God’s Treasured Possession

Here is the sermon I gave at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church Brownstown, IN on June 18th for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost

Privileges and responsibilities. Part of life as an adult is a greater scope of freedom and privilege.  You can do so much more as an adult than you could as a child.  Along with the privileges of adulthood comes much more responsibility.   Some would see this as a trap, or a catch in life.  You can picture an adult warning a child, careful for what you wish for, all those things you want bring with them a lot of responsibility.

But whoever said responsibility is such a bad thing?  To the person who desires to never grow up, in the manner of Peter Pan, responsibility may seem like a bad thing.  But to those who desire to live in Christ like service of others- responsibility is an opportunity for blessing.   Responsibility brings fulfillment and purpose to life.

In our reading from Exodus we have a picture of privileges and responsibilities.  God describes the circumstances by which the people of Israel have been rescued and brought to be a people of the Lord’s own prized possession.

“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I bore you on Eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.”

As if escorted on Eagle’s wings Israel was brought from slavery to the highest pinnacle of creation, communion with God.   To be escorted on Eagle’s wings is to be carried completely by God, a free gift- nothing that Israel did themselves brought them to God.  It was without doubt a great privilege.

Israel was made God’s own possession.  Of all the peoples all over the earth created by God, Israel alone was set apart to be a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.  As Israel obeyed the laws of God and worshiped God as they were instructed, they would show to the world how just and perfect God’s laws were.  What a responsibility!

If Israel acted no different than the other nations and worshiped the gods of other nations, they would fail in showing themselves as God’s possession.  Their responsibility was simply to be the people of God.

As a priestly nation. Israel had the special role of obtaining God’s blessing, and mediating God’s blessing to the rest of the world.  We don’t often think of Israel in the Old Testament this way, but through sacrificial offerings and priestly responsibilities they were acting as intermediators between God and all people of the world.

Even though Israel did not chose to become God’s people, she could choose whether or not to carry out His mission or not.  If Israel listened to the voice of God and kept the liturgical and ethical commandments given to her by God, then God would be able to use Israel to fulfill His purpose for Israel.   Then God would with joy call Israel His treasured possession.

It is interesting to look at these details of exactly what role Israel played in the ancient world.  But you might also wonder, what does that have to do with us?  Israel’s treasured role as God’s possession connects with us because we are the direct spiritual descendants of Israel.  We are God’s own treasured possession, the church.

In this privileged role we receive God’s blessings abundantly and have the role of sharing this blessing to the world. We have the privilege of being called a treasure possession by God, and we also have the responsibility to distribute God’s blessing to the world.

Part of our faith is making a choice, in light of the privilege we have as God’s people, do we embrace the responsibility or do we minimize our responsibility whenever we have the chance?

Both as a church and as individuals we have choices to make on a daily basis.  Every day presents many small choices about how we spend our time.  Should I spend my spare time with media consumption, following the ebb and flow of the 24 hour news cycle worrying about what implications the news has for our world?

Or should I spend my time treasuring God’s presence with me in the form of quiet prayer, hearing God’s Word, practicing love and forgiveness to others whenever I have the chance?

One series of choices leads a person to worry about the same things everyone in our culture worries about.  Certain choices lead as to think just like our culture thinks.  And even to covet material goods, or certain experiences.

In contrast the series of choices that we make in Christ lead us to a quiet enduring peace and joy.  In Christ we see the world through God’s perspective.

It sounds like such simple choices we have in life, yet one of the great temptations of this time is the belief that you can learn the basics of God’s Word at one point in life, and then go your own way, living life to the full without too much thought to spending time sitting through Church or hearing God’s Word.

But if faith should become something in the background of your life, then how open can you really be to be used by God to bless others?  We carry little responsibility as God’s treasured possession if faith is way in the background in life.

Today our nation celebrates Father’s day.  It is certainly a good thing and pleasing to God to acknowledge and give thanks for the role of Fathers in our families and in our congregation.

We know that responsibility is an essential part of God’s design for fathers.  Research shows that when Fathers play an active role in a congregation, there is a 90% chance his children will follow in dad’s steps.

When a Father stays home, only 50% of children have been shown to continue in church as adults, even if mom attends regularly.  What power fathers have to bless the church!  What a privilege to have such an influence. What a responsibility!

Just like Israel could choose whether or not to carry out God’s mission, we too have this choice today.  Today is a good day to give thanks for fathers, and it is an especially good day to be thankful for the spiritual leadership fathers play in our church.

Whether a father or any other role in life we can all ask ‘What are the blessings that we show to the world when we accept the mission God puts before us as the church?’

Most importantly and most directly we share the blessing of knowledge of salvation when we proclaim the gospel to the world.  When people hear the word with gladness, they have received the same blessing God first gave to us.  Essentially we have passed on the blessing we have received to others when we share the gospel.

Whether we have opportunity to share the gospel with others or not, many in the world may receive God’s blessing through us when we act in a priestly manner by praying for those in the world.  Just think about it, nothing is holding you back from praying for others in the world.  And when you pray for others, you are standing as one of God’s treasured possessions speaking before God on their behalf.

Even if people reject the teachings of God’s Word, the extent to which we follow God’s Word in our lives and in our families, will provide people with unseen blessings, and a living testimony of a blessed way of life that otherwise would become forgotten.  This is the blessing of the responsibility God gives his people.

Sometimes we might resist any idea of responsibility to bless others with our faith- the thinking being, what do I have to offer to others?  But it is not ourselves that we offer, instead we offer them Jesus. We don’t have anything else to offer than Jesus.

With Jesus, our choice as to whether to carry out God’s mission is clear. Abiding in Christ we gladly make the choice to listen to God’s Word and be shaped by it for the blessing of the world.

