Posts Tagged ‘Sanctification’

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!

Salt Is Good!

Sunday, September 30th, 2018

Pentecost 18B
September 30, 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 50th verse of our Gospel lesson.  “Salt is good, but it if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? [Mark 9:38-50]


What is the kingdom of God?  Where is the kingdom of God?  These are a couple of questions I want you to keep in the front of your minds as we receive God’s message this morning.  At first, the apostles thought that the Kingdom of God would be a brand new world order, where Jesus would rule, destroy the reign of Cesar and the Roman Empire, and make all things right.  They wanted the Kingdom of God now, and they wanted it according to their estimation.  In their minds, it was Jesus and them against the world!  But Jesus had other ideas.  He always does…He is God.  Where the apostles saw the kingdom of God consisting in a select few, Jesus has other ideas: “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he wasn’t one of us.”  Again, Jesus had other plans… “Don’t stop him” he said.  “Don’t you see that anyone who does a mighty work in my name will not be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.  Listen, the one who is not against us is for us.”  

And there you have it…the kingdom of God is a lot bigger than we think.  So some might say this is proof that denominational differences are unimportant—as long as your heart is in the right place.  Right?  Well, let’s keep reading and see if Jesus agrees with that.  

Do you remember the child Jesus took into His arms in our gospel reading last week?  Well, this is a discussion that continues that teaching.  The child is still in His arms, and now He looks at His disciples and says: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”  

So what causes children to sin?  What causes adult Christians with a simple faith, like the stranger that was casting out demons to sin?  In both examples it is a lack of knowing and understanding God’s Word, both the Law and the gospel.  How can you help protect the young and the simple?  Teach them biblical truths…good doctrine.  Teach them that there aren’t many ways to the kingdom of Heaven.  Teach them that God doesn’t require any work from us before He will give us Jesus’ kingdom of Heaven.  Without faith in the true gospel, a faith that clings to Jesus alone friends, you cannot be saved.  In fact, bad doctrine can actually give us the opposite of salvation…it can lead to damnation… an eternity in hell!

What is hell?  

Jesus compared Hell to the garbage dump right outside of the city of Jerusalem.  It was called the Gehenna.  There, trash fires were always burning as refuse was disposed of.  In essence, Jesus was saying, “Imagine that the Gehenna is like a picture of hell with one big difference.  Where the fires of Gehenna are temporary, in hell they are eternal.  Where maggots eat rotting flesh until the flesh is no more or the maggots die, in hell the fire never goes out, there is an endless supply of flesh, and the maggot never dies.  So what?  Well friends, the fire isn’t burning the demons that are in hell, and the maggots aren’t eating them either, because demons are spirit and they do not have flesh.  So who is burning, and who is being consumed?  People!  People who willing rejected God’s simple method of salvation—the cross of Jesus Christ!  People who refused to cling to Jesus alone and decided there was a better way to the kingdom of Heaven.  These are poor fools who decided that doctrine didn’t matter, and because of that they willingly set aside the kingdom of God and embraced a lie! What is hell?  

Scripture says Hell is a domain where people are eternally banished from the sight of God—eternally excluded from His love and the sweet communion with Jesus Christ.  To these damned souls, Jesus says “Depart from Me” [Matt. 25:41]; (and) “They shall be cast out into outer darkness.”  [Matt. 25:42]  

Friends, we were made for God; we were made to have communion with God.  That is the supreme joy and delight of man—that is the kingdom of God.  But sadly, many people reject the offer of peace with God the Father, because they reject the means to that peace…God the Son, Jesus Christ.  Through their own sinful choice they have embraced a state of damnation where they will experience intense agony of body and soul that scripture calls “tribulation and anguish” [Rom. 2:9], “being in torment” [Lk. 17:4], “tormented in flames” [Lk. 16:24], “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [Matt. 8:12; 13:50]  There in hell, those poor damned souls will see “the smoke of their torment ascending up forever and ever; and they (will) have no rest day or night. [Rev. 14:11]  Friends, think of the horror that awaits those poor souls… for an eternity they shall be tormented day and night forever and ever” [Rev. 20:10], simply because they have rejected God’s only means to save them. 

You know, it doesn’t matter whether you believe that the fire of hell is real fire or a metaphor for unspeakable torment, the point is God doesn’t want you there; He wants you to escape the agony of hell.  It wasn’t designed for people created in His image—it was created for the rebellious and fallen angels…the devils.

So how do we make sure that we never go to hell? 

Well, before we actually answer that question, let’s allow Jesus to stress how important not going to Hell is: “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter (eternal) life crippled than with two hands to hell, to the unquenchable fire.  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter (eternal) life lame than with two feet (and then) be thrown into hell.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out.  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes (and) be thrown into hell, where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” [Mark 9:43-48] 

Does that sound crazy to you?  It should, it was meant to be absurd.  Jesus was addressing the mindset that people in that time had about sin.  They like many others in their day were trivializing their personal sins, much like people do today.  “I guess I can’t help steeling, I was born with itchy hands and sticky fingers.”  OK, cut them off!  “I can’t help looking at women that way, I must have been born with a wandering eye.”  OK, pluck it out!  “What do you mean?  I can’t” you say.  Friend, do you want to go to hell?  Well then get rid of the offending body part.  If you had diabetes, and your foot or leg was diseased you would let the doctor amputate it so you could live wouldn’t you?  Well…go ahead, cut it off and pluck it out.  Keep cutting and plucking until there is nothing left of your body!

Absurd and ridiculous isn’t it?  And that is the point Jesus is making.  Your hand, foot, eye, tongue, or any other body part is not to blame.  They can’t think independent of you!  Sinners like us today are to blame…sinners like us have a wicked heart, and there is only one cure for a wicked heart… IT MUST BE SALTED!

You must be salted with fire.  

In the time of Jesus, salt was both a preservative and an antiseptic. When someone had an infected wound they would pour salt on it.  It burned like fire, but that was good because it meant that there was still some life in the tissue that could be saved.  We must be salted too, because we carry with us dead tissue that must be removed.  

How are we salted?  With the Word of God!  God’s Law must be applied to our sin so that we will feel the fire and wrath of God.  We must know that we are sinful throughout every fiber of our being.  We must stand before God knowing that we deserve all of the punishments of hell.  We must be silenced and simply surrender to His perfection and Holiness!  That is the work and sting of God’s Law.  It is at this time, when the Law has had its way with us that we are moved to cry out to God, “Have mercy Lord!  Forgive me!”  

And then…then when we feel our very life slipping away, we must listen—we must listen to God’s mercy.  “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us. That we should be called the children of God.”   How are we made the children of God?  Through the salting of His Word.  And it is that Word that tells us about the cross—the cross where He allowed His Son Jesus Christ to willingly and in agony give up His life for those very same sins that condemn us.  And then by faith, we must hear His Son shout loudly from the cross, “IT IS FINISHED!”  “What is finished Lord” we ask?  “My Father’s anger for your many sins” He says.  “How” we ask? “Friend” he says, “the Father no longer sees your many sins because I have covered them with my precious blood.  The blood I, Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, your brother and friend shed for you.”  

