Jeremiah 33: 14-16 

Psalm 25: 1-9 

1 Thessalonians 3: 9-13 

Luke 21: 25-36 

“He Comes” 

Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen. 

In preparation for Christmas, you may see trees and  ornaments and garland popping up. You may also hear Christmas  in the air whether from radio or carolers or even the Salvation  Army with their red bucket and bells. You may taste or smell  scents of cranberry and pine and peppermint and chocolate. You  may feel, up here in Ohio at least, the crisp air, the occasional  snow flake, and the warmth of nice hearth. Christmas is coming. 

Yet what is Christmas? It’s not Santa Claus, it’s not  presents, it’s not jingle bells; though all these are present. Is it  chestnuts over an open fire? Is it a white blanket of snow? Is it the  pine tree? Again, all these may be present, but what is the core of  Christmas? It is the birth of our savior, our king, our wonderful  counselor, prince of peace. It is the birth of the Messiah spoken of  old, prophesied to save the world, Son of Man, Son of God, Jesus  Christ. 

Advent is all about preparing for the king’s coming.  Christmas is coming, but it is not quite here. We all see and hear  and smell signs of Christmas, but as we prepare let us never  forget the importance of Advent. It is about patiently waiting for  the soon to be expected birth of Christ. But wait there’s more! For 

Advent isn’t only about the expectant birth, there is so much more  to it. It is a season when we reflect on John the Baptist who was a  voice in the wilderness saying, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord”. It  is a season of reflecting on Jesus’ second coming. 

Ultimately, the season of the coming Lord; whether or not  that is the coming of His birth, Him coming to John, or His second  coming. It is a season when we prepare the royal highway which  for us is in the form of Christmas music and decorations. It is also  a time of reflection as we mentally prepare. 

Advent is like waking up an hour before sunrise. You know  the sun is about to rise, you can see the slight discoloration in the  sky as blue seeps into the ever black abyss of night. The stars are  starting to vanish as your eyes gaze upon the horizon. Yet,  because you woke up too early, your eyelids may be a little  heavy. Do you rest your eyes and turn off your alarm? Most of  you know that you are not a morning person and you are still in  the work force you are definitely tempting fate if you turn off your  alarm right before it is supposed to go off and then decide to rest  your eyes. If you do rest your eyes, you might just go back to  sleep, and thus miss the sunrise, only to be late for your job, or  school. 

Such is the way of Advent. It is the moment right before  dawn, but it is not dawn. You are already awake, for you are  preparing for the coming “son/sun”. The signs are in the air, you  know the Son is coming, that the prince is near. The question is  this, when he does come, will you be alert, or will you be taking a  rest?

So during this time of preparation, as the Christmas Spirit is  in full sway, let us not as our Gospel says, “Be weighed down with  dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life,” in such a way  that Christmas, “come[s] upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay  awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape  all these things that are going to take place,” so you may this  Christmas be able, “to stand before the Son of Man,” this babe  who is our Messiah. 

Let us pray, 

 

Dear Heavenly Father, give us all a spirit of patience and  steadfastness as we wait for the coming Lord. Let us all sing  praise and joy in His coming, and, no matter what may lurk in the  darkness, help us we pray to always look towards Jesus Christ  our Savior. Amen.

1 Kings 17: 8-16

Psalm 107: 1-3, 33-43

Hebrews 9: 24-28

Mark 12: 41-44



“Impractical Thanks-Giving”

 

Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.

 

With regards to statistics, there are many quotes and jokes. One such you would recognize, and please excuse me as I provide the whole quote, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Another quote from Mark Twain goes as such, “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.” These quotes and many like them captures one troubling thing about the usage of statistics, they can be horribly used and abused to tell a lie all while accurately portraying the truth.

 

An example of this would be say I was to tell you that the percentage of people I gave communion to at Otterbein increased by 50%. That’s a huge increase, right? Only for you to find out that I usually only give communion to two individuals at Otterbein and I just added one more person.

 

Another example would be say I was to tell you in the middle of Summer that a restaurant on Put-In-Bay usually on a daily basis only gets a mode of 10 customers a day, therefore don’t go there as it appears that people don’t trust it. Only for you to find out that during the Summer, when all the vacationers show up, said restaurant becomes the most favored.

