Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Claim it and Claim it!

Sunday, November 11th, 2018

Pentecost 25
November 11, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“And she went and did as Elijah said.  And she and her household ate for many days.” [1 Kings 17:15]  “For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” [Mark 12:34]

This morning, our message is one of stewardship; not the way some might define it, with the words “Name it and claim” it behind their message; no our message comes directly from the heart of God.  It’s He alone who speaks to our hearts, not sinful men, and He alone gives us faith and courage to follow and believe what He says in His Word.

In our Old Testament reading (1 Kings 17:8-16), Elijah the prophet is given a test from God meant to help him trust in His Word and then take action that is born out of that trust, or faith.  The test from God isn’t meant to trap Elijah, but to prove to Him that God loves him and will always provide.  But God’s testing of faith, or His creating of faith, didn’t stop there.  God also spoke to a poor widow woman who had a home and family, and no more resources to provide for it.  The world was in the middle of a famine and this poor woman only had enough flour to make one last meal for herself and her child.  She must have been wondering, “Is there a god, and if there is does that god really care?”

And this is exactly the place where the living God desires to prove that He is real and He does provide for those who trust in Him.  God provided for Elijah and through His Word of promise and the faith that comes with it, He would provide for the widow as well. God’s promise to her was simple: the bowl of flour and the jar of oil will not be exhausted until the famine is over.  

When Elijah spoke the promise of God to the widow, she heard and believed.  She passed God’s test of new found faith by preparing the bread for Elijah.  The widow acted as though the flour and oil would last forever.  And that is the very essence of faith; the widow trusted God’s Word.  “Faith is being certain of what we do not see”. [Hebrews 11:1]

Does God still look for examples of that faith today?  

Yes!  But how, how is that kind of faith even possible?  Only by the Word, the promises of God; only when the one being blessed by the promise of God is trusting in the promise.  What promise?  Well there are many great promises that God makes in His Word, but the greatest of them all for sinners like us, is the promise of complete and total forgiveness of sins.  Have you claimed that promise?  Are you truly trusting that God has done that for you?  If you have then it should completely redefine your life.  It should change you in the very core of who you are and why you are living in this sinful world.  Has it; has it really changed you?  Well, let’s put it to the test.

One of my favorite hymns is “We Give Thee But Thine Own”. I like it because the lyrics challenge my faith; it even forces me to measure it.  Listen to this verse: “We give Thee but Thine own, whate’er the gift may be; all that we have is Thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from Thee.”   If God were to ask you right now if the amount that is in your giving envelope is a good example of how much you trust Him and love Him, would you be embarrassed?  If you’re honest with yourself, I think you already know the answer.  

If you are a member here at Trinity, you are provided giving envelopes every year.  Do you ever read the different messages on each envelope?  Each message is designed to focus our hearts and minds on God’s forgiving love and then speak to our hearts as God helps us determine what to give.  This morning’s message on my envelope gets to the very heart of the question, “Why should I give more than a little to the church?”  Listen: “Wherever your treasure is there your heart [and thoughts will also be.” [Matthew 6:21]  So how much is in your envelope this morning?  How much have you decided to praise Him with?

Ok, I know the message is getting a little uncomfortable for us this morning; that always happens when the Law of God begins poking and probing into those secret and protected places.  

And what does God want us to see in all of this poking and probing?  The quality of our faith.  He is always looking to test our faith, so that He can strengthen it.  And how does He do that?  Well, let me first tell you how He doesn’t do it; He surely doesn’t do it through worldly teachings and opinions.

When Elijah was sent to the widow to be cared for, God was already preparing the widows heart to be used by Him.  When the man of God came and spoke the words, “Do not fear” God was already giving faith and courage to the woman so she could hear what came next: “make for me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son.”  Now, those are challenging words, in fact they are impossible words for anyone on the brink of starvation.  It is an all or nothing proposition.  You would have to be a fool to believe those words, unless they were God’s Words.  You see God’s Word always provides faith to believe the promise within the Word.  What was the promise?  That she would never lack!  It was not Elijah saying that but God speaking through a true prophet.  She knew who Elijah was; she knew he was the real deal.  So the question that God was asking her was not if she trusted Elijah, but if she trusted Him.  God’s Word provides faith and it provides courage; God’s Word and not the word of men.  

Earlier I referred to the phony evangelists and preachers who are known as the word of faith preachers.  Some of them use the slogan, “Name it and claim it!”  Or as I like to say, “Blab it and grab it!”  When they speak about seed money and sowing for blessings of wealth and prosperity, they really mean it; the only problem is that they’re talking about their own wealth and prosperity and not yours!  They aren’t preaching the gospel of forgiveness but the gospel of redistribution of wealth, from your hand to theirs.  These are the type of phonies that Jesus was talking about in our gospel reading this morning (Mark 12:38-44), listen: “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows houses and for a pretense make long prayers.”  

Today, we might say beware of the prosperity preachers, who like to walk around in Armani suits wearing Rolex watches, expensive jewelry, living in lush million dollar homes, and driving around in a new Mercedes Benz.  You know who they are don’t you?  Where ever they go they want everyone in the community to notice them.  They are the ones who will use wonderful sounding prayers intended to manipulate you and take your last penny, with the promise that God will bless you.  Baloney!  Jesus says that those kind of phony preachers will receive great condemnation!  He tells you that for a reason; He wants you to take your heart and eyes off of the promises of men and instead focus on the promises of God.

After Jesus condemned the scribes He called His disciples to His side, and He asked them to look at a poor widow who was putting a penny in the offering.  

After the widow deposited her offering, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Like the widow in our Old Testament reading, God worked within the heart of the widow with the penny to give everything and then trust in His care and blessing.  It was God who did that and not sinful man.  Why did God ask them to give everything?  So that He could be praised, not so the preacher or even the giver could be admired.  What was the reward for the widows in their giving?  Stronger faith; faith to know and experience God’s care and love, even in hard times.  

Now, we’ve arrived at the conclusion of our message and many of us are asking ourselves this question, “Could I do that; could I give everything if God asked me to?”  The answer is simple; yes you could if God willed it!  

But the truth is friends; the kingdom of God does not rest upon your obedience or lack of it.  God doesn’t need your time, talent, or treasure to build His kingdom, but He does invite you to use those things and be a partner in seeing that kingdom grow.  Why?  “Because all that you have is from God; it’s a trust from Him, a tool that God wants to use to test and strengthen your faith.  But faith in what?  Faith in God’s faithfulness; faith in His forgiving heart, which speaks to you forgiveness of sins… the gospel of Jesus Christ!

It was Jesus, the Son of God who “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin (your sin), by the sacrifice of His own life.  And just as it is appointed for (each of us) to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sin of many (yes, even your sins dear baptized, He) will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those (you and I), who are eagerly waiting for Him.” [Hebrews 9:26b-28]

How much does God ask us to give to Him?  All of it, everything we have, but when we realize this truth He also takes the fear of giving away.  You see, He gives it back to us and asks us to hold onto it as a trust from Him.  He asks us to hold onto it with an open hand so that He can take of our time, talent, and treasure as He sees fit.

How much should you give?  I do not know; that is between you and God, but I do know this, you don’t decide to become a steward of God’s gifts after your saved, and you don’t decide to become a steward after you have a good job.  No Christian stewardship demands that we take good care of our time talent and treasure because we have been commissioned by Jesus to manage those things for God’s glory and the spreading of His kingdom of grace one forgiven sinner at a time.  You see, we are all stewards, the only question is whether we are good stewards or bad ones.  I know that God is always testing our faith so that we will get better and better at trusting Him and believing that all we have is His alone, a trust from God to us.  May He continue to give us faith to believe this… in Jesus name… AMEN!

Justified By Faith!

Sunday, October 28th, 2018

Reformation SundayB
October 28, 2018
Mr. Rick Stark, Vicar of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text this morning comes from the Epistle lesson, specifically the 28thverse. St Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans,“We hold that [a person] is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” (3:28)

What this text proclaims is at the very heart of why God sent His only Son, Jesus, to be born in our flesh, to be crucified on the cross, and to rise again in glory.  Can you imagine that this precious Gospel message was hidden out of error and nonsense from the people of God for nearly a thousand years!?!

