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Dead Man Walking - Pastor Woodford

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 “Dead man; Dead man walking!” That’s what the guard says as he escorts convicted prisoner John Coffey from the prison truck to his death row prison cell in the movie The Green Mile. It’s a phrase that’s traditionally used to announce a condemned prisoner who is walking to the place of his execution. Though he is still alive at the moment, he is a walking dead man.

In the movie, Tom Hank’s character tells us what death row was like in Louisiana during the Great Depression in 1935: “Usually, death row was called ‘the last mile’ [but] we called ours ‘the Green Mile’ [because] the floor was the color of faded limes. We had the electric chair —'Old Sparky,’ we called it.” The movie shows several individuals who had to journey down that green mile all the while knowing they were a dead man walking.

That’s the kind of imagery the Apostle Paul gives us in the reading from Ephesians. Listen again:  1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked… Because of your sins, your bad deeds, your wicked thoughts, and your immoral behavior the verdict is in, the sentence has been handed down, and Paul says you are a “dead man walking!”  

Paul is rather specific in his description. Not only does he describe the guilt of sin, but he also describes how sin works and the consequences of sin.: 1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

[L]ike the rest of mankind…” No one is excluded from this indictment. Not you, not me, and certainly not the unbeliever down the street or on the other side of the world. Just like you and just like me, because of their trespasses and sins, they too are the walking dead. They too need a Savior from the rot and the stench of sin.

Paul’s imagery here is quite provocative. I think that’s intentionally so. Paul wants his readers to use their imagination to see how destructive and how grotesque sin is upon every last man, women, and child. He wants you to consider not only the guilt of sin, but the consequence and contamination of sin too.

The irony about this is that right now our culture has an utter fascination with depicting the gruesome and heinous rot of the walking dead. From heavy metal rockers, to comic books, to TV shows, to movies, depictions of the walking dead are all around. A popular heavy metal rocker who goes by the name Rob Zombie, (and also makes horror movies) had a popular hit song called, “Living Dead Girl” that speaks of the horrors of what such a living dead girl does.   

Even more, from 2012 to 2017 the highest rated cable TV series was a show about survivors living in a zombie apocalypse world. The name of the series is, of course, The Walking Dead. It’s now in its eighth season. It depicts survivors who band together for protection against the threat of the “walkers,” who are the undead gruesome and vile creatures perpetually trudging across the broken landscape, looking for survivors to gorge on and turn into fellow zombies.

I’ve only seen snippets of the show, and I certainly don’t recommend it. But perhaps such grotesque portrayals help us to see the effects of sin on us and those around us. Sin is vile. It’s putrid. It contaminates. Whatever its form, be it lies, cruel thoughts, lust, greed, or hatred—sin pollutes and infects, and ultimately turns you and me into the walking dead. It isn’t pretty.

When you are infected by sinful desires, and contaminated by uncontrolled passions, you often go looking for someone else to gorge upon and infect. You know how it is. When you’re angry you lash out. When others hurt you, you hurt them back. When you’re a bully at school or at work, you intimidate and threaten. When you are in the cool crowd you put others down.

Yes, as Paul says, we are dead in our trespasses and sins… carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and are by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 

            “Children of wrath.” Not just any wrath, but God’s wrath, His anger, His almighty fury! Be assured it is no comforting thought to be a sinner in the hands of an angry God. Like John Coffey you and I are a “dead man walking.”

            We are left to beg for clemency. Like a death row inmate, we can only repent and plead for mercy. And that is the very message we want all people to know. Not only for yourself, but for your family, your friends, your coworkers, and your unbelieving neighbors down the street. Like a convicted felon walking the green mile, we must cry out to God for mercy.

In the movie The Green Mile, John Coffey is convicted of terrible crimes he did not commit. Though he is giant black man, set in the prejudice south of 1935, we find he has many unique abilities. He is a gentle giant, who though naïve, is kind and deeply compassionate. He has the ability to not only feel the great pain and sorrow of people, but he can take their pain into himself, remove it from them, and give them relief, even bringing physical healing.

Though wrongly accused and convicted of terrible crimes, (the murder of two young girls), he is ready to take the death penalty. Yet, in so doing he heals people along the way, even taking away their diseases, before finally walking to his death an innocent man.