 

And in today’s Gospel there is one last example. A rich man provides a large sum while a poor widow only two small copper coins. Without any facts, I tell you that Mr. Jingles provided a thousand gold coins, while Mrs. Bells only provided two copper coins. Who provided more? Without context, most would say Mr. Jingles well of course, that Mrs. Bells must be quite the penny pincher. Now let me change the presentation of the stats. Instead of saying how much they gave, I tell you that Mr. Jingles provided a tenth of his wealth in accordance with the tithe, but that Mrs. Bells gave all of her wealth. Who gave more? Well many would say Mrs. Bells.

 

Statistics if done properly can hide the truth behind stubborn facts, but it can also be used to portray a different perspective. Yes, the poor widow in the Gospel provided less than the rich man, but when compared to what they already own she gave far more than the rich man. The offering that she gave was risky, unreasonable, and impractical. She’s already poor! Why would she give up the rest of what she had? She’s already suffering. Why would she willingly bankrupt herself? Doesn’t she have a home? Doesn’t she have taxes? We’re talking about the Romans here; they had an exorbitant amount of taxes needlessly placed on the Israelites. How is she going to pay her taxes, get food, etc. when she has given up what she has left? It is beyond impractical.

 

When you have all that you need and live a life of abundance, which we would desire for all people, it is easy to provide. In fact Jesus says that all contribute out of their abundance. As Christians we want to give, we want to provide, we want to help those in need. And if we have the funds and the time and the hands, then we gladly contribute. It is easy to provide when there is no concern that such provision will lead to needless suffering. And here is the thing; this is not an attack on the rich nor a denigration over the fact that he is wealthy. Oh, do I wish that all were wealthy so that all can contribute without concern over whether or not such a contribution would hinder their ability to put food on their own table. So this is not an attack on the rich, but praise for those who provide out of their poverty.

 

In 1 Kings, today’s first lesson, the widow that Elijah talked to had given up. She was poor and lacking, and only had enough food for one last meager meal for herself and her son. Both were prepared to die. And here is Elijah asking her to make bread for him. She says, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” She was unwilling to provide for Elijah even a morsel of bread because she already had so little. I can imagine she was terrified, thus the reason why Elijah told her, “do not fear.”

 

I can imagine her terror because I’ve been there myself. Twice in my adult life have I suffered bankruptcy; it doesn’t feel good. And before entering such and shortly exiting bankruptcy, I can attest to the extreme difficulty of giving an offering. In fact I would be honest that in my weakness, in my fear, there were times I withheld giving up money, as I resorted to using a credit card hoping that by the end of the month I could pay my dues. So I understand the fear that the widow in our first lesson may have felt. It is definitely far more easy to give when you have plenty than when you have little. That much I could give a testimony to.

 

Now Elijah still demanded she make bread for him, but he told her to fear not for she surely would not run out of flour nor oil. Though terrified, she decided to obey this prophet. In her poverty, she gave to Elijah, something very risky. But just as Elijah told her, she quickly found out that there was no need to fear for the Lord provided for her. She could have given in to her fear, but she decided to have faith in the Word of God provided by Elijah. Such a faith again is impractical, unreasonable, extreme, crazy, nonsensical... You’re already suffering enough as is, why would you do that which causes you to suffer more?

 

The widow in our Gospel, gave everything up, she gave out of her poverty. She didn’t fear the consequences of her actions, but instead chose to love God more than to fear her struggles. Do you think that widow in the Gospel was thinking about what she lacked? Do you think she was thinking about what she was losing? Or do you think she was thinking more about what she did have and was providing as much as she could to the Lord? Do you think her love and thankfulness and gratitude far outweighed any lingering emotions of doubt and selfishness and despair? It is far easier for those who live a life of abundance to give offerings, but she who had very little gave up everything as an offering.

 

I have seen examples of these two widows in myself, in other Christians, and in churches. I have seen churches struggling to make ends meet giving up a majority of their offerings to good causes. I have also seen churches that, in their struggling, the first thing they cut from their budget was their benevolence. One has an extreme impractical faith in God as they give thanks to Him despite their financial concerns. The other is very practical but lacks faith in God, choosing to take matters into their own hands. I have seen churches who gave more than they reasonably should rather than paying the bills and maintaining the church building. Some died out; most grew rapidly as people saw that these Christians cared more about the community than their building. I have seen other churches who sacrifice their giving’s so that they could keep the lights on. Some recovered; most did not.

