Walk By The Spirit!


Teach Them to Walk by the Spirit
We have been taught to walk by the Spirit. This is not some warm fuzzy feeling that guides our lives. It is the Word of God given by the Holy Spirit that changes our ability to see and changes how we walk through this life. That Word is what we pass on to our children; it will endure when all else has passed away. Teach them to walk by the Spirit.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

God’s Son and sons

1st Sunday after Christmas
Galatians 4:4-7

Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests! In the name of Jesus, born to save us, dear friends in Christ,

It’s an eerie feeling, hard to describe. Every couple months I conduct a Bible study at the Beltrami county jail here in Bemidji. In order to do the Bible study I have to enter into the jail.  After checking my ID the guard radios to another guard who electronically unlocks the first door. I walk in and shut the door behind me. Then the next door is unlocked, I walk through and the door is secured behind me. I walk to the room where I have the Bible study and after the inmates have all gathered there is a click in the door and it’s locked. It’s an eerie feeling, hard to describe. When that door is shut, you’re locked in. Thankfully, I can leave whenever I want to. But not the prisoners. They are stuck, locked in, and I get a little feeling of that when the door shuts. What’s it like to be a prisoner? You can’t go wherever you want to go, you can’t do whatever you want to do, you can’t see whomever you want to see, you can’t eat whatever you want to eat.

The truth is, we all were born prisoners. You, me, everyone. We can’t leave whenever we want to. We can’t escape from this prison. We can’t do whatever we want. We were all born into the prison of sin. When you’re a prisoner you have to do whatever the guard tells you to do. You have to go to this cell block, you have to eat at this time, you have to wear these clothes, etc. That’s what it’s like in the prison of sin. We’re stuck. We lie. We cheat. We envy. We’re selfish. We’re self-centered. We’re greedy. We covet what isn’t ours. We fail to be kind. We fail to put others first. We fail to honor those in authority. We fail to help and befriend our neighbor in every bodily need. We fail to love and cherish our spouse. We fail to keep our thoughts, words, and actions pure. We fail to help improve and protect the property of others. We fail to encourage, to speak well of, to defend others. We fail to take someone’s words and actions in the kindest possible way.

And on our own we not only can’t leave this prison of sin but we have no desire to either! I’ve never met a prisoner in the Beltrami Jail who enjoys being there, who wants to be there, who doesn’t want to leave. But sin so depraves our thinking that we think sin is pleasurable, enjoyable, exciting, we run into it, we don’t want to leave it, we say to sin, “Lock me up! Enslave me! Make me your prisoner!”

Now, if you knew someone like that, someone who enjoyed breaking the law, who wanted to go to prison, would you post bail for them? Would you offer to defend them? Would you offer to take their sentence, be punished in their place? It wouldn’t even occur to us, but God did.

God went on a rescue mission. At just the right time God took action. And what did God do? God sent his Son. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. If you had ten sons, you wouldn’t dream of giving one of them up for a law-breakers, a prisoner, a scoundrel, but God gave up His own Son. “Born of a woman.” That baby lying in the manger is the God-man. God took on human flesh. God – who is above every law, because he made every law, God who could never steal because he owns everything, God who could never take any life because he made every life, put himself under the law. For what purpose? “To redeem those under law.” In other words, to liberate, to rescue, to deliver those under the law. To free us from our prison of sin.

And the goal? That we might receive “adoption to sonship.” If you remember the old NIV translation it was “to receive the full rights of sons.” They both say the same thing. But this is astounding. God not only sent Jesus, this baby lying in a manger to liberate us FROM something, but to liberate us FOR something. In the culture of the apostle Paul’s day it could happen that a wealthy individual who had no child could adopt a child. And when it went through there was an immediate legal status change: the new father immediately assumed all responsibility for the new child, all the child’s debts were immediately canceled and all the wealth of the father became the wealth of child’s. The new child became fully a new part of a new family with all the rights and responsibilities and rewards that came with it.

God didn’t just send Jesus to take on our human flesh, to be born of a woman, born under law, in order to liberate us, redeem us FROM our prison and bondage and slavery to sin, He didn’t just come to set us free FROM imprisonment, but He came to redeem us FOR being God’s own sons, God’s own children, to enjoy the full rights of sonship in God’s family.

This is incredible. But do you believe it? Do you think about the incredible ramifications of the fact that because of Jesus, because of this babe born in Bethlehem, you are God’s own son? You are God’s own child? Do you grasp that? Do you live like it? Do you live with the inexpressible joy of being God’s child, an heir of God and co-heir with Christ?

Or do we go through life plagued with guilt? Do we go through life feeling like God is distant, unattached, unconcerned with our lives? Do we go through life filled with fear, worry, anxiousness, concern? What will this new year bring? What difficulties and challenges and disappointments am I going to face? Is God going to finally give me the trouble I deserve for my sins against him?

How could we think that about our God? Look at what he tells us here! God first sent His son on the rescue mission: born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, why so? So that we might enjoy adoption to sonship, full rights of sons, a legal status change: you are God’s own child, you mean just as much to the Father as His own Son Jesus, you’ve been adopted into his family. But God also knows that we struggle with appropriating this to our lives, applying it, and living in it. So God sends someone else. The Holy Spirit.

Imagine a young son and a father walking hand in hand along the side walk. Then all of a sudden the father lifts his boy up and give him a big hug and kiss. The son was no more or less a son of his father when he was walking hand in hand than he was when his father was hugging and kissing him, but he felt it, experienced it, and was deeply reminded of his status as his father embraced and kissed him. The Holy Spirit using His tools- the means of grace – the gospel in Word and Sacrament is the Father embracing and kissing you reminding you of your adoption to sonship in God’s family.