Of course, that was just a movie. But we know one who truly and willingly endured suffering, injustice, and death on our behalf. As we sit on death row begging for clemency and crying out for mercy, the Apostle Paul happily tells us of our merciful and compassionate Lord:

4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…”

            Because of his great love… Convicted for crimes He did not commit, Jesus Christ willingly took all of your pain into Himself so that you might be healed. He willing took all of your punishment into Himself so that you might have clemency.  

Because of his great love… Jesus willingly endured the wrath and fury of God the Father in your place, in my place, and in the place of the unbeliever down the street and across the globe. The love He has for you, He also as for the person sitting next to you, for the one living across the street, and for the one living on the other side of the world. 

Because of his great love… Jesus stood before Pilate, He before Herod, and He stood before the people and all rejected Him, lied about Him, mocked Him, beat Him and bullied Him. He knows what it is to feel the contamination of sin heaped upon Him. He knows what it is to have the walking dead try to gorge upon Him and infect Him with their sin and savagery.  

            Because of his great love… Jesus set out toward Golgotha with the cross on His back, a crown of thorns on His head, and the sin of the whole world infecting His whole being. He set out, not on the green mile, but on the “Calvary mile” with all the guards and all the people pointing and shouting, “Dead man; Dead man walking!”  

            He did that for you. He did that for your children and for your grandchildren. He did that for your neighbor. He did that for your coworker. He did that for the unbeliever who knows the pain of this world but doesn’t yet know Jesus.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16).

            Because we are the walking dead, Jesus willingly became a dead man walking, so that even when we were dead in our trespasses, we are made alive together with Christ.

            Because of his great love… Jesus walked right through death, and three days later walked out of that tomb as the resurrection and the life. That contamination of sin and the infection of evil had been undone. Death had been defeated. And when people saw Him alive, they couldn’t believe it. He was a dead man, a dead man walking! And He is walking right into your life and mine.

You are baptized in the name of this death defeater. You now have His death and His resurrection welling up within you. Now you go forward dead to sin, but alive to Christ. For when you are baptized into Jesus it means that the sinful self in you, the self that gives in to temptation and fleshly desires, is by daily contrition and repentance drowned and put to death with all sins and evil desires.

But yet, when you die with Jesus it means you also rise with Jesus. Those sinful desires that rage inside are put to death so that a new, forgiven and freed person can emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity. In fact, Paul declares that now we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

Now you walk in His works. Now you walk in His love. Where you go, He goes. His love is wrapped around you. Share it with others! Share it with others in your daily vocations.

His forgiveness is poured into you through His sacramental body and blood. Christ is at work in you. So now you walk in the works He sets before you. Yes, He who once was a dead man walking, is now walking right into your life and mine. He loves you! He forgives you. And He will raise you from the dead. You walk with Him. Amen.

Zealously Jealous For You - Pastor Gless 3/4/18

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The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:13-17).

What a mess! Oxen and sheep running everywhere. Tables overturned. Coins rolling across the floor and scattered this way and that. Pigeons flying all over. People racing for the exits. It was a scene of utter chaos. And there at the center of it all was Jesus, face flushed, breathing heavily, with a whip in His hand. A whip He had fashioned on His own to drive them all out. And drive them all out of the temple is exactly what He did.

We have come to expect Jesus to be kind, caring, and compassionate, and He is all those things. But He is also not immune to other emotions either. Some may call what happened in the temple a fit of rage or a temper tantrum, but the more appropriate term is that Jesus was filled with zeal. Luther defines zeal as an angry love or a jealous love, for Jesus’ anger does not arise from hatred; it springs from love toward God.

It was zealous love toward God that motivated Jesus to do what He did in the temple that day. He looked around and He saw that His Father’s house had been reduced from a place of worship to a business, a house of trade.

You see, in an effort to make things more convenient for the Jews travelling to the temple in Jerusalem for the Passover, animals for sacrifice were sold there. This way people didn’t have to travel from far off locations with an animal in tow. They could just purchase the appropriate animal for sacrifice on site. Then, when it came to the temple tax that was expected, money changers were readily accessible to exchange currency for anyone who needed it.

It appeared to be a kind and caring service they were offering to those who were travelling to the temple at the Passover, but it was really anything but. Animals were sold at exorbitant prices. Exchange rates for the currency were extremely excessive. So as it was, the work of the temple came more down to profit margins than worship. And beyond that, it was all done in the Court of the Gentiles, the only place a Gentile was allowed to worship and pray.

So, you can see why Jesus was so worked up. Again the text says, His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:17). The better translation would be “Zeal for your house will ‘devour’ me.” It literally ate at Jesus from the inside out that His Father’s house was being abused in such ways.

