St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church

Time to Confess

Podcast Version

Romans 10:9-10—…if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

490 years ago today, there was a great meeting between the leaders of the Lutheran and Catholic churches. “The meeting began with a clear signal that the courageous Lutheran laymen were not about to concede to the emperor’s demands, nor compromise their convictions. As Emperor Charles’s royal procession approached Augsburg, it was met by a large delegation from the city, including the Lutheran princes. The pope’s ambassador stood to give the whole assembly a special blessing from the pope. When the crowd knelt, Elector John and his fellow Lutheran princes refused to kneel. Charles and those with him made their way into the city and arrived at the cathedral, where a special Mass was held. The crowd noticed that again Elector John and Philip of Hesse refused to kneel and remained standing, with their heads covered, during the blessing.

“Later that evening, Charles and his brother Ferdinand, the King of Austria, met privately with the Lutheran princes. They ordered them to forbid any Lutheran preaching in Augsburg during the meeting. They commanded them to attend the Corpus Christi festival the next day with the emperor. George, Margrave of Brandenburg, spoke boldly for the Lutherans. He refused to concede to Charles’s demands, saying, ‘Before I let anyone take from me the Word of God and ask me to deny my God, I will kneel and let them strike off my head.’ The emperor, clearly taken aback by George’s boldness, sputtered in broken German, ‘Not cut off head, dear prince. Not cut off head.’ ”
(Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions—A reader’s edition of the Book of Concord, CPH, St. Louis, 2006. p. 24-25)

While there is no danger for us in our land of actually losing our heads for confessing our faith, some people will figuratively lose their heads when we do. Is that any reason not to confess? Now, we would never want to do this belligerently, but it is important for us to be bold, just like the Lutheran confessors of long ago. Why? Because the same scriptural truths exist today as they do in any age.

Through our confession of God’s Word, people come to faith in God and are saved. I hear all too often about how politics and religion are off limits when it comes to family gatherings, the workplace, or even with certain relationships. I can understand the politics, especially these days. But what I can not understand and never will is the topic of religion. Is it a hot-button topic? You bet! But where politics only has outcomes on our temporary lives here on earth, the topic of religion is one whose impact is eternal!

Friends, far worse is at stake than someone loosing their temper with us for speaking the truth of God’s Word. Far worse is at stake even if we should face the prospect of physically loosing our head for speaking the truth of God’s Word. People’s eternal souls are at risk, your’s and mine included! On this 490th anniversary of the presentation of the Augsburg Confession, remember how important it is for you and others that you boldly confess God’s truth in love to the world around you.

“On Saturday, June 25, 1530, at three o’clock in the afternoon, Dr. Christian Beyer stood, walked toward the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, and began reading the Augsburg Confession in a loud and distinct voice. Through the open windows a hushed crowd outside in the courtyard hung on his every word, as did the two hundred or so people gathered in the hall. Beside Dr. Beyer stood Dr. Gregory Brück, holding a copy of the Augsburg Confession in Latin. The German princes around them stood up to indicate their support for the Confession. The emperor motioned for them to sit down.

“When Dr. Beyer finished reading, Dr. Brück took the German copy of the Confession from him, handed both copies to the emperor, and said, “Most gracious Emperor, this is a Confession that will even prevail against the gates of hell, with the grace and help of God.” Thus was the Augsburg Confession presented as a unique Confession of the truth of God’s holy Word, distinct from Romanism on the one hand, and Reformed, Anabaptists, and radicals on the other. June 25, 1530, is a date every bit as important for Lutherans as is the more familiar date of October 31, 1517—the day on which Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses.”
(Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions—A reader’s edition of the Book of Concord, CPH, St. Louis, 2006. p. 21)

Long Time Coming

Podcast Version

Psalm 27:1, 13-14— The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? … I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.

