Monthly Archives: June 2016

What Am I Doing?

I don’t say much about my personal life here. This blog is mostly for sermons and quotes. Now and then I’ll write something personal. Now and then is right now.

Since November, 2014 I’ve lost 42 pounds. I’ve lost at least two, going on three, pant sizes. I’m down a couple inches in neck size. Shirts I haven’t worn in ten years now fit. I had to give away about three diaper boxes full of golf shirts that look like a tent when I wear them.

The big question is, “What are you doing?” So I’ll tell you what I am doing.

  1. I work out three times a week at Elite PT One-On-One Personal Training in Bourbonnais, IL. My PT once worked for Impact Fitness in Bradley, IL. That business closed in late March. Ron (my PT) went out on his own and opened a new facility in about a week’s time. It’s an amazing story and I couldn’t be more proud of him for doing it. Monday is chest and shoulders day. Wednesday is leg day. Thursday is back and biceps day, aka, “Deadlift Day”. I set a new personal best yesterday, deadlifting 405 pounds. I know, it’s heavy, but it’s doable if you know what you’re doing. I try to do some cardio time every workout day, but some days are better than other days.
  2. I see a health coach every fortnight at Green and Healthy in Bradley, IL. Tammy (my health coach) practices Integrative Nutrition, weaving body, mind, and spirit together in a cohesive whole. She has helped me form a better relationship with food. She continues to help me break down walls in my life that have been erected over time. I am in a much better place mentally than I have been in many years. There’s still work to do here, but I’m happy where I’m at now.
  3. I make better choices about what to put inside my body. We drink raw milk. We like to know where all our food comes from. I rarely drink pop. I drink more water. I eat less. I enjoy every bite of what I eat. Yes, there are those times when fast food is the only choice, but I make as good of a choice as I can when those times come. For the first time in my life, I am eating to live rather than living to eat. I can’t thank my wife and our children for being my best cheerleaders in the food department!

I am a person who needs accountability. Some people are able to make lifestyle changes on their own. God bless them. I can’t do it. I need accountability. I have a great accountability crew that help keep me focused. I’d like to lose about another 25 pounds. That will put me where I would like to be for now. I’m happy with my body. There’s always more work to be done. I’m up for the task.

If you need to make a lifestyle change, don’t wait. Do it now. You can do it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and/or for accountability if and when you need it. Finally, don’t be bashful to do something for yourself. You deserve it.

Fifth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 5:1-11

“An Gottes Segen ist Alles gelegen” says the German proverb. Some translate it into English as “God’s blessing gained, all is obtained.” It’s a free translation of a proverb that is literally translated, “Everything is located in God’s blessing.” When God lets something happen, He lets it happen in a big way. There are no fractions with God.

Take the miraculous catch of fish in today’s Gospel. Peter, James, John, and the rest of the fishermen toiled all night, catching nothing. Jesus wants to use a couple of boats to cast out a bit from shore in order to teach the people. The crowd was pressing in on Jesus to hear the Word of God. The command to cast nets into the deep in broad daylight comes as a surprise to Peter. Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.

The original language of the New Testament uses two different words for “word” here. The first use is word as in Who Jesus is, the Word of God, the eternal λόγος. The second use is word as in something uttered. Maybe you might say Peter says, “Because you say so, Master, I will do it.” There may be a hint of sarcasm behind Peter’s statement. Peter is the fisherman. He knows how to fish, where to fish, and when to fish. Jesus breaks all the rules in his command to cast the nets. You don’t fish in broad daylight in deep water. Perhaps Peter is setting up Jesus for a lesson in fishing.

The shoe is on the other foot this time. Jesus is setting Peter up for a lesson not only about fishing, but also about God’s blessings in one’s work. The words “work” and “blessing” usually don’t go together. We may say that God has blessed us with a job, but that’s because we’re getting paid to do work. The work isn’t often satisfying, but the trip to the bank to deposit the paycheck is satisfying.

Everything depends on God’s blessing. Wise King Solomon says, The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews says, For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. Consider also the feeding of five thousand and four thousand men from such little amounts of food. If God doesn’t bless the land with rain and sun to grow crops, the farmer is in trouble.

