Walk His Way

Sermon preached for the Third Sunday after Pentecost on June 5, 2016 at St. John’s Lutheran Church. Sermon text: Luke 7:11-17

How you walk can show something about what’s in your heart. When I’m walking up front of church with my robe on, I’ll tend to walk a

certain way. It won’t be too slow that I don’t ever get anywhere, but it won’t be too fast, either. I don’t want to rush around, but I want to walk in a way that’s hopefully dignified and respectful in leading a worship service. I want the way I walk to show I care about what I’m doing. Plus the fact that if I moved much faster I could easily trip over my robe.

But there are times where different kinds of walks are required. Those who were graduating from our grade school this past Thursday night couldn’t exactly come sprinting in to the graduation service. But at the same time, there might have been just a little bit of excitement in their steps. Graduating from eighth grade is a big deal; it’s on to high school next year! There’s good reason to be excited and happy in how you walk.

And when the last bell rang and the last day of school ended on Friday, I’d imagine a few of the kids—not just those graduating but some from all the classes—might have even gone running out of the school building! After all, class is over! No more classes and textbooks and tests, at least for a few months! Summer vacation! That’s an exciting time! And it might just show itself in how the kids walk.

There are other times of life with a special walk, too. On her wedding day, a bride walks down an aisle like this here in church. And it’s a kind of formal occasion; she’s not rushing. She’s going slow, maybe in time with the music. But in her walk you might see excitement with just a touch of nervousness as she prepares to begin her married life with her husband.

Of course, an aisle like this can be used for a different walk, too. At a funeral, the casket will often get walked down this aisle, with the family following close behind. There’s different emotions going on there, aren’t there? Sure, I pray there’s hope after a funeral here at St. John’s, but there’s also bound to be sadness. There’s that little thought we have that this person we love isn’t going to be walking with us anymore in this life. So we don’t move as fast. Maybe we keep our heads down. Maybe our hearts are just a bit heavy.

Now, the Bible doesn’t say much about how Jesus walked. But in our text for today, we see two groups of people walking who ran into each other. The group that had Jesus in it was full of excitement and joy, and the other group was sad and mourning. By the time the two groups came together and Jesus had a chance to use his power and love, everyone was rejoicing—and I’d imagine their walks showed it.

So today, I want to encourage you to walk his way. I want you to walk, to live your life, as someone who has been affected, heart and soul, by your Savior’s love. I want you to look at Jesus who rules over your life in good times and bad, and to walk rejoicing in his power that enables you to live now and to live with him forever.  Continue reading

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It’s Time for a New Contract

Why does Aaron Rodgers play for the Packers?1 That’s not a complaint from a Vikings fan; it’s a question for you to think about. Why does Aaron Rodgers play for the Packers?

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Does he play for the Packers because of his great love for Northeastern Wisconsin? Well, he might love NE Wisconsin, and he seems to be a positive person in the community. But that’s not why he plays for the Packers. Does he play for the Packers because of his pure love of football? I have no doubt he loves football; some days he probably loves it more than others. But again, that’s not the reason he plays for the Packers.

It’s actually pretty simple. Aaron Rodgers plays for the Packers because he signed a contract that says he has to play for the Packers. It goes back to when the Packers drafted him out of college in 2005. He wasn’t drafted because he was a nice guy; he was drafted because he was a really good football player. He’d played well in college in California, so the Packers gave him a contract.

It’s a two-sided contract. Both parties, Rodgers and the Packers are doing something for each other to fulfill the contract. Rodgers’s side of the contract is that he plays football for the Packers. In return, the Packers pay him money. It’s a pretty good deal for both of them, actually. In fact, he’s signed new contracts a couple of times, including his current one for many millions of dollars.

How long will he continue to play and how successful will he be? Nobody knows that for sure, but we do know that he is currently under contract to continue playing for the Packers.

Through the course of history, God himself has put people under contracts. Think about it; God drafted Abraham once upon a time. He called Abraham to leave his home and go to the promised land. (Gen. 12:1-9) God’s contract with Abraham——we usually call it a “covenant” when God makes a contract——later included promising to bless Abraham, to make his offspring like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, and to bless all people through him. In other words, God promised to send the Savior.