I think you’d all agree that we are terribly impatient creatures. And now with a society of instant news, fast-food, and on-demand gratification of nearly all our desires, it’s getting even worse. We get frustrated with a slow-loading YouTube video—waiting for two cars to go through the roundabout before we can get through—seeing the long line of cars at Culver’s when all you want is a scoop of custard.

Our patience has certainly been tested these last few months as a nation. For a great many, that patience has ended and boiled over in all sorts of ways. Where have you lost your patience? With your spouse? Your children? Your friends? Your co-workers? Your boss? Your politicians? Your fellow citizens? What about with your God?

When trouble comes or doesn’t seem to have an end in sight, doesn’t God seem a long time coming in his rescue and deliverance? Doesn’t God seem to be a long time coming with revealing his plan to bless you and keep you in all your ways?

A young person recently confessed their struggle in seeing God’s plan because things aren’t working out how they’d like. She’s recently graduated from college and cannot find a job she went to school to do. A job needed by our society at that! What’s worse, she’s getting married soon, and they can’t find a place to live! If you find yourself on any end of the spectrum of impatience with God—which all of us are on—you need this reminder from the psalmist as much as I do.
The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? … I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.

You see, the reason God is letting you wait, the reason why the LORD is allowing this to happen is to test your faith and cause you to cling ever tighter to him and his promises. That is always his plan. His plan might also include other lessons as he works to give you what is best, but it is always to draw you to himself—sometimes he has to drag you!

You might find yourself thinking, “I already believe, and I think I’m pretty good at trusting God. Why would he let this happen?” Friends, that’s the very reason why! The very fact that we often and regularly wonder about, even doubt, God’s plan is all the proof we need to show us that we need these lessons from our loving LORD. In fact, the only time these lessons will be over is when we will no longer need to live by faith because we will be living by sight
in the land of the living—heaven.

The LORD is [your] light and [your] salvation! The LORD is the stronghold of [your] life! Therefore, you have nothing to fear! By God’s grace, you have the same confidence as that of the psalmist, you will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Knowing this, simply wait. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. He can do nothing to harm you, only bless you. He has nothing but love for you in his heart and nothing but grace upon grace in his unique and personal plan for you. Just wait, you’ll see.

We Know

Podcast Version

1 John 5:14-15—This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

Our lives are always filled with a bunch of unknowns. There are some that are pretty standard that don’t cause us much, if any, concern. “What will work be like today?” “What new thing will I learn in school?” “I wonder what’s for dinner?” But then there are individual unknowns that can cause all kinds of worry and heartache. “Will she say yes?” “What does this diagnosis mean for my future?” “What if he won’t sit down to work things out?”

While each of us has our own unknowns, we’re all still caught together in a world filled with unknowns. The Coronavirus and its effects are still largely an unknown. “Will I get sick?” “When can we get back to normal?” The protests, riots, and course some would have us take have recently created a new set of unknowns for all of us. “Am I a racist?” “What really is the problem?” “What is this country going to look like in the next few months and years?”

The unknown abounds. At any time, but especially in times that seem to be dominated by the unknown, both personal and together, how important to turn to what is known!

We know God’s love for us. We know God gave his Son to rescue us and to provide a permanent home for us in heaven when we’re done tenting here in this life. We know God has a plan for our eternal good, even if we cannot see all the details.

But there is one other thing that is so important for you to remember which you do know. You know that you can approach God with any concern. You know that whatever you ask which conforms to his will, he not only hears you, he answers and gives it to you!

That’s why John wrote:
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

Now, you might say, “Well that certainly hasn’t been my experience!” And there is the crux of the matter. By saying and thinking this, you are basing your belief on what you think you know as opposed to what God, who cannot lie, has said and promised to you in his holy Word.

Notice that John says
if we ask anything according to his will. To ask for something according to God’s will is to ask God either for something he has specifically promised us, or for something that aligns with his holy will. To ask for something improper or sinful isn’t an acceptable prayer. If your teenager has been drinking and then asked for the keys to the car, you wouldn’t give them the keys. It’s an improper request in multiple ways. On the other hand, if your sober teenager asks for the keys, you might tell them you need the car first. It’s an appropriate request, and the answer is still yes even though they have to wait.

