Pentecost – "Dry Faith Made Alive" – Ezekiel 7:1-14 – 5/24/15

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“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them. And behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry.”

So what was this that the Spirit of the Lord swept His prophet off to see? Was it a graveyard? Strange graveyard. Cemeteries don’t leave the bodies on the surface. They bury them.

Was it a battlefield? Maybe. What a disastrous battle it must have been.

But this is neither graveyard nor battlefield. “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.” These are the people of God. This is the holy, Christian Church all gathered together in one place.

Now that’s a surprise. I would have guessed that these were the bones of pagans who dance around idols, worship trees and sacrificed their children, whom the Lord stuck down.

But no, these are the people of God. And if you ran the DNA of those bones, it would be a perfect match to ours.

If we’re going to understand what’s going on here we’ve got to understand that this is a ‘VISION.’ That’s what Ezekiel means when he says, “the Lord brought me out in the SPIRIT OF THE LORD.” It’s the same language as we hear with John’s REVELATION. John writes, “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day…”

When a prophet has a VISION, he is given to see things the way God sees things. He sees things from the heavenly perspective rather than the earthly perspective. Continue reading

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Funeral Sermon – John Hilton – "Thou Wilt Keep Him In Perfect Peace" – Isaiah 26:3 – 5/14/15

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“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” (Isaiah 26:3).

Karen says that over the last several years, this had become John’s favorite scripture verse. It was his ‘theme’ verse if you will; one, concise verse described the goal of his life, and hopefully, after he was gone, the summary of his life.

“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” (Isaiah 26:3). Not a bad goal and theme for one’s life.

Everyone has a ‘theme verse’ for their life, whether they realize it or not, whether we can recite it or not. All of us have a ‘favorite verse’ that describes the goal that we have for our life, and that the thing that, after we die, we hope that others will say, ‘that pretty well sums up who he was.’

‘Theme verses’ don’t always come from the holy scriptures. They come from a wide range of sources.

“Whoever dies with the most toys wins” is a pretty common one that describes a lot of people. “My only desire in life is to be happy,” is another. That one has lots of variations. Substitute “My only desire is to be wealthy” or “successful” or “comfortable” or “loved.” That’s the theme of their life and looking back, everyone concludes, ‘Yup, that describes him to a tee.’ Continue reading

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Ascension – "3 Misunderstandings About The Ascension" – Ephesians 1:15-23

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The Christian life revolves around its Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Or at least it should. Jesus Christ is the center of our life, or at least He should be.

As we make the annual revolution around the life of our Lord, we notice that there are several events that we stop and make a big deal out of – just like we do with our own life when we celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. These are particularly DEFINING EVENTS.

Some of the defining events in the life of Christ are Christmas, Good Friday and Easter. Yet, what we sometimes fail to realize, is that among the significant events in the life of our Lord, there are not just 3 but 5. Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, His ASCENSION into heaven, and then there’s one that hasn’t happened yet, His 2nd coming.

The first three we wouldn’t think of missing and the fifth one sells lots of books. But it’s easy for the Ascension of our Lord to slip by hardly noticed. The attendance at the Ascension Day service on Thursday is all I need to say about that.

The result of our lack of attention to the Ascension of our Lord is a heavy dose of misunderstanding about it. I have a hunch that we think that Christ’s work began on Christmas and ended on Easter, and now that He’s got the mess on aisle 5 cleaned up there’s no more need for Him to hang around any longer, so away He goes.

So this morning I’d like to point the finger at three, common MISUNDERSTANDINGS of the Ascension of our Lord to see if we can’t clear them up and better appreciate the significance of this DEFINING EVENT in the life of our Lord. Continue reading

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Easter 6 – "Love Needs Instruction" – 1 John 5:1-4 – 5/10/15

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“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.”

Talk about ‘talking in circles.’ If you love the Father then you love the Father’s children. And if you love the Father’s children you love the Father.

Actually, John is not talking in circles but in crosses. Loving God cannot be separated from loving one another. And loving one another cannot be separated from loving God.

But separating the two from each other is just what we keep trying to do. Take Cain for example. Cain said, “I love God” even while he hated his brother, Abel. Cain said, “I love God,” even while he murdered his brother. He didn’t see any connection between love for God and love for his brother.

How many of us are like Cain? We say that we LOVE GOD but have no love for our neighbor. We say that we LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR but have no love for God.

Earlier in this letter, John talked about Cain saying, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1Jn.4:20-21)

It’s not that God stops loving us. God NEVER STOPS LOVING US. GOD LOVED CAIN, even after his crime. But Cain did not love God, because he didn’t love the one BORN OF GOD. Continue reading

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Easter 5 – "Test The Spirits" – 1 John 4:1-3 – 5/3/15

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“Beloved, do to believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

Anytime you’re reading your bible and you come to words that say, “DO NOT BELIEVE,” it always gets your attention. It’s like, ‘what? Did I read that right? The bible is telling me that I should NOT believe…?”

