Posts Tagged ‘Mentoring’

On Cleaving and Clinging

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

Pentecost 25B, November 15, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

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“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” [Hebrews 10:24, 25]

Growing up as a Christian I heard a lot of talk and teaching about cleaving and clinging.  I was taught in Sunday school that I must cleave, or split away from the naughty way and always search out the good way.  I was taught that I must “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” [Matthew 7:13, 14]

Now, I was taught that this meant that I must leave my sinful life and cling to Jesus and the road to salvation.  The only problem with this teaching is that no one ever told me how to do this, and no one bothered to tell me that in Holy Baptism, I was already on the narrow road of salvation; Jesus had already found me and given me the new, forgiven life.

This morning, we will look at what means God uses to both keep us on that narrow way and help others to find it also, and then, we’ll learn to trust in Jesus alone.  And to do this, we will simply allow God’s Word to speak to us and teach us how He draws us to Himself, and then secures us in His love.  And then we will learn how God uses we, who are clinging to Jesus, to draw others who are still trapped within a life of guilt and separated from God’s love.

First, as a way of refreshing our memories, let’s define God’s love, or Agápē love. It is God’s own love for creation, for you and me; a love that is intelligent (He knows all of the facts about you and still loves you) and works to bring about new purpose and new life for you and within you.  It is God’s Agápē love that saw the world and all of mankind from the very beginning as sinful, defiled, and lost in darkness, and yet it was this Agápē love that moved God to act in such a way that His act of love would save every last sinful person who was willing to be saved.  To accomplish this mission of salvation centered in Agápē love, God the Father called upon His Son to make a way, a path, or a road back to Paradise.

God sent His Son Jesus to us as one of us, so that He could be our true High Priest. There were priests before Christ came to us, very many of them who were called upon to serve under the old covenant of the law; they were called to do a monotonous service, “offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” [Hebrews 10:11] But God sent His Son and named Him Jesus (God saves).  The very name was to indicate the mission that this God-child, born of the Virgin Mary was sent on.  He would grow to become the God-man, the only One who could live a perfect life, and then out of love for sinners, by way of Pontius Pilate offer His life upon the cross in exchange, or as payment for our imperfections… for our hideous sins.

Prior to Christ our Great High Priest, the high priest of the old covenant was the only one who could pass through the curtain that separated sinners, all sinners, from the holy of holies, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Mercy Seat.  All of these were physical representations of a spiritual reality, and a real place and position, which was simply beyond the reach and beyond the comprehension of sinful mankind.

“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” [Hebrews 10:12]  This single sacrifice is both the very definition of Agápē love and the source of our salvation and our own expression of God’s Agápē love.  Through the sacrifice of His body and the spilling of His blood, Christ has brought into completion both our rebirth and our perfection.  Through God’s Agápē love, Christ has paid for the sins of the world, but more importantly, His passion, His payment, included your sins.

“By a single offering He has perfected for (eternity) those (of us) who are being sanctified (that is perfected in His holiness.  And so that you will be convinced of this truth), the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us.” [Hebrews 10:14, 15]  Within His Word and throughout your life, as you cling to Jesus, the Living Word, God demonstrates that He has put His law on your heart and He has written His Word in your mind.  And then He says, through Christ your High Priest, “I will remember your sins and your lawless deeds no more.” [Hebrews 10:17]

Here is a truth worth remembering: God draws all sinners to Himself only through the Cross of Christ and His chosen means of grace.

It is through God’s means of grace where all of the Agápē love of the Father becomes yours personally, through the work and sacrifice of your Great High Priest Jesus Christ.  Through the blood of Christ, the entrance into the true Holy of Holies is open for you in connection with that blood, and it shall never be closed to you.  Jesus made a way, a very narrow way back to Paradise for all sinners.  It is narrow because it excludes all other ways.  It is a way, because you follow it every day; it is a living way, because the very veil that you must pass through is through Christ’s flesh.  The Son of God, Jesus Christ Himself is the living way, the truth, and the only source of eternal life.  In the old covenant or the old way, only the high priest himself could enter the holy of holies by way of the great veil or curtain, but this new way is for all of us; each of us are to use Jesus’ flesh as the great means of entry.

