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Preview: Preaching the Word

Preaching the Word



Preaching the Word of God to Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Beulah, North Dakota and to all who will hear.



Updated: 2017-01-12T15:13:14.993-06:00

 



Baptism 7

2017-01-12T10:18:23.366-06:00


            I’ll conclude my look at the Lutheran understanding of baptism with this post.  Another reason why Lutherans baptize babies and young children is because Jesus welcomed them.  We see this as we look at Luke 18.

            Starting in verse 15 of that chapter, we read: Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it."

            Some might object, as they read this passage, that it’s not specifically referring to baptism.  And this is true.  However, in it, we see the attitude of Jesus toward infants and young children.

            We see that the people were bringing their babies to Jesus, that he might touch them.  The disciples didn’t think this appropriate and rebuked those who did so.  But Jesus called them to himself.  He said that those bringing their children were not to be hindered.

            We continue to hold to that perspective as well.  Those seeking to bring their children to Jesus are not to be hindered.  Instead, they are to be welcomed.

            Jesus adds to this that those who don’t receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.  Infants and young children, then, are a model for us.  Just as children must trust in others for the care that they need, and just as they need to have everything provided to them, so too do we.  If we’re to be saved, we must first recognize our helplessness.  We must recognize that we must fully depend upon God to provide for us everything we need for life and salvation.



Baptism 6

2017-01-10T08:43:59.347-06:00

            We are saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus.  This is true.  This is Scriptural.  But this is also one of the reasons many insist that infant baptism should not be practiced.            We’re told that infants should not be baptized because they cannot have faith.  After all, they’re too young.  They can’t understand the message of the gospel.            This thinking may sound reasonable.  However, Scripture tells us something very different.  It tells us, in fact, that young children and infants can have faith.            We can see this, for example, in Psalm 22.  Starting in verse 9, David writes: “Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother's breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother's womb you have been my God.”            David states, in this passage, that he trusted in God when he was at his mother’s breast.  He says that God gave him this faith.  So, from the time he was a nursing baby, he had faith in the Lord.            However, he doesn’t stop there.  He says that, from his mother’s womb, the Lord had been his God.  This implies an even earlier faith.  It implies that he had faith even before he was born.            And this isn’t the only passage that reveals to us the reality of faith in young children and babies.   In Matthew 18, starting in verse 2, we read: “And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.””            We note in this passage that, using a child to make his point, Jesus refers to “these little ones who believe in me.” So, in this way, he tells us clearly that these little ones can have faith.  And if this is true, if it’s possible for children and infants to possess faith, then why would we deny them the gift of baptism?             We may struggle to understand how this is possible.  However, we must realize that faith is not based on our ability to reason.  If this were the case, those who lose their ability to reason based on Alzheimer’s, or those who lose their ability to reason because they are comatose, would be unable to possess faith.  We wouldn’t even be capable of faith when we’re sleeping.            According to Scripture, faith is God-given.  We can only come to Jesus because the Father draws us (John 6:44). We can only understand the things of God by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:14). We can only confess that Jesus is Lord by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).  Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17). So, if God can draw to faith those of us who are lost in sin, who don’t seek him, and who don’t understand him, then he can certainly draw to faith an infant or a young child.            Just as we’re drawn to faith by the Word and Spirit of God, so too are they.  As they hear the Word of God being proclaimed, and as they receive the [...]



Baptism 5

2017-01-09T09:41:41.679-06:00


               As we continue our look at the Lutheran practice of baptism, we come to another interesting passage of Scripture.  In Colossians 2, starting in verse 11, we read: In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”

            In this passage, Paul equates baptism with circumcision.  He tells us that, through baptism, we have received not a physical circumcision.  We’ve received, instead, a circumcision made without hands.  We’ve received a circumcision performed by God.  We’ve received a circumcision by which we’ve put off the body of flesh.

            Circumcision, you remember, was a practice given by God to his people in the Old Testament.  In this way, they were marked as the people of God.  In fact, if they were not circumcised, God said that they were to be cut off from their people.

            Here’s the interesting point: the boys, who were born to Israel, were circumcised when they were only 8 days old.  They received this mark, they were made part of God’s people, when they were infants.  And, again, Paul equates this practice with baptism.

            No, Paul doesn’t specifically tell us to baptize infants.  He doesn’t specifically say to do so when they’re eight days old.  But, if this was the practice given by God to Israel, and if baptism is equated with circumcision, it seems reasonable that baptism is also a blessing that can and should be bestowed upon infants.  It doesn’t seem that there is any reason to refuse them until they reach a certain age.



Baptism 4

2017-01-05T14:27:41.263-06:00

               We’ve established, in my previous posts on baptism, that babies and young children are in need of salvation.  And this is where baptism itself comes in.  It comes in because baptism is a means of God’s grace.  In fact, Scripture tells us that God saves us through baptism.            In 1 Peter 3, baptism is compared to the flood.  And, in verse 21, we read: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” Just as Noah and his family were saved through the waters of the flood, so are we saved through baptism.Many of us tend to think of baptism as nothing more than a ritual.  We think of it as an act done by man.  However, this isn’t the case.  Baptism is an act performed by God.  It’s a work performed by God to accomplish our salvation.Many Christians object to this thought.  They object to it because there are many who have been baptized, yet have walked away from the Church.  There are those who were baptized as children who have no faith in Jesus.  And they don’t believe that these people are saved simply because they were baptized.This is something with which Lutherans would agree.  As Martin Luther points out in the Small Catechism, the water is not magic.  It’s not the water that saves.  It’s the water in connection with God’s Word that saves.You see, in baptism, we receive the gospel.  In it, we receive the promise of God.  In Acts 2:38, Peter encouraged the people to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, telling them that they’d receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We can see this again in Acts 22:16.   And, in Mark 16:16, Jesus says: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” When we receive this promise in faith, we receive the promised blessing of God. For this reason, when we present our children for baptism, they receive the gospel.  When we present our children for baptism, we bestow upon them the very promise of God.  And it’s this Word, bestowed through baptism, by which they are saved.[...]