And the Holy Spirit reminds you of two things here: confidence and inheritance. “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’” That’s our confidence. The word “abba” was a term of endearment a child had for his father, like dad or daddy. “Abba, I need a drink of water.” “Abba, hold my hand.” “Abba, help me.” Because of Jesus, because of your adoption into God’s family, that’s the closeness and confidence you have with the almighty and everlasting God. You can approach him at any time, with anything on your heart, and trust that He is your dear father in heaven.

And secondly, “So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son God has made you also an heir.” That means all the Father’s wealth is your wealth. The inheritance is yours. Heaven, the home of God, is your home, forever. Eternal riches, eternal glory, eternal joy- all the wealth of the Father is yours…forever.

The Holy Spirit is the kiss of the Father. In the work of that baby in the manger, God’s eternal Son, you were freed, redeemed, liberated from the prison of sin. Through holy baptism you were adopted as God’s own son and heir. Through the Word you hear again and again the comforting and assuring voice of your Father. Through the Lord’s Supper the Father presses to your lips the very body and blood of His Son as a guarantee that you are part of His family, His own child, His own son, His own heir.

That’s what Christmas is about. When the time had fully come God sent His Son so that you might be His son, His child, His heir forever. Live as God’s child. Amen.

I need you to like me!


5th Sunday after Pentecost
Galatians 1:10

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, “I want you to want me, I need you to need me, I’d love you to love me, I’m beggin you to beg me, I want you to want me, I need you to need me, I’d love you to love me.” That’s the refrain of a 1978 song by the classic rock band Cheap Trick. I’m not exactly sure the history of that song but the words illustrate quite nicely the lie that we’re looking at this morning, “I want you to want me.” It’s the teenager who doesn’t want to wear the outfit mom bought because he or she doesn’t want to be laughed at or ridiculed by others. It’s the constant struggle to fit in, it’s the utter disappointment of not being invited to the party, it’s the parent who always gives his teenager money because he doesn’t want them to dislike him, it’s the worker who lets himself be taken advantage of by coworkers, it’s the mom who always babysits for someone else even when she has things she needs to do because she doesn’t want to lose the friendship, it’s the hesitation to share your faith or stand up for God’s Word for fear of embarrassment or criticism. “I want you to want me.”

And perhaps it’s part of the big push among the LGBT community today. Everyone is looking for approval, for acceptance, to be included. And if I don’t have God’s approval, I look for it, I need it from others. By and large our society is lost and has no idea of God’s acceptance in Christ. So our society sympathizes with those who are or seem to be marginalized- they just need to be accepted, included, approved for who they are- even if that to which they are clinging is a damnable sin before God. “I want you to want me!”

Our desire to fit in, our desire to be liked, our desire to be included –do we still struggle with that today? Well, let’s think about a few questions: Does it happen that someone’s well-targeted criticism has the power to devastate you? Do you think about it again and again? Turn it over on in your mind, ruminate on it, can’t get it out of your head, days, months, years later? Then you are believing this lie. Or, does a well-aimed bit of praise by a certain person put you on cloud nine? Is someone’s praise that which keeps you going and makes your day? Then you believe this lie. Do you compromise God’s Word or your faith to fit in? Do you change your tune to fit in with the majority of the people around you- even though you believe something different? Then you believe this lie.

And it’s irrational, isn’t it? You know that it’s impossible to please everyone. Stand up in a full restaurant here in Bemidji and say loudly and proudly, “I’m a democrat.” There will be some who will cheer and some who will jeer. Stand up in the same restaurant and proudly and loudly say, “I’m a republican.” And guess what, some will cheer, some will jeer.  Share your religious convictions with someone, and guess what, some will simply not like you anymore.  Even though we live in the good state of Minnesota and I declare proudly that the Vikings are the best team in the NFL, some of you will vehemently disagree with me. That’s just the way it is. You cannot be liked by everyone. It’s an unattainable goal, but one we often try to achieve.

And what happens? What happens to you if you are a people pleaser? If you are a people pleaser you put your well-being in the hands of other people. You hand your life to someone and say, “I’ll do whatever it takes to get your love and acceptance.” You don’t know how to say no to people so other people determine your priorities, determine what you can or cannot wear, what you should say, how you should act, etc. It really ends up making other people into a god that you are serving. You can only be happy when other people like you, want you, accept you. You’ll end up running yourself ragged or bitter or resentful. “I want you to want me.”

Thank the Lord that He gives us the truth that sets us free. Listen to what God has the apostle Paul write to the Galatians: “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” What was going on with Paul? There were people who were infiltrating the congregations in Galatia who were attacking Paul. They accused Paul of being a people pleaser. You see, to be a Jew in the OT you had to follow a lot of rules and regulations. Some were saying, “Yes, that’s nice that Jesus died for us, but you still have to follow OT rules, you still have to be circumcised, you still have to obey all these rules and regulations.” They attacked Paul for not being genuine, for saying what people wanted to hear. Paul told people you don’t have to be circumcised to be a believer in Jesus. Paul told others, “You can be circumcised if you want to.” So Paul was under attack – people called him a people pleaser, he just said whatever people wanted him to say, that he was a false prophet and people shouldn’t listen to him.

So how does Paul respond? He doesn’t become a coward, he doesn’t change his message, he doesn’t try to find harmony by compromising the truth of the gospel. He defends the truth that in Christ Jesus we are free from a slavery to the law. So, if you have a concern for the Jews, you’re free to be circumcised. If you have a concern for the gentiles, you’re free not to be circumcised. Paul’s goal in everything that he did was that more and more people would know Jesus. “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Notice what we’re told. You can’t be a people pleaser and a God-pleaser at the same time. There are only two options: either become a servant of people or become a servant of Jesus. You can’t be both a servant of people and a servant of Jesus.

