Month: November, 2013

Reconciled

Pastor Dan Haugen

“Reconciled”

November 24, 2013

 

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father….

Please pray with me.

All across the world, the Christian faith has come under attack, from little towns having to take a statue of the 10 Commandments down from in front of their court houses and within their parks to whole countries passing laws which put extreme limits on things which Christians are allowed to do, including worship. It’s a trying time in the church today.

We see in the paper, the big stories of persecution almost every day and we wonder what the world is coming to. We read these stories and we are taken aback, but I think that behind these stories are other problems much greater and much more dangerous to the faith, and they are being led by people who claim to be Christian.

In an effort to attract more people, many churches are now changing to meet the culture. Jesus is seen as a threat to our lifestyle, so we’ll water Him down so as not to make Him so demanding. The story of the cross is too gruesome, so we’ll ignore it so as not to offend. The Christian faith seems too limiting, so we’ll bring aspects of other faiths in, to shape God into an image we’re more comfortable with.

And even in our own mainline Christian churches, a deadly virus has appeared, infecting many. And just like any other virus, it spreads. It is the deadly presentable virus. Instead of calling people to submission and repentance, we want to make Christ more presentable so we’ll ignore these demands and present Him only as someone who will give all believers a happy and content marriage and a stress-free life. While a true faith in Christ will positively change our lives, our marriages and our stress-levels, we have become prone to thinking only of what Jesus Christ can do for me and not on how we might make a positive difference for Him.

This takes us to our Epistle lesson for this morning in Colossians chapter one. Colossae was also a place that had fallen into bad habits and false teaching. Like many churches today, it had tried to minimize Jesus to the status of important but not essential. Jesus had a place in their lives but they were not willing to live by His commands so they relegated Him into His own space which He was neither to leave nor complain about. In His letter to the Colossians, Paul takes exception to this and brings up three misconceptions they had come to believe.

First, those teaching falsely were teaching that God did not create the world. In their eyes the world was evil, therefore, God could not have created it.

Secondly, believing that all things worldly were evil, they argued that God would never have come to earth as a human in bodily form. And finally, because of this, they did not see Jesus as the only Son of God, but rather one of a number of prophets relaying messages from God to His people.

Paul attacks this false belief by emphasizing Christ’s supremacy over all of creation. Verse 16, “For by Him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him. Paul is saying, “OK, now let’s get this one most important fact clear before I go on. Jesus is the Christ, the only Son of God.” This passage is one of the strongest in all of Scripture as to the superiority of Jesus Christ and how He relates to all things.

I believe this is the message so many of our churches today are watering down. It’s easier to relate to someone who’s a little more like us, so we cut the supremacy of Christ down several notches so He feels more like our buddy then our Savior. We want to relate to someone we have a little control over so we relegate him to the role of wise teacher rather than almighty God. We try to ignore our own unworthiness and need for repentance so we create a God who is full of warm fuzzies and acceptance.

But Paul doesn’t mince any words here. Jesus “is the image of the invisible God.” Images can convey a message much better than words can. When we see on the news the images of the tragedy in the Philippians it affects our emotions more than simple words could ever do. When we see the American flag, the history behind it comes rushing to our minds.

Jesus Christ is not simply a symbol of God, He is the image of God himself. The word “image” here in the Greek means a likeness, a manifestation, a replica, an exact reproduction. In Jesus Christ is the whole being of God Himself. He is the precise copy, set apart to be the visible image of the invisible God. He both represents and manifests God to the world. In Jesus Christ, the whole story of creation is represented.

John 1:18 says, No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” This means that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is much more than we seem to be making Him out to be in modern society. In John 14:9 Jesus Himself says, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Let that sink in for a moment. Hebrews 1:3 says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.” 2 Corinthians 4:4 also refers to Jesus as the “image” of God. Jesus is so much greater than a symbol, he is our very salvation. He is not our buddy He is our God.

Jesus is the one who is in control, and as we see the church and the persecutions it is having to endure we have simply to remember that Jesus is the cohesion that holds all things together. By Him everything came to be and in Him everything will continue. If the post-modern world would be successful in its attempts to remove Jesus, the real Jesus, it would send everything into chaos.

