Posts Tagged ‘Marriage’

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

Click here for audio of this message

“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!

God’s Delight is With Us and In Us

Sunday, January 17th, 2016

Epiphany 2-C, January 17th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.” [Isaiah 62:4]

Indeed, because God’s delight is with us and in us, I cannot keep silent.  For the sake of the church and for the sake of our very salvation I will not be quiet until God’s righteousness goes forth within your life, your family, and Christ’s church, like a burning torch.

Indeed, if ever there was a time for a simple men like myself who have been called to the divine and holy office of ministry to speak out for righteousness it is now; now when both the family and the church are under attack.  This morning, I must remind you that there is a God among you who both created water for a divine purpose and then continuously blesses us by changing that water into the wine of joy.  This morning our message will speak to our lives, our families, our church, and our eternal home.

Each of you were moved from an existence of shame, loneliness, and desolation; you were transferred, married to God through Christ Jesus into a position of honor and community, within a place; a land of plenty. A God who changes water into wine and then wine into water did this for you and to you.  Let me explain what I mean.

On the day you were baptized, God used a simple element like water and attached to it His promise to redeem you from your sins.  With simple water He took the redeeming work of Jesus completed upon the cross for the world’s sins, and He made it a work done specifically for you!  You who were once forsaken and desolate, lost and dying in your sins, He recreated you into His image through the forgiveness of sins.  And now, God the Father looks upon you as cherished and beautiful.   He delights in you because He delights in your Lord, His Son Jesus Christ.  He promises that while you live within this land of darkness and sin you have a place and a Lord waiting for the day He calls you home to Zion, paradise restored!  But for now you live knowing that you wait with a purpose; your purpose is to declare your joy in being loved and redeemed by your God and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Your Lord loves you and desires you to know joy.  This is where we need Jesus to change water into wine for us.  You see our Lord knows who among us do not have the gift of singleness, and so He repeats what He said long ago to Adam in paradise, “It is not good for man or woman to be alone.”  And so He moves our hearts to search for the one who is also alone to be our spouse; that other person who makes us complete; who gives us joy.  Jesus not only blesses us with the wine of joy but He also is at our weddings as the honored guest.  It is Jesus who brings us the gift of spouse and the joy of intimacy with another.  It is a gift that is wrapped with love, the commitment of God, and the promise of faithfulness, husband and wife to each other and together committed to a promise of faithfulness towards God.  God joins these two to become one, so that together they may know the joy of the Lord and together they may stand against anyone who tries to separate them.  And why has God joined them?

To help one another, is the answer of Scripture.  God saw that it was not good for a man to be alone and gave him the kind of helpmeet he needed.  God has given these two people to each other so that they may help each other, depend on each other, rejoice and sorrow with each other, forgive each other, and carry burdens for each other.  They are more closely bound together than any other two people in this world.  In order to cleave to his wife, a man must forsake even his father and his mother.

So it’s the obligation of a man to love his wife.  She really is a part of him.  “He who loves his wife, loves himself,” writes Paul.  And he continues: “For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it.”  You see, one does not become angry with his own body if it becomes sick or maimed.  Instead one seeks to make the best of it in every condition.  And this is the way married couples should  treat each other.  They do not blame each other.  They try instead to sympathize with the faults of the other, as though they were one’s own.  And together they use these skills to bless and encourage each other.  This is necessary because if God wills it, there will most likely be children, and where there are children there is a family.

The Scriptures teach that when the two who are one become several or many through the birth or adoption of children, these children are a good gift from God. They should be accepted with thanksgiving and nourished with a sense of responsibility.

Parents have the duty to care for these children.  They must have patience with their faults and think more of the children’s welfare than of their own comforts.  They have no right to allow them to do as they please; they must be trained or taught to grow into adulthood.  This is just a matter of stewardship; they are caring for God’s children.  On the day of judgment we should be able to say to the LORD: “Behold, here am I and the children the LORD has given me.” [Isaiah 8:18]

Our homes are the most intimate natural fellowship in this world.  It is there that we see the clearest indications of our inherited selfishness.  In our day-to-day tensions with people who try our patience it is not possible to withdraw like a hermit, and since we can’t hide our real nature, the testing of our character can be very trying.

