just have to accept that as my lot in life!”

St. Paul tried to reason with both of these groups, by assuring them of something greater than themselves; he tried to tell them of a God who saw them as more than the things they had collected in life or failed to collect.  What was his reward?  They ridiculed him and called him a babbler, a speaker of nonsense, yet they could not reject the logic in his belief.  Now intrigued by his logic they say, “We wish to know more about what you are saying.”  And to this, Paul undoubtedly asked and answered the same question Martin Luther asks us in His Large Catechism concerning the First Commandment, “What does it mean to have the true God?” A God is the term we use to describe the one greatest thing or things we turn to, to find happiness; the things we find refuge in during times of need.  Therefore, to have a god is nothing else than the very thing that we trust and believe in with our whole heart.  So you see, it is trust and faith that makes both a God and a false god.  If our faith and trust are right, then our God is the true one, but where our trust and faith are falsely placed then we don’t have the true God but instead we are worshiping an idol.  Anything dear friends that our hearts rely on or desire, anything we depend on, that is our God.

What do we depend on?  I mean what is it that we really think will make our lives better?  For some it may be a certain life style.  For others maybe it’s a certain political party, or government program.  Maybe it’s a certain drug or substance that alters your mood.  And for others it might be a system of belief that says all religions lead to heaven and all worship is sacred to God the creator.  But all of these things if allowed to replace the one true God and His Word are simply false gods and idols.  This was the truth that Paul taught and it no doubt caused quite the commotion within the halls of academia, in the city of Athens.  And yet they wanted to hear more!

 [Vs. 22] 22So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.   23For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 
   26And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28for
    “‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
 as even some of your own poets have said,
    “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
   29Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Dear friends, what St. Paul was saying to the people of Athens, he is speaking to us as well.  He is saying that the incarnation of God in Jesus means that even as we live our lives continually searching for meaning and knowing the true God, “Indeed he is not far from each one of us.”  If you have never truly known the love, mercy, and kindness of God, and you hunger to know the truth, HE IS NOT FAR FROM YOU!  Maybe you knew the sweetness of His presence once, but now because of circumstance either directly resulting from your actions or circumstances beyond your control you feel as though God has abandoned you.  Please hear this word, HE IS NOT FAR FROM YOU!  Perhaps you truly know God’s presence and enjoy a relationship of trust with Him, but something in this message has touched your heart, and you feel the need to confess your sin and be forgiven once again, then be of good cheer, HE IS NOT FAR FROM YOU!  Friends, the truth is, we can’t make God come any closer to us than He already is.  In Jesus, God lives in the flesh and He is redeeming our sinful lives every moment of every day!   I know, for some this undeserved gift of love from God in spite of our rotten, sinful living just seems too good to be true.  Of course it’s too good—that’s what makes every bit of it so wonderful!  IT—IS—TRUE!

The truth is we don’t have to live as if God is angry with us, because the God in whom “we live and move and have our being” doesn’t need a single thing from us, instead we need to receive from Him.  In our baptism we received all that was needed to approach Him with or aching and lonely hearts.  And when we look back at our baptism we are reminded that he has incorporated us into His continuous and mighty act of salvation, as a gift of love from Him to us!

Now, because of this gift, we belong to a God “who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth”.  We are not judged by a god who is separated from us.  For in Christ, the world is judged in righteousness, not in anger.  We are judged not by the virtue of any sacrifice we can make, but by the virtue of Christ’s glorious sacrifice for us—“By His wounds (we) have been healed.”  By his agonizing death for you, the death you should have died, you have been saved. 

Dear friends, St. Paul says that we can be sure of this promise because Jesus has risen from the dead, He is risen indeed!  So repent!  Turn away from your sins and turn to Jesus for forgiveness and life.  Repent and believe that God is for you, and then let His love transform you forever!  I pray that you will do this now, tomorrow, and every day in Jesus name…. AMEN!