Will you be salted?  Will you teach your children about this salt, this life saving Word of God that both terrifies and saves us?  This Word has been with you since your own baptism…will you grab onto it and live it out until your last breath is taken on this earth?  Will you remember that in your baptism God made you a mortal enemy of sin, death, and all the devils?  

Friends, think about what God has done for you through the cross of Jesus and the holy waters of your own Baptism.  You have become Satan’s mortal enemy and God’s own child.  How will you survive the constant attacks and temptations of Satan’s devils?  By being salted constantly with the Word of God.  

Now do you understand how important it is to always be in God’s Word?  Do you finally understand how important it is for parents to bring their children to church, Sunday School, and to read and share the Word of God with them?  Do you understand how important it is for you to live this kind of life that clings to God’s Word and Sacraments?  Do you understand that God’s kingdom can only be found at the cross?  Do you understand that the kingdom of God, Jesus’ kingdom was given to you in your baptism?  And do you understand that every time you hear the Word preached and taught, every time you come to His table of mercy, you are being reminded that you are even now part of that kingdom of God?

Friends, don’t lose your saltiness.  Seek this salt in your life always.  I pray that you do.  I pray that you will hunger for this salt, and be at peace…peace with God and peace with each other.  In Jesus name…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

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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!

Put It On

Sunday, September 2nd, 2018

Pentecost 15B
September 2, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” [Ephesians 6:11]

There is a battle raging all around us; it is unseen but certainly not unfelt.  It is the classic battle of good vs. evil.  In this battle, God is protecting what is His.  He is protecting those little lambs of Jesus—those little lambs that He suffered and died for.  God is protecting you and me from the evil around us and the sin within us!  In regards to the evil around us, let me say this right off the bat, the devils are evil cowards.  They usually attack us when we are at our weakest, and that is usually when we are the furthest away spiritually from God. And when they attack us, they do it in away that will effect those people closest to and surrounding the person under attack. In physical warfare, we would call it collateral damage.  So the best target for devils is an unprotected target; someone who is not centered in the grace of Jesus Christ…someone who is counting on something else for their protection other than the whole armor of God!

Dear friends, evil is all around us.  

It is the unseen force that the devil uses to separate us from the Love of God which is ours in and through Christ Jesus.  It is a spiritual force, an army if you will, that is well organized under the leadership of the devil.  St. Paul in our Epistle reading breaks down this spiritual army of darkness into 4 divisions: Rulers, Authorities, Cosmic Powers, and Spiritual Forces of Evil.  If we were to put this in contemporary warfare terms we would say the Ruler is Satan Himself, and his Joint Chief of Staff or his generals are the Authorities, the Cosmic Powers would be those who control the Spiritual Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the Spiritual Forces of Evil would be his foot soldiers.  Their concentrated goal is to ensure that we are so overcome with evil that we will simply surrender our lives to them and hope for the best.  In other words, their attacks are meant to “shock and awe” us to the point that we are demoralized and give up!

This battle isn’t something that is distant and doesn’t merit your immediate concern.  It is much closer than you think.  It is raging all around you.  Just watch the news on any given night and see how our community, our nation and our world is being overrun by violence, crime, and hatred.  In fact, the enemy is so close that he is even battling within you!  But don’t take my word for it, listen to our Savior’s own Words found in our gospel lesson: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these things come from within, and they defile a person.”  There you have it friends—the battle is not so distant after all, is it?  

Now I know some of you are thinking, “Yes Pastor, but God’s Word says that I am saved…I am baptized!”  Very good!  You see God’s work for what it is, a work of love and protection from anything that separates us from the love of God, which is ours through Christ Jesus!  Indeed you are right that your baptism is God’s assurance that He will never leave nor forsake you.  And yet, the battle rages around us and within us.  Our old sinful nature loves to work against these precious baptismal promises.  It won’t admit that it has been crucified with Christ and drowned within the waters of Holy Baptism.  The singular goal of that sinful flesh and the powers of darkness that it clings to is to chip away at your faith a little at a time until you have lost your trust in Christ’s saving presence in your life.  But how?  By getting you to doubt the faithfulness of God’s Word.  This is the oldest trick the devils have, but it is still their greatest weapon.  It is the weapon they used against Eve in the garden, when the devil asked her, “Did God really say….?”  Eve’s error, her sin was not that she listened to the serpent, but that she did not silence him with the Word of God! One little Word from God and the devil would have fled.  One simple statement and he would’ve been defeated: “YES!” she should have said, “ Thus says the Lord our God, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”” [Gen 2:16-17]  If Eve would have responded with the true Word of God, the serpent would have slithered back into his hole!  But Eve entered into a battle with the master deceiver without the whole armor of God!

Friends, Eve discovered this truth after her error, after her own husband abandoned his role as spiritual leader and joined her in her sin.  If they and those after them could speak to us this morning, they would be encouraging us right now to take up the whole armor of God and “Put it on, put it on!”  What is this armor of God?  It is God’s own Word!

Friends, in your baptism, God has assured you that you are right now connected to His inexhaustible source of power, strength, and might.  You are never to think of yourself as helpless and defeated.  

You see, you have been joined together with a Lord who has conquered sin, death, and the devil.  He is the Stronger One who has defeated the strong one.  Because of your baptism, you are assured of a certain amount of power, but God every day desires to feed and sustain that power.  This is done when we allow Him to strengthen our relationship with Him through His Living Word.  It is through His Word that we are given daily strength to defeat our old sinful nature and silence all of the devils.  Through His Word, God assures us that He is always for us and never against us.  How do we acquire this Word?  Again, by putting on the whole armor of God!

All of the armor described by Paul is just a different application of being in God’s Word!  Let me give you 6 contemporary presentations that explain this armor: #1 God’s Word is truth.  Truth is always truth, but for it to be your truth you must experience it and live it out.  “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” [Jn. 8:32]  But how do we know the truth?  By reading and hearing the Word of God.  We must make time and take time for our own private and personal study of God’s Word!  #2 Because many times, our personal study time leaves us with many questions, we discover that we need to be part of an organized Bible Study group that will help us find answers and grow in the Lord.  #3 Liturgical worship is just another way that we take in the Word of God.  In our Lutheran worship, God speaks His Word to us and we speak and even sing it back to Him.  #4 In the Holy Sacraments, God’s Word speaks His forgiveness of our many sins to us, which then causes us to confess even more sins to Him, which then in turn moves Him to speak once again the gospel—the forgiveness of sins for His Son’s sake.  In the sacraments the Word comes alive for us so that we can hear, see, touch, smell, and even taste forgiveness!  #5 When we memorize God’s Word, it becomes an offensive weapon that we can use to drive away the devil.  Luther said it best in the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” listen: “though hordes of devils fill the land all threatening to devour us, We tremble not, unmoved we stand; They cannot over power us.  Let this world’s tyrant rage; In battle we’ll engage.  His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgment must prevail!  One little word subdues him.”