Baptism 3

2017-01-04T08:57:23.939-06:00

`           As we continue our look at the Lutheran understanding of baptism, today’s post ties right in with yesterday’s.  We saw in my previous post that young children, and even infants, are sinful.  And, in addition to this, we see that they are also subject to the consequences of sin.            When the first sin entered into the world, we see the consequences that came along with it (Genesis 3).  Life would now be filled with pain and hardship.  And man was also, now, subject to death.            This truth is applied to us all in Romans 6:23, which tells us that the wages of sin is death.  This means that death is what we deserve because of our sin.  Death is what we’ve earned by our sin.            We see no exceptions to this truth in Scripture.  Even young children and babies are included in this reality.  They are born into the world in a state of sin and, therefore, they are subject to the consequences of that sin.            As I mentioned previously, we like to believe that babies are innocent and pure.  However, Scripture tells us that they are sinful.  Yet, even if we accept the truth that they are born in sin, we still don’t want to believe that they are accountable for their sin.  We don’t want to believe that they will be held responsible for it.            But, as we look at the world around us, there’s no denying it.  There’s no denying it because we see that children do, in fact, die.  They are sometimes born with abnormalities that lead to their death.  They sometimes become seriously ill, which leads to their death.  They are sometimes involved in accidents that lead to their death.  And this reveals to us, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that they are held accountable for their sin.            If they were not sinful, if they were not guilty, they would not be subject to death.  If they were not accountable for their sin, it wouldn’t be possible for them to die.  Even though we don’t like to face it, the simple reality is that they too bear the consequences of sin.            We struggle with this because they have no choice in the matter.  We struggle with this because they haven’t consciously chosen to sin.  However, the sinful nature that they bear makes this a reality.            A similar truth is mentioned in Romans 5.  In verses 13 and 14 Paul points out that sin is not counted when there is no law.  And God didn’t give his law until the time of Moses.  However, even though the people who lived between the time of Moses and Adam didn’t have the revealed law, they continued to experience death.  And this shows that, even though they may not have violated a specific command of God, they were sinful.  They had a sinful heart.  They’d been born in sin, and they were subject to the consequences of sin.            The same truth applies in the case of babies and young children.  Even if they don’t fully understand God’s law, and even if they haven’t made a deliberate decision to violate his law, they are still sinners.  They are still guilty.  And they remain subject to the consequences of sin.            This, once again, reveals that they are in need of redemption.  They too need to be saved from sin and its cons[...]



Baptism 2

2017-01-03T13:48:36.251-06:00

            As we continue our look at baptism, we come to another reason why Lutherans baptize infants and young children.  And the next reason we do so is because we are sinners from the very beginning of life.  We do so because even infants are sinful.            I realize that this challenges contemporary thought.  In our society, we like to believe that infants are innocent.  At the very least, we want to believe that they are blank slates, having done nothing good or evil.  After all, they haven’t yet had the opportunity to violate God’s commands.  In fact, we believe that, because they are so helpless, it’s not possible for them to sin.            Scripture, however, teaches us something very different.  It teaches a concept that we refer to as original sin.  It teaches us that we enter into the world with a heart of sin.            We see this, for example, in Romans 5:12, which says: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” Paul tells us, in this verse, that sin came into the world through one man, Adam.  He says that death entered into the world through sin.   And, for this reason, death spread to all men because all sinned.            What he’s saying is that the sin of Adam brought sin to all mankind.  We’ve inherited his guilt and are born with the same desire for sin.  And no one, other than Christ himself, is exempt from this reality.            David also testifies to this truth in Psalm 51:5, where he says: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” He tells us that he was born in sin.  In fact, he tells us that he was sinful from the time he was conceived in his mother’s womb.            We see this again in Genesis 8:21. God tells us, in this verse, that the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.  So, from the time we’re young, the intention of our heart is evil.            Anyone who’s spent time with children can testify to their sinfulness.  They don’t have to be taught selfishness.  It comes quite natural.  They don’t have to be taught to lie or to manipulate.  But we do have to teach them to share.  We have to teach them generosity, honesty, and integrity.            In short, we baptize our children because they are sinful.  Like us, they too are in need of salvation.  And this is exactly what baptism provides for them.[...]



