Explore "Independence" with insightful episodes like "240310 Sermon on believing in Jesus (Lent 4) March 10, 2024", "Benjamin Capps and a Terminal Emulator Sneak Preview", "240303 Sermon on why Jesus was upset (Lent 3) March 3, 2024", "240225 Sermon on confessing Jesus as the Christ (Lent 2) February 25, 2024" and "Golden Flower Talks - Astral Body And Agni" from podcasts like ""Rev. Michael Holmen's Sermons", "Daimonosophy", "Rev. Michael Holmen's Sermons", "Rev. Michael Holmen's Sermons" and "Daimonosophy"" and more!

    Episodes (100)

    240310 Sermon on believing in Jesus (Lent 4) March 10, 2024

    240310 Sermon on believing in Jesus (Lent 4) March 10, 2024

     Audio recording

    Sermon manuscript:

    Our Gospel reading proclaims well-known and well-loved promises: Whoever believes in Jesus will have eternal life. John 3:16 is perhaps the most well-known verse in the Bible: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”These promises are nice. I’m not aware of anybody who gets upset at such promises. A person might think the promises are untrue, but nobody thinks that Jesus is being rude.

    The mood shifts, however, with what Jesus says next. He says, “Whoever believes in the Son of the God is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” The mood shifts because faith in Jesus can no longer be understood as being optional or inconsequential: If you believe in Jesus, then you are not condemned. If you do not believe in Jesus, you are condemned already. You can’t leave Jesus to the side. Either you are with him or you are condemned by God himself. Whereas John 3:16 is nice and wouldn’t upset anyone, John 3:18 makes people uncomfortable.

    I think the reason why this makes people uncomfortable is because this is not the way we do business, and business transactions are the main way that we understand how things get promoted. The salesman sells; he doesn’t threaten. We are used to being enticed and allured. Salesmen who condemned their customers probably wouldn’t be in business very long.

    Religion is often—or probably mainly—seen along these lines. There are lots of religions, denominations, and places of worship. They all promote their own versions. It is reasonable, then, to imagine that you should make your choice in the same way you make so many other choices. Take the religion for a test-drive, so to speak. How do you like it? Do you like what it says? With our Gospel reading this morning, for example, you might like what he says at 3:16, but 3:18? Not so much.

    And if Jesus fails to seal the deal, whose fault is that? Here, too, our way of doing business affects how we think. The customer is always right. So when it comes to what God is promoting, if a person is not convinced, then it is God’s fault, or maybe the preacher’s fault.

    Jesus, however, is not a salesman. He doesn’t share the salesman’s goal of maximizing sales, perhaps by hook or by crook. If you have any familiarity with the Bible whatsoever, then you know that Jesus does not flatter or seek to please his “potential customers.”  Jesus doesn’t try to please anyone except his Father.

    The good news about Jesus wanting to please his Father is that it is the Father’s will to save sinners by lifting up his Son on the cross. You heard that at the first part of the reading. But this is not some sales pitch. Either you are in the right, and, in fact, that rightness will save you, or you are in the wrong. That is what it means to be condemned. Being condemned is being on the wrong side.

    So we are not dealing with a sales situation here. A more analogous situation would be like you being stuck in a burning building. The situation is bad because you aren’t able to get out on your own. But, thank God, a rescuer shows up. Believe in that rescuer and you will be rescued. That is to say, let the rescuer do what the rescuer does, and you will be saved.

    But let’s say you’re a very silly person. Instead of being thankful that a rescuer has showed up, you immediately start judging the rescuer. His uniform isn’t ironed and he’s got bad breath. Or maybe this would be more to the point: The fireman speaks bluntly: “You can’t keep doing what you’re doing. If you stay in this burning building you’re wrong. You’re going to die!” What the rescuer says is just the truth, but you, being a silly person, would say, “I don’t like how you’re talking to me! I want to make up my own mind, and I don’t appreciate you telling me that I’m wrong!”

    So also, when Jesus says, “Whoever believes in me is not condemned, but whoever does not believe in me is condemned already,” he is simply speaking the truth. He is the rescuer who has come to rescue us from our sin, God’s condemnation, the misery of hell, and so on. In fact, there is no other way to be rescued. You can’t rescue yourself. Only God can forgive your sins or make you righteous. So when Jesus says that whoever does not believe in him is condemned already, he isn’t trying to manipulate or coerce anybody. Think again of that fireman. Is he manipulating the trapped victim when he tells the person that he will die if he isn’t rescued? That is a statement of truth, not just an opinion or one option among many.

    But there’s another thing we should consider, because there are a lot of people who believe it to be the case. A lot of people believe that there is no hell, there is no judgement, there is no sin. Being condemned by God is an old-fashioned idea that most people do not believe in anymore.

    So, to use the analogy I’ve been working with, this would be like a person who cannot see the smoke or the flames of the fire. If you put yourselves in their shoes, you can perhaps see how strange Jesus’s promises would be to them.

    It would be like you going home today, sitting in your Lazyboy, everything’s fine. All of a sudden a fireman breaks down the door and announces, “I’m here to rescue you!” In this situation somebody has to be crazy. Which one is it? Are you crazy or is the rescuer crazy? Is there a fire or is there not a fire? Are there such things as sin, condemnation, hell, and so on, or are these things imaginary so that you have no need to be rescued?

    To try to answer whether sin, condemnation, and hell exist, many things could be said. All that I’d like to try to do is point out the smoke and the fire that can go unnoticed so easily. Consider what happens in homes. Look at how husbands harm their wives, and wives harm their husbands. Look at how parents harm their children, and how children harm one another. Children, often deemed to be somewhat innocent, can be terrible to their fellows—a veritable law of the jungle.

    Consider the workplace. Employers mistreat their employees. They try to squeeze as much as they can from them while paying them as little as they can get away with. Employees mistreat their employers. They don’t work as hard as they can. They don’t respect their bosses. The workplace can be miserable with all the backbiting and complaining.

    These are our homes and our workplaces—the places we spend the most time in. The one with whom we spend the most time with is ourselves. So many of us are being burned with self-loathing and self-hatred.

    All of these signs point to the conclusion that sin is real. Hell is real. The pain is real. These injuries, sicknesses, and crippling effects are not the way that things should be. We were meant to be loving creatures instead of destructive creatures.

    What God’s enemies would like to convince you of is that there is no alternative. Homes have to be traumatic. Workplaces have to be contentious. Self-loathing is inescapable. It is as though we have to accept this darkness, because lovelessness and misery are unbreakable laws of our existence.

    To believe in Jesus means that you vehemently disagree. We don’t have to accept evil as impossible to overcome. Evil is destructive of life and happiness. Jesus says that he will give “eternal life.” In fact, he has said that he has come so that we may have life, and have it in abundance.

    There are two sides that a person can be on. Either a person can be on the side of light, or a person can be on the side of darkness. Either Jesus is supreme or the darkness is supreme. Jesus Christ is the light of the world; the light no darkness can overcome. In Jesus you are saying, “No, the darkness is not supreme. Jesus is the rescuer who saves us from sin, condemnation, and hell.”


    240303 Sermon on why Jesus was upset (Lent 3) March 3, 2024

    240303 Sermon on why Jesus was upset (Lent 3) March 3, 2024

     Audio recording

    Sermon manuscript:

    Picture in your mind’s eye the scene described in our Gospel reading. It’s Passover. Many people, like Jesus and his disciples, have come to Jerusalem. It’s a busy place. The temple area has many tables and booths set up. Some were exchanging foreign money for the money that was accepted at the temple. Others were selling animals needed for sacrifices. The oxen and the sheep would have been tied up. The pigeons would have been in cages. Jews from far and wide were milling about, perhaps dickering for better rates and prices. This was a normal day, full of busyness. Those familiar with how things were done wouldn’t think anything of it.

    As you heard, Jesus thought differently. He made a whip from cords and went on a rampage. I don’t know what else to call it. He had to have been very forceful to make these merchants leave their stalls with all their money, but he did. He drove them all out of the temple. The sheep and the oxen where unleashed so that they were running about in the midst of the people. Jesus took the tills of money and dumped them on the ground so that coins were splashed everywhere. He kicked over tables and pulled over booths.

    That’s quite a scene! Does the thought enter your mind: “Was Jesus in the right here?” It sounds like disorderly conduct. However important that question might be, I’d like to set that question aside. I think there is a better, more interesting question: What must the fire have been like that was burning in Jesus? What spurred him on to do what he did? That took courage. That took energy. Jesus cared. It was as the psalm says: “Zeal for your house has eaten me up!”

    So what has gotten Jesus so upset? The answer to that question is so foreign that it is almost incomprehensible to us. The reason why Jesus is so upset is because he cares about people praying. He wants people to pray to his Father. The temple was to be a house of prayer for all nations. That purpose was being thwarted by what these merchants were doing. He says in our reading, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house into a house of trade.” The temple was the dwelling place of God’s Name. People could call upon God’s Name in that place.

    I must say, and to our shame, we have nothing of the fire that burned in Jesus. When was the last time that you were upset—really upset? Did it have anything to do with prayer? Did it have anything to do with conscience, which is closely related? Having a good conscience towards God is indispensable for praying with confidence. Were you upset because these things were being hampered for you or for others? Probably not.

    The last time you were really upset was probably because something bad happened to you. Somebody made a mistake and it created an inconvenience. Somebody hurt you. Somebody said something bad about you. Your quality of life was hampered, and maybe you went on a rampage about that. But prayer? Conscience? These are thought to be back-burner concerns. This is why Jesus is so incomprehensible to us. “Zeal for God’s house had eaten him up.” When have you had zeal for being in God’s house, for praying? Maybe never!

    But maybe you haven’t known any better. That wouldn’t be surprising. What most people believe is really important is their quality of life. The stuff they get really upset about is how things are going for them in this life. If any thought is given to God it is usually fleeting and feeble. It’s usually not much more than, “Yes, God exists. I try my best, so I should be fine. That’s enough of that! Let’s get back to the business of living life to its fullest!”

    The same thing is usually true with those who deny God’s existence. They usually don’t put a lot of thought into it. They maybe heard of some stuff from the Bible that they thought was impossible or ridiculous. That settles it for them. They say something different from you. They say, “God doesn’t exist,” but then what? The refrain is the same: “Let’s get back to the business of living life to its fullest!” This life looms the largest for people.

    This carries over into people’s thoughts about heaven too. Most people think that heaven will just be a continuation of this life, but without annoyances. People will spend their time in heaven doing those things that they liked best. The happy farmer on earth will farm in heaven, but maybe without any weeds. The person who loves riding horses is going to ride horses eternally.

    Although these kinds of thoughts about heaven are extremely common, they are not thought about very deeply. People simply fail to notice, for example, that with this conception of heaven people continue to ignore God in heaven just like they ignored God in this life. Or, again, people will be seeking their own advantage in this supposed heaven, just as they sought their own advantage in this life.

     But ignoring God and seeking one’s own advantage is probably a more accurate description of hell than it is of heaven. God will not be ignored in heaven, nor will any of those in heaven want to ignore him. Nobody will be seeking their own advantage in heaven—just the opposite in fact. The opposite of seeking your own advantage is love. Heaven is the place where love is. God is there, and, as the Scriptures say, “God is love.”

    In fact, a great transformation must take place in us for us to be happy in this place. We must be made holy. Sin must be purged from us. We must be filled with love from the top of our heads to the soles of our feet. For the first time since we were born we will know what pure love is. For the first time we will be capable of loving with our whole heart. We will receive love from God and from all his creatures and we will love right back. Is there anything better than being loved and loving in return?

