15th Sunday after Trinity Sept. 29, 2019

Let us pray: Dear Savior, You always encourage us to use our tongues in a positive way—to sing Your praises, to confess Your truths, and to encourage others to turn to You in faith and love.  Today remind us just how important it is to do exactly that!  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE GIVER OF EVERY GOOD AND PERFECT GIFT!

TEXT:  James 1: 17-27

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

My father was a teacher—in the school district’s hall of fame.  He used his voice to teach and seldom engaged in babbling words for word’s sake.  One of his favorite quips, which tells you a lot about him, was of Pres. Calvin Coolidge, or “Silent Cal” as the press called him.  (Can you imagine a politician today who didn’t like to speak tons of garbage?) Anyway, a man came up to Coolidge and said: “I bet the fellow over there that I could get you to say more than three words.”  To which Coolidge replied: “You lose.”

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One of the most dangerous organs in our bodies is our tongue.  Yes, we can and should use it positively to encourage, teach, and build up others, but more often than not, we don’t.  We speak before we think.  And by extension, we tweet, we text, and we comment on social media before we think, too.  Very often our tongues get us into trouble.

Tomorrow I’m going to be covering the 2nd and third commandments in confirmation class.  The 2nd is interesting because it completely covers what James talks about in our lesson.  Luther’s explanation is right on point: “We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, practice witchcraft, lie or deceive by His name, but call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.”

Considering how many people say: “God damn it” today, it’s a wonder there are any hammers left on this earth!  Isn’t it silly to think we can send a hammer to hell because we were clumsy with it?  Likewise, trying to always include OMG (O My God) in text messages or speech is the height of arrogance.  After all, isn’t God’s name holy and shouldn’t we use it as more than an afterthought?

I’m amazed at how caustic and nasty our speech has become in America.  Think of the word used for sexual intimacy by many.  They hurl such words around without much of a thought.  But why would you want to use such language about the most intimate expression of love between a husband and wife and “cruditize” it?  What does that reveal about the person’s heart?  And yet, in moments of thoughtless stress almost all people do this.  It’s like the tongue is disengaged from the brain.

Words can and do hurt.  They strike deeply in the heart and psyche and leave scars.  Often people will say hurtful things even though you know they really don’t mean it.  But the scar is still left behind.   And the hurt festers…..

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Speech, our speech, defines us to the world.  You make your point through language, tone, and inflection.  It even helps shape our faces in how we look.  A classmate was a missionary in central Europe and was amazed that when traveling the trains a local could pick out the nationality of the people in the train car with phenomenal success.  Mind you, these people were not talking, just sitting there silently.  How did he do this?  He explained to my classmate: “Every language uses different facial muscles to form words.  If you know what to look for, you can see it in their faces and it identifies them.”  Does the usage of crude, nasty language do the same?  I think so.

So, what do you use language for?  Simple. To communicate.  But what are you trying to communicate?  Isn’t the chief rationale behind Christians to share the message of God’s love for us in Christ?  Isn’t it to always “let our light shine” and reveal that we’re well-adjusted and content because God’s Son came to give His life for us and thereby save our souls?  Isn’t it to lead people to this realization and to build them up instead of tear them down?  Yes, even when speaking to His enemies who sought to kill Him, Jesus was honest and caring, wasn’t He?  He never wanted to provide them with a roadblock they could seize on to reject Him.  And then He also acted on His words in a way that showed just how important human speech is to God.  Or as James says so well: “Every good and perfect gift comes down from above (including language)…He chose to give us birth through the word of truth.”   God used language positively to save us.  We should use it in that same manner.

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Godly language has brought you all into communion with the Lord of all creation.  It has linked you to Him via the Gospel—the good news (language) of salvation in Christ.  Through such language you and I have been freed from the crude dirtiness of sin and been remade into Godly vessels of grace and mercy and peace.  Yes, language has freed us from Satan’s darkness.  The language of forgiveness has brought us into God’s light.

This is why James’ concluding words are so vital: “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself  and his religion is worthless.  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep yourselves from being polluted by the world.”

With the digital age the world communicates faster and with much more content than ever before.  Words are  piled upon more words and more words.  But do those words give glory to God?  Do they improve the lives of others?  Do they lead people into the light?  Or do they pull souls into more and more darkness?   Yes, actions speak louder than words, or at least equally fit together.