Baptism 1

2017-01-02T12:59:23.693-06:00

               In the Lutheran Church, we practice infant baptism.  And, as many of you know, this is an issue that divides Christians of various denominations.  There are many faithful, Bible believing, Christians who disagree with this practice.  There’s also a large number of people who fill our own pews on a regular basis who don’t fully understand why we practice baptism as we do.                 For this reason, I’m going to present a series of blog articles addressing baptism.  They are not intended to attack our fellow believers in other churches.  They are intended to explain our position on this issue and to help you gain a better understanding of it.               This is too big of an issue to address in one post.  So, for this reason, post by post, I’ll present our understanding of this practice.  And, if they aren’t considered in total, you’ll come away with an incomplete understanding of our view.               The first reason we baptize infants in the Lutheran Church is because baptism is commanded by Christ.  And, as he gives his command, there are no age limits or restrictions that are given.  He simply says to us, in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."            Jesus tells us that we are to make disciples of all nations.  And we’re to do this by baptizing them and teaching them.  Again, he doesn’t tell us to wait until a certain age or to reserve it for those who’ve reached a certain stage in life.               In fact, as we look at the New Testament, we see entire households being baptized.  And it’s hard to imagine that there were no children, whatsoever, in these households.  We see examples of this in Acts 16:15 & 33, and in 1 Corinthians 1:16.            So we baptize our infants in obedience to the command of Christ.  We make disciples of our children by baptizing and teaching them.  And we find no cause to withhold this blessing from them.[...]



New Year...A Time for Looking Back

2016-12-27T13:55:43.041-06:00

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever…” (Psalm 136:1-3 ESV)            We typically spend our time focusing on what we want God to do for us.  We look at the promises, given to us in Scripture, and long for them to be fulfilled.  We offer to him our prayers, again and again, laying our requests before his feet.  And we wait anxiously to have our requests satisfied.            The longer we wait, the more discontent we become.  The longer we wait, the more we begin to question God.  The longer we wait, the more we doubt his love and goodness.            However, have you ever taken the time to contemplate God’s faithfulness?  Have you taken the time to consider all that he’s done for you?  In Psalm 136, the Psalmist does just that.  He then responds to each remembrance of God’s faithfulness with the reminder that the love of God endures forever.            He remembers, first of all, God’s work of creation.  He goes on to remember God’s work of deliverance, in bringing Israel out of Egypt.  He then remembers God’s work in leading his people through the wilderness.  And, finally, he remembers how God granted the people victory over the inhabitants of the Promised Land, giving it to Israel.  Like the Psalmist, we can remember that it’s God who made us and who’s given us life.  We can remember his deliverance from sin and death, provided to us in Jesus.  We can remember his guidance and provision.  And we can remember how he’s brought us into the good place in which we find ourselves.            As we do so, as we look back upon the work God has done for us, as we remember the blessings he’s bestowed upon us, it changes our perspective.  No longer do we question God.  No longer do we become frustrated as we await his answer to prayer or the fulfillment of his promises.  We, instead, live life in the knowledge of his unending love.              This is a great practice for us as we enter into the New Year.  As others spend their time looking ahead, as they spend their time focusing on changes they want to make in their life, we can focus on the blessings God has given us.  We can look at where we are and remember from where he’s brought us.  And this will only encourage us as we anticipate his continued provision and blessing, along with the fulfillment of the promises he’s given us.[...]



Our Response to Christmas

2016-12-21T15:58:24.501-06:00

“When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.”(Luke 2:15-17 ESV)            Most of us are familiar with the Christmas story found in Luke 2.  We remember how, as they took care of their flocks, an angel appeared to some shepherds.  He announced to them the birth of the Savior, telling them that they would find the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.  A whole host of angels then appeared singing praises to God.            As we see in the above passage, upon receiving this news, they went to Bethlehem to find the newborn Savior.  They found Mary and Joseph, and baby Jesus lying in the manger.  They then went out and shared this news with others.            This isn’t a terribly new insight.  However, whenever I read this account, it forces me to ask an important question of myself.  It forces me to ask: “What is my response to the message of the Savior?”            For many of us, the story of Jesus’ birth is very familiar.  The message of the gospel is very familiar.  Perhaps it’s even too familiar.            What I mean by this is that, because we’ve heard it so many times, it’s old hat.  It doesn’t fill us with awe, as it should.  Like the carols that we sing, it’s simply a part of the season that we enjoy, and that we go on to forget for another year.            I’m reminded, as I read this passage, that my response should be like that of the shepherds.  Upon hearing the news of Jesus’ coming, my first response should be to go to him.  My response should be to receive him for myself as my Savior and Lord. As Jesus himself says to us in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”            This should be my immediate response because this is why Jesus was sent into the world, to save us from our sin.  And, in response to this news, I should gladly receive this gift God has given.  I should receive for myself the blessing of the Savior.              Then, like the shepherds, I should share this message.  I should share it because the Savior didn’t come for me alone.  As the angel announced, in verse 10 of Luke 2, this is good news of great joy for all the people.            Knowing that the Christ has come to provide salvation for the world, I should take this message to all I encounter.  I should share with them the hope that they have in Christ.  I should share it with them in hope that they too might turn to him in faith.[...]