Then after God’s people Israel left their captivity in Egypt, God started a different contract. He gave them the Ten Commandments, which was the moral law of how they were to live. He gave them other civil laws about how their society was supposed to operate, and he gave them ceremonial laws giving them the specifics on how to worship. This contract——this covenant——was two-sided. God had to keep his side to bring the people safely to the Promised Land and then bless them once they were there. And the people of Israel had to keep their side by obeying his laws and commands. He even signed this contract in blood2. It was all official, and everything was in place. If all went well, they’d live happily ever after.

The thing is, it didn’t all go well. Israel didn’t live up to their side of the contract. They not only didn’t obey all of God’s laws, they chose other gods and worshiped them. And with the contract broken, God no longer had to keep his end. They didn’t stay safe in the Promised Land. They were taken over by their enemies. The city of Jerusalem and the temple of God were destroyed, and the people went into exile. The contract was done. Over.

But what about us? Are we running around this world as undrafted free agents, unsigned players with no connection to God whatsoever? Well, judging from the fact that you’re here in church, I’d guess that’s not how you feel. But what is your contract with God? Continue reading

Your Light Has Come!

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We easily take light for granted1. Light does not seem extraordinary. We’re not amazed at the fact that we can simply flip a switch and flood a room with light. We expect every morning that the sun will rise, that we can put on some sunglasses if it’s too bright or turn on a lamp if it’s too dim. We have computers and e-readers and smartphones that have their own lights built right in; their screens light up whatever we need to see at the time.

But friends, whether we realize it or not, light is precious. Light is a miracle. Light is a gift from God.

A good example of this is a form of light that is fading with new technologies, but is still quite famous around here: the lighthouse. Lighthouses remind us of times when lights aren’t just modern conviences; they can save your life. Whether they’re marking the entrance to a port or warning against dangerous reefs or rocks, lighthouses shine a clear signal to boats and ships on the dark water.

It’s easy to forget, but this huge lake just a few feet from us here can actually be quite dangerous. Dozens of ships have sunk in Lake Michigan, mostly in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some famously even sunk very near to us in Two Rivers. It makes you see how important lighthouses were. In a dangerous, dark place, like on the water at night, you need a clear signal, you need something shining out to show you where you need to go.

And it’s not surprising that a lighthouse could be a symbol for what God does for us. It’s right there in our school building up on 45th Street. On a high wall in the commons there, carved on a relief is a picture of a lighthouse with the words, The LORD is my light and my salvation. (Ps. 27:1)

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Why do we need God to give us light? Because we live in a dark world. There is all around us, sin inside of us, and it all wants to pull us under. As Christmas and its celebrations fade away, most of us will be going back “to the real world” soon. School will be starting again. Jobs will be back in full swing if they weren’t already. And maybe it’s the cold temperatures or the early darkness that still comes every day, but it’s easy to feel down. It’s easy to feel depressed this time of year. It’s easy to start to think that God doesn’t feel so great. It doesn’t seem like he’s really there for me. It’s easy to sink into despair.

But your light has come! Jesus’ birth guarantees that God has not abandoned his creation; he has not left us alone, sinking in the dark. His death guarantees us that w will live. He has rescued us, pulled us out from drowning in our own sins, and it is he who will bring us home.

So as this Christmas season ends, remember that we have light. Not necessarily a light outside or a light in a lighthouse. We have light from God. We have the light of his presence, his forgiveness, and his salvation forever. Your light has come! Continue reading

The Gift Is Yours!

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We are on the doorstep of Christmas1. The day is almost here. Out of all the Christmas gifts in your life this year, are you more likely to be the giver of the gift, or the recipient of the gift?

You really need both parts to have a gift. In the next few days there will be a lot of gifts given and a lot of gifts received. There are classroom parties in school, work parties with gift exchanges, in addition to all the family get-togethers and dinners and opportunities to open presents and enjoy giving and receiving gifts with ones we love.