    So how can we go on the way we have been? How can we not care about our relationship with God? How can we not care about other people’s relationship with God?

    Maybe an illustration would help get across what I’m trying to say. I’m sure you’ve noticed how toddlers like to play with blocks. They like to build them up into a tower and knock them down. They do it over and over again. They are happy to spend their time that way. Maybe, to them, there’s no better way to spend one’s time. We, who are grown, however, know that’s not true. I’m assuming that none of you built towers today so that you could knock them down again. You occupy yourself with higher things that more fully engage your abilities.

    When Jesus drove the people out of the temple because they were merely engaging in trade while being totally mindless towards God, it was as though Jesus were telling them to quit playing with blocks. You’re too old for that. There is something higher, better, and more important. Prayer, conscience, knowing God—this is what we were made for. We weren’t made to play with blocks our whole lives.

    But people can be pretty serious about their blocks. CEOs, presidents, those who are wise according to worldly standards, those who are strong, those who are of noble birth—they easily believe that their affairs are a cut above everyone else’s. Their blocks are really important. But even if a person were the CEO of the biggest company, even if a person were the president of the whole world—something that doesn’t even exist—that would still be like playing with blocks. Knowing God through knowing Christ is the way that we become the creatures that we are meant to be.

    In our Gospel reading Jesus is angry and upset because people are being turned aside from what is truly good for stuff that is worthless and passing away. Jesus says in another place: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but to lose his soul? What can a man give in exchange for his soul?” How many jet skis does it take? How many vacations will produce a sufficient quality of life? These are building blocks that give but a little thrill.

    We would do well to catch a little of the fire that was in Jesus. We would do well to be zealous for the same things Jesus was zealous about, because he wanted what was good and valuable for people. Our hearts and our neighbors’ hearts easily and naturally get captured by all kinds of things so that we think nothing of God, or almost nothing of God. This and that capture our love and devotion instead. Well, this and that are lame.

    God is good. He is life-giving. Missing out on him is more than enough to make a person upset. 

    240225 Sermon on confessing Jesus as the Christ (Lent 2) February 25, 2024

    240225 Sermon on confessing Jesus as the Christ (Lent 2) February 25, 2024

     Audio recording

    Sermon manuscript:

    In our Gospel reading Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ. This is important and life changing because it is by our confession of Jesus as the Christ that we are saved. However, as we also heard, Peter ran into some difficulty when Jesus spoke about the cross. Today we will talk about what happened with Peter and how this also applies to us as Jesus’s followers today.

    We’ll begin with the story. Jesus was going to the villages of Caesaria Philippi with his disciples. Jesus asked them, “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples told Jesus what they had heard. Some people said that he was John the Baptist; others, Elijah; others, one of the prophets. Jesus then asked them, “What about you? Who do you say that I am?” Peter responded for all of them and said, “You are the Christ.

    This is a very special answer. The word, “Christ,” means “anointed one.” The way that people were made into kings in the Old Testament was by being anointed with oil. Peter is saying that Jesus is king—but not just any king. God made promises in the Old Testament about a great king who would arise. He would be a descendant of Abraham and of David. He would put an end to injustice and wickedness. He would bring about righteousness and peace.

    Peter’s answer, therefore, “You are the Christ,” is of enormous significance. He is saying that Jesus is this great king. Peter does well with his confession of who Jesus is.

    What happens next, though, throws a wrench into Peter’s thoughts about Jesus being the Christ. Jesus began to tell them what was going to happen to him. He was going to suffer many things. He would be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and experts in the Law. He would be killed. After three days he would rise again.

    This was not what Peter had in mind for his beloved king. Stuff like that didn’t happen to kings. What good could this suffering and dying possibly serve? Peter rebuked Jesus. Jesus rebuked Peter right back. He used very harsh language. He said, “Get behind me Satan!” I’m not aware of Jesus ever calling anyone else that terrible name. He explained why he called him that: “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.

    These words are key. They identify a great divide. A person can set his or her mind on the things of God or on the things of man. What does it mean to set your mind on the things of God or the things of man? Let’s begin with the things of God.

    The things of God are bound up in Jesus the Christ. He is loved by God the Father. What does this king do? You already heard very important things this king did. He suffered many things, was mistreated, killed, and rose again.

    You are aware of the goodness that the king accomplished by doing that because we talk about that a lot. Jesus’s suffering, death, and resurrection brought about the verdict of forgiveness for sinners. Sinners, who otherwise should die and go to hell for their sins, instead are received as beloved children of God for Jesus’s sake.

    Jesus’s work as king, however, did not end with his death and resurrection. Forty days after he rose from the dead he ascended to the right hand of God the Father. That is where he reigns and rules as king now. The way that he reigns and rules his spiritual kingdom is through the testimony of God’s Word by Christians like you and me. These Christians are scattered far and wide all over the earth. These Christians have been given the Holy Spirit. They believe the Gospel. They urge others to believe in the good news of this king and to follow him. When the last person whom God has chosen is brought to faith, then Jesus will come again.

    When Jesus comes again he will judge so that goodness and evil will be identified and separated. Evil will be confined in hell. Those who believed in Jesus will receive their inheritance as co-heirs with Christ. All things will be placed under Jesus’s feet. Then Jesus will hand over the kingdom to God the Father so that God will be all in all. These are the main points of the things of God, upon which we should set our minds.

    What are the things of man? What Jesus means by the “things of man” is the way that man operates after the fall into sin. Already in Genesis you can see the things of man by the way that Adam and Eve lived after they disobeyed God. I don’t think they were exactly happy, but they tried to make the best of the situation. They solved problems. They were ashamed of their nakedness, so they sewed together some fig leaves. Life went on.

    So it was also for Cain, their son, and his descendants after they were rejected by God. They tried to make the best of things. They discovered new things. They made instruments to improve their quality of life.

    Peter, when he was setting his mind on the things of man, perhaps thought that Jesus as an earthly king would be good for life in this world. Instead of him suffering and dying—seemingly accomplishing nothing—he should get busy. He could raise an army, create a following, and if luck was on their side they might manage to bring Israel back to its former glory.

    So it is also today. We try to make the best of things. We’ve discovered lots of useful things. Like the men before us we try to push the ball forward. We try to make progress.

    Jesus rebuked Peter by saying that he was setting his mind on the things of man instead of the things of God. Perhaps when Jesus told his disciples that he was going to suffer and be killed and rise again, it sounded to Peter as though Jesus was going backwards. That’s how suffering generally sounds to us. We try to get rid of suffering. We try to fix problems. It sounded wrong that suffering should remain—especially under the rule of this very special, long-promised king!

    Jesus, however, knew things that we don’t know. He knew that our fundamental problems could not be fixed by any amount of reforms or the wisest of leaders. Our problems are too deep for that. We needed to be redeemed. That was why Jesus suffered, died, and rose again. This was good, not bad!  It was how sinners were set free.

    But Jesus’s teaching on the cross was not just for him. He goes on to teach the disciples about the life that they were to live. Suffering would remain for them too. He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

    We can understand these words according to what Jesus told Peter. We are to set our minds on the things of God instead of on the things of man. To set our minds on the things of God is to recognize that he is king—he is in control, not us. God’s understanding of goodness is better than our understanding of goodness. We might identify something as good that is not good, and, vice versa, we might identify something as being evil which is in fact very good.

    Take, for example, the problem of being a disciple of Jesus. Being a disciple of Jesus is a problem, because that means we won’t always fit in. Jesus didn’t always fit in and look what they did to him. Jesus’s apostles didn’t always fit in. They were severely mistreated. Disciples of Jesus will never fit in because we believe in and testify to the Gospel. We believe that Jesus is the king who will set all things right.

    The reason why this means we will never fit in is because we will always be seen are raining on the parade of earthly dreams. Man always dreams of making a paradise on this earth. By testifying that Jesus is the Christ we are also saying that all other reforms are at best half-measures, and can never really succeed. The Gospel is always an indictment against setting your mind on the things of man.

    Although Jesus’s message was not always welcome to everyone, Jesus did not change it. People went away from him. People got angry at him. He’s going to remain the king that he is.

    Jesus is open about the suffering that we will undergo as Christians. Suffering will remain. And if you won’t deny yourself, if you won’t take up your cross and follow him, then you won’t be his disciple. It’s as simple as that. When the prospect of suffering rears its ugly head, you will betray him to save your own skin.

    Be prepared, therefore. Jesus says several times, “Be sober and watchful.” That means, “Be sensible. Have unrealistic expectations. Don’t be surprised when suffering comes upon you.” You might be tempted to think that there is some way that you could “fix” Christianity so that you don’t have to suffer. Maybe you can make it so that it never offends anyone, so that nobody ever feels bad from anything you might say. A lot of Christians set this as a high priority for their life of faith.

    I submit to you that they are probably doing something similar to what Peter was thinking of doing in our reading today. Peter was trying to fit Jesus into a mold of his own making. This king would then work well for him, solve his problems, and go a long way in creating a paradise on this earth. So also today Christianity can be edited so as to curry favor with a certain segment of the population, or to avoid persecution from another segment of the population. This song and dance, however, is a far cry from the bold and simple confession of Peter: “You are the Christ.”

    We do not need to play tricks with what we say. We do not need to figure out how to be clever like we so often do with our worldly pursuits. We need the truth. The plainer and simpler the truth, the better. Then let the Holy Spirit go to work.

    And if it should so happen that we then receive a cross, so be it. God will work good through that cross, even if we don’t see it. God willing, and by God’s grace, we’ll keep on believing in the king, despite the cross. We’ll keep confessing that Jesus is the Christ. By that confession we will be saved.

    240218 Sermon on fighting temptation (Lent 1) February 18, 2024

    240218 Sermon on fighting temptation (Lent 1) February 18, 2024

     Audio recording

    Sermon manuscript:

    Today I’d like to address something that all people must face: Temptation. Temptation is when we are lured and enticed to do something that is wrong. Where does temptation come from? It doesn’t come from God. James says in our reading, “God tempts no one.” Instead, as he says, temptation is when “each person is lured and enticed by his own desires.”

    This makes sense. If you don’t have a desire for something, how can you really be tempted? For example, some people don’t like sweet things. Forgoing dessert is not difficult. They have no strong desire for it. Likewise, with more serious matters: Some have an intense desire for money. Others less so. Some have an intense desire to get their own way. Others are more agreeable. What tempts us is closely linked to our desires.

    The Bible teaches what is to be done when our desires drag us into temptation. This is seen already with Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve’s sons. Cain was stirred up with a powerful desire to kill his brother Abel. Cain is told, “Sin is crouching at the door… You must rule over it.” The picture here is that either desires rule over us, or we rule over the desires. Either we are slaves to our desires—forced to obey what our desires command, or we are free. If we are free, then we aren’t forced to obey whatever our desires tell us. We can tell them we are not going to obey them.

    There are a couple of passages that speak like this. Paul says in Galatians chapter 5: “For freedom Christ has set you free.” The goal of Jesus’s work as the Christ is to set us free. Jesus speaks this way in John chapter 8. He says, “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

    Jesus reveals something very important about our slavery or freedom with regard to our desires. The only way that we can be set free is by the Son of God setting us free. We cannot free ourselves. The chains are too strong. If we imagine that we have freed ourselves, we are deceiving ourselves. Only the Son sets you free, but, as Jesus says, “If the Son sets you free then you are free indeed.”