What are you zealous about? What are you passionate about? What causes you to get worked up inside? For some, it’s sports. Be it college, professional, or their kids’ peewee leagues, they can’t help but shout and scream as if somehow it could make a difference. For others, it’s politics. They love talking about it incessantly, gloating when their side is winning, and griping when they are on the losing end. What are you zealous about?

Our text makes very clear what God is zealous about. He is zealous for His house. But more than that. He is also zealously jealous for His people. He can’t stand seeing His Word being twisted and abused for selfish exploits. Above all else, He expects that we obey His Word because He knows what is best for us.

That’s why in the Old Testament Reading, He graciously gives us His Ten Commandments. And while doing so, he says this: For I the Lord your God am a ‘jealous’ God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:5-6).

He gives us His commandments because He is Zealously Jealous for Us. He doesn’t want us to turn away from Him. He knows that will only lead us to death and condemnation. So, in a zealous, jealous love for us, He tells us exactly how to follow Him. He doesn’t leave any doubt out there. It is all laid out for us in these Ten Commands of God.

So what would we think God would say about us and our handling of His Word and His commandments? How are we doing? What’s going well? What could be done better?

Are we putting God first in all that we do, or is He farther down the totem pole in our priorities?

Are we respecting His name, or do we take it in vain, curse, and swear?

Are we honoring the Lord’s day as holy, or do we have better things to do?

Are we respecting our parents and other authorities, or do we think we get to be the ones who call the shots in our lives?

Are we protecting the lives of others, or are we filled with the desire to lash out in anger and hatred?

Are we cherishing our spouse, or our wandering eyes looking elsewhere?

Are we protecting the possessions of others, or are we looking for avenues to take advantage of others for personal gain?

Are we honest in our interactions with others, or do we lie to get our own way?

Are we content with what we have been given, or do we have a jealous desire to have what belongs to others?

Well, how are we doing? What do our answers reflect that we zealously love? Do we zealously love ourselves, our wants, our profit, our reputation? Or do we zealously love God, His Word, His house, His mission, His reputation, and the world as He loves it? Needless to say, God has every right to come in here and clean house as well. He has every right in zeal for His house to be angry at us.

 

It is as Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark, For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23).

So you see, it’s not just the temple that was in need of a cleansing. So do we. Our bodies are also temples; temples of the Holy Spirit. And yet, we have abused and defiled the temples we have been given by God by neglecting His Commandments. And such abuse and defilement comes with a price. Sin is like poison, where even in the smallest of amounts, it still kills. So, if our bodies are not cleansed of the poison of sin, we are doomed to die…eternally.

That is exactly why God sent His Son Jesus. You see, your God is zealously jealous for you. He loves you. He doesn’t want you to die. He is so passionate in His love for you that He would stop at nothing to save you. Even if it meant sacrificing His own Son, His own beloved child. Which is exactly what He did. And He did it all for you. He willingly paid the price.

For all of the times we have failed to obey His commandments. For all of the times we have failed to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. For all the times we have failed to love our neighbors as ourselves. For all of that and more, God the Father sat back and watched them nail the body of His Son to a tree. And there, the Father let His Son have it. There He unleased all of His anger and all of His wrath upon His only Son. (Pause) Though it all should have been directed at us, He directed it at His Son…so that we would be spared. (Pause) That’s how much He loves us.

He takes our sin, and it is buried in the tomb with His body. And it is no more. Gone forever. You are forgiven. But He doesn’t stop there. There was a resurrection yet to come. Knowing your body was yet doomed to die, His body was raised from the dead. It’s what this whole season of Lent builds toward. The Resurrection of the Body and the Life Everlasting. It’s exactly what He predicted would happen in our text for today: Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).

That is exactly what He did…for you. In the most beautiful exchange, He joined His life to yours and your death to Him so that you would not die. He wants nothing more than for you to remain with Him. And not just for a moment, but for an eternity. That’s why He makes sure that nothing separates you from Him and His love for you. He dies for you. He rises for you. It’s all for you.