Sometimes we think God’s answers “yes,” “no,” and “wait.” When it’s proper prayer, the answer is always yes, even if from our perspective it’s “wait.” Think of all the prayers you’ve prayed for health or deliverance from danger. Some of those have been answered exactly how you hoped. But sometimes a loved one dies or danger lingers. It’s important for us to take God’s point of view on this. He lives in eternity. The ultimate deliverance from disease and danger always happens in our death and we go safely home to heaven. In fact, that’s the best and ultimate answer to those prayers because then it’s absolute and complete without any possibility of being threatened again with disease or death!

Friends, in these times of so many unknowns, do what you know you can do—pray. Pray to your gracious heavenly Father because you know he will always hear you and answer you in the way and time that is best for you. Pray to your Savior Jesus, because you know he proved your Father’s love to you by answering the greatest prayer,
Lord, save me! (Mt. 14:30). Pray to your comforting companion, God the Holy Spirit, because you know he is the only one who can fill your heart with peace found only in God’s Word.

God Has A Plan

Podcast Version

Jeremiah 29:11-12—For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.”

This world keeps getting messier every day. As you see this mess getting worse, it can be hard to believe that God is in control. That God does have a plan and that plan is still being carried out exactly according to his design.

It helps when you remember what God’s plan is all about. God’s plan is all about his desire to save you and bring you safely home to heaven. And on that journey, his plan includes
plans to prosper you and not to harm you. That beautiful phrase of comfort contains a Hebrew word you probably all know, or at least are all familiar with—Shalom. Shalom is the common greeting of one Jewish person to another. It’s a word of blessing and well-wishes. Shalom means completeness, safety, soundness, health, prosperity, tranquillity, friendship, contentment… But at its heart and core, it means peace. The Lord promises you that his plans are to give you peace and not evil—peace, not distress—peace, and not to harm you.

I know it doesn’t always seem like it. Our experience would tell us otherwise. But our experience doesn’t show us the whole plan. The Apostle Paul reminds us:
we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28). An anonymous poet described this beautiful truth in a poem titled The Weaver. In this poem, the author describes God’s plan as a tapestry. One side is beautiful, the other, a jumbled mess of thread.

Each one of our lives is a different tapestry that God is stitching and weaving together. He has a beautiful and perfect plan he is weaving your whole life through. In fact, the plan and his work of art began already in eternity before he created the world and will only be completed in your death and safe deliverance into heaven.

As you live here on earth, all you see is the backside. All too often you only see the mess. God sees and knows the beauty of what he is creating. This beauty you will see in full when you reach your heavenly home, 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 your life. Golden threads of mercy when you see so clearly your Savior Jesus who gave his life for you so that you would be assured of God’s forgiveness. Golden threads of sheer grace where God simply heaped his love upon you as he revealed to you all the more the depths of Jesus’ love for you. Golden threads as God answered prayers for strength and wisdom in difficult and trying times.

You see, your life is not about your plans. And thank God it isn’t about your plans! It’s all about God’s plan to get you safely home to heaven. That is the hope and future he has prepared for you!

Holding on to this beautiful truth, God says that you then
will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. Pray to your Lord. Pray that he will grant you the peace to trust him and his plan. Know that that prayer is heard by your God. Know that that prayer is answered by your God even if sometimes it may seem as though it isn’t. But don’t worry. He hears. He knows. He answers. He rescues. It’s all part of God’s plan.

Live In Love

Podcast Version

1 John 4:7-8,19—Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love…We love because he first loved us.

This world is filled with people who are different than us. People who have different physical characteristics, speak different languages, have different customs. The list can go on and on. This creates all kinds of tension, because naturally, we are wary even fearful at times of that which is unfamiliar. But we all have in common that which is most important. We are all sinners who are in desperate need of a Savior. And, we all have the same Savior who lived, died, and rose for us all. This is the love of God—the love we all need.

