St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church

Longing for Glory

Podcast Version

Romans 8:18,23b—I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

If we only listen to the beginning of this verse, which is what our sinful nature and Satan would only have us hear, we’d be left scratching our heads, even angry with Paul. You might be tempted to think that Paul is saying that what you are suffering is insignificant.

Friends, don’t forget that Paul was no stranger to suffering. In fact, I think it is pretty safe to say that none of us ever have and thankfully never will suffer as Paul did. Paul was whipped, beaten, and stoned on several occasions. Shipwrecked three times (2 Corinthians 11). Perhaps suffered from malaria and eventually lost his head because of his faith.

Paul isn’t saying that his suffering or your suffering is insignificant, whether it is suffering because we live in a sinful world or suffering because of our faith in Christ. The thing is, that which we as Christians long for more than anything else is so great, grand and glorious you really can’t compare the two! It’s not even an apples to oranges comparison. At least those two things are still fruit! The suffering you face now and the new life of comfort, relief and joy that waits for you in heaven aren’t worthy of comparison. They’re too different! It’s like comparing the sun and a gnat.

This is the case because we have been adopted into God’s family. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross set us free from our captivity to sin and Satan. Spiritual freedom is ours right now through faith. But our bodies aren’t yet experiencing this freedom. Our physical lives in this world are still held prisoner. We still suffer pain in our bodies, hearts and minds. We still get sick. We still suffer ridicule. We still suffer heartache and loss. We still die.

But one day, friends, one day soon, that will all pass away! That’s why the Christian faith is a life of
Longing for Glory. We long for that day to come. We long to live to our full potential. We long to live without physical weakness. We long to live apart from sickness and disease. We long to live completely free from death. We long to live to our full spiritual potential! We have comfort even now as we suffer and strive and fail because even as bad as it can be at times, it will soon all pass away! Even now we know and believe that our sins are all forgiven. And not only that, it can’t even begin to compare to the glory God will reveal to us in heaven. And so we long for glory. We put our hope in the Lord, because our salvation, our eternity, is forever secure!

A Weaving God

Podcast Version

Romans 8:28—And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

If you’ve ever watched someone cross-stitching, one of the things that really stands out is the back. Depending on the type of stitch used, the back side is a jumbled mess of threads. If that’s all you saw, you wouldn’t have a clue that there was something beautiful on the other side. It’s not until you turn it over that you can see the beautiful work done that was carefully planned and patiently crafted.

Like the jumbled mess on the back side of a cross-stitch, sometimes our lives can feel and even look just the same. Living in a sinful world, this is a guarantee. The messes usually happen when things don’t go according to our plan.

There is a lot that has not gone according to plan lately. Each one of us been affected to one degree or another because of the mess this virus has brought into our land and world. Our country and lives are messy medically, socially, politically, emotionally, financially, etc. There seems to be no end in sight.

What God says to us through Paul’s letter to the Romans makes sense of all this mess and shows us a better plan…God’s plan.
We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Did you hear it? Paul is relaying one of the greatest, most comforting promises God has ever given! Everything in our lives is working together for our good! Notice Paul doesn’t just say that all the good things are working for our good, but
all things! That includes what we consider good and what we consider to be bad.

When you struggle to see how in the world this could be true, remember that our point of view is not God’s point of view. Neither are his ways our ways or his thoughts our thoughts (Is. 55:8-9). Think back to the cross-stitch and consider how our God is
A Weaving God. Each one of our lives is a different cross-stitch God is stitching and weaving together.

Problem is, as we live here on earth, all we see is the backside. All too often we only see the mess. God sees and knows the beauty of what he is creating. But even now God sews golden threads that stand out in the mess. Golden threads that are especially clear moments of recognizing God’s grace and love in our lives. Golden threads of mercy when we are assured of God’s forgiveness after awful sins which plagued our hearts with guilt. Golden threads of sheer grace where God simply heaped his love upon us in abundance. Golden threads as God answered prayers for strength and wisdom in difficult and trying times.