The crucified Christ is our entrance into both the holy of holies and the very mercy seat of God.  Jesus reminds us of this truth with these words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6]  This morning Jesus holds out His hand to each of you and makes sure you understand all of this as He says, “My blood.  My body.  No other means.  I am the veil that separates sinful men from God the Father.  To get to the Father you must pass through me.”

So how may one enter through Christ our great veil and curtain?  We must continue to draw near to God “with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” [Hebrews 10:22]  Dear friends, we are drawn by God, that is we are pulled away from our sinful lives and into God’s Agápē love through the cross of Jesus Christ.  Through the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Great High Priest, His very body and blood are the only method of payment the Father will accept as atonement for our sins.  So, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8)  But how are we to draw near to God?

We draw near to God with a clean heart; with a pure conscience.  How?  With our hearts sprinkled clean by the blood of Christ and our bodies washed clean with the pure water of Holy Baptism.  And what is it that makes the water pure?  Nothing but the life giving, life changing, Agápē making Word of God.  Through His means of grace, God gives us both rebirth and continual forgiveness of all sins.  And through these gifts we are given a new way to love God and each other; we are given Agápē love; the love of intellect and purpose.  A love that finds it’s definition in the cross of Christ; a love that compels us to bear our own cross of sacrifice and the giving of our selves to our neighbor.

“(So) Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” [Hebrews 10:23-25]

How do we continually leave our sinful past and cling to Christ? How can we receive the strength and ability to continually love God with all of our heart and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves?

By holding fast to our confession of faith. By hearing the Word of God often and receiving the blessed assurance of complete forgiveness and the promise of eternal life.  By remembering our baptism and all that it represents.  By gathering each week to confess our sins together before God, and then quickly being assured that through Christ we are forgiven and loved.  By allowing God’s Word read, declared, and preached to sustain our faith and to increase within our hearts a hunger for a deeper relationship of Agápē love with our Heavenly Father.

And then, as faith and love lead us, we are to approach the mercy seat of God, take our place around this altar and receive the very body and blood that continues the Father’s work of Agápē love within us.

And now we must follow this work of Christ that God does within us to a new place.  There is no longer a need to continually focus on only our hearts when God has promised to do such a great work within them.  But now, God asks us to be concerned out of Agápē love, for the countless hearts around us; people lost in darkness and sin that God wants us to focus on.  But how?

By being a living representation of the very Agápē love that saved us; by encouraging “one another, and all the more as we see the Day (of judgment) drawing near.”

In these words, God is telling us that our time is both short and precious; He is inciting us, by the leading of His Spirit and the gift of Agápē love to cling to Christ alone, to come alive, and to help bring new birth and forgiveness to others.

Dear friends, our faith and God’s Agápē love that comes out of us are living, busy, active, and powerful things.  Martin Luther once said that faith and love do not ask “whether good works are to be done; but before the question is even asked, it has (already done) them and is always engaged in doing (those good works).” [C. Tr 941, 10]

Brothers and sisters, we need to meet weekly within this communion of saints,  because from within this very place, out of God’s Divine Service for us, we are continually filled with both faith and God’s Agápē Love, which then sends us out offering and performing good works for Christ’s church and our neighbor.

But because our human nature is constituted in such a way that we would rather be around and deal with those who are only good and perfect, and then neglect and ignore those who are imperfect and hard to love—because of this sinful tendency within us, we notice that those who are weaker cause those who are more perfect to be haughty, spiteful, judging, selfish and unloving while, on the other hand, those who are more perfect, more mature in their faith, cause those who are weaker to envy and be disrespectful.  This is why not only this epistle focuses in on our relationship with other saints, but indeed all of the epistles do the same as a way of warning and countering this evil, so that divisions and false teaching can not arise in Christ’s church.

So how can we avoid these terrible things and live our lives in a way that pleases our Great High Priest and Savior, Jesus Christ?  By leaving these things, confessing these things, and then by clinging to Christ alone; by turning to His cross and seeing atonement, and then turning to the Font and seeing new life.