And He assures you of His promise to you yet again as He comes to you today. In, with, and under the bread and the wine, His resurrected body and blood are given to you. All to assure you that even though your body will one day be placed in the grave, that will not be the end of the story. Like His body was raised, so will yours be. For He has cleansed your body with His holy and precious blood, with the price of His life. You have been redeemed. You have been bought back from death and into life, by He who is the Resurrection and the Life. That’s how zealously jealous He is for YOU. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

LCMS Stewardship March 2018

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

Stewardship Ministry March 2018 Newsletter Article

Hudson Taylor, a Nineteenth Century British missionary to China, is reported to have said, “God’s work, done in God’s way, will not lack God’s supply.” To know God’s way, we need to know His Holy Word. Or to say it another way: you need to know your Bible.

St. Paul, before he spends two chapters on giving, wrote that every thought is to be taken captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).

Doctrine matters. And doctrine matters because the Scriptures matter. And the Scriptures matter because this is where we learn the teaching of Christ. Our thoughts must be brought into line with the teaching of Scripture so that our work is what God wants done and so that we do this work in His way.

A good tree bears good fruit. A bad tree bears bad fruit. We have been made good trees in holy baptism. We are fertilized and pruned for bearing good fruit by constantly hearing God’s Word preached and taught in sermon and Bible Class and in receiving the life-giving, faith-sustaining food of the Lord’s Supper. Remember your doctrine, hold on to the Lord’s teaching, and your thoughts will be taken captive to the obedience of Christ.

Bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Christ is recognizing that God does provide. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to pray for daily bread. Praying this day in and day out reminds us that the Lord is the giver of our daily bread, and that we are to gives thanks for His daily provision of it.

God is rarely early and never late in His work, as Abraham learned, “on the mount of the Lord it will be provided” (Gen. 22:14). The Lord’s generosity forms our generosity in return. Thus, we set aside for the work of God a generous, first-fruits, proportion of the daily bread that God has given to us. This act of trust in the Lord’s provision is the working out of our faith in Him.

When budgetary discussions pop up, our natural reaction is to point fingers. But remember your doctrine, and what your mother taught about pointing fingers. Our first natural reaction is not always right. In fact, when our thoughts are brought into captivity of Christ, our first reaction should be repentance.

It should raise questions in our own lives. As good trees in Christ who are to bear good fruit, we should ask whether our thoughts are taken captive by obedience to Christ. Have we given generously? Have we given our first-fruits? You know. And God knows. “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chron. 16:9).

God will provide. He always has and He always will. He gives His meat in due season. He has not left you as orphans, but has grafted you into His own family. You belong to Him. Remember this, letting this thought dwell in you richly. And you will then be rich toward others. 

Living with Character - Pastor Woodford 2/25/18

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What does it mean to be a person of character? What counts as good character? If you were to think of people of good character, who comes to mind? Maybe a friend or family member? Perhaps someone famous? What attributes about them contribute to their character?

Perhaps you remember the Knights of the Round Table. They were men of great character in the legends of King Arthur. They were warriors who took an oath to uphold the code of chivalry—a moral system that went beyond rules of combat to included Chivalrous conduct—including qualities such as bravery, courtesy, honor, nobleness, and gallantry toward women.

One could not simply decide to become a Knight of the Round Table. It was only by the authority of King Arthur that they were knighted and given such a noble identity. Yet, from that point on, by declaration of the King and by their faithful desire to be true to the code, a profound character was bestowed upon them to carry out. Part of that noble character allowed each of them an equal place at the round table. No one knight was more worthy than the other.    

Such character seems painfully absent in our day. In fact, some say such character is actually dead. One well known American scholar and professor (James Davidson Hunter) has written, “Character is dead. Attempts to revive it will yield little. It’s time has passed.” In fact, he says our culture has become so eroded that, “a restoration of character as a common feature within American society and a common trait of people will not likely occur anytime soon.” (The Death of Character, 2000).

What do you think? Is he right? What about your character? How would people describe you? Are you a person of character? Who or what gives you your character?

I’d like to issue you a challenge. Prove Professor Hunter wrong. Show the world that there are still people of character walking in our streets and serving in our society today. Show our culture that we are raising children and grandchildren of virtuous and sound character. In fact, show the world that we have men and women who gather together equally at the Lord’s Table and know what it is to go out and live noble lives of service.

Yet, that begs the question. How does one develop such noble character? The Apostle Paul helps us understand that today. In fact, he gets at the core of what helps produce quality virtuous character in people of faith. Did you catch it? It’s a powerfully revealing statement and it may not be what you expected: “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom. 5:3-4).