A little over five hundred years ago, on October 31, 1517, Dr. Martin Luther, a 34-year old Augustinian monk and university professor, in the little German town of Wittenberg, took a short walk from his monastery home at the university over to the other side of town, to the castle church.  And there, on the church door, he posted a written piece he had titled “The Disputation on the Power and Efficiency of Indulgences.” 

This piece was originally written in Latin, and meant for debate among the students, faculty, and other clergymen in the area. The first line read, “Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg…”

This insignificant act set into motion the great Reformation of the Christian church. As Christians, especially Lutheran-Christians, we are the heirs of that Reformation and so today, on Reformation Sunday, we join with faithful Lutherans all around the world in celebrating that historic event and all the blessings of pure doctrine and sound practice that came from it.

So what do we do to remember and celebrate the Reformation? Quite simply by believing in and caring about the same things that Martin Luther and the other Reformers believed in and cared about.  At the top of the list, the most important item in that list, is Justification. Everything else that we talk about in the Lutheran church either flows from, follows after, surrounds and/or supports this central, primary doctrine of justification.

First, let me explain what justification is? Understand that this term “justification” is a legal term, referring to the courtroom of God’s justice and how we stand before Him.

Now when the day of reckoning comes, the verdict will be read.  And, as we stand before our Judge, God will decide if we are justified or condemned by His standards. That is to say, “righteous” or “not righteous.”

The classic passage in the Bible on this subject is from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, the third chapter–our Epistle for this day–summed up in verse 28, “For we hold that [a person] is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”But to really appreciate the brilliance, and the clarity, and sheer power of this passage, we need to back up and look at Paul’s argument leading up to this point.

In chapters 1 and 2 of Romans and continuing into chapter 3, Paul, like a prosecuting attorney, lays out the argument that all of us are guilty in God’s sight according to the standards of His Law.

The fact of the matter is, every single one of us, every human being that has ever lived (with the exception of one) will stand guilty in God’s courtroom. God’s Law accuses us. God’s Law convicts us. And, God’s Law sentences us to death, and rightly so. and moral we have tried to live, we all fail… No matter how good we think we are, we all fall, not one of us can live by the standard of the Law.

Paul, sums up the legal case against us in verses 19 and 20 of our text: “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the Law; [but] through the Law we become conscious of our sin.”That’s what the Law does.

Jesus tells us, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  But even as Christians, we tend to manage only a half-hearted obedience. Do we have a fervent desire to be in God’s house every Sunday? Do we gladly hear and learn God’s word and hold it sacred?  Do we take time to study the Bible and pray to God with hearts of utmost devotion? I’m guessing, not as well as we should.

And Jesus says, “… the second [commandment] is like [the first]: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’’How well do we do that? Do you love your neighbor and seek his good as much as you love yourself? How many of us even know our neighbors? How well do you speak about your neighbor? I could go on & on, but you get the point.

Back in the courtroom, Law cries out, “Guilty as charged.” And if guilty, then the sentence is death.  Remember, “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23), that’s the punishment that the Law requires. No slap on the wrist, no probation, and no time off for good behavior. There is no room for leniency in this Law or in this courtroom.  It’s either, “Keep the Law, perfectly, or break the Law, and you die – which means to be cut off from God forever.”

The point is – the Law cannot save you. It can only convict you and condemn you.

But the Law also does you the valuable service of showing you your sins. You see, you need to know that you cannot please God and earn your salvation by how well you keep the Law. You can never keep it perfectly! No one can!

This is essential for you to know, so you don’t deceive yourself into thinking you can be good enough, or righteous enough on your own. You need to be stripped down of that way of thinking, so that your ears will be open to hear what God’s Word has to say to you, namely, the Gospel, which is the only place where salvation can indeed be found.

That’s what Paul gets at next in our lesson, and this right here is the heart of the Gospel, Romans 3:21-28, the teaching of justification by faith in its most extreme examples. Paul writes:

“But now the righteousness of God has been [made known] apart from the Law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it [that is] the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction [between Jew and Gentile]: for allhave sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified by His grace as a [free] gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a [sacrifice of atonement] by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine [patience] he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

And then Paul finishes it off: “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the Law of Faith. For we hold that [a person] is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”

This is the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ. This is justification that comes by grace alone, and grace alone that comes through faith alone. That’s what this passage is saying.

The Law is not the only word that will be heard in God’s courtroom. The judge will declare you “not guilty,” but it won’t be because of anything you did or how well you have lived according to the Law. But by the work of your advocate, your defense attorney, Jesus Christ– He who is without sin, the only man who has ever kept the Law of God as it should be kept–Jesus stepped forward and took your place when the death sentence was handed down. Justice has already been served, and Jesus is the one who served it.

You see, out of God’s great love for us sinners, He puts forward his own Son, Jesus Christ, to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. The precious, priceless blood of the Holy Son of God was shed on our behalf, covering our sins with His righteousness.

And all this is a free gift. It is all because of grace, God’s undeserved favor, freely bestowed on us because of God’s immeasurable love for you. It’s not a matter of your works; it’s a matter of Christ’s work for you. Not because of what you’ve done, but because of who He is; not because of who you are, but because of what He’s done! Call it redemption, salvation–or call it justification, it’s the righteousness of God, you are righteous to stand before God, to stand in His presence–the thing is this: You can’t earn it. You can only receive it. Receive it as a gift.

That’s what faith is: Simply receiving that gift that God is giving you, the forgiveness of sins won for you by Christ on the cross. That “not guilty” verdict pronounced by God–“justified by faith!” that sweet music is ringing in your ears, not because of anything you have done, but rather solely because of what Christ has done for you. Of that, you can be certain.

That’s the enlightenment Martin Luther received through the Gospel some 500 years ago.  And now, you know what the Reformation was all about, a fight to restore this critical and central teaching of the Gospel to its proper place of prominence, to give all the glory to Christ, and to give comfort and consolation to troubled souls–this was the special gift of Martin Luther and the Reformation.

Instead of turning people back to their own efforts at trying to keep the Law, Luther pointed people to Christ and the cross, to this teaching of justification by grace alone through faith alone, apart from works of the Law.

To underscore its importance, Luther would say of the doctrine of justification: “The first and chief article is this:  Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification… For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law… Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls… Upon this article everything that we teach and practice depends… Therefore, we must be certain and not doubt this doctrine. Otherwise, all is lost… (Smalcald Articles, The Second Part, Article I)

When we grasp just how beautiful, how central, and life-giving this divine doctrine of justification is… we realize it isthe very heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ–God’s gracious declaration of righteousness for Christ’s sake–when we come to these realizations then we will treasure this teaching. We will hold it dear, we will thank God for it, and we will let it permeate every aspect of the church’s life. And that is why we can say today, with joy and confidence, that the doctrine of justification is the heartof the Reformation. Amen.

 

And now, may the grace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus! Amen!

Childlike Faith

Sunday, October 7th, 2018

Pentecost 19B
October 7, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” [Mark 10:15]

Each of you who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who trust in God’s Word like a little child, are promised a place in Paradise, or another way to say that is you have a mansion in heaven or a seat at our Lord’s banquet table, which has been prepared just for you by Jesus Himself. So, are you ready?  Will you be there in glory?

God’s Word promises that you will be; it encourages you to trust in Christ alone; God wants you to rest in everything that Jesus Christ has done for you in this life and the life to come.  Is that enough for you, or do you need more?

In our epistle reading this morning (Hebrews 2:1-13), God warns His little ones, He warns you and me that if we don’t continually grab ahold of His promises about our blessed assurance, we might begin to drift away from our seat at the banquet table; we might begin to think that there’s another way to get to our heavenly home.  So is that a danger to us; drifting away from God’s precious promises?  It is if we are trusting in something other than the work and the promises of Jesus Christ!