What is this little word?  It is a verse of scripture that you have memorized for the sole purpose of silencing the devil!  There are many verses to choose from; the more you have the greater your courage.  Here are some good ones: “Baptism now saves you” [1 Pe. 3:21]. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” [Philip. 4:13] “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” [Gal. 2:20] “  “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”. [Jn. 6:68]  Anyone of these little words and many others WILL silence the devil, make him tremble, and flee for his life, because you are letting him know that you know that Jesus destroyed his hold over you upon the cross.  And in your baptism this victory of Christ was made yours!  “But isn’t it hard to memorize scripture?”  Not at all, in fact I’ll bet you already have a few simple words memorized.  If you have been singing and saying our liturgy, you already have quite a bit ready to use.  Dear friends, have your sword, the word of God ready and you will send the devil and the temptations of sin scurrying away like a whimpering puppy!

Finally, #6, the armor of God is with you when you are simply living out your calling as a saved and redeemed child of God.  When you live as a Christian parent, child, neighbor, policeman, lawyer, plumber, or whatever other station of life you find yourself in, you are wearing your gospel shoes.  You are demonstrating and speaking the love of God to your neighbor.  You are witnessing the truth of John 3:16, which says that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  We are to do this as individuals and we are to do this as a congregation.  

It is my prayer that you are individually living out this calling everyday as God leads you in life.  It is my hope for this congregation that we will also be continually and intentionally looking for ways to engage our community in gospel conversations.  We can do this when we find ways to serve our neighbor and sacrificially love them as Christ first loved us.  Why?  So that they too may know how to obtain and put on the full armor of God.  This dear friends is the will of God for us… it is why Jesus died for us.  It is God’s means to save us and then equip us to tell everyone what He has done for them. 

To complete our message this morning, we have one more thing to discuss… one more piece of armor and that is PRAYER!  As God’s Word is the power of victory over sin, death, and the devil, prayer is the energy that keeps us engaged in the battle!

Pray always, or as Paul says it elsewhere, be unceasing in prayer.  Now this doesn’t mean that we are always saying prayers, because Jesus Himself said that we are not heard for our “much speaking” [Matt. 6:7], but instead it means that we should always be in communion with the Lord. [1 Thess. 5:17]  In other words, we should keep the receiver off the hook and be in a constant attitude of prayer.  What should we pray for?  All things!  Whatever the Lord’s Spirit is leading us to pray, then that is what we should pray for.  Thank Him for little things and big things.  Thank Him for your spiritual leaders; for pastors, elders, spouse, parents, teachers, and the like.  And ask God to continue to bless them with great wisdom so they can continue to lead and become even better leaders.  Pray and ask Him to teach you how you can be a more effective witness to His love and forgiveness with your neighbor, and pray and ask Him to show you how you and our church can sacrificially serve our community.  Ask Him how you can help Trinity reach and teach the lost about God’s love through Jesus Christ, and then just jump in and give it a try.  Don’t wait for some miraculous sign…just get involved.  Remember, idle hands are the devils work shop!

Finally, sometimes we don’t know what to pray for, but we do feel the uncontrollable urge to do it.  When this feeling hits you, as soon as you are able, find a private place, fall on your knees or even on your face and simply cry out to the Lord!  Pray with groaning that only your deep and troubled spirit can understand.  Don’t worry about words, because the Holy Spirit who dwells within your heart knows what to ask for and what to say.  He will take your prayer before the Father in Heaven who will hear you because of His Son’s grace, and He will answer your prayer with just what your spirit needs.

So there you have it friends, the whole armor of God, His Word and your prayers.  You don’t have to look for it, because it has all been yours since your baptism.  Take it up, and put it on…wear it always.  Demonstrate its power to your neighbor so they will also one day want to have it as their own.  And remember, one day, in the darkest hour of your life, perhaps when death is close, hordes of devils will test your armor; they will try to cause you to loose hope, but don’t worry because you are in the hands of your loving Father who has saved you from all of your fears, even sin, death, and all of the devils.  May this be so always for each of us, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Victory in Rejection

Sunday, July 15th, 2018

Pentecost 8B
July 15, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” [Ephesians 1:3, 4]

Did you hear that good news!  You dear saints who have gathered here at Trinity Lutheran Church around God’s Word and Sacraments are blessed!  In Christ, or because of Christ you have every spiritual blessing; you have everything that you could ever need to keep you in God’s forgiving and blessing love.  But there is a condition.  You must remain in Him!  In whom?  In the Father’s beloved Son, Jesus Christ.  How?  By staying in His Word and agreeing with Him in His Word.  What Word is that?  All of it of course, but especially this one simple word… REPENT!

What does repent mean?  

It means turning to God and agreeing with Him.  It means admitting that God is right and you and this whole sinful world are wrong.  It means turning in agreement to God and facing your only hope… Jesus Christ.  Jesus is either your Savior or your judge, and which one He is for you hinges on your repentance or your lack of repentance.  

So the good news, the spreading of the gospel is always flowing from the church’s message of repentance.  That doesn’t sound like a very effective evangelism or outreach program does it?  And because that message is so simple and so abrasive to many, an untold number of books have been written to help the “church” develop an improved outreach program.  Now don’t get me wrong, social programs and strategies that will help make the church active in improving our community are important; they’re important if a congregation wants to be relevant in the eyes of a dying world, but they are not evangelism.  So then, what is?  Well it’s the preaching and sharing of that simple message… repent!  Turn to Jesus and be saved.  Agree with God that you are a sinner and then receive His forgiveness.

As a congregation, we can’t ignore the message of  repentance simply because many feel it’s offensive or divisive.  We can’t water down that Word and replace it with something else that’s more inclusive and attractive.  If we begin to turn away from the message of repentance and water down God’s Word, we will also be separating ourselves from God’s grace; from His forgiving love.  If we cease to speak God’s message of repentance, we will no longer be counting on God’s power and presence to preserve us as a church, but instead we will be trusting in our own resourcefulness.  And if we do that, we will very soon discover how limited our ability really is.  

The truth is, if we choose to agree with the world and not God, we have failed.  But if we fail we can be saved by hearing that same message we had refused to speak… Repent! And when we repent, we will always discover that God’s grace is sufficient for us.  We discover that it’s ok to fail, as long as we keep turning to God in agreement, saying that He is right and we are wrong; that He alone is righteous and we are sinful.  We need Him always and He is with us all the time.

If you recall, last week in our gospel lesson, Jesus sent out His disciples in His own authority.  It was an authority that backed a message, a message that was full of power; power that would never run out, but authority and power that could be rejected.  One simple Word brought the kingdom of God to sinful men and women… repent, and one simple word could refuse God’s forgiveness… NO!

If this Word of repentance was received, those who did not reject it would know God’s forgiving love, but if it was rejected, well then they would be condemned in their sins.  This was a message that was entirely between the  person listening and God.  If it was rejected, they weren’t rejecting the messenger, they were rejecting their God.  

And this was exactly the position that Amos found himself in, in our Old Testament lesson.  

God sent Amos to preach repentance; and God’s message alone is what was rejected, not Amos the messenger.  The fact that the King and Amaziah the priest rejected Amos’ proclamation of repentance was ultimately not Amos’ problem.  Amos was free to live his life as he saw fit.  He could return to tending his sycamore figs and the care of his sheep, just as the disciples of Jesus when they went out and were rejected were free to shake the dust from their feet.