Do you see what he is saying? First, suffering produces endurance. The Greek word here for “suffering” (thlipsis), encompasses the broad range of suffering in life. In this case, it’s not referring to suffering for the faith, but rather to all the difficulties and afflictions that come from simply living in this fallen world.

In fact, the word itself actually means “to press upon.” It’s a reference for all the things the press in upon you—all the “pressures” of life—things like the pressures of work, parenting, paying your bills, fitting in at school, or finding a job. It includes all the distress and afflictions that weigh upon you. Things like sickness, marital problems, addictions, someone attacking your reputation, the loss of a loved one, and certainly all kinds of daily temptations.  

Suffering produces endurance. To be sure, this suffering is not something we look forward to, but Paul helps us see the value and importance of the pressures and adversity of life.

Without them, our strength and our fortitude are little tested. Without adversity and distress in life, our inner being—who we are and what we are made to be—is never put into action, which then means character has little chance to develop and flourish.

People often want to have virtues like courage, justice, self-control, patience, and wisdom—all those things that make up good character—but they fail to realize what it takes to receive them and develop them. Listen carefully.

God the Father has created you in such a way, and God the Son has redeemed you in such a way, that you not only have the capacity for sound character, but you have been given the divine and holy character of Jesus Christ Himself. (I’ll say more on this in just few moments).

Thus, God simply calls you to be who you are. Paul is here saying that you are to exercise and grow into the character that God (by grace through faith) gives to you. Even more, Paul tells how the exercising of good character and the growth of godly character takes place.  

In short, it occurs through adversity. It happens through suffering. You see, it takes the pressures of life to refine and expose the character that Christ gives. Endurance can never be endurance unless you are forced to persevere through something difficult.

And when you are forced to persevere through something difficult, you find out what’s inside of you. You find out how God has created you and how (by faith) He has recreated you.

You find out He has placed within you a character that is revealed and forged in the flames of life’s afflictions. It is here, in adversity and strife, that those virtues and moral qualities are allowed to be exercised and put into practice.

Ask the marathon runner who has to press through the hard miles, the mother who must press through labor and delivery, the cancer patient who has to press through sickness and treatment. Those things are not easy. They bring mental, emotional, and physical distress. Yet, such “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character.” See the point?

Likewise, it’s the same for the Christian who endures sufferings because of the faith. Again, I’m not referring to persecution here. Rather I mean the personal temptation and spiritual affliction that occurs on account of what the various temptations of life do to you.

You know the afflictions that temptation brings. You strive to fight against them, along with all the internal wrestling and unrest they bring. Such temptations can be ruthless and relentless.

Each of you has sins you struggle against over and over again. Perhaps it’s a short fuse, maybe its gossip, or envy, or jealousy, or maybe it’s lust. Perhaps it’s a misbelief about your own worth or how others, even God, view you, where you wake up each day tempted to believe the voice of shame.

Such temptations bring a daily struggle to control your thoughts, your eyes, your tongue (the words you say) and your actions. And you suffer under those temptations. The devil, the world, and your own sinful nature attack you and mislead you. So you battle hard to put those desires and impulses in check.

But then you fail. You give into temptation. You sin, again and again. Here, too, you must bear the affliction of your guilt. Confess your sin, and find mercy at the foot of Christ’s cross and sacrifice. For there His blood covers you, forgives you, and restores you.

Yet, as difficult as it may be to bear, like other suffering, this “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character.” Not just any character, mind you, but sound virtuous character—character that is rooted in something far more powerful than your own self-resilience and your own self-reliance.

 This is character that’s rooted, not in King Arthur or the power of the code of chivalry, but in the character of King Jesus and the power of His Holy Spirit. This is why Paul can say, “3we rejoice in our sufferings.” Because suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Rom. 5:3-5).

Just as one did not become a Knight of the Round Table on their own, you do not become a Christian of character on your own. God does more that knight you, He baptizes you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, ushering you into His eternal kingdom and bestowing upon you a holy and noble character.

Through the water and the Word, God pours out His love into your hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit. There He names you, there He claims you, and there He tames you and your sinful nature with His love and forgiveness.

His promise is never to leave you nor forsake you. You are His very own, who He welcomes to His table to dine with Him. Then, He sends you out into the world to simply be who you are and to live out your baptismal identity with character.

 You see, when you are baptized, you are given a virtuous character and a holy identity. This is so important in an age that tries to say your identity is found in your sexuality or in your preferred gender. Instead, the waters of Holy Baptism give you the very identity and character of our King, Jesus Christ.