    That’s good news! The word “Gospel” means “good news.” Slaves who have been kicked around by their masters are happy to hear that they are free. They no longer have to listen to those old masters. What’s more is that we are not just set free now to go about our business, having to make our own way. We have been made into sons in the only Son of God. We belong to the house of God, which we may live in forever. We are baptized into Jesus. We have become one with him. Jesus, as you know, is Lord over everything. He sits at the right hand of God the Father. He is above every power, authority, desire and demand. He is free. He is Lord. And so are we when we believe in him.

    This is the Gospel that all of us Christians have been given. It says something new about us. “For freedom Christ has set you free.” You are free from amazing things! You are free from death. You are free from hell. You are free from the Law, because Christ fulfilled the Law for you. You are free from the demands of your desires. By the Holy Spirit who is within you you can say “No.” “I’m not going to obey you as though you were my master and I were your slave.”

    Faith in this Gospel is truly wonder-working. It goes way beyond moving mountains. Moving mountains is nothing compared to the lordship that is ours through faith in Christ. We, together with Jesus, triumph over all evil. We triumph because Jesus is king and God. He’s on your side, and, through faith in him, you’re on his side. Everything has to turn out well, even if you first must pass through fire or the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus is just that great of a king. Your faith in him is powerful, because he is powerful.

    But although faith is so powerful, it is, at the same time, easily damaged and lost. This is always how God’s enemies attack. They attack our faith with deception and lies. God’s enemies cannot attack Christ directly. They could never overcome him. So the only power that God’s enemies have is to deceive and tell lies in the hopes that we will give up on the truth and believe the lies instead. This is how our faith is easily damaged and lost. We believe the lies instead of believing the truth.

    I’ll give you a very straightforward example that I’m sure you’ve all experienced. Let’s say a desire comes along and says, “Do this!” Hopefully you know and you remember from the Gospel that you are not a slave. You are free. You can say to that desire, “No, I won’t obey you.” But let’s say your desire puts up a fight and says, “I’m stronger than you.”

    You’ve probably heard the saying, “A good lie always contains a bit of truth.” Goliath was stronger than David. So it may be here too. Your desires may very well be stronger than you! They aren’t stronger than Jesus! They aren’t stronger than the Holy Spirit. The deception here is that you are too weak for the temptation—just look at you—so you might as well give in.

    I’ve been fooled by this simple tactic. There are countless more. They can be extremely subtle and convincing. The apostle Paul himself admits to being deceived repeatedly in Romans chapter 7 as he fought against temptation. There seems to be no end to God’s enemies’ lying, and, unfortunately, our flesh likes to be deceived. Being deceived is the way that our faith is so easily damaged and lost. We put back on the chains of slavery from which Christ has freed us.

    What should we do if we find ourselves in this sad but very common situation? The most important thing is that you don’t go on believing in lies. Saying you should not go on believing lies is a lot easier than actually doing it, however, because continuing on in lies is the very thing that God’s enemies want you to do. Lies can look much more attractive than the truth. Remember Adam and Eve. Hiding in the bushes seemed much safer and wiser than exposing themselves with the truth.

    The good thing about the truth, though, is that the truth is also good news. If the truth were that God hates you because you’ve blown it—I’d want to hide from that too! But that’s not the truth. The truth is the good news that Jesus is the Savior of sinners. The good work that Jesus has done as king isyou’re your salvation. His work does not need your cooperation and involvement. Jesus’s work is complete and perfect. He gives it to you as a gift. He gives it to you by having it spoken to you so that you can believe it. Believe this good news and it’s yours!

    And then don’t forget what we’ve talked about already today. What we’ve talked about is so easy to lose sight of in the midst of temptation. You are not a slave. You have been purchased and redeemed. You have the Holy Spirit. You don’t have to obey your desires’ demands as though you were their slave. You are free. “For freedom Christ has set you free.” In Christ you are lords over all evil powers. They cannot do what they want to do to you.

    Accordingly, and this is important too, we can have an assertive posture towards desires and temptations instead of having a posture of weak resignation. I know well—again, by personal experience—the whimpering prayer, “I wish these desires would go away from me. I wish they’d leave me alone.” Behind that whimper is the fear that my desires are too strong for me. There’s despair behind that whimper. Despair is the opposite of faith. Of course you are too weak to conquer all your desires, but that is not what we as Christians believe in. We do not believe that we are all alone and that it is all up to us. You aren’t alone. Jesus is with you. You are weak, but he is strong.

    Therefore, you can be assertive. You can see this assertive posture towards temptation in our epistle reading from James. He says, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation.” He doesn’t say “Cursed is the man who has been tempted.” He says, “Blessed is that man.”

    A few verses earlier he speaks even more clearly about this assertive, confident posture. He says, “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when temptations of various kinds fall all around you.” Consider it all joy? Why? James answers: “The testing of your faith produces endurance.” The testing of that faith you have in Jesus as the king produces endurance. Having been set free, we can try it out.

    Refusing to do evil is the smashing of evil. It is wonderful and glorious. We can learn by experience that we can endure temptation. We don’t always only have to sin. We don’t have to obey. That is when we are beginning to entering into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. That is when we are embracing the implanted word that makes us a kind of first-fruits of God’s creatures. It is better to smash evil than to cower in fear against it as though it were invincible—as though it were more powerful than Jesus. It’s not!

    Now, in our fight against desires and temptations might we get bloody noses, stumble, and even fall? Perhaps. What of it? In that case we return to the Gospel. We return to the all-conquering truth that Jesus is king and lord over all.

    Jesus is on the march. Whatever is evil is doomed. As light scatters the darkness, so the light of Christ obliterates the shadow of evil wherever it might be. You are on the winning side. This is good news.

    Sermon on same-sex attraction and gender confusion (special sermon series) February 4, 2024

    Sermon on same-sex attraction and gender confusion (special sermon series) February 4, 2024

     Audio recording

    Sermon manuscript:

    When Pastor Bertram and I were discussing what we might like to accomplish with this series on marriage, sexuality, and so on, we both thought that it would be good to address what is known as LGBTQ concerns. LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning or queer. Advocacy for LGBTQ rights has entered the mainstream. Our laws concerning marriage have changed. Workplaces are implementing DEI, which stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion. No one can afford to ignore what is going on because the stakes can be quite high.

    These issues have become politicized and are being implemented by force. There are some countries, such as Canada or some European countries, where certain ways of speaking about these issues have been criminalized. Criticism of LGBTQ lifestyles will likely be labeled as “hate speech.” So it is also with workplaces. Say the wrong thing, and you might be fired. So it is also with our families. Say the wrong thing, and you might not be invited to family functions.

    These issues have become so fraught with drastic consequences. Therefore, we might think that we are already addressing what is most important when we deal with laws, policy, and so forth. Although being imprisoned, or losing your job, or being shunned are very important things, they are not the most important thing.

    The most important thing was what Jesus said in our Gospel reading. He said, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus is so clear. God is not scanning the earth, looking for whom he might condemn. He wants everyone to be saved.

    This is similar to another of Jesus’s statements. In John chapter 10 he says, “I came that people may have life, and have it more abundantly.” We might put that into simpler, more everyday language by saying, “Jesus wants everyone to be happy.” Jesus’s giving of happiness is what is more important than the temporary, earthly troubles we might experience. The salvation of just one soul is infinitely precious.

    So although there is much that we could talk about with this topic, I’d like to focus on what is most important. Namely, how can those who experience same-sex attraction or gender confusion receive Jesus’s promises of salvation and abundant life? The answer is simple: “Repent and believe the Gospel.” That’s what Jesus always preached. Repentance for our sin and faith in Jesus the Savior is the only way to eternal life.

    Let’s begin with the first part of Jesus’s statement, which is, “Repent.” To know that same-sex attraction and gender confusion is sinful is not difficult. Many people who experience these desires already know in their own hearts that it is not good. They don’t even need the Scriptures to tell them so. However, the Scriptures are very clear about these things. You heard that in our first two readings.

    In our reading from Leviticus it says that a man should not lie with another man as though that other man were a woman. That is an abomination. Men and women should not lie with animals. That is perversion. God threatens to punish those who do these things. He threatens to punish all who live in the land where these things are practiced. God is very clear that this behavior is unacceptable.

    In our second reading, from Romans chapter 1, Paul identifies same sex attraction as a symptom of a decaying society where the people are alienating themselves from God. Our alienation from God, our worshipping of created things instead of the Creator, is the root cause. Improper desires are but a symptom of the underlying condition.

    Note how Paul doesn’t just speak about improper same-sex relationships. He describes many other symptoms of this societal decay. The things he mentions are so common that we might not even notice them as being sins. He speaks against coveting, being mean, being proud, being disobedient to parents, gossiping—these sins are just as much an indication of our alienation from God as same-sex attraction or gender confusion.

    To all of this God says, “Repent!” The word, “repent,” is often taken to be a harsh, hate-filled word. It may be harsh, but it isn’t hate-filled. Repent means, “Change your ways! You’re going the wrong way!” Going the wrong way isn’t good for us! Lying, being mean, burning with covetousness, indulging whatever emotion or desire that comes over us—none of these things are good for us. They don’t promote life; they hamper life. God would have you turn away from these things, be forgiven in Jesus, be given abundant life.

    A common problem, however—not just among those who experience same-sex attraction or gender confusion, but among all sinners—is that a person doesn’t want to repent. They don’t want to change their ways. They’ve enjoyed the sins they have been committing. They don’t want anyone to tell them to live otherwise.

    This is something that is eternally decisive for each one of us. Jesus speaks to this also in our Gospel reading. He says: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God.”

    What is eternally decisive for each of us is the question of what you are going to do when the light comes? The light of God shows us what’s right and wrong. It gives us a knowledge of our sin. What are we going to do about that? One option is to ignore the light. Another option is to fight against the light as being truthful. You can reject what is said about right and wrong. This can be done with same-sex attraction, with divorce, with living together without being married. It can be done with other sins too. The angry person might want to continue to be angry. The gossiper might want to continue to gossip.

    Whenever we do this, however, we are making a decision. That decision might get to be so automatic for us that it is no longer even a conscious decision, but it is a decision nevertheless. We are stating our preference. We prefer the darkness in which we can continue to live as we see fit instead of embracing the light—the righteousness and healing that Jesus the Christ is bringing into this world.

    God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” The light certainly teaches us what’s right and wrong, but that is not the only thing that Jesus does. The Son of God lays down his life for sinners. He suffers and dies. He is punished with the punishment we deserve. In him and in his sacrifice is the only way for all the wrongs that we commit to be made right.

    Many of you have long heard this Gospel preaching, and are well aware of it. I would like to emphasize how this is true for all people and for all kinds of sin. The good news of salvation in Jesus is for those who experience same-sex attraction or gender confusion. The good news of salvation is also for those who have acted on their desires. Jesus died to pay for the sins of those who have lived as homosexual couples, those who have lain with animals, those who have fully transitioned.

    The word that Jesus has for them is the same word that he has for everyone: “Repent, and believe the Good News of salvation.” Jesus’s salvation is stronger than anyone’s sins. The grace of God is so powerful and abundant that all the world’s sin, taken altogether, is like a spark that falls into an ocean. That ocean has more than enough to extinguish that little spark and more. Jesus forgives those who repent of their sinful desires, including same-sex attraction or gender confusion. He forgives them lavishly and completely.