Why do we have times when we feel like our life lacks meaning and purpose?  It’s because we’ve taken our eyes off of God’s promises!  Why is it that sometimes when trouble comes our way we become afraid and filled with doubt?  It’s because we’ve lost sight of Jesus and His real presence in our lives!  Why is it that when fear and doubt come, we may begin to lose that joy in knowing that we really do have a place prepared just for us in heaven?  It’s because we have begun to judge success by what we do and not what God has done for us!

The truth is we all fall short of God’s will for us here; we all fall short of His perfection, but we still want so badly to please Him; to earn His love and respect.  But it’s also true that no matter how hard we try to be good, we will fail.  And yet we still try to earn our place in heaven by what we do.  

This morning the theme in both our Old Testament and Gospel lessons seems to be marriage and family.  

In both of these readings, God is showing us His perfect will and how far we fall short of that perfection.  So then why do we still think that on our own we can be God pleasing husbands, wives, parents or children?  Because we have a sin problem, and our sinful nature won’t let us see the impossibility of change; it won’t let us see that on our own, we are without hope.  And so, even though we know that we fall short of pleasing God, our sinful desire to be independent would have us believe that we can bridge this gap by our own efforts.  And because of this sin problem, we are deceived into thinking that if we just try a little harder then our marriages will be repaired and our families will be God pleasing.

This kind of thinking is not only dangerous, it is darn right destructive.  It’s harmful to ourselves and to those we love.  You see, when we think that action and effort are enough to please God and restore joy in our lives and our relationships with others, we have abandoned God’s promises of help and hope.  We’ve exchanged the hope of the gospel for the demands of the Law; a Law that will settle for nothing short of perfection!

People who are trusting in the law are easy to spot.  They are the ones who struggle and strive but never really see any lasting improvement in their lives.  

Life guards on our San Diego beaches say that the biggest danger to swimmers are the many rip-tides that are present off our shores.  They say that swimmers caught in a rip tide are easy to spot too.  They are the ones who swim and swim, yet they aren’t moving.  They aren’t moving because they aren’t strong enough to defeat the current.  

Sadly, each of us can get caught up in the riptides of life.  We tell ourselves that if we just try harder, everything will be alright.  And when we become exhausted at trying to fix our marriages or our other relationships, we become discouraged and maybe afraid that God is angry with us because we aren’t spiritual enough.  So what do we do?  We look for another way to maximize our effort; we read another book or take another course.  We try new techniques and try to be nicer and more attentive.  

Now at some point, you would think that we would admit failure and try things God’s way, right?  Nope!  Instead, we’ll tell ourselves that because we’re exhausted and miserable, we must be doing what God wants us to do.  It must be spiritual!  So we keep it up for a few weeks or maybe even a few months, but eventually our discipline will break down, and we’ll abandon this latest technique towards building a better  marriage, and a stronger family.  You know what comes next don’t you?  Guilt!  And after enough guilt we’ll simply move onto the next program or buy another book with 10 easy steps towards fulfillment.

Eventually, we will just give up; we simply won’t have the energy to try anymore.  And then we learn to fake it.  We think that we can bridge the gap to heaven by acting like we’re alright, even though everything within us and around us is screaming in our ears that we aren’t ok.  But we keep up the image; we speak as if we had deeper spiritual experiences than we really have.  Our hearts become cold, and we speak as though our sin bothers us more than it really does.  We pray as though our voice is throbbing with deep emotion that isn’t really there.  Why we might even join in a game of spiritual musical chairs, always searching for a different church or ministry that will provide the magic key.  Some people go from one movement to another, continually rededicating their lives to the Lord, only to fall away again and again.  And if this continues, God is warning us that eventually we will secretly give up.  Oh, we’ll still hope that there’s a place for us in heaven, but between now and the day we die, we’ll spend the rest of our lives disappointed and not even trying to change.

So what’s the answer?  Where is the hope?  What is it that can break this awful cycle of disappointment and death?  It certainly isn’t greater resolve or another program; no I think that we need to follow the example of the mothers and babies in our gospel lesson to get our answer!

We need to get to Jesus!  Listen: “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”

The Pharisees wanted to sit around talking about the best technique, the most God pleasing program that would free people from the condemnation of the law; in this case they were arguing about divorce.  But Jesus wouldn’t let them; instead He told them that they didn’t have a problem in choosing the best strategy, they had a problem with their hearts.  They were sinful.  They needed a new heart, and that was something only Jesus could give them.

The apostles didn’t have that problem; they had constant access to God’s recreating presence; they were with Jesus all of the time.  No, their problem was their desire to control Jesus; they wanted to limit His audience, and the people who also got to be with Him.  They really wanted Jesus to themselves and they wanted Him to minister to others in a way they thought was best.  So they forbid the mothers from bringing their children to Jesus.  But Jesus wouldn’t have any of that.  He was angry and He let it show!  He told them that not only should they quit standing in the way of these little ones getting to Him, but that if they did not become like one of those babies, they would never get into heaven!  In other words, they needed a simple child like faith and then with that faith, they must turn to God confessing their helplessness and total dependence on His care, just like a baby!

The truth is, eventually all of us finally figure out that we can’t ever bridge the gap that sin creates by turning to our own efforts. We discover that we can never earn God’s love and forgiveness.  We discover that God will always work the way He desires and not the way we want Him to work; we discover that we must become like a child and realize that this kind of love can only come by grace.  A child knows that salvation is a gift; it’s simply something that is given to him; it’s something that he trusts in because it comes from Jesus.  That is why Jesus loves to use little children as his teaching aids.

What is God’s plan for you, your marriage, family, and life?  That you would not trust in your own abilities or your self-improvement plans, but instead learn to rest in what He has done for you through Jesus Christ.  In Jesus, concerning your forgiveness, there is no place for self-improvement because that would negate the need for the cross.  In the cross, God takes you away from your plan of salvation and He shows you His.  He shows you His Son who suffered and died for every sinner that ever lived.  But He also makes it very personal by taking you to the waters of your baptism.  In your baptism He promises that you have been recreated and restored; He promises that in His Word, in His promises you can grab onto them, trust them and then watch as He continually renews you and changes you.  

The mothers in our gospel reading knew what you also know but often forget.  If you can just get to Jesus and stay with Him, there is new life and hope in abundance!  In the Word of God, Jesus speaks to you, to your marriages, to your families; He speaks Words of forgiveness and hope.  Even if you have been marked by divorce or a family tragedy, Jesus promises that this is not what defines you or condemns you; instead, He speaks forgiveness and new life as He continually invites you into His plan of salvation for you; and in this plan, He promises to give you a new and abundant life.  

Listen friends, God doesn’t want you to just be saved by grace but to live by it as well!  God’s plan is for your daily life to be guided, guarded, and energized by Jesus suffering and death for you!  He wants you to live in grace and then watch as that same grace flows out of you and into your families, your relationships and our community.  In essence, God wants you to be amazed at how His Spirit will transform your life, your family, and our community.

So will you be there, at the banquet in heaven?  Yes by grace alone!  But listen, God doesn’t want you to just be satisfied with just your seat, your mansion in heaven, He also wants you to go out and invite others to join you.  You can do that as you let His forgiving love live in you and pass through you.  You can do that as you invite others to come with you to this place of worship so that they too can experience the very same thing.  I pray that you will do this very thing… in Jesus name… AMEN and AMEN!

Help For Our Unbelief!


Sunday, September 16th, 2018

Pentecost 17B
September 16, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

Our text this morning is the 24th verse of our Gospel lesson.  “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” [Mark 9:14-29]

The Christian life is “a land of hills and valleys” isn’t it?  In one day, we can move from what seems like the glory of heaven to the attacks of hell. In our gospel lesson this morning, we join our Lord returning from the Mt. of Transfiguration, where 3 of the apostles were allowed to see Jesus in His heavenly glory; a glory that would once again be His forever. But, Jesus knew that He must first begin His painful walk to the cross—a cross where He would once and for all, free us from sin, death, and the attacks of the devil.  Jesus knew that He would do all of this through His own death.  So down the mountain they went as Jesus had his face set towards the cross.