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2016-12-18T11:55:49.912-06:00

Since we cancelled worship at Prince of Peace due to the extreme cold, here's an Advent devotion to start your day.
https://youtu.be/c3VAoBn8OzU



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2016-12-14T08:56:49.319-06:00

My latest publication, Reflections on Suffering, is now available in paperback.  It has not yet linked to amazon at this time, but it can be seen and ordered at https://www.createspace.com/6791873



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2016-12-13T08:51:44.658-06:00

Announcing my most recent publication, Reflections on Suffering. It's now available on the kindle store, and will be released shortly in paperback.  You can check it out at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MRWRC0A



The Fullness of Time

2016-11-28T13:35:52.939-06:00

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”(Galatians 4:4-5 ESV)            It seems unreal to be writing about Christmas.  It seems unreal because this year has just flown by.  And, perhaps, it also seems unreal because of the exceptionally nice fall we’ve had here in North Dakota.            However, here we are at that time of year when we celebrate the birth of Jesus into the world.  And what a fitting event it is to celebrate.  It’s fitting because, in the birth of Jesus, salvation was provided for mankind.  The salvation, promised by God since the fall of Adam and Eve, was now at hand.            This happened, we’re told, when the fullness of time had come.  This means that the time was right.  The time, determined by God for the birth of the Savior, had arrived.            What made that moment the right one is known and understood only by God.  However, it was at this point that God sent his Son into the world.  It was at this point that he sent his Son to redeem us.            We needed this redemption because we were under the law.  Man was not only living under the law, obligated to carry out God’s commands.  He was also under the condemnation of the law.  Because of his sin, because he’d violated the law of God, he deserved the punishment prescribed by the law.  Mankind, as a whole, was deserving of both death and hell.            It’s from this that Jesus came to redeem us.  It’s from this that he came to buy us back.  He was born into the world that he might pay the necessary price that we might once again belong to him.              The price that he paid was his very life.  Jesus, after living a perfect life, was put to death on the cross.  He offered himself on our behalf.  And, in this way, he secured for us salvation from the penalty of the law.            This is a familiar story.  It’s one that we’ve heard many times before.  Yet its meaning is often forgotten.  Although we celebrate Jesus’ birth, we often forget the primary purpose of his coming.  We, along with the rest of the world, tend to think that Jesus came for some other purpose.  We think that he came primarily to teach. We think that he came only as an example for us to follow.  And, for this reason, his sacrifice becomes more of an afterthought.Others, in the liberal or “progressive” churches, go to a much greater extreme.  They tell us that God would never have sent Jesus to die.  They tell us that, if this were true, it’s a case of divine child abuse.However, Scripture is clear regarding Jesus’ purpose in coming.  As we see in the above passage, he came to redeem us.  And we see clearly throughout Scripture that he did so by giving his life on the cross.We see this, for example, in 1 Peter 1:18-19 which says: “…you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”As we enter into this special time of year, let’s [...]



A Unique Opportunity

2016-11-11T12:10:02.032-06:00

"I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear."
(Philippians 1:12-14 ESV)


There's fear among believers in our nation today. They fear that our freedom of religion will be taken from us. They fear that our freedom of religion is being taken from us. And I believe that this is, in fact, happening.

There's concern about how this will affect our life here in the United States. There's concern about how this will affect our ministry as Christian believers and congregations. It's felt that the restrictions being placed upon us will hinder our ability to reach out with the gospel. It's felt that they will hinder our ability to carry out the call God has given us.

I certainly don't want my freedoms to be restricted or taken away. I thank God for the freedoms we've enjoyed up to this point. However, I've become convinced that, even if these fears are realized, it will present a unique opportunity to the church.

We see, in the above passage, that this was the case with Paul. As he wrote to the church at Philippi, he was in jail. And it seems to us that this loss of freedom would severely restrict his ministry.

No longer was Paul able to move among the people. No longer was he able to teach and to preach as he once had. And no longer was he able to move from town to town. In this way, it seems that he'd lost his ability to carry out his calling.

However, his imprisonment presented him with a unique opportunity. He says that it served to advance the gospel. He said that it was known to the whole imperial guard, along with all the rest, that he'd been imprisoned for Christ. And what a witness this was.

He also said that, because of his imprisonment, most of the brothers had grown more confident. He says that they'd been emboldened to speak the Word without fear. So, instead of one man fearlessly proclaiming God’s Word, there were now many.

None of us want to see our freedoms removed. None of us want to be jailed, or worse, for our proclamation of the gospel. But we can be assured that, even if it comes to this, God’s work will continue. It will bring to us unique opportunities that we wouldn't otherwise possess.

So don't lose heart, no matter what happens to our freedoms. Whether they remain intact or are stripped away from us, the Word of God will go forth. No matter our circumstances, God will provide us with opportunities to serve him and to bless others.




Thank Who?

2016-10-31T12:56:51.226-05:00

“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 107:1 ESV)            As we come to November, Thanksgiving is what instantly comes to my mind.  I think this is true for most of us.  We anticipate this day, when we’ll stop and offer thanks for all of the blessings we enjoy.            As Thanksgiving gets closer, we’ll be reminded to give thanks by many.  We’ll see these reminders on TV.  We’ll hear them on the radio.  It will be shared by those who surround us on a daily basis.  However, as we begin our anticipation of this holiday, we must first ask ourselves this: To whom are we thankful? To whom do we offer our thanks for each of our blessings?            The answer to this question should be obvious.  But, unfortunately, it’s not understood by most in our society.   Everybody in our nation, believer and unbeliever alike, celebrates this day.  Yet, even though so many take part in this celebration, and even though we’re reminded by so many to offer our thanks, it’s often directed to no one in particular.  We’re simply giving thanks for the sake of giving thanks. It’s as though we’re thankful to no one for the blessings we enjoy.            However, when we rightly offer thanks, we’re expressing our gratitude for a kindness given to us by someone.  It’s our recognition of their generosity and their gracious spirit.  And, as we look to Scripture, we find that God is the source of every blessing we possess.            God is the source of life.  He created us in the beginning, and he sustains that life from day to day.  He provides for us the resources we need in life, such as food, clothing, and shelter.  He provides for us our family, with whom we share life and the responsibilities that come with it.  And, of course, he provides for us eternal life.            This is the point in the verse quoted above.  And this refrain is repeated throughout the entire psalm.  We’re reminded to give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.  And his love is seen in the blessings he bestows upon us.            So, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, let’s make sure that we’re properly giving thanks.  Let’s make sure that we’re directing that thanks to the one who has provided each and every one of our blessings.  And let us also share with others what God has done for us, that they too might come to know him, to recognize his blessings, and to trust in him for all that they need.[...]