Jesus warned about the same thing in the gospel. “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you.” Did you catch that? Jesus says, “Woe to you” if you get everyone to like you. If everyone likes you, then you are doing something wrong, you’re not speaking the truth of God’s Word, you’re hiding your beliefs compromising your character. You become a people pleaser instead of a God-pleaser.  Who here wants Jesus to say, ‘Woe’ to them?

So what’s the answer to this lie? Human love, human approval, human acceptance will never fully satisfy the empty human heart. Only divine love, only love from God can provide the antidote to the “I want you to want me” syndrome. The only place that you’ll find divine love is from God. The Bible gives us a love that will never, ever change. It’s a love that’s so high, so wide, so long, and so deep, it’s a love that surpasses knowledge. It’s a love that so great that it frees us from having to find love from other people. How could the apostle Paul write so boldly that he could even risk losing the love of the Galatians? He knew that despite of who he is and what he had done, he was loved so deeply by the God who sent His own Son Jesus to live for him, die for him, rise for him and then bring him to faith. His answer to this lie, “I need to be liked” was “I’m already loved by God through Jesus.” And he told them that earlier in this letter, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins.”

So what’s your answer going to be to this lie “I need you to like me”? “I am loved by God through Jesus my Savior.” When someone important to you criticizes you, what’s your answer? “I am loved by God through Jesus my Savior.” When you’re tempted to let someone’s praise put you on cloud nine, what’s your answer? “I am loved by God through Jesus my Savior.” When you’re tempted to compromise God’s Word, to keep quiet about your faith, remember, “I am loved by God through Jesus my Savior.” In Christ Jesus you already have all the approval, all the acceptance, all the love you need for all eternity.

And you know what that means? That means you can live your life playing to an audience of One, God. You’re free to seek to please only one in all of life- your God and Savior. It’s His love alone that we need and that we have. Find in the cross your heavenly Father telling you, “See how much I love you!” Find in your baptism, your heavenly Father telling you, “I’ve washed you clean of all sin and brought you into my family as my own dearly loved child.” Find in the Lord’s Supper your heavenly Father telling you, “Receive my own Son’s body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins.”

We all have a deep need for love, for acceptance, for approval. And yet it’s met perfectly through God’s grace given us in His gospel through Word and Sacrament. Rejoice! You’re free to serve your Savior alone. Amen.

The Small Catechism

Reformation Sunday

Romans 3:20 and Galatians 3:10 – The Ten Commandments

How do you feel about mirrors?  Let’s imagine that you went to a very nice wedding reception complete with white table cloths, fancy dinnerware, everyone’s dressed up in nice clothes.  And you have a wonderful time, talking with people, laughing with them, telling stories.  You really enjoy the evening.  Then you get home and while you’re in the bathroom you look in the mirror and…what is that!?!  You have a blotch of red sauce on your face and…what is that!?!  A large chunk of food is stuck in your teeth!  Ahh!!  How are you feeling?

All of sudden you begin to reflect on the night.  Were all those people really being friendly?  Were they laughing at me?  Had I really made a good impression?  Is everyone going think of me as some goofball or slob?  Great!  The mirror was a good thing…but…it had a way of ruining something you thought had gone real well.

God’s commandments are like a spiritual mirror for each of us.  We like think of ourselves as real good people.  When our conscience starts to bug us about something we’ve done, we just try to do good stuff to make up for the bad stuff.  Maybe be extra helpful, maybe do something good for someone, maybe compare ourselves to people who seem a lot worse than us and say, “At least I’m not that bad.”

But then we get in front of the mirror of God’s Ten Commandments: You shall have no other gods, you shall not misuse God’s name, you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not covet.  God’s commands force us to look at ourselves and see who we really are.  God’s commands make us see our sin so clearly, force us to see the reality of our sins, to see that we have failed to do everything God has demanded of us and therefore we are under a curse, that we deserve God’s punishment, we aren’t as good as we thought, in fact, because of our sin we look horrible and deserve nothing but hell.  Mirrors are helpful, but they can be quite a letdown.

Romans 1:16-17 – The Apostles Creed

Luther began the small catechism with the Ten Commandments for a reason.  You see, God’s law, His bad news, has to do its work first.  If we don’t see our sin, don’t see our need for salvation, then we’re not going to be much interested in Jesus and His work for us.

Luther never criticized the Catholic church for giving him a sense of sin and guilt that made him cry out in despair, “How will I ever find a gracious God?’  In that respect the Roman Church did not do Luther a disservice.  Later Luther once said, “The more you minimize sin, the more will grace declines in value.” But here is where the Church at Luther’s time when wrong.  Having terrified his conscience with the threats of the Law and portraying God as an angry Judge, they urged him to turn to himself and his own good works to find peace for his soul.  This teaching drove him to become a monk, to form callouses on his knees from praying, to whip himself, sleep on hard wood floors, etc.  He tried to comfort himself by his observance of the law but it didn’t work – he couldn’t be perfect as God demands.

So in his catechism, Luther followed the 10 commandments with the Creed.  Why?  Because the Creed is full of the wonderful things that GOD has done for us humans: He created us, He preserves us, He sent His Son, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died, and buried, He descended into hell, and on the 3rd day was raised to life.  It’s all the wonderful work of salvation!  The wonderful things GOD has done to save us!  So after the Law has crushed us, the gospel is what assures us that we are forgiven and that what Jesus has done for us has been credited to us!