Silent Cal kept a tight rein on his tongue.  Do you?  Do you view language as a gift from God to be used accordingly, or do you view it as a vehicle to vent human garbage and spew out the sin that resides inside?  Remember: words spoken in haste can never be taken back.   But, but, they can be forgiven—and Christ has!  So, let His love that spawned that forgiveness control your tongue and reveal exactly who you really are to the entire world—His beloved ambassador of grace.  Amen

14th Sunday after Trinity September 22, 2019

Let us pray: Dear Savior, since prayer is one of the mighty weapons You have given us to fight off sin, temptation, and the onslaughts of the devil—today teach us to pray mightily!  Let us never take prayer for granted or become generalized and lazy when it comes to our prayer life, but to be specific and ardent.  And also teach us to never doubt your ability to help us.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO HEARS ALL OUR PRAYERS!

TEXT:  Ephesians 6: 18:  “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

When I was a little boy we always prayed over our meals.  I sometimes prayed before bed—unless I was very, very, tired.  We prayed at church, too, saying the Lord’s Prayer and listening to the Pastor read the lengthy General Prayer.  Sometimes I even prayed for help when I had a test I hadn’t studied for!  Over time, I became a bit lackadaisical in my prayer life.  I was young and dumb.  Yes, I still prayed, but most of the time I rationalized that since God knew all things and we’d prayed in church on Sunday, I was covered.  As I got older I realized what a fool I had been.

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We all know that prayer means talking to God. Often of our prayers are for His help when we don’t know where else to turn.  Some of our prayers are thankful for God pulling our fat out of the fire.  And a lot of them are simply going through the motions because we were raised that way.  Today let’s get specific about prayer.

Yes, God knows everything about us and wants to help us.  Yes, He fixes even our poorly worded or sloppy prayers.  But when St. Paul writes about “Praying on all occasions”  about everything—He means it.  Just as you share your inmost thoughts and verbalize them to close friends or relatives—do it even more with your Best Friend, Jesus Christ!

Ask a child what they pray about.  You’ll get some interesting answers.  And remember, there are no “bad” prayers.  But like you, God doesn’t want us to speak to Him in generalities.  No, He wants us to spill out our hearts with specifics.  That means that we have to focus and concentrate on exactly what’s bothering us.  We have to be thoughtful.  So, don’t just pray for good health—no, pray about a specific pain or ailment.  Ask Him to uncover its source or root cause and deal with the cause.  Trace out your bad choices in life and ask Him to get you to see where you went wrong and give you the insight and power to fix it.  And when it comes to gratitude prayers, focus on being specific, too.  If you’re healthy right now, ferret out the reasons why and verbalize them in your prayer of thanksgiving.  The more specific you are in prayer the more God will help you.  For it reveals a laser-like awareness on your part.  It shows you really do trust in His grace.  That’s Jesus’ point in that little section where He reminds us that if we have faith as small as a  mustard seed, huge and mighty things will occur via our prayer life.

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The Word of God, the Gospel, is also called by Paul “the sword of the Spirit.”  That means you can use prayer to defend yourself against evil and also go on the offensive against Satan and his minions by using passages in your prayers.  I’ve learned over the years that many of our physical and emotional problems stem for demonic forces attacking us and trying to pull us down. That’s why Christ tells us in the Lord’s Prayer: “Deliver us from the Evil One.”  Just because science cannot verify this doesn’t make it untrue.  So, pray for the Spirit to guide you, protect you, help you, and uncover exactly where Satan has made inroads into your being—and then ask Him to cast out those demons and obliterate their specific area of influence over you!  Yes, you can do this!  After all, you’re wielding the Sword of the Spirit and nothing can stand against it!  It’s what Christ used to force Satan into hell.

Paul says to “pray on all occasions with all types of requests.”  Do you?  I always ask my confirmation kids if they say  a table prayer before eating.  About half say: “No.”  I’m saddened,  but realistic.  Everyone is busy, tired, stressed, and families don’t eat together as often as years gone by.  But isn’t it important to ask God to purify your food and make it a blessing instead of a curse?  Isn’t it good to express gratitude instead of waiting until you have no food and you’re desperate?  The same goes for health concerns.  Prayer can and is a powerful preventer of all sorts of problems.  We take life-saving prescriptions daily, but do we utter life-saving prayers daily as an antidote to ailments?

