St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church

Precious

Podcast Version

1 Peter 1:18-19—For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Take a moment to think of the things you prize—the things you treasure.

After loved ones, God’s Word, and the worship you dearly miss in God’s house, isn’t every thing else you treasure something of this world? Your home. Your vehicle. Your toys. Your collectables. Your hobbies. Your skills. Remember that all those things will perish. They’ll fall apart someday. You can’t take one thing with you when you die. On the Last Day all those things will be destroyed. Not even any silver or gold. It all perishes.

Bringing that perspective to mind shows us just how precious we are to God when we consider it wasn’t with things that fade and pass away God used to save us. God didn’t buy us back to himself (redeem us) with something that has worldly value. God went beyond that which mankind treasures, and gave that which he treasures most—his precious, one and only Son!

Jesus and his blood is precious because it is unstained with sin. Jesus lived a perfect life in your place so that you could be set free from the empty way of life you would have been lost to had you been left to fend for yourself. Even now, as God’s children, we struggle, don’t we? We struggle to let go of the trinkets of this world so that we can hold on to the treasure that lasts forever.

I pray that this time of pandemic, panic, and fear has helped to open your eyes all the more to that which is truly precious—the innocent blood of the Lamb which was shed for you. The full and free forgiveness of sins that was won for you. The eternal life in heaven that has been prepared for you.

Yes, treasure these most of all. But also treasure and be thankful for the earthly treasures God has given you in your loved ones and the possessions you have. But always remember, God’s Word and his promises can never be taken away. They can never be destroyed. These last into eternity. That is why they are truly precious.

Confident Future

Podcast Version

Acts 2:38-39—Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

The future seems to be a mixed bag lately. Some are very confident. Some are cautious. Some are downright doomsday. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, there is a lot of the future that seems very cloudy these days. Even after the governor released his Badger Bounce Back plan, which was good to finally see some sort of plan, I still see a lot of holes—a lot of unanswered questions. Maybe you do too.

The first lessons in the season of Easter are always from the book of Acts. This week’s reading is part of Peter’s great Pentecost sermon. Just before the verses included in this devotion, Peter cut the people to the heart with soul-crushing law. He laid the blame of Jesus’ death at their feet, and rightly so. What do you think the future looked like to people who just heard that they put to death the very Son of God and their Savior??? Certainly only terror and the certainty of hell!

What we read today is Peter’s response to their terror and their very real doomsday future.
Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.

But Peter didn’t stop there. He didn’t just provide God’s solution for the here and now. God’s solution for the future is one that is eternal. One that is bright and beautiful!
The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.

Peter speaks confidently of the future for himself, us, our children, our grand-children, and all who follow after us who will be called by the Lord! You have been called into God’s family through your baptism. God called you by name and promised you a future here on earth that will certainly be a life under the cross, but one where he will give you all you need to bring you safely home to heaven. And that is the difference maker—heaven. Heaven is yours because Jesus has forgiven all your sins. Jesus paid the price. Jesus gives you his righteousness. Jesus calls you to be his own. Jesus has won the victory. Therefore, you can be confident of your future.

Podcast

Destroying Doubt

Podcast Version

John 20:26-28—A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

We’ve talked a lot lately about fear, but not one of its greatest precursors—doubt. Doubt is always with us, but now it seems to be everywhere. Doubt in the wisdom and abilities of our leaders. Doubt over whether or not the scientists will discover an effective treatment for COVID-19. Doubt over whether or not your income stream will stay steady. Doubt over whether or not those furloughed or laid off will get what they need to provide for themselves and their families.

All these doubts can quickly lead people to doubt God—his power, his plan, his love, his Word. That was Thomas’ problem. He looked around and saw everything he knew and cherished falling apart. Jesus was dead. He and his fellow disciples were living like fugitives (or maybe like Wisconsinites under lock-down). Thomas saw his enemies winning (we still see a virus winning in many different ways). Thomas heard the disciples and the women talking like crazy people (maybe you feel that way about the optimists or conspiracy theorists today). All this led Thomas to make the decision to doubt God, his love, his Word, even his power to save. This left Thomas on the verge of unbelief, if not completely lost to it.