 

A though of mine crossed my head earlier this week, “What is the testimony of a true believer?” One answer I provided was that no matter how much horror you throw at a believer, their unshakable faith that never wavers into doubt is proof that they truly believe.

 

So as we advance into thanksgiving, and come to appreciate what we do have rather than despair over what we don’t have, as we thank God for the many blessings we have received instead of getting angry over our lack, let us also reflect on the faith of the widow in today’s Gospel who despite her poverty still gave all that she had. Let us not hold onto envy or fear, but instead courage and thankfulness. Let us be impractical in our faith as we give impractically and live with joy in our hearts, choosing to care for others rather than ourselves, and never allowing dark counsel to tempt you away from having a level of gratitude in God that would make any atheist faint.

 

The widow was definitely lacking, but was she troubled by that? No! She gave up everything in thanks and praise to God. Her faith and courage and love for God far surpasses rational thinking, which would say, “you simpleton, you need that money; don’t needlessly give it up!” She obviously was not bogged down, chained, to such thinking. I would wager the gratitude in her heart far surpassed any negativity. She is a testament of a truly thankful heart, for whether she lived in abundance or poverty she still gave to the Lord. And so likewise, as we observe Thanksgiving, let us observe with thanks and praise to the Lord for all the things He has done for us, our friends and our family.

 

Let us pray,

 

Dear Heavenly Father, whether we lack or whether we have plenty never let us forget the true riches in heaven and the many blessings you do shower upon us. Protect all who are in need, and encourage all to live with thankfulness in their hearts towards You, the Holy Spirit, and your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ all the days of their lives now and forevermore. Amen.

Jeremiah 31: 31-34 

Psalm 46 

Romans 3: 19-28 

John 8: 31-36 

“God’s Bulwark” 

Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen. 

For the last year I have been teaching in my “What is  Lutheranism” class, every Wednesday at 10am currently here in  the church, the Augsburg Confession. For anyone who wishes to  understand what it means to be a Lutheran that is the document  

to read. Such a document can be easily acquired by going to a  website called bookofconcord.org or, if you wish to have a  physical copy, I do have one in my possession and am willing to  temporarily give it, but I require to have it back by Thursday  because on Friday mornings on my Facebook podcast called,  “Pastor’s Corner”, I read the Augsburg Confession followed by the  Catholic response and then the Apology, or defense, to the  Confession. 

Currently I have four individuals who have been faithfully  attending the class and we have had great discussions, learning  opportunities, and fellowship as we dive into the defining  documentation that denotes what it means to be a Lutheran. The  class is always open for more to come and because we read one  article at a time you are more than welcomed to come now. 

But the Augsburg Confession is an interesting document for  it perfectly wraps up the entire point of the Reformation and the 

historical drama that surrounded the events leading up to and  after this Confession. It is interesting most particularly because  the intend of the Confessions was not to describe what it meant to  be a Lutheran, as it is now used as, but rather to describe to the  Roman Catholics what it means to be a Catholic. 

We are always in need of a reformation. This is a concept  that Luther deeply believed in. For as long as there are corrupt  men, as long as we lowly humans are filled with sin, then we will  lead the church astray. Yet, it is a good thing that the church, in  relationship with Christ is not the husband but rather the wife in  this divine marriage, for Christ is the head of this sacred  household and will always be in charge. He will always provide  and such providence comes in the form of reformation, such as  that which the Lutherans enacted. If left to our own devises we  would surely lead the Church down dangerous roads and adopt  some devilish beliefs such as Salvation through Faith and Works  or granting infallibility to figures who are not Christ or Indulgence.  These are the beliefs and many others that the Church Catholic  struggled with during the time of Luther, the most saddening is the  detestation towards the cornerstone of true catholicism: Faith  Alone. 

Even today, we are need of a reformation, tomorrow we will  need a reformation, and each individual church. So long as the  church is filled with sinners, there will always be a need for daily  reformation, and, in a way, communion serves as our daily  reformation as we ask for forgiveness of our sins and are led by  Christ our head towards grace.

But back to the struggles of the Lutherans, before Martin  Luther nailed his 95 thesis there were two primary issues that the  Church Catholic faced and all other issues stems from these two:  the belief that you could merit even an ounce of salvation; the  power hungry perversion of those who ran the Church. All issues  stemmed from these two issues, all ending with: as long as you  obey us the Church and do what we mere humans dictate then  Salvation is yours. This is why Luther called the pope the  antichrist and why Luther claimed that Roman Catholicism was  not even remotely catholic but rather a Church of the Devil. Do  what I tell you to do and you will be saved? How narcissistic could  you get? The Church practically through God out the window and  appointed themselves as God. They created human traditions and  universally demanded the masses to obey or they would be  burned to death, let alone suffer Hell. 