Evangelism: The Product of Faith

2016-10-17T09:42:26.996-05:00

“Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, "I believed, and so I spoke," we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.”(2 Corinthians 4:13-14 ESV)            We live in a society, today, where we’re encouraged to keep our faith to ourselves.  Evangelism is discouraged and is characterized as intolerance and hate speech.  It’s branded in this way because our intention is that people would turn from their current belief to a faith in Jesus. Our intent is that people might turn from their current practices that they might follow Christ.            Many who profess the name of Christ have bowed to the pressure.  They seek to practice their faith on their own, and don’t speak of it outside of church or their home.  They’ve bought into the lie that we’re to be accepting of other people.  And, because of this, they allow others to continue along the path to destruction.            Paul, in the above passage, paints a different picture.  He paints a picture that is very convicting and challenging.  He tells us that his proclamation of the gospel results from his faith.            His hope in Christ, his hope of the resurrection, caused him to speak out.  It caused him to proclaim this hope to those around him.  It caused him to speak out regardless of the circumstances that he faced (he references this in verses 7-12).            I find this convicting because it forces me to ask this question of myself: Does may faith do the same?  Does my hope in Christ cause me to share the gospel with those around me?  And if not, why is this true?            Our faith will naturally lead us to share the gospel with those around us.  Realizing our sin, realizing the suffering that we deserve, and knowing the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf, how can we not speak out?  This hope implants within us the desire that others might receive the same blessing as us.  It implants within us the desire that others might receive the forgiveness and salvation that Christ has provided for them.            This, after all, is God’s desire.  We’re told in Scripture that God does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11).  He desires for all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).            This is also the calling that Christ has entrusted to us.  He's called us to make disciples of all nations.  He's called us to proclaim the gospel to all creation.            Our hope in Christ will cause us to speak out even if it means suffering on our part.  It grants to us a willingness to suffer for the sake of others.  We know that, even if our very life is demanded of us, no one can take away the salvation that has been provided for us by the Lord.            If our faith in Christ does not lead us to speak, if it does not lead us to share the gospel, what does this suggest?  What does it tell us about our faith?&nbs[...]



Why Should I Go to Church?

2016-10-05T14:34:55.479-05:00

            Every so often, I hear someone say something to the effect of this: “Why should I go to church?  You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.”            Now, in one sense they’re right.  We aren’t saved because we go to church.  It isn’t a work by which we gain the mercy of God.  We’re saved only by the grace of God. And this grace is received only through faith in Jesus.  However, that being said, someone who truly believes in Jesus will want to go to church.  We see several reasons for this in Scripture.            We see a couple of reasons in Hebrews 10:24-25, which says: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”            We see, first of all, that we’re called to gather together.  We’re told that we’re not to neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some.  And we’re told that we’re to do so all the more as we see the day, the day of Christ’s return, approaching.  If God desires that we should meet together, why would we refuse him?  As people of faith, we naturally desire to live life according to his will.              Yet there’s more to it than this.  We find that there are blessings God intends for us to receive through the church.  We see in this passage, for example, that we’re to go to church that we might encourage one another.  The Christian life is not designed to be lived alone.  It’s designed to be lived in community.  And by gathering together, we’re able to stir up one another to love and good works, and to encourage one another in the faith.            We see another reason for going to church in 1 Corinthians 12.  In verses 4-7, we read: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” And in verse 12, we’re told: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.”            We see in these verses that the Spirit of God gives gifts to his people.  And he gives them not for our own good, but for the common good. In other words, the gifts that he gives to us are given for the benefit of the church as a whole.  For this reason, when we gather with our fellow believers, we’re able to bless them with the gifts God has given us.  And, in the same way, we’re able to be blessed by the gifts he’s given to others.            In this chapter, Paul uses the human body to illustrate his point.  The body is made up of many parts with many functions.  Yet each of these parts, along with their functions, serve the good of the body.  And the same is true of the church.  We each have a function, we each have a role to play, for the good of the church.      &nbs[...]