In Christ it is simply unthinkable that we would starve ourselves of God’s Word.  It is unthinkable that we would take little or no interest in how our faith may serve as a blessing to the world.

President Matthew Harrison notes that whatever flaws we have as a synod, for that matter whatever flaws an individual congregation may have, We are still here! We are still confessing Christ, even 500 years after the Reformation.  In the case of St. Peter’s even over a hundred years since its founding.

As a synod and as a congregation you are part of a bigger picture.  Lutheran Heritage Foundation has translated Luther’s Small Catechism in 50 languages.  The LCMS has full time missionaries serving all throughout the world.  Lutheran Hour Ministries broadcast in country after country.

KFUO the radio station of the LCMS broadcast on the internet all over the world. One program Issues Etc. applies Lutheran theology to contemporary issues with a passion and quality that stands out not just in our church body but for all Christian church bodies.

In light of what we have, the many privileges that belong to us as part of God’s treasured possession, it is a great time to dare boldly to be God’s people to the world.  The time is ripe to show mercy to those who are in need.  To extend blessings to those who most desperately need the good news of Jesus.  It is a great time to embrace the responsibility we have as God’s treasured possession.

Beyond limits

Here is the sermon I gave at Zion Lutheran New Palestine on Saturday evening, and St. Peter’s Brownstown Sunday morning for the festival of Pentecost

Have you ever wished there were not so many limitations to your life? A few years back there was a movie called Limitless.  The basic plot of the movie was that the main character gets a hold of a pill that unlocks the full potential of his brain.

Through being able to access 100% of his brain he is able to live life as if it is moving in slow motion, several step ahead of everyone else to the point where he has seemingly limitless power in society.  If you are honest, you may admit that such a premise sounds attractive.

In recent months I have probably become more aware of limitations in my life than ever before.  With two young children, limitations are self evident to begin with.  You can only stay out so late in the evening, you can only get so much house or yard work done in a day when you are also seeing to the needs of your children.

But what has really made me feel my limits is serving as a vacancy pastor here at St. Peter’s.  I know what you are thinking, yes the long drive from Greenfield, and the challenge of bringing leadership to people who aren’t always so eager to change- I bet that is a little challenging.

But actually, the particular way my role as vacancy pastor has been humbling to me is the nearly limitless possibilities of how to approach ministry.  It is natural for me as a vacancy pastor to pay attention to what other pastors in the area are doing.

I might like one evangelism idea from one church, and another idea about care and hospitality from another church, and still one more approach to teaching faith in the home from another church.

So many good ideas, it is simply not possible to carry out even a fraction of the ministry approaches that are observed in various churches in our synod.  The more aware I am of opportunities for pastoral leadership, the more aware I am of the limits of our human nature.

Perhaps you can relate to the feeling of limitations.  Maybe you feel your life has more limitations than others. One family you know has a vacation cabin on a lake, where your family is lucky if you even manage one weekend a year to travel somewhere different than your usual life activities.

Maybe you know some people who do so much through the course of a year that they seem to have energy to spare, where you feel you are lucky if you have enough energy to keep the house in reasonable condition and bills and deadlines caught up with.

The fact is that limitations are a characteristic of all of our lives.  Our human nature presents us with limitations about how much sleep we need, and a list of countless  things we need in place to be healthy.   Our society presents many limitations in the form of how much money we are willing or able to spend.

The ultimate limitation of our lives is sin.  Sin limits how healthy and rewarding our relationships are.  Sin limits how big our hopes and dreams are.  Sin limits every good impulse we might have.

If only we could take some magic pill to remove those limiting effects of sin! But the truth is that no movie fantasy can overcome the effects of the Fall into sin.

But there is one real life character who can overcome the effects of the Fall.  Our Lord Jesus Christ has come to us to remove the limits from our lives. No not the limits that keep us from being wealthy beyond our wildest dreams- as some televangelists would have us believe.

Nor has Jesus come to remove the limitations of our bodies and daily schedules that humble us on a daily basis.  Jesus has not come to give us an ultimate freedom to do whatever we desire or attain whatever we covet in life.

Instead Jesus has come to make us perfectly free to have a relationship with our living God!  On the day of Pentecost Jesus sent His Spirit to His church so that his kingdom would come on the earth without limits.

Pentecost was the day in history where the Holy Spirit was given without limit to the church.  The day of Pentecost was seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus- 50 days by the Jewish counting of days.

We hear in Acts chapter 2 that when the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. How is it that the disciples and countless others knew to be together in one place?

Pentecost was already a day in it’s own right, the feast of Weeks  which marked 50 days after the Passover, the end of the Passover season- sort of like how today we think of Labor day as the end of the summer calendar.

During the Feast of weeks or Pentecost, God’s people were to bring the first fruits of their harvest as an acknowledgement of God’s blessing to them.

People might journey to Jerusalem for Passover and stay through Pentecost.  It makes sense why God would chose this day to give the church the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Beginning with Pentecost the Holy Spirit sends the church out to proclaim the message of Christ crucified and glorified.   Before the events of Christ’s passion the full story could not yet be told.

Now that Jesus has ascended into heaven, the Spirit strengthened the church to tell the whole story.  The day of Pentecost was the first of many fruits of the harvest of Christ’s Passion.

Following Pentecost the Holy Spirit now was available to the church anywhere and at any time. No limits to the Spirit’s work of proclaiming Christ crucified.

Part of our sin is that we put limits on the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We may limit the Holy Spirit in our own minds through unbelief or doubt.  We may have doubt as to what power the Holy Spirit has in our and in the church.

We look at the church and see limits in terms of what the church is as an imperfect human institution. We might even resent the church for such limits- as if it is keeping us from God’s love.