I read a couple of weeks ago of the rise of atheist mega-churches. It started out as a joke by two Australian comedians but has become a reality. They want all the positive things from a church without the requirements. Time magazine puts it this way, “It looked like a typical Sunday morning at a mega-church. Several hundred people, including families with children, packed in for more than an hour of rousing music, an inspirational talk and some quiet reflection. The only thing missing was God.”

I believe this is what the watering down of Christ has done. Instead of giving Him the glory that He deserves, we have changed Him into someone with limited power and limited worth. Little by little it has taken God completely out of the picture. Many worship services have become more and more about the celebration and less and less about the Creator. The result is that we begin focusing on ourselves and our wants more than we do Christ and what He would want. We come to worship, not to focus on the cross but to focus on the fun.

In verse 18-23 of our lesson, Paul informs the people of Colossae that Jesus is not only the Creator but the one who is exalted over His creation. Here the focus shifts from natural creation to spiritual. He tells them that Christ is the head of the Church sent to reconcile His creation to Himself whether on earth or in heaven which He did through the blood of the cross so that we might be presented as holy and blameless and above reproach.

Jesus is the head of His church and the creator of it and, as such, we are called to follow His lead. I especially like verse 19 that says, “For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” God the Father knew what the Son represented to all creation and it pleased Him to make Himself available in human flesh so that the world could be saved. What a beautiful image of love. God delighted in giving us someone to take our place on the cross. It pleased Him to provide the perfect example of Christian love and charity. He finds contentment when we make the choice to follow that example to ever-lasting life. The fullness of God dwells in Him. It is not like Him or around Him or upon Him, rather it is Him.

Jesus was here to reconcile lost people to himself. That is the message that should dominate our discussion. He did not come to grant our wishes or to be our buddy. He came to earth to set things right. To be the perfect representation to follow and to pay the price that we could never pay ourselves for the sins we had committed and will commit.

The false teachers in Colossae were teaching people that they could get closer to God through the worship of angels and by observing certain laws but they could never promise the total and complete reconciliation that only the true Messiah can provide. The word “reconcile” literally means to exchange, to bring into a changed relationship. Reconciliation happens when someone or something is completely altered and adjusted so that a relationship of peace can begin with the one with whom separation has taken place.

The focus of Christ is to reconcile us to God. The initiative and action must first come from Him because, in our sinful state, that reconciliation could never be done by us alone. And the scope includes all things. Reconciliation involves all of creation. The result is the peace that passes all understanding.

Paul tells us in verse 21 that we were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing all sorts of evil deeds. Anything that has to do with evil is alien to God. This reconciliation takes us from alienation to family membership. Think of that in earthly terms. Once we were enemies but now we have become heirs to His kingdom. This is the message that the whole world should hear. This is the message we have been asked to share and this is the message that will fill these seats.

A Pastor once said, “Man, by his very nature, is destitute of all holy principles and desires; there is nothing in his character which is pleasing in the site of God…

all the actions that he performs, even those which are, in themselves excellent and lovely, are still the service of an alien and a rebel, and consequently an abomination in the sight of heaven. Every imagination of the thought of his heart is only evil continually.” But Paul’s intentions in his letter were not to dwell on those things that separate us from Christ. Despite our negative traits, God chose to reconcile Himself through us through the perfect sacrifice of His only Son in order, again, to present us holy and blameless and above reproach.

The purpose behind the pleasure of God and the reconciliation of His Son is to present saved sinners into heaven for all eternity. He presented His body as a living sacrifice so that we might be worthy of everlasting life.

The watering down of the message only leads us to complacency and destruction. Our God is not to be shaped into our image, we are to be shaped into His. This demands sacrifice and repentance, humbleness and strength.

So, are you living for yourself or are you living for Christ? Are you committed enough to do what you can for Christ and His kingdom  or are you more interested in what Jesus can do for you? I invite you to surrender in both body and soul to the one who has great plans for you.

Acts 2:36 says, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.“  He is Lord of all.

