Introduction to the Augsburg Confession

???????????????????????                At around 3PM on June 25th a doctor stood up in front of one of the most powerful men in the world. In a loud, clear voice he read from the paper in his hand. 200 or so people in the hall sat on the edges of their seats. Many more people in the courtyard strained to hear the voice that drifted from the open windows. When the doctor was finished he presented the paper to the Emperor.

“Most gracious Emperor,” he said, “this is a confession that will even prevail against the gates of hell, with the grace and help of God.”

The year was 1530. The paper was the Augsburg Confession. The doctor was Dr Christian Beyer. The Emperor was Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire. The significance was that from that day forward there would be two churches in Europe. June 25th 1530 is widely recognized as the birthday of the Lutheran Church.

It all started thirteen years earlier when a Catholic monk and professor in Germany made a discovery. For years he was torn apart because he thought it was up to him, at least partially, to fix his relationship with God. He dedicated his life to God. He prayed, he fasted, he slept on cold stone floors. He did everything he could think of to fix his relationship with God, but he had one problem: He never knew if he had done enough, and this thought kept him up at night, it tormented and tortured his life for years. Continue reading

God Has Called You from Darkness to Light: Part 2 (1 John 2:3-11)

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany (1/26/14)

Text: 1 John 2:3-11

Theme: God Has Called You from Darkness to Light: Part 2

            Two weeks ago I stood up here and I told you about the time I was in the caves in the Ukraine and they turned the lights out, do you remember why I told you that story? My message for you two weeks ago was simple, based off of the Bible reading from Isaiah 42 that day: living in this world of sin is like living in the darkness, it makes us helpless and blind, but God has called you from darkness to the light that shines from Jesus.

What I forgot when I was writing that sermon two weeks ago was that the sermon I preached that day could have been saved a few weeks and preached today instead. Do you remember what our theme for worship today is? It’s printed on the first page of the bulletin if you forgot: “Jesus appears as the light that shines in the darkness.” Remarkably similar, right?

So what am I going to do about this predicament I got myself into? Should I just repreach my sermon from two weeks ago? Then those of you who weren’t able to be here could enjoy it, and the rest of you could just deal with it because that sermon fits perfectly with the theme and the readings and the hymns for today.

Well no, of course I’m not going to do that. But this predicament I got myself into actually presents us with a rather unique opportunity.

You see, today we have the opportunity to really evaluate our last two weeks –to really reflect on the message of light shining in a dark place and see if you put God’s word from two weeks ago into practice, to see if you actually changed some things in your life to reflect the light of God rather than the darkness of sin.

Today we have a unique opportunity to reflect on why we come here on a weekly basis. Are you actually trying to learn more and be better Christians, or do my sermons sometimes go right in one ear and out the other – do you leave church excited to serve God, only to have that excitement fade away before the week is even done, as you slide right back into the sins you were committing before we gathered together to be taught by God two weeks ago? Continue reading

Look the Lamb of God (John 1:29-36)

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany (1/19/14)

Text: John 1:29-36

Theme: Look the Lamb of God!

            At the young age of 12, there was little that could prepare this boy for what he was about to see. He was on his way to the temple in Jerusalem, for the first time, with his dad, to offer a sacrifice for sin – just like God had commanded Moses centuries earlier.

Earlier that day he had walked with his dad through their sheep searching for the perfect specimen. His dad’s instructions were clear (God’s instructions were clear), the lamb they brought to the temple had to be perfect – no spots, no blemishes, no deformities.

They now led this lamb through town to the temple gates. What this boy of 12 witnessed that day, he would never forget. He watched in amazement as his dad dragged that nervous lamb before an incredible altar of bronze.

It was captivating to watch his dad place his hands on that lambs head, closing his eyes in a moment of silent reflection; he placed his sins on the head of this pure lamb.

The boy couldn’t help but cringe as his dad then grabbed a knife and slit that lamb’s throat. In morbid fascination he watched the blood pump from the lamb into a bowl. His dad proceeded to gut, butcher, and clean that lamb right there in the Temple courts.

Then the priest stepped in. He took the bowl of blood and walked up to the altar of bronze. He sprinkled blood on each of the four corners and poured out the rest at the base of the altar. He then took the pieces of lamb and threw them into the fire.

And with that, this dad and his son walked away from the temple knowing that their sins were forgiven, knowing that all was right with God. It was a day this boy would never forget…

I don’t think I am telling any of you anything new when I tell you that the worship service we are following today is nothing like the worship services of God’s people in the Old Testament.

If you were there in the Temple, instead of here in this church, the quiet of contemplation you were able to enjoy before worship today would have been disturbed by the bleating of sheep and the lowing of oxen bound for the slaughter. The beauty of the temple building would have been permanently stained with the blood of thousands of animals. And the air you are breathing would have been thick with the smoke of burning flesh, and hair, and feathers.

Why? Why this hellish scene for worship? Why did worship have to include so much fire and blood and death? Continue reading

The 9th and 10th Commandments

9th and 10th CommandmentThe Ninth Commandment:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.