But Amos didn’t go back to his old way of living and the disciples of Jesus didn’t quit going out proclaiming the good news after shaking the dust off of their feet in one village.  They continued to agree with God and speak God’s plan of salvation!  God’s call to repentance remained as valid to them as it ever was.

God’s plan, the only way to eternal life will always be contemporary and relevant because we will always be sinners who need Him.   God will always be the One with the authority and power to send His disciples to preach, teach, and confess His message of repentance and forgiveness of sins through His Son Jesus Christ, Who is the author and perfecter of our faith.

It is Jesus alone who chose us… destined us in love… bestowed on us, lavished upon us, and made known to us the forgiving love of God.  In other words, Jesus alone does all of this for us.  He gives us the gift to fail and then hear God’s Word again as His only means of correction and assurance of forgiveness.  This gift of freedom of both failure and forgiveness depends entirely on Him who first chose us.  His authority is always a resource that never fails. 

This morning, God is asking us to trust in Him alone.  

Amos did, and some sinners heard and were saved.  John the Baptist did, even when he knew that it would cost him his life, and the result was the preparation for ministry of some of Jesus first and greatest disciples .  And we can do it too, if we remember that the entire evangelism process is something that is completely in the hands of the One and only One with Authority.  Jesus alone does the choosing, the empowering, the granting of authority, and the uniting of all things in Him, at the fullness of time!

So now, you may be feeling ready to go out and share your witness and tell your neighbor about God’s forgiving love through His Son Jesus Christ.  You may be ready to see our little congregation grow and grow with other forgiven sinners just like you, and you may be thinking, “So how will we plan for this outreach program, and how can we motivate others to get involved.  And to that God is responding to all of us: Don’t you see how quickly you fell back on yourselves as a resource?  Do you really think that it is your job to motivate others to get involved in building My Kingdom?  Repent!

What is in this little word of repentance? Well everything. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ; the very “message of our salvation.” “The gospel” defines “the Word,” and “our salvation” describes “the truth” of that Word. The Word which deals with the truth, the gospel is that message of Christ’s cross, which saves us from our sins. The Word is, indeed, “the glad message” that has reached our ears through the grace of God. That message says turn from your sins by turning to Christ’s cross where those sins are forever removed from you. It is a message that actually gives you both the power and ability to repent. In the cross of Jesus we have a “Savior” who is able “to save” the world completely. And in the Holy waters of your Baptism, this message of salvation was made entirely yours by the power of the Holy Spirit, for “In connection with Christ you were sealed with the Spirit through the promise of God almighty.”

The truth is that the One with Authority who was able to motivate a country shepherd to confront a corrupt and powerful religious government is still working among us today. And the One who was able to collect and send out a sorry bunch of disciples is able to give us every spiritual blessing that we will need to leave this place of worship and go out into our community, our jobs, our neighborhoods, and even our families and use us to accomplish His perfect will in accordance to His own way and time; He alone will use us “for the praise of His glory.”

Now that may not be the message that you wanted to hear.  No one wants to hear that our mission may seem like a failure and that many will reject the message that we are sent out with.  But remember, there are untold spiritual blessings ahead for those who simply trust and follow Jesus.  And it is my prayer, that as you are being obedient to God’s authority and direction you will share His message with whoever will listen. It is also my prayer that as a result of your obedience to His Word of repentance you will invite them to gather here at Trinity Lutheran Church with us, and that will be how we will begin to see the Word of God grow in our presence.  I ask this in Jesus name…  AMEN!  

Prophecy and Pentecost

Sunday, May 20th, 2018

Pentecost-B, May 20, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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I can’t help but think that before the Holy Spirit showed up on that first Pentecost Sunday, the disciples were just plain tired.  Think of all they’d been through; they saw their Lord crucified, and then He rose from the dead.  After that, for forty days He just kept appearing and disappearing in the most unusual places.  To cap it all off, they saw Him ascend into heaven before their very eyes, but before He did, He told them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” [Acts 1:4-5] In other words, Jesus was saying, “Do nothing until you hear from me.”

So there they sat in that upper room, tired, worried, and afraid.  I can’t help but wonder what they would have done if Peter or one of the other twelve would have said, “Come on guys there’s a lot of work to do.  Quit hiding out in here; let’s go out and spread the news.”  I think they would have grumbled, and said, “But were tired.  We’ve been through a lot.  Let someone else go out.  We just don’t have it in us!”  But I don’t think that discussion ever happened because as promised, Jesus by way of the Holy Spirit showed up in a powerful way!  And that is what we are celebrating today, Jesus kept His promise and empowered the church with the presence of the Holy Ghost!   Don’t we need that power too?  Don’t we get tired also?  Sometimes, don’t we feel like we just can’t do another thing; like maybe we’ve already done and experienced enough?  

Today, God wants you to know that you need a faith lift.  

 No, I didn’t say facelift, I said faith-lift!  God wants you to know that life without faith, or life with little or weak faith is a desperate life!  That is what the Jews were feeling when God visited Ezekiel in a vision, in our Old Testament lesson.  They were desperate because they lost hope; they lost faith in their saving God.  They had been conquered and enslaved by the Babylonians for many years and their homeland of Israel and Judea was destroyed.  When they first arrived in Babylon as slaves they were humiliated in their defeat, but at least they still had the love of their God!  But after several generations of life as slaves, they began to lose their faith.  First they began to doubt God’s forgiving love for them, and then after a while they must have begun to doubt His very existence!  They felt abandoned and alone.

Do you ever feel that way?  Do you ever feel like God has forgotten you, or is punishing you?  Maybe you’ve even began to wonder if He’s even real?  If so, then let God speak to you.  Hear the story of “dem old dry bones” because Ezekiel’s vision is a prophecy that was fulfilled on Pentecost and it is our reality today.  The valley of dry bones is as real as the battle fields of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam.  It’s as real as the run-down buildings of skid row and the shattered dreams of the poor, unemployed and underemployed.  It’s as real as the crack-house, the sick house, and the poor house.  It’s as real as families broken by addiction and abuse.  It’s a vision of lost dreams and shattered lives!  

As terrible as these battlefields were and are, they pale in comparison to the vision God gave to Ezekiel.  

God told Ezekiel to speak the first message, and the bones were animated with flesh and blood, they were whole bodies, but they were still dead!  Flesh that appears alive but lacks a soul or spirit; I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds like zombies!  

Do we have people like that today?  Yes!  It is everyone who thinks that they can please God by being good; by living a virtuous life.  They may think they’re alive, and they may even look alive, but the truth is they are really dead!  They are dead because they lack God’s breath of new life.  “Then God said to (Ezekiel), “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” [Ezekiel 37:9]  

This was the message of prophecy for ancient Israel during their captivity and it is God’s message for all of us today; it is prophecy fulfilled!  It is the promise of His forgiving love; a Word of forgiveness that brings restoration and peace with God through the cross and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  We first receive this Word in our baptism, and then we hear it every Sunday.  It is the gospel, the good news that assures us that through Jesus Christ we are forgiven.  Please hear it again today and become rejuvenated… alive in Christ!

