On New Year's Eve, it is common to look back at the year that is coming to a close and look ahead to the year just beginning. This Sunday is the final Sunday of our Christian Church Year. We'll take time to look back at what Christ has done for us in the past. We'll think about what he's doing for us now. We'll look ahead to what he promises to do in the future. And we'll celebrate the truth the Christ is our King from beginning to end! What an awesome and comforting truth that is!
Over the last several years, there has been a resurgence of interest in life after death. Books and movies have been made about those who claim to have seen heaven and returned. But we don't have to count on those kinds of experiences to know what awaits us after death. God has given us some vivid, beautiful descriptions in his Word. When life is hard or our hearts are troubled by doubt, uncertainty, fear, and guilt, how comforting it is to see what lies ahead through the eyes of the God who is already there.
We confess nearly every week our confidence that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. It's a day we may not always want to think about. It's a day that is so final: heaven or hell, death or life for everyone. And yet it's coming. The wars, natural disasters, wickedness and unbelief of our world are things Jesus said would happen before his return. The very signs of Jesus' return are the things that make life so hard while we wait. But let us endure patiently, clinging to his promises, and living in view of his return.
Reformation Sunday is special in the Lutheran Church. It is not a day that we celebrate a new teaching or even a new truth discovered by a German monk name Martin Luther nearly 500 years ago. But it is a day in which we rejoice that the true message of the Gospel was brought up out of the cloud of man-made laws and traditions to shine on its own. Luther was only God's instrument to shine renewed light on the good news of Jesus Christ as the Savior from all sin, death, and power of the devil. The light of the Gospel message is what we celebrate on Reformation Sunday. Salvation through grace alone as revealed by Scripture alone and given to us by faith alone is the central message of the Scriptures and of the Lutheran Reformation. Here our Lutheran church still stands today. Here we rejoice every day in the grace and mercy of our loving and caring Lord. So our prayer is that God continues to bless us in holding onto and proclaiming this message of truth and grace in Christ alone.
It's Friday. When you are worn out from the week and ready for some rest, the weekend is a welcome opportunity to relax and recharge your body and your mind. But don't forget to take time for some hard work. I'm not talking about chores and tasks around the house. I'm talking about praying. Does prayer seem like hard work to you? This week, God's Word gives us the encouragement we need to keep praying, whether we would better describe ourselves as "tired from praying" or "tired of praying."
October 18 is celebrated as the Festival of St. Luke, Evangelist. Luke wrote the Gospel that bears his name as well as the book of Acts. He was a faithful traveling companion of the apostle Paul in his missionary travels. He dedicated his life and work to one thing--helping others to be certain of the truth of their salvation in Jesus Christ. We will celebrate that certainty that God has given to us through the faithful service of Luke and others.
We live in a praise-hungry culture. Think about how many awards shows are on TV these days. Almost every genre of music and form of entertainment seems to have a show to praise the best in their field every year. Many adults expect an annual bonus, no matter how well they've done their job. Students are praised for being average. And, as humble as we try to be, don't we all get a little rush of prideful joy when someone notices a job we've done well? Where is the proper place for praise in the Christian life? God's Word for this week helps us to answer that question.
Do you consider yourself to be wealthy? That question is a matter of perspective, isn't it? It depends upon what kind of wealth we are talking about and to whom we compare ourselves. God's Word teaches how to measure real wealth and assures us that we are part of the wealthiest nation in the history of the world--the kingdom of God. For such great blessings, the LORD is worthy of our praise.
It's the central message of the Scriptures: God's plan to rescue fallen mankind from death and hell, fueled by nothing more than his perfect and unimaginable love. As Christians, we get to watch that plan unfold on the pages of the Bible. But we are not just spectators. God chooses to use us--our prayers, our offerings, our talents, our time, and everything else he gives to us--to accomplish his saving mission. What a privilege!
The Scriptures teach us that we are saved by grace alone--amazing, astounding, unimaginable grace. Yet how easy it is for us to slip into self-righteous judgment of other sinners, forgetting the pure grace that God has shown to us. Christ calls us to love the lost like he does and rejoice over every sinner that "once was lost, but now is found."
In nearly every decision we make, we weigh the cost required and the benefit we might gain. Those costs and benefits may include financial, physical, emotional, temporal, or spiritual factors. Jesus wants to make sure that we understand that the life of faith may come at great personal expense. What is the cost and what does it mean for our daily lives?
"I'm the most humble person I know!" How deceptive our sinful hearts can be! We may be tempted even to use outward humility as a cover up for pride! In Jesus' words this week is a warning that crushes our naturally proud hearts. In Jesus' own humility is a promise to comfort and encourage our crushed hearts.
So many things in life are difficult. We lack the energy, strength, or resources to do so much of what we would like to do. At times, doesnâ€™t it even seem like God is against us? We even hear Jesus say that the door to heaven is narrow! But God has a marvelous plan in the challenges he sets before us. When we see and trust that plan, everything changes!
There's a war going on. It's more intense than battles between nations, more dangerous than disagreements within families, and more personal than rivalries between sports teams. Its battles are fought in the light of the day and in the dark of the night. The enemy's attacks are unrelenting, and you are in the trenches fighting that war every day. In God's Word for today, he prepares you to fight the battle that you can't escape.
