Month: May, 2018

“Here I Am Lord, Send Me”

Text:  Isaiah 6 / John 3:1-17

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

A minister was standing in the pulpit of his church looking out at his congregation, wondering what had gone wrong. It was a large sanctuary but it was almost empty. The minister looked out at the empty seats and surveyed the 4 lonely people in the congregation – one young man and three elderly ladies. He begins to speak…

“I give thanks to God that there are at least a handful of us who have made the effort to come to worship, who have come to feed on the Word of God, and who don’t believe that God is less important than the football game on television.” Suddenly, the young man in the back pew jumps up. “Oh no, I forgot about the football game.” And with that he runs out of the sanctuary.

This was supposed to be a lead in joke, but it troubles me. Sometimes things are funny because they’re all too real. I look at our own congregation and wonder… What made you chose to be here today? And why didn’t everyone make the same choice?

There are plenty of chores to do at home, books to read, television to watch, and websites to search. The weather is beautiful, you could be camping or doing yard work. What motivated you to abandon all this to come to worship? What caused you to delay the trip to Seattle or the get-together with friends and relatives?

I suspect that some of you might come out of habit and to tell you the truth, not all habits are bad. Good habits, such as coming to church, come out of good self discipline. Attending church is a good spiritual habit as long as you prepare your hearts also. Some are here out of habit.

But there is something lacking in that answer, because I’m sure there was a time earlier in your lives that you made the decision to come and it wasn’t out of habit. There had to be a time you made the decision that this was a discipline you were going to follow. What made you make that initial decision?

Others might come because they’re struggling with God. They might be grieving or hurting in some way, you might be lost or lonely and your attendance comes from a search for answers.

Still others might be coming against their will. You come here because your parents insist on it and they are bigger then you are. Or your wife might want you to come and you think it’s a smaller effort to give in then to have to deal with what would happen if you don’t.

There was a man who was enjoying a pleasant sleep in his cozy bed when his wife suddenly yanked the covers off the bed and announced, “time to get up and get ready for church.”

Meekly the man told his wife, “I don’t want to go to church today. Just let me stay here and sleep in this one day.” Without compassion, his wife looked at him sternly and said, “Look Einstein, you have to go to church today, you’re the Pastor.” By the way, this is not autobiographical.

So, why come to worship? Our lesson from Isaiah is a great place to find the answer. For the past three thousand years, worship has been set itself, on this chapter. The order of worship is based in part on this chapter in Isaiah.

First, true worship is not an escape from reality. It is something that should bring the reality of life to light. Isaiah starts out the passage with an interesting statement. “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord.” It’s like saying, “in the year the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, I worshipped God” or “In the year Kennedy was assassinated, I worshipped God” or “In the year they flew planes into the World Trade Center, I worshipped the Lord.”

Worship in the church should never be oblivious to what is happening outside the building. Why do we worship God? It’s not to escape life out there, it’s to deal with life out there. If you want your worship to be true worship inside Redeemer, then you bring in all the baggage that you had with you outside of Redeemer.

In Psalm 86:6-7 it says, “Hear my prayer, O Lord; listen to my cry for mercy, in the day of trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me.”  It is a natural part of worship to bring with you the concerns you have in life. We gather here as a family in Christ and we bring in the fears of life so that our Lord might help us through them. We bring in the worries of family, the concerns of the world and we lift them up in prayer, together, and we seek God’s comfort and guidance. Not just for ourselves, but for those we love. We worship because our lives are full of concerns and issues and we need some place to take them.

True worship also focuses on God. This is where many people make a mistake when it comes to worship. We assume that worship focuses on us and our needs. I’ve heard people say that they struggle with worship because they feel they’re not being fed. Well, that seems like a legitimate struggle. What concerns me is that I never, ever hear people say anything about whether or not God is being blessed in the worship service. I never hear anyone concerned about whether God is enjoying the worship.

Why do we worship? We worship so that we can get something out of the experience, but our primary goal in worship should be that God can get something out of it. And until God can get something out of our worship, we never will. Until God is blessed by our worship, we won’t be blessed.

It seems that the churches that grow the fastest are the one’s that concentrate on entertaining the members and all too often we treat worship as something that is suppose to entertain us. But it isn’t. What is most important is that God enjoy the worship service, that we do a service worthy of His attention. We are here to worship Him. We are here to bless Him.

In our Old Testament lesson, the Prophet Isaiah goes to the Temple, and he says, “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of His robe filled the temple.” It is the presence of God that brings meaning to the worship. True worship always focuses on God.