The Tenth Commandment:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, workers, animals, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

 

What do you daydream about? When you find yourself with time to think, what dreams of the future fill your mind?

Do you dream about your children someday being as kind and empathetic as your friend’s children?

Do you wish that you could get that promotion, so that you could have as nice of a house and car as that buddy from college?

Do you muse on the handsome, caring, faithful, and loving husband of your neighbor next door, wishing your husband could be more like him?

It is an easy thing to do… coveting that is. Stealing is forbidden in the seventh commandment, and adultery is condemned in the sixth commandment. This commandment makes it crystal clear that men and women are responsible for not only their actions, but their thoughts as well.

Romans 7:7-8 gives us the biblical definition of coveting: “I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had said, ‘Do not covet.’ But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire.”

James 1:14-15 explains how dangerous desire can be: “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin.”

It happens all the time. It starts with a wish: “I wish I had that Lego set.” The wish transforms to sinful desire: “I need to have that Lego set, if I don’t have it, my life is not complete.” That sinful desire gives birth to sinful actions: “I will steal that Lego set, I will break my friends Lego set, I will disrespect my parents demanding that they buy it for me.”

The terrible part of this whole coveting commandment is that when adults follow their desires into sinful actions, the results are often much worse than a child’s desire of a toy. Think of all the marriages that lay in ruins because covetous thoughts became adulterous actions. Think of all the men and women rotting in prison because covetous thoughts became law breaking actions.

All of this becomes downright terrifying when you realize that these sins of desire are known by the almighty, righteous God.

God in his perfection has a plan for how this world should run. He has set a standard that he expects people, his creation, to meet. When we covet we fail to meet our Creator’s standards. Our failure brings devastating results. Our relationship with the God of love is broken, and there is nothing that any of us can do to fix it. God is just and holy. One who is truly holy cannot tolerate unholiness. If he did he would not be just, and he would not be holy. If we want to be right with God again, payment must be made for our sin.

Welcome to the wonderful world of Christendom. In Christ the payment is made. Jesus never coveted anything. Jesus offered his life to pay for ours. His blood purchased the forgiveness we need so desperately from the almighty and righteous God.

Paul said in Philippians 4:11-13, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” It is not easy to be content in every situation. With Jesus help we can stand a chance. We have forgiveness when we fail, but let’s not use that as an excuse to keep on sinning. Contentment begins with thankfulness to God for everything we do have. Contentment is fed by the love that God shows us. Contentment really begins to feel good when we share that love with everyone and everything in our lives.

 

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or obtain it by a show of right, but do all we can to help him keep it.

 

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, workers, animals, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God that we do not force or entice away our neighbor’s spouse, workers, or animals, but urge them to stay and do their duty.

The Triune God Brings You From Darkness to Light (Isaiah 42:1-7)

1st Sunday After Epiphany

Text: Isaiah 42:1-7

Theme: The Triune  God Brings You From Darkness to Light

                When I was in high school I had the opportunity to go on a trip to the Ukraine. I was there for three weeks. For two of the weeks I taught a summer English class in which I also got to teach about Jesus. The third week we did some sightseeing.

On one of our days off we went to see some caves. It was a pretty amazing experience. The tour led us through one massive cavern after another, and all of them were connected by passages that had us crawling on our stomachs because they were so short or walking sideways because they were so narrow. It was amazing to see the stalactites and stalagmites that formed over thousands of years. I even got to touch a rock that was supposed to cure me of any and all headaches (although I must have touched that rock in the wrong spot).

But the most amazing and shocking part of the whole tour was when they turned the lights off. We were in this massive cavern, far underground, and they just turned the lights off. That was the first time in my life I experience true darkness. I mean, I had been in some pretty dark places before, but nothing like that.

Now this was all just a part of the tour, so I wasn’t too scared, but when you are standing in darkness so thick you can feel it, when you literally can’t even see you hand an inch in front of your face, there is an undeniable feeling of helplessness. I mean what if they never turned the lights back on? In darkness like that, no matter how long you stand there, your eyes are not going to adjust. You can’t see anything when there is literally no light.

There’s just something about darkness that makes humans, like us feel a little uncomfortable – a little helpless. No matter how old we get, there is still a little part of us that is afraid of the dark. And this fear of the dark is what makes little kids ask for nightlights. It’s what makes you uncomfortable walking down a lightless ally in the city alone at night. It’s what motivates homeowners to install motion activated lights outside their doors.

We humans need light. One of the primary causes for Seasonal Affective Disorder is believed to be the shorter amount of daylight we get this time of year. Not getting enough light is one of the reasons Alaska is continually at near the top of the list when it comes to suicides.

Surprise, surprise, the God who made us knows that we have this reaction to darkness. He knows that humans associate darkness with helplessness – which is why he compares our lives on this earth to living in the darkest dungeon, deep underground.