    Forgiveness and salvation are in Jesus. This is the main thing. It is only natural, however, to wonder about what life is like after hearing the word of forgiveness as we live in this world. We know that God will bring about the final healing at our death and resurrection. That is when God will finish his work of making us holy. In the meantime what should those who suffer from unwanted same-sex attraction or gender confusion do?

    The answer here is, again, not very original. It’s the same as we’ve been saying all along. Those who experience same-sex attraction or gender confusion must fight against their sinful desires just as all Christians must fight against their sinful desires. All Christians have unwanted desires. Some are proud, some are greedy, some are unruly. Unwanted desires cannot hurt us Christians so long as we do not give ourselves over to them. Day in and day out, week in and week out, we confess our sins and receive absolution. That’s the life of the baptized.

    Would it be easier if all our unwanted desires were taken away from us? Seemingly so. But God very often allows these desires to remain. They keep us humble. They keep us from relying upon ourselves and our own righteousness. They force us to live only by faith in Jesus, who is the only Savior. So our unwanted desires might not be taken away from us in this life. That’s alright. We will one day experience the truthfulness of Jesus’s promise about life, abundant life.

    However, God might remove unwanted desires too. We should not make hard and fast rules about these things. Don’t demand of God signs and wonders. That’s on the on hand. On the other, don’t reject his healing if he should give it either. It might be that God makes it so that a person who at one time was afflicted by these desires can marry and have a family of his or her own. If that happens, thank God! But even with this happy outcome, it is still not the main thing. The main thing is continuing to believe in the Son of God.

    In summary and in conclusion, Christians who experience same-sex attraction or gender confusion are not different from their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. The way to live as Christians is the same for one and for all. We all must continually repent and believe in Jesus. The way that unwanted, sinful desires are handled isn’t different either. May God have mercy and take these sinful desires away from all of us in this life! But God very likely will allow many of them to remain. As Paul says, “It is only through many troubles that we may enter into the kingdom of God.” They keep us humble. They keep us hungry for the new heavens and the new earth when our abundant life will begin in earnest.

    The politicization that has occurred regarding LGBTQ rights is unlikely to go away. However difficult or frightening various changes might be, they remain earthly and temporary. We have something much greater—the good news of Jesus’s light and life. The Son of God came, not to condemn the world, but to save the world. Jesus came so that we may have life, and have it more abundantly. Hope in him!

    240121 Sermon on what marriage is (Special Sermon Series) January 21, 2024

    240121 Sermon on what marriage is (Special Sermon Series) January 21, 2024

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    Today we have begun a three week series on marriage, sexuality, and various issues that go along with these things. To do a series like this is a little unusual for us. We tend to follow the lectionary. The lectionary is a list of readings from the Bible that have been assigned for each Sunday in the Church Calendar. Pastor Bertram and I are happy to follow the lectionary. The assigned readings make sure that we hear the whole counsel of God’s Word instead of only focusing on certain favorite topics. Nevertheless, we have decided to set aside the normal readings for these three weeks so that we could focus on the topics of marriage, sexuality, etc.

    To begin our look at this area of life it is good to begin with how God has created us. God made Adam and Eve in a very special way as we read about in Genesis. The way that he made Adam was by taking council within himself, deliberating within himself, gathering some earth, breathing the breath of life into Adam’s nostrils. Eve’s creation was also very special. She was not made from earth. A portion of flesh was taken from Adam. God made that rib into the woman.

    None of the other creatures are described as having been created in such a way. Man and woman were created with a strong connection to God. He made them in his own image. There is also a strong connection between man and woman since the woman was taken from man. She was not created as an independent being.

    When God finished making Eve, he presented her to Adam. Adam was delighted. He broke out into poetry and song, as young men are sometimes known to do. He said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.” The woman is like him, and yet not like him. The similarities and differences between him and her bring about wonder and admiration.

    Here we see another important thing about how God created us. We were created to have an attraction—the male for the female, and the female for the male. God creates us with attractions and appetites. We have appetites for food and drink, for example, that are satisfied with eating and drinking. So also, a man is meant to be satisfied by being with a woman; a woman is meant to be satisfied by being with a man.

    It is difficult, and a little uncomfortable, to speak about this attraction and appetite. None of us are ashamed to talk about hunger and thirst. It isn’t as easy to speak about the desire we feel for another person. This isn’t necessarily bad either. Unlike eating and drinking, what a man and woman do with each other is private. It’s supposed to be private. However, we shouldn’t be so afraid to talk about these appetites that they become taboos. We should help, especially, our children. Children eventually grow into adults. This desire awakens within them. They should not be shamed for having that God-given appetite. They need help to know that their desire can be directed in such a way that they can keep their honor.

    Where their desire should be directed is toward their spouse or their future spouse. Our reading from Genesis speaks to this also. It says: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” A man is to leave his father and mother when he is ready to take a wife. The reason why he leaves his father and mother is because he is going to create a new family together with his wife. The man clings to his wife instead of clinging to his old family. The man and his wife become one flesh—they are joined together. From this one-flesh union children are created. Thus you see how God makes a new family. Husband and wife become father and mother. The new family begins with the marriage.

    You see here in Genesis how God has made us—male and female he created us. He made us so that we have a desire for one another. He created marriage as the first and highest of all institutions. Family and society flow from it. Marriage is an arrangement that remains on this earth, and it will continue to remain until Christ comes. Then, as Christ teaches, the situation will be different. In the life to come we will not be married or given in marriage. We will be like the angels, Jesus says.

    But our focus today is on this life. So, very practically speaking, how should a boy or a girl look at this area of their lives, and how should they look towards the future?

    First of all, every boy should thank God for making him a boy, and every girl should thank God for making her a girl. The way that God has made us is wonderful, and God deserves to be praised. Praising God for making you the boy that you are or the girl that you are is important work for you to do as God’s creatures.

    Later on, when boys grow into men and girls grow into women, they should be on the lookout for that person to whom they might be joined together as one flesh in holy matrimony. My advice for boys and girls is that they are never too young to pray to God for a good wife or a good husband. You parents and grandparents—you who love your children and grandchildren—should pray for good, godly spouses for them if you want what is good for them.

    During the teenage and young adult years it is important to guard your body, soul, and mind from the powerful temptations to take what God has not yet given to you. If you have not yet been joined through marriage to someone, you should not pretend that you have been. Wait until God joins you together with that person.

    A profound promise is asked of those being joined together. You might be familiar with this marriage vow: “I take you to be my wedded husband or wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy will; and I pledge to you my faithfulness.”

    What this promise means is that you are going to forsake all others and stick with this person no matter what. That’s love! Love is not just looking out for yourself. Love is being there for the other even when it is unpleasant, painful, and no longer to your own advantage.

    By having made those promises, by having been joined together, a new family is made. Within that family there is to be love, honor, service, and sacrifice. God highly approves of all of this. God loves it when a man loves his woman, and a woman loves her man. God loves it when parents love their children, and children honor their father and mother. A very good and rich life is given within this marriage and family.

    Finally, we should talk about the end of the marriage. A marriage ends when death parts husband and wife. God is the one who determines the end of the marriage, just as God is supposed to be the one who determines the end of anybody’s life. If we take our own life into our own hands and end it, or if we take somebody else’s life into our own hands and end it, that’s rightly called “murder.” God doesn’t want us to do that. So also God brings about the end of a marriage by bringing about the death of one or the other spouse. This is what it means when the marriage vow says “till death us do part.” When God determines the time, he ends the marriage by bringing about the death of the husband or the wife.

    Now, having described how things should go in this area of life, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were lots of questions. Some of those questions might be addressed during the next two weeks. There is not enough time for me to say much more than I already have. So I’d like to conclude with a word to those who recognize that this area of their life has not been what it should be. You haven’t done as you were supposed to do.

    Remember that Jesus came to save sinners. Jesus died to set things right that have gone wrong. The work that Jesus does as Savior is not different in this area of life from the other work that we hear of him doing. Jesus went around giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, mobility to the lame. Your affliction might be with your sexuality, or the sexual sins that you’ve committed, or perhaps the sins that have been committed against you.

    Jesus does not wish for you to be left alone in your sadness, disappointment, or regret. Like the blind man, who could not make himself see, or the lame man who could not make himself walk, you also cannot fix yourself. You might not be able to fix yourself for the future. You certainly can’t go back and undo what has been done. You can’t make right what has gone wrong. But Jesus can. He’s the only one who can. This is the miracle of God’s blood and God’s death. That sacrifice cleanses and atones. Fully aware of your sins, therefore, Jesus says he forgives you. He teaches you. He brings light, truth and healing in this present life. He will bring perfect healing in the life to come.

    Understand, therefore, that your real enemy is not Jesus, nor is it God, with his Law. You might be tempted to believe that God with his Law is your enemy, because you haven’t kept it. But your real enemy is the devil. He is a liar. He says you don’t need those outdated, prudish laws. Live however you want! Lust after whomever you want! Be the lord of your own happiness!

    That’s the enemy’s message. It sounds good. There’s a reason why so many follow his advice! It sounds like it will be just what you want. But those who follow this liar’s advice soon find out that on the other side of the supposed freedom and thrills misery awaits. You can’t fight against the way God has created us to be and expect to have no consequences.

    God’s message, admittedly, is very different from the liar’s message. God doesn’t say that you should do whatever would make you happy. He requires some high and difficult things. He says we need to love. He says self-control is good. Being sexually pure and decent is good. Showing honor and respect to your wife or your husband is good. Being faithful unto death is good.

    These things are good whether you have actually done these things or not. Who of us is without sin in this area of life? Nevertheless, what God requires is good. I think you know that. If only we would be the way that God would have us to be in this area of life, things would be good. It’s because we haven’t been obedient that we have the troubles that we do.  

    So we’ve messed up. Jesus is the Savior of people who need help. Jesus is the Savior of sinners. Repent, believe in him, and be saved!

    231231 Sermon on the importance of being redeemed from the Law (Christmas 1) December 31, 2023

    231231 Sermon on the importance of being redeemed from the Law (Christmas 1) December 31, 2023

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    Our Gospel reading this morning tells the story of what happened not long after Jesus’s birth. The Law of God, given to the Old Testament people, required that eight days after Jesus’s birth he needed to be circumcised. Then, forty days after Mary gave birth, she needed to offer sacrifices. This marked the end of her time of ceremonial uncleanness from giving birth. Our Gospel reading describes this. Mary and Joseph went up into Jerusalem. Jesus was presented to the Lord as the firstborn, and they offered two pigeons in the Temple.

    In a way, these activities were unremarkable. Jewish people had been obeying these Laws for many hundreds of years. Since Mary and Joseph were devout Jews, they did what was expected of them according to the Law.

    What was unusual about the situation was that Jesus wasn’t just an ordinary Jewish boy. He was also God’s Son. Since Jesus was and is God’s Son, he is the originator of the Law. He is Lord of the Law. He was free. He didn’t need to enter under those Laws. The Israelites, on the other hand, were not free either to observe the Law or not observe the Law. If the boys and men were not circumcised, they were cut off from the people of God. If people were not made clean according to the Law of Moses, they were kept apart from the communion of saints. The God-given laws were what gave them their standing. If they were on the right side of the Law, then all was well. If they were on the wrong side of the Law, then they were cut off.

    Although Jesus, the Son of God, was not compelled to be subservient to these laws, he freely did so. The reason why he entered into these laws was to set people free from the Law as determining their standing before God. He entered into these Laws to keep them on behalf of all. He satisfied what was required by the Law so that his obedience may be credited to us.