So just like the Law is a mirror and when I look at it I’m filled with despair because I see myself according to my sinful self.  The gospel is a different kind of mirror.  When I look in the gospel-mirror, I see Jesus.  I see his life, his death, his resurrection that’s been credited to my account!

God brought Luther to that understanding through the words of this text.  It says that the righteous will live by faith.  Notice what it doesn’t say; it doesn’t say that the righteous will live by what they do, or by their good works, or by their obedience to the law, no!  It says the righteous will live by faith.  In other words, salvation isn’t something that you do!  It’s a gift that God GIVES to you.

Luther said that when God gave him that understanding it was like the gates of heaven had been flung open to him.  God was not an angry judge who demanded from him a perfection that he couldn’t give, but a merciful and loving father who did for him what he couldn’t do.  Now he had peace and confidence and not shame and guilt.

And God’s given that to you too!  When it comes to your salvation the laws demands have all been met, by Jesus!  The requirements have all been fulfilled, by Jesus!  And that’s what you confess in the words of the Creed.

Ephesians 5:25b-27 – Baptism

I need reminders.  I easily forget things.  If you tell me something on Sunday morning, I’ll probably say, “Please remind me or send me an email or write a note.”  Without reminders we can easily forget things.  There’s a reminder that we have in front of church every Sunday: the baptismal font.  Of what does that remind us?  Of our baptism, of course.  And what’s so significant about baptism?  Luther explained to us that with a little water and a little word at your baptism God works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil and gives eternal salvation.  In other words, at your baptism your sins were cleansed and washed away, God adopted you into His family, you were born again as God’s redeemed child, your name was recorded in the book of life, and you were clothed with Jesus’ perfect life, radiant, without stain or blemish but holy and blameless.  All in your baptism!

Why is this reminder so important for us?  Luther once said, “There are times when I feel my sins most severely.  And the devil then tries to get me to question whether or not God really loves me.  At that point I say, “Devil, I am a baptized child of God and you can’t take that from me.” Baptism is an objective part of your personal history, a seal from your God to you that your sins are forgiven and no one can take your baptism from you.

So be reminded when you see this font, be reminded when hear water running, when you see water, be reminded of the water and the Word by which God brought you into his family through baptism.  Amen.

1 John 1:9-10 and John 20:23 – Ministry of the Keys and Confession

A week and a half ago we went down to the Cities to help my mother-in-law move in to her new home.  We carried quite a few boxes into her house.  Some boxes were large full of dishes…they were heavy.  What’s it like to carry something heavy?  It’s tiring, it’s straining, it causes your muscles to ache, your skin to sweat, it’s exhausting.  Well, carrying around unrepentant sin is also exhausting spiritually, emotionally, and even physically.  King David talked about how God’s hand was heavy upon Him, how his bones wasted away, when he refused to repent of his sin with Bathsheba.  Carrying around a grudge is likewise exhausting.  Are we guilty of sin?  Yes.  Are we guilty of carrying around grudges?  Yes.  What do we need?  We need God to lift the burden from our shoulders.

And God has done just that.  With Jesus’ death and resurrection God took the first step and forgave all our sins against him.  He didn’t hold a grudge, He forgave us.  Why?  So we could live in repentance.  We could live confessing our sins and receiving and announcing forgiveness.  Confession and forgiveness is the heart beat of the Christian’s life.  Sorrow over sin and trusting in Jesus for forgiveness.  In His grace God says that when we announce forgiveness to repentant sinners it is as good and as valid as if God Himself were saying it.  What an awesome burden God lifts from our shoulders!


Matthew 26:26-29 – The Lord’s Supper

Luther concluded his small catechism with the Lord’s Supper.  In his comments in the Large Catechism on the Lord’s Supper he admits that there is a lack of human logic to this. People protest, “How could Jesus give his body and blood to people?  How could that really happen?”  Luther admitted and we also admit, there’ a lack of human logic to all of this.

But Luther also makes the point that God is way smarter than every human and that God is… God!  If God wants something to happen, it will happen, whether or not it makes sense to our human brains.  So, when Jesus says, “This is my body, this is my blood.”  We can be confident that as we eat bread and drink wine we really do receive Jesus’ body and blood and it offers, gives, and seals to us the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

Here’s one illustration that Luther used when discussing the Lord’s Supper.  He compared Jesus’ words in the Lord’s Supper to an official document which guarantees an inheritance.  If you have that official document, it doesn’t matter how scaly, scabby, stinking and most filthy you are, you get the inheritance.

Scaly, scabby, stinking and filthy.  That’s who you and I are when we examine ourselves against God’s commands.  But then in the creed we hear about Jesus our Savior.  In baptism God washes us clean from our sins.  The keys are used to keep assuring us of our salvation.  And then God comes to us in the Supper.  God gives us the miraculous, himself, His own body and blood together with bread and wine.  And with it God guarantees to us the ultimate inheritance, he garuantees and eternity with him in heaven!  And whether it makes sense to us our not, it doesn’t matter because God is smarter that we are, stronger than we are, and when God says it, it works!  Amen.

Thank you, Lord, for the Means of Grace!

Thanksgiving Day

Galatians 3:26-27 – Thank you, Lord, for washing me clean!

We all have so much for which to thank the Lord.  So many things in our lives: homes to live in, food to eat, family and friends, air to breathe, and the list could go on and on.  Today we pause and thank the Lord not only for what He’s done for our bodies, but especially for what He’s done for our salvation.  We thank the Lord for sending Jesus into this world to live perfectly in our place, to die for our sins on the cross, and then to rise from the dead to prove His victory.  There Jesus won some amazing things for us.  He won for us the forgiveness of sins, peace with God, a new life, and life forever in heaven.  Today we thank the Lord for the tools or the means He uses to get these treasures into our hearts.  We thank the Lord for the tools He used to work the miracle of faith in our hearts and still uses to keep us in that faith.