It was this Word of promise, or forgiveness and restoration that brought hope to the hopeless captives in Babylon, and it is the very same message that God speaks to us who struggle to live our lives in a sinful broken world while not being of the world.  It is a Word that directs us to find our identity not in how the world sees us or treats us but in God’s work of recreation and restoration.  

When we feel alone, and think that we’ve lost our way, God’s Word reminds us that He has never left us; it reminds us that He is right there with us.  His Word takes our eyes off of our circumstances, off of our sin and the sin of others, and He redirects our gaze to the cross of Jesus and the waters of our own baptism.  In His Word, in the vision of Ezekiel and the rebirth of dry, dead bones, God shows us that our salvation, our lives and our future are all in His loving hands.  All we need do is keep turning our hearts and minds to Jesus; call out to Him for forgiveness and strength and receive the Word, His Word that promises that He will never leave nor forsake us.

So we wait.  

But what are we waiting for?  Do we wait as dry bones waiting to be given flesh and spirit?  No, that was already done for us.  Then what are we waiting for?  We are waiting to hear the gospel; the only Word that can dispel fear and bring power from heaven.  What kind of power?  How about this kind: “And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” [Acts 2:2-4]  Dear friends, this mighty power of God wasn’t given only to the early church; it is given to each of you.  You were first given that power in your baptism, and you are continuously strengthened in that same power each time you hear or read God’s Word of repentance and forgiveness.  

Why are some of you living as if you do not have that power?  Because you confuse the individual gifts with the power behind the gift!  What greater power could you need other than God’s power to overcome death?  What greater gift could there be than God’s forgiveness; His ability to recreate you and continually remove your sins, the consequence of your sins from you?  

Can you see that you lack nothing?  Can you see that when God works, when He saves He always does it in a way that is all powerful, complete, and effective?  Then why do we still feel tired, alone, and sometimes even rejected by God?  Maybe it’s because we are still waiting for God to speak!  But He has already spoken.  He spoke in your baptism; He speaks in His Supper!  In His Word He tells you that all has been completed so that you may have life abundantly.  Do you hear that?  You are not a zombie… you have life!  You have life right here in this sinful world!  But your life is to be used for a purpose.  You are to use the gifts that God has given you to go out and speak life to those who are dead in their trespasses.

Unlike the hit AMC television series, “The Walking Dead” we aren’t going out to destroy the zombies before they destroy us, we are going out to bring them back to life.  We are sent out with the only Word that can bring them life, abundant life.  Like Ezekiel, God has empowered us with the ability to speak the breath of life into the walking dead.  And here is how it works.  The problem with zombies is they don’t know they are zombies; they think they’re alive.  So God tells us to speak His law.  We must hold up the mirror of God’s Word and show our neighbors that they are sinners; just like we are.  We must share with them that they have no future unless they simply admit to God that they are dead in their sins and are helpless in changing that reality.  This confession of reality has now prepared them to hear the prophesy of life; the breath of forgiveness that will reanimate; recreate them into God’s image.  The Word they must hear to know forgiveness and new life is simply that Jesus Christ is Lord and He has brought them forgiveness of sins and new life!  He is Lord of life and eternity.  He is the conquering Lord who through His cross has defeated not just the sin of the world but even their sin.  What’s more, Jesus is the Lord who defeated the devil; He is the Lord who protects all that are baptized from ever losing their gift of new life!

Dear friends you are tired, because you are confused.  You’ve forgotten that not only have you been saved, but you’ve been saved, given power, and a mission.  You are to continue expanding the Kingdom of God one saved sinner at a time.  And as you go out in the power of God speaking His recreating Word of forgiveness, His Christian army gets bigger and bigger, and your work load gets easier and easier as many hands make the work of the kingdom light.

So, our time of waiting is over.  Jesus has spoken, and you have been baptized and given the promise and power of the Holy Spirit.   This is our invitation to become part of Christ’ mission to seek and save the lost.  Can we do it?  No, but God will.  He has spoken.  You are forgiven, and so is the world.  Now let’s go tell someone with our own little personal touch, and someone will tell someone else, until the day when Jesus comes to take us home.  AMEN!

Great is Our God!

Sunday, February 4th, 2018

5th Sunday in Epiphany B, February 4, 2017
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Mark 1:21-28

Click here for audio of this message

“Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?”[Isaiah 40:1]

I don’t understand how people can say that they’re not sure there’s a God. I mean, where have they been all of their lives, living under a rock?! Just look around; are we to believe that all of this just happened by accident? And this is somewhat of a paraphrase of God’s question to unbelieving man through the prophet Isaiah. Listen again: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told to you? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?”

The truth about God has always been available. But the human mind has been so darkened by sin that it can’t imagine God as He truly is. This morning, Isaiah pictures God as the Creator and Ruler of the world. God sits high above the created world as He stretches out the heavens as easily as someone might pitch a tent. God is not created but uncreated and eternal, without beginning and without end. He is separate and different from the world He created. He is holy, infinite, perfect, and changeless. To God, we are like a swarm of grasshoppers. Because of our sin, we are nothing like God. We are finite, temporal, imperfect, subject to change of every kind, and very mortal. What arrogance for finite creatures to fashion God in an image that they are comfortable with. If we want to know about God, we must humbly put our hands over our mouths and simply listen to what He tells us.

A law enforcement chaplain was invited one evening to give the invocation at a St. Patrick’s Day celebration for a bunch of crusty old cops at a local cop bar. After the invocation, he sat down to share an Irish beer with the boys, and one of the cops shouted so all who could hear, “Hey Chappy! I say that there is no God; so what do you have to say about that?!” The chaplain walked up to him, calmly laid his hand on his shoulder, and said, “Friend, what you just said is nothing new. In fact, the Bible said the same thing over 2,000 years ago.” The cop replied, “I never knew that the Bible made such a statement.” The chaplain replied, “Yep, Psalm 14, verse 1, “The fool says in his heart there is no God.” But there’s a big difference between that fool and you. You see, the fool is modest enough to say it in the privacy of his own heart; he wasn’t so foolish as to go screaming it out in a tavern!”

Why is it so hard for people to see the existence of God?

I mean, it’s not like He’s hidden himself so that we wouldn’t know to look for Him! He’s revealed Himself from the beginning. He talked with Adam and Eve in the garden, and after they sinned, He continued to speak to them, and when He did, He promised that a Savior would come and destroy their sin and the devil who introduced it! He spoke to Noah before and after the destructive flood, and promised something similar. He used Moses to speak His holy and perfect Word to the people, so that they would know that not only was God with them, but He was protecting them. God made sure that Moses and all of the other writers of Holy Scripture recorded His Word, and not the sinful imaginings of their own minds. God inspired them, by giving them the words they were to write so that we could know Him and have faith in His love and care for us. The apostle Paul makes this very point when he writes, “We speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the (Holy) Spirit. [1 Cor. 2:13]

All that a person needs to do is look at everything that’s around them, and they can’t help but know that something, or someone had to create it.