    Our Epistle reading is a clear and memorable passage that sums up what Jesus accomplished. The passage reads: “In the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

    Let’s briefly look more closely at these words: God sent his Son at the fullness of time, at the right time. God’s Son was born of a woman—not the normal place to find a God. God’s Son was born under the Law—not the normal place to find the Giver of the Law. The reason for all of this, though, is for redemption. That is the key word in the passage: God did these things to redeem those who were under the Law.

    This redemption changes the basis for our standing. Having been redeemed, the basis for our relationship with God is no longer the Law. The Law required certain actions and forbade other actions. Instead of our relationship with God being determined by what we’ve done, we’ve been redeemed so that our relationship with God is on the basis of grace.

    The language that Paul uses is that we are adopted as sons. The reason why he uses the term “sons” instead of a more general term like “children” is because we are adopted only through Jesus, who is God’s Son. We receive Jesus’s status as God’s Son when we are baptized into him and when we believe in him. It’s by being connected to the only-begotten Son that we receive adoption as God’s sons—regardless of whether we are male or female.

    So, in one sense, when we look at the happenings that Luke describes in our Gospel reading, they are unremarkable. Israelites had been doing those things for a very long time. However, in another sense, and under the surface, so to speak, the most momentous things were taking place. Fulfillment was taking place. Redemption was taking place. The relationship that human beings have with God was being revealed as being upon a different basis. This relationship with God was not be on the basis of the works of the Law, but upon faith in God’s grace. Instead of having a relationship like a slave or an employee, who is only as valuable and esteemed as the work that he or she performs, we are adopted as sons of God, loved simply for the sake of who we are in Christ and for no other reasons.

    There is a surprisingly practical importance of this teaching for each one of us. It has to do with what we say about ourselves. What makes you who you are? When we think about that question, the most immediate and natural answers are what you manage to accomplish for yourself: You’re hardworking. You’re smart. You’re popular. You’re moral. You’re good-looking. I could go on with many other possible positive attributes.

    But even with these few that I’ve listed, doubts immediately come to mind. Are you that good-looking? Are you that moral? Are you that popular? I wonder if I couldn’t find some other specimens of humanity who might exceed the attributes and talents that you have. I bet I could.

    And besides these answer to the question of what you have to say about yourself—what makes you good—we have the more important criteria that God provides. Have you loved God? Have you loved your neighbor, your fellow human being? Have you thanked and praised, served and obeyed God? Have you honored your parents and other authorities? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?

    These commands are different. With the rat-race where everyone is trying to be the best—the best athlete, the best looking, the richest, and so on—there’s no divine command about these things. God doesn’t command you to be the best, nor does he evaluate you along these lines. Very different powers and authorities are the ones demanding you to be the best. This demand, this law, seems to have been cooked up by God’s enemies—the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. God’s enemies do not want us to be satisfied or to give thanks. God’s enemies what us always to be covetous and never to be thankful. God’s enemies want us always to be longing to be the best and always being sorry for failing to be the best.

    God isn’t like that. God won’t judge you for failing to succeed in all the stupid contests about who is the greatest. What he says he will judge you for is the way that you have treated him and the way that you have treated your fellow human beings. That is God’s Law.

    Now before I get into how practical and important the change is that Jesus has brought about, I’d like to point out how little we think about God’s real Law and how much we obsess about those contests. People think a lot about how pretty or not pretty, how rich or not rich, how successful or unsuccessful they feel. These desires are much more important to us than God’s Law. There’s a good reason why we do that. We all have this belief that if only I was the best at everything, then I’d be happy. And doesn’t that make sense? It appears to be a truism according to our common sense—if only I had everything and was the best at everything, then I would be happy!

    Again, this is the common sense way that the devil keeps you coveting. Your coveting makes you blind to the riches of God which are new every morning because you are desiring to be the best. Your eyes cannot see his goodness because you are always looking at the performance of your stock portfolio, or the latest workout regiment, or the newest gadgets and furnishings for your home. Your eyes don’t go so high as to contemplate God’s real Laws about love. You’re too busy believing that you need the fake measures of success that hold out the promise of happiness, but never deliver.

    In any case—whether we are dealing with the fake laws for how to be the best, or the divine laws that require love, the change that Jesus brings about is for the better. God’s Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, has redeemed us so that we might receive adoption as sons. This changes the answer to the question we have been considering: What do you have to say about yourself?

    I can answer that I am the recipient of God’s grace. God has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. Now I am his own. I have been adopted as a child of God in Jesus. Since I am adopted as a child of God I am also an heir. I will inherit what God has decided to give me. If I am not already happy, then I know that I will be when the time is right.

    Everything that I have just said is about God. God is doing all the actions. You are only a recipient. God is the Savior, not you. God gives the meaning to your life, not you. God is the judge, not you. This is all to say that God is in control, not you. By faith you may get on board with that and embrace it as your own.

    It is no small thing to believe that Jesus is your redeemer. It sets you in opposition to other powers and authorities who would have you interpret your life in very different ways. Very different ways of attaining happiness are held out as being the sure-fire way, and their arguments can be awfully persuasive. The promise of happiness that the Scriptures make is that your happiness will be in Jesus because he puts you into a gracious relationship with God. It is good to be in this relationship with God because God is good. God is wise.

    As David says in Psalm 103:

    God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. … He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor does he repay us according to our iniquities. … As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

    231224 Sermon on the birth of the King (Christmas Eve)

    231224 Sermon on the birth of the King (Christmas Eve)

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    Sermon manuscript:

    He rules the world with truth and grace.

    That line comes from the well-known and well-loved Christmas hymn, “Joy to the world.” “He rules the world with truth and grace.” Who rules the world? Jesus rules the world.

    Jesus being the king who reigns and rules is a theme that is found in a lot of Christmas hymns. I’ll give you a couple examples. O Come All Ye Faithful. O come all ye faithful to Bethlehem. Why? To behold the King of angels. Or Hark the Herald Angels Sing: What are the herald angels singing? “Glory to the newborn King!” Christmas is about the birth of the king.

    This king was promised to come in the Old Testament. There are so many prophecies about a great king. He would be from David’s line. He will bring light to those who sit in darkness. He will bring righteousness, justice, and peace. His kingdom will be an eternal kingdom. I don’t think it is possible to overstate the importance of this great, eternal king.

    But another thing that almost all the Christmas carols point out, however, is the strange scene into which this king was born. A stable is not the normal place to give birth for any human being, much less the great king. Consider these opening lines: “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed…” Didn’t even have a crib. Or: “Once in Royal David’s city stood a lowly cattle shed, where a mother laid her baby in a manger for his bed…” Jesus being born in a barn instead of even just an ordinary house is so strange.

    In fact, for me, this aspect of the Christmas story is a little hard to believe. When we read the Bible we shouldn’t think the people about whom we read are so completely different than us. There’s no indication that the people of Bethlehem were especially cruel and heartless that they would all turn away a pregnant woman. Who among us, no matter how poor the pregnant woman might be, wouldn’t gladly give up our room or even the whole house if need be?

    Jesus being born in a stable, it seems to me, was not because of any meanness of the people of Bethlehem, or a matter of chance. God wanted his Son to be born there. He created the circumstances so that it came to pass. The net result is that God’s Son, the long-expected Savior, was born in conditions that were much worse than you or I were born into. Even if you were just born in a house, you were born into relative luxury compared to God’s Son. There wasn’t even a crib to lay down his sweet head.

    Why did God cause his Son to be born in such lowly conditions? One thing that God may have been indicating is that all the things to which we look for happiness and fulfillment are not where happiness and fulfillment are truly to be found. We so easily believe that if only we had some more riches, some more luxuries, then we’d be happy. Or if only we had some more prestige. Or, even, for those of a more sentimental nature, if only I had that Norman Rockwell Christmas, then my heart would be full.

    No, happiness and fulfillment must be satisfied by something much higher than any earthly, created thing. That thirst can only be quenched by a relationship with the uncreated Creator. And, indeed, to bring about that happy relationship is the very reason why this great king came.

    And we see that this great king continues to be a strange king. He was not found in big fancy palaces. He didn’t have servants so that he wouldn’t have to work anymore or be troubled by anything. Just the opposite: he served instead of being served. And his service continued all the way to the end. He didn’t sit upon a big fancy throne. He was nailed through his hands and his feet to an instrument of torture and death.

    On the cross the king suffered in our place for the sins that we have committed. With all our sins God didn’t just say, “Forget about them. No big deal.” No, the great king came to set things right, not to ignore wrongs. He came to bring about righteousness and justice. He suffered the punishment that was due for our sin. By the high and holy sacrifice of the king we have peace with God. The king has brought about righteousness, justice, and peace, reconciling sinners to God by his death and resurrection.

    The work of Jesus the king is not over, however. He sits at the right hand of God the Father, reigning and ruling all things, but especially his spiritual kingdom. The way that Jesus reigns and rules in his spiritual kingdom is by sending out his Gospel, which means “good news,” so that sinners may repent and believe in the king. So that having been justified by faith, we may have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

    This message that gets sent out is similar to what the angel was sent to speak to the poor, lowly shepherds: “Do not be afraid. I bring you glad tidings of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The angel tells the shepherds that the great king has been born. Christ the Lord will save them.

    In like manner the Gospel goes out in our day. Just as with the angel and the shepherds, not everyone hears it. The shepherds heard it; others did not. Likewise, not everyone is in a church tonight. And even though people might hear about the great king, not everyone believes it. Whether a person believes or does not believe does not just depend on their attendance or lack of attendance. Whether a person believes or does not believe is dependent upon the reigning and ruling of Christ the king. When and where it pleases him the Holy Spirit creates faith in those who hear the Gospel. They believe in the king. As John says, “Those who believe in Jesus’s name are children of God—born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God.” Children of God

    This is all to say that Jesus’s reigning and ruling right now at the right hand of God the Father is very special. If you believe in this king—if you turn away from your sins and hate them, if you believe that Jesus is the king who saves you—this is God’s doing, and it is marvelous, but how marvelous it is is only apparent to the eyes of faith. There is no outward kingdom of Christ right now with magnificent signs and wonders. He rules by his Word and the Holy Spirit. He converts. He brings people out of darkness and the fear of God’s punishment to the light, to forgiveness, to being confident before God because of what Jesus the king has done.

    Although Jesus reigns and rules as king in a hidden way right now, it will not always be that way. There is more to come with Jesus’s kingdom. He isn’t done as he sits at the right hand of God the Father. He will come again to bring his reigning and ruling to completion. He will come again on the last day with power and great glory to judge the living and the dead. At that hour, when the trumpet sounds, the dead will be raised, and he will give eternal life to all believers in Christ.

    Although this day will be tremendous and awesome, some might say “dreadful,” it is a continuation of all that this king has been doing since the beginning. When he comes on the last day he will accomplish yet more righteousness, yet more justice, yet more peace. Jesus will accomplish yet more of the kinds of things we read about him doing in the Gospels. Jesus went about casting our demons, healing diseases, giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, raised the dead, so on and so forth. Jesus was working to bring to nothing anything that was evil, sad, fearful, mean, painful, and so on. These will be brought to nothing once and for all on that great and final day. The king will see to it.

    Thus we have a real parting of the ways depending on whether you believe in this king or not. What do we say about these evils? These evils are so easy to find, so easy to Google, so easy to do? We have evils on the outside and evils on the inside. Even if we were to do everything relatively well time marches on and our bodies get old. Things aren’t as fun as they used to be. I think we could come up with a good long list—and we wouldn’t have to work too hard to do it.