Before It's Too Late

2016-09-29T13:12:52.249-05:00

“Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, "In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you." Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”(2 Corinthians 6:1-2 ESV)            It’s so easy to take for granted the many blessings we enjoy every day.  It’s easy for us to take our freedom for granted.  It’s easy for us to take our family for granted.  It’s easy for us to take our job, our home, and our wealth for granted.            We do this because these blessings have always been there for us.  We’ve never been without them.  And, because of this, we seem to think that they always will.            We often do the same thing when it comes to God.  More specifically, we do the same thing when it comes to his salvation.  We understand the love he has for us.  We know the sacrifice he’s made for us.  We know his desire for our salvation.  And, for this reason, we take it for granted.  We just assume that his salvation will always be available to us.            Many people approach life thinking that they can turn to God later on.  They want to enjoy themselves now.  They want to satisfy their sinful desires.  And they think that they have plenty of time to confess to God and receive his mercy.            Many people simply believe that, because God is loving, and because he desires their salvation, it doesn’t matter what they do.  No matter the life that they live, they believe that God will forgive them.  No matter how great their rebellion, they believe that God will save them.            However, as we see in the above text, salvation is not something we can take for granted.  In this passage, Paul urged that the Corinthians would not receive God’s grace in vain.  He didn’t want them to receive it in an empty or meaningless way.  He didn’t want them to take it lightly.              He also makes it clear that God’s salvation will not be available forever.  He tells us that now is the favorable time.  He tells us that now is the day of salvation.            We all realize that, as far as our life in this world is concerned, tomorrow isn’t promised to us. A sudden accident could take our life.  We could suffer a heart attack or go into cardiac arrest.  We could be unexpectedly diagnosed with a serious illness that brings our life in this world to an end.            We also know from Scripture that Jesus will soon return.  We don’t know when that day will come.  But it could come at any moment.  And, for this reason, we must be prepared.            We must make sure that we are not treating God’s grace lightly.  We must make sure that we receive his mercy while we still can.  We must make sure that we receive God’s mercy through faith in Christ before the day of grace comes to an end.       [...]



Hell No?

2016-09-22T09:55:45.956-05:00

“But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” (Luke 12:5 ESV)            Lately, I’ve run across several blog posts from “progressive” Christians.  And, in these posts, they’ve challenged the traditional Christian doctrine of hell.  They don’t believe in hell.  They don’t believe that God would send anyone to hell.            The only way they can make this challenge is by dismissing certain passages of the Bible.  After all, hell is a theme that runs all throughout Scripture.  They have to, essentially, cherry pick the Bible that they might hold to this view.            They use their reason and emotion to justify their belief.  They tell us that a righteous God, that a loving God, could not condemn people to an eternity of suffering in hell.  And they defend this by pointing to passages of the Bible, like 1 John 4:8, which tells us that God is love.            We must remember, first of all, that we can’t use our reason or emotion to make a determination of truth.  Both our mind and our heart have been corrupted by sin.  As we read in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick…”             In the same way, we read in Romans 1 that God has given man over to a debased mind.  We see, in Colossians 1, that we were alienated and hostile in mind before coming to faith in Christ.  And we see in 1 Corinthians 1 that the wisdom of God is foolishness to those who are perishing.            The simple fact of the matter is that we cannot trust our human mind or emotions to guide us into a true understanding of God.  They will lead us only away from him.  They will lead us only to sin and judgment.            For this reason, we must look to the Word of God to discover what is true.  We must not make ourselves to be the judge of God and his Word.  We must, instead, submit ourselves to God and his Word.            We see, from the very beginning of the Bible, that suffering and death are the consequence of sin.  And the only way we’re able to escape this fate is through Jesus.  Through faith in him, through faith in his promise, we’re able to receive the blessings of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.            If we fail to look to Jesus in faith, we remain under the consequence of our sin.  And this is essentially what hell is.  It’s the place where we suffer the consequence of our sin in eternity.            Does the reality of hell reflect a lack of righteousness on God’s part?  Does it reflect a lack of love on his part?  Absolutely not.            After all, because of our sin, we deserve God’s wrath.  We in no way deserve God’s forgiveness or salvation.  Those who do stand condemned are receiving only what they are due.And not only is this true.  We find also that God [...]



Thank you, Prince of Peace!

2016-09-13T09:49:55.998-05:00

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34 ESV)As a pastor, I’m expected to be there for people during difficult seasons of their life.  This is part of my calling.  And I love the fact that I can be a support and an encouragement for them.  However, I want to publicly thank my congregation, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Beulah, North Dakota, for the support they’ve recently shown to me.            So often, pastors are not given the level of support I’ve received.  Unrealistic expectations are frequently placed upon them as they labor among their flock.  It seems that congregation members don’t realize that, although we’re called to serve God and his people full-time, we too are human.  We too experience hardships.  We too get tired.  We too are burdened.  And this often ends in pastors becoming burned out.            As my mom was suffering from terminal cancer, and as she passed away, the people of Prince of Peace were incredibly gracious.  I was told at the outset of her illness that I should take as much time as I needed to be with her, and that this would in no way be counted as vacation.  And these were no idle words.            Having a big family, summer is really our only opportunity to travel.  And, on top of personal vacation, I also had two ministry related trips scheduled.  This made it seem that my time at the church was extremely limited.              Yet, in addition to a week with my parents in late May, I was able to schedule two trips to see my mom as her condition worsened.  And the church had no hesitation when, on the Friday before her death, I made a last minute decision to jump on a plane to be with her and the rest of my family.            Her funeral required that I be gone yet another Sunday.  And, once again, the people of Prince of Peace were so supportive.  Our youth pastor jumped in to cover for me, as he always does.  And I was told repeatedly that I was not to worry about anything at the church.            I so greatly appreciate the time that was given me to both be with mom and also to mourn.  It’s been an extremely stressful time, and the flexibility given to me made it so much easier.  I did have some feelings of guilt, being away so much.  But these were the result of my own sense of responsibility, and were in no way placed upon me by the church.            I also appreciate the cards that were sent, the prayers that were raised on behalf of my mom and my family, and the condolences that were expressed.  I appreciate the congregational leadership who stopped by to simply check up on me and to reassure me that all would be taken care of.   And I appreciate the beautiful flowers that were sent to her funeral.              I am truly blessed to labor among you.  I am blessed by a congregational leadership that recognizes my needs.  And I’m blessed by a supportive staff, who gladly adjust and take o[...]