The biblical mandate for both sinners and saints is not to “make” Christ our God, but rather to bow to His Godship. He is ever and always God, whether or not anyone acknowledges His Godship or surrenders to His authority.” May the Holy Spirit lead you to acknowledge Jesus Christ for who he truly is, our Lord, our Savior and our God. Amen.

 

 

 

 

The End Is Near

Bible Study – Luke 21:5-28

This section of Scripture is actually talking of two separate talks Where was the discourse starting with verse 8 presented? Matthew 24:3; Mark 13:3

What kinds of persecution did Jesus tell his followers to expect? Vss. 21:5-19

Is the Temple to share the same fate that Jesus said would happen to the whole city of Jerusalem? Luke 19:41-44

 

Give a reason why disciples of Christ should not be terrified when they “hear of wars and tumults.”

 

How did Jesus’ warning in 21:17 come true for the disciples?

 

Why was persecution a positive sign? What advantage will come?

 

Why should the Apostles not be concerned about how to “answer” their adversaries? How does this relate to us?

 

Even though they might be threatened with death, what promise did Jesus give

Them (and us)?

 

What are some of the sections in Scripture that verse 22 speaks of? Nahum 1:2; Psalm 69:22-28; Daniel 9:24-27; Luke 11:47-51

 

In Verse 24 it speaks of the times of the Gentiles. Where else is this mentioned in Scripture? Zechariah 14:1-2; Romans 11:25 What do you think this means?

 

How are true believers persecuted by religious leaders today?

 

Where might you face opposition (even persecution) for what you believe?

 

Describe a time when you were tempted to be silent or to compromise your

faith because of opposition.

The End Is Near

Pastor Dan Haugen

“The End Is Near”

November 17, 2013

 

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father….

Please pray with me…

In our Gospel text, Jesus is taking the opportunity to teach His disciples about something we all think about from time to time, the end of our time here on earth under the curse of sin or, “the end of the age” as it is often described. It’s a scary subject in a way because it could come at any time. We ask ourselves, “will we be ready?” “Will we be worthy?” It’s only natural to think of such things. Even though we have been assured of our place in heaven by God’s grace through faith, many still wonder.

To fear the end of the world is to be human. Especially as Christians, we understand our own unworthiness. We understand our need for daily repentance. We understand that we are most often something other than what we have been created to be. So we stand in fear that God will pass us over for someone a little more qualified.

People see the world and they wonder why God would even bother at all. Our own sins have crushed us so completely that we wonder if there is any worthiness left in any of us. We deserve nothing but eternal death because we have repeatedly failed to live up to what it means to be a committed Christian. Our failings far outnumber those times that we live up to God’s expectations for us. So we cower, in a way, hoping the end doesn’t get here too soon.

But God would have that all would be saved from the coming judgment. He would have that all of us would come to the understanding that He is the way and the truth and the life. In this section of Gospel, Jesus is attempting to get all of us, who place our trust in Him, to understand where we stand when the end draws near.

The question asked by the disciples really wasn’t an eschatological question at all. They were asking Jesus when the destruction of the temple would come. But Jesus uses the opportunity to teach on a broader scale because He knew of the importance of Jerusalem to the Jews. You see, the city of Jerusalem was a very holy place. The destruction of the city was the destruction of the Jewish state in their eyes. Their inquiry was much more than simple curiosity. Jerusalem represented to the Jew his or her whole world, his or her whole meaning. The very meaning of life was wrapped up in what Jerusalem symbolized. For that city to come to a physical end meant a collapse of their world, wherever they might physically live. This made it natural to broaden the subject to the end of the age, because to the Jew, that’s what the destruction of Jerusalem would symbolize.

 

 

We’ve all seen the cartoons of people wearing sign boards declaring the end is near. We laugh because it seems silly to worry about such things. After all, no one knows the hour of Christ’s return. It’s out of our control so we try to put it out of our minds. Yet, when we do think of such things and how they relate to us, there is a certain anxiety that we all carry.

Jesus is describing more than the end of the age here. He is also describing the hope that we have in Him when that time arrives. As is His habit, He doesn’t shy away from the things that may be hard for us to hear. He says, “Before (the major signs of wars, earthquakes, famines and pestilence in various places) they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to the synagogues (that’s where people were kept who were awaiting trial) and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, all on account of my name.