Let me share another story with you that will illustrate the foolishness of a creator-less reality. An astrology professor constructed a small but elegant and precise model of the universe. As the students came into the classroom, one by one they commented on how beautiful and intricate it was. One student asked the professor who made it? The professor said, “No one, it just happened.” The students became confused and a little angry when time and time again the professor responded, “No one made this. It just happened, so quit asking.” Finally the professor replied “If you can leave this class and look at nature all around you, and still believe that it just happened, then why can’t you believe that this precise piece of work just happened without a creator?”

And that’s really what people want today; they want a creator-less society. They want all of the good things that creation has to offer, but they don’t want the creator behind them. For these opponents of God, it’s really pointless to try to convince them that there’s a God by using the Bible, because God’s Word is far above them. If they can’t see God in His creation, how do you expect them to see Him in His Word? So the prophet Isaiah starts at that very point. He is essentially saying, “How do you think all of this came to be?” The smarty pants atheists will say along with the popular sit-com, “It all started with the big bang!” Ok, then what created the energy that caused the big bang? At this simple question, all of their collective I.Q.’s stand silent. But we of course know the answer. God did, of course, but God didn’t just make our universe and our world and then leave us to contend for ourselves. He is still here taking care of our world; He’s taking care of you!

Now at this point, you might see an atheist become somewhat enlightened and become an agnostic, and they’ll admit to a creator but not to a Creator who actually cares about every thing that’s happening in creation. They’ll want to create God out of their own sinful imaginings; very often they’ll turn Him into some sort of absentee slum lord, who leaves us to fend for ourselves and maintain creation on our own. And to those who question God’s presence and care (by the way, we call that providence), to those people, God replies in His Word this morning: “Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Why do we say that God isn’t really active in my life; He’s just kind of left me here alone to grope in the dark and make sense of this messed up world.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.” And, this is where God moves us from what we see to what we hear; He moves us from things that are created to His eternal Word.

Now it’s true that God’s Word tells us that everything we are going through is our own fault. It’s our fault because of our sin and other people’s sins. And that same Word teaches us that that’s precisely why we are always witnessing one crisis and tragedy after another. But God’s Word also promises us that we aren’t alone in the tragedies of life, and that one day in the twinkling of an eye, the promised Savior will right all wrongs. So without His Word, when the tragedies come, we will fail to see Him with us and we’ll most likely resort to finding comfort and protection on our own.

An artist asked a friend to come to his studio and see his latest painting. When he arrived, he was taken into a dark room and told to sit and wait. After 15 minutes, the artist finally arrived and brought his friend into the studio. Before the man left, the artist said laughingly, “I suppose you thought I was a little rude and strange by making you wait so long in the dark?” “Yes I did,” replied his friend. “Well,” said the artist, “I knew that if you came right into my studio with the glare of the street in your eyes, you wouldn’t be able to appreciate all of the fine coloring that was used in my painting; so I left you there until the glare had worn out of your eyes.”

Many times, when we are going through hard times, even tragic times, the glare of all of the pain in this sinful world can interfere with us sensing and seeing God’s presence, that is promised to never leave us. It may seem as though He’s not with us, or that He doesn’t care, but in reality, He’s just giving our hearts and minds time to transition from a physical reality to a spiritual one. This was true for every person in the Old Testament that God points out to us as models of faith. God cared for Jacob, He blessed him, and protected him. But in the middle of his tragedy and fears it appeared as though God had left him alone. But God had not left him! God appeared in the middle of his struggle, and then changed his name to Israel. God appeared to Noah and Moses in the middle of their struggles, and then He promised them that a Savior was coming who would make all things new and perfect.

The prophet Isaiah, who God used to write our Old Testament lesson, experienced something very similar. He was hated and despised by all of the important people of Israel, because he spoke a hard prophecy about God’s anger, but interspersed with these prophecies of punishment, God also had him repeat over and over that their Savior was coming and through His suffering and death, God’s Servant would bring His grace and peace to all of creation through the forgiveness of sins.

So do you not know? Have you not heard?

The Savior has come; He alone has made all things right and new between you and God, even if what you see in this sinful world says the opposite! His living Word has declared that you are saved! In His Word, He has revealed to you that He is “the Lord,” Jehovah God, the God of free and faithful grace. He is Emmanuel, the God who is always with you. He was with you in the waters of your baptism, He is with you even now in His Word, and He is with you at His holy table, where He asks you to hear, smell, touch, taste, eat, and drink His presence and His forgiveness of all of your sins.

And yet, even though, by faith we believe that all of this is true, we still want to cry out angrily at God sometimes and say, “But life is too hard and it isn’t fair!” When those feelings arise, and they will, God wants you to see them for what they are, a lack of faith in His presence and the salvation that He’s provided for you through His Son, Jesus Christ. And this is exactly why He wants you to come here every Sunday for Divine Service. It is here, where we gather around His Word and Sacraments that He gives you faith to follow Jesus along the narrow way, the way of the cross.

The way of the cross is a way that will sap all of your physical and emotional strength, just as it did Our Lord. It’s the way that is lined with atheists, doubters, scoffers, and devils. Every one of them will tell you to abandon your faith in Jesus. But remember, you aren’t alone. Jesus walked that same narrow way when He declared that He had come to set the captives free. He walked it from the temple to Golgotha, the hill of the cross, where they crucified Him. And as He walked to the cross, they beat Him, spit upon Him, and ridiculed Him with harsh words: “He helped others, let Him help Himself. If you’re really the Son of God, save us and save yourself.”

Yes, the way of the cross is a hard way; it’s hard because it doesn’t look for glory in this life, but the life to come. The way of the cross is a hard way, because we can become discouraged and want to fall away. And so, to make sure that we don’t become discouraged and walk away, Jesus says “My grace is sufficient for you.”. Hear my Word and be filled with Living Water that will bubble up within you, and take and eat and drink my body and blood, which are real food and drink.

This life of a Christian, your life of faith is called the way of the cross, and it can only be maintained through God’s means of grace. We can only receive His strength if we will look beyond creation, beyond what we can see, hear, and touch, and then see Him by faith walking through our tragedies with us. It is a relationship of experience that comes when we constantly handle the things of God as His assurance that He’s really with us; caring for us and protecting us! In His Word, God answers our prayers of fear and worry with the proclamation that all of our tragedies, the attacks of the devils and sinful people are nothing before Him. Neither life, nor death, nor demons can separate us from the love of God, which is ours through Christ Jesus!

You are on the way of the cross, because you are following Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior. He said that in this life you will have troubles, but that does not mean that you are alone in those troubles. He is with you. He tells you that by faith, His grace lifts you up out of the temporary attacks of sin, death, and the devil so that you can soar in His eternal embrace of love and fulfillment. Just as the eagles ride the air currents as they stretch out their wings and soar, God promises you that He will be the wind beneath your wings of faith. Will you stumble and fall? Yes, but Jesus is at your side, lifting you up and dusting you off and saying, “Don’t stop. My strength is enough for you. When you are weak, I am strong.” This is God’s promise for our entire lives; all of our walking, running, and even our falling will end in a soar as we are continually filled with God’s boundless and tireless strength! What wonderful comfort for all of us who remember how great is our God!

May God help us to remember this lesson, in Jesus name… AMEN!