The Bible is filled with one admonition TO BELIEVE after another. In fact, John concludes his gospel by saying that the whole purpose of the bible is that we might BELIEVE. “These things are written that you may BELIEVE… and that by believing have life in his name.” (John 20:31)

But here, like a cymbal crash in the middle of a lullaby, John writes, “DO NOT BELIEVE.”

Sometimes our problem is not that we BELIEVE TOO LITTLE but that we BELIEVE TOO MUCH. GULLIBLE is what we are. We lack DISCERNMENT.

Since the season of Lent has concluded, I’ve had a little time tie a few flies in anticipation of fishing season. It’s been my experience, that no matter how well I tie these things, most trout seem to be able to discern that they’re not the real thing and they have nothing to do with it. Sometimes you and I are not as smart as a trout. Continue reading

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Easter 4 – "Love In Deed and Truth" – 1 John 3:16-18 – 4/26/15

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“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”

• Here’s how you know what love is. It’s “life laid down.”
• Here’s how you know when you’ve been loved and are being loved. It’s their “life laid down” FOR YOU.
• Here’s how you know when you’re loving someone else. It’s your “life laid down” for them.

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”

In our gospel reading, Jesus repeatedly identifies the Good Shepherd as the one who “lays down his life.”

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
And again, “I am the good shepherd. I lay down my life for the sheep.”
And again, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life…”
And again, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord…”
(John 10:11,15,17,18).

Sheep need to know what ‘true love’ looks like so that they’re not taken in by the ‘the hired hand’ who only, really, actually cares about his own life. The ‘hired hand’ says, ‘you make me feel good,’ ‘you make me happy,’ ‘you’re a lot of fun to be with,’ ‘you make my heart go pitter-patter.’ ‘That’s love.’

Sounds ridiculous I know, but you’d be surprise how many sheep fall for it. Or maybe you wouldn’t. Continue reading

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Easter 3 – "We Shall Be Like Him" – 1 John 3:1-3 – 4/19/15

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“SEE WHAT KIND OF LOVE THE FATHER HAS GIVEN TO US, THAT WE SHOULD BE CALLED CHILDREN OF GOD; AND SO WE ARE.”

THE WHOLE THING SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE. The ‘prodigal son’ couldn’t wait for the ‘old man’ to croak so he could get his hands on his inheritance and start spending it. He demands it UP FRONT, before his father dies. And the Father gives it to him. And the son squanders it all RECKLESS LIVING. And when the son is broke and hungry, has the nerve to return home and ask his father for a job doing yard work or painting the barn or cleaning toilets. He has given up the idea of ever being called ‘a son’ again. A ‘hired hand’ was all he was hoping for.

Oh, but when his father saw him yet a ‘long way off,’ he ran to him and threw his arms around him and kissed him, bedecked him with all of the emblems of sonship, and declared loud enough for the whole community to hear, “This MY SON, was lost but is found, was dead but is alive.”

“SEE WHAT KIND OF LOVE THE FATHER HAS GIVEN TO US, THAT WE SHOULD BE CALLED CHILDREN OF GOD; AND SO WE ARE.”

THE WHOLE THING DOES SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE. But because of Jesus Christ, the whole thing is really TOO GOOD NOT TO BE TRUE. For if it is not true, we are all lost and there is no hope of ever being saved from our sin.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans :6-8)

It’s “Love for the loveless shown that they might lovely be. Oh, who am I that for my sake, my Lord should take frail flesh and die.” (LSB #430:1)
“SEE WHAT KIND OF LOVE THE FATHER HAS GIVEN TO US, THAT WE SHOULD BE CALLED CHILDREN OF GOD; AND SO WE ARE.” It’s all too good NOT TO BE TRUE.

The thing that makes all of this hard for us to comprehend let alone accept, is that this is ‘UP FRONT LOVE.’ It’s ‘love for no good reason,’ except that God chooses to love you.

Love like this is hard for us to understand, let alone appreciate, let alone believe.

We keep looking for the ‘price’ buried somewhere in the fine print, because EVERTHING comes with a price. You can waste an entire CHILDHOOD searching the fine print for the ‘catch.’

But there is no catch. The ‘price’ has already been paid in full by God. UP FRONT. “BELOVED, WE ARE GOD’S CHILDREN NOW…”

All of the rights and privileges that come with being one of God’s dear children are yours NOW, in the present – UP FRONT, NO WAITING. The death has already occurred. The inheritance has already been paid out – IN FULL. Forgiveness, peace, security, blessedness, “an advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ the righteous,” the perfect love of God, eternal life – all ours, NOW. The Father’s guidance in all your ways; His care and protection in all you do; even His discipline, for what loving father doesn’t discipline his beloved children. All of it. Ours. Now.