He certainly endured suffering—by cruelty and by cross. And that suffering certainly produced endurance. That endurance certainly revealed His holy character. And that holy character certainly produced hope—a hope that was present even in the face of death.

It is this character that has (by faith) been poured into your heart by baptism. Thus, the character of Christ was poured into your life to lead you and guide you.

But how do I put this character into action? How do I live out this character? Simply said, by faith! Not a stale and stagnate faith, but faith that is exercised in the daily life of suffering and affliction—faith that is exercised through daily prayer and repentance.

From the moment that you are baptismally knighted by King Jesus, you find faith is a busy living active thing. Baptismal character, then, is put into action by faith, not magically, but through the act of believing and by the action of faith virtuously lived out each day.

After all Jesus said, “take up your cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). No, that isn’t easy. But it reveals your character. For when Jesus calls you to follow Him, He bids you come and die. Not just physically. He calls you to die to yourself, to die to your selfish desires.

This too is part of your baptismal character. For when you are baptized into Jesus it means that the old sinful in you, the self that gives in to temptation and fleshly desires, is by daily contrition and repentance drowned and put to death with all those sins and evil desires.

But yet, when you die with Jesus it means you also rise with Jesus. Again, not just physically, but spiritually, right here and right now. Those sinful desires that rage inside are put to death. Thus, you and I are spiritually drowned so that a new, forgiven and freed person can emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Do see how this works?

Like the Knights of the Round Table, you are now called to go forth and be who you are, acting with baptized character and integrity. By faith, you have the character of Christ wrapped around you, in you, and over you. You live with character because you have the character of Jesus. His identity gives you your identity!

So I challenge you again. Show the world that there are still people of character walking in our streets and serving in our society. Show our culture that we’re raising children and grandchildren of virtuous and sound baptismal character. In fact, show the world that we have men and women who gather together at the Lord’s Table and then to go forth living with character. Amen. 

Catechesis Corner March 2018

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“No, he did it!”

“No, she did it!”

“It’s not my fault!”

“I didn’t do anything wrong!”

The statements you see located above are all a part of a time-honored game that has withstood the test of time. The game is called “The Blame Game,” and it has its roots embedded all the way back in the Garden of Eden.

When Adam and Eve lost a game of “Hide-n-Go-Seek” with God, they quickly turned their attention to the “Blame Game”. Read again how that game went.

But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:9-13).

What we behold here is just how easy it is to point a finger at someone else instead of taking ownership for our own actions. Lest we forget though, that when we point one finger at someone else, we point three fingers back at ourselves. Oh, how we fail to recognize the log in our own eye because we are so fixated on the speck in our neighbor’s eye (Matthew 7:5). Yet, that is the nature of the “Blame Game,” is it not?

This game however, is completely counter to how we are to communicate as Christians. As baptized believers, we are called to a life repenting of our sins seeking God’s forgiveness. Oh, how that conversation in the Garden of Eden might have shifted in tone if Adam and Eve would have just confessed their sins right then and there. But then again, we can’t just point a finger at them either. We too, are to blame.

We have all fallen short of the glory of God. None of us is perfect. We are all in need of a Savior. We each have sins that need to be confessed. It is as the Catechism states:

What is confession? Confession has two parts. First that we confess our sins, and second that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.

What sins should we confess? Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer; but before the pastor we should confess only those sins which we know and feel in our hearts.

          Our being called upon to live out our baptism by confessing our sins is God’s way of putting a halt to the “Blame Game” once and for all. In the person of His Son He has already assumed all of the blame for our sins, and He calls upon us to confess those sins boldly in the confidence that they will be forgiven.

          Throughout the season of Lent and beyond, let us not be tempted to play the “Blame Game.” Instead, let us take a moment of pause to take a look at our own sins. No doubt for us all, there is more than enough to confess. The good news though, is that Jesus has more than enough forgiveness to give. Thanks be to God!

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins

and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1st John 1:8-9).

Talking Points with Pastor - March 2018

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Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Jesus says He brings the abundant life. Yet, many in this world are still searching for the abundant life. TV commercials and internet advertisements offer all kinds of promises to look younger, live longer, and be more fulfilled, but many are still plagued by emptiness. The promises to give you life only end up stealing your money.

The fact is many wonder what this abundant life looks like. Perhaps that’s you. Many are emerging in this world lost and confused. Like sheep gone astray, many in this world are heard bleating and crying out for this abundant life.

