You've seen the scene. You have probably even been part of it. One person stretches out their arms, inviting another person to come closer to receive a hug. It could be a parent inviting a young child to take their first steps, a family member meeting someone at the airport, or a caring friend who sees their friend hurting. Jesus stretched out his arms to draw us to himself too, but it was for much more than a hug. As he stretches out his arms to die on the cross, we see him for who he really is.
Because He Knew...He Promised Salvation through Faith
3/11/2018Pastor Wagner John 3:14-21
Are you longing to feel loved? Are you aching for acceptance? It is natural for us, whom God created as social beings, to want others to like us, to approved of who we are and what we do. Since God created us for a relationship with him, it is natural for us to seek his love and approval as well. Incredibly, that love and acceptance happens not because of what we are or do, but because of what he is and does for us.
So many things want to get in the way of the work and worship of God's church. So many obstacles want to interfere with the blessings God desires to give us through his Word and Sacraments. Because Jesus loves us deeply, he wants to remove whatever would interrupt the work he came to do and the gifts he wants to give to us.
Because He Knew...He Prepared His Disciples for the Cross
2/25/2018Pastor Wagner Mark 8:31-38
The season of Lent is counter-cultural. How little our world wants to hear about sin and repentance. How quickly they want to tune out talk of suffering and a cross. And yet, the cross always comes before the crown - for Jesus and for us. Jesus prepares us for life under the cross as we wait for the crown of heaven.
Because He Knew...He Preached the Good News of the Kingdom
2/18/2018Pastor Wagner Matthew 1:12-15
In the wake of the tragedies of the past two weeks, many have searched frantically for good news. The shooting of police officers was followed by stories of the lives they've touched and the "good news" that the one who bought the gun for the murderer had himself been arrested. The shooting of dozens of students in Florida was followed by the heroic stories of people like Aaron Feis who died protecting others. Jesus knew well about tragedies of the past and those still to come (including the "injustice" of his own death). And he provided the good news we all needed to hear.
It's the kind of sight that takes your breath away - a beautiful sunset, a view from a mountain, an exquisitely dressed bride. It's the kind of place you don't want to leave - a retreat from the stress, an escape from the worries, a glimpse of something greater still to come. You don't want it to end. That's how Peter, James, and John felt one day on a mountain with Jesus. But Jesus gave them that moment to prepare them for something still to come - for him, for them, for us.
Are you a planner? The busier life gets, the more important calendars and budgets and schedules and task lists become. And we generally put the most time and effort into planning the things that mean the most to us. (Think about how much planning often goes into a wedding.) When it comes to our giving to the Lord, planning is not only wise. It also pleases the Lord. Gifts given thoughtfully, intentionally, regularly, and wholeheartedly reflect lives devoted to our Lord, and the Lord receives them as sweet-smelling gifts of love.
It can be a lot of fun giving gifts to those we love...choosing the gifts, carefully wrapping them, watching their reaction as they open them. If you watch some children give church offerings, they are just as excited. They can't wait for the offering plate to come by so that they can put their quarter in! God wants us to find the same joy that believers of every age have found in responding to our generous God.
If you followed someone around for a few days, listened to everything they said, watched how they spend their money, and saw how they used their time, you would probably have a pretty good idea of what mattered to them. If someone followed you, what would your life show about your heart? If we followed God, what would we learn about his heart?
Are you a generous person? Do you enjoy sharing what you have with others? For the next four weeks, we'll consider how God wants us to be generous with what we have. And that generosity is truly joyful when it recognizes the gracious God who has been so generous in his blessings to us.
We put our faith in a lot of things. We trust that the lights will turn on, when we flip a switch. We trust that the drivers around us will (generally) observe the rules of the road. We trust that doctors will give us a correct diagnosis and treatment for our illnesses. But such faith will inevitably disappoint us at some point. Our Christian life is all about faith, but whom or what we put our faith in makes all the difference.
This sermon is the fourth in a series of four sermons focused on key truths of the Lutheran Reformation - that our salvation is in Christ alone (November 26), by grace alone (December 17), through faith alone (January 7), as revealed in the Scriptures alone (November 5).
We put our faith in a lot of things. We trust that the lights will turn on, when we flip a switch. We trust that the drivers around us will (generally) observe the rules of the road. We trust that doctors will give us a correct diagnosis and treatment for our illnesses. But such faith will inevitably disappoint us at some point. Our Christian life is all about faith, but whom or what we put our faith in makes all the difference. Our theme for this Epiphany Sunday is "Faith Alone.” And our sermon, based on Hebrews 1:1-2,8-12, is entitled, "Believing is Seeing." We hope you will join us!
In these last few days of 2017, you can find many reviews of the past year online, on TV, and in newspapers and magazines--the biggest news stories, the latest trends, the things that have changed. Social media channels can also give you a review of your personal highs and lows from the past year. As our world and our lives constantly change, it is so comforting to rely on a God who never changes. Bring your ups and downs, your sins and successes, and close out the year with God's comfort and strength.
This time of year can be costly. The gifts, the food, and the travel all cost money. The stress and the deadlines can cost us our mental, emotional, and physical health. God wants to give you a gift this Christmas - a gift the covers your greatest debt, the debt of your guilt and sins - and the good news: it comes at no cost to you!
This sermon is the third of four sermons focused on key truths of the Lutheran Reformation - that our salvation is in Christ alone (November 26), by grace alone (December 17), through faith alone (January 7), as revealed in the Scriptures alone (November 5).