One particular limit our society may put on the Holy Spirit is casting doubt on the clarity of the Holy Spirit to us.  Does the Bible really say what the church claims it is saying about how God’s kingdom works? Or even the question of, does the Bible really say what God intended for it to say, or has it been changed by human intervention?

It is no mystery what is the agenda behind such questioning of the clarity of the Holy Spirit.  The more we question the clarity of the Holy Spirit, the less likely we are to follow the truth of God’s Word.  And the more likely we are to accept the beliefs that many in society want to impose on us.

Still others today may overlook the clarity of the Holy Spirit’s communication on Pentecost to the point where we are encouraged to look for signs all around us for what God might be trying to communicate to us as far as how to live our lives.

But the clarity of the message of Pentecost is undeniable: Jesus is our risen and ascended Lord.  The Holy Spirit has been given to proclaim the good news of Jesus throughout the world, as a preparation for the Last day.

When I was a child, I remember being confused about exactly what Pentecost was.  It is not an event like Christmas or Easter that teaches about the two most important aspects of Jesus His birth and his death/ resurrection.  No elaborate celebrations in our culture attached to this event like Christmas and Easter.

Since Pentecost happens in the beginning of summer, you might even find yourself traveling on the weekend of Pentecost and not even be aware that it is Pentecost Sunday until you pick up the bulletin at whatever church you visit.

But what is important is not that the day the church celebrates Pentecost is a big splash, but that every day in the long season of Pentecost and even everyday throughout the calendar year is a day of sure and steady growth.

The legacy of Pentecost to us is that even though are lives are full of limits in every aspect- there is through the in dwelling of the Holy Spirit in us, no limit to our ability to access the grace of God in our lives!

Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we now have a relationship with God that knows no limits.  When we pray, the Father hears us.  When we hear and receive God’s Word with joy, our faith grows- it’s a guarantee and promise of our Lord! With the Holy Spirit we pray:  Alleluia. Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love.

Living Stones

Here is the sermon I gave on May 14th at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church for the fifth Sunday of Easter.  At this stage in the season of Easter the Lectionary Readings and Propers have transitioned from the resurrection appearances of Jesus to themes of building up the body of Christ- as the church draws closer to celebrating the Ascension of Jesus and Pentecost.

We find in our Epistle reading for today the theme for our worship, as we reflect on the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” A Cornerstone is a carefully shaped rock designed to lay the foundation for the levelness and structural integrity of the rest of the building.

If the building’s cornerstone is off, the rest of the building cannot be straight.  It is essential that the cornerstone be smooth and true to provide a foundation for all remaining stones in the building.

If Christ is the cornerstone of the spiritual house of the church- we know with certainty that this is a building that will last and endure.

But our reading from 1Peter doesn’t just describe Christ, the cornerstone- it also describes us as building stones ourselves. 4As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

We are called living stones who are built into a spiritual house, part of a holy priesthood. This is no humble description of God’s people, this is a regal, glorious picture of the church. A picture that may seem hard to swallow.  Living stones?  Is this really talking about us?

We may look out at our church and see anything but this beautiful spiritual house that 1Peter describes.  We may instead see an imperfect spiritual house, characterized by an imperfect building- perhaps in need of some updates or repairs. We may look and see a church with a reputation in the community of people who often do not get along with each other.

We may see in St. Peter’s that it is like any church, composed of imperfect sinners.  Instead of living stones that build a spiritual house, we may have an easier time picturing ourselves as rolling stones.

But the truth is, we aren’t members of a holy priesthood because of how we look or what we say.  We are who the Father says we are! The Father gave His Son to die on the cross for us.  And that is what makes us who we are.  We find our identity in Christ. We are living stones in Him. Not just individually, but all together, a spiritual building in Him.

How amazing that we are part of God’s perfectly designed building! How amazing that we get to be living stones who continue to build on the foundation of Christ.

One rainy Sunday afternoon a father was babysitting his children and had the task of keeping them entertained.  He assigned specific tasks to each child. To keep his ten year old son busy, he had torn a full page map of the United States out of a magazine, cut it into small pieces, and told his son to reassemble it as a jigsaw puzzle.

To the father’s amazement, his son presented him with the completed puzzle in just a few minutes.  “How did you do it son? He asked.  It was easy the boy replied. At first when I tried to fit together all those little lines and dots and the small print on the map, it looked like an impossible job. Then I saw part of a man’s face on the back of one of the pieces. So I turned the pieces over, and when I got the man together, the United States took care of itself.”

The jigsaw of life makes sense, and we get it all together- when we live our life against the background of Christ.  Faith in Christ as our Savior makes all the pieces fit.  The pieces fit together in our lives as individuals as well as our lives as a group.  All the stones fir together, giving the building everything it needs to take shape.

People rejected Christ as the cornerstone, so they will also reject us if we follow from His foundation. But if we are built on the cornerstone of Christ we will not be put to shame.  We will not labor in vain, even if people persecute us for our confession of faith.

In our reading from Acts Stephen confessed Jesus as Lord boldly.  Once he began to tell the full story of how Israel rejected Jesus (just as they had all the prophets before him) they stoned him.  But Stephen was not put to shame.  Even as his life was taken from him he saw Jesus at the right hand of God, he was not put to shame, but instead glorified by God- honored as the first martyr of the church.

Many have observed that the one constant in life is that there is always change.  Whether it is a season or a stage in life, things never stay the same as long as we want them to.  Change happens within our lives and our families, as well as in our culture.  You may be particularly aware of change on Mother’s Day today if your mother is now with the Lord.