What happened to faith in Jesus Christ? What happened to  the amazing grace we experience in the mighty fortress who is  our God? The despair of the commoner was great for they knew  not if they were saved. Add the fact that the power hungry Church  didn’t want the paupers to be able to read the Almighty sacred  texts less they stain the scriptures and twist them with their filthy  lack of knowledge. We are the experts, believe us! This is the  reason why as a Lutheran I don’t believe people simply because  they are experts, for the common farmer might be more  knowledgeable than those who claim to be experts throwing their  weight around. The common Christian were not allowed to read  Scripture because the Church was against translating it into the  common tongue, even though the whole reason why the Bible  was then currently written in Latin is because that dead language 

was at one point the common tongue. And if the people can’t read  scripture, then how would they know about Faith alone as the  Church’s Nobility preach the Doctrine of Devils: Works alone? 

Luther, a man who faces similar despair over his salvation,  but know assured that through faith in Jesus Christ who indeed  died on the Cross to save him from his own sins - that he is  saved, wants others to know the truth of what it means to be a  Christian. So he translated Scripture, and challenged the Church,  and never recanted even to the point of being labelled exiled and  a heretic. He saw what the Church Catholic under the Augustinian  tradition had always supported, and how much the current Roman  Catholic Church had twisted and contorted doctrine. This is why in  the Apology of the Augsburg Confession Luther, through Philip  Melanchthon, frequently denigrates the leaders of the Roman  Catholic Church by claiming that they are not Catholics but rather  blasphemers who are leading the Church astray, and also openly  claims that the real Catholics are Himself and all those whom the  Catholic Church wrongfully kicked out on the basis of faith alone. I  mean all you have to do is read Romans, not just the part that is  in today’s second lesson, but all of Romans, and you would  realize that Faith Alone is the only option. If Martin Luther was  alive today He would say that you can’t call yourself a Catholic if  you don’t believe in Faith Alone. 

Now the consequences of his actions were severe. He was  exiled, excommunicated, portrayed as the Devil incarnate, etc.  But regardless He kept on pushing, for he had God as his  defense. God was his bulwark, his mighty fortress, his castle  against not only the Church desperately in need of a reformation 

but also against the fire darts of the devil and all the sinfulness in  his heart that I believed Luther would have gladly acted upon.  Luther lived his entire life as someone who loved the Church  Catholic, and when he realized how off kilter the Church had  become he genuinely wished to correct the issue, to wind the  clock back so that way the Church Catholic could be what it was  always supposed to be. He didn’t want to transform the church,  but rather reform it. To reform is to form it back to what it once  was. Only problem, the Church leaders did not want a reformation  for they were too drunk on power. 

Now as for those who followed Luther, such as the entire  Order of St. Augustine, not only did the Church excommunicated  them, but also falsely labeled them the derogatory term called  Lutheran. Did you know Lutheran is a derogatory term? It still is,  but Lutherans wear it like a badge saying you see this, you  caused this, we didn’t split the church, you did. Lutheran means  one who worships Luther, which we obviously don’t do. 

So back to the Augsburg Confession. The whole point of its  conception was to explain to the Holy Roman Emperor what it  meant to be a Catholic and to confess that Lutherans are indeed  Catholics. This was an opportunity of unification, and for the  Church purification from that which was not in line with Scripture.  It swiftly became obvious that the Romans did not care  diddlysquat about unification and only forcing their philosophy  over proper theology. So the Lutherans were once again denied  and the Augsburg Confession transformed into a document that  described what it meant to be a Catholic into a document that  described what it meant to a Lutheran.