A little child keeps asking during Advent: Is Christmas here yet? As with the same eagerness for our Savior's coming, we ask: How come it takes so long? But Jesus promises to come, and he will never break a promise. So let's not lose heart. Let's not get distracted. Let's keep craning our necks and standing on tiptoe, busy with obedience to his Word and cherishing each proclamation of the message that helps us to prepare to receive him when he comes.
A new church year begins with the season of Advent. Advent is a season of watchfulness and waiting. But we aren't just waiting for Christmas and the celebration of our Savior's first coming. We are also waiting for his coming again on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead. Are you ready? Are those you love ready? Through Word and Sacrament God points us to our Savior's first coming to prepare us for that great and dreadful day of his coming again.
Frank Sinatra famously crooned, "I did it my way." And that's how many people want to live their lives. I don't want anyone to tell me what to do. I want to be my own boss and live by my own rules. And some insist that we should even be able to get into heaven by going our own way. But God gives us a much better way, the only way, a way in which he does everything for us - the way that is Jesus Christ.
This Sunday is the second of four special services focused on key truths of the Lutheran Reformation - that our salvation is in Christ alone (November 26), by grace alone (December 17), through faith alone (January 7), as revealed in the Scriptures alone (November 5).
"Alleluia" is a Hebrew word that means "Praise the Lord." It is a common word in the songs and psalms of the Old Testament. But we don't hear that word in the New Testament until the final vision of the triumphant saints in heaven recorded in the book of Revelation. There, it is not a word of half-hearted praise, but a word of thunderous and joyous celebration, because Christ has won the victory for us and invites us to rejoice with him! To keep us ready for his return on the Last Day, Jesus gives us a glimpse of the celebration behind the doors of heaven, and he calls us who are invited to that feast "blessed."
What a year it's been! Hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, mass shootings... The tragedies and disasters seem to come more often and with greater intensity than ever before. God is sending us a message. Or rather, he's reminding us of a message Jesus spoke 2000 years ago (see Matthew 24): The end is near! Judgment Day is coming! God wants us to be ready so that we receive his reward instead of his wrath on that day. And the evidence on display that day will be the ordinary things of daily life. Love your God. Live your faith. And look forward to the judgment!
This year, we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation of the church. Luther's work of reform was not the invention of something new but the return to truths forgotten and obscured over time. This Sunday is the first of four special services focused on those truths.
There are so many thoughts and ideas in the world about truth. When our eternity is at stake, it's important that we know whom or what we can trust. God gives us something far more reliable than our own opinions--his unchanging, unbreakable Word.
Do you ever get an invitation to a wedding or another party that you really don't want to attend? If you decide not to attend, the reaction of the one who invited you will depend upon how much they wanted you to attend. Because of his pure grace and unconditional love, God invites all to attend his feast, and he wants us all to attend. The ultimate feast will take place in heaven, but every time we gather together with fellow Christians around God's Word, we get a foretaste of the feast to come. Join us for the feast. No RSVP is necessary!
Near the end of a race a runner forgets what is behind him and leans forward toward the finish line, exerting himself to the utmost, straining every fiber in his body to win the prize. Just so, the Christian forgets all the disappointments and bad experiences of the past and instead valiantly strives on, with eyes fixed firmly on the finish line, the victory circle, the consummation of all his hopes and dreams, the heavenly prize, which goes beyond all human understanding.
"I'm sorry," the child says, but they don't really mean it. (A parent or teacher told them to say it.) "I'm sorry," the adult says, but they don't really mean it. (Given the chance, they would do or say the same hurtful thing all over again.) We are all guilty of going through the motions of repentance, and we are all disgusted by it, when we are the ones hearing the apology. We may be able to fool others with feigned repentance, but we can't fool God. Because he loves us, God wants us to be as disgusted by our own sins as we are by the sins of others. And he wants only heartfelt, sincere repentance that shuns sin and seeks his mercy.
Jonah had just witnessed something completely unexpected and amazing, but he wasn't happy about it. What God did didn't seem fair. They didn't deserve it. And Jonah was right. So often what God does is not fair. And whether we celebrate that or complain about it will depend upon how we view what God does for us.
Debt is a big problem in America. Loans to pay for homes, cars, and an education are seen as an unavoidable necessity by many. Banks can put high interest rates on credit cards because they know how willing people are to spend more than they have. But what happens when you can't pay what you owe? Debt is a big problem in our spiritual lives as well. How do we deal with the debt to God that we owe because of our sins? How do we handle the debts others owe to us, when they sin against us?
What do you say when you see a fellow Christian sin? What do you do, when you know that they are not living the way God wants them to? What if they hurt you? What would you want them to do, if it was you? These aren't easy questions to answer, but they are important questions we all face at times. The same Savior who loved us enough to find us when we were lost and to seek us when we stray teaches us how to love our fellow Christians.
What does it mean to be a Christian? There are many ways to answer that question, but not all of them reflect God's design. This week, Jesus teaches his followers what it means to follow him, a lesson that begins and ends with what it means for him to be the Christ. For Christ and for the Christian, the cross comes before the crown, death comes before life. In the promise of the crown, we find the strength to bear our crosses.
"Never forget!" That's the phrase that is repeated in the wake of both disasters and achievements. Because we don't want to forget history, we erect monuments and build museums. We pass on stories and celebrate anniversaries. Despite our best efforts, history is forgotten in the fog of time for many. Let's never let that happen with the history of God's amazing works of love for sinners. That was God's desire for his people as he commanded them to stack up twelve stones by the Jordan River. Today God gives us his Word so that we and our children never forget what God has done for us!