And what about praying for others—specifically our fellow saints?  How much of your prayer life should be devoted to you, and how much to others?  If you read carefully in the Gospels, you’ll find that Christ spends the majority of His time praying for the saints—and even His own enemies while nailed to the cross!  In John 17, Christ utters His great high priestly prayer—the night before He died.  As true man, Jesus spends about 2/3’s of it praying for strength and guidance not to shirk His responsibility in suffering, dying and thereby paying the penalty before God for our sins.  And then in the other 1/3 of that prayer He prays for His disciples and for us.  He prays that we may embrace Him in faith and trust in the Lord in all things.  He prays for our deliverance.  So, perhaps try to follow His example.  Pray 2/3’s for you and 1/3 for others!  It works, too.  “The prayer of a righteous man avails much!” as St. Peter says.

I have outlines aspects of prayer today because I fear many  Christians  take this powerful weapon of spiritual warfare for granted.  Paul tells us to pray all the time.  Elsewhere we’re told to: “Pray without ceasing.” For in prayer you’re in constant communication with our God, and if that link remains strong Satan cannot break in and wreak havoc.  Sounds good to me!  What about you?  Amen

13th Sunday after Trinity September 15, 2019

Let us pray: Dear Savior, just as the road to heaven in this life is narrow and fraught with peril, so is our daily pathway as Christians.  We hear Your various words of truth, we read them in our Bibles, but our sinful flesh and the world at large employs many tactics to get us to turn away from You and give up on Christianity.  Lord, today keep us from giving in to them!  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE!

TEXT:  John 6: 60-69

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

I’ve been your Pastor here for 32 years this Fall.  During that time span Pinewood has taken in over 310 new members.  Some were infants.  Most were adults.  Some came by transfer from sister churches.  Others came in by adult instruction.  So where are those 310+?  Why aren’t they gracing the pews this morning?  Well, many moved away.  Others died.  Still others dropped out of circulation.  The first two categories we can all understand.  But that third category bothers me and it should bother you.  For they occupy the same classification that our text defines in these words: “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching.  Who can accept it?’…From this time on many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”

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In our lesson, the “hard teaching” was that Jesus claimed to be the eternal bread from heaven which feeds human souls and who is the only source of eternal life.  In essence, they rejected grace alone.  It didn’t feed their pride and they could not take credit for their blessings in life because to God alone be the glory.  Thus they rejected Christ as the Son of God, the only Bestower of grace.

So, what “hard teachings” have corrupted many of our “lost souls”?  Well, we don’t preach universalism, or the belief that “all roads lead to heaven.”  We don’t have a rainbow flag standing in the front of our building—because homosexuality is a sin.  We don’t promote and encourage our members to be “social justice” warriors.  We don’t adopt or support the radical feminist agenda, either.   No, we call sin, sin.  We preach the 10 commandments.  We especially proclaim Christ crucified and that forgiveness for sins comes only through faith in His atoning blood.  We teach that baptism isn’t just a social custom or formal naming of a soul, but a loving impartation, or giving, of Godly forgiveness and faith.  We teach that the Holy Supper is real heavenly soul food—Christ’s true body and blood—for the forgiveness of all sins.  We confess that all Scripture is God-breathed and true. Thus Genesis is actual history as to our origins.  We also confess the reality of personal evil and demons along with the hell where they reside.  And we preach that repentance, or admitting our violations of God’s holy will, is the only thing that leads to us receiving His life-saving forgiveness for those sins through faith alone.  And from what I know of some who walked away from Pinewood and Christ all of the above were reasons for it.

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Obviously, Christ understood the many reasons for some of His disciples leaving Him.  And how it must have broken His heart!  But, the twelve who remained were also disconcerted.  Just imagine the cross-current of emotions this upheaval caused among them?  So, when Jesus asked them: “You do not want to leave too, do you?” they were struck to the core.

That same question hits us today.  Because if we’re honest, we all must admit we’re tempted to cut and run when a particular truth of God hits our heart and convicts us of our personal frailties.  Running away and hiding is a powerful temptation instead standing up and being counted!    Or in modern terms, caving to political correctness often seems far easier than defending Godly truth.  The former preserves your dignity before men.  But the latter preserves your dignity before God…..Or as the Bible says: “We ought to obey God rather than men”—including your own personal sinful affinities.

St. Peter was never more filled with the Spirit when he gave the grace-filled answer to Jesus’ query.  If you sincerely adopt it as your life’s motto, you will be too!  “Lord to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God!”