Even if God blesses everything, we still misuse it for what we think is our advantage. Zophar in the book of Job says He swallows down riches and vomits them up again; God casts them out of his belly. Think also of the lost son two weeks ago who squandered his father’s inheritance in prodigal living. All of us know someone who has lost everything in an instant through fire, flood, or worse yet, bankruptcy.

We say we trust God to guide all things for our own good, but we don’t follow through on believing it. We end up like children of the world who care only for their body, their money, and their possessions. When things go good, the blessing is a self-induced blessing. Look how smart you are. Look how shrewd you dealt with others. When things go bad, it’s God’s fault. I expected Him to give His blessing, even though I don’t believe He will bless my affairs, and all I got was trouble.

Thinking about God’s blessing, singing about it, even talking about God’s blessing is one thing. Putting words into trust is another thing. God nourishes us through our work. He gave you the gifts, talents, and skills to do what you do, and to do it well. Even those with seemingly meaningless vocations, like Peter as a fisherman, please God when they please their neighbor by utilizing their God-given talents.

There’s a famous quote attributed to Martin Luther about the shoemaker not needing to show crosses on shoes to show he is a Christian shoemaker. Luther probably didn’t say that, but he did say this about work: “The prince should think: Christ has served me and made everything to follow him; therefore, I should also serve my neighbor, protect him and everything that belongs to him. That is why God has given me this office, and I have it that I might serve him. That would be a good prince and ruler. When a prince sees his neighbor oppressed, he should think: That concerns me! I must protect and shield my neighbor….The same is true for shoemaker, tailor, scribe, or reader. If he is a Christian tailor, he will say: I make these clothes because God has bidden me do so, so that I can earn a living, so that I can help and serve my neighbor. When a Christian does not serve the other, God is not present; that is not Christian living.”

Consider also that God does not bless everyone in the same way. He blesses all with forgiveness of sins and eternal life in the shedding of His blood and His rising from the dead. That is the greatest blessing anyone receives. When it comes to earthly blessings, the Lord bestows to one person a lot, to another a little. One He blesses to an abundance, another in a frugal way. Without His blessing, all our toil is for nothing.

Everything in heaven and on earth is located in God’s blessing. He will bless your work to your neighbor. Your work is a blessing to them. God’s work for you is blessing you with the blood and righteousness of His Son Jesus. You are innocent before His face. The robe of righteousness that covers you is your eternal blessing. The exact locatedness of God’s blessing is at this pulpit, that font, and this altar. These are the places where God puts His forgiveness upon you. Word, water, bread, wine, Body, and Blood are put in your life, blessing you with forgiveness and life.

No wonder Asaph sings in Psalm 73: Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

“An Gottes Segen ist Alles gelegen.” Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

Fourth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 6:36-42

If you’re first in line to give Jesus an “atta boy!” after hearing today’s Gospel, then you are guilty of speck judging. You don’t see the beam in your own eye because you’re so blind in seeing the speck in your neighbor’s eye.

Jesus’ words are easy to understand and apply: do not judge, do not condemn, forgive, and give. Those are easy, or so they seem to be easy. The problem happens in exercising mercy in your daily life. Mercy is the cornerstone of what it means to be a Christian. God shows mercy on you in Jesus Christ. You don’t get what you deserve; Jesus takes it instead, giving you His mercy and forgiveness.

Imagine for a moment if every Christian in every congregation would practice mercy every day. Christian congregations would become paradise on earth. Every Christian would appear before the world as a bright shining light. People would literally pull the doors off the hinges of every church clamoring to get inside and partake of God’s mercy.

We talk a good game, but we don’t play a good game when it comes to exercising mercy. That is why Jesus gives blessings and curses in Luke chapter six. Christian mercy is a virtue, perhaps the best virtue of all. Christian mercy flows from Christ.

The natural heart is moved at the sight of great need for compassion. Perhaps your heart burned within you watching or hearing about the 49 dead people in Orlando, Florida last Sunday. People lined up to give blood for complete strangers. Beyond the usual political bluster and civic machinations about love and hate, people do what people do to help their neighbor, whether or not they are Christians. Here we see a glimmer of what life was before the fall into sin. Though broken, the image of God remains in us. We want to help.