But change is not the only true constant in life.  Instead the one great constant in life is God’s love for us.  We prayed in our Collect Prayer that among the many changes of this world our hearts may be fixed where true joys are found.

God’s love and favor to us lasts throughout our lifetime, where everything else changes.  We can’t count on anything else staying the same.  But through Christ’s changeless love for us- we find true joy.

Even the foundation of a building can fall over time.  But the church is a building built of living stones based on the foundation of Christ.  “See I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” Built on the foundation of Christ, the church will never fall.

To outward appearances it may appear as if the church will fall at any moment.  Built upon imperfection.  But because the cornerstone is perfect, the rest of the building is indeed a spiritual house of living stones.

This means here at St. Peter’s this congregation will certainly bear much good fruit because we are built on the cornerstone of Christ.  No matter what decisions the congregation makes about building projects or pastoral calls God’s Word will continue to work in this congregation wonderful things.  There is joy in knowing that God’s Word works regardless of what ministry goals we may or may not have as a congregation.

We are living stones.  As we live our lives upon the foundation of Christ we continue to build upon the spiritual house of the church. We follow the example of those who have gone before us proclaiming Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection- and we lay a solid foundation for future generations to build upon.  There is joy knowing that our faith is part of God’s plan, part of a bigger picture than ourselves.

In our gospel reading we hear of upcoming change as Jesus warns the disciples of his departure to take place shortly after the Last Supper.  Thomas protested to Jesus, “Lord we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?”  The disciples were not ready for the change of losing their Lord.  How could they know which way to go on their own?  They were not seeing themselves as living stones.

Jesus answers them: “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”  Although they will experience a change as the events of Holy week unfold, they will still know God’s constant love through Jesus- they will know the Father through him.  Through the call to discipleship they will show others Jesus- they will be living stones who show the glory of the Father.

The change of Jesus’ departure will not keep them from the joy of knowing Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life.

In our reading of Psalm 30 we heard the psalmist declare, ‘I cried to you for help and you have healed me.”  We face many challenges and changes in life, but have constant that our God hears us when we cry out in need.  We even face death, the greatest change of all with the assurance of deliverance:

“O Lord you have brought up my soul from Sheol, you restored me to life from among those who go down into the pit.”

Not even death can keep us from knowing Jesus as the Way the Truth and the Life- our Cornerstone of life and salvation.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

Voices Overlooked by the Media

The Federalist posted an article with an often overlooked aspect of the Pro life -Abortion debate: the exploitation and deception of women for political agendas. Here is the text of the article.  http://thefederalist.com/2017/05/01/10-reasons-congress-defund-planned-parenthood-women/

10 Reasons Congress Should Defund Planned Parenthood, From Women Who Have Been There

While the abortion giant claims to have women’s best interests at heart, countless numbers of us who have suffered the adverse effects of abortion know that’s anything but true.
Theresa Bonopartis

By

On April 29, protesters took to the streets across the country to call for Congress to finally fulfill Republican leaders’ promises to end taxpayers’ sponsorship of Planned Parenthood, our nation’s largest abortion provider.

Sadly, in the debate between pro-lifers and pro-aborts, certain voices are often ignored. This includes the women who have experienced abortion and were deceived by organizations like Planned Parenthood, which have a vested interest in downplaying or denying the effects abortion can have on women’s lives.

While the abortion giant claims to have women’s best interests at heart, countless numbers of us who have suffered the adverse effects of abortion know that’s anything but true. While the organization’s brass promote themselves as health-care providers and advocates of poor women, a little research reveals the people running the show aren’t the champions they claim to be.

In fact, they’re doing quite well for themselves as taxpayers watch their hard-earned dollars support their organization, which delivers more than 300,000 abortions each year. In 2014, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards earned $957,952, according to Internal Revenue Service records, while the organization received $528 million in government funding the same year.

It’s no wonder the organization is keen to cling to its carefully constructed public image as a women’s health-care provider despite disturbing revelations over the past few years, including allegations that Planned Parenthood harvests the organs of aborted babies, or the fact that the organization does not provide mammograms. Deception has served Planned Parenthood well. Styling itself as a one-stop shop for women’s health care, the organization enjoys the support of countless donors who remain unaware of what goes on behind the nonprofit’s closed doors.

It is hard to listen to all the rhetoric surrounding Planned Parenthood when you have been a statistic of abortion’s damage and the organization’s leaders downplay or deny the very real experiences of millions of women. Most women don’t feel comfortable speaking about their abortion experiences, but as more and more of us reach healing, that’s changing. On behalf of those women, here are 10 reasons why Planned Parenthood should be defunded.

10. Planned Parenthood Doesn’t Care for Post-Abortive Women

Because it denies the reality of abortion’s effects on mental health, Planned Parenthood does not provide follow-up care for women who have had abortions.

“Planned Parenthood doesn’t provide any after abortion counseling [and] they don’t provide real choices,” says Nancy, from New York.

9. Planned Parenthood Overlooks Statutory Rape

As investigations over the years have revealed, Planned Parenthood’s de facto policy is to ignore statutory rape laws when admitting underage patients.

“The fact is that they cover up the abuse of minors by abetting the sex trafficking of minor girls,” says Clarissa, from Ohio.

8. Planned Parenthood Uses Women

“For me, Planned Parenthood was the clinic where my pregnancy was confirmed in July of 1972 as there were no home pregnancy tests at the time. It was there that I was told the first of many lies… [Such as identifying the developing baby as a] ‘Glob of cell and tissue.’ (I was 12 weeks pregnant.) Second, I was told it would be a simple surgical procedure. It was not…there would be no after effects and there was no discussion of any other alternative, [including] having the baby or adoption.”