Next, true worship always begins with an awareness of God’s holiness. I think we’ve lost a little of that in our worship services. It used to be that the very architecture of a church had to do with the awesomeness of God. If you’ve ever walked into one of the ancient cathedrals in Europe, you can just feel the awe and wonder the moment you step foot into one. Every sense in engaged, the quiet, the aroma of incense, the beautiful art, the music. They all work together as an acknowledgement of God’s Awesome holiness.

Recently, the church in America and throughout the world has emphasized the personal nature of God. We hear about a God of love or the joy of God.

At Redeemer, we have looked at this side of God. But we must not stop there. We need to also acknowledge the awesomeness of God. It seems we have almost reformed our image of God into our “little buddy” or someone who is a real pal and has our backs. We have often forgotten that God is such an awesome and holy God that to be in His presence is to be filled with awe and wonder.

When Moses was aware of God’s presence in the burning bush, he was afraid. When Jacob had a dream of a staircase to heaven, he woke up and was afraid, because he said, “surely the Lord is present and I didn’t know it.” The Bible says he was filled with awe. Other examples show that when people were aware of the presence of God they were filled with awe and fear. We worship God because He is holy and that holiness demands our full attention.

True worship also helps us to understand ourselves and our shortcomings. It gives us an opportunity to come to our God on our knees asking for forgiveness. In Isaiah, the seraph’s are singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.” And right away Isaiah cries out, “Woe to me!” and speaks of his sinfulness.

It’s impossible to come before God and not be aware of His holiness and also to be aware of our own unholiness.  Paul said in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

It is impossible to approach God’s presence without being aware of our own shortcomings and sins. That is why, in worship, we have our prayer of confession. And what happens after this confession? We are absolved from that sin through the blood of Christ. Our forgiveness is assured.

Our confession is always followed by God’s forgiveness. In our Old Testament lesson, Isaiah becomes aware of the holiness of God, which moves him to become aware of his sinfulness. This in turns leads him into confessing these sins. That confession leads to his forgiveness. In Isaiah the seraph symbolically takes a hot coal and touches the lips of Isaiah as a gesture of the forgiveness that was given him.

In 1 John 1:8 and 9 we are told, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We worship because we want to experience the forgiveness of God. We need to hear the same message Isaiah heard.  “Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” 

Finally, we worship so that our lives might be changed. True worship motivates us to rollup our sleeves and get to work. I have thought about making a plaque that says, “Enter to worship, depart to serve.”

In Hebrew the word for worship and the word for serve are the very same. Worship and service go hand in hand. In the Christian life, you can’t have worship without serving others.

Going back to our lesson in Isaiah, he hears the voice of God say, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And what follows for Isaiah is the service, the work, the rolling up of the sleeves when he says, “Here I am Lord, send me.” True worship will always involve serving others. We can’t enter the sanctuary to worship, without leaving to serve.

So, why are we here this morning? Why did you come to worship today? Hopefully we came here to be challenged to do more out there. So I guess, the question isn’t why did we come or why didn’t you choose to do something different. The real question is, what will you do when you leave this place?

Isaiah was sent to speak the message of God to the people, but what are you sent out to do? What is God calling you to do this week? Who in your life do you need to show the love of God to? Who is that you need to reach out a little harder to? Who is it that you know of who is not coming to worship who should be encouraged or invited to come here to Redeemer?

We started by asking the question, “Why are we coming to worship?” One of the main reasons is to discover the answer to the question, “what do we do after worship?” What is God calling us to do?

That can be a hard question to answer, but it’s the one we come here each week to answer. And, guess what, the answer changes every week, because the opportunities and challenges change every week.

What is God calling you to do this week? What God calls us to do from one week to the next might change, but our response should always be the same as that of Isaiah, “Here I am Lord, send me.” Amen.

 

 

Bible Study: “Here I Am Lord, Send Me”

Bible Study Questions – John 3:1-17

What important group was Nicodemus part of? Why did he visit Jesus at night?

If Nicodemus had been caught talking to Jesus in this way, he could have lost his position in the Sanhedrin and possibly worse. Why do you think he took the risk? Verse 2

In verse 5 Jesus says we must be “born of water and Spirit,” what does that mean?    Isaiah 44:3-5; Ezekiel 36:24-27

How does it benefit us? Titus 3:3-7

Where else in Scripture do we hear of new birth? Romans 6:1-11; 1 Corinthians 3:1-2; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:14-16; Ephesians 4:20-24; Titus 3:4-6; Hebrews 5:11-14;                  1 Peter 1:3, 22-23

How does this differ from the belief of many who say they are “born again?”