As Jesus and His the apostles came down off the mountain and joined the other nine, they found them enveloped in a problem: they were unable to deliver a boy from demonic control, and the scribes were debating with them and perhaps even taunting them because of their failure. And the demon… well it was doing its best to destroy the boy.  As always, it was Jesus who would step in to solve the problem. 

So what happened?  What went wrong?  Jesus had given all of His disciples authority to cast out demons [Mark 6:7, 13], and yet their ministry to the boy was a failure. Well, there was no time to dwell on their failure because the desperate father was now begging Jesus to help.  Wouldn’t you if that was your child?  But that poor father was not even sure that Jesus could succeed; after all His disciples had failed.  That’s why he said, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us.” [Mark 9:22] 

But something interesting is learned here and it is this, the father was honest enough to admit that he was having trouble believing in Jesus, and he asked the Lord to help him believe.  

The main lesson of this miracle is that faith in Jesus alone gives us the power to overcome worry and the fear of sin, death, and the devil. But then why had the nine disciples failed? Well they failed because they were afraid and worried.  And why was the father successful in seeing his son healed by Jesus?  Because he was afraid and worried.  You see, both are examples of how fear and worry can either have a negative effect or a positive effect on your faith.  

The nine apostles were worried because things weren’t working out the way they understood Jesus had said they would.  

Didn’t Jesus say that He had given them the authority to drive out demons? I can imagine them saying something like, “It worked before when He sent us out.  So why isn’t it working now?  Oh where is Jesus?  Why did he have to leave us alone like this?  What if He doesn’t come back soon?  Well if he doesn’t it won’t be our fault, after all, we’ve tried everything!”  Worry and panic began to take over.  But that wasn’t all; that demon was starting to get nasty with them, and to top it all off, those hypocrites called “the scribes” saw the whole thing and now they were ridiculing them.  OK, now their worry was giving way to fear. They must have been saying  “Oh where is Jesus?  Somebody do something…!”  And to this, the devil sneers and taunts and asks, “Where’s your faith?  Where’s your faith now?” 

Help was so close.  Jesus had taught them that with the faith the size of a mustard seed they could call out to God and if it was according to the Father’s will they could order a mountain to fall into the sea and it would! [Matt. 17:20]    Yet because of their fear and worry, they forgot that help was just a prayer away.  

Have you ever been there before?  So sure of yourself; so certain that you had everything under control and then– “BAMB!”… everything falls apart?  What the nine apostles forgot, and what we so very often forget, St. James gladly reminds us of in our epistle reading: “We all stumble in many ways.  And if anyone does not stumble in what he says (or in what he does), he is a perfect man…”  Oh how easily because of our pride, we forget that everything we have, our health, all of our talents, all of our gifts, and all of our finances are just a gift from God—every second of our lives are being guided by His loving hand.  And when things stop going the way we think they should go, when we’re done coasting downhill and seem to be stuck in the dark valley, we ask, “Where is God?  Why isn’t He here helping me?”

Friends, what do you do when you’re smack dab in the middle of a crisis?  Well let me tell you what Jesus expects you to do.  Stop, remember God’s promise that He will never leave you, take a deep breath, relax, and then pray.  That’s what the disciples forgot to do, and so many times when tragedy strikes, that is also what we forget to do.  Why is that important?  Because prayer invites God into your dilemma and your small faith says, “Here Lord, take over.  I’m tired and ready to give up.  If you want this done please work through me and do it.”  The father of the boy told Jesus that His disciples didn’t have the strength to drive the demon out.  They did not have the strength because they didn’t ask for it.  So remember, stop and pray for God’s strength!

What the disciples forgot, the father of the demon possessed boy remembered.  

“Teacher, I’ve brought my son to you.”  Faith in Christ is compelled to bring its dilemmas and tragedies to Christ.  And when we bring these things to our Lord in faith, He asks us, “Do you believe I can help you?  Do you believe I will help you?  Remember, all things are possible for one who believes.”  It is at this point in our lives where little faith, small almost unobservable faith calls out in the same anguish as that father had for his only son, “I believe Lord; help my unbelief!  Teach me to believe….teach me to trust you.   You Lord Jesus Christ are my only source of hope!”

In these words friends, we hear pain; we hear worry and fear, but we also hear a confession.  “Forgive me for my unbelief O Lord, and help me to believe!”  Dear baptized friends, that is your confession—your confession when you know you should believe; you know you should believe, because of the many promises God has given you, you know you must believe, but for some reason your faith is very small, you are afraid, and you find it hard to believe.  Your privilege friend, as a baptized child of God, is that you can call out to Him and confess all of your sins, including the sin of doubt, and then know with a great certainty that He has heard your prayer.  

God wants you to know that not only does He forgive your doubt, but for the sake of your Savior Jesus Christ, He also gives you what you are asking for because He loves you and because what you are asking for is in keeping with His will.  Friends, the most important thing that God wants you to believe is that for Christ’s sake, you are forgiven of all your sins; forgiven unto eternal life!

But what if you pray and pray; what if you are always confessing your sins and you don’t feel peace—you just don’t feel comforted?  

What if you still feel fear and worry?  Does that mean that God isn’t listening to you?  No!!  Dear friends, faith—your faith is not based on how you feel, but on Jesus’ real presence in your life.  Just because one person feels peace and another still feels fear doesn’t mean that God is closer to one and farther from another.  God stands by all of His children…He stands by you!  

Listen friends, since faith is so important and vital to your spiritual well being don’t think for a moment that God wants you to remain captivated by your fear.  And don’t try to talk yourself out of your emotions, instead confess them to Him and then rest in His presence in your life.  You see, it’s the God of peace that will comfort you.  How?  By helping you to trust in His work in you!  Friends, through His Holy Spirit, God is moving your heart to turn away from your sin—to turn away from your lack of faith and turn to Him.  He wants you to look to Jesus Christ, the lamb who takes away the sin of the world—even the sin of doubt and fear, and then rest in Him by faith. That dear friends is big faith…very big faith!

So don’t be happy with only small faith, instead let the Lord grow your faith as you learn to rest in Christ’s love and then trust in His presence.  And you will need that big faith friends, because when you least expect it, the devil will attack your heart and try to take away that little faith.  When will this attack happen?  I can’t answer that for you, but I do know this, sooner or later we will all have our faith tested.  For sure, when it comes time for you to face your own death, or the death of a loved one, your faith will be tested!  And it’s at this time that you must already be trained to turn your eyes to God, because that is where we will all end our walk of faith.  This is the narrow gate, the straight path that our Lord taught us about. [Matt. 7:14]  God desires for all of us to joyfully walk down this path and then excitedly enter through that narrow gate into Paradise. 

How do you prepare for this journey?  By staying in God’s Word; by allowing the Holy Spirit to give you a hunger to read and hear it as often as possible.  You prepare for this journey by daily confessing your sins and knowing for certain that because of your baptism the sweet Words of absolution are really intended for you.  You prepare for this journey by feeding your hunger to know God’s love and forgiveness through the eating and drinking of His holy and true body and blood.  So receive all of these gifts of God, and then know by faith that He is truly giving you not just the forgiveness of your many sins, but a new life… an eternal life of joy and peace.

Dear friends, though our faith is weak, let us pray with great passion along with the apostles, “Lord increase our faith” and then let us pray along with the father of the demon possessed boy, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief!”  In Jesus name…AMEN!

Saving Faith

Sunday, September 9th, 2018

Pentecost 16B
September 9, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

Our text this morning is the 14th verse of our Epistle lesson.  And it comes to us in the form of a question: “What good is it my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?”

Indeed, that is the question, “Can that faith save him?”  Can someone who is without works find comfort in God’s gospel proclamation, like the one found in our OT lesson?  Listen, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!  Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.  He will come and save you.”  James answers this question with a resounding NO!  Instead, James would say that a person who claims faith without works should hear this message more as Law instead of the gospel; perhaps more like this: “But say to those who have no anxious heart; who have no fear or dread because of their sinful hearts, “Be afraid.  Be very afraid!  Because the day of the Lord’s judgment is  approaching.”