EVEN IF IT IS ‘by faith alone.’
EVEN IF IT IS hard to see.
EVEN IF IT IS hard to believe.
EVEN IF IT IS only because THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO.

Just because you can’t always SEE it or FEEL it, or should I say, just because it doesn’t LOOK like you thought it would, just because it doesn’t FEEL like you want it to FEEL, doesn’t mean it isn’t REAL; doesn’t mean it isn’t TRUE.

“How can we be sure” you ask? “How can we be sure that we are “CHILDREN OF GOD – NOW”?
• Do I look inside myself and ‘examine my heart?’
• Do I look at my behavior and see if I’m ACTING like a ‘child of God?’
• Do I look at the circumstances of my life and ‘read them’ like a ‘gypsy’ reads the lines in my palm?

Of course not. Whenever you want ASSURANCE that this is about YOU, that God loves YOU, and you are HIS CHILD NOW, you never look inward at yourself OR outward to the circumstances of your life – but outward to GOD’S WORD. For HIS WORD IS ALWAYS TRUE.

“See what kind of love the father has given to us, that we should be CALLED, children of God.”

Remember that this is JOHN’S letter to the church and to you. And John loves to go back to the very beginning of things. Remember how John begins his gospel,

“In the BEGINNING was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…” (John 1:1) Remember how John started this letter? “That which was from the BEGINNING, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes…”

In the beginning, God CREATED EVERYTHING and EVERYTHING HE CREATED He CALLED something. “God CALLED the light day and the darkness He CALLED night.” “He CALLED the dry land earth and the waters that were gathered together He CALLED Seas.” And whatever God CALLED it, THAT IS WHAT IT WAS, and it still is. There was never a doubt that it was what God called it.

So when John writes, “we are CALLED children of God,” there’s no doubt about it. “And so we are.” God CALLED you MY CHILD in your baptism where He gave you His name – “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit;” where He gave you your inheritance – His life and His love.

John takes us back to the beginning again when he writes, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

After God created the world with all of its parts and pieces, all perfectly made and everything in perfect working order, He was ready to make a perfect man to live in His perfect world. In the counsel of the Holy Trinity, “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our LIKENESS.” (Gen.1:26).

The ancient philosophers had a saying that “like is known only by like.”

Whether they were thinking of Genesis or not, that’s where the principle comes from. “Like is known only by like” means that we can only truly know and understand what is ‘like’ us. What is not ‘like’ us remains a mystery to us. We can’t really know or understand it.

In the beginning, God made Adam ‘LIKE’ Him so that Adam could KNOW GOD and UNDERSTAND GOD. That doesn’t mean that when God made Adam, Adam was a god like God is God. That’s where the Mormons get it all wrong.

Adam was not made of the same ‘essence’ as God. But he was ‘like’ God. He was in the ‘image’ of God. Adam KNEW God and SAW God – AS HE IS. “In His essence.” Adam could comprehend the love of God in its fullness. He knew the height and the depth and the width of the love of God FOR HIM.

God is pure and holy. As we heard John describe it last Sunday, “God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5).

Adam was LIKE GOD in this way. Only that which is pure and holy can see that which pure and holy. “Like is only know by like.”

This is the way God created Adam. And God’s intention was that Adam and Eve would fill the earth with little Adams and Eves and everyone would KNOW GOD and KNOW HIS LOVE FOR THEM.

So when we talk about the ‘fall of man,’ this is the height that what we fell from and the depths in which we live.

The serpent’s temptation to Eve was that if she ate the forbidden fruit, she would be “LIKE GOD,” which she already was.

This is the deception of the devil. In his craftiness, he promises you what you already have from God. “For God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be LIKE GOD, known good and evil.”

Which is such a ridiculous deception. How can you be ‘LIKE GOD’ AND know GOOD and EVIL. If you know EVIL then you are NOT LIKE God because GOD IS GOOD in whom there is NO EVIL.

John writes, “If we say we have fellowship with God while we walk in darkness, we lie…” God has no ‘communion’ with darkness. You can’t walk with God AND walk with sin. The two are so mutually exclusive. You cannot have the one AND the other.

The serpent promised that their EYES WILL BE OPENED. But the truth is, their eyes were closed. As soon as Adam and Eve did what God forbid them to do, they became blind to God.

We cannot see God AS HE IS. The LIGHT OF HIS FACE would be too intense for us and it would kill us if we were to see Him. Moses asked if he could see God’s face and God answered saying, “no one can see my face and live.” (Exodus 33:20).

In His mercy, God shows Moses His backside, and that’s enough for Moses. He knows that God sees him even though he cannot see God – and for Moses that’s enough. And it’s enough for us too.