    The parting of ways is with the philosophers in our midst. The philosophers throw up their hands and say, “Too bad! That’s life! There’s no changing it! Might as well just get used to it!” To which a believer in Christ should say: “The Lord rebuke you!” Because there is the king, God’s Son, things will not just go on as they always have been. There is nothing evil that is going to endure. Whatever is evil is doomed. The king is going to see to it. A great change is in store for everyone and everything.

    This is good news. It’s strange good news, in a way, because the evil that the king has come to destroy is surely found also in us. You can’t keep holding on to that evil. The king won’t allow it. The king is on the march. The king is going to be victorious. As our epistle reading said, “He is going to purify for himself a people for his own possession.” Being purified is often not a very pleasant experience for the thing or the one who is being purified.

    This is where I think it is important to keep in mind who is doing the purifying. Is God, who is purifying, good or evil? Is God for us or against us? Surely God is for us. That is the meaning of Christmas. God is for us. What more proof do we need than that he sent his Son to be king, being born in a barn? In addition to all the strange things I’ve been pointing out tonight, God’s love for us sinners is strange in that he gave up Son, his dearest treasure.

    So if it is good news even that we should be purified, that the darkness we love by nature should be replaced by the light, then what do we have to complain about? Anything evil is doomed. Anything evil is so utterly temporary. God’s kingdom, on the other hand is eternal. His kingdom is unstoppable.

    Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy, for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

    231213 Sermon on Ruth 3-4 (Advent 2 Midweek) December 13, 2023

    231213 Sermon on Ruth 3-4 (Advent 2 Midweek) December 13, 2023

     Audio recording

    Sermon manuscript:

    I’d like to begin tonight by orienting ourselves. Last week we heard the first two chapters of the book of Ruth. The two most important people in this book are Naomi and Ruth. Naomi used to live near Bethlehem with her husband and two sons, but they needed to leave when a famine came on the land. They had to move to Moab. As they were living in Moab, Naomi’s two sons married Moabite women named Orpah and Ruth. Not long after that all three husbands died. Naomi’s husband died. Orpah’s husband died. Ruth’s husband died. The women were left alone in their widowhood.

    This was an especially vulnerable situation to be in during ancient times. Men worked to provide for the family. They also protected the family. Naomi, Orpah and Ruth were poor and extremely vulnerable.

    What I focused on during last week’s sermon was how Naomi and Ruth, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, loved one another. Naomi urged her daughters-in-law to go back to their homes, to marry new husbands, and allow Naomi to fend for herself. This was sensible advice. It was their best shot at happiness. Ruth, however, refused to leave Naomi. Wherever Naomi would go Ruth would go.

    Where Naomi then went was back home. The famine by this time was over. When Elimelek was still living, Naomi and he farmed some land near Bethlehem. Bethlehem was home. So Naomi and Ruth went to Bethlehem.

    When Naomi and Ruth arrived, they needed to have a way to support themselves. Neither of them had two nickels to rub together. Naomi was old and frail. So it fell upon Ruth to work and support them both. The job she took was very lowly—the kind of work that beggars do. She was a gleaner of the fields. Being a gleaner meant that you would go through the field after it was harvested and pick up the leftovers. If the harvesters missed some grain at the side of the field, the gleaners could harvest that for themselves. Or if some stalks fell out of a bundle, the gleaners could take that for themselves. The gleaners didn’t have a right to take what they wanted. They could only take what was left over.

    The good thing, though, was that Ruth ended up being a gleaner in the right field. The owner of the field ended up being a relative of Naomi’s. His name was Boaz. He was also a redeemer, which I’ll explain in a moment. It was good that Ruth worked in Boaz’s field because Boaz treated Ruth kindly. He commanded his workers to allow Ruth to work right next to the harvesters. He even told them purposely to drop so stalks. Boaz wanted Ruth’s gleaning to be worth her time, and it was. When she came home to Ruth with what she had gleaned, Naomi was thrilled.

    Now I mentioned that Boaz was a redeemer. Our reading tonight was very much about the redemption process that Boaz underwent for the benefit of Naomi and Ruth. So what is this redeeming about? To understand it, you need to know that loans and the ownership of property worked differently in Israel than how they work among us. God stipulated in his Law how the Israelites needed to handle these things.

    Basically nobody owned land in Israel, according to God’s Law. God was the owner of all the land. The people leased the ability to live on the land and work it from God. Now if there came a time when the people who lived on the land came into financial difficulty, they could sell their right to work the land to somebody else, but this was always only a temporary arrangement.  

    The family who sold their right to work the land could get their original land back in two ways. One way was by what was called the jubilee year. Every 50 years was a jubilee year. During that year all debts were cancelled. The selling of rights to the land was cancelled. Then the family who originally owned the land would get it back, free and clear.

    The other way that a family could get their land back was by a redeemer. This is what happened with Naomi and Ruth. Naomi and her late husband Elimelek had some land near Bethlehem years ago. When the famine came, they must have sold their rights to that land to somebody else when they moved to Moab. Naomi still had a right to that land, but the debt needed to be redeemed. More prosperous relatives were able to redeem their poorer relatives to restore them to the land.

    So in our reading tonight we heard about how Boaz set about redeeming Naomi’s land, which also meant that these widows would come under his wing. Ruth would become his wife. This was a big commitment. It would be expensive for Boaz. He also would be taking on the responsibility of caring for these women. But this was something that Boaz was happy to do, because, as you heard, he loved Ruth.

    The real driver behind our story tonight is not the peculiarities the Law that God gave to Israel about debt and property. It’s a love story. Last week I talked about the love that existed between Naomi and Ruth. Tonight we heard about the marital love that Ruth had for Boaz, and Boaz for Ruth. For the love of Ruth Boaz redeemed Naomi and her.

    He had to play his cards right to do that, because a closer relative had the ability to redeem them too. Boaz had to meet with the council, and that’s where there was that strange exchange of a sandal. Long story short, Boaz did play his cards right. They married, and in this way God provided for Naomi and Ruth—lifting them out of poverty and danger. They were even blessed for generations after them. King David would be born from this line. This also means that Ruth and Boaz are Jesus’s ancestors too.

    Now as we look to how we might apply what we’ve heard to our own time and place, I’d like to talk about something that pastors don’t talk about very much—the importance of marrying a good spouse. God’s Word actually speaks about this in many places, and with many examples, both good and bad. One of the most important factors for people’s life of faith is the person they marry—either for good and for ill. A godly, pious spouse is very powerful for helping the other retain his or her faith. On the other hand, an impious spouse will be a powerful hindrance to living faithfully.

    And this is not only the case for the spouses themselves. It also has its effect on the coming generations. This is easily proven. When both husband and wife are pious, faithful, church-goers, they are going to raise their children the same way. Boys learn how to be husbands and fathers from their dads. Girls learn how to be wives and mothers from their moms. As the Proverb says: Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.

    On the other hand, when moms and dads are not on the same page when it comes to their faith and attending church, the coming generations will have mixed signals about how to live and what to do. If mom and dad don’t attend church, the children won’t either. By the time the second or third generation is born, the children might not even be baptized and confirmed.

    So we should be wise and serious about marriage. We can speak about this negatively and positively. Negatively speaking, Christians should not continue in relationships where their potential spouse is not Christian, does not want to become a Christian, or doesn’t actively live a Christian life. Being a Christian is not just saying that you believe in God or in Christ. It also means that you repent of sins, believe in Jesus, and want to do better. It means that you are active in your congregation—helping your fellow congregation members, even as they help you. If the person you are dating is not an active Christian and does not want to become one, then the relationship should end.

    Positively speaking, Christians should, first of all, pray for God to give them a godly spouse. You parents and grandparents should pray for godly spouses for your children and grandchildren. There’s nothing more beneficial you could ask for them. And then, second of all, when an opportunity presents itself to marry a pious Christian, don’t just sit on your hands. Get out there and make it happen.

    We see good examples of this with Ruth and Boaz. When Naomi heard about Boaz, I bet you her wheels started turning immediately. Notice how she encouraged Ruth to go to Boaz and to make known her affection for him. Naomi was a matchmaker. Being a matchmaker is no sin. Making known your affection is no sin. It’s risky, of course. Hearts can be broken. But even in a situation where things do not turn out how we would want, it is better to try and fail than to never try at all.

    If I may be so bold, I’d even like to speak personally. I was captivated by Jana from the moment I first laid eyes on her. The feeling, however, was not mutual. When eventually, years later, I made known to her my long-standing affection in an email, she was not immediately on board. But, being wise, she talked to her father about it, and I’m glad she did. He basically said to her, don’t be too hasty. Give it a chance. Long story short, less than a year later we were married. I hope that she hasn’t been too disappointed; I know that I haven’t been. If it hadn’t been for my father-in-law, who knows if we would have gotten married.

    So romantic relationships do not need to be only how they get depicted in movies or sung about in songs. Movies and songs can be a lot of fun, but that might not be how God would have it be for you with your spouse.

    What is important to recognize are the things that were recognized by Boaz and Ruth. Each recognized in the other that here was someone who was loving, honorable, generous, pious, and so on. That said, neither was probably “perfect” in every respect. Ruth was practically a beggar. Boaz sounds like he was an older man. Maybe he didn’t have the best of looks anymore. But God gave them both the gift of love. God brought them together. The two became one flesh. The blessings carried on for several generations.

    So my encouragement is that we be wise and serious about marriage for ourselves and for those whom we love. Being wise and serious does not come out of thin air. If anything, what seems to come naturally is getting carried away by the feelings that are stirred up by stories and songs.

    God is the key factor. He is the one from whom all good things come. You young people, you’re never too young to pray for a godly spouse. You older people, pray for godly spouses for your children and grandchildren. There’s hardly anything more important you could ask for to help them not only in this life, but even to eternity.

    231206 Sermon on Ruth 1-2 (Advent 1 Midweek) December 6, 2023

    231206 Sermon on Ruth 1-2 (Advent 1 Midweek) December 6, 2023

     Audio recording

    Sermon manuscript:

    The book of Ruth is about poor people. Being poor can lead to desperate actions. The book begins with a desperate action. A poor family leaves their homeland when they can no longer make ends meet. A famine struck the land. Naomi and her husband Elimelech have to leave their land behind in search of better conditions. They went to the land of Moab where the people worshipped other gods besides the Lord God. Naomi and Elimelech had two sons who married Moabite women.

    But one bad thing happened after another for this family. Elimelech, Naomi’s husband died. Then both of Naomi’s sons died. The family that was left was made up only of widows—three widows, three in-laws. Naomi was the mother-in-law. She had two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth.

    Being a widow is bad enough regardless of whether we are talking about modern times or ancient times. Being a widow carries with it sorrow and loneliness. But in ancient times being a widow also brought about impoverishment and vulnerability. Men were important for providing sustenance for the family. There was no social security during those times. Men were also important for protecting the family. Widows could be overpowered and taken advantage of. So with Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth all being widows we are talking about very weak, poor, and vulnerable people.

    Normally histories do not get written about weak, poor, and vulnerable people. Wretched people live in wretchedness, die in wretchedness, and are soon forgotten. But the attentive reader is going to notice that Naomi and her daughters-in-law are not completely wretched. They have a couple of outstanding attributes that no amount of money can buy.

    Naomi, first of all, was obviously loveable. Naomi was loved by her daughters-in-law. The way that a person becomes loveable is by being loving. People who love do not look out for themselves, first and foremost. They look for how they can love, serve, and sacrifice for others. Naomi must have lived this way, as can be seen in what we heard tonight.

