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!
She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Lord was with Israel as they conquered Canaan, and Rahab lived in Jericho, one of the cities that would be destroyed by the Lord's army. On top of that, she was a prostitute - the perfect example of the immorality that the Lord condemned in the heathen Canaanite nations. So why did she survive? And why is her name listed in the ancestry of the Savior? There can be only one answer: God's grace for all people. Come and celebrate his grace for every unworthy sinner - including you and me.
Do you ever have your doubts? Does God really care? Can I trust him? Our faith is most often put to the test in difficult situations. We come face-to-face with our fears, seemingly trapped with no way out. And when we cry out, "Where are you, Lord?" he speaks in the gentle whisper of his Word and assures us, "I am here. Don't be afraid." Come as you are - fears, worries, and all - and receive comfort and strength from God's Word.
When we have a church picnic, we provide a few things and ask everyone to bring something, and no one goes home hungry. There is always more than enough food. But do we always expect that from God? Or do we worry sometimes that there won't be enough? Do we live our lives and make decisions in a way that shows our trust in a generous and giving and powerful God?
Treasure hunts are not just the focus of children's stories and fairy tales. Every day, we live our lives to get or keep the things we treasure. What are you chasing after? What do you value most? Does what you say line up with how you live? We invite you to listen, as God blesses us with priceless treasure.
Several Lamb of God volunteers are feeling pretty worn out after a week of Music & Arts Bible Camp, and we are ready for some rest. What about you? Are you in need of rest? Maybe you are physically rested, but your soul could use some rest. You are weary from the battle against temptation. You are worn out from a load of guilt you are carrying around. Jesus invites you to come to him to find the rest you need.
We sometimes talk about the things we "live for" and the things we would "die for." While we might often be exaggerating when we say those things, Jesus is not exaggerating when he talks about being willing to live and die for something. His own story is proof. His words and his life help us see and live for something worth dying for.
Let's face it. It can be scary to share your faith, to talk about Christ. Many have lost their lives for speaking the truth about Jesus. What are you afraid of losing for talking about Christ? Your reputation? Your friends or family? Your peace? Your job? Your comfort? You aren't alone in your fears, but Jesus helps us face those fears and strengthens us for the work he's given us to do.
When you look at the world, what do you see? Whether it is your neighbor walking their dog, a stadium filled with fans, or a few friends having coffee together at the next table over; whether it is someone you know well or someone you have never met, what do you see? Jesus sees souls in need of rescue. Jesus helps us to see the world more clearly as he sees it.
On June 25, 1530, a group of Lutheran princes presented a statement of their faith to Emperor Charles V in Augsburg, Germany. The truth they confessed was not new. It was the truth of salvation by grace through faith as revealed in the Scriptures. But it was a truth that had been lost, distorted, forgotten, or hidden within the church. How tragic! With those Lutheran princes, let's treasure that truth and confess it boldly, so that we and many more will receive the salvation Jesus has won for us!
Do you have that one person who just knows what to say when you need to hear it? They speak with patience and wisdom, with conviction and compassion. This Sunday, we meet someone like that, whom God used to bless countless people. We thank God for people like Barnabas and ask him to use us to encourage others like he did.
Trust no one. Question everything. The world often promotes this kind of skepticism. And it can be good advice in certain situations. But, when it comes to our standing before God and the path to heaven, we have no reason to doubt the truth. Through Word and Sacraments, the Holy Spirit convinces us that we are forgiven through faith in Jesus, our crucified and risen Savior. Whether your faith is firm or wavering, come and celebrate the gift of certainty that God gives us by his Holy Spirit.
If you are driving down the road with your eyes on your phone, the results could be disastrous. If you mow your lawn with your eyes on the back wheels of the mower, you won't mow straight. My cross country coach always told me to focus on the runner right in front of me. Where you fix your eyes makes all the difference. As we live between Jesus' ascension and his return in a world of suffering and sorrow, where we fix our eyes makes all the difference.