Nicodemus is confused, he thinks he is saved because he has already been born a Jew. What does Scripture have to say about that? Matthew 3:9John 8:39Romans 9:6; Matthew 23:13-15

What does the comparison to wind (which is the same word for spirit) and a born-again believer mean? Verse 8

Why must we be born again? Job 14:4; Romans 7:18; Psalm 51:5

New life has often been equated to be the same as having a new heart. What does Scripture have to say? Genesis 8:21Exodus 7:14Deuteronomy 5:28-29; 8:14Isaiah 29:13Jeremiah 17:9

What does God do to hearts in this condition for all who come to Him? Deuteronomy 30:6Jeremiah 31:31-34; 1 Samuel 10:6-13: 1 Corinthians 2

In verse 14, Jesus speaks of Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness, what does this have to do with Jesus? Numbers 21:4-9; Verse 15

Why would verses 16 & 17 have been shocking to Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin?

Where else do we hear of Nicodemus in the story of Christ? John 7: 40-52; John 19:38-39. What can we assume from this?

What does darkness represent? Why do people love it?

 (Note:  Bible study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org)

“The Waiting Is Over”

 

 

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 / Acts 2:1-21

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

Please pray with me…

A pious man who had reached the age of 105 suddenly stopped going to church. Alarmed by the old fellow’s absence after so many years of faithful attendance the Pastor went to see him. He found him in excellent health, so the Pastor asked, “How come after all these years we don’t see you at services anymore?” The old man looked around and lowered his voice. “I’ll tell you, Pastor,” he whispered. “When I got to be 90, I expected God to take me any day but He didn’t so I waited. I got to be 95, then 100, then 105. So, I figured that God is very busy and must’ve forgotten about me, and I don’t want to remind Him!”

All of us have some sort of experience waiting. I think we would all be amazed at how much of our lives were spent killing time. Who here hasn’t had to endure hours of waiting in a doctor’s office? Don’t you wish, sometimes, that we could charge the doctor for OUR time? Or how about the lines in the grocery store waiting for Mrs. Jenkins to count out the exact change (I’m sure there’s another penny in here somewhere). Only then does she remember her coupons that are sure to expire the next day if she doesn’t use them.

And then, of course, comes my favorite past time and one I’m sure men all over the globe are familiar with, waiting for your wife. “I’m almost ready.” A half hour later you’re finally in the car.    We all love waiting, don’t we? Not really. To most of us it’s nothing but dead time and fruitless. The less we wait the happier we are.

As Christians, we have gotten used to waiting. In fact we’ve become conditioned to wait. We know that Jesus is coming again, but when? So we wait. We can only imagine the thoughts of the disciples when Jesus told them to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 1:7-8, Jesus said to His disciples: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

You want us to wait Lord? Surely you don’t want us to loose our momentum. In silence they most have wondered, “how long?”, “how will we know?” But Jesus says simply, “Wait for it.”

So Jesus ascends and the waiting period begins. I find it very interesting that it’s in these sections of scriptures that we see the disciples all together in prayer. As they waited, they came to each other for support. A great example of how we need each other for the same purpose.

And what were they waiting for? Jesus told them they would be waiting for power – an unseen, divine power. Sounds great but couldn’t they go on without that? Why must they wait? Isn’t a good plan and a little determination enough?

And what about us? Do we really need the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives to make a difference? The world tells us we don’t. In fact it says the total opposite when it tells us to look out for #1 and don’t depend on anybody or anything else to make a difference in your life. It says you’ll fail unless you make your own way. Evidently, Jesus didn’t think so, so He asked His disciples to wait.

And that is what they did together with their prayers to support them. What they received on that day of Pentecost, which was originally celebrated by the Jews to commemorate Moses receiving the ten commandments, must have been amazing and far beyond their wildest imaginations.

It was then that they finally understood the full impact of the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives. What they learned is that, what this was really about was evangelism. When all is said and done, their mission and ours is to spread the good news of our salvation in Christ and to bring people to faith in God.

Today we’re going to speak of something we speak of a lot here but that isn’t spoken of nearly enough in many Lutheran churches and that’s the work of the Holy Spirit. During the celebration of Pentecost, we find an excellent chance to study the working of God’s Spirit in our lives and it gives us a chance to stand back and appreciate the importance of surrendering our lives to His guidance.