What is faith?  

“Easy” you say, faith knows God through Jesus Christ, right?  Well…yes and no.  You see, if you know who God is, that is only a general kind of faith.  “But wait” you counter, I believe that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, that He suffered under Pontius Pilot, He was crucified, died, and was buried, and descended into Hell.  And I also believe that on the third day He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and He is now seated at the right hand of God the Father.”  Well, James would tell you that the devils believe that too, and yet they tremble with fear because they know that God’s judgment is coming very soon. [James 2:19]  “But wait Pastor” you say, “I know scripture pretty well, and didn’t Paul say, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”” [Rom. 10:17]?  Ah yes, an excellent proof text for reminding all of us how important it is to be in God’s Word every day.  But, you can bet the devils know that verse by heart, and many others as well.  What good does that do them?

Are you confused?  Well let me give an illustration on what kind of faith is not saving faith.  Let’s imagine that there is a policeman who is issued a bullet proof vest but he refuses to wear it because it is just too hot and bulky.  One day he is tragically shot in an area that the vest would have protected, and he dies.  Is the vest to blame for his death? No, of course not!  You see, the vest can offer no protection if it isn’t put on; if it doesn’t become part of his daily routine.  And that is the way it is with faith that can’t save you.  You can know the entire Bible and be an expert in Christian doctrine, but if you aren’t living in that faith and allowing it to lead you and change you, it can’t save you!  It’s what we call only a general faith.

But, if you know that Jesus suffered and died upon the cross for you—if you admit that He needed to suffer and die for you; that he descended into hell and rose from the dead for you; if you know that He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God to someday judge you not guilty of being a sinner, but holy, perfect and righteous because you trusted in Him, well then my friend… you have saving faith!  So you see friends, true saving faith grabs onto Jesus and what he provides and it makes Him its personal Savior.

Well the question we might ask next is this, “What does faith look like?  Can you see that faith in action?”  Yes, most definitely.  You can see both general faith and saving faith in action, and you can easily tell them apart.  In our Epistle lesson [James. 2:14-18], James gives us a good illustration of general faith.

General faith sees a Christian brother or sister in trouble…in need of food and clothing and says, “I hope you find food, and I’ll pray you stay warm” and then walks away feeling good about themselves.  James asks us this morning, “Can that kind of faith save him?”  “What kind?” we ask.  Well, the kind of faith that is never seen in practical service towards God and neighbor.  Friends, the answer is no!  Any faith that doesn’t result in a changed heart… in a life that’s changed and desiring to do good for others, James says is really an empty faith.  

So you see friends, while it’s true that it’s faith alone that justifies, it is also true that justifying faith can never be alone… it can never be without works of love.  But saving faith, looks at its brother or sister in need, and because that saving faith is still holding on to Jesus, it is compelled to act.  As Christians who are led by the love of Christ, because of our saving faith, we are also compelled to help meet the needs of our neighbors as God provides.  St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians taught about this when he said, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all people, especially the needs of those who are of the household of faith.” [Gal. 6:10]  

Friends, when we serve our brothers and sisters in need, we can clearly hear Jesus reminding us with a smile, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these My brothers, you have done it unto Me.” [Matt. 25:40] Friends, saving faith hears these words of Jesus, and it wants to always be working and serving others.  But saving faith doesn’t work because it thinks it will earn a reward, instead saving faith works because it is powered by the love of God through Christ Jesus and wants to please God.

Dear friends, we love Jesus because He first loved us and gave His life up for us.  Because He sacrificed Himself for us we find that we are also compelled by our saving faith to sacrifice ourselves for our neighbor as well.  When a Christian mother and father loves their child and teaches them about God’s love, and ensures that they are baptized, present at Sunday school, and latter confirmed, that is the love of saving faith being expressed in those Christian parents.  In fact, no matter what calling we find ourselves in whether it is parent, child, civil servant, employee, employer, student or teacher, if we serve our neighbor as Christ serves us, then my friends, that is saving faith in action.  

Well how do we know if we have saving faith?  

Friends, for the answer to this question let’s look at our gospel lesson this morning.  In the gospel we encounter Jesus healing a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment.  Listen: “And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ef-fa-tha,” that is, “Be opened.”  And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” [Mark 7:33-35]   What a wonderful miracle!  Everyone who witnessed it agreed that it was most certainly a work of God.  The witnesses proclaimed, “He has done all things well.”  They concluded that Jesus could at any time give anyone who’s deaf the ability to hear and anyone who is speechless the ability to speak.  Did the crowd have saving faith? I don’t know.  They certainly were amazed, but yet, it wasn’t their ears that were given hearing and it wasn’t their mouth that was given speech.  But the man who was deaf and speechless, now that’s a different story.  How could He not have love for Jesus, the loving man that spoke ever so gently to him in a sign language that he could understand?  How could he not have been moved to trust Jesus in whatever He asked or told him?  Certainly he had to be moved to use his new voice to praise Jesus as the Savior, as his personal savior!

Dear friends, in your baptism, Jesus has done an even greater thing than this for you.  Through the water and the Word, He has opened your heart!  Through His Word, He has privately and in a very personal way taken you out of a sinful and dying world and secured you in His love.  Through the gift of faith, He has opened your ears so that you can hear His Word even the Word being preached right now and be changed!  Listen friends, your heart has been recreated so that it no longer fears God’s judgment, but instead it’s resting in His love.  By faith you are now able to live your life knowing that you have a God who through His Son Jesus, has forgiven all of your sins.  By faith friends, you now have a mouth that desires to share with others just how wonderfully God has demonstrated His love for you!  And by saving faith, you now have hands that are being moved to serve God out of love; not because they must serve but because they want to serve.  Your heart through saving faith wants to serve your neighbor here in this church, and there out in the community where there are thousands of people dying without knowing the life giving and life changing touch of the Savior of the world Jesus Christ.   

Dear friends, our faith, our saving faith, is a divine work that God does within us; it’s a work that changes us by killing the old self centered person and then daily replaces it with a personality of faith in action!  Your saving faith is a living, busy, and active faith that is mighty in the power of God.  Your saving faith doesn’t ask if there are any good works that must be done to be saved, but is already desiring to do the good out of love!  I pray that every day you fight to let this living and saving faith control you and lead you as you daily praise the Lord, in thought, word, and deed!  In Jesus name….AMEN!

Things Are Not Always What They Appear

Sunday, June 17th, 2018

Pentecost 3B, June 10, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

Things are not always what they appear to be, are they?  I am thankful for the advisory 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; that is, 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 together and find forgiveness, peace, and the promise of eternal happiness and joy within those very things.  Why are these two views so very different?

Faith. Faith is the one thing needful.  

Lack of faith is what causes a mighty cedar, 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 promised to 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 Who is with you right now! You see…

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 was empowered by His Spirit to preserve you and give you hope.  What kind of faith?  Faith to believe that simple water when combined with the promises of the Word of God would bring forgiveness, eternal life, 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 strengthening of faith and forgiveness for all of your sins.  

You are that sprig that God says in our Old Testament reading (Ezekiel 17:22-24) was removed from the loft top of the great cedar Israel; a cedar, which is now withered and abandoned.  You are a part of 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 has 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 of God Fulfilled!  

Yes the promise fulfilled, but also the promise not yet seen.  To be sure, our loved ones who died in Christ and who are now absent from the body are 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’re 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; 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 that both creates and sustains our seeing by faith.

And we need that faith to live within a promise fulfilled, because things are not always as they seem.

