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The old, old Story makes us new!

Let us cling to an “old, old story” in this era fixed on what’s new. Across the world, we are increasingly like—but now rapidly exceeding—those ancient Athenians who “would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21, ESV).

The information and digital outlets available to us have opened a swirling vortex of telling and hearing new things. Meanwhile, we Christians hold to our admittedly (and truly glorious) ancient truths. Truths that seem so out of step with the world, but precisely what we need most to regain our bearings and restore our spiritual sanity.

“Crucified” became a kind of identifying descriptor of our Lord even in the immediate aftermath of his resurrection. The angel spoke to the women at the empty tomb: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said” (Matthew 28:5–6, NIV).

Not long after that, Peter healed a lame beggar and was been subsequently arrested for it. He was on trial, and having been asked, “By what power or what name did you do this?” (Acts 4:7, NIV), Peter replied, “By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead!” (Acts 4:10, NIV).

For the apostles and early church, Christ’s crucifixion was not accidental or peripheral. The early church didn’t try to hide the crucifixion, but push it front and center. The Son of God had not only taken on our flesh and blood, but he had given himself, sinless, in our stead, to execution at the cross. Through Jesus, the very person and heart of God for his people is revealed. God is love! (1 John 4:8, 16).

The cross represents the whole of the Christian faith not to minimize the resurrection, or to in any way downplay its essential importance. The cross draws us near to the God. The cross slays all worldly wisdom and expectations—only Christianity puts God on the cross: “I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again” (Isaiah 43:25, NLT) and “I will remove the sins of this land in a single day” (Zechariah 3:9, NLT).

How essential it is to approach God on the basis of Christ’s forgiveness. “I have been crucified with Christ,” Paul says. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, ESV). The cross is new life: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24, ESV). “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14, NKJV).

Forgiveness has freed us to live a life of love. Christ is risen—he is risen indeed, and all the world in its wisdom cannot see any value in this. So, let us praise God and follow. At the tomb, the women didn’t remember God’s promise, but when they were reminded of what He said, they believed; so will I. Let us believe in all the promises of God: “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2 Corinthians 1:20, NKJV).

Jesus left the tomb behind. The disciples left the tomb to follow Jesus, so will I. They followed the word that Jesus shared, so will I. As the disciples took time to go to Him, then so will I. Jesus’ death on the cross opened the way to new life. Let us cling to the “old, old story!”

Why Go to Church?

COVID guidance is changing! Yeah!! At Trinity you don’t have to mask, and the changes made me think, “Why go to church?” The weekend is coming, and 30 years ago, especially for Lutherans, it meant going to church. Lent begins this week, and I can remember, as a kid, attending service every Wednesday in Lent. Now, for most of you reading my article, you may be looking forward to Sunday worship, especially as all of the COVID restrictions that we’ve had to endure over the past 2 years seem to be waning.

Nonetheless, I think it’s absolutely fascinating that these days many people may be thinking: “Why even bother going to church this Sunday…I don’t really know any of those people, and those I do know, I saw during the week. What would I get out of spending an hour sitting in a pew? Wouldn’t I be better off watching the game with friends, helping someone in need, shopping, finishing some work or spending time with the family?

Connecting with people, family, helping those in need, doing some necessary tasks or just resting are all necessary things, but it’s good for us to ask what happens if we prioritize them above God himself–if we give good things God’s position? Lent, in our Lutheran confession, calls us to:  “keep the focus of our lives of faith on Jesus, our Lord, and to learn more of Him and His loving plan of salvation for us.” All of the good activities of our lives should flow from a life-giving connection with Christ and his people. God alone is preeminent (Colossians 1:18). We don’t want the good things He’s given us to become idols. So, I thought to fuel the fire of your faith this Lent, by sharing two good reasons to go to church on Sunday.

1. To remind each other who Jesus is and what He’s done for us

Our view of Jesus and his church is often filtered through historical, political, and cultural lenses. The night before His crucifixion the Lord said to His disciples, “And where I go you know, and the way you know” (John 14:4, NKJV). Honest Thomas replied with an epic confession that we all need to make: “No, we don’t know, Lord! We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” John 14:5-6 (NLT).

One time someone told me, “I don’t need to read the Bible, I’ve heard all those stories before.” Had I thought quicker in the moment, I would have said something simple like, “Why didn’t you listen to them the first time?”