Better By Far

2016-09-12T08:47:51.302-05:00

Mom was a great lady, and she’ll be missed by all of us.  She was a great mother to Kristy and I.  As kids, she was so patient with us.  And, when she did lose it, it was short lived.  In fact, even when she gave us some much needed discipline, she would end up feeling bad about it.She was also a tremendous grandmother.  All of the kids love her.  And she always enjoyed being around her grandbabies.Most importantly, she was a woman of faith.  She wasn’t a theologian.  But she enjoyed going to church and attending Bible studies.  She also enjoyed reading her Bible at home.As most of you know, mom’s diagnosis was very unexpected.  She wasn’t very old. And, outwardly, she seemed pretty healthy.Like most of us, she worked to keep her weight down.  She made a habit of walking most days.  She liked to get in her 10,000 steps every day. In fact, she was wearing her fitbit all the way until the end. It all started when she woke up with back pain.  And after visiting the chiropractor, who advised her to seek medical help, her real problem was soon discovered.Mom was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. She was told from the outset that there would be no cure, from a medical standpoint anyway. Her treatments would serve only to minimize her pain and to provide her with a better quality of life.She could be cured by God, of course. He has the power to do anything. And, if he so desired, he could have simply spoken the word, as he often did in the gospels. And that's the rub, you see. It's the place where we often get hung up when it comes to our faith. If God has the power to heal, why didn't he do it? If he's as loving as Scripture proclaims him to be, why would he do nothing?This is explained to us in Philippians 1, which is our epistle lesson for this morning.  When he wrote this passage, Paul was facing the prospect of death. Not in the same sense as mom. But he was facing the possibility of death in a very real way.He had been arrested because of his faith and his ministry activities. He was now awaiting his trial, the verdict of which could be life. But it also could be death.And look at the words Paul penned when faced with this prospect. Starting in verse 18, he says: “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”He says, first of all, that to live is Christ and to die is gain. If God spared him from the power of his earthly rulers, he would be able to live for the Lord. He would be able to continue in his ministry of directing the lost to the salvation found in Christ. To die, however, was to gain a blessing not possible this side of eternity.Paul goes on to say that, if the choice were his, it would be a d[...]



The Church as Family

2016-08-30T11:22:43.311-05:00

"My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it."(Luke 8:21 ESV)            All of us, I think, would say that our family is of the utmost importance to us.  We would say that we value our family over everything else this world has to offer.  And most of us have a fierce loyalty when it comes to our family.  Who hasn’t heard the expression: “Blood is thicker than water.”            This is why we’re shocked when we read the words of Jesus, seen above.  We see in Luke 8 that, as Jesus was teaching, his mother and brothers came to him.  However, they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. Word was then brought to him that they were outside, desiring to see him.            It’s in this context that Jesus utters these words.  And, for this reason, they almost come off as disrespectful.  It sounds to us like he’s devaluing his earthly family.  We wonder why he wouldn’t prioritize his family over the crowd who was listening to him.  We wonder why he didn’t stop and immediately go to his family.            Jesus, however, would never disrespect or devalue his family.  He is God, after all.  And he perfectly kept all of God’s commands, one of which is to honor your mother.            Yet, he does make an important point.  He makes the point that the people of faith are his family.  He makes the point that it’s faith which binds us together.            This is something that we, as Christians, tend to overlook.  We continue to place a heavy emphasis on our earthly relatives, as we should.  But, at the same time, we disregard our place in the church.  We fail to understand our relation to our brothers and sisters in Christ.            We view our fellow believers as friends and acquaintances.  And we’re happy to visit with them on Sunday morning.  We may even enjoy seeing them.  But rarely do we view them as family.              We don’t prioritize our fellow believers as family.  We don’t truly love them like family.  They are, honestly, more of an afterthought as we tend to more pressing responsibilities.            Although we desire that each of our earthly family will be saved, there are no guarantees of this.  We can share the gospel with them and pray for them.  But it’s only by faith that they’ll be saved.            However, because of their faith in Jesus, our fellow believers will be with us in eternity.  Our relationship to them will endure forever.  So it only makes sense that this is something we should greatly cherish and value.            In this spirit, my prayer is that each of us would consider our fellow believers at Prince of Peace to be family.  My prayer is that we would all love each other as family.  My prayer is that we will gladly build these relations[...]



Faith = Opinion?