“They also told me to lie as I was only just 17 and the law was 18 in New York. It was later on that I came to find out that they were in an intentional partnership with the clinics in New York to deceive young women into having abortions as a safe and easy solution to the ‘problem of a pregnancy.’ This was part of the agenda to push for legalization on a national level…These abortions were not back alley. They were being done in hospitals and of course clinics like CRASH.”

“There was not only deceit…but we were being used on so many levels for the purpose of an agenda…as we believed the lies and then had to deal with the aftermath of the death of our children. We were also left with no support or follow up…only birth control pills which became another way we could be used. I continued to go to the Planned Parenthood clinic to get my pills. No one ever even asked me about my abortion and how I was doing,” says Mary, in New Jersey.

7. Employees Speak of Pregnancy as a ‘Problem’ to ‘Fix’

“They are not very helpful in planning happy parenthood. Just the painful. I am the mother of deceased children.”

“Further, as I volunteered recently at a pregnancy center I talked to women who came to us for an ultrasound after they visited Planned Parenthood. They were shocked when they saw their babies’ development. They reported that workers at Planned Parenthood said: ‘You should take care of this soon before it turns into something.’ In other words, they are still lying to women about fetal development, which is a truth of medical science! Why should my tax dollars pay for that? Real doctors don’t have to lie so they can profit from the services they provide,” says Eileen, in Michigan.

6. Planned Parenthood Ignores Women’s Testimony of Post-Abortive Suffering

Because admitting abortion can cause emotional and mental trauma would damage the narrative that abortion is simply a minor procedure, Planned Parenthood ignores the stories of women who have suffered after their abortions.

“After my two abortions by 1982, I was emotionally spent and quit my ‘dream TV career’ to go back home to the D.C. area to be near family. I desperately needed security. How many young women QUIT their own TV show? [It] proves I was broken and didn’t know just how much those abortions affected me. I just didn’t understand why I was so depressed, [why I engaged in] drug and alcohol abuse, major promiscuity, etc…I was a textbook case of self-sabotaging and destructive behaviors. Anything to dull the pain…but [I] didn’t connect the dots.”

“They never once told me about the aftermath of what I’d feel or how the abortions would affect me mentally, spiritually, and physically,” says Leslie in Virginia.

5. Planned Parenthood Preys on Women’s Defensiveness About Abortion

Planned Parenthood deceives women encouraging their support, knowing that they need to justify their abortion decisions.

“For years in the 1990’s while raising my kids up to their high school years, I was a militant pro choicer and major advocate for PP (to validate MY poor choices), I was an angry voice for a woman’s right to choose… ‘my body, my choice.’ I lobbied lawmakers to get out of my bedroom. I was a misguided, angry woman, like so many I see today.

“Planned Parenthood lies, and cheats women, families, and our tax dollars. They buy politicians to do their bidding. (Look at the DNC National platform!!!) I’ve studied their propaganda and deception, the history of Margaret Sanger, Nathanson, NARAL, NOW, etc.,” writes LB.

4. Planned Parenthood Ignores Abortion Coercion

Planned Parenthood ignores the fact that many women and teenage girls are coerced into having abortions by their parents, husbands, boyfriends, and others who have power over women.

“I was a seventeen year old kid when I had my abortion which was coerced by my father. I was in my 4th month of pregnancy because I had hidden it for so long. No one told me the development of my baby or anything about the procedure I was about to undergo. “

“For countless women abortion is not a free choice or between them and their doctor, it happens because of coercion by parents, boyfriends and husbands, but Planned Parenthood does nothing to stop that, all they care about is the money,” says Theresa in New York.

3. To Planned Parenthood, ‘Choice’ Means Abortion

“The entire premise of the Planned Parenthood organization is that they stand behind ‘a woman’s right to choose.’ This is a complete lie. From the moment I walked into PP prior to my abortion, it was as if it was already understood that abortion was the ONLY choice and actually, the best way to handle my ‘situation.’ My ‘situation’ was a precious life growing inside of me and I was scared to death. At no point was I counseled in terms of future emotional, mental and psychological affects this abortion would have on my life. It was simply put to me that ‘more women than you could imagine have abortions’ – I never wanted to be in that category.”

“I take full responsibility for my abortion; however being read off statistics of the prevalence of abortion in our culture was in no way comforting to me at this time. The term counseling usually comes with a positive, healing connotation. This was the complete opposite. Never once did the counselor or doctor broach the discussion of ‘would you like to keep your baby?’ It was as if it were just understood that this abortion was happening,” writes BT from New York.

2. Planned Parenthood Fights Oversight and Informed Consent

Planned Parenthood fights every attempt at regulations, protection, and the informed consent of women, leaving them uninformed and in danger.

It opposes Women’s Right to Know legislation, which would provide information on all the dangers of abortion and fetal development. Planned Parenthood is against parent consent to medical procedures done on minors. Your child cannot get an aspirin at school without parental consent, but in many states can go for a life-altering procedure like abortion without parental consent.

Planned Parenthood fights regulations on abortion clinics, leaving their safety requirements far less than those on any other surgical clinics.

1. Women Have Died Because of Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood would like everyone to believe that ending federal funding to them would place women’s lives at risk. Yet we know women’s lives are already at risk in their clinics, physically, emotionally, and psychologically.

Some deaths of women at Planned Parenthood include: Tanya Reaves, a 24-year old woman, who died from three major complications during a botched second-trimester abortion suffered at a Chicago Planned Parenthood; Cree Erwin, who died from complications of a botched abortion performed at an Planned Parenthood facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan; Holly Paterson, who died in an emergency room after having been given RU-486 at Planned Parenthood in San Francisco; and Diane Lopez, who went to the Los Angeles Planned Parenthood for an abortion when she was 18 weeks pregnant. Her cervix was punctured during the abortion and she later bled to death at a nearby hospital.