Despite all this, God never abandoned the Augustinian  Catholics, of which many of you know I identify as in the military,  for whereas they were kicked out of the Roman Church, mankind  has no power over who is a member of the Church Catholic. God  

defended the Lutherans and preserved them as they struggled,  and they have struggled. Too catholic to be considered a  protestant, for the theological criterion to be rightfully considered a  protestant is to not believe in Communion and/or Baptism, but  also too protestant to be considered Catholic, for the Romans  have monopolized the term Catholic to the point that many sadly  equate the two to each other thus to protest Roman Catholicism is  to protest catholicism. Despite all this, God has never abandoned  us nor will he ever. He is our strength and as long as we have  faith in him and persevere we will see the fruits of God’s labor as  the stony hearts of many are turned to good. I have witnessed  proof of that! The pope got rid of Luther’s excommunication  status, communion has been shared between Lutherans and  Anglicans and Romans, the pope considers Lutherans not  protestants, a doctrine of Justification approving Faith Alone has  been accepted by the Romans, etc. 

So much has happened and I hope there comes a time in  my life that I would see Lutheran churches accepted as Catholic.  But before you misunderstand, I am not a Roman, all I ask is that  without changing anything about myself, that the Romans change  in such a way that they right the wrongs they committed, by  apologizing for how they mishandled the Reformation, by realizing  that the Lutherans were always right, and by willing acknowledge  that Lutherans are members of the united church, aka Church  Catholic.

They Romans have their work cut out for them, but as for us  all we have to do is stand firm in the faith. Never allow the world  cause you to adjust your faith. Never allow family to cause you to  sidestep scriptures. Never allow psychological manipulation to  lead you to believing that which contradicts scripture. Instead  keep both eyes on God, trusting God, fearing God, but also loving  God. He is your Bulwark. And even if people scorn at you and  claim that you’re not a Catholic or you’re not a Christian for  believing this or believing that, know that your faith in God and  careful observance of scripture is all you need. If Church or  Culture or Brother, persecutes you because of your genuine faith,  using that which is not scripturally sound, don’t budge, but stand  strong for the Lord your God is with you, now and always. 

I conclude with the knowledge that after this sermon and  then hymn we will be confessing our faith in the words of the  Apostles Creed. Many of you know that the reason I have turned  my mike off as I read aloud from the LBW pg 65, which says  “Catholic” rather than “Christian”. I’m not going to force you to say  Catholic, but ask rather you listen to why I say it. First, I’m not a  Roman Catholic, you know that. But I am a Catholic, for a  Catholic, properly speaking, is one who believes in the Church  universal and that all who believe in Jesus Christ across all time  and space are connected to each other through Christ. I believe  that, therefore I confess to being a Catholic. With that, let us pray. 

 

Dear Heavenly Father, in all walks of life help us to know  that no matter what comes our way you will always be our mighty  fortress. Encourage our faith in you and continue to guide us. In  your most holy name we pray, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.

Deuteronomy 6: 1-9 

Psalm 119: 1-16 

Hebrews 7: 23-28 

Mark 12: 28-37 

“The True Golden Rule” 

Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen. 

The Lord works in mysterious ways. And at times the Lord  presents us with something that at first glance appears to be a  coincident, but at second glance is realized to be divine  providence. This last Thursday during Gary Kresge’s “The  Chosen” class one of the passages that was repeated throughout  the class was the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4-9. It was spoken in  the video more than once and once again as a scriptural reading  in the discussion following the video portion of the class. Without  any foreknowledge it just so happened that the class with  included the Shema, class #3, landed on the Thursday right  before the Sunday when the very same lesson was given. On top  of that, I was planning on giving a sermon on the Shema, well I  still will but in a little bit so please excuse my fascination. So when  I heard the Shema not once nor twice but at least three times this  last Thursday, with the full knowledge that I was going to give a  sermon on the very same, I couldn’t but be fascinated over the  apparent coincident. But again the Lord works in mysterious  ways, and am of the firm belief that that was not a coincident, but  the Lord God saying focus on this. 

Now strictly speaking, the Shema is a combination of the first  commandment and the added commandment of preserving God’s 

commandments, chief of which being the first, “Hear O Israel: The  Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God  with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”  (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Of all the commands that the Lord has  given this is the most important thus the reason why the Lord  commanded His people in the Shema to keep these words in their  hearts, to teach them to your kids verbally and by example, thus  passing on the faith to the next generation, and to never forget  these words even if you must have them written in government or  home to preserve the memory of such words. The Shema is  deeply important and the greatest of all of God’s commandments  because how are you going to truly and willingly obey God if you  do not love Him? Another way of interpreting this is, how can you  do that which is good in the eyes of God if you do not first have  faith in Him? 