2016-08-29T15:10:48.738-05:00

“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”Galatians 1:11-12    In today’s culture, faith is often equated with opinion. People often tell us, when we express our faith, that it's merely what we believe. They assert that your faith may be true for you, but that this doesn't make it true for everyone else.     For this reason, missions is discouraged. In fact, it's often viewed as racist, intolerant, and bigoted. It's believed to imply that our opinion and practices are superior to those of everyone else.     As those who are called to proclaim the Good News of Christ, we must understand that this isn't the case. Our faith is not merely an opinion.  It isn't merely man’s gospel, nor did it come from man. It's the revelation of God that's come through Jesus.     This is the very point Paul was communicating to the Galatians. Although other teachers had come among them, and although a different “gospel” was being promoted, there was something fundamentally different between the two. Paul’s gospel had come from God himself.     We remember, of course, how Paul was brought to faith. Jesus himself appeared to Paul as he was traveling on the road to Damascus. He went on to explain that, after being called by Christ to proclaim the gospel, he didn't consult anyone. He went into the desert of Arabia, and returned to Damascus. It was only after three years that he went to Jerusalem to meet Peter.     His point is that his message came from none other than God himself. And, in the same way, he was not commissioned by man, but by God. It's this mindset that we also must maintain as we go to the nations.     If our message were simply the teaching of man, we'd have reason for reservation. If our commissioning had come only from man, we'd have reason to question its authenticity. But, like Paul, we have a message that has come from the mouth of God and that was revealed in Jesus. And, in the same way, we have been commissioned by Christ himself, who has called us to proclaim the gospel to all nations.     We must, therefore, faithfully go. We must faithfully proclaim this message. We must do so knowing that it's by this faith, and by this faith alone, that man can escape the power of sin and death.[...]



My Pastor

2016-08-19T11:04:19.430-05:00

“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work”1 Thessalonians 5:12-13         Among those who are in ministry, we typically refer to each other by our first names.  We do so because we all share the same title.  And we do so because we are all colleagues. However, there is one man that I’ve always called “pastor.” I could never bring myself to address him by his first name.  The man I’m referring to is the pastor under whom I grew up, Pastor William Richard Graves.          I had a unique experience while I was visiting my parents this past week.  I was able to attend the funeral of this man who was so influential in my life.  I was also asked to read Scripture during the service, which I counted a great honor.     As a pastor, I’ve conducted many, many funerals over the years.  And I’ve attended and taken part in many more, outside of ministry responsibilities.  However, this one was different.          It was different because this was the man who baptized me, when I was nine years old.  This was the man who confirmed me.  This was the man to whom I went when I was being called by God into ministry.  This is the man who encouraged me in this calling, giving me opportunity after opportunity to learn and grow.  This is also one of the men who laid hands on me during my ordination, right after I graduated from seminary.           God definitely used this man in my life, to both influence me and to prepare me for the calling I received.  And since I’ve been in ministry, he was always a source of encouragement.  Every time I saw him he would remind me that he was praying for me. In a conversation, during the visitation, someone who knew me long ago said, “I don’t know where you are, as a pastor...” I could only reply to him, saying: “If you knew Pastor Graves, then you know where I’m at.”  I can only hope and pray that God will use me in this way.  I can only hope and pray that God will use me to lead people to faith, to strengthen them in faith, and to prepare them for service.  I can only hope and pray that others might be able to say the same of me, when my time in this world comes to an end.So thank you, Lord, for Pastor Graves.  Thank you for the great blessing he was in my life, and in the lives of so many others.  Thank you for his willingness to be used by you.  And thank you, also, for your continued work in my own life.[...]



Back from Alaska!

2016-07-11T11:06:16.444-05:00

“We love because he first loved us.” (1John 4:19 ESV)Our group of 12 is safely home from Alaska.  And I think a good experience was had by all.  I believe that we were a blessing to the mission in Alaska, to the missionaries, as well as to the people served by the mission.            The women in our team served primarily at “The Net.” This is a place where residents, cannery workers, and fishermen can stop in for a free cup of coffee, a cookie, and to use the internet.  Our volunteers are also able to interact with the visitors and to share with them the hope we have in Christ.            The men engaged in several work projects.  Much of our work took place at the South Naknek church where two entryways were insulated and finished.  Damaged drywall and a ceiling that was falling in were repaired.  And the entire interior of the church was painted.  The parsonage deck in South Naknek was also repaired, scraped, power-washed, and mostly painted (we were rained out and unable to complete the last bit of this work).  We also replaced two doors at the radio station and installed a vent which will help to cool the transmitter room.  In addition, I was able to give a break to the pastor by preaching at two services. And several of our men and women also gave the Net a good cleaning, shampooing the carpets and the couch.             However, I believe that the greater blessing on a trip such as this is received by the team itself.  It often serves to encourage us and wake us up when it comes to outreach and serving.  And this is then brought back to the sending church.            What I mean is this: When we go on a mission trip, we pay to work.  Normally, when we work, we expect to get paid for our efforts.  But, on a mission trip, we pay our way or raise support that we might freely give of ourselves.            Because of this, we make the most of our time.  We want to complete as many projects as possible for those we’re serving.  We want to touch as many lives as possible with the message of the gospel.  After all, that’s what we came to do.            We’re reminded, then, that this is also what we’re to be doing at home.  We’re called to serve the body of Christ.  We’re called to love those who are perishing.  We’re called to reach out with the message of the gospel.  And we’re to do this freely, expecting nothing in return.  We’re to love because Christ first loved us.            I firmly believe that each member of our team has returned with this blessing.  And I pray that it will be an encouragement to us to serve in the same way at home.  I pray that our service will be given not out of obligation or a desire for return, but because of our faith in Christ and our love for those around us.[...]