But it is not intended that we should solve the problems of our home and family by ourselves.  It is as members of the body of Christ, all united in the same common faith in our Lord Jesus, that we find strength and wisdom to serve one another.  It is not a question, then, who is the most important, or who has the greatest success, or who makes the most money, but it is a matter of sharing the joys and burdens we bear with each other.

The church is the place where Jesus first turned water into wine, and where He will also return the wine into water.

When you were baptized it was His church that Christ used to give you this great gift of eternal life; a gift that Christ then used to provide you with joy through the wine of His gladness.  But there is also a time when we think that Christ is not present with us; a time when our joy and gladness has turned to sorrow and dread.  It is in these times we feel like He has abandoned us and taken away our wine of joy.  It is within these times, we must allow the wine to return to water, the water of our baptism so that we will see that Jesus is really with us.

Jesus is there still with us, hiding away in an unseen corner within a divorce court when a judge of the land tears asunder what no man ought.  He’s there with us when one of our cherished children, a gift from God is shipped away to serve our country within the armed forces.  And He is there with us when they come back injured, damaged, or worse yet, they come back lying in a coffin.  He is there when death takes away other loved ones and friends, who’s passing seems to leave such an empty place in our hearts.  He is with us turning wine into water as joy gives way to grief, hope to destruction, and life to death.

When the joy of wine is gone, it is the mission of the church, Christ’s body, to remind you that the baptismal promises and commitments of Christ and His church still remain to sustain and support you and your family.  It is the church that is called through it’s preachers, services, and ministries to remind you that you are never alone.

When the gifts of God that bring temporary joy seem to have been taken away, we can very easily become angry at God and His church for allowing our joy to be taken away.  The spouse we lost to divorce or death, the children who no longer visit or seem to care, the career we lost, the child we never had, the home or reputation or money or friends that are now no more.  When these things disappear, many times we can become bitter or angry, even resentful towards God. But God in His Divine service reminds us that we are not alone in our grief.  He minds us that Jesus is with us.

Jesus knows the joy of a loving mother who stood by him even to the point of death. He also knows the Father who forsook him in His hour of deepest need. He knows what it’s like to be betrayed by those closest to Him and rejected by those He suffered and died for. He knows what it means to have more than enough food, and to have no food for forty days and forty nights. He knows what it is to be at peace and what its like to be attacked; to love and to lose; to live and to die.

He is our God, this man, this Jesus. And when water turns into wine, or wine retreats and takes you to the water, he remains the same—the very incarnation of love and faithfulness of His Father. He is always working toward the same goal: to be our delight and for us to delight in Him, as we live to bear his image.  And it’s that truth that will one day bring us to our native land, a place that He has gone to prepare for us within Paradise restored.  May God continue to do this great work within each of us, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

On Marriage and Families

Sunday, October 4th, 2015

19th Sunday in Pentecost B, October 7, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“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 are promised a seat at our Lord’s banquet table; you’ve even been promised a mansion in heaven.  Or like I taught the children in their message this morning, by abiding or resting in Jesus, you’ve been given a ticket on the heavenly train to glory.  So, are you going?  Will you be there in glory?

God’s Word promises that you will be there if you trust in that promise; it encourages you to trust in Christ alone; He wants you to rest in everything that He 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 us, 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 want to find another way to our heavenly home.  So is that a danger to us; drifting away from God’s precious promises?  Well it could be, if we allow ourselves to trust in anything for salvation other than the work and the promises of God!

Why do you think we have times when we feel like our lives lack meaning and purpose?  Could it be because we’ve taken our eyes off of God’s promises?!  Why is it that when trouble comes our way, often times we become afraid and filled with doubt?  Could it be, we’ve lost sight of Jesus and His real presence in our lives?  Why is it that when fear and doubt come, we begin to lose that joy in knowing that we really do have a place prepared just for us in heaven?  Could it be, we have begun to judge success by what we do and not by 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 short we fall from that perfection.