After seeing Jesus and the Sadducees verbally fight over the  Resurrection, one scribe who heard Jesus successfully maneuver  around the trap the Sadducees tried to trip Jesus into asked  “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus simply  answered that the most important is the Shema, or at least the  first part of the Shema. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the  Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your  heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all  your strength.” This is the greatest command, the most important  command, the first of all commands. And as for the second most  important command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  This second command refers to Leviticus 19. The scribe did not  intend to trick Jesus, but simply wanted an answer and hearing  Jesus’ answer, the scribe concluded that Jesus was correct and 

went so far as to say that if only we truly loved the Lord our God  with all our being and then love our neighbor as ourselves then  there would be no need for offerings and sacrifices. This is most  certainly true for if we were to follow God’s Law completely then  

there would be no need for forgiveness. Sadly, all are sinners;  therefore all have fallen short of these two commands. Yet, that is  why Jesus came, to be our sacrifice once and for all, so that  through faith in him we will, not may, again will, be saved. The  scribe is not far from the kingdom of God, he is almost there, the  last leap is seeing that Jesus is the Lord our God. 

Now some of you may have seen something interesting with  regards to the Shema and Jesus’ entire answer. The greatest  commandment is to love the Lord your God with your whole  being. Why might I suggest that that is interesting? Easy, let me  ask you this question and honestly answer aloud the first thing  that comes to your mind, “What is the Golden Rule?” Almost all  will honestly regurgitate that the golden rule is to love thy  neighbor. There are some Bibles that would even label that  command as the “Golden Rule”, thus perpetuating the confusion. 

So what is the confusion? Let me explain it using sports.  What trophy is usually given to first place? Gold. What trophy is  usually given to second place? Silver. So if I was to hand the  second place winner the gold trophy what do you think would  happen? First place might get a little mad. The crowd might get a  myriad of reactions ranging from laughter to booing. I would be  the laughing stock if I unintentionally gave the trophy to the wrong  person, but if I intentionally gave the award to the one I hoped  won first place then there would be cause for concern over my 

fairness and moral compass. In the end the gold trophy is given to  first place and the silver trophy is given to second. 

How does this apply to the two commands given by Jesus?  He says that the most important is to love God and that the  second most important is to love your neighbor. Therefore what is  truly the Golden Rule? Well according to God, that is to love Him  with all your heart and soul and mind and body. That is the true  Golden Rule. So what does that make of the commandment to  love your neighbor as yourself? Well that one, according to God,  is actually the Silver Rule, second place, not first, yet still the  second most important. 

How did we get here? In the Shema we are given what  Jesus says is the greatest commandment and then tells us  diligently remember this and make sure that our children  remember that that greatest command that we must hold on to  above all else is the need to know that the is our God and that we  must love Him, at least for our own sake. The reason why the  Shema is so adamant on passing on the faith is because as  sinners it is within our fallen nature to trust mankind more than  God. For God knows, if the world had it its way it would write out  of the Laws, love of God. And behold for some odd reason  churches are now teaching what culture wants them to teach: that  the golden rule is to love thy neighbor. What happened to loving  God? Why isn’t that the Golden Rule? The answer is quite simple,  the secular culture does not want that to be the Golden Rule. It  does not want God, so it chooses to intentionally ignore the  greatest commandment and then lift up the second greatest  commandment as the new greatest command.

It is sad when Christians fall victim to this new golden  standard, for it teaches them that loving thy neighbor is more  important than loving God. It also has the unintentional  consequences of teaching Christians that we can love our  neighbor before loving God. In fact I have faced Christians who  have gotten mad at me for acknowledging that it is impossible for  those who do not have faith in Jesus Christ to love their  neighbors. True love is a product of the Holy Spirit, it’s one of the  fruits of the Spirit, therefore without God, it is impossible for us to  truly love our neighbor in the way God intended us to love each  other. For God isn’t only the author of life but is also the author of  all that is good to include love, therefore He, not mankind,  determines what love is. If we wish to conduct such a love, then  first we need the help of the Holy Spirit, but in order to receive the  help of the Holy Spirit we need first faith in Jesus Christ. 

For when Jesus died on that cross for you and for me he did  so because he knew that none of us were capable of truly loving  our neighbor. All God asked is that we love Him and each other  and heaven would be ours, but we can’t even do that, not one  person. The scribe correctly noted that if someone was to love the  Lord God with all their being and to love their neighbor then there  would be no need for sacrifices. A scribe who no doubt provides  offerings for his own sins said this. Jesus died also for that scribe,  becoming the sacrifice that overcomes all sin once and for all.  And then through such sacrifice becoming the means of grace  through faith in Him with the help of the Holy Spirit that provides  us that pure ability to truly love the Lord our God and to love our  neighbors, untainted by sin.