Let’s talk about 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 known at the time in the middle east, 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 and despair, sickness and disease, rude behavior and even domineering spirits.  Some times they don’t come simply to rest in our gospel tree, but they come to change and even 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 insects called Phasmida, or as they are more commonly know as, the “Walking Stick.”  The walking stick insect looks just like a branch and blends in perfectly with the tree.  The camouflage is needed because other animals outside of the tree are flying around looking to eat the walking stick.  But when these Walking Sticks 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 to become a true part of the tree, you only need 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 confessing that you indeed are a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness. You must only surrender to God and believe that He gives precisely what He promises through His powerful Word, a splash of water, a scrap of bread, and a sip of wine. And what He gives to you is complete forgiveness of sins and eternal life through the cross of His Son Jesus Christ.

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.  It is natural for you to see first with eyes of flesh, and through these eyes, it is also natural for you to see a bunch of sinners in this place.  But now look with eyes of faith at those sinners who have gathered around God’s means of grace and promises, and you see instead saints by faith.  We are all sinners and saints at the same time. We are saints for eternity and sinners only for as long as we live in this tent; this temporary body of sin.  We all struggle with putting to death our 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 rest securely in our new resurrected bodies within our new home… Paradise.  [2 Corinthians 5:1–10] Yes dear friends, are not what you appear to be, but you are also a saint resting in God’s grace and soon enough you will be forever returned to His Paradise, your eternal home… AMEN!

The Right Kind of Name It and Claim It

Sunday, June 10th, 2018

Pentecost 3B, June 10, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message


“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]

This morning, let me start by saying that the words in our text may not mean what some people think they mean.  Some may discover in today’s message that they too, have been duped by the devil.  They may be unknowingly walking straight into a devil’s trap; a trap designed to strip them of their 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 if 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 trick Eve?  With a little play on words, 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, God never said that they couldn’t eat from any tree in the garden, He only said that they couldn’t eat from one specific kind of tree. Also consider that 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 mumbling 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 the sorrows and threats of danger and harm that’s associated with just living in this world.  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 choose 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 ridiculous, 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 in the midst of trials and tribulations, 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 the sorrow and death of the cross, 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 saves the world from sin, death, and the devil, through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ upon the cross.  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 confess 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. Why? So that all 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 Strongest of men, 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 the church triumphant which is already in eternity living with and glorifying our God with praises!   AMEN!

Can You Hear Him?


Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

Easter 4B, April 22, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Sorry, no audio for this message

In the early 1900’s a man was traveling by steam boat.  While standing on the deck of the ship he began to sing our sermon hymn, “Savior like a Shepherd Lead Us”.  When he had finished singing, a rough looking stranger approached him and asked, “Did you ever serve in the Union army during the civil war?  “Yes,” answered the singer.  “I joined in the spring of 1860.”  “Were you doing picket duty on a bright moonlit night in 1862?” asked the stranger.  “Yes” answered the singer.  “Well, so did I,” said the stranger, “but I was serving in the Confederate army.  When I saw you standing at your post I said to myself, “This guy is as good as dead.”  I raised my musket and took aim.  I was just about to pull the trigger, when you raised your eyes to heaven, and then you sang that very same song.  That song had a very great power over me, and I took my finger off the trigger.  “Let him sing this one song to the end, and then I can shoot him when he’s finished.”  But the song you sang then, just as now stirred up great emotions within me.  Back then, I heard the words plainly and perfectly in my mind and in my heart: “We are Yours in love befriend us, be the guardian of our way; keep your flock, from sin defend us, seek us when we go astray.”  When you had finished your song it was impossible for me to take aim at you again.  I thought: “The Lord who is able to save that man from certain death must surely be great and mighty (and able to save me)” and my arm dropped limp at my side.”

“And (Jesus said) I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16)  This is our text this morning.  Jesus calls out to all of His sheep.  Can you hear Him?  Perhaps you hear Him even now, but at times you find it hard to follow?  This is understandable, because after all, you are just a little sheep and sheep are prone to wander.  This morning by looking deeper into our gospel reading we will allow our Good Shepherd to bring us back into the safety of His love which can only be enjoyed within His flock…the universal Church of Jesus Christ! To do this, Jesus gives us illustrations that if learned will ensure that we not only hear His voice, but listen and follow it as well.  

First let’s look at the Good Shepherd in contrast to the hired hand who is not a shepherd at all.  

In the verses preceding our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus said that anyone who enters the sheep pen by climbing the wall or fence isn’t a shepherd, but a thief.  He also said that the true shepherd is one who enters by the door.  OK, this sounds reasonable, but then He said something strange, He said that He was the door!  Now, if you follow this logic, then you must conclude that true shepherds or pastors are only those who have been called by the Holy Spirit to lead Christ’s church as Jesus leads or directs them.  In this sense, the pastor is an under-shepherd, who can only lead the flock of sheep as Jesus directs.

In Israel sheep weren’t herded with dogs or by men who walked behind them.  The shepherd led his sheep.  He had a name for each of them…he knew each one by name, and the sheep recognized his voice.  At night several different herds of sheep might sleep in the same pen.  As they slept, a shepherd would act as the door of the pen by sleeping in the opening in order to prevent a predator or thief from entering and doing harm.  In the morning, when the door was opened, each shepherd would call out to his own flock, and each member of that flock would be able to distinguish his shepherd’s voice from the others.  

Just as the sheep would not follow a stranger, so God’s people are able to recognize Jesus as the living Word of God.  In this way, God has allowed a sure and certain way for His Children to distinguish between a true pastor and a false teacher.  A true pastor will only proclaim what is in the Bible… Law and Gospel!

A traveling minister was walking along a road one day headed to a church that he heard no longer had a pastor.  He thought He might be able to offer his services as their new full time pastor.  As he approached the church, he saw a crowd of boys surrounding a dog.  “What are you doing with the dog?” asked the traveling minister.  “Well” said one of the boys, “Whoever tells the biggest lie, will win the dog as a prize.”  “Oh, that’s terrible,” exclaimed the minister, “when I was a little boy like you kids, I never told a lie.”  There was a moment’s silence. “Here,” said one of the little boys as he handed him the leash, “you win the dog.”

Today, just as in Jesus time, false teachers are everywhere.  They impose themselves on God’s people and have only their own benefit in mind.  God’s truth… His love and mercy is not what is leading them.  These false teachers, whom earlier Jesus called thieves, He now calls hired hands, or mercenaries. [vs. 12] They have no direct, specific call from God through a congregation to care for His little lambs.  They received and held onto their position through deception and their desire for self gain.  These type of men were then and are now in ministry for the money and the prestige.  When trouble comes they abandon their flock and look only after their own personal benefit.  And now…

Jesus shows us, by pitting Himself against the Wolf, why He alone is the Good Shepherd.

First, please understand that the word “good” in the Greek means something of excellence, something that sets the standard for everything else.  If we follow this meaning, then what Jesus is saying is that He alone is the “Supreme Shepherd”.  While there are other shepherds that perform their duties in a loving and careful way they are not the “Good Shepherd”.  Why?  Well Jesus answers that for us in verse 15, when He says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.”

Many years ago a young Canadian man, his wife, his two children and a young law-man were traveling in the wilderness in a horse drawn wagon when they were pursued by a very large pack of wolves. Just as the wolves were about to attack, the law-man shot some of the wolves. This stopped the pack for a short time, but soon they renewed their attack. Once again, just as the wolves were about to overtake them, the law-man acted quickly and cut the lead horse loose and the wolves devoured it, but soon they were right back on their blood thirsty attack. The travelers were trying to reach a government fort, a place of safety, and they were almost there.  But the wolves were relentless and it seemed impossible for them to out run them.  The young law-man said that their only hope would be for him to buy them some time by giving himself to the wolves.  After he said that, he immediately jumped from the wagon, right into the pack of wolves. Of course he was attacked immediately, but the family was able to enter the fort just before the pack caught up to them.  Once safely inside, they said “Our protector sacrificed himself for us. We are living because he is dead.”  

Now this sounds noble and good.  But anyone with a good heart and the love of Christ might be able to accomplish the very same thing.  Any shepherd that loves his sheep would most likely risk his life for the good of the sheep.  No, if this act can be accomplished by any true shepherd, this can’t be what makes a shepherd good.  This can’t be the work of the “Good Shepherd”.