So then why do we still think that on our own we can be a good husband or a good wife, a good parent or child?  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.  So 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!

Now please listen; I’m not telling you that we shouldn’t try harder to be better, what I am saying is that you can’t even try harder in a God pleasing way, if God is not the source of both your strength and your goodness.  Without God’s grace, we are just trusting in His Law that demands we do good, but then gives us no power or ability to do that good thing.

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 also easy to spot.  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 at 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.

Maybe, we hear about a Christian who seems to have everything going for them, so we try to find out their secret or technique to happiness.  And if we hear that they get up every morning at 4:00 a.m. to spend more time with God in prayer and Bible study, we resolve to do that too, even though we aren’t a morning person.  And what do you think the result will be for us?  We will probably still be frustrated, but now we’ll also be dazed, confused, groggy and grumpy all day because we didn’t get enough sleep.  And now with inadequate sleep, our marriage is worse and the people we love are avoiding us!

Now at this 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, this must be 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 what?  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 us free from these riptides of life?  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 let go and let God’s power take over our lives; 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 didn’t really see a need to hear from Jesus.  Instead, they wanted Jesus to sit around with them simply 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 do that; 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 the problem of being with Jesus; 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 too needed a new heart; they needed to turn to God confessing their helplessness, sin, and total dependence on His care!

The truth is, eventually all of us finally figure out that we can’t break free of the rip tide of our sins; we can’t ever bridge the gap to eternal life by 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?  Well try this on for size; He doesn’t want you to trust in your own abilities or your self-improvement plans, but instead learn to rest and trust 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 ahold of them, trust them and then watch as He continually renews you and changes you.  In His promises, He tells you of a Paradise restored that is waiting for you on the day the Lord calls you home.

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.  In the middle of the riptides of life, Jesus promises that if you simply quit struggling and let Him take over, He will pull you through.

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 it flows out of you and into your families, your relationships and even into our community.  In essence, God wants you to be amazed at how His Spirit will transform your life, your family, and our community.

In a few minutes you will hear me welcome you to the Lord’s Table.  Most of you will respond to receive Jesus body and blood, in with and under the bread and wine, simply because He invites you to be filled with His forgiveness of your many sins.  And one day, maybe sooner than you think the Lord’s eternal Banquet Table in Paradise will be the only table we are invited to sit at, because this earth bound altar will cease to exist.

So, will you be there, at the banquet in heaven?  Yes by grace alone!  But listen, God doesn’t want you to be satisfied with just your seat or just 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!

Are You Going?

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

19th Sunday in Pentecost B, October 7, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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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 are promised a seat at our Lord’s banquet table; you’ve been promised a mansion in heaven.  Or like I taught the children in their message this morning, by abiding or resting in Jesus, you’ve been given a ticket on the heavenly train to glory.  So, are you going?  Will you be there in glory?

God’s Word promises that you will be; it encourages you to trust in Christ alone; He wants you to rest in everything that He 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 a hold of His promises about our blessed assurance, we might begin to drift away from our seat at the banquet table; we might begin to want to find another way 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 God!

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

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 short we fall from that perfection.  So then why do we still think that on our own we can be a good husband or a good wife, a good parent or child?  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.  So we are deceived into thinking that if we just try a little harder 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.  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 at 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.

Maybe, we hear about a Christian who seems to have everything going for them, so we try to find out their secret or technique to happiness.  And if we hear that they get up every morning at 4:00 a.m. to spend more time with God in prayer and Bible study, we resolve to do that too, even though we aren’t a morning person.  And what do you think the result will be for us?  We will probably still be frustrated, but now we’ll also be dazed, confused, groggy and grumpy all day because we didn’t get enough sleep.  And now with inadequate sleep, our marriage is worse and the people we love are avoiding us!

Now at this 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, this must be 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 what comes next?  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, there 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 too needed a new heart; they needed to turn to God confessing their helplessness and total dependence on His care!

The truth is, eventually all of us finally figure out that we can’t ever bridge the gap by 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 it 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 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!

Where’s Your Heart?