But which one is better? Giving a gift or receiving a gift? Jesus himself, you might remember, gave us an answer to that question. It’s recorded for us in the book of Acts: The Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:35) So, there you have it, if Jesus himself has weighed in on the question, it’s been answered.

But wait a minute. I’m not trying to disagree with Jesus in any way, but that quote where Jesus said it’s more blessed to give than to receive is in the context of helping the needy. It’s the Apostle Paul talking about how we need to help and give to people less fortunate than us.

The gifts I really want to talk to you about today are a bit different. We’re not focusing today on gifts between people, but gifts between human beings and God himself. And for those gifts, I would argue that it’s better to be the one receiving the gifts. Sure, we give gifts to God. We use time, talents, and offerings to serve him. But God doesn’t really need our gifts. He’s not up in heaven upset that he missed out on an extra ten bucks in offerings that someone decided not to give. No, the gifts we give to God are really only a small response to his gifts to us.

And especially as we look at Christmas, and the celebration of Jesus’ birth, we don’t focus on what we’re doing for God; we focus on what he has done for us in his Son. This Christmas — really for all time — the most important gift is the gift that God gives. And all of us get to celebrate that. Because the gift it yours. Continue reading

Get Back in the Water!

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It’s almost December, and we live in Wisconsin1. I think everyone here knows what that means: it’s cold outside. It’s either snowing or it will be snowing soon. It’s the time of year when we get used to warming up the car for a few minutes before actually riding in it. We’re so used to this cold at this time of year that yesterday’s 40 degrees felt like a heat wave. There was actually that split second of time outside where I had the thought: Do I even need a coat?

As warm as it was yesterday, though, there’s something I definitely would not have done: go swimming in an outdoor pool. It was too cold. But just a little over a week ago, I did get to swim in an outdoor pool. I was thankful then to be able to spend a few days in Florida with my family, so it was warm enough for the pool to be an option.

But even though it was warmer in Florida, even though I got to swim in a pool there, there were still times even there when I felt cold. Walking outside to the swimming pool? No problem. Getting into the water of a heated pool? Felt great. But when I would come out of the water, even just a little bit, suddenly it was freezing. I had to go back into the water for that coldness to go away. It was just cold enough outside, with just enough of a breeze, to make wet skin feel freezing.

So as I spent time at the pool with my family, I went back and forth between two extremes. Every inch of me shuddered when I had to be out of the water, but I got a warm comforting blanket of water when I went back in. So when I was out of that water and cold, one thought kept going off like an alarm in my head: Get back in the water! And when I did, all was well.

When you think about it, the water was really responsible for both extremes. It was the water on my skin that made me feel cold in the breeze, but it was the water all around me that warmed me up afterward.

Today in our text from 1 Peter, we also see water doing double duty. In fact, we see the connection of water and the coming of Jesus in Advent. Water reminds us how Jesus is coming to do two opposite things. He’s coming to save, and he’s coming to destroy. Which one do we want to be a part of? To save us, right? We eagerly wait for Jesus to come and save us at the end of the world. But actually, for right now, we need a little of both. In this sinful world, we need Jesus every day to both save and destroy us. For that to happen, we need to get back in the water. That might sound confusing now, but let me explain. Continue reading

The Verdict Is In

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When the judge came back into the room, the whole crowd got quiet1. Not just quiet, they became silent. Everyone could hear their own breathing and their own beating heart, which was beating faster now. The accusations had been shocking, the trial had brought out all the evidence, and now, finally, the verdict was in.

There were only two ways it could go. Either the defendant would be found guilty and would face punishment, or he’d be found not guilty and be free to go. The first verdict meant the end; it meant death. The second verdict would mean life, hope, and possibility.

So the crowd listened in the courtroom. An even bigger crowd listened outside, with people stretching to try to see into the court or straining their ears to hear what would be said. Reporters were waiting to tell the story; dozens of news vans with tall satellite-dish towers were parked outside.