So where is the hope in that pastor? It’s in the following words, “But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. He says that even though we will be betrayed sometimes by the people we love the most, our families and our friends, “Not a hair of your head will perish.”

The real message Jesus is giving us is that, even when the consequence of our sins reach their peak and the end is near, we still have the hope that can only be obtained through God’s grace by way of His Holy Spirit through the faith that has been instilled in us.

One of my favorite movies when I was young was the Poseidon Adventure. I was only ten years old when I saw the movie so it ended up leaving a big impression on me. Some of you remember, a cruise ship was turned upside down by a huge wave and as a result, everything inside the boat was upside down. What was the bottom was now the top. Reality was now much different for those who had survived and the way out was to go to the bottom which was now the top.

A whole bunch of them were not willing to follow the pastor (One of the few movies where the pastor is the hero I might add) up a Christmas tree out of the ballroom, to safety. He said, “Everybody is dead who was above us when the ship turned over. Now they’re underneath us. It’s up to us to save ourselves.”

Of course you knew right then that those who chose not to follow were doomed. But most of those who were willing to take the risk and follow the pastor, were eventually saved. And no, I’m not trying to make an analogy of our relationship here.

The pastor was indeed a Christ figure for those who followed him. What Jesus is telling all of us this morning is that, if we follow Him during this time of trial, “Not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.”

He says that the reward for our endurance is life, everlasting life. By our faith and because of our steadfastness, we will be set free. The world might be falling apart all around us, but our faith in the one true God will save us. We live in a broken world this very day, full of suffering, pain and sorrow and when this comes to and end there will be Christ.

We have no need to worry because our place in heaven is secure. People of faith have no need to fret about the end of the age or about death or even about the trials we will face. Even though we will be faced with persecution, suffering and pain, we have nothing to fear. Because of Christ we are immune to the fate of the world. We have been set apart for something greater than the things that the world can offer us.

Whatever the future may hold, God can be trusted to see us through. In the meantime it is vital that we demonstrate our faith and endurance even when times get tough, even when we are persecuted for Christ’s sake. We are to demonstrate our faithfulness in all we do so that by our example, more will be saved.

Someone once said, “Live for today, hope for tomorrow and rest on the promises that Christ is coming in His time.”

Martin Luther said that when we witness the signs that Christ describes here in our text, we should see it as a pleasant sight, “for thereby God comforts us and indicates that He is about to punish the world and finally redeem us from all misfortune and misery. In view of this, we should not only expect this blessed day with joy but also a really long sigh of relief crying out to our Lord Christ saying, ‘You have promised this day as our redemption from all evil; let it come now, this very hour, if it is so to be, and put an end to this misery.”

What Luther is saying is that, not only should we not be afraid, we should look forward to the day, as frightening as it may be to others. We should be bold even, as we endure with everyone else the trials we all will face together. Our faith should be so strong that nothing will be able to separate us from God. So, how do we obtain the kind of faith that will be necessary for us should the end times come upon us?

Everything we need has already been given us. We have God’s own Word to sustain us and in that Word the Holy Spirit works faith. In the sacraments God has given us opportunity to receive the strength we need. By sharing in His very body and blood we are given new life because of the life He had to lose for us to achieve it.

In Holy Baptism and well as the Lord’s Supper, we receive forgiveness for our sins as we are simultaneously delivered from death and the devil. Through the power of Word and Sacrament, God has already begun his preparation in us. In the times when our faith will be tested and our resolve will be challenged, we are to look towards the cross and what Christ has done to give us the hope we need. We are to remember our baptism and the promises attached to it. God has already begun His good work in us, we are to have the faith to believe that this will be enough.

And we have also been called to share those gifts with others. Think of all of the people you know who do not have the hope that we all share. What will become of them should Christ come again? What will their judgment be? How can you make a difference in their lives for all eternity?

Hope for our future and hope for today is worth living for. Making each day count, enjoying God’s gifts, sharing God’s Word, that’s what we have been created for. We have no need to fear the future because it’s in God’s hands just as today is.