In verses 17 and 18, Jesus gives us the mark of the only “Good Shepherd” when He says, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. 

Jesus, like any true shepherd, faces the wolf and risks His life in defense of the sheep. But, that would not help the sheep once the wolf finished with the shepherd.  Obviously, after the shepherd is dead, the poor sheep would be completely at the mercy of the wolf without any other source of help. No, the only way the sheep could be eternally safe would be if the shepherd could kill or drive off the wolf, and keep his life for the benefit of the sheep. Friends, Jesus is the one and only shepherd, who can save the sheep by laying down and then taking up his life again.  Jesus died for the sheep, for you and me, but He took his life back again when He rose from the dead.   

Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and the Wolf that He has overcome is sin, death, and the devil.  By Jesus sacrifice upon the cross and His resurrection, He came so that the sheep (you and I) may have life and may have it in abundance (v. 10).

Friends, in order for this truth to be of any benefit to you, Jesus says that you must hear His voice and believe that He is YOUR Savior…YOUR Good Shepherd.  

We must hear His Word and know that He is calling us!  Faith comes only by hearing His Word, which is the message of the gospel, the voice of Jesus Christ!  When we hear His voice and shut out all other messages we will find comfort.  When we hear and listen we will find obedience as God helps us follow our Good Shepherd where ever He leads.  And when we listen and follow, Jesus will show us other sheep who are also listening.  And here is the amazing part…He is asking you to help Him bring them into His flock—into His church, where they too can find comfort and safety from sin, death, and the great wolf, the devil.

Perhaps this morning you’ve been shown that you too have wandered from the flock?  Maybe you have been following the voice of someone other than your Good Shepherd.  He is calling you now.  Can you hear Him?  Are you listening?  He has opened the door, and He calls out to you… “Follow me!” 

Faith, The Key To Fellowship

Sunday, April 8th, 2018

Easter 2B, April 8, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus (God’s) Son cleanses us from all sin.” [1 John 1:7]

Unfortunately, too many people think that our Christian fellowship is not any different than other religions. They think that our faith is centered around a set of rules that simply tells the followers of Jesus how to live a better life.  And to these perceived rules of living they respond: “I don’t want your Jesus telling me what to do.  I don’t want your Jesus telling me how to talk and what to wear.  You Christians think that your better than us!”

Is that how we present our Christian faith; as simply a set of rules that are expected to be followed in order to fit into Jesus’ church?  Or do we believe and model something more; something much deeper?  In reality, that is what all people are  looking for… something deeper.  

Like Thomas in our Gospel reading (John 20:19–31), people today are looking for something that in their minds is real and life changing; something they can not only hear, but touch and be a part of.  This morning, our message will declare this as the very essence of what we preach, teach, and confess; but even more than that, it is something that we live out!

So why didn’t Thomas believe?  

May I suggest that He simply chose not to rely on the simple testimony of his friends.  He didn’t want to just believe, but he also wanted the experience of belief; he wanted to encounter the same source of faith that they had encountered.  What experience?  Well, this one: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” [Jn. 20:19, 20]

In my mind, I can hear the excited testimony of the apostles and disciples who testified to Thomas.  “Thomas, we have seen the Lord.  There is no doubt it was Him, because He showed us the nail scars in his hands and the wound in His side!”  Thomas wanted to experience the same encounter.  He needed that same experience because the last few days of living had beat him down; demoralized him!  Remember, he was the same disciple who said to the others, “Let us go, that we may die with him”, after Jesus announced that it was time for Him to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. [Jn. 11:16]

Now here is where we see the loving desire of our Savior. Jesus Christ the Son of God, knew that Thomas had been separated from Him by a lack of faith, and that just would not do.  You see Thomas had been set aside with the other apostles to not only believe in the Son of God Jesus Christ, but to also testify and proclaim the gospel which heralded the good news that Christ is risen!  So, if experience is what Thomas required in order to feel equal to the others, in order to have faith and believe, then that is precisely what Jesus would give to him.

“Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” [Jn. 20:26-29]

Thomas’ faith was restored and he was returned to the fellowship of disciples who just eight days earlier also had faith, which seemed to be destroyed and lost.  All of them at first, seemed to have had lost their faith but not there fellowship.  What I mean is that they still gathered together in that upper room, but not in a fellowship of faith, but a fellowship of fear of the Jews and disappointment in their Savior.  They were beaten down by life and disappointed by what appeared to be failure, just as people still are today.

What is the thing lacking in most people, a thing which is preventing them from receiving Jesus as their Savior and then living out their new identity as a new person in Christ?  

I submit that it is faith.  Without faith, there can be no real fellowship with God.  Faith is the only way to truly see and know Jesus; to know that He is the propitiation (or payment) for our sins, and not (just) for our sins only but also for the sins of the whole world.” [1 John 2:2]

When Thomas had earlier said “Let us go also so that we may die with (Jesus)”, I am sure he meant every word.  When he said it, he and all of the other disciples were confused and bewildered.  They could not have understood why the Messiah would willingly allow Himself to be humiliated and killed.  That simply was not how a champion behaved.  But they also did not understand what kind of Messiah Jesus was.  People still don’t understand.

People today just like the disciples before us can not receive faith in Jesus unless they perceive a need for Him.  In other words, they must first see a need for the kind of Savior Jesus IS.

Jesus IS the Son of God who comes to save us from our sins.  He comes to remove our sins; to pay for them with the only payment that can be made; a payment of blood and life.  Again, “If we (desire to be saved and) walk in the light, as (Jesus) is in the light, (then) we have fellowship with (the Father and the Son of God, and) one another, and the blood of Jesus (the Son of God) cleanses us from all sin.” [1 John 1:7]

And it is that little Word sin, which keeps getting in the way; it keeps blocking folks from receiving the very thing they long for… faith.  You see, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” [1 John 1:8-10]

So what is the answer to this dilemma?  How can we even begin to reach people outside of Christ, especially young people with the very gift of life that they seem to so militantly reject?  We must make it real to them, by allowing it to be real to us.  God wants us to allow the gift of Christ to change us so that the change is apparent to even the worst skeptics!

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” [John 20:21-23]

You know, in this world people say a lot of things; things they don’t really mean.  Another way to say this is that their talk and their walk don’t match.  But Jesus, speaks truth.  When He says “Peace” the very Word gives it.  The word gives peace and the faith of the believer receives it.

If a blind doctor offered you a liquid that would save your life, and then he told you that all you needed to do was hold out your cup and then drink what he pours into it, would you think that it was such a bad thing?  And if you told the doctor “I’m ready, poor away; my cup is waiting”, but you had no cup and simply let the medicine pour out on the ground, would that be the doctor’s fault, or yours?  No, that would be foolish!  So, why not just tell the doctor you have no cup, and he will gladly give you one!

And that is precisely the way of faith.  God’s Word is the medicine that will save you from your sins.  And the great physician of your soul is Jesus Christ.  If you have no cup, it is because you have either neglected to ask Him or you have refused to admit that you have a need for the medicine.  The cup is your agreement with God that you are indeed dying from your sins, and it is your confession, which proclaims that only He can save you.  The medicine is His very Word, which gives both forgiveness and eternal life; it gives you peace with God and each other.

When we have peace with God through faith in both the work of the cross and the promise of the empty tomb, we live out that peace with the authority that Christ’s Word gives us.  We are not only forgiven, but we are sent out to both speak words of forgiveness and to model them.  We hold no grudges, and simply allow God to work within the lives of the people we meet through the power of the Word he tells us to speak.

“I forgive you” is perhaps the easiest set of words to speak and the hardest to live out.  It is hard to live out because it involves complete faith that God will do what He says He will do.  He will bring peace.  Peace; first to we who speak the words of peace, and then peace to those who will hear and receive those words.