When these things are active in our lives, it will be God’s Agápē love within us and around us that will bring peace and a strong witness to our community, the very people that need to know Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

This, therefore, is the Christian love that we cling to; it is the Agápē love that is shown to those who are contemptible and unworthy of love; this, Christian love that dwells within each of you, is the kindness that is given to those who are evil and ungrateful. For this is what God did for us; and we, too, are commanded to love as He loves.

Dear friends, broken people are messy, time consuming, and very hard to love; love them anyhow because God chose to love you!  AMEN!

Thank God for Good Doctrine!

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 20C, October 6th, 2013

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What is good doctrine?  Well simply put it is the teaching of God as revealed in His holy scriptures; in other words it’s the teaching of the Bible.  Ok, then what is the teaching of the Bible?  Well, the entire Bible has been written, gathered, and preserved so that you might know Christ unto salvation.  We sing this truth most every Sunday just before the Holy Gospel is read in these Words.  “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”

Good doctrine is so easy to receive and understand that even comic book characters understand it.  Listen to the dialogue between Lucy and Linus in a Peanuts comic strip:  Lucy and Linus are looking out the window at a steady downpour of rain. “Boy,” said Lucy, “look at it rain. What if it floods the whole world?”  “It will never do that,” Linus replied confidently. “In the ninth chapter of Genesis, God promised Noah that would never happen again, and the sign of the promise is the rainbow.”  “You’ve taken a great load off my mind,” said Lucy with a relieved smile.  “Sound theology,” said Linus, “has a way of doing that!”

In our Old Testament lesson (Habakkuk 1:14, 2:14), good doctrine would play an important part in bringing peace and hope to the people of Judah a people who were about to be taken away into captivity.  Through the prophet Habakkuk God’s Word would bring hope for a better future and comfort for the present uncertain times.

While Habakkuk is a prophet of God, he was also simply a man; a man who must be led by faith just like us.  So when he finds himself surrounded by uncertainty and unanswered questions, he turns to God with a question repeated over and over… “How long?!”  Lord your people are afraid, how long will we be surrounded by evil?  Lord your people are being taken advantage of and abused by crooked politicians.  How long will you let this continue?  Lord there’s destruction and violence everywhere and the threat of war looms.  How long will we have to put up with this?  Lord, even the laws that are in place to protect us are being ignored.  How long will you keep silent?  When are you going to fix this?

Yes Habakkuk is frustrated and worried; he might even be afraid, but he knows where to take these things; he takes them to the LORD his God.  He says “I will take my stand at my watch-post and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what (God) will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint.” [Habakkuk 2:1]

This dear friends is good doctrine; it is sound theology because it directs the eyes of faith to the only One who is faithful to save and able to deliver His people of faith from the hands of the enemy.  God alone, the author and perfecter of our faith is able to as Lucy says, “take a great load off of our minds.”  When He speaks, we are to listen and trust in His Word; we are to search for that Word and wait for His promises to be fulfilled.

God did speak; He did answer Habakkuk and that same answer is given to us.  Listen: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.”   [Habakkuk 2:2, 3]

What is the vision that should be written down?  What is it that should be made plain so that people may run who read it?  It is the Word of God… good doctrine.  It is the promise of God that declares that God see’s all and He is not ignorant of your suffering nor is He unfeeling.  God sees and He has acted and He will act.  It is good doctrine that reminds you not to judge God’s will and work by what you see, but on what He has promised.  Wait for it, even if God seems slow in responding.

The faithless refuse to wait for God, they want change and they want it right now, so they are willing to do anything to bring the kind of change THEY WANT, even if it is the kind of change that will hurt others and offend God.  They are puffed up in pride and no longer seek God nor care about what He says.  “But (you) the righteous shall live by (your) faith.” [Vs. 4b]  And your faith tells you to hold on, change is coming!  Even in the middle of turmoil, God’s people hold onto faith, because they know that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” [Romans 8:28]

It was good doctrine, the pure Word of God that sustained St. Paul in hope as he wrote our Epistle lesson (2 Timothy 1:1-14) to Timothy while in prison, waiting to be put to death as a criminal, simply because he believed, preached, taught, and confessed Jesus Christ as the Son of God, as the only provision that God had made to save a dying world from their sins.