So we wait, not in fear but with eager anticipation. We live each day in humble expectation with hope in our heart and the promises of God on our minds.

Those who choose not to follow Jesus will, on the last day, literally die of fear. However, those who look to eternity with Christ will be able to see the signs of the end of the age in a different light and not be scared. They will be able to see the signs as opportunities for redemption.

The signs that Christ is speaking of are signs of what sin has done to this world. They reveal that a greater power is ruling the universe. Christ is saying in effect, “There is only so much sin and corruption this world can sustain and we are fast approaching it.”

So I invite you this morning to think of the end times, not as something to fear but as something to eagerly anticipate. Until that time, there is work to do so that more can have that same hope that we all share. May God continue to give us strength for those times we are tested. May He give us hope for those times we are down and may He instill in us a faith of endurance that will lead us all the way to heaven.

John 12 says, “And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.

The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” Be prepared in hope and in faith for that day when Christ, who came not to judge but to save, comes again. Rely on His Word and depend on His promises and the end of the age will be glorious. Amen

 

Our God of the Living

Pastor Dan Haugen

“Our God of the Living”

November 10, 2013

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father….

Please pray with me…

So much has been speculated lately about our future, our future as a congregation, our future as a ministry, our future as a church. Some are optimistic about our future. They see things happening and they can imagine the great plans God has for us. Others are a little more pessimistic and they first see the struggles that are in the way. Both insights are valid and important. On the one hand, we can’t forget that to get where we want to, some hurdles will have to be crossed, but on the other we need to avoid letting the hurdles become too much to overcome.

Everyone wants to know what the future holds but thanks be to God that He only allows us to know so much. Of course, there are a few things we do know because God has chosen to reveal them to us. We know about what to expect as believers who are saved by grace through faith. We know of an everlasting life that will be ours because of what Christ has done to provide it. We know of future trials and strife that lay ahead in this sinful world and we know of the resurrection of all people on the last day and the judgment that will follow.

 

It’s interesting to note here that in our Gospel lesson, questions are being asked of our future eternity by the Sadducees who didn’t believe in one. In Jesus’ day, death and questions about death and what happens after it where right out in the open and we see here an attempt to trap Jesus with a question about our eternal future that they thought would be too hard to answer.

You see, the Sadducees believed that there was no life after death. The entire spiritual realm of angels and heaven, hell and Satan were non-existent to them and irrelevant because they rejected the resurrection. The Pharisees, in contrast, believed in all spiritual things, including the resurrection of the dead. Two scholarly groups who had studied Scripture in depth yet who have come to different conclusions regarding our future. Both claim to believe Scripture as God’s holy Word but they see, in the Word, totally different messages from God. It is not simply a modern day problem to read the very same words of Scripture and come to all kinds of different conclusions about what is true. One reason Jesus came to us was to set things straight.

The Sadducees heard Jesus talking about the resurrection and they wanted to tarnish His reputation by proving Him wrong. They even used Scripture, or rather, misused Scripture in their attempt.

They go to great lengths to come up with an unlikely scenario about a woman and her husbands and how, when each one dies, the next brother then marries her according to Jewish custom. Jesus, in turn, uses Scripture in the right way to show them just how far off they are in their beliefs.

Every Monday morning I have the great fortune to work at the Bellingham food bank. The people I work with have become sort of a family and, as we work, we share a little bit about the past week’s events. Some have worked there for many years, and others, like me, just a short while. Some can tell you what every unique fruit or vegetable is no matter how rare and others, like me, barely know a radish from a cucumber.

As you can imagine, sometimes an item is put into the wrong box or a piece of produce that shouldn’t have passed inspection somehow gets through. When this is discovered, the one who discovers the oversight yells out, “teaching moment!” I know that every time I hear that I say to myself, “please don’t let it be me,” but all too often it is I who need to listen the closest to the reminder of how something should have been done. I’m getting better though. It was just last week that I learned that the bagged carrots don’t actually go in the carrot box, they go in the misc. box. You see, I am trainable.