But now the waiting would end. No more wondering or speculating. Now we would know for sure. And the judge opened his mouth to speak.

We tend to be fascinated by courtroom trials. The sheer amount of movies, television shows, and plays that are about trials or that at least contain a trial are staggering. They’re everywhere! Most of us know courtrooms from these shows more than we know about real courtrooms.

There’s something so dramatic about a trial. There’s right and wrong on display. There is evidence brought forward. There’s a decision. There’s a verdict. Sure, we know real life has things like appeals and mistrials and hung juries. But most of the time, when that verdict comes in, it’s going to be interesting.

It was over 19 years ago that the verdict came in for the murder trial of former NFL football player OJ Simpson. The reading of that verdict was broadcast live on television, and at the time, it was the most-watched event in television history, with more than 150 million viewers. So, yeah, people are interested in verdicts.

But what verdict would we be most interested in? I think that’s pretty obvious: it’d be your verdict. If you were on trial, well, I can’t even imagine what that verdict announcement would feel like. Especially if the case was life or death.

But that’s really what we’re getting at today. That’s what our text from the book of Daniel is about, that’s what this whole service is about today. Judgment Day, the end of the world, it’s all about a verdict. A decision is going to come down about your life — your very soul. The consequences couldn’t be higher; the two options are life forever in heaven, or death forever in hell. There’s no in-between.

But here’s the thing: we don’t have to wait. We don’t have to gather around a tv or wait outside a courthouse. We get to find out right now. The Judge is God, the defendant is you, and the verdict is in. Continue reading

Press On Toward the Goal

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When home is in sight, you just want to press on and get there1.

That’s how I felt last weekend. My family had been in Minnesota for a wedding, and the day after we climbed into the car for the 6-hour or so drive back to Two Rivers. (That might sound long, but 6 hours is still pretty nice since you’d have to add a good ten hours of driving time on top of that for when I used to live in New York.)

But then, as we started our drive, we ran into some delays. Some roadwork was being done on the interstate before we even made it across the border to Wisconsin. That probably added another hour to the trip. It was frustrating, but we had to press on.

So by the time we were making our way down 147 through Mishicot, I was ready to be home. Sure, I was tired from driving and from the weekend, but it’s amazing how you get that little burst of energy. You know home is near. You can practically see it. So you press on to get there.

I’m not much of a runner; in fact, I pretty much despise running. But I’ve done it enough to know how sweet the end, the finish line, looks. As much as I would like to give up and stop running, seeing that goal ahead does something. It reminds me that I’m close; I can do this. So I press on.

But what does that look like in our lives as Christians? Heaven is our goal; it’s our true home. It’s the reward Jesus earned for us where we get to spend all eternity. But it seems pretty far off. Unless we’ve received some sort of terminal diagnosis or are going in for major surgery, our entrance into heaven is not likely to be the first thing on our minds.

So instead of pressing on, instead of pushing forward with that heavenly goal in our sights, we just kind of exist. Maybe we go to church once in a while. And it’s really easy for our faith to not feel particularly urgent or even important on a day to day basis. After all, we’re already saved, right? So what’s the big deal?

But here’s the thing: we are all a heartbeat away from eternity. We don’t know when we’ll get there, but we need to be ready. We don’t want to be wandering aimlessly away from our faith and into sin. We want to focus on our goal. We want what Jesus won for us — heaven — to be in our sights at all times. And we want to press on toward it. We want to stretch out like a runner leaning into the finish line. We want to live every minute of our lives for the one who gave his life to us. And thankfully, we can do just that, because God gives us the strength. So press on! Press on toward the goal! Continue reading

That’s Not Fair!

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A little boy just celebrated his sixth birthday. He got 5 presents from his family1. But he remembered very clearly that his older brothers had each received ten presents at their last birthdays. This did not make the boy happy, and he let his parents know about it. That’s not fair!