Recent reports by mental health care officials, especially among young adults, say that though they are growing up in good homes, have all they want, go to college, and enter the workplace, they are nevertheless baffled by the emptiness they feel. Perhaps you know someone like this? Maybe you feel like this.

Their self-esteem is high but their “self” is empty. They grow up being told they can be anything, but they don’t know what they want to be. They’re unhappy, but officials report there seems to be no cause for their unhappiness. They’re more connected to more people through the Internet, but yet they’ve never felt lonelier. They want to be accepted, and yet feel alienated.

I think this describes the malady of our time. Never have we had so much; never have we had so little. People have abundant things but the abundant life is ever elusive. People don’t know how to make sense of this world. They’re walking around saying what’s my story? Who am I? What’s my purpose in life? Maybe that’s you.

Well, I’ve got some Good News for you. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd who has come that you may have life! And not just you, but your neighbor, your coworker, the guy who cut you off while driving, along with all who are longing for life! Jesus has come that they may have life too. So tell them about. Share the Good News of Jesus with them. Tell them they have a Savior who knows what this world is like.

Yes, in a world that robs, pillages, steals, and destroys Jesus came and walked around in it. He knows its terrors. He’s felt its cruelty. He’s experienced its unfairness. He was even robbed of the abundant life Himself. Crucified, dead and buried for the sins of the world, He has felt it all. But three days later He came out alive.

That’s good news! And this Good News is for you and all who are far off. For lost sheep wandering in a dessert wasteland Jesus seeks you out, calls your name, and wraps you in His arms. By His Word, He brings you into the sheepfold of His love and compassion. He restores what is stolen and heals what is broken. He forgives your sins and removes your guilt. He meets you in the midst of heartache and misery. He’s felt it. He knows it. And He brings you through it.

No, Jesus doesn’t remove all the suffering and unfairness of this world, at least not yet. He’ll do that when He returns to make all things new. So for now, death still has its sting. But He has journeyed through it and brings you to the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

So live by faith. Such faith believes Jesus brings real hope and real life to real people, living amid the real challenges of life. He brings real forgiveness and real healing to those hurt by the sin in the world. He is the Good Shepherd. He tends His sheep—both the lost and the found—so that we might “have life and have it abundantly.” Jesus brings abundant life.

In Christ,

Pastor Lucas 

War in the Wilderness - Pastor Gless 2/18/18

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Throughout the history of boxing, there have been some historic bouts. There was the Rumble in the Jungle, where in the Congo, Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman. There was The Showdown, when Sugar Ray Leonard defeated Tommy Hearns. There was the Thrilla in Manila, the third meeting between Ali and Joe Frazier, where Ali took down his arch rival. And who could forget the Ruckus in Russia, where the much shorter Rocky Balboa knocked out the giant, better known as Ivan Drago. Granted, that last Hollywood version didn’t make it into the history books. But it should have…

Well, have you ever heard of the War in the Wilderness? It happened some two thousand years ago. And any of those bouts previously mentioned pale in comparison to the duel that went down between these two opponents. Jesus vs. Satan.

Listen again: The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him (Mark 1:12-13).

This was no mere fifteen round bout. This fight went on for forty days. Forty days of standing toe to toe with each other grinding it out before a crowd of wild beasts and angels.

Here only a few weeks ago we were marking the baptism of Jesus where the heavens were torn open, the Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove, and the Father spoke, “You are my beloved Son, with You I am well pleased.”

But immediately after that…immediately after he was baptized…the Spirit cast Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. The war in the wilderness was on. Though Mark only gives us two verses to go on, what we learn from the other Gospels of Matthew and Luke is that this was an altercation for all ages.

With not a bite to eat for forty days, Satan went in for a barrage of blows right at Jesus’ belly. “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread,” Satan taunted. Just hearing the word ‘bread’ after all those days must have really caused a rumble in Jesus’ belly. But no matter how many jabs Satan got in with this temptation, Jesus still forced him back. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” And with that, the first temptation was done.

But the fight was far from over. Forcing Jesus into a corner, the combat continued as Satan took him to the top of the temple and said, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” At this point, Satan must have really thought that he had Jesus where he wanted him, but Jesus didn’t hesitate to strike back. Not one bit. Jesus counter punched in saying, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And so went temptation two.

But when the bell rang for the next temptation, Satan went in for the knockout punch, showing Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” But Jesus quickly ducked and returned Satan’s knockout punch with one of His own, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed until an opportune time. Until a rematch could take place.