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

12th Sunday After Pentecost, August 23, 2009

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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Our text this morning is the 33rd verse of our Epistle lesson: “Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” [Eph. 5:33]

Introduction: Did you know that Christians are more likely to get divorced than non Christians?  I was shocked when I heard this.  According to the Barna Research Group, Divorce rates among conservative Christians were significantly higher than for other faith groups, and much higher than Atheists and Agnostics experience.  That finding took me by surprise.  I knew that divorce was high in the church, but I thought it was at least equal to society at large.  I know I can hear some people now: “Oh so what pastor, that’s just the reality of our world today.  Besides as long as we’re living in this sinful world that just the way it will always be, right?  And to that, the Lord, not me, says “NO!  That is not the way it should be.”  Friends, God doesn’t want you to live a miserable life; in fact, He wants you to have a blessed life… not just in heaven but right here, right now in this sinful world.   

 

I. St. Paul’s entire letter to the church in Ephesus is all about God’s desire to bless us within Christian relationships.  It’s about how the members of the church should relate to God and to each other.  The goal of his teaching was to ensure that everyone was built up and strengthened in their walk of faith by God and each other.  St. Paul also encourages Christians to demonstrate God’s love to an unbelieving world, so that God can draw unbelievers to Himself through His Word and the attractive lives of Christians.  Paul taught the Ephesians and he teaches us that no matter what position of life we find ourselves in, we are to let Christ’s presence within us “shine before others, so that (the unbelieving world)  may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.” [Matt. 5:16]  This is what the church has always called our “vocation” or our calling, and this calling always involves a cross—a self sacrifice. 

 

You see, just as Jesus sacrificed Himself for us upon the cross, we too are called to sacrifice, or put to death our old sinful nature, because that nature was drowned and killed in the waters of our baptism.  That is our reality.  We were born again in those waters and given a new identity.  But the old you don’t want to die and leave this world of sin, so God must help that old you die every day.  In your calling, in your station of life there is always a cross; always a calling from God to put to death your old self centered sinful nature—it doesn’t matter if you are the president, a sports star, a pastor, a husband or wife, daughter, son, or a student, every position of life that a Christian finds themselves in they are to work towards crucifying their old human nature, by drowning it in the waters of their baptism.  Why?  So that God can work through you serving others.  In your vocation, you become the hands of God to your neighbor who is also bearing his own cross.  How does a Christian bear their cross?  By accepting all difficulties that come, no matter how large or how small; even trivial things like caring for babies to the point where your sleep is interfered with and loving a spouse even when they don’t seem to love you back these are all crosses that we are to willingly bear!  “Now wait a minute pastor, you’re getting a little personal here.  We all know that there really are bad marriages!”   Yes, I know that is what society says in this “no fault” divorce world, but that does not mean that it is true according to God’s way of seeing things.  But the truth is friends that many Christian marriages never should have taken place because God was not and is not in them!  These marriages stand before God, correctly evaluated by the words of Isaiah in or Old Testament reading: “These people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me.” [Is. 29:13]   

 

I have a strong policy when it comes to performing marriages.  First, I will not officiate a wedding if a non-believer is one of the parties.  Second I will not perform the ceremony if they will not commit to 4 to 6 counseling sessions.  Third, I will not do it if I feel that one of them is not committed to the Lord and to their prospective spouse.  Now that’s a pretty sound policy for a pastor to follow, but the problem is that people are generally smooth talkers… they tell you what you want to hear.  They might be able to fool the pastor, but they can’t fool God.  Now over time, I’ve discovered that some of these marriages ended in divorced.  Why?  Because they rejected the high and holy cross of Christ; they refused to follow their baptismal identity, which was to die to self and live for Christ.  One of them or both, decided to live for themselves and when they did this they turned their back on their calling of marriage.  “Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, “Who sees us?  Who knows us?” [Is. 29:15]  Friends, I’ll tell you who sees and who knows, it is God, the potter who formed you O clay!