Sunday, January 7th, 2018

Baptism of Our Lord B, January 7, 2017
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Romans 6:1-11 and Mark 1:4-11

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“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” [Mark 1:9]

Every year the church celebrates the baptism of our Lord, and every year we answer a simple question: “Why was Jesus baptized?”  This year we will rephrase the question a little differently, “Why was Jesus baptized for you?”

Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan River to be washed.

That is what the word baptize literally means; it is a washing.  Whether you splash, sprinkle, or immerse, you are washing or baptizing.  So what kind of washing is baptism?  Well for each of us, baptism is a spiritual washing, where the old creature within us is drowned every day.  We learn from personal experience that we need to drown that old sinful nature every day, because, well it sins every day.  But there’s another part of living out our baptism, and that is turning to Jesus every day for forgiveness and renewal.  In this way of God, every day our new identity, a new person rises up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.  Or as St. Paul puts it in our Epistle reading, “We were buried with Christ through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we, too, are to walk in a new life.” [Romans 6:4]

But what sins did Jesus need washed away?  None, He was, is, and always will be Holy, perfect, and righteous.  But in His baptism, He announced publicly, for the first time, that He who knew no sin, had come to become sin for us… for you!  So, in a sense, when He entered the waters of the Jordan he was clean, but when He left, He was drenched and soaked with not just your sins, but indeed the sins of the world. 

In exchange for your sins, Jesus would spend the next three years of His life obediently walking to the cross, where He would suffer and die.  On Good Friday, every one of your sins that He took upon Himself would be paid for with His very life.  Think about that, all of your sins have been locked within the only place that God refuses to see, the tomb of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ! 

But the tomb isn’t where Jesus work for you ends, no it ends in His resurrection!  In His resurrection, His rising from the dead, Jesus won eternal life for all sinners; He created a way back to paradise!  This is what we might call a happy exchange.

Now I know that for many of you this is the very best news you could hear, but for others this is just foolishness! 

For some they would call this exchange a ridiculous exchange, because to them, it’s just foolish!  And that’s always the way it is for those who are just fine with their sin or struggling to make up for their sinfulness in their own way.  They refuse to acknowledge that God’s ways are right and their ways are not just wrong, they’re evil! 

They can’t understand that when God chooses to use the simple things that are foolish and weak in the world’s eyes, He does it to shame sinners (1 Corinthians 1:18-30); He chooses to shame them so that they might see their sin-filled and lost condition, and then receive God’s gift of life as a happy exchange.  He wants everyone to see that the life and death of Jesus reveals both the ultimate love of God for sinners and His eternal punishment for those who will not turn to Jesus as the only cure for their sin.  It’s God’s will that each and every sinner would see that while foolish men did their best to put Christ away in the tomb, He came back to life so that He could free even them from their existence as a sinner.  He came back to give them and us new life!

So what is it that prevents so many people from embracing this happy exchange?  Well, certainly it’s their sin, but it’s also our sinful society.  If there’s one thing that this old world teaches us, it’s that there are always strings attached; nothing is as good as it sounds; there is always a catch!

That’s what a young wife and mother thought back in 1997, when a woman called her home and said that she had won a brand new Ford, Mustang convertible.  Upon hearing the good news, the lucky winner answered, “I didn’t enter any contest and I’m not interested!”   She hung up the phone and told her husband that it was a salesperson with another come-on trying to sell a car.  Well a few seconds later, the phone rang again and this time the husband answered.  The woman on the other end said quickly and nervously, “Sir, please don’t hang up; I know you didn’t enter a contest but you really won a car.”  The husband asked, “And just how did we win?”  She began to explain that several months ago, his wife applied for a Von’s shopping card, and every time she used it to get the “Von’s discount” she was entered into the contest to win a car.  She also explained that there was nothing they needed to do, but simply show up at the nearest Von’s store to get their certificate and instructions on how to redeem it for a new Mustang.  Wow!  The family became loyal Von’s shoppers after that.

In a way, that is what this happy exchange is like.  You didn’t do anything to enter and win eternal life, God just put your name in those waters at the Jordan; God had you soaked into Jesus’ very flesh.  On Good Friday, Jesus had your name on His mind and in his heart as he suffered and died upon the cross, and on Easter Sunday He proclaimed you and the whole world as the winners!  But announcing this gift to the whole world and assuring you of this gift personally are two different things, aren’t they?  If you don’t hear about the victory, how can you claim it?  So God has to notify you personally, and He does this very thing through the preaching and sharing of His Word! 

In His Law, God shows each of us clearly that we are sinful and in need of His work of recreation, and in His gospel He assures you that your sins really have been paid for through Jesus death.  And through this same gospel Word He promises that in your baptism you’ve received a new identity; you are a saint!  This morning God is reminding you that He has chosen you!  In your baptism, He took that very Word of salvation and applied it to you in the washing of the water and the Word!  Jesus died for you, have you received it?  Even now, God is equipping you to open your heart and receive His gift; to receive His promise that through Christ Jesus you are saved!

Now some people will think that this offer from God is just foolish, and they’ll want to hang up on God’s offer, and that will be the end of it.  And others, well they’ll be wondering how it can be that simple.  They will doubt and want to hang onto their old life, but that’s only because they can’t see the beauty and the love in God’s offer. 

Listen friends, God wants you to give to Him all of your sins, the things your ashamed of; He wants your hurts and disappointments too.

He wants all of the pain that people in your life have caused you.  He wants the bitterness from your broken marriage and the misery of your past and present addictions.  He wants to take away the emptiness you feel from the loss of a loved one. He wants the fear and worry that consumes you as you struggle to find a way to feed your family and pay your bills.  How does He do all of this?  By teaching you to rest in your relationship of love with Him that comes through the washing of the water and His Word.

In Jesus baptism, He points us to our own baptism.  In Jesus, all wrongs are made right, and death is left behind for life.  Through the cross and the waters of our own baptism, Jesus is asking each of us to follow Him.  He’s asking us to follow Him in faith and trust that all things will work for our good, simply because we’re resting in His work and trusting in God’s love for us!  In this happy exchange, Jesus takes our old sinful nature and He crucifies it on the cross; He drowns it in the waters of our own baptism and He seals it away in the tomb.  And all that He asks of us is that we rest in and trust this work that was done for us!

Last week, I asked a very simple question several times throughout our message, and it was this: “Who are you?”  Well this morning, I would like to answer that question again, so that you will see the need to receive and rest in this happy exchange.  You are God’s own child through the work of Jesus Christ alone, and that identity was given to you in your baptism.  In baptism you were joined in Christ’s death, where He buried your old sinful nature once and for all.  So quit digging up the bones of that old no good sinner!  Instead of digging him up and letting him take the joy out of your salvation, spit on his grave and remind him that he’s dead.  And then remind yourself that not only were you joined in death with Jesus you were also joined with Him in life.  In your baptism Jesus raised you to a new life, a new identity.  Christ victory over sin, death, and the devil is your victory!  Your old sinful nature, your old life and sins were crucified with Jesus once and for all in your Baptism.  So because that old nature is dead, it’s no longer that nature living but Jesus nature; your new nature.  And that new nature by faith simply rests in Jesus and follows His nature, as God’s Word reshapes you into the very image of His Son!