The Holy One of God is the Messiah.  He is God’s salvation in human form.  He is the only Source of forgiveness and peace with God Almighty.  He is the One Who gives us humans peace of soul.  Of those who have walked away from our midst over the years, I pray that God has found another way to reach them.  I pray for their soul’s salvation.  I pray that they may come to their senses—their senses regenerated by God.  But since they are not here today, and you are, I also pray for each of you!  May Christ cause Peter’s great confession to be and remain yours forever!  Amen

11th Sunday after Trinity September 1, 2019

Let us pray: Dear Savior, You are the Best of the best.  You are the King of kings and Lord of lords.  No one is wiser, more caring, and more loving than You.  And amazingly, You are our Friend and Savior!  May we imitate You as best we can in all things.  For then we will be wise, too.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR LOVING LORD!

TEXT:  Ephesians 4: 30—5:2

Dearly Beloved in Christ:

I was dating my lovely wife.  It was about this time of the year, early Fall.  One Saturday afternoon I showed up unannounced and caught her cleaning her mother’s garage.  I think she shrieked a bit when she saw me.  That’s when I learned the first rule of dating: Never show up announced at a lady’s house!   She was covered with garage dust, wearing smudged clothing.  I thought she was beautiful.  She was embarrassed that she didn’t look: just right.  Now, after 39 years of marriage, we laugh about such things.

Every spring and every fall my mother-in-law would employ the “troops” to thoroughly clean the house and garage.  Every floor, every surface, was washed, wiped down, and things were sorted and tossed.  I think that is what Debra Ann was doing that day in the garage.  She was getting rid of junk.  On this Labor Day weekend we need to start getting rid of junk, as well.  Namely the: junky sins that we’ve collected.  We need to go into the months ahead clean, shiny, and polished.

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“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”  The sins listed there are internal ones that show externally.  Suck on a lemon and you’ll mess up your face because its bitter.  Bitterness towards another person will deform you from the inside out.  Get rid of it!  Rage and anger spill over into physical confrontations and verbal abuse.  It also deforms your countenance.  Get rid of it!  And since malice is another word for evil, well, evil is never, ever, beautiful.  Get rid of it!  Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit by holding onto such corruption.  It’s dirty.  And dirt is not beautiful.  So, this Labor Day weekend focus on your own personal house-cleaning.  Engage in cleaning up your soul.

We do so via repentance.  By carefully examining our lives and giving our dirt to God.  Jesus Christ, His Son, wants our dirty sins.  He came to carry our dirt to the cross.  And when He died on it, He left our dirt behind.  The cross of Christ is the most dirty “thing” ever found on this earth.  But, for us, it’s also the most clean—because it makes us clean before God.  Moreover, it has the power to transfer total cleansing to each of us through the faith.

So, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  Kindness is never out of style.  Compassion, or carrying another’s pain, is never out of style either.  And both occur when you’re forgiving from the heart.  Forgiveness is an interesting word.  Take it apart and you have the old Anglo-Saxon word: “Fore” meaning “before” and “gave” stemming from the verb: “give.”  Put them together and you have: give to another beforehand.  Before they ask for it, before they prove their worth to you, before they have earned your kindnesses—give them to others.  Forgiveness is love unearned by the guilty party.  It is pure love in action.  So it was with Christ forgiving us and so it should be, it must be, for us who seek to follow in His footsteps.

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This is Paul’s point when he now says: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant

offering and sacrifice to God.”

Be imitators.  That’s a loaded expression.  And Who better to hold up as a role model than Jesus Christ?  Today we live in a celebrity-driven culture.  Pop stars, sports stars, social media stars—it seems everyone is a role model in some way except one—Jesus Christ.  It’s sad, isn’t it?  He’s the Perfect Star.  He’s the bright Morning Star.  He’s the Light of the world.  He’s the One Who is perfect love in human form who came to save our souls and make us eternally clean.  He’s the only One who can sort out our messy lives and make us pure and holy.  He will never lead us astray.  So, why not imitate Him?  Why not be “kind and compassionate and forgiving”?  All you have to lose is your internal dirt…..

Remember that old saying: “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”?  I suppose that was one reason why our mothers and grandmothers had us clean out the garage and clean the whole house each Spring and Fall.  They wanted that physical reminder of being clean to be firmly implanted in our minds.  It reinforced the greater truth.  So get busy with your Fall soul-cleaning.  Make use to the water of life provided in your baptism to scrub the dirt of sin away!  Don’t miss a Sunday with communion when God literally puts our clean Savior in you to heal from the inside out.  Don’t forget to pray each day, perhaps many times daily, for specific healing and help.  Yes, put your priorities into their proper slot.  Organize right from wrong and don’t be afraid to ditch the junk.  Christ did.  He threw it all unto the cross and left it there…..Amen