Recent emergencies at Planned Parenthood include: The Virginia Beach Planned Parenthood hospitalized two women in the month of April 2017; On April 1, 2017, a patient was loaded into the ambulance at Tempe, Arizona, Planned Parenthood; and on April 1, 2017, a woman was medically transported out of the Planned Parenthood facility in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Then of course there are the countless numbers of women who suffer emotionally after abortion, and even those who have committed suicide.

Planned Parenthood is quick to tell us they provide women “quality health care.” I think the families of the women mentioned would disagree. We’ve been there. We know. It’s time for Congress to defund Planned Parenthood and give our tax money to real medical providers who truly care for women’s health and safety.

From Sorrow to Joy

Here is the sermon I gave for Easter Sunday, based on the Resurrection account from the gospel of Matthew.

In trying times some people try to offer consolation through the phrase, “things could be worse.”  As in ‘It could be worse, you could have lost your job completely.’ But for the disciples and all those who hoped and believed in the salvation Jesus promised it truly was on Good Friday the worst possible scenario.  In a matter of hours Jesus was betrayed, publicly condemned, humiliated and then crucified.

The disciples were all together with Jesus during the Last Supper and before they knew it, he was asking them to pray with him at Gethsemane, asking them to stay up with him and keep watch.   As they were falling in and out of sleep Judas, one of their own betrayed Jesus.

He was seized by a small army as if he were a criminal.  The trial was a mockery of justice and filled with deceit.  An unlikely alliance of various factions who conspired in the darkness against Jesus.  His own people soon called for his crucifixion out of fear of the authorities and hardness of heart.

And through it all they failed their Lord! Peter denied him three times for fear of the same cup of suffering Jesus was given to drink.  One disciple fled so hastily that he was in only his under garments.  How could things go so wrongly- how could evil prevail so completely?  How could Satan prevail?

The women who were on their way to anoint Jesus shared in this same sorrow. They had brought costly oils and spices to Jesus as the last gesture of love they could do for Jesus.

And then in a moment it all changed.  Christ is risen!  Death did not have the last word after all, evil did not triumph.  An earthquake announces the shattering change.  An angel descends from heaven to roll back the large stone covering the tomb so as to allow the women to get inside.  The angel shone in splendid dazzling white in the same manner of how Jesus shone in His Transfiguration.

The unbelieving guards are overwhelmed with fear, but the two women who came to see Jesus hear the message of assurance from the angel: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay”

The announcement was made, sorrow turned to boundless joy.  And it was just as God planned all along.  What seemed like Satan’s triumph, what seemed like the most bitter defeat, was all according to God’s plan, Jesus has risen just as he told them.  It was not the worst possible scenario- but actually the best!

Surely they must have began to feel how needless their doubt was- everything went according to what Jesus had told them.  Jesus taught about his death and resurrection to the disciples all along, with parables and illustrations from nature.  Now they could put all the pieces together as they saw for themselves what it meant for Jesus to willingly lay down his life and to rise again.

How wonderful to fully grasp for the first time that what seemed like tragedy, was actually an amazing demonstration of God’s great love for us.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

If their sorrow and defeat made disciples question everything about the past- every blessing from God they received, every moment of fulfillment and hope, then the news of the resurrection would now give them every assurance about the future.  Just as he promised, he has risen from the dead, just as he promised he will go before them to Galilee.

2 Corinthians puts it well: But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—

After the angel spoke Jesus himself appeared to the two women, and offered greetings.  It kept getting better.  Jesus told them to go and tell His brothers.  Because of the cross those who abandoned him, those who deserted him were now forgiven and cleansed of their sins so that he called them “brothers”.   Jesus considers us brothers, and sisters because we also have been cleansed of our sin by His death on the cross.

We heard in our short Epistle reading from Colossians how we ourselves through our baptism have died with Christ and have risen with Him.  We have been connected to His death and Resurrection because we have been joined with Him.  Like the disciples we have experienced the sorrow and bitter pain of this fallen world.  But no trials of this world can bring us down- because we already have died with Christ.  And since we have died with Christ we have the joy of Christ always hidden in us.

In this month’s Lutheran Witness magazine President Matthew Harrison wrote an article referencing Luther’s writings about the resurrection entitled: “Only the Christian’s left foot remains in the grave.”

Unbelievers are like those who are running backwards, they fall into the grave and death takes them suddenly and unawares.  But as Christians we have already experienced our death in baptism.

-And because of this death, our resurrection in Christ has already happened.  We enjoy the advantage of already having the right leg out of the grave.-

Luther writes that “when Christ was born from the dead (as in his resurrection) it was like a child’s birth, the hard part is the head, the rest comes shortly afterward easily – just a little travail remains and we too shall see the resurrection.”

1Corinthians chapter 15 declares: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”

As His brothers and sisters we confess with joy that because Jesus has overcome death we too shall rise with Him.  Our risen Lord has united us with him through the cross.  Together we confess that he has given us a hope that cannot be taken away.  We are now as his brothers and sisters equal heirs with Him.

As His heirs we alone have a correct knowledge of God in which to share with others.  Every year as Holy Week comes around you will see specials on the History channel, an occasional magazine cover article in Time or Newsweek that shares a secular perspective about Jesus.

Often the Biblical accounts about Jesus are described as part myth as compared to a secular viewpoint of who Jesus is.  Other times a view of Jesus is described that gives privileged attention to ancient writings about Jesus as far removed from the actual events as one or two centuries after the New Testament was written.