    When Naomi’s sons died she lost everything. She had no means for any income that could amount to much. The only hope she had was in her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. But Naomi thinks about their welfare instead of her own. She tells them that they should leave her and find new husbands. Naomi was too old to marry and have children, but Orpah and Ruth were young. They could still get married to a man who could support them and whatever children God might give them.

    And a clear sign that Naomi was loveable is shown by both of her daughters-in-law’s reactions. Orpah and Ruth weep at the thought of leaving their mother-in-law. They love their mother-in-law. However, Naomi was right. If they were to have any hope for a better future they needed to marry again. With the famine and everything else that was going on, it sounds like they were living in desperate times. One daughter-in-law, Orpah, takes her mother-in-law’s advice. She leaves to find a husband and we do not hear about her again.

    Ruth, however, refuses to leave. She says, “Where you go I will go, where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” Here we see someone else besides Naomi who loves in an extraordinary way. Ruth, also, is so very loveable because she loves, she serves, she sacrifices. She doesn’t look out just for herself. She looks out for the good of her mother-in-law.

    And how is it that both Naomi and Ruth are able to be so loveable, so selfless, so sacrificial? Both of them have faith in God. God would bless them and keep them. Because God would bless them and keep them, they didn’t need to be their own gods. They didn’t need to see to things themselves, engineer their own happiness, taking whatever they could get. God would see them through. They believed that even though God had dealt with them in a rather bitter way up to that point. They were impoverished, after all, and God had taken their husbands from them. Nevertheless, they could afford to love, because God would bless them and see them through.

    Now if we take a step back and look at these two women we can see how rich they are, even though they are so very poor in almost every other respect. You can see how noble they are, even though they would have been outwardly clothed with the rags of poverty. They were living life with a capital L, even though they had nowhere to lay their head and to call their home. They were like the birds of the air. They were getting their daily bread, day by day, without barns full of provisions.

    We see several of Jesus’s sayings fulfilled in Naomi’s and Ruth’s lives. Jesus said, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” Naomi and Ruth were loving and being loved. What more can we ask for out of life than loving and being loved? But this love does not just come out of nowhere. Love comes from God, who, as St. John says, “is love.” And so Naomi and Ruth were fulfilling another of Jesus’s sayings when he says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” It is by faith in God’s kingdom, in his reigning and ruling, that we receive the Holy Spirit’s gift of love.

    Again Jesus says in another place: “I came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly. The thief comes only to steal, to kill, and to destroy.” The way to have life and to have life more abundantly is to love and to be loved. To love one another means that you are looking out for the other. You love, you serve, you sacrifice. This is abundant life as it reflects the nature of God.

    The alternative is to steal, to kill, and to destroy. This is the character of every ungodly life. It’s where a person looks out only for himself or herself. Others get used for one’s own benefit instead of being served. Instead of trusting in God to bless you, you see to things yourself, unable to be generous, because you never know what the wheel of fortune might give you.

    Looking at Naomi and Ruth from a distance we see that everything that subsequently happens with them is a working out of their faith in God, and their fervent love for one another. These are their riches. Outwardly they are extremely poor. Ruth is practically a beggar and a slave. I’m sure that both Naomi and Ruth would have like it very much if their outward circumstances were different. Nevertheless, they are content. They continue to believe. They continue to love.

    Faith and love can seem like small matters. History books are not written about faith and love. Nevertheless, faith and love are the truly great things. Faith and love are what prepare us for the eternal things. Heaven is the place where God is, and “God is love.” Those who do not want to love, therefore, do not belong there. Hell, on the other hand, is where everyone is an expert at not loving—that is, manipulating and torturing. They steal, kill, and destroy eternally. They are unable to do anything else. Faith and love are by no means small things. They are the truly great things.

    But we don’t need to wait until we get to heaven to see the effects of faith and love. We can see the effects already in this life. What a difference Naomi made for Ruth already in this life. Ruth loved her so much! And what a difference Ruth made for Naomi. Ruth practically kept Naomi alive. And, as we’ll hear about more in the next two chapters next week, Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David, that truly great man of God. The heritage of faith and love can be passed down from generation to generation. Something of David’s wonderful, courageous faith, and his burning, passionate love, was from his great-grandmother Ruth.

    We can easily apply these thoughts also to our own life. We all can probably point to someone in our life or in our lineage who believed and loved, and thereby brought that faith and love also to us. We also are presented with a challenge and an opportunity for our own lives as well. The challenge is to separate ourselves from the great horde of humanity who seeks only to steal, to kill, and to destroy—looking out only for themselves.

    Or, alternatively, we can believe that God exists and that God blesses. We can trust in him. Then we can afford to love no matter what our circumstances. When we believe and love, there’s no telling what might happen. There’s no telling what can happen in the coming generations.

    Think of Naomi and Ruth. Do you suppose that either of them thought that they would be the ancestors of a king while they were going from place to place, barely surviving? So also we do not know how our actions will affect our families and friends and even those yet to be born—either for good or for ill.

    What we can be sure of, no matter what, is that if we fear, love, and trust in God, and if we love one another, goodness is bound to come. Naomi and Ruth are examples for how we should live and wait for God’s blessings.

    Casey Neistat (The Untold Story): "I was a homeless dad at 15 & had $200k debt!"...The Crazy Story Of How I Became The World's No.1 Video Creator!

    Casey Neistat (The Untold Story): "I was a homeless dad at 15 & had $200k debt!"...The Crazy Story Of How I Became The World's No.1 Video Creator!
    There’s carving your own lane and then having over 3 billion people view the lane you have carved, all from the starting point of being a 17 year old teen father living in a trailer park. Casey Neistat is an America YouTuber, vlogger, filmmaker, and co-founder of the mobile application ‘Beme’, which he sold to CNN in 2016. He is one of the most famous people on YouTube, and his channel has over 12 million subscribers, with 3 billion views. Follow Casey: Instagram: https://bit.ly/47NRUB8 Twitter: https://bit.ly/3RcoHZD YouTube: https://bit.ly/41altdX Watch the episodes on Youtube - https://g2ul0.app.link/3kxINCANKsb My new book! 'The 33 Laws Of Business & Life' is out now: https://smarturl.it/DOACbook Follow me: Instagram: http://bit.ly/3nIkGAZ Twitter: http://bit.ly/3ztHuHm Linkedin: https://bit.ly/41Fl95Q Telegram: http://bit.ly/3nJYxST Sponsors: Whoop: https://join.whoop.com/en-uk/CEO Huel: https://g2ul0.app.link/G4RjcdKNKsb Uber Trains: https://uber.com/gb/en/u/travel-uk/trains/ Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

    231126 Sermon on Christ's Second Coming (Last Sunday of the Church Year) November 26, 2023

    231126 Sermon on Christ's Second Coming (Last Sunday of the Church Year) November 26, 2023

     Audio recording

    Sermon manuscript:

    One of the unusual features of the times we are living in is how many different beliefs there are. Perhaps you had a taste of that at your Thanksgiving gathering. Your cousins, nieces, nephews, in-laws might have very different understandings about what is right and wrong, the present state of things in the world, or what we should do about all of it. There have always been differences of beliefs. No two human beings have ever had the exact same thoughts about everything. But in the last few years the sheer number of beliefs available to be believed has increased dramatically.

    Sometimes you might hear of people applauding this development. More free speech and more diversity is automatically good. But many of the new beliefs contradict older beliefs. For example, either we have been made to be male and female—and that means something, or gender is just a fluid social construct. Either male and female is something intrinsic and natural, God-given, or what I’ve just said is judgmental and hateful. It is impossible for both views to be good. They contradict each other.

    So despite what people might say about diversity—that it should be welcomed, the more diverse the better—they either aren’t seeing the contradictions or they aren’t being totally honest. If they were being honest they would say that those who hold the older beliefs are deplorable and have no business holding any power or authority in our modern life. They should be run out of the government, run out of our universities, run out of our schools. They don’t go so far as to want to kill people, but they most certainly want certain beliefs and ideas to die. The reason why they are so passionate for their beliefs is because they genuinely believe that the death of these old ideas will make the world a better place.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you had some vigorous debates on Thanksgiving whether these newer ideas would make the world a better place. I could take up the rest of this sermon time by giving you arguments for why this or that belief is bad and will lead to worse conditions rather than better ones. That might be an enjoyable way for us to spend our time. I suspect that most of us are pretty much on the same page about the various issues. But glorying in how right we are and how wrong they are would give the impression that we—with our debating, with our fighting—we are what is indispensable for Christianity and for the furtherance of Christ’s kingdom.

    This is a very common, false assumption, which is held to particularly in our circles. Being a Christian is assumed to be the same thing as being a “conservative.” Being a Christian means that you fight for the old beliefs as opposed to the new beliefs. Christianity is us versus them. We’re right; they’re wrong. And what needs to happen is that either they need to shape up so that they adopt our position, or they must be eliminated. Their beliefs and ideas need to be eliminated. They must be run out of the government, run out of the schools, run out of the libraries. Being a Christian means that you are a cultural warrior.

    This is not Christianity. This is one of the devil’s tricks. We know from St. Paul that the devil likes to dress himself up as an angel of light. There’s nothing that the devil likes more than to play around in religion. What a harvest of souls the devil can collect for himself if he convinces people that Christianity is a matter of being either conservative or progressive. Then people will fight with each other over whether we should be conservative or progressive, believing thereby that they are being ever so pious, ever so religious, when in fact they will be accomplishing nothing that lasts into eternity.

    There is only one way for us to last into eternity, and that is by becoming a new creation. Paul says a couple of times in his letter to the Galatians that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision—an issue hotly debated at the time—counts for anything. What is needed is a new creation. I don’t think I am going wrong by modifying that statement to say, “Neither conservatism nor progressivism is strong enough to accomplish anything. What is needed is a new creation.”

    And what is this new creation? John speaks of this at the beginning of his Gospel. He says, “To those who received the light [that is, Christ,] to those who believed in Jesus’s name, he gave the right to become children of God. They were born, not of blood, or of the desire of the flesh, or of a husband’s will. They were born of God.” That’s how you become a new creation. You are born again through faith in Jesus’s name.

    This is very much tied up with baptism. One of the simplest answers to the question of how to become a Christian is that you should be baptized. Jesus speaks of baptism as being “born again by the water and the Spirit.” Unless we are born again we cannot see the kingdom of God.

    And why is it so necessary to become a new creation? It is because the change that is needed is too great. Neither conservatism nor progressivism can save anyone from death. Neither conservatism nor progressivism can reconcile sinners with God. Neither side can exorcise evil spirits to make way for the Holy Spirit. Neither side can make anybody truly love. If anything it seems that the more we fight the more we hate, the more we dehumanize our opponents. And to what end? For greater diversity, equity and inclusion on the one side? To make America great again on the other? However grand these ideas might seem to be to people, they are far too small and temporary. Christ our Lord operates on an entirely different plane of existence.

    This is something that our readings today about the end of the world point out so forcefully that it strikes me as being almost brutal. We think the stuff that we deal with is so important, so consequential. The future of our country or the future of the world depends on us winning the cultural war. What our readings today reveal is that it isn’t about us at all. The most outstanding thing is Jesus Christ being Lord and God.

