St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church

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!

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.