II. Now friends, let God open your ears and hear His plan for your life and for marriage if that is His will for you.  First of all, if you have been living as if there is no God, then confess this sin.  If your actions or your failure to act caused a prior marriage to end, confess this before the Lord and be forgiven.  If you have not been following God’s leading in your life regarding any kind of relationship that even resembles marriage confess this as sin before the Lord and get ready to be transformed and blessed.  You see friends, when we confess that we have put our selfish needs ahead of God and another person, God smiles and says “Now that’s a start.  Now you are beginning to understand your baptism.  You are beginning to see things the way I see them and not the way this sin soaked society sees them.”  The truth is friends, that God wants you to understand that the real problem all of us face is the fact that we are broken by sin, separated from God, and unable to find Him and happiness with others until we turn away from our old sinful identity and turn to our new identity in Jesus Christ.  God wants to return us to our original condition before the sin of Adam and Eve destroyed it.  He wants us to relate to Him through faith and each other in love—and the only way this can be done is by submitting to His will… surrendering to His loving care.  This is how Adam and Eve related to God and each other.  Eve knew that God loved her because Adam demonstrated that love to her.  Adam knew that God loved him because God proved it by sending him Eve, his life mate and helper.  Each time they looked at each other, they were seeing the love of God!

 

“Oh come on pastor” you may be thinking, “that’s an ideal that can never be realized!”  Yes that’s true for those who are separated from God because of sin, but you dear baptized friends are not under judgment, you are under grace.  Your marriage or future marriage has now been compared to Christ and His church.  You unmarried women, do you want a strong and blessed marriage?  Then look for a man who loves the Lord more than himself.  Look for a man that is living out his baptism; a man who’s struggling everyday to put to death that old sinful man.  Look for a man that will sacrifice himself to please God and his neighbor, because that is the kind of man who will sacrifice himself and his own selfish needs for you!  You unmarried men, do you want a woman to willingly allow you to take on the role of spiritual leader, provider, and protector?  Then look for a woman who humbly worships her God and cares for the needs of others above her own.  Look for a woman who values her baptism as the most important possession that she has.

 

“But pastor, what about those of us who are stuck in a bad marriage?”  Well what do you mean by bad?  If you are being physically abused by your spouse then you must get help… you must separate yourself from the abuse.  It is the Lords will that the abuser be stopped and that is why He has put government over us, to protect us, so tell it to the police.  But if by “bad” marriage you mean, that your Christian spouse does not love you as God intends, then may I refer you back to our Epistle lesson.  “Wives, are you voluntarily submitting to your own husband and trusting him as you do the Lord?  Do you agree with God’s Word that your husband is the head of your household just as Christ is the head of the church, His body, and is Himself its Savior? [Eph. 5:22,23]  “But pastor, it doesn’t work that way.  You’re being one sided.  It’s a lot more complicate than that!”  Yes, I suppose it is, but wait until you hear God’s direction for your husband.  “Husbands, do you love your wives?  Do you love them as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her?”  “Come on pastor, what does that mean?  Sure I would die for my wife!”  Fine man, then die for her!  Die for her by working to provide for your family, even to the point of exhaustion.  Love her and forgive her even when she does not love and forgive you.  Put her needs first above your own.  This is your calling… this is your cross… this is how God wants you to die for your wife.

 

Dear friends, we are all to die to our own sinful desires every day.  We are to die to self and live to serve God and our neighbor.  We do this by remembering our baptism.  We do this by remembering that Jesus loved us and the whole church, and He proved it by giving Himself up for us, so that he might sanctify us through the cleansing of the waters of our baptisms.  Through simple water and God’s Word he saved us, so that He might present us to Himself as holy and perfect, without a single blemish.  Jesus did this for us… He did this for you.  He suffered and died so that you would know the forgiveness of God, and then be able to rest in that forgiveness and reflect it to others!  This is the mystery that the world can never understand, but to you who know Him by faith it is no mystery.   For it is through God’s grace that comes through the cross of Jesus that we can truly love God with all of our hearts, and that is where our hearts are… they’re at the cross of Jesus, and through the cross we can truly love our neighbor, even our spouse as our selves.  Now may God’s Word and His message of love inspire each one of us men to: Love our wives as ourselves, and may you wives see that you respect your husbands. I pray that this will always be the desire of your heart…in Jesus name….AMEN!