So why is the Holy Spirit needed? Why was it worth the wait for the disciples? Because, through the Holy Spirit, we find the power of God within us. Let’s talk about three things the Holy Spirit does for us.

First, only the Holy Spirit can enable us to overcome our self-doubt when it comes to witnessing for Christ. We too often disqualify ourselves from sharing the good news because we feel we’re not good enough examples or not knowledgeable enough to make a difference. Our awareness of our own moral flaws and spiritual shortcomings can lead us to “bow out” when it comes to being a witness for the Gospel.  “How can I encourage others to come to faith in Christ when I’m such a terrible example myself?” “How can I share the glories of God when I have so many problems of my own?” And so, with thoughts like this, we do nothing. We decline to witness because we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re not worthy.

Imagine what would have happened had the disciples had the same attitude. Peter could have said, “How can I urge people to give their lives to Christ? I denied Him three times. I even said I didn’t know Him?” Or think of Paul. What would have happened had He done nothing out of guilt for brutalizing Christians in his previous life? The power of the Holy Spirit changed them just like it can change us. The Spirit of God helped them overcome their own self-doubt. We need the Spirit for the same reason.

Secondly, we need the work of the Holy Spirit to enable us to get past our differences. God didn’t distinguish one race from another or one color of skin over another. Jesus taught that we were all the same in God’s eyes. The Gospel is for all people of every race, nation, gender and social class.

Yet we tend to “stick to our own kind.” We live by the birds of a feather principle. If we have to make a choice, we’d rather worship with people who are a lot like us. We don’t reach out to one group because they might have a different view on life, we don’t reach out to another because they were brought up in a different environment then we were. These people aren’t educated enough, those people aren’t family. Before you know it we disqualified almost everyone. Only the Holy Spirit can empower us to get beyond our “groups” with the Gospel. Only the work of the Holy spirit can blind us to our differences in an effort to spread the Good News.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t reach out to those we share similarities with. It makes sense to begin witnessing to people we are in common with. Paul, who was Jewish, had a saying, he said, “first to the Jews.” But he didn’t stop there. The second part of his saying was just as important, “but also to the Greeks.”

In witnessing we must be aware of the tendency we have to go where we are most comfortable going. For many of us that means we reach out to very few people in our lifetime. What the work of the Holy Spirit enables us to do is to reach beyond our comfort zones. The Spirit of God instills in us the knowledge that the importance is in the message, not in our own comforts or preferences. And once we make the decision to follow the Holy Spirit, He gives us the insight on where to be and what to say when the time comes. When Jesus said, “trust in me,” he didn’t mean just until He died. He meant for all time.

On the day of Pentecost, people from many nations heard the message of the crucified and risen Christ in their own tongues. From a very diverse group of people, God set about forming His church and only the work of the Holy Spirit could do that. The same is true for our time and in this congregation. If we only share the message with those of a common language or a common ancestry, then we will die. The Holy Spirit rests in those who put their trust in God, not in themselves.

But people don’t have to be from different nations and cultures to need the Spirit to bring them together. There are times when we feel separation right here and we are far more alike here then we are different from each other. As a church in Christ, we must come to depend on the work of the Holy Spirit in our own lives. It’s not any either or, it’s a both and.

And finally, only the Holy Spirit can empower us to speak with others about something so incredibly important as the hope we get from the message of the Gospel.

I live in Lynden and Lynden is a great place. It seems everyone knows everyone else. It’s like everyone’s related and that’s not too far from the truth. With that familiarity comes an ease people have with one another. It seems they can talk to anyone else in town about almost anything. It can be the price of gas, the level of taxes we’re paying, what our children are doing, the weather, our struggles at work, our plans for retirement, just about anything. But how do we move from these temporary things to speaking about the eternity with God? It’s not so easy. It requires the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It requires a little surrender on our part to the will of God.

The Holy Spirit isn’t just a thing. He’s the Holy and mighty presence of God in our lives. It’s the life force of the vine. It’s the power that Jesus spoke of to His disciples signified by the sound of the wind in the room. It’s the source of strength within us to testify to the truth. The Holy Spirit is God’s connection to us, the power of Christ flowing through us.