We want to help until our help is slighted or used against us for someone else’s advantage. Christian mercy becomes hard-heartedness, a “political, beggarly, shaggy, piece-meal mercy” as Martin Luther calls it. Ingratitude determines to whom you will show mercy. If you know the response will be good, you help. If you know you will be taken advantage of by someone, you turn your back and walk away. Let someone else feel the hurt you felt at their ingratitude.

What you see as a shrewd decision is actually ignoring the beam in your eye. You don’t get to pick and choose who is your neighbor. You don’t get to vote on whom mercy is shown. You exercise mercy to all, regardless of any prejudice. What if God showed prejudice to you by cutting you out of His plan of salvation? He plans to save all mankind, except you, because He sees and knows what you’ll do with it.

That’s not how God operates. He gives you all things, natural and spiritual, temporal and eternal, out of pure divine goodness and mercy, without any merit on your part. If he gave you what you deserve, you would have hell and damnation. Instead He gives you life and salvation. He provides clothing, food, drink, and every good thing. As God is merciful to you, you are merciful to your neighbor.

Jesus says how rendering mercy looks. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned. This is a hard saying of Jesus often misused by many people. There are those given to judge: magistrates, the ruling authorities, preachers, parents, and other superiors are given to judge. God sets up society this way for the sake of law and order. What Jesus means here is judgment and condemnation that comes from a self-righteous disposition and elevation over the neighbor.

The Germans have a word that we don’t have in the English language that captures self-righteous judgment and condemnation of the neighbor. The word is “schadenfreude“, joy in bad things. We catch ourselves saying, “What goes around comes around.” That’s an example of schadenfreude. We love to watch people get their just desserts when they make a mistake. The more public the person, the more embarrassing the situation, the greater the schadenfreude.

Schadenfreude is something the old Adam loves to have in his arsenal against the neighbor. Social media only makes it worse. A day rarely goes by when at least one moment of schadenfreude happens on Facebook or Twitter. Can you imagine Noah’s drunken moment today with social media? Tens of thousands of people would demand his sons drop the cloak that covered his shame in order to see his nakedness and make Noah a spectacle. The opposite of schadenfreude is pity. You are given to take pity in your neighbor’s sins, cover them with the cloak of love, speak well of your neighbor, and explain everything in the kindest way.

Jesus also says forgive, and you will be forgiven. You can never be so greatly offended that you shouldn’t forgive not only seven times, but seventy times seven, and even more than that number. You don’t let the sun go down on your wrath. Not only is that good marital advice for husbands and wives, it’s also great advice for us when it comes to our neighbor. Perhaps you have caught yourself praying the Lord’s Prayer and wanting to mumble past the phrase forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. You can’t pray that in good conscience if you don’t forgive your neighbor as Christ forgives you in shedding His blood for your sake.

Jesus then says give, and it will be given to you. Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan comes to mind. The man does good from his necessity to a Jew, his mortal enemy, with the risk of his own life. After all, our Father in heaven makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

You are in the same condition as your neighbor. You are a sinner. You deserve everlasting death because of your disobedience to God and to neighbor. The Lord despises a speck judger who doesn’t see the beam in his own eye. Yet He does not cast them into the deepest pit of hell because of who they are. His Son, Jesus Christ, dies for their sin and is raised that they may have life with Him. God works repentance toward the forgiveness of sins. Christ’s work on your behalf is the foundation for every good work you do, especially the work of mercy toward your neighbor. In Christ you are judged worthy of eternal life and not condemned. You are forgiven. He gives you every good and perfect gift, especially the gift of mercy shown to others that you give in Christ’s name.

Do not fear. The Lord provides. You, in turn, will provide for others as all things are provided for you. That’s the cycle of mercy according to Jesus. When your mercy for others fails, His mercy for you never fails. Believe it for His sake.

Third Sunday after Trinity – Luke 15:11-32

That son got what was coming to him. He’s got to learn his lesson. Or does he? Who needs to learn the lesson here?

The older son is the one who must learn the lesson. He got what was coming to him alright. His father said so. Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. Never does the father say that the older son forfeited his inheritance. Never does the father say that the younger son forfeited his sonship, even after the younger son basically told dad to drop dead. That’s what is behind the request for his share of the inheritance. The younger son wants his share of what is his. So dad does the unthinkable. He gives the boy his body, the part of himself that will one day belong to the son.