Dear friends, in Christ you are all winners if you will but receive the gifts Jesus gives to you.  What gifts does Jesus give?  Well first and foremost He gives you forgiveness of all your sins, past, present, and future.  But He also gives you faith to receive this gift everyday as you fight to put to death your old sinful nature.  Every day, God’s Word reminds us that not only did our sinful nature die on the day of our baptism, but with God’s Spirit we are taught to put it to death every day for the rest of our lives as we follow Jesus in the crucified life, where we live out our baptism.  This is the result of Jesus living in us and among us. 

Listen friends, when the world, the devil, and our own conscience accuse us of being weak, inconsistent and ineffective; when we begin to doubt God’s gift of forgiveness and peace, let’s allow His Word and the family of God to pick us back up in forgiveness, and together let’s loudly proclaim to the devil and this sinful world, “I am baptized into Christ!”  So you see, it’s not about you, it’s about the finished work of Jesus on the cross for you.  To God be the glory for the great things He has done for us and in us through Jesus Christ… AMEN!

Rejoice, Give Thanks and Pray!

Sunday, December 17th, 2017

Third Sunday in Advent-B, December 17, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

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Isiah 61:1-11


“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” [Isaiah 61:1]

You dear Christians know these Words well, don’t you? Of course you do; it was your Lord who read them in the synagogue and added these additional gospel Words: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” [Luke 4:21] In other Words, Jesus is telling us that this prophecy spoken first by Isaiah is ultimately fulfilled by His work as the Son of God. But do not diminish the importance of the prophet Isaiah, all other prophets, including John the Baptist, the holy Apostles, and all faithful preachers and proclaimers of God’s Word, including this humble preacher who stands before you.

My earnest prayer is that God would train each of our hearts to hear His Word when faithfully proclaimed and know by faith that the preacher’s Words are really in fact God’s Word, and that the man addressing you is to be received as a scholar from God. Speaking through the mouth of the preacher is not simply the voice of a thousand angels but Christ Himself declaring that God is present to bring into your hearts a message of true and lasting forgiveness of sins. He is speaking to repair hearts that have been broken by other’s sin, to free you from the condemnation of the Law of God, and to free you from the accusations of guilt that come from your own conscience. In other Words, this is your season of blessing and good favor from God Himself!

Isn’t this the one message that we sinners long to hear?

Isn’t it true that with out the work of Christ that sets us free from our sin and guilt, we in fact remain imprisoned by our own passions and lust for something that never seems to complete us or fulfill us? Don’t we all really just yearn to hear God say, “Your sins are forgiven”? And this dear friends is exactly the message that God is bringing to you this morning. You are forgiven! If you will receive this message and work of Christ, then you will find that your ashes of failure have been replaced with the oil of gladness instead of mourning. And instead of walking around like old “Sad Sack” in your dark and lonely attire, God has in fact clothed you in Christ’s own robe of righteousness, which for you is to be a garment of praise unto your God and Savior.
Now you may be wondering if all of this is true for you, and if so how it can be true. And simply put, your answer is this: “It is the Lord Jesus’ work and it is marvelous in our sight!” In your baptism, Christ planted you within His garden, within His kingdom to be a mighty oak of praise unto your God. All who see you are to acknowledge you as the very offspring of God, a child who is highly favored and blessed.

You are here to rejoice in the Lord so that others will also be drawn into His year of favor and Kingdom of Grace. But how? The answer is in our Epistle reading (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24).

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.”

Now, at first this might sound like just another demand of the Law of God; a demand that like all others is outside of our ability to complete. You might hear it like this: Rejoice, don’t ever stop praying… ever, and don’t ever forget to say “thank you” to the Lord, or else! But remember, God has sent me this morning to proclaim good news and to set you free from your fears of failure to measure up.

God has sent me to point out to you this part of the reading: “For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Do you hear that? It is God’s will, His desire that you be in a continuous spirit of prayer, that you offer up praise and rejoice in His presence, and that you be thankful in all things, and because it is His will for you He will make sure that you are able. This morning it is my duty and privilege to proclaim to you that it is “He who began the good work in you (who) will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” [Philippians 1:6]. And as others see God completing this work in you, as you live a life centered in thanks and praise to God, others will see and be amazed.

Do you understand dear saints that it is not your responsibility to complete you in God’s holiness, but instead, it is the Lord’s work that completes you?

It is the work of the Holy Spirit, which since your baptism has dwelt in you richly in order to complete what was begun in your baptism. And it is also the Holy Spirit’s work to ensure that you are in fact bearing the fruit of Christ’s cross.

From Christ’s passion upon the cross, your heart has been taken to the Font where you received that holy cleansing of the water and the Word, and from the Font, your hearts have been given the faith necessary to daily receive the Word of God as it comes directly from His heart and into yours. And as this Word continues to sanctify, that is preserve you in faith and eternal life, you experience the work of the Holy Spirit, which gives you a spirit of joy.

Rejoicing in the Lord is a natural and consistent expression of one who has been forgiven much through Christ. And because it is a work of the Holy Spirit, and not your own, it causes you to be filled with joy, a glad confidence in knowing that all things will work together for your good. But the ugliness of this sinful world does its best to take our eyes of faith off of God’s own goodness through Christ, and for this reason, God has commanded you to call out to Him in prayer.

Prayer, that is the ability to speak directly to God at any given time, is a privilege given only to those who see a need for a Savior. Those who scoff at the infant lowly, born in a manger and crucified upon the cross for the sins of the world, obviously see no need for a Savior; they have neither God’s ear nor heart when they pray. Why? Because prayer is a privilege given only to those who know that without Jesus, they are helpless and hopeless. You see it is your ability to call out to God in prayer knowing that in Christ, you are never helpless and vulnerable, which empowers you to naturally produce another trait that God wills we Christians to have… a spirit of thankfulness.

Be thankful in all circumstances. In other words be thankful in all things. This does not mean that we are to be thankful for all things, because as we all know there is much evil in this world, but in the midst of the evil, we can be thankful that in Christ, all of God is right there with us. (Cancer, Illness, Addiction, Homelessness?)
One of the most difficult things that God’s Word asks us to do is to adjust to the many changes that happen in our lives. But it becomes so much easier when we remember that He is right there with us in the midst of those changes. And this is another reason why we must gather often to hear His Word proclaimed; we must be reminded constantly that because the God who delivered me from my sins through Christ is ever and always at work throughout life’s changes, then at the very least I can by faith be thankful to Him for the work He is doing to preserve me in the one true faith.

Thanksgiving, prayer, and rejoicing are God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. These three crisp words jump out at us not as a command, but as a description of the desire of God’s heart. They are gifts of the Holy Spirit, that keep our hearts centered on the work of Christ’s cross and the promise of the resurrection, which is proclaimed through Christ’s empty tomb. We must remind each other that because we are adopted children of God through Christ, we have been enable by God to live out holy lives and embrace the fullness of life that is ours by grace. But even this too is a work of God, performed so that we might never quench the work of the Holy Spirit that sanctifies us until the day of Jesus Christ.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; that is may no nook or cranny of your life be left without the peace of God. May He reign undisturbed in every portion of your being, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it, and it can be done in no other way. AMEN!