One of the tools God uses is baptism.  Well, why is that we need baptism?  The fact is that each one of us was born into this world separated from God.  “Surely I was sinful from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”  And again, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins.”  And “The wages of sin is death.”  Each one of us has a deep need.  Each one of us needed to be born again, to be reborn spiritually.  Where there is a need, God fills that need.  So when Jesus was about to leave this earth after He had completed the work of our salvation He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them…”  Since every person in this world needs a spiritual rebirth God provides a way for every person, all nations, from the tiniest baby to the oldest adult to be reborn into God’s family.

And what are the results of baptism?  God says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  It is important to note that in the culture when Paul wrote Galatians, sons were the ones who got the inheritance.  God is saying, “No matter who you are, male or female, you get the inheritance from God your Father.   God further says that in baptism you are clothed with Christ.  What do Christ’s “clothes” look like?  They are white with perfection.  When someone is baptized they are adopted into God’s family and are given the perfect robes of righteousness Christ won for them on the cross.  Now when God looks at you He doesn’t see your sinfulness, He sees Christ’s perfect life!

Now the devil likes to find ways to make you doubt, especially when older, “How do you know you are saved?  How do you know?  Are you sure you’re one of God’s children?”  Not only do you look at the reality that Jesus died and rose but you can also look at your baptism.  Your baptism is proof that you are a child of God- what a wonderful fact of history that you can point to “I was baptized, clothed with Christ, adopted as God’s child, my sins were washed away, I was given the inheritance of heaven!”  We thank the Lord for the many physical blessings that He’s given us but any of those could change I a moment’s notice.  The devil might be able to take away everything that you have on this earth, but one thing he can never take away… and that’s your baptism, the proof positive that your name is written in the book of life.  Thank you, Lord, for washing me clean in baptism!  And today we rejoice and give thanks to God that one more name is going to be recorded in the book of life!

Matthew 26:26-29 – Thank you, Lord, for giving me You!

So we’ve been baptized, adopted into God’s family.  Yet the sad fact is…we have the terrible ability to walk away from our baptism, to despise our baptism as meaningless, and to lose all of its benefits.  You plant a seed in a garden, then leave it alone, never water it, never weed it, what’s going to happen?  It will die.  The same goes for our faith as well.  If we never feed our faith it will also eventually die.  So the Lord in His grace gave us the tools to keep our faith strong and healthy.  He’s given us the daily reminder of our baptism, He’s given us His Word that strengthens our faith, AND He’s given us Himself.

On the night when Jesus was betrayed, the day before He’d be crucified, on a very important day, just before He was going to leave His followers, He wanted to give something to His own.  He could have done this in the company of the thousands who had come to listen to Him, but He didn’t.  Rather He wanted to give something in the close company of the disciples whom He had been intensely training for 3 years.   He had nothing else to give them… no bank account, no investments, no heirlooms…so what did He do?   He gave them Himself.  And what more could He give!!

“While they were eating Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”  Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until the day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.  When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”

Did you notice what Jesus said?  Jesus could have said, “This changed into my blood,” but He didn’t.  He could have said, “This represents my blood,” but He didn’t.  Jesus said, “This IS my body…this IS my blood.”  In a miraculous way when we receive the Lord’s Supper we really eat bread and wine and we really receive Jesus’ body and blood.  Perhaps if anyone else said this we’d have reason to doubt, but who is speaking?  It’s Jesus.  The God-man.  The Lord.  We have every reason to take Him at His Word!  What’s the point?  How much is God’s own body and blood worth?  It’s absolutely priceless!  And He gives it to you in His Supper.  In His Supper He not only assures you but actually gives you what you continually need: the forgiveness of our sins!  Yes, thank you, Lord, for giving me You!

Matthew  4:1-4 – Thank you, Lord, for telling me about You!

What amazing love of God that He doesn’t deal with us in minimums!  He gives us the life giving water of baptism, He further strengthens our faith in Him by giving us Himself for the forgiveness of sins in the Supper, AND He feeds our souls through His life-giving Word!  God uses the tool of the good news in His Word to bring us to faith in him, to keep us in that faith, and to set us apart for a godly life!

We all need to eat.  How long do you think you could go without having anything to eat?  After a day of not eating, what happens?  If you’re like me you get a headache, your stomach starts to growl, you start feeling lousy.  What about a week?  Probably at a week just about anything looks pretty good and you’re probably feeling very miserable.  Now what about your soul?  How long can your soul go without being “fed” by God’s Word?  A day?  A week?  A month?  Eventually if we stop eating, we will die, and it won’t take as long as you think.  The same goes for us spiritually.  If we stop feeding on His Word…we will die spiritually.  We’ve all felt what it’s like to go too long without being fed spiritually, haven’t we?  We’re miserable, we’re miserable to be around, we have a short tempers, we’re irritated, etc.  God knows that so He’s given tons of opportunities for us to hear and read and grow in His Word!!!

When Jesus had been in the wilderness for 40 days and nights fasting, probably quite physically weak, the devil came and tempted Him.  But Jesus, though He was tempted, never sinned.  “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.  After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”  Jesus answered, “It is written: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Many of us will be enjoying a Thanksgiving feast later on today.  But most of all we thank the Lord for the feast He gives us spiritually through His Word.  Of telling us and reminding us again and again of all He’s done for us: Jesus paid for our sins, won us forgiveness, gave us new life, heaven’s ours.  God gives us the food we really need in His Word.  Thank you, Lord, for giving me Your Word and telling me about You!