Thomas was restored to the fellowship of believers the same way the rest of them including Peter were restored, through the person and work of the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  Jesus spoke and gave peace to them and their little fellowship of faith began to grow.  It grew so large that they began to attract the attention of the government of Rome, which eventually became terrified that they might represent a new threat against Cesar.  They tried to destroy the church by killing the Christians, but instead of wiping out Christianity, their attacks only served to cause the church to grow much faster.  Why?  Because “great grace was upon them all.  The full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” [Acts 4:32] With great power, the testimony of the apostles, which is the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ, spread and brought forgiveness of sins and peace with God to many people.

That same peace and power of God, which comes through the same Word and means of grace of God, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are still proclaimed and given freely today.  It is the Word declared and the power of the Word lived out that will save this generation today, if we will simply trust God and live out this faith with an invitation to all we meet to simply come and see.  Come and believe that in our Bibles, “these (things) are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  [John 20:31] AMEN!

Let Me See Your Peace!

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

Lent 2 B, February 25, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA 
On the occasion of the closure of the Interim Pastoral Ministry 
At
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, California

Click here for audio of this message

Romans 5:1-11

Reformational Scripture for Tim Botts 2017 Reformation Calendar

Do you have peace? If you do, may I see it? Show me your peace!

This is really the silent, yet always present demand of our unbelieving community that surrounds us everywhere we go. They will quickly tell you that they aren’t really interested in hearing about your Savior Jesus Christ, but if believing in Him works for you, well then, they’re happy for you. Now, while they may not care to hear about what you believe, let me assure you that they are watching you; watching to see if what you believe makes a difference in how you live! They want to see how you’ll stand up under the pressures of life as compared to them and their circle of friends. In other words, does what you believe make a difference in who you are? And in order to evaluate your belief system they want to see your peace.

Now, whether we want to admit it or not, we Christians are prone to demand this same thing from God whenever troubles and tragedies strike our faith-filled and grace centered lives. It’s really a little rude and inconsiderate when we consider all that God has done to provide us with His peace throughout our lives!

Did you notice that I said His peace and not yours? That’s the way that it should be. The objective is first and then the subjective. That is always God’s way. In other words, you can’t know real peace without first having God’s peace!

The world teaches that peace is first personal and then corporate.

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me! The problem with this kind of peace is that it is very self-centered and dependent on however you feel at any given moment. This is a strange idea, because it assumes that you live for yourself. Not that this is anything new, William Shakespeare said long ago, “To thine own self be true!” The problem with this kind of thinking is that it leads to a personal peace at the cost of other peoples’ peace.

In the 1940’s Three Stooges skit called “I’ll Never Heil Again” the boys dressed up as Axis leaders. As they started their war council meeting they chanted, “Peace, peace, we want peace.” And to this Moe who was dressed up as Hitler stood up and said, “Yes we want a piece of this, and a piece of that.” And that, I am afraid is always the cost of our individual peace… it comes at the expense of others. Like money, we can never have enough peace. So, our natural tendency is to surround ourselves with as much of whatever we think will bring that peace, at the exclusion many times of other people’s peace.

Since I first came to Our Redeemer Lutheran Church I’ve had two rules that have guided me: First, like a physician, I desired to do no harm; Second, I wanted to create an atmosphere through the proper preaching and teaching of God’s Word, both Law and Gospel, which would flood your lives and this parish with God’s peace.

God’s peace is Christ’s own peace. Listen to the Son of God offer and describe this peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” [John 14:27] So what is this peace that Jesus says He has given to us? Well we know it ISN’T the kind of selfish, self serving peace that the world wants, and we also know that it IS the kind of peace that brings comfort and security in times of trouble, division, and fear.

In verse 1 of our epistle reading, Paul shares these words: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” So the kind of peace that Jesus gives, which Paul is telling us we already have, begins first and always with faith that justifies or makes us right with God. Now knowing this, there are a couple of questions we must ask to completely understand this peace that comes from God By faith. The first question is, “Faith in Who?” The Who is Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God who is the Savior of the world. The second question is “Faith in what?” The what, is the completed work of Jesus Christ; His birth, His life, His suffering, and His death, His resurrection and ascension. In these things, which are recorded for us in Holy Scripture we are shown God’s work for us; a work that has taken away our sins, atoned for our evil and made us right with God! Or as Paul says it, “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

Through Jesus we have been reconciled; made right with God. Through this work, God addresses the one great obstacle that separates us from His love, and that is our sin. He alone does what we could not do, and He does it through the atoning death of His Son.

In Jesus, God put forward His love for you by putting Jesus in your place; by having Him suffer and die for you, because of your sins. In God’s self-sacrifice He points your divided, troubled and sinful hearts to His solution for your sins, and His Word tells you to be reconciled; that is to be made right with Him and each other! In Jesus God assures us that we are reconciled; we are at peace with Him!

This proclamation of peace with God through Jesus Christ is the gospel!

If you will receive this truth by faith, then you will see God’s justice performed on the cross for you, and you will know peace! This is the blessed assurance that saves the worst of sinners and then recreates them and gives them not just peace, but the ability to live out that peace, and even experience it.

What is assurance? Well here’s the concise theological definition: It is the firm persuasion of faith that you are in a state of grace. In other words, by faith you know that no matter what may happen around you, it is well with your soul, because God is with you and for you. It’s the God-given ability to move from the cross of Jesus to the waters of your baptism and say with all certainty that “Jesus died for me!” It’s hearing the promises of God to the world, and knowing that all of those promises were given to you personally when you were washed clean with the water and the Word in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. In other words, as St. Paul says in the fifth verse of our epistle lesson, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Why has God’s love been poured into your heart? So that you would know and experience His peace! But aren’t we now talking about feelings? Isn’t our salvation independent of feelings? Yes, that is the objective work of God’s gift, a gift to the world. But in your baptism it became very personal, very subjective. You see, your salvation is something that is done and complete, but it’s also something you experience as you live it out! Every day, come what may, Jesus is with you! He is with you in trials, trouble, and tribulation. Every day God asks you to experience His presence and then learn to rest in His comfort, care, and love for you and for HIS Church.
Many years ago one of the astronauts who walked on the moon was interviewed and asked, “What did you think about as you stood on the moon and looked back at the earth?” The astronaut replied, “I remembered how the spacecraft (that I had to go back home in) was built by the lowest bidder.”
We as Christians can rejoice that the work of our salvation didn’t go to the “lowest bidder” but was provided by an eternal and infallible God. There will never be any problems with His gift of salvation. Your salvation is as sure as the Creator of that salvation, Almighty God! And because it is sure, we can learn to trust in Him and not our current experiences or feelings. We know by faith, that not only do we have peace with God, but we’re gonna keep on having that peace. This peace, which now becomes very personal, becomes an experience that God delights in giving to us. An experience that reminds us that no matter what may or may not be happening in our lives, ultimately it is well and it will be well with our souls!
What does this experience of peace mean to you and me?
Well, if you remember earlier, I mentioned the challenge from our unbelieving neighbors who want to see our peace, which now we know is really God’s peace in action. This peace of God, which surpasses all of our understanding, not only keeps our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, but it also directs our hearts and minds outward to the people who live in our community; people who are dying without knowing the peace of God, which comes only through the cross of Jesus Christ. As they see us weather the same storms of life they go through, and still be both able and ready to rejoice and praise God in the middle of those storms, they will begin to notice that we are neither giving up our hope nor our peace. They will discover what you already know; your suffering produces endurance and endurance produces a Christian character of faith and peace in the presence and work of God on earth and hope in the promise of an eternity in heaven.
All that’s left, is for you to give an answer to anyone who asks for the reason you have this great hope and peace. The reason is of course God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, who takes your faith and hope, and then assures you that no matter what you may be going through, no matter what you may be feeling, in the end it will be well with your souls; you will never be put to shame! This is your blessed assurance of peace with God and peace with each other!
Dear saints of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, no matter what circumstances overtake you, and no matter what fleeting emotions and feelings may come and go within your lives, you can know for certain that God’s love, which He has poured out within this parish and within your hearts, will enable you to not only sing but live out the truth that says, whatever is your lot, it is well with your souls!
Indeed, it IS well with YOUR soul. In Jesus name… Amen!