Yes, life can be messy. Sometimes very messy. We’re all sinners living in a sinful world. But God has promised that he is working in and through even the messes to weave a beautiful work of art of his love. One day, the mess will all be gone. Or better to say, we’ll see it for what it truly is. We’ll get to see the other side in the glories of heaven. Then we’ll say, “Ah, Lord, now I see what you were doing! It’s so beautiful! Thank you!”

When the World Is Screaming—Pray

Podcast Version

Acts 7:54-60—When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him…While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Christians around the world are persecuted every day, including you. Much of your persecution is reserved to words and attitudes from individuals and whole groups or industries. But there are many around the world who face severe persecution. Persecution that results in the loss of jobs, security, homes, dignity and even life. Sometimes I wonder when that persecution will happen here. Maybe you do too. I see some of it happening already and the anti-Christian voice growing louder. Maybe you do too.

About 2,000 years ago, Stephen was one of those who lost his life because he held to Jesus. This happened because of jealously and hatred of the truth on the side of the enemies of the truth, and because Stephen refused to keep silent about God’s truth. Because the enemies of the Church could not disprove or discredit Stephen, they began a smear campaign and bribed people to tell lies about Stephen.

Under false accusations, Stephen was dragged before the ruling religious council of the Jews. And there he continued to proclaim God’s truth. When they heard these things, they were furious, gnashed their teeth at Stephen, screamed at the top of their lungs, covered their ears, rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and threw stones at him until he was dead.

How did Stephen react while all this was happening? Did he shout back? Did he scream? Did he say wicked things or wish them harm? Not at all. He simply prayed:
Lord Jesus, receive my spirit…Lord, do not hold this sin against them.

How do you handle criticism or ridicule, let alone persecution? Is it like Stephen, or more like the world screaming at you? The natural reaction to any kind of attack is to be louder and stronger right back, but this never works. Whether it’s an argument in the home, politics or religion, screaming back never wins someone over, but only drives them deeper into their corner. If you give in to your sinful nature and scream right back at the world screaming at you, then you’ve lost them and have been an unfaithful witness to the truth. And on top of that, you need to see that with this behavior, you’ve proven that you still don’t understand and grasp the depth of God’s love that is for all—especially his love for you!

When the world is screaming at you, it isn’t because Jesus has orphaned you. It’s quite the opposite. It reminds you that you do belong to him. It reminds you that you are still an adopted child in his holy family through faith in the precious blood poured out for you on the cross.

Friends, as you remember this and put all your trust in your ever-faithful Savior Jesus, you can live and die just like Stephen.
When The World Is Screaming—Pray. Pray, because you know God will hear you even in the darkest moments of life, just like Stephen. Pray, that you may still proclaim the truth, just like Stephen, because who knows what beautiful things God will do through that Word. Pray, holding God to his promises, just like Stephen who knew and even saw just before the end that heaven was waiting for him. Pray, that your heart may be filled with love and forgiveness for all.

Calm In Calamity

Podcast Version

July 8, 2020—Calm In Calamity
Mark 4:36-41—Leaving the crowd behind, [the disciples] took [Jesus] along, just as he was, in the boat…A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Boating season is in full swing. We look into the bay and we can see the little dinghies people use to go from shore to their large boats (or my fishing boat which some might confuse with a dinghy). Not long ago, we saw the massive and mighty 1,000 footers leave Sturgeon Bay for another season on the Great Lakes. Now, were you caught in a storm on the Great Lakes, which would you prefer—the dinghy, or the 1,000 footer? Of course the 1,000 footer! Though I’d just as soon be on dry land in a terrible storm, and I’m sure you would too.

That’s our natural mind set. We don’t like bad things or dangerous situations. No one needlessly goes heading into a storm—dinghy or 1,000 footer. Yet today, we find Jesus purposefully sending himself and his disciples into a storm on the Sea of Galilee. When the storm came, look at the accusation the disciples levy at Jesus:
Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?