    In our reading from Matthew we hear about how this King comes with magnificent splendor and power. All the souls born of Adam and Eve are gathered before him. Each and every one of you are one of those souls. The most powerful person who will have ever wielded the reins of government will be one of those souls. The most lowly—the retarded, the aborted, the slave—will be one of those souls. And how are they judged? They are judged by the presence or absence of the chief and foremost fruit of faith, which is love. Did they love? And who did they love? Did they love only their own, and to hell with everybody else or did they love the least of these?

    Our epistle reading is also supremely grand. Paul speaks about the resurrection and what will happen at the end. Paul is correcting the Corinthians, some of whom didn’t believe that the resurrection from the dead was likely or possible. Paul says, no, there is most certainly a resurrection from the dead. If there is no resurrection from the dead then Christianity is a joke. It’s simply not true if there is no resurrection.

    But what I find so captivating is what he says towards the end of our reading. He says that at the end Christ will bring to nothing every rule, every authority, every power. All his enemies must be put under his feet. Then he will deliver the kingdom—all those who have been raised together with Christ—he will deliver them to God the Father. Even Christ himself will be subject to God the Father. Then God will be all in all.

    To be honest, I’m not sure I understand everything that Paul has said. One thing is clear though: Christ’s kingdom is what is extraordinarily important and there is no alternative. There is no alternative universe for DEIers, or for Trumpers, or for never-trumpers. “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in us all.” This inclusivity is extreme! It is only in Christ that there can ever be true unity, true oneness. And there will be oneness, because either you will be in him, and one with him, or you will depart from him. This inclusivity is extreme. It seems brutal—harsh, even.

    But this is where it is important to remember what kind of Lord and King Jesus was. When you are tempted to believe that this is all too extreme, nasty, brutal, and so on, you must remember the way that Jesus was in the Gospels. His disposition towards us has not changed.

    What the Gospels reveal is that Jesus is an extremely strange king—so different from those who have earthly power. He did not enslave the world so that everybody would serve him. Just the opposite: He poured himself out for the benefit of all. He healed, he set right that which was wrong, he cast out demons, he forgave. And the works didn’t need to be extraordinary or grand. On the night when he was betrayed he got out a basin, put water in it, tied a towel around his waist, and washed the disciples feet. What kind of king does that?

    And, of course, as you are well aware, Jesus was king in a supreme way when he was nailed to the cross, suffered God’s wrath for our sins, and died. Because he died, we will not die. Because he is risen, we will rise too. This is the stuff that Paul talks about in our Epistle reading. It is going to happen to us. We will rise at his coming. Death will be destroyed forever. We will be caught up in this whirlwind of Christ’s kingdom where all things will be brought to nothing and Christ will rule over everything. Then we will be delivered to God the Father so that God will be all in all.

    In light of all of this we must all repent and believe the Gospel. Whatever improvement projects we might have for ourselves or for others are futile. They can never reach deep enough. Nothing that we do can ever change the human heart. Only God, through the death and resurrection of his Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit can make us new creatures.

    This is where the extreme inclusivity, the seemingly brutal oneness, should not be seen as being as brutal as it first appears. It seems brutal because God does all this without asking for our permission or our approval. He’s going to do what he’s going to do whether we like it or not. Losing control, losing our say about what we think is good or what should happen, is frightening.

    But what if none of us is good at knowing what is good and evil? What if all our hearts are evil and in need of redemption? Then it is much better for the King, who is wise and good, to take the reins. He continues to set right that which is wrong, to cast out evil spirits, to forgive. Nobody can do what he does. He does all things well.

    146. Roommates and sharehouses in our 20s

    146. Roommates and sharehouses in our 20s

    Living in sharehouses in our 20s are like their own weird, social experiment. We put together a group of people with different upbringings, personalities, lifestyles and standards under one roof and expect it to work out. Sometimes it does, other times it doesn't and we see social harmony break down. In today's episode we discuss: 

    • The four styles of roommates
    • The Cinderella Roommate 
    • The psychology of freeloading 
    • The influence of personality
    • Living with friends 
    • The role of communication 
    • Conflict, stonewalling and the silent treatment 
    • When its time to move out! 

    Listen now as we break down the psychology of roommates and sharehouses. And don't forget to share your horror roommate stories! 


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    For business enquiries: psychologyofyour20s@gmail.com



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    231123 Sermon for Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2023

    231123 Sermon for Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2023

     Audio recording

    Sermon manuscript:

    The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.

    Our country has been celebrating the National Day of Thanksgiving since 1863. In October of 1863 President Lincoln called upon the nation to consider its good fortune. It had been blessed with bountiful harvests, with healthful skies, with productive mines. The president declared that these things came from a generous God. He acknowledged that there were troubles too. The country had been in the civil war for about a year and a half. But, President Lincoln said, things could be worse. Thus he set aside the last Thursday in November as the National Day of Thanksgiving.

    For our observance of Thanksgiving Day we could do something similar to what President Lincoln did in his Thanksgiving proclamation. We could consider how things have been with us. God has given us a bountiful harvest. This is true nationally as well as locally. President Lincoln spoke of healthful skies. We, too, have had good weather. The mines are still being mined. Our grocery stores are all fully stocked. We’ve had our problems just like President Lincoln had his problems, but things could be worse.

    It is good for us to try to see what is good in life and to give thanks to God for that goodness. The inability to see what is good and our coldness towards God are from our fall into sin. Before the fall into sin Adam and Eve had a free and easy relationship with God. After they fell into sin they were afraid of God. They were suspicious of what he might do to them.

    We are like them. We’ve lost the ability to see what is good. Unfortunately, we very often don’t see how good something is until it’s gone. We don’t see how good health is until we are sick. Since we don’t see how good it is, we don’t thank God for it like we should. We haven’t had a famine for well over a hundred years. This has made many people believe that famines, food shortages, hunger—these are all things of the past. We do not see how extraordinary the abundance we enjoy is. We don’t give thanks to God for it.

    And these are just the most intimate of our needs—our health, our food and drink. There are so many other good things that God heaps up on us day in and day out. He makes the sun shine. He makes the rain fall. He gives us the precious gifts of the members of our family. He gives us our community. He gives us the opportunity to serve with good and honest work. His mercies are new every morning. Great is his faithfulness.

    But maybe as I mentioned just those few blessings that God gives you’ve wanted to raise some objections. The weather’s kind of cold. I hear it’s only going to get colder. The precious gifts of the members of your family? They’re not always easy to live with. The community? It’s not like it was years ago. Good and honest work? Maybe you don’t like your work. Maybe you don’t like your coworkers.

    But let me remind you of what I just spoke about. It is natural for us fallen sinners to be blind to what is good. It is always easier for us to be dissatisfied with what we have and to want something better. Thus we do not give thanks. Not only is this what comes naturally to us, but the devil and his demons want to spur on these thoughts and attitudes as well. These enemies of God don’t want us to be thankful.

    The devil would like it best if none of us would receive our daily bread at all. But, barring that, since God is the way that he is, and he gives his daily bread to everyone, the devil would then like it if we would not be content with what we are given or to give God thanks and praise. Instead of being content, he wants us always to be on the lookout for something better—maybe that something that somebody else is enjoying. If only I had what they have, then I would be happy.

    This is called coveting. The ninth and tenth commandments say, “You shall not covet.” God gives us these commandments for our good, and we truly would be better off if we never coveted, but coveting comes naturally to us. Coveting is also a very powerful spiritual problem, and so the devil wants us to covet. The first step to coveting is to be dissatisfied with what God has given to you. This dissatisfaction can be about all kinds of different things: Your spouse isn’t good enough. Your parents aren’t good enough. Your job isn’t good enough. Your friends aren’t good enough. Your personality isn’t good enough. Your body isn’t good enough.

    There are two things I’d like to point out about this poisonous spiritual fog the devil is always wafting our way. First of all, it is useful to understand that these things could be true—at least certainly theoretically. Could you have a better body? Yep. We all even know how we could do it too. Could your job be better? Theoretically. If we are considering dreams and ideals, then I suppose anything is possible.

    In fact, this is just the reverse of something I’ve already said a few times tonight: “Things could always be worse.” Conversely, things could always be better. Both statements are truisms. Things could always be worse. Things could always, at least theoretically, be better. So that’s the first thing—there’s truth, theoretically at least, mixed in with the dissatisfaction and covetousness.

    The second thing I’d like to point out is that this evil spiritual fog makes people miserable. Thinking about how you don’t measure up with various aspects of your life is practically guaranteed to make anybody who does it sad. This, of course, is what the devil would like for all of us. The devil likes it when others are made sad. He’d like it if we would all be sad and miserable eternally.

    So the devil will waft his nasty, poisonous fog towards us to destroy any contentment and thanksgiving towards God that we might otherwise have. The devil would like nothing better than for all of us to hate everything we have in our life, and then for us to be angry at God for making our lives so miserable. But truly it is not God who has made our lives so miserable. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. Great is his faithfulness. It is not God who makes us so miserable. It is the devil. The way he does it not even so much by depriving us of what we need for this body and life. Instead he bewitches us so that we are dissatisfied, covetous, and thankless.

    Shame on the devil for bewitching us so thoroughly. What dreadful misery he manages to inflict upon us. But the good news is that you can fight back. Not only can you fight back, but the real truth is on our side. That’s how it always is with the devil. The truth is actually against him. He has been defeated. It is only by lies that he holds on to any power.

    So when the devil cooks up a lie that you should be miserable and ashamed at how bad things are for you, know that he’s wrong. The truth that the devil will probably try to use is that things could always be better. But the real truth is that things are already good now. We don’t need any potentialities or idealism. Things are already good.

    To say that, however, requires faith. We must believe that amid all the things that can happen and do happen in this life that Jesus is Lord and God. He reigns at the right hand of God the Father almighty. He has redeemed us poor, fallen, covetous sinners. He sends his Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth and gladness, to fight against all lying, evil, and sad spirits.

    Things are already good now and the truth is that the future is as bright and cheerful as we could ever hope for so long as we remain faithful to Jesus. What we know about the future is that there is nothing that is currently wrong that Jesus will not set right. There is nothing dissatisfactory about us or in us that will not be healed and perfected. Perhaps God will do this to some extent for his children already in this life, but even if he doesn’t, do not be afraid. He will surely do it when we are resurrected.

    Now somebody might object: What about all those things that I still don’t like about my life? I want those changed now. My spouse, my job, my health, my wealth, my body—these haven’t suddenly changed in these last few moments have they? I want my best life now!

    This brings to mind the kinds of things that the devil said to Jesus when he was tempted in the wilderness. He said, “If you are the Son of God, then change these stones into bread. Why be hungry? Fix it now.” Or, he said, “Bow down and worship me and all these kingdoms will be yours. Why go through that cross and trouble?” The devil, it seems, is a fan of the quick fix. Don’t put up with anything. Get it changed right now.

    But supposing, even, that the goods could always be delivered—supposing that all your wants could be satisfied—what would that ultimately profit you? Jesus once asked, “What would it profit a man to gain the whole world, but to lose his soul?” The reason why even gaining the whole world would not ultimately profit us is because we were made in the image of God. We were made for fellowship with God. Not even all the world’s goods and accomplishments can satisfy what can only be satisfied with a relationship with God.

    So do not throw away the goodness of God that is renewed for you every morning by being dissatisfied, by chasing after some ideal. Be thankful instead. What is now, what is present, is good. And even if there is something that isn’t good, it is without doubt passing away. That is what is so marvelous about what Jesus has accomplished for us. Anything that is evil, unfit, unworthy, sad, what-have-you, will not go on forever. It cannot go on forever. After the cross is the resurrection.