You can see why the older son is resentful. You throw away an inheritance by wasting it away with prostitutes and parties. Soon you discover the world owes you nothing. The world won’t give you anything either. Even when you work, you get what you get. The boy didn’t know what he lost until he lost it all. When he comes home, rehearsing his sob story all the way, Dad cuts him off and treats him like a son. Think of it. This is the guy who wasted his share of his inheritance, something that was given to him early by his father in an irrational gesture. Then Dad gets even more irrational by throwing a party for the lost son now found.

Or is the lost son actually the lost son? Jesus throws a twist into the parable by ending with the older son. Look where he is when the party is going on. The older son was in the field. If you are an older son, especially if you are the oldest son, and your father will give you your share of the inheritance one day, you are probably not out standing in the field working. You are by his side, being his shadow, watching him and working side-by-side with him. The day is going to come when you will do what he has done. You are the apprentice, he is the master.

Instead, you are in the field working. You’re sending the message to everyone that you don’t trust the old man. You have to show everyone, even Dad, that you have to earn your keep. The world owes you nothing. You get what you get when you work. It’s as if he thinks Dad will pull a fast one when the estate is settled. The older son is hedging his bets. He has a backstop just in case dad changes his mind.

The older son’s indignance sounds familiar because what he says is what we are thinking. Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him! Put another way: Look, I’ve been a Christian all my life. I haven’t missed church in years. I always tithe. You don’t give me the good stuff in return. I still get sick. My friends are dying. My family cares about themselves more than me. But when these sinners come crawling back to Your doorstep after all these years when they acted like You didn’t exist, You welcome them as if they never left!

Who is the one who has left? Since when did the Christian faith become all about rewarding your piety and punishing “those sinners out there”. Look at yourself first. You are “those sinners out there”. A lost sheep is found, a lost coin is found, and you’re happy for the person. A lost son is found, and everything changes because you didn’t get to see the lost son get his recompense. Worse yet, you didn’t get to set the parameters for his repentance. He just comes skipping up the lane as if Dad has no choice but to welcome him home. How about some hardcore penance? I’d like to see some remorse here. I’ll let you know when you are remorseful enough. Meanwhile I’ll take the party, thank you very much. I’ve earned it.

You’ve earned nothing but eternal death. Your only hope for eternal life is a Savior Who, as the Pharisees and scribes say, receives sinners and eats with them. Jesus only receives sinners. The righteous and the holy have no need for a Savior, or so they think. Jesus also dies for the self-righteous and self-holy ones, too. Those who think they need Jesus to affirm their righteousness and holiness are left speechless, just like the older son is speechless at the end of Luke chapter 15. The father tells the older son: It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.

Jesus never gives us what the older brother says. It’s worthless to predict his answer. It’s not worthless to predict your answer. Consider what Jesus lays before you today. A lost sheep is carried home. A lost coin is found. A lost son, a dead son, lives and is found. What about the real lost son, though? The real lost son is the older son, who thinks Dad’s inheritance must be earned and cannot be a gift.

Dad’s inheritance is always a gift. You can never earn something freely given, no matter how hard you try or how much you insist. You are lost, but now found in Christ. You are dead, but now alive in Christ. The celebration is living by faith in the Son of God, Who loves you and gave His life for you. Living by faith in Jesus is staying connected to His gifts of forgiveness and life. You’re connected in Baptism. You’re connected in preaching. You’re connecting in the Lord’s Supper. Font, pulpit, and altar are the furniture for the party. Jesus is the life of the party, for life flows from Him. The celebration is for you, the lost one, the little one, the dead one. You are found. You are precious. You are alive. All these are yours in Jesus Christ, Who lost His life and took it back so you may live with Him and celebrate His faithfulness to His Father for your sake.

As the prophet Micah says: Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You didn’t get what was coming to you. But Jesus did, for your sake. Rejoice!

Second Sunday after Trinity – Luke 14:15-24

Perhaps you’ve seen the movie “Babette’s Feast”. If you haven’t, the movie is available in the church library. It’s a VHS cassette, so if you don’t have a VCR then you can’t watch it. At any rate, the movie is about two Danish women named Martina and Philippa. They are a pastor’s daughters and have spent their life feeding the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind in their little village. A helper from France named Babette has been at their side for fourteen years.