How could we, as mere mortal human beings, ever fully understand the mystery of: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14, NKJV). In the book of Acts, verse 12:24 is very interesting: “The word of God continued to spread, and there were many new believers” (NLT). It equates hearing the message with new faith. It’s not so much learning information, but learning to lean more on Christ. That’s a work in progress, and the truth is that, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17, NKJV).

2. To remind each other who we are and whose we are.

In a world offering a multiplicity of viewpoints, there is one place where people can find truth (John 8:26). The church is a lighthouse in an ethical fog (Matthew 5:14–16). I am blind to my own blindness, and I need the perspective of others, whom God uses, to further me along the road to Christ-likeness. Will this process ever be complete? According to God’s design, fellowship with each other (or the communion of the saints, as in the Apostles’ Creed) is an eternal blessing.

Many see the church as producing cookie-cutter people who follow a human tradition. Rather, the body of Christ is a living organism. God made all of us different and unique. He has a good plan and purpose for each of us, and for all of us together. Together, we “speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its’ own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” (EPH 4:15-16, NLT)

See you Sunday!

Pastor Shawn

* Quoted from https://witness.lcms.org/2008/keeping-a-holy-lent-2-2008/

The Powerful Presence of Jesus

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. Luke 5:1‑11 (NIV)

Let’s break this text down into several pieces and see

Where do we fit into the example that Jesus is giving in Luke 5:1-11?

Jesus had intentionally chosen to teach from a fishing boat (verse 3). It’s good to know that Jesus personally chooses people. Peter was there—He picked Peter’s boat.

We have a personal, knowledgeable Savior. God knows you and your life. That’s encouraging that He’s very personally interested in us. And our lives become the place where Christ’s powerful presence is to be known and made known. Peter’s boat was the place where the word of God came alive to Peter and his companions.

Jesus tells Simon to push out into the deep water for a catch. “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch. Simon answered and said, ‘Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.’”

You say it. I’ll do it. He recognized that Jesus had authority.

He could have thought, “What’s the use. We know fishing. You’re a carpenter.” Maybe he did think that, but what he did is more important. And the catch is so amazing that the nets are breaking and the boats are sinking. There’s an obvious difference between having Jesus in the boat or not. Hearing and following what Jesus says or not.

I don’t think the  story is about fish. It’s about knowing who Jesus is and believing it. Most people in the world, know a historical Jesus, but does the presence of Jesus make a difference, change a person? Is that an important point of this story? I would say, yes, it is the main point of this story. Jesus really made an impression on Peter. It’s important for us to know that when we follow Jesus—when we trust and do what He says—we are putting our faith and trust in the Almighty God.

Peter and his co-workers clearly got the point. Verse 8 and 9 say, “When Simon Peter saw this (the catch of fish), he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.”

His response is natural. It goes back to Adam and Eve. After they sinned, and did what the devil said rather than what God had said, they were afraid and hid from God—that’s called guilt. We all have it because we all sin (Genesis 3 and Romans 3:9-26).

However, Jesus tells him there’s nothing to be afraid of. He’s the Savior. But most importantly, Peter’s heart toward Jesus changes. He stays close to Jesus. Closer is where he needs to be. Closer to Jesus is where you and I need to be. It’s good to know that even when Peter caved in under pressure, and in fear said, “I don’t know the man!” Jesus didn’t give up on him. Jesus knew ahead of time (Matthew 26:75, Mark 14:30, Luke 22:34, John 13:38); He prayed for him before he fell (Luke 22:32). Peter is mentioned personally at Jesus’ resurrection (Mark 16:7), and Jesus talked with him afterwards, canceled the debt (Colossians 2:13-14) and reminded Peter that he had work to do (John 21:15-19).

Our hope is that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:39 (NIV) So, I could give you many examples of the powerful presence of Christ in a believer’s life, but what about your own example? Jesus says to all believers, “Follow me” Luke 9:23

Ask the right question this Christmas!

Sometimes it’s all about asking the right question. The Gospel of Matthew records Herod’s interaction with the magi in chapter two. Verse 2 sets the stage, as these travelers ask, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

Herod’s reaction shows that he was obsessed with where he could find this person the magi were seeking. His go-to for knowledge was the Jewish scholars. Since these magi were looking for a Jewish king, it was logical to check with the Jewish authorities, and there were probably none better than the Jewish scribes They would have been well-versed in the Old Testament, Jewish literature and history.