As we stare into the ring, we get a very good picture of what our life is like. Like Jesus, we are tempted by Satan. The old evil foe is like a roaring lion who is seeking to devour us. From the very moment that we are baptized, Satan confronts us head on in the wilderness of our lives.

Yet, how often do we not take Satan’s temptations to sin all that seriously? How many times have we justified to ourselves in some way or another that if we fall to temptation, it won’t be that bad? As if the wages of sin being death is not that big of a deal. Perhaps, in some ways, we may have even convinced ourselves that Satan and hell are not even real. That in the end, everything will be alright, and we will all go to heaven.

Perhaps that’s why the Christian Church in America has become so apathetic, even lazy toward seeking the lost for Christ. If Satan and hell don’t exist, then why bother sharing what we’ve been given to share if there is nothing to be saved from? Perhaps that’s why the Christian Church in America has become so noncommittal about weekly worship. If everyone’s going to heaven, why bother coming here to confess our sins, be forgiven, and change our sinful ways?

May this text serve as a wakeup call for all of us that Satan is real, his temptations are real, and sin, death, and hell are real. His attack on us and the Christian Church is a big deal and is not to be taken lightly in the least. If he would go head to head with the Son of God, then he won’t bat an eye going after us. He delights in trying to take us down. What’s more, he’s really good at it. He has had generation after generation of experience.

It all started in the Garden of Eden. Dangling that piece of fruit before the eyes of Eve, he asked, “Did God actually say that you couldn’t eat of the fruit of this tree?” And when Eve confirmed that this was true, the great deceiver got down and dirtier. “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” And with that deception, Satan has not ceased to try and sever our relationship with God to take us down into the darkness of death.

So where does that leave us? We are no match for the devil. We just sang that very truth in the hymn we just sang, “The old satanic foe has sworn to work us woe. With craft and dreadful might he arms himself to fight. On earth he has no equal.”

Well yes, it may be true that there is no one on earth who can equal the strength and stamina of Satan, but there is One who came from heaven to earth, who didn’t hesitate to enter the wilderness of our lives, and Satan was no match for Him whatsoever. “You ask who this may be, the Lord of hosts is He, Christ Jesus, mighty Lord!”

You see, the war in the wilderness was just a foretaste of the feast to come. Jesus was just getting started. There was a Clash on Calvary that was yet to come. And this time, it only took three words to do the job. “It is finished.” And so it was. Sin and death done for. The devil defeated. Down for the count.

And Jesus didn’t go without letting Satan know who the heavyweight champion was either. Jesus proclaimed his victory in hell, and He did once again when He burst forth from the grave alive and well. From that point on, Satan has known that the war is over.

And it still is. Yet while we live in this sin-filled world, the war may be over, but the battles wage on. Though Satan has ultimately lost, he still prowls around seeking to devour us as we await the return of our Champion Savior. Until then, we must be on our guard, arming ourselves with the Word of God that is sharper than any two-edged sword and constantly calling out to the only One who can deliver us. The One who taught us to pray:

“Lead us not into temptation. Deliver us from evil.” We are taught to pray this way because we will be right back in the ring with Satan as soon as we walk out those doors. But no matter the temptation he throws at us, remember who’s in our corner.

Above all else, may this text serve to comfort us in the truth that Jesus reigns victorious, and He has joined Himself to you. He stared Satan down in the War in the Wilderness and defeated him once and for all in the Clash on Calvary. He is your help, and he is my help, whenever we are tempted. Whenever we are misled to believe that temptations to sin are not that big of a deal.

Scripture tells us “Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).

So you see, we are not alone when we are being tempted to sin. We aren’t left to be backed into the corner of the ring and face a constant barrage of blows. “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous One” (1st John 2:1). He is your Savior and mine, and He has willingly jumped right into the ring to take those blows in our stead. He graciously comes to our aid whenever we call upon His name. He is our refuge and strength, and He doesn’t leave us hanging on the ropes.

Again Scripture says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

What a comfort as we face our own wars in the wilderness of life. Where we fall to temptation, our Savior Jesus never does, and never did. And as the great high priest, He willingly laid down His perfect life in order to save imperfect people like you and like me. To save us from sin, death, and the devil.

“Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1st Corinthians 15:57). We need not fear the devil and all his works and all his ways. The head of the serpent has been crushed. Jesus has won the bout by knockout once and for all! It is finished! “He holds the field victorious.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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