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).
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.
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.
On Christ the King Sunday, we have the opportunity to gather around his throne and see how Jesus is unlike any other king who ever has been or ever will be. We celebrate his awesome reign as king in every age and season of life on earth and in the eternal age to come in heaven. And we look forward to the day when we will see Christ the King with our own eyes!
Fruit doesn't last. Maybe you've discovered that peach with the fuzz that isn't supposed to be there, that forgotten apple that has turned to mush in your refrigerator. All you can do it throw it away and clean up the mess. But Jesus says that he has chosen us to bear fruit that will last (John 15:16). How do we produce such lasting fruit, and what does it look like?
"It is good for us to be here," Peter said on the mountain that day (Luke 9:33). He didn't want the moment to end--that moment in the presence of the glory of God, listening to his Lord and God's holy prophets. Peter was right. It is good for all of God's people to see God's glory. When days are dark and difficult, that glory assures us that everything will be okay. When death and disappointment cast their shadow over us, that glory provides light and hope that will never go out.
There is nothing the devil wants more than to divide the house of God-the Church. If it is divided, he knows it is weakened and he is in a much better position to attack. The house of God is divided in so many ways: sinful attitudes and behaviors, false teachings, misunderstandings, and more. In this week's worship, we see the devil at work to divide God's house and Jesus' work to overcome the devil.
Light and darkness are polar opposites. Where one advances, the other must retreat. Thus, they parallel the ultimate of polar opposites—good and evil, holiness and sin. Ever since mankind fell into sin, God promised to send a great Light to pierce the darkness of sin and death.
Imagine what it must have been like for him. He left heaven to rescue those who sinned against him. But many rejected him and even tried to stop him from doing what he came to do. How often he must have been tempted to give up, to abort the mission. But nothing would stand in his way. In his determination, we see his love and find hope and strength to go on when we feel like giving up.
So many families and homes are "broken" these days that, as a society, we hardly call them "broken" anymore. And the problem is only getting worse. The reality is that, in comparison to God's perfect design for the family, every family is broken. The only solution is to stop and look at the beautiful blueprints of God's design, blueprints made even more beautiful, when they are stained with the crimson blood of our Savior.
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.
Lent is for sinners. Nothing that Jesus suffers in his Passion is because of his own guilt. God gave Israel and Judah everything, and they threw it all away. So what does God do? He establishes a new covenant--a covenant by which he judges and condemns his own innocent Son just for sinners, just for you and me. It's a beautiful covenant straight from the heart of God, signed in the blood of his own Son. Let's follow after him and embrace him in this new covenant in these remaining days of Lent!
Christmas is a season of lights. The lights we see bring a smile to our faces and warmth to our hearts. The twinkling of Christmas tree lights and the glitter of tinsel reminds us of Light of the world who came to dispel the darkness of unbelief with the light of the gospel. Seeing his light brings unfading light and lasting joy to our hearts.
Love is rarely a gift. Typically, when you love someone, it is because you get something in return. You love your spouse in part because of the support and affection he shows to you. You love your favorite teacher because of what she gives you by making learning enjoyable. You love your dog because he is a loyal companion. In such cases, love is not a gift. It is something that is merited… deserved. Now, if you loved a spouse who always treated you like dirt, loved a teacher who taught you nothing, loved a dog that daily bit you, then your love would be a gift. If you love someone who gives you nothing in return, who makes your existence more difficult, then your love is a gift. You are showing undeserved love, which Scripture calls grace.
Love is rarely a gift. However, with God, his love is always a gift. God the Father looks at humanity and he sees us doing the evil we should not do. Just as bad, he sees us failing to do the good that we ought to do. Do we make God’s existence easier? No. Instead, God the Son took on human flesh and suffered and died to make atonement for our sins. Yet, he did so gladly. Why? Love! Love that is undeserved. The gift of love!
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.
This Sunday, we begin a new church year with the season of Advent, a time in which we focus on the advent (coming) of the Christ as the Savior born in Bethlehem, on his coming to us in Word and Sacrament, and on his coming on the Last Day as King and Judge. For us who see him as their Savior, Advent fills us with real and certain hope in a world made hopeless by sin.
"It's the most wonderful time of the year." Do you agree? Or do the "magical" moments of the days before Christmas get overshadowed by the stress of how much has to get done with limited time and money before Christmas comes? Does the illness or death of a loved one steal the joy out of the season? This week, our God wants to lift our spirits above the troubles of life and fill us with true and lasting joy.
Do you ever feel completely unlovable? You've done or said something that really hurt someone. You've given in to that same temptation all over again. You've let someone down. And you feel terrible about it. How can they forgive you? Why would anyone love you? If we take God's law and his coming judgment seriously, we should be asking, "Why would God love me?" In this sermon, we hear what God promises to do, when we are unlovable.
Have you given up trying to find peace? You've decided it will just have to wait...until the holiday preparations are done...until the kids are grown up and move out...until you can finally retire...until you leave this world and go to heaven. But does peace really have to wait? Or is there a way to have peace, even in the chaos, stress, and struggle of life...even during the waiting season of Advent?
"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."
It seems so simple--just a few drops of water and a few words. If you judge by appearances, you can understand why some see baptism as an optional symbolic ceremony. But, when we listen to what God says about it in his Word, we realize that there is much more than meets the eye. Baptism is a powerful and precious gift from God that changes our lives every day in this world and for eternity in heaven.
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.
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.
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.
At this moment, students are moving in to dorms and apartments on and around college campuses across our nation. If you could give advice to the young Christians you know on those campuses, what would you say? Would it be something like this: "Eat right. Study hard. Stay out of trouble. Read your Bible"? A college campus is similar in many ways to the world into which we all venture day after day. And God gives us all advice and encouragement for our life in that world, words of wisdom to guide us and lead us to the blessings he wants us and those around us to have.
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 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.
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 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.