Which leads us to an important point that Matthew really wants us to get from this story. If you want to locate Jesus, you have to have the Scriptures. We don’t know how the wise men got their information that there was this king coming. God is telling us that we don’t need to know that. It’s not important. What is important is they could only go so far without the Bible. They were, in fact, lost. That’s why they were in Jerusalem.

If you understand and apply this, it can be very encouraging. The Messiah was so close—Bethlehem was less than 6 miles away, but they couldn’t see that without the Bible. Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? A shrewd king and some brilliant Jewish and Gentile scholars met together to answer this question, but they would have been clueless if it weren’t for the Word of God.

Matthew wants us to clearly understand that the most reliable source for finding Jesus is the Bible. And God was very gracious to show them the answer. It’s a very comforting truth that the Lord will lead us to Him through the Bible. All their wisdom and political power wasn’t as important as the Word of God. They were lost without the Word and I think everybody is.

Now Herod is preoccupied with the question: “Where is this king of the Jews?” For the magi, however, what really drives them is the question: “Who is this King?” And that, ultimately, is the right question to ask. What if Herod had asked the scribes, “Who?” They might have read more from Micah 5:

2 But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times…3 when she who is in labor bears a son…He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be our peace.” Micah 5:2-5 (NIV)

The simple truth is that when we find Jesus Christ in the word of God, we find more and more beautiful things. Like it says in verse four above, He will stand with us. He stands beside you, closer than you know, as close as the word of God. He shepherds his flock. We are to live securely because of his greatness. There is a peace of heart and mind that comes from faith in Jesus. The prophet Micah saw nothing that could break His peace.

Herod didn’t seem to find this, but the wise men did. When we goes further to find Jesus through the Word, we will be amazed at the gifts of peace and blessings that he brings into our lives. This is why the wise men went on their way rejoicing. They found the gift of Jesus. God’s great goal is that His Son be known and worshiped.

Over and over, the Bible piques our curiosity about just how certain things happened. How did this star get the magi from the east to Jerusalem? The irony of the magi is that we could ask all sorts of marginal questions about the magi and about the star, but not ask the most important question: “Who is Jesus?” Find him in the Word. Make him the King of your heart and let his rule give you peace. Let your life be a testimony of who he is.

Have a blessed Christmas,

Pastor Shawn

How Do You See God

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31 (NIV)

Jesus was talking with the religious leaders one day and they asked him about his teaching. They were asking Him about following God and being faithful to God. You see they were taught, as it says in your Gospel reading from Mark:, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” They couldn’t figure out, however, how Jesus fits into that command.

And of course, they accepted the command to: “Love their neighbor as themselves.” You can remember the story of the good Samaritan, because they really wanted to know, and define exactly who “a neighbor” is. You see, they wondered about the Gentiles and maybe the tax collectors and other people that they thought were unclean.

So, Jesus told him in John chapter 5, verse 39: “you study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life, but these are the very Scriptures that testify about me.”

At the beginning of the Gospel of John, John makes it very clear that Jesus himself is the Word of God. In John chapter 1, verse 14, we have, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

Jesus is saying to us, if you look at the Bible and you only see Moses you’ve missed it. If you look at the Bible you just see a bunch of rules and commandments, you missed it. If you look at the Bible, and you just see principles for living, how to be happy and joyous or how to be prosperous, make money, or how to be healthy or whatever, you missed it. But if you see Jesus, you got it!

As Martin Luther taught, you will see Jesus reaching out to you, loving you, caring for you, speaking to you, guiding you as you read its pages through the Spirit. You’ll learn and inwardly digest the words. And not unlike anything that you inwardly digest, that’s healthy for you, it’s going to strengthen you in the love of Jesus Christ.

This is a lifetime adventure of living God’s salvation. Living a life of love in Jesus Christ, through Jesus Christ in the Spirit and through the Word. Please don’t get sidetracked with all the times you’ve might not have done that; where you’ve failed. It’s only the devil in your flesh that would want to distract you in such a way. We need to look to Jesus. He’s given our lives back to us to live them for Him. He is patient loving and kind and most of all, he is forgiving and encouraging. That’s what God looks like; that’s the way that he wants us to see Him; and, and that’s why he took on flesh and blood in Jesus.

So, as a word of encouragement, to look up to and follow Jesus, check out this video entitled, “What Does God Look Like.” As the expression goes, “a picture tells a thousand words.” God bless you in living a life of love in Christ. May the Lord help you to love ever more in Christ.