So do you agree with God’s assessment of us as a world full of people sitting in darkness – sitting here helpless? Continue reading

The Eighth Commandment

The Eighth Commandment:

8th Commandment

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

I remember my older brother saying this little proverb to me after an afternoon of being teased at school. Unfortunately, this little proverb is often proved entirely untrue. I think it is safe to say that everyone of us has been hurt by a thoughtless comment made by a friend or loved one. In fact, contrary to the proverb, wounds caused by the tongue can often hurt much more (and last much longer) than broken bones. I’m sure that most of us can think of a situation where a relationship was torn apart – sometimes irreparably – because of a thoughtless word said at the wrong time.

Words can hurt. Whether you are the 6th grade girl being mercilessly ridiculed because you wore the wrong outfit, the 14 year old boy teased by your peers because you hit puberty a little later than most,  or the 60 year old employee who never got promoted because that coworker trashed your reputation, you know how deeply words can cut.

Here’s the tragically inconsistent part about the hurtful words condemned in this commandment: We all know how terrible it can be to find ourselves on the receiving end of slander and gossip. Why then, is it so easy for us to slander and gossip about another person? We read Proverbs 22:1 and we couldn’t agree more but we fail to heed the guidance in Proverbs 11:9.

We find it so easy to gossip around the proverbial water-cooler about the stupid thing so-and-so did over the weekend. I mean he had it coming, didn’t he? He chose to act that way, and his coworkers deserve to know what a horrible person he is so they don’t get hurt too, right?

“A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.” –Proverbs 16:28

It is your duty as his best friend to warn so-and-so that the girl he is thinking about dating cheated on someone you knew four years ago, right? I mean she is a sleazebag, and you are only trying to protect your friend.

“He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” – Proverbs 17:9

Do you remember what Jesus instructed us to do when we see someone sinning? Read Matthew 18 again if you don’t. We don’t drag our neighbors name through the street so that everyone knows his sins. We approach him in private, and rebuke and teach when needed. Above all, we reflect the love that Jesus showed us.

Have you ever stopped and thought that perhaps an individual who messed up in the past learned something from it? I would hate to have every little sin I ever committed follow me around for the rest of my life – I imagine you would too. Should I be labeled a thief for the rest of my life because I stole a pack of gum when I was 5 years old? I hope not. God realizes this too, that is why he commanded what he did in Proverbs 17:9.

It really almost always comes down to love, doesn’t it? Jesus loved you so much that he died to forgive you for all your sins of gossip and slander. Jesus loves you so much that he is preparing a place for you right now in heaven. Jesus loves you so much that he made himself accountable for all of your sins, so that when you find yourself standing before the throne on Judgment Day, your sins will not come back to haunt you.

Let that sink in for a moment. Jesus loves you even when you deserve the opposite. Jesus loves you even though you have done plenty in your life to warrant a bad name in his book. Jesus loves you

With Jesus’ love in mind, I encourage you to daily strive to be the bigger man/woman/child. When someone’s name is being dragged through the mud, reflect some of that love you have from Jesus, and defend your friend. When you feel those gossipy words spilling from your lips, remember the cross, and kick those words to the curb.

Jesus never broke this commandment. Jesus paid the debt we owe for our miserable failure to follow in his footsteps. Live in Jesus’ love, and you will find you cannot stop that love from being spread to those around you with every word that comes from your mouth!

 

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, or give him a bad name, but defend him, speak well of him, and take his words and actions in the kindest possible way.

A Treasure Hunt of Biblical Proportions (Ephesians 3:2-12)

Sermon for the Festival of Epiphany January 5th 2014

Theme: A Treasure Hung of Biblical Proportions

Text: Ephesians 3:2-12

 

One of the shows I like to watch on a regular basis is Gold Rush on the Discovery channel. If you have never seen it, the show basically chronicles three groups of people in their modern-day search for buried treasure, gold. Two groups are in Alaska, one is in the South American country of Guyana.

There are several reasons that I find the show enjoyable. As a boy that never really grew up all the way, I love watching big equipment at work. When I watch those miners working with their giant excavators and bulldozers, it takes me back to my days sitting on the floor at home, moving enormous imaginary mountains with my Tonka trucks.

The other part of the show that I find fascinating is watching the emotional highs and lows of the search for buried treasure. I can’t help but root for these guys. I can’t help but hope that they hit the mother-load of gold, because a part of me wants to be right there with them, striking it rich in an instant.

And it is this desire to “strike it rich” that I find interesting. We all have it. It’s what fueled our imaginary explorations to find the “x” on the map as we searched for buried pirate treasure. It’s what makes Las Vegas such a popular destination. It’s what fuels the 260 million dollar jackpots doled out by the Mega Millions Lottery. It’s what makes a lot of people choose their profession based on what their future salary could be, if everything works out the way they want.

Isn’t it interesting that I can say with confidence that every single one of you has, at one point or another, daydreamed about what it would be like to find a modern day buried treasure, to strike it rich in an instant? Why this common dream? Why do we all have this part of us that wants to find treasure? Continue reading