This is what Jesus is offering both the Sadducees and all others who will take the time to read and listen and He hopes they are trainable. The Sadducees have come to wrong conclusions about their future and Jesus is giving them and us a “teaching moment.” Jesus begins with the subject of marriage but He quickly gets to God’s Word understood correctly. The Sadducees were thinking with clouded knowledge and beliefs in the absence of a resurrection but Jesus was speaking with resurrection eyes. They were all about death and Jesus was all about everlasting life.

Paul makes Christ’s thinking clear to us in Romans 6:22-23 when He says, But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  The message that Jesus wanted the Sadducees to understand is that death is not the end for all who believe. He wanted them to know that God is not the God of the dead but of the living both now and forever more.

Jesus tries to convince them by going to Moses and the burning bush in our Old Testament lesson. He said, “But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

Moses uses the present tense when he quotes God saying, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” He is not the God of the dead but of the living.

Despite being dead in our sins, through repentance and faith and by nothing other than God’s incredible grace, we have we been made alive again because Our God is the God of the living, not of the dead. Our grievous faults notwithstanding, we are given the gifts of God’s Word and sacrament so that we might attain the key to the narrow gate towards a brighter future. That means our God, the same God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is our God for all time. These words of Jesus prove the resurrection because the prophets, though they no longer live on earth, are still very much alive with their creator and He is their God, just as He is ours, for all eternity.

In Jesus’ coming, there is a connection between death and life. Because He is the Son of the great, “I AM,” He has become the resurrection and the life and, as it says in John 11, “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” Yes, wretched sinners that we are, though untrustworthy and disobedient at times, we still have the promise of a future life after death because our God is the God of the living and not of the dead. “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

 

But the promise of resurrection is not to only affect us in our eternal life, it is to govern our present life as well. C. S. Lewis wrote, “”It is he who thinks most of the next world that does the most in this world. Where there is no faith in the future, there is no work in the present.” That is what God is calling us toward, faith in the future.

Paul speaks against this Sadducee mentality in 1 Corinthians 15. He says, And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” If our God is the God of the living then that means He has called us to live and to live our lives in faith to the fullest. We were created for life not for death. That promise was secured because Christ has risen. (wait for response).

God made our everlasting lives clear when He spoke to Moses through the burning bush. He hears the crying from His people, He knows their misery and He is concerned for them so he does what every good father does, He rescues them. I’m not sure that Moses was as optimistic about his future. He says, “Who am I Lord.”

But God has his plans to bring His people from death to life and He tells Moses to go, bring my people out of Egypt. I have your back.

Moses reaction is a lot like ours when we are asked to do something in the name of God. “This is too much for me,” is too often our response. “I’ve got too much to do already,” “There are other’s better equipped for this work,” “I’ve never done anything like this before.”

And what is God’s answer? Did He tell Moses, “That’s OK, I’ll find someone else. I wouldn’t want you to get out of your comfort zone or interfere with your other activities?” No. God simply said, “I will be with you.”

Because we are slaves and soldiers of the God who has given us life, it is our duty to find others who are dead so that they might have a future of everlasting life with Jesus Christ also, and just like He was with Moses so He will be with us. We are called to think of the future in such a way that it will lead us to want the same for all people. If God is with us, who can be against us?

Our future is secured and with every step, God is there with us. In Genesis 26 God says to Abraham, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” Two chapters later He tells Jacob, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.”

To Joshua He says, “Today I will exalt you in the eyes of all Isreal, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses.” In Isaiah we hear God’s comforting words when He says in Chapter 41, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God, I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” and when Jeremiah questioned God’s choice of him God said, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.”

Are we starting to understand? Is it more clear now just how much our God is invested in the future of His people of which we are blessed to be counted? So many questions about what lies ahead but there is only one thing that we need to know. God says, “For where you go, there I am with you.” No, we don’t know a lot about our future here at Redeemer, but we don’t need to know because we are not in control of our future. Only God knows what lies ahead and we can either have the attitude of eager expectation or impending doom. As for me, I can’t wait to see what he has in store for all of us because he has promised the brightest of futures to all who believe and I want to share that message with anyone who will listen

There are people all around us today that need the Gospel promise which Jesus has given us through His death and resurrection and He has called on us to share it.