Grace and Peace to You!

6th Sunday after Pentecost

In the name of the Father who raised Jesus from the dead, and of the Son who gave Himself for our sins, and of the Holy Spirit who worked that miracle of faith in our hearts, dear friends in Christ: So where do you begin?  Where do you start?  What do you tackle first?  Have you ever asked questions like those?  Well, perhaps you’ve spoken words similar to that when you meet a friend or relative whom you haven’t seen in years- so much has changed; where do you begin?  Or perhaps you’ve thought those questions when you sit down to start a new endeavor or work on a large project- so much new information, where do you start?  Well as you might have guessed those questions also run through a young man’s mind and heart when he first becomes a pastor : ).  But thank the Lord that in spiritual matters, in eternal matters, in matters that matter the most, God’s given us the place to always begin and end.  The Word of God for our consideration this morning comes from Paul’s letter to the Galatians chapter 1.  (read text)

You see Paul first wrote the letter of Galatians to a group of Christians who were struggling.  They were being misled into believing that a.) Paul was not an apostle sent by Christ and b.) that you needed Jesus PLUS something that YOU have to do in order to be saved.  Paul certainly had a big task on his hands.  Perhaps he even asked, “Where do I begin?”  But these are the words which Holy Spirit inspired him to begin with.  “Paul, an apostle- sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.“  The apostle Paul did not come up with a message on his own; rather, he was sent by God Himself.  So, if God wanted the people of Galatia to listen to God’s Words given through Paul, well then certainly today also God wants us to listen to the words He’s given through Paul as well.

Paul follows the basic set up of letters written in his day, first the sender is listed, “Paul…and all the brothers with me.”  Paul makes it clear that his ministry is a collective one; it includes more than just him.  After listing the sender the custom was to list the recipients of the letter, “to the churches in Galatia.”  God’s message is to churches, literally the word for “church” in the Greek means “those called out.”  The people in Galatia were “called out,” called out both from following their own sinful flesh and called out from following the sinful ways of the world they lived in.  And that’s also what St. Mark’s is, a group of believers who are special in God’s sight, who have been “called out” from the darkness of sin, from the darkness of the sinful ways of this present world and called into the light of truth.

And finally Paul gets to the greeting of his letter: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” Wow! What a beginning!  What a way to begin a message from God!  Grace- a favorite word of the NT which describes the love of God that we can’t earn and certainly don’t deserve but God freely gives it to us in abundance anyway, grace- the love that begins in the very heart of God and flows to His people.  Peace- a favorite of the OT (Shalom) which describes that condition or state that God established through Christ, peace- that state we are in right now whether we realize it or not, it’s our current relationship with God from which flows our realization of that peace, the rest, satisfaction, and joy that are ours because we are at peace with God, everything is just right between you and your God.

And why are grace and peace ours?  Because He “gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”  There was a price that needed to be paid.  Jesus paid that price by giving Himself for our sins.  And He did that to rescue us from this evil age, he plucked us from imminent death.  Maybe think of it kind of like an infant baby left in a burning house, helpless on his or her own, but is rescued by a fireman who carries that baby to safety.  Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection saved us from this present evil age.  You see, God has rescued you from a life that will one day end into a life that will never end.  If God hadn’t rescued us, then we would have no eternity in heaven to look forward to, no confidence in a life after death.  But, as God’s child the end of your life here on earth is simply the entrance into life eternal in heaven.  You and I are part of something eternal, not part of something that will one day pass away!  And this is all what God wanted from eternity!

But is that really how we live?    Do we live as ones who have been rescued from this present evil age, this temporary existence?  Is it always clear from our lives, our attitudes, our speech, that we are part of God’s eternal kingdom?  Is the way we spend our time a reflection of how we’ve been rescued from this present evil age?  I think it wouldn’t take any of us too long examining our own lives until we have to admit that there have been many times when we’ve failed to live as who we are, members of eternal life.  In fact there may be so many times that we must ask the question: Where do we begin?  Where do we start?

But it’s so easy isn’t it?  It’s so easy to lose our eternal focus on life, isn’t it?  I mean there are so many things pulling our attention to the here and now and causing us to forget the reality, the reality that this temporary existence isn’t the be all and end all of life.  I’ve got this event to go to, or this project to work on, or that t.v. show to watch, or _____________.  And before we know it we can’t remember how long it’s been since we let our Lord speak to us through His Word about the most important stuff, the spiritual stuff, the eternal stuff.  And you know the consequences as well as I do, soon we’re also riding the up and down waves of this changing world.  Thrilled and happy when the stock market goes up and devastated and bitter when the economy slumps, happy and kind to our spouse when he or she did something for ME, but angry and upset when he or she doesn’t want to do things MY way.  So do we really live as ones rescued from this present evil age?  Where do we begin?  Where do we start?

And the sad fact is that we know the danger.  When we don’t live as God’s citizens of eternal life we try to make ourselves part of the present evil age.  And it doesn’t make any sense, it’s like the baby kicking and screaming at the fireman and trying to get back into the burning house.  It doesn’t make any sense!  So where do we begin?  Where do we start?

God has the answer.  He gives us the answer in His Word.  Where do we start?  Where do we begin?  Right where He started: God so loved the world that He wanted to send His Son Jesus to live a perfect life in the place of every single sinful person and to suffer and die on a cross as the full and complete payment for all sins of all time, yours and mine included.  Then on Easter morning He proved His victory over sin, death, and the devil when He rose from the dead- and His victory is also your victory.  That, brothers and sisters in Christ, is grace!  And that incomprehensible grace is what gives you peace throughout this life and into your life in heaven!