We need God’s love for ourselves personally in order to set us free from sin and selfishness so that we can live the life God created us to live—a life of love. You know the love of God. Every filthy thought, every hateful word, every terrible action—these have all been forgiven and washed away in the blood of Jesus.

We see blood being spilled on the soil of our land, anger boiling over, fires raging. Our nation is in desperate need of you to be the child of God you are. As we see protests make their way into our community, continue to live in the love you have received from God. I believe that overall, we have a very blessed and loving community. I also believe that we have good and faithful law enforcement officers in our community who work hard to serve and protect every person, no matter who they are.

Considering this, do not let the devil have his way with your heart when you see people who do not have or know God’s love. Let go of the disgust and anger you may have for them. Instead, love them and pray for them. Anger over any violence is good as long as it stays in the boarders of righteousness. As David writes:
In your anger do not sin (Ps. 4:4). Show your love for God and your fellow human being by setting the example of love and righteousness. Consider how you can flavor your speech with love and peace. Consider how you can reach across the proverbial “aisle” to those different from yourself so that they may see the love and peace of God in you.

And then, when you have shown them love, and they wonder how you live in that love and peace, you get to tell them that you can only love in this way because of God who first loved you.

We Need Love

Podcast Version

1 John 4:9,10— This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

We’ve all seen the violence spread across portions of our nation. A terrible act by a heartless police officer has once again sparked rage across our nation. It has caused many to paint all law enforcement officers with the same guilt, though most are great people who work hard to protect and serve our communities. This terrible, heartless act has led many to protest peacefully. But it has also given opportunity to the wicked to riot, pillage, abuse, beat, and kill.

We’ve seen once again that this world is in desperate need of love. But not the love of Jackie DeShannon and Burt Bacharach. It needs God’s love.

Look up the word “love” in the dictionary, and you will not find a reference to these words from John’s first letter, even though they show us what true love is. Look up the word “love” in the dictionary and you’ll find that it is all about feelings. Love is described as “an intense feeling of deep affection” or “a deep romantic or sexual attachment to someone” or “a great interest and pleasure in something.”

Unfortunately, English is a lazy language. In English we only have one word for love. Greek has several words to describe all the various aspects of love. Greek has different words to describe different feelings like affection, romance/lust, and friendship. But the one word that sets itself apart is the word
agape. This word is unique because it doesn’t have any connection to feelings. Instead, agape is a matter of the will. It is a conscious choice and it is completely selfless, unlike every other word for love.

This
agape love is a love that is completely foreign to us because it is true love. And so John tells us what this love from God looks like: This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Remember that from the very beginning of our lives, each one of us completely selfish. We were willing to use anybody and anything for our own purposes. (We’re seeing this on the news every night now) And yet God chose to love us! And his love sent his Son! He sent his Son in peace and forgiveness, yes even for us!

Jesus’ love is so great that even when this sinful world put him to death on a cross, he not only let himself be crucified, he even allowed himself to be the only thing that could satisfy God’s wrath. He didn’t care about what would happen to him but only cared about us. He sacrificed himself and took all the punishment for all the filth of our sin and selfishness.

He did this not because we loved him, but because he loved us. And friends, this is the same
agape love that Jesus has for you to this very day! His love is not wavering. His love does not grow cold. His love doesn’t have an agenda. He loves only because he wants to love and it is that love which sent him, to you!

Remember this love as you see many in our country trying to destroy this great land with which our Lord has blessed us. Remember God’s love, to put your heart at ease and to drive you to pray to him that all the hearts that are hurting would be comforted…that all the hearts filled with rage would find peace…that all the hearts filled with wickedness and destruction would be humbled and repent. We all need God’s love. Thank God he gives it to you freely! Thank God he sent his Son that all of us might know his love. Pray that his love would find its way into the hearts that need it most.