He gave Himself up because he wanted us to not only be  able to join all the saints in heaven, but to also to sanctify us here  on earth so that through Christ each and every one of us may first  serve Him with genuine love in our hearts unchained by our sinful  hatred towards the Law, and second serve each other as lights for  the nations spreading the Good News and goodwill. 

So in light of our genuine desire that all will love their  neighbor, let us never forget that love is a product of God and that  the true Golden Rule according to the Bible is the Shema, “Hear,  O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love  the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and  with all your mind and with all your strength.” 

Let us pray, 

 

Dear Heavenly Father, guide us and teach us and help us  remember as we pass on the faith the importance of having a  loving faith in you above all else, and as we welcome you into our  hearts lead us so that we may treat our neighbors in the way you  intended to us to treat each other. In your holy name we pray,  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Isaiah 53:10-12

Psalm 91:9-16

Hebrews 4:9-16

Mark 10:35-45

 

 

“God’s Rest”

 

Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.

 

         There is a parable, a more current parable, that I am quite fond of; the flood parable. It goes as such: A man is stranded on the roof of his house as a mighty flood surrounds him. He prays heavily to Lord to save him from this flood, and as he is praying a boat comes to pick him up. Only he says, “No thank you; the Lord will save me”. Then a helicopter with National Guard Soldiers in it comes to rescue him, but again he gives the same command. Finally, the clouds open up and the voice of God descends asking the man why he is stranded on the roof of his house. The man responds, “Because I was waiting for your help”. God then tells the man that He did sent help; the boat and the helicopter.

 

        Again, I love this parable because it tells us that God works in mysterious ways, yet, like all things, this good parable has can be used and abused. I have heard many atheists use this very parable to mock Christians, especially those who trust in God. So there is a counter parable that is equally good that I use: the footprint parable. A man walks through a valley with God and behind him he sees two sets of footprints in the sand. Eventually as the valley darkens and the man is filled with concern and anxiety he looks behind him and sees only one set of footprints. Eventually he leaves the valley and is again feeling safe, looks behind himself, and sees two footprints. Angrily, the man questions, “In my hour of need why did you leave me behind, God?” And God responded, “I didn’t, those footprints you saw in the valley of darkness were not yours but my own, for I was carrying you the whole time”. Let the atheists try to abuse that parable!

 

        I’m a big fan of both of these parables and believe that both should be used together to paint a fuller picture, but why? I’ll use a quick example to help explain and then I will readdress the question. I have been asked if I must choose between Law or Gospel/Grace, what would I choose? Such wickedness to behold! How dare you make me choose, I’ll have both, for to have one and not the other will always leads towards darkness and misery. Law without Gospel leads to despair and legalism; Gospel without Law leads to the allowance and promotion of sin; neither option alone are good. Only both together are good.

 

        The same applies to these two parables, for the option in front of us is human responsibility or faith in God. Some might ask: which would you choose? I would ask, looking at the full picture, why must I choose? I’ll have both.

 

        In today’s culture I think we have a good handle on human responsibility, but see a severe lack in the “Trusting God” department. We want to do things, and find it difficult to walk in a manner that runs on trust. It can be scary, for some doubt in what may appear to them as the Unknown, their assurance is shaky. This is the cost of Secularism, in that it is easier to have “faith” in what you can see rather in what you cannot see. You know the saying, “thoughts and prayers”. You all know that there are communities of people who mock those who pray. I have seen countless times the mockery that comes from hate-filled individuals who attack those who juggle human responsibility with having faith in God. In fact it is coming closer to the point of history when the only option is human responsibility and if there is a speck of trust in God then you will be mocked.

 

        A recent example of this was when a pastor said he would disobey his governor and have his church open. He preached on trusting God, and he was severely mocked. I witnessed countless Christians worship at the feet of humanity as they ridiculed this pastor and others like him for “trusting God”. When I saw the ridiculous atrocious behaviors of idolators I prayed to God to protect this pastor for I knew that if he got sick, the masses would use this a fuel, and no matter what happened, he would continue to be attacked. Give him strength to never let go of faith in you, o God. The sad thing is, he did get sick, and then died. And what I saw was horrifying. The masses laughed at him. Some even cheered as he breathed his last breathe. And others slandered his good name through the mud by promoting lies such as claiming that the pastor was preaching, “If you believe hard enough God will protect you from Covid”. He never said that, but instead preached human responsibility and faith in Jesus Christ.