One day Babette receives news that she has won the lottery: 10,000 French francs. Instead of using the money to return to Paris and her lost lifestyle, Babette decides to spend it preparing a delicious dinner for the sisters and their small congregation on the occasion of what would have been Martina and Philippa’s father’s 100th birthday. Babette never tells anyone, but she spends her entire winnings on the feast.

As the various never-before-seen ingredients arrive, and preparations commence, Martina and Philippa begin to worry that the meal will become a sin of sensual luxury, if not some form of devilry. In a hasty conference, the sisters and the congregation agree to eat the meal, but to forego speaking of any pleasure in it, and to make no mention of the food during the dinner. It will be as if they had lost their sense of taste. What happens next, along with what happens in a number of subplots in the movie, is up to you to discover. I won’t spoil it.

The way Martina, Philippa, and the little congregation deal with the lavish meal of grace Babette prepares is much like how sinners deal with our heavenly Father’s lavish meal of grace. What triggers Jesus to tell this parable is one man’s response to what Christ says just before today’s Gospel begins. The man’s response to Jesus’ request to invite the dregs of society to the banquet table is, Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!

If that man only knew what he meant by what he said. God the Father invites many to His banquet of grace. Many will not heed the invitation: Come, for everything is now ready. When the servant says everything, he means everything. Even the invitation is given personally by his servant. All those invited have to do is get themselves to the banquet and get the food in their mouths. Jesus calls the banquet great, meaning that many are invited as well as what those invited are fed. This banquet is better than a three-star Michelin gourmet dinner. The man giving the banquet spared nothing. The best of the best is ready for the greatest and the least.

When the servant cries: Come, for everything is now ready, are you ready? Or are you like the little congregation that once heard Martina and Phillipa’s father preach? Perhaps you are afraid the banquet will be too good to be true. Maybe the bait and switch is on. Christians are good at the bait and switch. We’ll get people into church by preaching sweet Gospel, then switch over to preaching against vices instead of preaching Christ crucified. We’ll turn the great banquet into a TV dinner. That’s a fit banquet for unworthy sinners.

Maybe there won’t be a banquet. We’ll tell them there’s something here for them. Then when they’re here we’ll say there’s nothing really here for them until they clean up their act or stop all their pet sins. No Jesus for you. Come back when you’re righteous and holy enough for God. We’ll tell you when your personal righteousness is good enough for God, even though our own personal righteousness is never good enough for God.

No wonder they all alike began to make excuses. Sinful Christians, forgiven Christians, want to turn the banquet of grace into a banquet of merit. Those who give and those who receive don’t trust the banquet host. He might lie. He might serve a banquet so good that I’ll sin by showing up. What if the walls fell in and roof fell on me? I’ll stay home and tend to the sure things in life: my material possessions, my job, my marriage, and my family. Things tend to get too unpredictable at the banquet because I am not in control.

Perhaps that’s one of the big reasons why so many people spurn their personal invitation to the great banquet of grace where Jesus is host, chef, cook, butler, and food. God is in control of the banquet. He invites the people He wants to invite. He invites the poor and crippled and blind and lame. He even invites those in the highways and hedges. Those folks are the better class of losers, God’s kind of people.

The poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame, and those in the highways and hedges are the marginalized of society. They also are the ones who see God’s grace much better than we do. When you have nothing to give to a God who expects nothing from you in return for all He does for you, then you sprint to the banquet table to dine in the presence of the God Who saves from sin, death, and hell. You see the benefits of dining with Jesus Christ. Jesus does you only good. He runs the Bushhog before you, so to speak, by clearing the way to the Father in His death for your sins and in His resurrection for your justification. The path to the Father is clear. You walk the way first trod by the Way Himself.

This banquet of grace is life in Jesus Christ. He puts the food and drink in your mouth, your ears, and your life, using His servants to put the good stuff in your life. All that’s left for you to do is render the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord…and even doing that is a gift of God He gives to you in His Word. Jesus Christ only dies for sinners. That’s the secret to the great banquet of grace. You can act like the meal is too good for your taste buds but, in time, God will have His way with you. He’ll see the game you play with Him. The excuses only go so far. You will be compelled to come to the banquet hall and dine at His side. He will feed you. You will eat and be satisfied for all eternity.

To him who lacks sense wisdom says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” What are you waiting for? Taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!