A girl is in the seventh grade. One of her classmates keeps making noise and interrupting things, though that doesn’t stop this girl from working. Once, though, when one of her classmates asks her a question, this girl turns and whispers an answer. The teacher gets furious: Why are you making a noise and interrupting class like this? This is unacceptable behavior! The girl remembers the noise that her classmate usually makes and doesn’t seem to get in trouble for, and she’s pretty upset that she gets in trouble for something so minor. It makes her want to shout out: That’s not fair!

A seventeen year old boy wants to spend some time on Saturday afternoon with his girlfriend, but his parents have other ideas. You need to be at your little sister’s volleyball game that afternoon, they tell him. Why would they force him to do this? It’s not like the whole family made a point to be at all of his games for different sports! It’s not like this volleyball game was going to be more important than all the other games he’d already been to this year! This was ridiculous and his parents were about to find out what he thought about it: That’s not fair!

A young woman was about to graduate from college. She’s spent so many years of hard work to get to this point. Her grades were always good. She had what it takes to make it in her field, and she had been excited when she started applying for jobs and going to interviews. But with each job opening, after each interview, she got the same frustrating answer. No. Some of her classmates had already gotten jobs, so why hasn’t she? So when she’s all by herself she breaks down, and all she can manage to say is, That’s not fair!

The young couple has been married for several years now. They’ve always loved kids and dreamed of when they would start their own family. But it’s just not happening. Family and friends keep asking them why they’re waiting so long. Birth announcements keep coming in the mail for friends of theirs having kids. Even their doctor isn’t sure why and says they’ll have to do even more tests. In frustration the couple confides in each other how they really feel: That’s not fair!

An older couple were thankful just to have had their son. They knew you couldn’t control these things. Still, they wish he could’ve been around longer. There was so much they wanted for him. And having him taken away so soon, well, it left them feeling upset. Sometimes they even wanted to yell at God and tell Him what they thought. They wanted to shout, That’s not fair!

The man wasn’t even surprised when the tests came back positive. After a lifetime of doing everything right, things seemed to be going wrong. I mean, he never smoked, he didn’t really drink, he’d been healthy and active. So how could God do this to him now? How could it be one thing after another, one more thing he didn’t deserve. It’s like God didn’t even care, and no one else seemed to understand. And now he was stuck suffering for it. That’s not the way things were supposed to go in his life. That’s not fair!

No matter what your age, no matter what your position in life, no matter what you do, there are times when it becomes abundantly clear to us that life isn’t fair. Sometimes our frustrations are directed at the people who should know better, the people that could’ve made things fair. Sometimes we get angry at our circumstances, wondering why they didn’t work out differently. Other times, we take our anger out at God. Maybe we express it in words, or maybe we bottle it up. In the end, though, the thoughts are the same: God messed this one up. He gave me the raw end of this deal. Maybe he’s just not so great after all. Continue reading

Forgiveness Sets You Free

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Scene: two toddlers stand facing each other at the insistence of an adult nearby1. One of the kids has been crying and is still visibly upset. The adult talks to the other one. You hit him and took his toy away, and now it’s time to say you’re sorry.

The child hesitates a moment, but then: Sorry. The adult turns to the other one and says, Ok, he is sorry, what do you say? The answer comes: I forgive you. The adult only has one thing left to say. Give each other a hug and you can go back to playing. And that’s just what they do. The kids give a quick hug, then run back to play. The hitting-and-toy-taking incident is never mentioned again. End scene.

If you’ve spent any time around young kids, this story won’t be surprising to you. Of course kids are going to hit or take things or otherwise hurt other kids. Of course they’ll say sorry when they need to. Of course the kids will “make up” and go back to business as usual. This is how it’s supposed to work.

Did you ever notice how much harder this process is the older people get? It’s much more difficult, even with older kids, to get that initial sorry said. The forgiveness might not be expressed very often. And the hugging and going back to play, well, that’s probably the first thing to go.

As adults, we’re supposed to get better at things as we get older. We’re supposed to improve. But it doesn’t always work that way, because we’re still sinful. We sin every day. We hurt others. We make mistakes. Not only that, plenty of people sin against us and make mistakes that hurt us.