God sees us and we are always in full view before Him. But we cannot see Him. For our sake, He remains hidden from our sight behind what He is not – a pillar of cloud and fire, a lamb and a goat sacrificed on an altar, a crucified man named Jesus of Nazareth. And now in these last of days, hidden under water, bread, wine.
Since we are no longer ‘like’ God, we cannot FULLY KNOW God. We don’t understand His ways and why He does the things that He does. We cannot comprehend WHAT KIND OF LOVE HE HAS FOR US let alone believe it or respond appropriately to it.

But this is not the end of the story. GOD’S WILL, WILL BE DONE. John writes, “Beloved, we are God’s children NOW, but what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears WE SHALL BE LIKE HIM, for we shall see Him AS HE IS.”

It is not God who will change. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. But as Paul puts it, “we shall be changed, in a flash, in a twinkling of an eye.” (1 Cor. 15:52). And what a change it will be.

This present “LIKENESS” that we have to sin and darkness will fall away like a log over a Niagara Falls. And we will LIKE GOD “in whom there is no darkness at all.” As Paul puts it, “We shall know [God] fully, even as we are fully known” by God. (1 Cor. 13:12).

This is Easter’s victory. God’s purpose for men and women from the beginning, has been accomplished. “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” on the 6th day. And “We shall be like Him” on the last day. GOD’S WILL, WILL BE DONE.

God has accomplished His purpose for us in His Son Jesus Christ, who is the ‘likeness of God,’ even the same essence as God. And who is also the likeness of man, even the same essence as us.

What the first Adam, by his disobedience forfeited FOR US ALL, the last Adam by His obedience has restored FOR US ALL.

The darkness has not overcome the light. Rather, on Easter Sunday, the light shattered the darkness.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared…” It’s all just too good NOT TO BE TRUE.

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Easter 2 – "We Have An Advocate With the Father" – 1 John 2:1-2 – 4/12/15

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“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

An ‘advocate’ is someone who pleads for someone else; sometimes to a judge and jury; sometimes to lawmakers; sometimes to the public.

You name the cause and there’s an advocate pleading someone’s case.
• There are ‘advocates’ for the natural gas industry and advocates for those opposed to natural gas.
• There are ‘advocates’ for the illiterate, for the visually impaired, for ‘endangered species.’
• There are gun-control advocates, health care advocates, gay rights advocates, same-sex marriage advocates, human rights, men’s rights, women’s rights and animal rights advocates.

What parent hasn’t ‘advocated’ for their children if they needed some special help at school?

We swim in sea of ‘advocates.’ Continue reading

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Easter – "The Deep Law of Life" – Mark 16:1-8 – 5/5/15

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There’s a big difference between our celebration of Easter here and that of those who experienced Easter for the first time at the tomb.

• We’ve come here this morning fully expecting that we will NOT find things still shrouded in the darkness of death as they were when we left here on Good Friday.
• But the three women who went to the tomb on that first Easter morning were fully expecting to find nothing else but the body of Jesus right still shrouded in Joseph’s linen, right where they had seen Him laid.

• We have come here with our all four chambers of our heart, fully loaded, just waiting for the signal so we can fire off that response we’ve been waiting for the last 40 days with – “He is risen!” “He is risen indeed!”
• But when the women heard the angel say “He is risen” “they fled for trembling and astonishment and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.” What kind of response to the good news of Easter is that?

We shouldn’t judge them too harshly though. If there’s one thing that St. Mark wants to make a point of in his gospel, it’s that whenever anyone stumbles upon God’s MIRACULOUS UNEXPECTED, it always causes MORE FEAR THAN JOY.

• When Jesus calmed the stormy sea, we would have EXPECTED that the disciples would have responded with a ‘praise the Lord.’ But instead, Mark tells us, “they were filled with great fear.” (4:41).
• When Jesus exorcized the legion of demons from the man and sent them into the heard of pigs, rather than thanking Him the people who witnessed it were afraid of Him. (5:15).
• When Jesus walked on the water to His disciples on the stormy sea, instead of greeting Him with a, “great to see you,” “they all saw him and were terrified.” (6:50). Continue reading

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Maundy Thursday – "Let A Man Examine Himself" – Mark 14:12-25 – 4/3/15

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The Sacrament of the Altar was instituted by Jesus on Maundy Thursday in an Upper Room in Jerusalem. No one except His 12 apostles was present. Jesus knew that He was about to be betrayed and handed over to Jews and He wanted this night to happen without interruption or interference. Not even a servant is present to wash their feet when they come into the room lest His location be leaked to His enemies.

This is the reason that Jesus sent just 2 of His disciples to prepare the meal. His instructions to them are so mysterious that none of them, not even the two, are sure of the place He is talking about. “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The teacher says, ‘Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples. And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” Try plugging that into your GPS.

Judas, the one who would betray Him, is in the room. By the time he is dismissed, it will be too late to lead the soldiers to this place to arrest Him. Continue reading

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