Paul spoke these words of grace and peace to some of the first Christian churches.  Almost 2,000 years later these words are still being spoken and they are being spoken right here at St. Mark’s in Bemidji, MN.  Yes, many things change over time, even pastorates change, but one thing will never change and that’s God’s Word, God’s love letter to you, God’s message of grace and peace to you!  So where do we begin?  This is how we always begin all endeavors in Jesus’ name: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!  Amen.


Freedom Sermonettes

6th Sunday after Pentecost

Slavery Earned – Genesis 3:6, 22-24

Dear friends in Christ, what do you think it would be like?  Fortunately not many of us, if any of us, know what it would be like from experience.  Can you imagine living under an oppressive government, where you couldn’t just do what you wanted, and instead everything you’d do would be for someone else, where you’d always have to do what someone else told you or wanted you to do- and if you even thought about NOT obeying you’d be thrown in jail or punished?  Can you imagine how horrible life would be?  Thank the Lord that He’s given us lots of freedom in the United States, where we are free to live our lives in peace and where we are free to worship our Lord in peace.

God originally created human beings with incredible spiritual freedom: freedom to serve their loving Creator in love and joy.  But then this happened: read text

Adam and Eve turned their back on the incredible freedom God gave them and chose slavery to sin.  As descendents of Adam and Eve, not only did we inherit physically from them, but also spiritually- we inherited their sin.  So guess what…by nature we are slaves to sin, sin is our slave-master, no matter how hard we might try we are bound to sin- we were born with it and we are stuck in it.  By nature, on our own, we couldn’t do one single good thing.

And this slavery that we human beings are stuck in has consequences.  The final consequence of being enslaved in sin is death…eternal death.  Not only are we slaves to sin, by nature we deserve eternal slavery.

But there is good news.  Notice the name God uses for Himself here: the LORD God.  Remember what that name means?  He is the God of faithful love.  And the God of faithful love drove Adam and Eve out of the garden.  God didn’t want them and us to remain in our sin-enslaved condition forever.  No, thank the Lord He had something much better in mind.

Freedom Won – Hebrews 2:14-15

Imagine being a young boy or girl at one of the first July 4th celebrations.  Instead of celebrating the birthday of the king, you’re now celebrating the birthday of your country.  Bells ringing, bonfires, speeches, excitement.  Instead of being subject to a country thousands of miles away and separated by a great ocean, now you’re a citizen of the United States of America.  Imagine the exhilarating feelings!  And…that freedom that is yours and will be the rest of your life…all that…was won for you by other people…they did the work, you reap the benefits.  What a gift!

Thank the Lord we too have someone who fought our battle- the most important battle of all- the spiritual battle against sin, death, and the devil.  The writer to the Hebrews is talking about Jesus when he writes: read text

There’s a huge difference of where we ought to be and where we are.  We ought to be enslaved: enslaved by the devil’s temptations.  We ought to be led to fall ignorantly headlong into each of his deadly pits.  We ought to be enslaved by sin.  Sin ought to force us to make a huge mess of our lives and plague us with unbearable guilt.  And death ought to enslave us, to hold us in the grip of fear and cause us to do everything possible to avoid the inevitable horror of death…that’s where we ought to be.

Praise the Lord that’s not where we are!  Jesus fought our battle in our place.  Jesus released us from our slavery.  Jesus freed us from our oppression.  Jesus used that very thing that the devil thought he could use to enslave us with fear, which is death, Jesus used death in order to free us from the devil’s grip.  Jesus by His death on the cross freed us from our eternal death.  And Jesus not only set us free and released us, but He also “destroyed him who holds the power of death – that is the devil” or better, literally, the Greek says that Jesus “put the devil out of commission, rendered him inoperable.”  No longer is sin your slave-master.  No longer can the devil hold you in his grips.  No longer can death plague you with fear.  Why?  Because Jesus has set you free, Jesus has put the devil out of commission for you.

And the greatest blessing of all, you didn’t do a thing for it, Jesus handed you this awesome gift of freedom completely freely!  What a gift!

Freedom to Serve – Galatians 5:1, 13

What do you think the founding fathers of this country did after 1776?  Do you think they went right back into the same old system of government that they had?  Do you think they kept asking, “I wonder how we can be more like Great Britain?”  Do you think they went right back to the way things used to be?  No, they won their freedom and now they were going to use it, to be different, to live new lives in a new country with new found freedom.  Thankfully they stood firm on their declaration of independence.

In a similar way God encourages us to continue standing firm in the freedom that He has won for us: read text

How do we use this awesome freedom that God has given us?  If God has set us free from anything we have to do in regard to getting to heaven, then why not live it up!  Why not do whatever we want?  Why not enjoy all of the sinful things of this world?  Why care about what is wrong and what is right?  Why bother?  We’re free…right?

God has indeed set us free and given us real freedom.  Freedom from the burden of sin, freedom from the slavery of sin that hung around our necks.  You see, remaining in our sinful habits or continuing in our sin is like saying, “God that’s nice that you’ve freed me, but I don’t want it”,  and then going back to sin, death, and the devil and saying, “Here!  Bind me, enslave me, make me your slave.”  That would be ridiculous!  Why would we want to go back to that slavery from which Jesus freed?  It wouldn’t make sense!

God’s given us incredible freedom TO USE!  And with this freedom is incredible meaning in life.  God’s given us “freedom to serve one another in love.”  No longer is our goal in life “what can I get out of this.”  No, God’s freely given us all we ever need for eternity- eternal life.  So, if God’s given us what we need the most we can freely give ourselves in service to others.