Asking God to fill us with His Holy Spirit will give us a certain courage to open our eyes to the opportunities that God gives us to share the message of Christ. Too often we miss these opportunities because we’ve already disqualified ourselves. We’ve convinced ourselves that we aren’t worthy. We’ve talked ourselves into leaving the work of spreading the Gospel to other, more qualified people. So often we miss opportunities and allow timidity to take over. Praise God that He didn’t allow Peter and Paul to have the same attitude and I pray that he will instill in all of us the courage to follow the same path that they chose to take. It’s simple, if we allow ourselves to let other people do the work of spreading the Gospel, we will no longer be a factor in the work of the Holy Spirit, but if we decide to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives we will see blessings we could never have imagined. The choice is ours to make. I think we’ve waited long enough.

So, why did God send a helper? Because He knew we would need the help. Help to take our next steps in ministry. Help to find the courage to transfer the light of Christ to others. Help to overcome our weaknesses with the power of God within us.

That same Spirit that transformed Peter and Paul from deniers to faithful warriors also works within you. That same Spirit brings with Him the powers of guidance and faithfulness that will lead us to everlasting life. That same Spirit that worked wonders in the lives of the first apostles is ready to do the same in you should you surrender your fight against Him.

Jesus Christ died and rose again so that His Spirit might work salvation in all people. But He’s chosen to work through you with the guidance of His Holy Spirit to begin the process. His love could not leave us stranded, so He sent His Spirit in goodness and grace to prepare us for our journey ahead. What kind of journey is He preparing you for?

Amen.

 

Bible Study: The Waiting Is Over

Bible Study – Acts 2:1-21

What was the day of Pentecost? Lev.23:15,16; Deut. 16:9-12; Exodus 20:16; Numbers 28:26; Acts 20:16; I Cor. 16:8.

Notice two things in this passage. The first is that the Holy Spirit is given to a group of Christians at once, rather than to individuals. The second is that the Holy Spirit immediately uses these Christians to speak to people nearby from all over the world. What is the significance of these two points for our own understanding of how the Holy Spirit works in the present?

What phrase shows the unity of purpose of the disciples? 1:14; 2:1,14,46

What three impressive phenomena occurred when the Holy Ghost was first given? (2-4)

How should being spirit-filled affect what you do? Romans 8:5-11; 1 Cor. 12:12-26; 2 Cor. 3:17-4:12; Gal. 5:16-26

How do you know if you are filled with the Spirit?

What is the role of the Holy Spirit in the Church? John 16:13-15; John 3:5-7; Titus 3:5; John 16:7-10; 2 Cor. 3:16-18; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; Romans 8:26-27; Ephesians 1:13

What reactions did the observers have? Verses 6,7,12,13

From where did the observers come? Verses 5,8-11

What four questions did Peter answer in his “sermon”? Verses 7,8,12,37

What time of day did the outpouring occur? Verse 15

What prophecy did the outpouring of the Holy Ghost fulfill? Verses16-18, Joel 2:28-32

Focus on verses 17-21, where Peter quotes from the prophet Joel. What stands out to you? What do you notice?

What are things you can do in your own life that can make you more receptive to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit?

(Note:  Bible Study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org)

What is Pentecost?

For Christians, Pentecost is a holiday on which we commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit on the early followers of Jesus. Before the events of the first Pentecost, which came a few weeks after Jesus’ death and resurrection, there were followers of Jesus, but no movement that could be meaningfully called “the church.” Thus, from an historical point of view, Pentecost is the day on which the church was started. This is also true from a spiritual perspective, since the Spirit brings the church into existence and enlivens it. Thus Pentecost is the church’s birthday.

What does the word “Pentecost” mean?

The English word “Pentecost” is a transliteration of the Greek word pentekostos, which means “fifty.” It comes from the ancient Christian expression pentekoste hemera, which means “fiftieth day.”

But Christians did not invent the phrase “fiftieth day.” Rather, they borrowed it from Greek-speaking Jews who used the phrase to refer to a Jewish holiday. This holiday was known as the Festival of Weeks, or, more simply, Weeks (Shavuot in Hebrew). This name comes from an expression in Leviticus 23:16, which instructs people to count seven weeks or “fifty days” from the end of Passover to the beginning of the next holiday (pentekonta hemeras in the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture).

Shavuot was the second great feast in Israel’s yearly cycle of holy days. It was originally a harvest festival (Exod 23:16), but, in time, turned into a day to commemorate the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai. This day became especially significant for Christians because, seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, during the Jewish celebration of Shavuot/Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon his first followers, thus empowering them for their mission and gathering them together as a church.