Tragically these media outlets are blind from seeing that the Bible itself is firmly grounded in the category of a historical writing- filled with countless references to geographical locations and people such as kings and governors that all are verified by Archeology and secular histories of the time.

In contrast, writing of other religions and heretical writing about Jesus that occurred many generations later, such as the gospel of Thomas, contains virtually no references to places and dates and known figures in history.  There is no comparison.

The only logical explanation for the folly of University religious studies departments and secular scholars that question the accuracy of the Bible or whether Jesus really was seen as the Son of God by the earliest Christians-  is the influence of Satan. The evidence itself gives no indication of what so many public university scholars teach.

We can see Satan’s influence in all those voices in our culture that imply that what Jesus really originally taught was different than what the early church recorded in the New testament about who He is as the Son of God.

But as heirs of Christ we testify to the truth of what the scripture teaches of who Jesus is and what his death on the cross and resurrection means to our world. A detail of fact that makes all the difference in the world to those who are on the fence questioning in their faith.

As heirs of Christ and brothers and sisters in Christ we do not proclaim the resurrection as islands unto ourselves, we do not live our faith in isolation.  We feast together in the marriage feast of the lamb.    The prophet Isaiah foretold how Christ would conquer the power of death with language of feasting together. We hear from Isaiah chapter 26

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.”

In just a short while we will feast together as the body of Christ.  We will receive the Lord’s Supper together, as fellow heirs of Christ’s resurrection.  Often we think of taking the Lord’s Supper as that which is important business between me and God.

But we also receive the Lord’s Supper together, a meal that unites us in the forgiveness and love of Jesus.  All the more reason why Christ has desired that we seek Him often in this meal.

Together we encourage one another, together we face the persecution of this world- the darkness of this world that despise the truth that Christ brings.  Together we live in the joy of the resurrection.   Together we press on with one leg already out of the grave, awaiting Christ’s return.

True glory in the cross

Blessed is he who comes in the Lord, Hosanna in the highest!  With great excitement people welcomes Jesus into Jerusalem.  It was already an exciting week no matter what, the week of the Passover, with hundreds of thousands of people flocking into Jerusalem from throughout the countryside for the highest holiday of the year.  The Passover was the remembrance of how God delivered Israel from death through the blood of the Passover lamb.

This year excitement was at a fever pitch as word spread of how Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead just a few miles from Jerusalem.  Jesus had already provided a taste of the deliverance from death He had come to bring to Israel.  People wondered if he would now institute God’s kingdom among them. As Jesus entered Jerusalem on that lowly donkey, it was a glorious time in the sight of the people.

But the true glory of Jesus entering Jerusalem was not what people anticipated. The glory of Jesus was not the acclamation of the people, not the cheers in Jerusalem with palm branches waving and colorful cloaks spread along his path that brought glory to Jesus, but instead the true glory of his entrance into Jerusalem was his fixed determination to continue on the path toward the cross.

The glory of Jesus is that he willingly undertook this journey: We hear in Isaiah chapter 50 “I gave my back to those who strike and gave my cheeks to those who pull out the beard.”  He did not let the suffering along the way deter him, but instead continued on His path out of faith in the Father’s purpose or him. Again we hear from Isaiah chapter 50: “But the Lord God helps me, therefore I have not been disgraced. Therefore I have set my face like a flint and I know I shall not be put to shame.”

Jesus’ sacrificial entrance into Jerusalem changes our perspective of what is glory. So often we become wrapped up in human standards of greatness.  We entertain thoughts about how good we look to others.  It seems to be human nature to either elevate ourselves to a kingly status or to venerate others, world leaders, movie stars, sports stars or our favorite sports teams who we hope for championship victories.

In Fall of 1898 another person made a famous entrance into Jerusalem.  Kaiser Wilhelm, the last emperor of Germany and King of Prussia made a plan to visit the holy city.  He visited the city under the pretense of dedicating a Lutheran Church on the reformation observance of that year.  He hoped the visit would forge ties with the Ottoman Empire against England, France and Russia.

In preparation for the visit the Sultan had buildings demolished near the Jaffa gate and parts of the gate itself taken down just to allow for the one time passage of the expected large entourage of Calvary traveling with the king.  In the days immediately preceding the visit barking dogs in the city and beggars were relocated to nearby villages for the duration of the visit.

As for Wilhelm himself:  A large, luxurious tent encampment was built for him and his large delegation just outside the city walls. It had 75 residential tents, six lavishly furnished hospitality tents provided by the sultan, and six fully equipped kitchen tents.
All tents were comfortably appointed with furniture and carpets borrowed from wealthy Jerusalem families.

At last Kaiser and his wife entered Jerusalem amid countless photographers and journalist from around the world, cheering crowds and a 21 gun salute.  His entrance was so different than that of Jesus, so worldly in its purpose that it is laughable and shameful to our ears.

Instead of seeking glory for ourselves or delighting in the glory of those we elevate in our culture, Jesus calls us to change our mindset toward the mindset of a servant- seeking to serve others with no attention to human accolades.

“Have this mind among yourself which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing…”

It is a sad irony that he professed reason for such an extravagant visit by Wilhelm was to attend a church opening dedication.  We ourselves need Jesus to enable us to live humbly. By our nature it is hard to humble ourselves, to willingly acknowledge that we are not always right, we do not always have the best approach to a decision in our family, our workplace, or even in the church.  It is hard to accept what we want may not be what others want.

However, when we find ourselves right in the midst of the worship themes of Holy Week, when we meditate on and listen to the events of our Lord’s Passion we can’t help but see ourselves differently.  As we see the selfless sacrifice Jesus made for us, wanting to have things our way in life all the time, no matter what, feels like foolishness.