What destroyed Thomas’ doubt? Jesus’ words.
Peace be with you! The risen Savior came to Thomas with the simplest of Easter sermons. Peace be with you! That is Jesus’ message to every heart struggling with doubt. Peace be with you! God is not angry with you. He isn’t punishing you. He isn’t absent minded or uncaring. He has made peace with you, his natural born enemy! He gave his Son to fight the war and win the peace—an eternal peace. You are at peace with God because Jesus has paid for all your sins. They are all washed away. Yes, even your doubt! And this destroys doubt.

When you remember and hold on to this treasure, this most amazing truth in all the world, doubt is destroyed. It is destroyed because as you hold in your heart the truth that Jesus has provided for your greatest need, you are assured that he will care for every other need as well. So, friends, let your hearts be at peace. Let your doubts be destroyed by the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.

You Will See Him

Matthew 28:5-7—The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

Today I have one last encouragement for you from our Easter Sunday Gospel reading. Another comfort you have as children of God is that one day the angel’s message to the women will be fulfilled for you too.
He has risen from the dead…you will see him.

If you remember the Easter account, the women didn’t have to wait long to see Jesus. He appeared to them somewhere along the way from the tomb to the house where the disciples were hiding.

You, on the other hand, will have to wait a bit longer. And even though you must wait, that is part of your Easter joy—knowing that one day you will see your Savior’s face and feel his warm embrace!!! This promise of God fills the pages of Scripture.

But you know, in a way, you have already seen Jesus, and people have seen Jesus in you! It doesn’t just happen when you share your faith with someone. It also happens as you live your faith. As you live as children of God in your professions, families, and community, you let people see Jesus. As you live, work, and speak in love, charity, kindness, patience, gentleness, etc., people get a glimpse of the love of Jesus which drives you to live in that way.

In these times of fear, remember that you don’t have to fear. Jesus has destroyed the greatest fears. You also get to be like the angels—being God’s messengers of truth in this age of doubt and worry. You also have the promise given to the women that first Easter morning—you will see Jesus! But until that day, as you live as the children of God that you are, you also give people glimpses of Jesus. May these beautiful truths brighten your day, and enable you to serve with a heart filled with Jesus’ love.

Fighting Fear

April 17, 2020
Matthew 28:5-7—The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
Nope, this wasn’t an accident. It was intentional to use the same words again for this encouragement! They are words we cannot hear enough, especially in times such as these. Even if you aren’t afraid, you help and deal with people who often are. That’s why you’re helping them or their loved ones.

In these times of fear, we all have an amazing opportunity to shed light on the truth which calms every fear. We all get to bring the message of the angel:
Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said! And how important to do this while we have this unprecedented opportunity because we do not know how long this will last. A recent devotion spoke to this point so well, I wanted to share it with you:

In an interview with Time magazine, Dr. Bruce Aylward, senior advisor to the Director-General of the World Health Organization was asked this question by the Time correspondent: “How do you think this will end?”  Dr. Aylward answered, “This will end with humanity victorious over yet another virus.” Do you see there the root cause of fear at work even as this man seeks to calm the world’s fears? Yes, we too will rejoice when a vaccine is discovered, and more effective care is developed for COVID-19. But if the only lesson our world learns from this pandemic is that humanity again has risen to the occasion of defeating another enemy, please know this: there is a whole host of other enemies just waiting to show how frail and fleeting and foolish is that boast. Such human centered encouragements not to be afraid will always be followed by a return of other fears. Humanity is not the answer to what makes us afraid. The root cause of all fear is humanity’s ongoing stubborn arrogance that we can answer every fear apart from our Creator and Savior!

You know that the freedom from fear is found at the empty tomb of our Savior, Jesus. Even as you use your ingenuity and hope that others use their ingenuity to bring this pandemic to and end, remember neither yourself nor they are your greatest reliance. People fail, and people cannot save eternally. But your gracious and loving Lord never fails. He proved it in giving his own Son as the price to pay for eternal life for all people—you included!

Angelic Role

Matthew 28:5-7—The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

Did you know that the most basic meaning of the word “angel” is “messenger”? It makes sense when you see one of the main roles of angels in the Scriptures was to deliver messages. Sometimes not a “good” message, but other times, messages that changed the world. The Easter message of the angel certainly changed the world for the women who had gone to Jesus’ tomb that morning, expecting to see what they saw on Friday when their world seemed to end with Jesus’ death. Now the message is:
Do not be afraid…He is not here; he has risen, just as he said!