Not one of us can point at the disciples and say, “What fools! How can you be so silly and have so little trust in Jesus and his promises?” You never know you have a problem with your faith or see how weak it really is until the waves come. It’s easy to trust in Jesus when things are good. It’s when the storm clouds gather and the wind and rain beat against you that you get to see the real you.

Look at all the storms in your life where you have behaved just like the disciples. After doing all that is in you to fight back against the storm raging in your life, you at
last turn to God. But just like the disciples, he’s your last resort. And your plea, instead of asking for help, accuses him: “Don’t………you………care?”

Why is that? It’s cowardice, plain and simple. Jesus says it is. After Jesus turned the great storm into a great calm with just his words, he asks,
Why are you so afraid? Literally, Why are you so cowardly? The disciples problem wasn’t so much the calamity around them, but the calamity in their hearts. We see this in Jesus’ second question: Do you still have no faith?

Jesus calmly rescued his disciples, not because they were so afraid, but because that was his plan all along. That’s his plan for you too! Jesus can be so calm because he is your Savior who has an undying love for you. He proved it by enduring the greatest storm there ever was, and he endured it alone—the spiritual storm of eternal torment on the cross. And he endured that storm all so you would be free from that storm.

Because of this, Jesus’ calm in calamity
is yours through faith in him! As you look at the state of things in our world, and as you face your own personal storms, cling to Jesus. Look at how calm he is. He’s calm because he’s done everything to rescue you already, and he knows the outcome—eternity with you in heaven! Remember that Jesus is in the boat with you. And even if he seems to be sleeping, all that matters is that he’s in the boat with you. And if he’s sleeping, it proves to you you have nothing to worry about.

The Best Country

Podcast Version

Hebrews 11:13-16—All these people [Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob] were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

The Fourth of July will soon be upon us. For so many reasons, this Fourth of July will be different from any we’ve experienced in our lives because of a virus and the current societal dialogue. Opinions are all over the place about our county. Some say it is still the best. Others say it was the best. Still others say it is the worst. Opinions are just that, opinions.

Today and this weekend, let’s chiefly focus our attention and hearts on these two facts: 1) this nation only exists because God allowed it to come into existence and allows it to exist today (Rom. 13:1); and 2) the best country is the one that waits for us in heaven.

It is good for us to give thanks to God for the immense blessings we have received in this land we call the United States of America. We have been blessed unlike any other nation before us. But this land is flawed, we know this full well. It is flawed because its citizenry is made up entirely of sinners. One sinner on their own can do all kinds of sinning. Put two or more together, they will pile it on all the more.

No matter what view you take on America, each one of you sees good, but you also see a lot of pain, suffering, sorrow, violence, loss, and death. But every nation has seen this. We are not unique because every nation has had a citizenry made up entirely of sinners. Even people who have no country of their own feel the same way. Just look at Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob!

Yes, they lived and made their home in the foreign land of Canaan, but it wasn’t just the Canaanites who didn’t make them feel welcome—it was the whole world! The writer to the Hebrews tells us that
they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. This whole world was foreign to them!!! Why? Because they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.

What the best country in the world is, is a debate about opinion. The thing we know as believers is that the best country waits for us in heaven. The place where God
has prepared a city for [us]! A country where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Rev. 21:4) because that has to do with the old and dying way of things. And we wait for that country just like Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob and every other believer waited who have gone before us. We all together sojourn here as we make our way home to heaven—the best country.

This Fourth of July weekend, remember this beautiful truth. Remember that the best country waits for you in heaven, and you do not have to doubt that it is yours because
God is not ashamed to be called [your] God. That is why he gave his Son for you! Your citizenship is secure. The fees are paid. The documents are all in order. The travel date has been set. All that’s left for you is to wait for your day of travel, whenever that may be. Wait, living by faith as a stranger here because heaven—the best country—is your home!