The excuses, the other activities, and the reasons for us not to respond are more than I can list. But we each know them well. And Satan wants us to use them against Jesus. But if we do, it will mean that Satan will take more people with him into everlasting death. For without the Gospel truth of Jesus Christ and without His love that Jesus wants us to share with others, thousands-even millions could die in unbelief and therefore experience eternal torment apart from God.
But we won’t do that, will we? We can’t, because we have been given a hope in better things that is too great to keep to ourselves. By His grace we are, as Jesus told the Sadducees, “God’s children,” “children of the resurrection” who “can no longer die.” All of that is ours because our God is the God of the living, the one who is always with us, who is giving us the gift of salvation by grace through faith alone, who is hearing the cries of those souls that do not yet know Him and who is therefore empowering us to share the wonders and the joys of being assured a future with Him.

Starting this very moment may we live and serve our living God knowing that our future is secure and may we see the future with eyes of eager expectation that see Him at our side in every challenge and trial. And let us always live in faith in a God who is a God of the living and not of the dead. Amen

Our Big God

Pastor Dan Haugen

Our Big God

November 3, 2013

 Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

At the last session on the last morning of his Philosophy class the professor turned and made the ritual gesture: “Are there any questions?” He was greeted with silence. The past ten weeks had generated enough questions for a lifetime, but for now, there was only silence.

“No questions?” The professor swept the room with his eyes. Alas from the back row, “Professor, what is the meaning of life?” The usual laughter followed, and people stirred to go. The professor held up his hand and stilled the room and looked at the gentleman who asked the question for a long period of time, asking with his eyes if indeed the question was serious or in jest. “I will answer your question,” he said.

Taking his wallet out of his hip pocket, he fished into the leather billfold and brought out a very small round mirror, about the size of a quarter. And what he said went something like this:

“When I was a small child, during the war, we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place. “I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece; this one.
And by scratching it on a stone, I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find.

“I kept the little mirror, and as I went through life, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of light.

“I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world into black places in the hearts of men and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise.
This is what I am about. This is the meaning of life.”

I think we’ve all thought about what the answer might be to that question. Just what is the meaning of life?

I’ve been asked that question several times and have had time to contemplate and my answer is the same. Our time here on earth is not about us. It’s not about any greatness we can attain for ourselves. It’s about reflecting God’s light so that others may benefit from it.

The meaning of life is in what we can do for others in the name of Christ. Our greatest contentment in life should be  when we take the role of the servant. Our utmost happiness should be when the Kingdom of God is properly represented in what we do and who we are.

Jesus certainly seemed to agree. We have only to look at our Gospel text to see that. Blessed here is more correctly translated “happy.” Happy are the poor in spirit, happy are those who mourn, happy are the meek. Something doesn’t sound right, but the more you study and understand the way of God, the more sense it makes.

This is what the beatitudes are all about, the Kingdom of God represented in His children on earth. Our purpose in life is to love God and to love our neighbor and it has always been God’s purpose to be such a part of our lives that He can’t help but to shine through to others, enabling us so that we may enable others.

One Sunday as they drove home from church, a little girl turned to her mother and said, “Mommy, there’s something about the preacher’s message this morning that I don’t understand.”

The mother said, “Oh? What is it?” The little girl replied, “Well, he said that God is bigger than we are. He said God is so big that He could hold the world in His hand. Is that true?” The mother replied, “Yes, that’s true, honey.”

“But Mommy, he also said that God comes to live inside of us when we believe in Jesus as our Savior. Is that true, too?” Again, the mother assured the little girl that what the pastor had said was true. With a puzzled look on her face the little girl then asked, “If God is bigger than us and He lives in us, wouldn’t He show through?”

The little girl was wise. To her it made sense that a big God living in us should show through and she was right. It has always been God’s purpose to live in us in such a way that His light had no choice but to shine.

Yet, most days we do all we can to stifle that light. We’re scared that the light might be a little too bright for some people so we hide it in a cloak of neglect. We’re worried that people won’t like the light so, in our attempts to be accepted, we carry on as if the light has no part in us. And we, ourselves, get annoyed by the light so little by little we darken it with the sins we have come to find our comfort in and the Kingdom of God is left for another day.