You may have already had to do it before, and you may have to do it again—deliver bad news. As Corona cases increase in our county, the danger also increases. Continue to live in the resurrection confidence that is yours through faith in Jesus! This is what will keep your heart in the right place as you continue to serve in our community. It will also keep your heart in the right place when you have to be the one to deliver the message or try and serve members of our community who have received a message that has seemed to bring their world to an end.

Remember also the opportunity you have to be a messenger of good news. You are a messenger not just in your kindness and doing your job with excellence, but also with your words of encouragement from the Easter message of Jesus’ resurrection which assures us of our own resurrection. And remember where this message was first delivered—in a cemetery! At a tomb of all places! But, it was and still is an empty tomb because Jesus lives!

Is God Silent?

Did you know that today is often called “silent Wednesday”? It’s called this because Scripture doesn’t record anything about Jesus’ actions or teachings on Wednesday of Holy Week. Most figure after being in Jerusalem on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, preaching, teaching, cleansing the temple and dealing with his enemies, Jesus took one quiet day before his suffering and death. One last quite day in Bethany alone with his disciples and closest followers.

While Scripture is silent about today (Wednesday of Holy Week), remember that God is never silent. He is always calling out to you. His Word is always ready to speak to you. He’s also always ready to hear your every request. With this knowledge, let the same confidence and peace rest on your hearts as it did King David so long ago when he wrote the words of Psalm 28. Remember to turn to your LORD, not only so that you will hear his Word, but so that he may also hear your prayers, knowing he hears them and answers them in the time and way that is best for you.

Psalm 28:1-2, 6-7—To you I call, O LORD my Rock; do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you remain silent, I will be like those who have gone down to the pit. Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place. … Praise be to the LORD, for he has heard my cry for mercy. The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.

Remember to Rely on God

Psalm 18:32—It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.
If you’re anything like me, it is very easy to fall into the trap of self-reliance. Now, there is nothing wrong with growing in your skills and always learning so that you can do the task at hand as best as possible and without someone needing to hold your hand. But there is a difference between being lazy and relying on others when you need it. There is a difference between being good at what you do and turning yourself into an island.

When we become so focused on ourselves, two things usually happen: 1) we begin to resent people who don’t seem to be doing what we are doing; 2) we exhaust ourselves and risk burning out. But there is one other problem. We are falling into the temptation of thinking it all depends on me. We forget to look to our Lord for the strength, love, endurance, and blessings only he can give. The wonderful thing is, our Savior God has all the forgiveness we need when we’ve fallen into this trap. That’s why David speaks with complete confidence after the Lord delivered him from his enemies and evil king Saul:
It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect (Psalm 18:32).

When you find yourself burning out, growing faint, or refusing help from those around you. Remember first and foremost who is your greatest help and strength—your Savior Jesus who fought the greatest battle there every was to fight. He fought and won for you! His strength will see you through this challenging time and every challenge you face.

I encourage you to read the whole of Psalm 18. It’s a great psalm about battling evil and the victory and security God gives us.

God Cares For You

1 Peter 5:7—Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Dear friends and warriors who work to preserve our health and safety in various ways. First, let me say, “Thank you!” Thank you for all your efforts before this pandemic ever happened. Efforts that all too often are taken for granted. As this dangerous pathogen has moved into and is spreading in our small peninsula, I know that as prepared, skilled, and careful as you are, you still put yourself in harm’s way to protect our community and restore health to the sick. Please know that I am keeping you in my prayers every day. I also intend to share a passage and short encouragement with you a few times each week.

This week, as tensions grow in our community, in your workplace, and even in your own hearts, remember the Apostle Peter’s encouragement: “Cast all your anxiety on [Jesus] because he cares for you” (1 Pt. 5:7). As you care for the people of our community, remember that Jesus is always caring for them. And he’s always caring for you too. When you feel overwhelmed or in harm’s way, remember that the God who saves you is with you, and will bless you and those you serve. Remember to turn to your Lord in prayer. Your Lord who loved you so much, he gave his only Son to serve, live, die, and rise again for you.