 

        The result of relying too heavily on human responsibility to the point that trusting God is mocked has severe consequences. The most obvious is Human Narcissism, or narcissism on a cultural level where humans practically worship humanity. When Humanity falls to Human Narcissism it starts to replace God, believing that it is capable of doing things totally void of God. Such communities either wish to play God or come to detest God out of prideful rage. And then out of human narcissism, you get some interesting beliefs such as: the world is dying and the only way we could save it is if we do this (an example of this is Global Warming); humans can achieve utopia and the only way to achieve utopia is to force it through complete control (an example of this is communism); there is no proof you will go into heaven but with enough works and money someone may achieve such (the theology of purgatory and indulgence). All of the above are examples of what may transpire within a culture that laughs at “trusting God” and only believes in human responsibility.

 

        So what is the consequence of such thinking? Despair. Whereas we may try and convince ourselves that we are capable, we live a lie, a lie that has only one end and that is complete and utter despair. For we are not capable, we are not God, and if we try to pretend to be God we will surely fail. We end up walking in our own valley of darkness, not realizing that God is indeed with us. And that is the counter to all of this, realizing God is with you and that you could rest on him.

 

        Just like how we believe that we can’t save ourselves from our own sin, but if you have faith in Christ who died for your sake you are saved, the same can apply to say saving the world; For Humans cannot save the world, but through faith in God we may come to realize that the world is in good hands, God’s hands. Yes we, do have responsibilies granted to us by God himself, but never forget that God will never abandon us and in the end, we are all in good hands.

 

        There is so much bliss in finally realizing that we don’t have all the answers, and that we aren’t as smart or capable as we think we are, but that we can rest on God who is all knowing and all powerful and all good. If we believe we are capable, then failure after failure we will fall to depression. But if we realize our own inadequate nature and that God is all capable, then through faith in Him we are released from our anxieties. He no longer in our minds becomes like a clocker maker who made the world and abandons it as it ticks time away, but instead we realize He is like a gentle mother who cradles us, a baby filled with fear, cradling us in such a way that we are filled with comfort and reassurance safe in the arms of our Lord and Savior.

 

        The Lord almighty is not far off, for he knows us, he loves us, and protects us. He sees our weakness, and out of kindness he sympathizes with our struggles. He walked on the earth, he has walked in our shoes, and he too has suffered. He knows our pains, thus all the more confidence we can have in him and his genuine grace as he becomes for us a dwelling place, safe and secure.

 

        And despite all the mockery you may face for having faith in God, a faith which the world will undoubtedly claim is extreme or outdated or irrational, let us not forget the promises that the Lord did impart to us as our dwelling place. For he promises that in His refuge, “No evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent,” he promises that angels will guard you and lift you up from stumbling, that instead of being harmed by lion or adder or serpent you instead will tread on them, and then promises deliverance and protection and answers and honor and long life and salvation. No matter what the masses say, no matter how much mockery they fling at you, no matter how much they twist the Word of God to fit their narrative, remember this: God’s love knows no bounds, for nothing can separate us from the love of God, and the love He does have is always at the ready waiting to be received in faith.

 

        As I conclude, in light of the psalm I just read from, I ask that you pay particular attention to the hymn we are about to sing, “On Eagle’s Wings / You Who Dwell in the Shelter of the Lord”, especially the refrain. We humans are wholly incapable of raising ourselves up, and left to our own devices we would surely fail. Yet our rock in whom we trust, not only is capable, but will, which invokes a promise, He will raise us up. So yes, we do have responsibilities, but because our human responsibility comes from God alone, it is not ourselves in whom we should trust, but trust in God alone.

 

Let us pray,

 

        Dear Heavenly Father, in our pride we fail to realize our own weaknesses and sin against our neighbors who have decided to give all trust to you alone. Help us we pray in our feeble attempts to make a difference to realize that your hand is always ready for us to grasp. Protect us from those who mock us for having an irrational faith in you and shield us from temptation when misfortune does come our way. In your name we pray, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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