One man's trash is another man's treasure. I might look at things you throw away as very useful and valuable, and I might see things you value as worthy of the dumpster. Different things hold value to each of us for different reasons. And what is valuable to any of us today might one day lose its value in our eyes. But we all share one treasure that we can't put a price tag on, a treasure that will never lose its value.
God wants you to be rich. Maybe you've hoped that that is true. Maybe you've even heard some Christians say it, or you've read it in a book by a Christian author. But is it true? Jesus himself had a lot to say about money during his earthly ministry. In this week's sermon, we listen to one story he told in which he shares exactly how he wants us to be rich.
The Bible tells us to "pray continually" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Imagine that you were on the other end of that invitation, telling someone else to talk to you all the time, to come to you with "all kinds of prayers and requests" (Ephesians 6:18). Wouldn't you get tired of listening at some point? But God never does. In this sermon, we look a little more closely at the gift of prayer and learn from a faithful believer how to use this precious gift.
Knowing God's love for us gives us the desire to listen carefully and joyfully to his precious Word. It drives us to give the Word of God central place in our lives as the one thing needful. Yet so many things in this world can distract us from that simple privilege and duty God has given us to hear his Word and listen with a trusting heart. Come and sit at Jesus' feet with Mary to hear his Word of truth.
Jesus once told the story of a Samaritan who went the extra mile to help a desperate man, even when his fellow Jews simply ignored him. What drove him to act with such generous love is the same thing that creates faith and love in our hearts and lives--the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It's no ordinary message. Paul calls it the "power of God." Come, experience and celebrate its power.
If you have a garden, you know that it's been a pretty good year. Unless your plants were flooded out, they are likely growing rapidly, and you may even have harvested some early fruits of your labor. As the season moves along, you'll need to keep an eye on your garden to be sure that you harvest each fruit or vegetable at the right time. It is harvest time in the Church as well. Jesus compares unbelievers whom he wants to bring to faith to a crop that is ready to be harvested. And he gives Christians the important work of bringing in the abundant harvest.
Freedom! It is arguably the defining word of our American nation and culture. And the freedom we have as Americans affects how we live and act every day. But that freedom can't compare to the freedom we have in Christ, that precious freedom bought with the blood of Christ himself. Our freedom in Christ is an absolute freedom, an unconditional freedom, a freedom that can never be taken away, a freedom that changes our lives forever.
One of the most talked-about Supreme Court decision in recent memory happened this week. The decisions of worldly governments cannot affirm, deny, or change God's will or the truth of his Word. And we are not surprised when worldly ways roam far from God's ways. And we, who confess and believe what God says, can expect persecution from those who deny those truths. Is faithfulness to Christ worth the trouble it brings?
Father's Day is a day on which we take time to honor those men whom God has given to our families to be a blessing to us. In God's design for the family, he gives fathers a great deal of responsibility. But he doesn't leave them to carry out that responsibility alone. Whether you are a father or not, your heavenly Father calls you into a relationship with him, promises to love you, and wants your relationship with him to guide your life and decisions.
It can seem easy to trust in God when things are going well. But what about when things are not going so well? What about when your life or the life of someone you love hangs in the balance? What is in your heart in those moments? Fear? Worry? Sorrow? Perhaps, but through his Word the Holy Spirit puts one more thing there: Faith. And that makes all the difference.
"Faith" and "believe" are two words that society has taken far away from the biblical use of those terms. They talk about "faith in humanity" or "believing in yourself." But no matter how much you put your faith in humanity, it will let you down at some point. No matter how much you believe in yourself, there are certain things you just cannot do. But Christian faith trusts in a God who never lets us down, a God for whom nothing is impossible. Such faith is a tremendous gift of the Holy Spirit, for which God is worthy of our praise.
At the foot of Mount Sinai, the Israelites formed a calf out of gold and began to worship it. Yet there, the Lord gave the people a beautiful blessing, assuring them of their Lord's continued faithfulness, even in the face of their unfaithfulness. How impossible for human minds to possess a full understanding of the depths of God's grace! But the Spirit comes, planting confidence in the heart that clings to the Father's faithfulness and the eternal blessing he brings through the Son. On the road to the Promised Land or on the road of life, believers travel at peace in the Triune God's three-fold blessing.
Fifty days have passed since the Resurrection of Jesus, and the promised Holy Spirit is poured out upon the Church. The once-hidden gospel is no longer the possession of a chosen few. For the Spirit enables the message of salvation to enflame hearts for bearing witness to the ends of the earth.
Last week, we celebrated the Ascension of Jesus. This easily overlooked festival of the Church Year assures us that he who once was humbled to the point of death on a cross has been crowned with glory and honor, that he reigns in heaven for our good, and that he will return one day to take us to our eternal home. What a difference our ascended Savior makes in our lives!
Do you ever feel alone in this world? Like the whole world (or at least the majority of it) is against you? As Christians, it is discouraging to see our society (and even fellow Christians) become increasing apathetic or hostile toward our Christian faith. God's Word calms and encourages our troubled hearts.