It was good doctrine that moved Paul to write to Timothy and provide courage in the middle of persecution with these Words which are directed and filled with the very Spirit of God: “I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words (the good doctrine) that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”

You see, Paul knew that what he believed was God’s truth, because Jesus Himself revealed it to him.  And Paul wanted Timothy to continue fighting for this hope so that we would have it as well.  What is that hope?  It is faith in the message that declares that even if evil seems to surround you every day and others loose hope, God is still the one who stands guard as the watchman; He is waiting for just the right time to fulfill the final prophecy of all things, when all things will become new and right.  It is a message that declares that God is still the one ensuring that others will receive the simple message of faith, the doctrine of hope and like you, will be empowered to share it with others who need hope as well.

What is that message, that doctrine of hope?  It is the very power of God that saves, frees, and heals those who are trapped in their sins.  It is Christ Jesus, crucified and resurrected.  By His death He abolished death and by His resurrection he brings and gives an eternal new life.  This is the ultimate message of the gospel; this is good doctrine.  And this doctrine is to be given as a gift to each and every child of God who repents, that is turns to the Son of God Jesus Christ, and receive forgiveness of sins.

It is good doctrine, which proclaims, “Baptism now saves you.” [1 Peter 3:21] It is good doctrine, which teaches that those who take and eat, take and drink, are receiving the very body and blood of Christ in, with, and under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of their faith.  It is good doctrine, which teaches us to trust and believe that when the pastor or a brother or sister speaks words of forgiveness, that is the absolution, it is not them who speak but the very mouth of God proclaiming these things to you.

In our gospel lesson (Luke 17:110), Jesus warned people then and us today, that God’s simple message of grace, His good doctrine, was being muscled out of peoples lives by false teachers, phony baloney preachers, and the philosophers of our day.  They bring a false message of prosperity or a message of self-help and a “do it yourself” life of independence from God’s care.  It’s a message that has lost the aroma of Christ and instead smells of something else.

There’s an old saying that illustrates what I mean: “Old Fisherman never die—they only smell that way.”  And that is a good way to describe false teachers and their false doctrine.  They never die, they only smell that way.”

Another way to look at false doctrine and the effect it has on the church and our lives is to examine the resourceful way that scientist control, or bring death to pests such as ants.  In order to destroy the ants, scientists have developed pellets that resemble the ants favorite foods.  The pellets are laced with a tasteless, odorless poison and sprinkled around the mound.  The worker ants immediately begin gathering up the tainted food and take it down into the heart of the colony.  Then they unwittingly feed the poisoned pellets to their queen, slowly killing her.  When the queen dies, no more workers are produced, and so in a couple of weeks the entire colony starves to death.  Isn’t it ironic that food that looked so good was the very thing that brought starvation and then death?  Yes, that is a good way to illustrate the damage that false doctrine can do.

What is good doctrine?  It is the very Word of God that produces faith to hold onto and trust in Christ alone.  It is Biblical teaching that is taught by the Word of God and caught by the mentoring of other Christians in our lives who not only taught us the faith but were living examples of it.  When they were attacked because of their faith they did not fight back with weapons of this world, but instead turned to the promises of God’s Word and waited.  When someone close to them sinned against them, they did not get even, but when asked, they freely and fully forgave that brother and sister.

What is good doctrine?  It is the truth revealed in the teaching of Jesus that declares that simple faith, the size of a mustard seed can declare to a mulberry tree, which is a metaphor for the human heart, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”  We see this play out every time we hear the absolution, “You are forgiven.” You are forgiven, now go and live for the God who has saved you from sin, death, and the devil.  Go, and by the power of God live a life of faith, trusting in a God who alone has saved you and will save you!  Go and proclaim the good doctrine you have received here and share it with others; live it out so that they will see the hope of the nations, Jesus Christ! And when you see others turn to Jesus and His church for forgiveness through your testimony, simply declare with St. Paul, Timothy and all of the church, “We are unworthy servants (saved by grace, through the message of good doctrine); we have only done what is our duty.”

May Christ continue to protect His church and the simple message of grace, which we proclaim… AMEN!