So with all that sinning, with all that hurt, you’d expect to see all sorts of scenes like the ones I mentioned before with the kids, except with adults. One says, I’m really sorry I said those things to you. The other, I forgive you. They hug. Wouldn’t that be great?! It’s not that things like this never happen, but I think they’re more rare than they should be considering the things wrong we do every day.

Instead we tend to let our problems fester and grow. If we hurt someone, maybe we’ll apologize — or maybe we’ll just not bring it up and hope it goes away. If someone hurts us, well, we’ll just see how they act to us in the future. Maybe we can just ignore them. Maybe we can just be rude to them, see how they like it. And forgive them? Well, if they are good enough, if they can make it up to us… maybe. But they’re going to have to earn it.

Friends, I want you to realize today that forgiveness isn’t something you earn, it’s something you need. Without forgiveness as a gift, our relationships become prisons. We lock one another up with our past mistakes. We’re locked in the cells of anger and grudges. The only way out is forgiveness.

Forgiveness sets you free! True forgiveness can never be earned. It’s a gift. God showed us that. He proved it in the free forgiveness Jesus won for us. His forgiveness sets us free from hell itself. It gives us eternity. And, it lets us show forgiveness in our lives. So don’t stay locked up in guilt and anger. Forgiveness sets you free. Continue reading

Jesus Brings Us into the IN Crowd

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A girl shuffles through the lunch room, clutching her lunch in her hands1. “Is anyone sitting here?” she asks at one table. “Yes, someone is sitting here,” is the quick response she gets. So she goes to an empty table by herself.

An employee peaks his head into his boss’s office. “Here are those ideas that I told you about the other day. You want to go over them now?” “No,” his boss says, “just leave it on the desk.” Later on, when it is clear that his ideas weren’t used, he is told that the management decided to “go in a different direction.”

A woman finds out that someone she considered a good friend is getting married. After talking to several other mutual friends she realizes that they all got an invitation to the wedding, but she didn’t.

Have you ever felt there was an IN crowd, but you weren’t in it? Some people get really frustrated and angry about it; they feel like they’re always trying to break through to that IN crowd but never quite get there. There always seems to be some group that won’t let you in, that isn’t interested in your company or what you have to say. Of course, what we may or may not realize at that times is that even the people already in the IN crowd can feel the same way about a different group. We live in a world where we often divide ourselves into groups. These groups are ways of making us feel together, but they can also divide us. They can leave us feeling isolated and alone.

I believe that there is one group — one IN crowd — that is the most dangerous group to be outside. I’m talking about the group that is confident of God’s love toward them. The most important IN crowd to be in is the one that has complete trust in God’s mercy and forgiveness, the group that is sure that their God is on their side no matter what.

Maybe you think, “Well, that’s easy! That’s what we’re here in church for, right? We’re here because God loves us, we’re here to celebrate the fact that he sent his Son to live and die for us, we’re here to rejoice because we have God’s love now and we will get to enjoy that love forever in heaven!” And if you feel that way, great! That is exactly why we’re here.

But just maybe you realize that not everyone feels that way all the time. Sometimes something happens — an accident, the loss of a job, a sickness — that makes us start to wonder. “If God loves me so much, then why did he let this happen?”

Or maybe we feel outside of God’s IN crowd because of a disagreement or getting offended by someone else. It could be a fellow member of our church or even a pastor. Something happened, and now we don’t want to go to God’s house. And soon the church starts to be an IN crowd that we just don’t feel a part of anymore.

Sometimes it’s our own mistakes that do it. We look at our past, we’re filled with regret, and we think, “God’s IN crowd is for people way better than me. It could never be for me.”

Today I want you to have confidence; I want you to have zero doubts about God’s love for you. When we look at ourselves, the doubts will come. When we look at people around us, we’ll start to wonder. The only way to be sure of God’s love is to look at Jesus. He is the reason we don’t have to doubt. He is the guarantee of God’s love and forgiveness now and forever. He doesn’t leave us on the outside, he brings us in. Jesus brings us into the IN crowd. Continue reading