The devil will do all he can in your life to snuff out that light. His meaning for our lives, exists in darkness and sin, ignorance and neglect.

He tries to convince us that we live to serve ourselves and he has been very successful in convincing us. It has been all too easy.

The devil helps to assure us that we are doing enough even though we know in our hearts we aren’t. He causes us to put on an attitude of righteousness so that we can hide the blackness in our hearts. He sways us into believing that it is better to do nothing at all, that it is far better to leave God’s work to others.

But, reflecting the Kingdom of God is not an attitude, it’s not about anything we can do apart from surrendering our lives to the source of that light. You can’t pretend and put on a façade of righteousness and expect to make it work. People of the world aren’t able to live the lives Christ describes in the beatitudes apart from a true faith, no matter how hard we attempt to, because no one can be Jesus like Jesus can. By the

Holy Spirit, He truly comes to live IN us that He might live through us to meet the needs of a hurting humanity. Our God is a big God and when His light shines through those who have Him as the source of light in their lives, others see the image of Christ shining through this veil of flesh. When the Kingdom of God is represented in you, you become blessed as you become a blessing.

Yet we fight it because the world convinces us to live for self. The winner is he who dies with the most toys, it’s good to be better than the Joneses, do all you can to get on the right side of the tracks. In our own selfish way, we yearn to make our own kingdom but it never serves as any more than a pail attempt to replace the true source.

Isaiah 57: 14-21 says, And it shall be said, “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people’s way.” For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

 

God’s purpose for us can be found in these 12 verses in Matthew 5. Our Concordia study Bible says that “blessed” refers to the ultimate well-being and distinctive spiritual joy of those who share in the salvation of the kingdom of God. Blessed are the poor in spirit because God will work through others to build them up so that they may inherit the kingdom. Happy is the mourner because God will comfort you through His people. Joyful are those who are meek because God has promised you His inheritance. Blissful are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness because they will be filled. Content are the merciful, because you were merciful to others, they will show their mercy upon you. Pleased are those who are pure in heart, for eternal life is their inheritance. Exultant are the peacemakers because in the Holy Spirits work through them, they have achieved sonship with God. Fortunate are those who have been persecuted in their fight to keep God’s light shining for they have been given eternal life as a result.

 

All who call on the name of Christ will be blessed. All who carry that name as a shining light in their lives will be a blessing to others. God’s purpose, according to Romans 8:29, is for every Christian to be conformed to the image of Christ and the verses in our Gospel lesson proclaim the qualities that are available to every Christian so that this might be done.

 

They are not standards for us to achieve, they are the evidence of a life that has surrendered itself to Christ. They are not produced by the Christian, but produced IN the Christian. They tell us what the world will see when the Kingdom of God is reflected in us. The beatitudes do not represent individual qualities, but a complete picture of a life controlled by God. They are the evidence of a life lived for Christ.

 

We are not to go through life worrying about whether we measure up. We are not to keep wondering if we are meek enough or merciful enough. Our focus rather, is that we continue to walk with Christ as His Holy Spirit works in us to achieve what only He can, through us. The beatitudes show us that if we are vengeful, or hurtful or vindictive, then we are not on the walk as we should be on and that we need to get back on the right path.

 

The happiest people in the world are those who yield themselves to the grace of God every day, because their inheritance is secured, they will be comforted and they will be filled with a God too big to be hidden. The happiest people are those who understand what God has done for them on the cross of Calvary and what He continues to do through them so that others might see Him for what He truly is.

Within Word and Sacrament, God operates through His Holy Spirit to work in us and through us in such a way that it becomes natural. By His love he gifts us with the ability to live for Him so that His light may reflect from us to others. This is the source of true happiness. This is when we are blessed in the greatest way.

Today you were all given a little mirror just like the professor treasured so much. I want you to look into it. Is the Holy Spirit working in that person in such a way that the Kingdom of God is reaching even the darkest places? Is the person you are looking at allowing God to so control his or her life that He has no choice but to be a reflection of Christ? You know what Christ looks like, His portrait is shown in our text. May this little mirror remind you of what the true meaning of life is and may the Holy Spirit give us His blessing. Amen