The freedom Jesus won for us also gives us a fulfilling life.  No longer do we look at life with a sin-enslaved mindset and see life from behind the bars of “what I can’t do” or “what I’m restricted from doing”.  No, rather Jesus has truly set us free…and freedom connected with love says, “I am free!  What can I do?  How can I serve others in love?  How can I use my freedom to honor God by serving others? What possibilities of service are in front of me to use?”

That’s an awesome freedom God’s given you to use!  Freedom for a fulfilling life, freedom for a meaningful life, freedom to serve God by serving others in love!  Yes, “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free”!  Let’s use it!



Stand Firm!

1st Sunday of End Time – Reformation Sunday

Baptism- Matthew 28:19-20
Luther was born November 10, 1483.  The very next day his father took him to the church to be baptized.  Since November 11 is St. Martin’s day, they named him Martin.  He was also given another name on that day.  When the minister poured water on his head and read the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit,” Martin Luther was called “God’s son.”  Although for a while Martin Luther didn’t recognize it, on that day God made Martin Luther His very own child.

The same is true for us.  You and I, too, can look back on our baptism and see what a great miracle God did in each one of us.   He washed you clean from sin, put faith in your heart, gave you a new life, and claimed you as his very own child.  You also have the name written on you “God’s son” or “God’s daughter.”  And that’s GOOD NEWS!

Crisis in Life- Galatians 3:10
Martin Luther was a gifted student and studied to become a lawyer.  During his schooling he came down with a serious fever, once almost bled to death, and witnessed many people around him dying.  Perhaps Luther often thought about dying and what his relationship with God was.  He tells us that he saw God as a fearful judge who was never satisfied no matter what he did.  His soul was in turmoil.  Then on the road to Erfurt, lightning struck near him and he cried out to St. Anne- the patron saint of miners- and vowed to become a monk, surely he would find some rest for his soul in the strict obedience of the monastery!

Oh, it sounds so right doesn’t it?  “There must be something that I can or have to do to earn salvation; to earn God’s favor!  God simply is not dumb, surely he demands something of us!”  But what does God demand?  Perfection in everything.  God says, “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”  Cursed is anyone who relies on the law to be saved!

The Righteous will live by faith- Romans 1:17
You are forgiven!  Jesus lived a perfect and innocent life for you.  Jesus died to pay for every one of your sins.  Jesus rose from the dead to declare you innocent!  Your sins have been taken away.

But Luther didn’t understand this right away.  He spent his time in strict monastery obedience.  He was also put to work lecturing and preaching on the Bible.  The false teaching of the Catholic Church still caused him to misunderstand God and His Word.  Although he lived in strict obedience to monastery rules, his sins still gnawed at him and his conscience greatly plagued him.   He said, “I could not believe that he (God) was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God …”

The Lord worked through his powerful Word and convinced Martin Luther of the truth.  Finally, he understood.  The righteousness of God is NOT the righteousness God demands of us, rather, the righteousness of God is what He credits to us, it is a gift, it is free, it is ours by faith!  The righteous life Jesus lived is now credited to us- He took our sins on Himself and gave us His perfect robe of righteousness.  So, instead of earning or deserving God’s love or God’s forgiveness by something we do, God’s love and forgiveness is freely ours.  It is completely separate from anything we do or do not do; in grace God credits us with the perfect life that Jesus lived.  That’s awesome news!

Indulgences come to Germany; Taking a stand! 1 Corinthians 15:57-58
God convinced Luther through the Word that God is a God of love.  Luther dove into Scripture and little by little discarded the errors taught by the Catholic Church.  Luther proclaimed the truth of Scripture again and it caused quite a stir among the Church and the Empire. Specifically, when the Catholic Church was selling indulgences (pieces of paper that would “forgive sins”), on October 31, 1517 Luther posted 95 statements on the church door asking for a debate on this subject.  Luther wanted to get a chance to defend his teaching based on Scripture and to bring the Catholic Church back to God’s Word. Instead of debating with Luther on the basis of Scripture, the Church tried to please him, then threatened him, and finally the pope excommunicated him. The Church never did give him the chance to defend his teaching; rather they only wanted to hear him recant his teaching.  Finally, Luther stood before the Emperor himself and the Emperor asked him if he would recant or else he would be an outlaw.  Luther answered, “If I am not convicted by testimony from the Holy Scriptures or by common, clear, and evident reasons… and if I am not convicted by my own published writing, my conscience being held fast in the Word of God, then I can not and will not recant anything, for it is neither safe nor advisable to act against conscience. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me! Amen!”

It sure didn’t look like Luther was in a position to win a victory.  How could he be right and everyone else in the Church, the great Catholic theologians, be wrong?  But Luther took to heart God’s Word, “”But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you.” You and I take to heart God’s Word too.  Stand firm on God’s Word.  When society says God’s teachings aren’t “popular,” stand firm.  Stand firm on all of God’s Word.   When church bodies go away from God’s Word and trust in human teachings, stand firm on God’s Word!

Final Victory! Psalm 118:15-19
On February 18, 1546 Luther was on his death bed.  He was asked if he still held to all of the teachings he rediscovered from the Bible and Luther responded with a firm “Yes.”  After that, God gave Luther the final victory.  What great news when God takes one of His own to heaven!

What a God of love we have!  He sent Martin Luther to lead the church back to the good news of the Bible.  Like Luther we too want to treasure God’s Word, hold firmly on to it, and share its good news with other.  So finally, reassured from God’s Word we close our eyes in death only to open them in life eternal!  “Shouts of joy and victory…”