Humility comes in our awareness that we are forgiven not for what we have done ourselves, but because of Christ’s perfect love for us.

We want to be able to witness our faith from a mindset of humility.  Our pride about ourselves is not going to communicate the love of Christ to people.  What is the most common perception unbelievers have about Christians?

People who ‘think of themselves as better because they dress up and go to church every week.’

If the only message I give to an unbeliever is that my faith and attending church is important to me, then I may come off as boastful about my devotion and discipline to live out my faith.  Instead from the position of true humility we may tell people, I am a Christian only by the grace of God, only because of what Jesus has done for me.

And we may demonstrate the sincerity of our faith, not by describing how often we go to church or how much of our time we spend at church in board meetings- but through serving and helping others.  Through putting God’s love into action.

Before God, the time we spend in church is important and valuable- even if it is not something we want to boast to unbelievers about.   This week we will have the opportunity to glorify God with our voice and hear his love for us in the context of his passion.

In addition to this morning, we have the opportunity to gather in worship on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  And next Sunday we will join with the church around the world in celebrating our Lord’s resurrection from the dead.   The highest festival of the church year, and nothing that we boast about ourselves.

Have you ever heard the phrase “We must be out of our minds!”  I’ve heard it a lot in advertising, as in, this sale is so great that we are practically giving away our new 2017 model cars.  We must be out of our minds, take advantage while you can!

In a way we as Christians should strive toward this position, to be out of our minds.  I don’t mean that we should be pushing an advertising slogan, or that we should be reckless with our decisions.  Instead we should think with a different mind than what we once had.  We should think with the mind of Christ.

We have begun holy week.  We are going to listen to the account of our Lord’s suffering for our sake.  Let the hearing of God’s Word change your hearts, and prepare your minds for the good news of Christ crucified for us and risen for us. Amen.

Dry Bones Resurrected

Here is the sermon I gave On April 2nd at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church for the 5th Sunday of Lent.  Introduction illustration and general outline from Concordia Pulpit Resources.

Europe has some of the largest and most beautiful cathedrals in the world. Built centuries ago, these structures display how architecture and theology came together to give an ongoing witness to the unsurpassed beauty of Christ and His work to redeem sinful humankind.

Underneath these magnificent cathedrals, you can find large crypts that appear very different from the beautiful structures above. But beauty comes in different forms.  Beyond the formal crypts with the vaults of kings and queens and other nobility, you will find the bone rooms.

In an endless maze of tunnels lie the bones of thousands and thousands of people.  Skulls are stacked from floor to ceiling as far back as the eye can see.  Here the dead rest, waiting for the resurrection from the dead.

We confess every Sunday in the creed that we believe in the resurrection of the body.  But how can dead bones live?  The prophet Ezekiel was given a vision not unlike the crypts of European cathedrals: A pile of dry lifeless bones.  Through this vision, the Lord shows Ezekiel exactly how dead bones are raised to life.

Where did the dry bones come from?  The answer is simple, verse 11 says that the dry bones are the whole house of Israel.  Through transgression of God’s law the people of Israel suffered the fate of death.

Ezekiel was a prophet during the time of the Babylonian captivity.  Israel’s disobedience brought the fall of their nation and exile to the land of Babylon.  Through this ruthless conquest dead bones were an all too common sight to Israel.

What was once a great nation has now become a pile of lifeless bones.  A few verses after our reading ends, we hear how Israel’s bones were dried of God’s Spirit because of their sinfulness.  They were both physically and spiritually lifeless.

As Ezekiel gazed on this overwhelmingly hopeless landscape, an entire valley of dry bones, God asks him a question. “Son of man, can these bones live?”  By human reason the obvious answer is that these bones cannot live.

Ezekiel cautiously affirms the possibility that God can make them live.  Even while Israel was hopelessly lost in their sin and suffering the consequences of exile, God indeed had a plan to restore Israel.

God asks Ezekiel to speak His word to the lifeless bones, to offer this prophecy: “O dry bones hear the Word of the Lord, thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live.  And I will lay sinews upon you and will cause flesh to come upon you and cover you with skin, and put breath in you and you shall live and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

I love how God describes the specific steps by which He makes the lifeless bones take form and flesh and eventually the breath of life.  What seems impossible suddenly becomes a reality, finalized by the gift of the breath and Spirit of God.

Not only does God physically restore Israel in giving them life, but He also restores them spiritually by bringing them back to the land of Israel.  Listen to God’s words in Ezekiel chapter 36: “Thus says the Lord God, on the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited and the waste places shall be rebuilt.”

As dramatic a reversal as this reading describes, even today God breathes life into us.  The Spirit of God breathes life in us through the cleansing of our sins.  Although we haven’t experienced the violent conquest of our nation seen in Ezekiel’s day-  we ourselves have been broken and exiled from God’s presence through our sin.

The dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision are the whole house of Israel, including the New Israel in the Church.  Because of our sinfulness we become dried of our spirit.  Because of our sin, one day our bones will also become dry bones.  Our disobedience of God’s law causes not only physical death, but spiritual separation from God as well.

By God’s grace we are saved from this death.  His Spirit blows into us and brings us back to life.  In Christ we are spiritually restored, which means we also will one day be physically restored. On the last day our bodies will be raised from the dead just as Christ was raised from the dead.

Just as we heard about dry bones coming to life step by step, bone to bone, sinews, flesh and skin- so also God gives us the gift of life, step by step.  The Holy Spirit breathes life into us through first through the means of the waters of Baptism and then through the life giving words of the Holy Spirit found in the scripture.

His breath of life comes to us as we receive the words of forgiveness, in worship and in our own personal prayers of repentance.  Through the Lord’s Supper our faith is strengthened as His very body and blood is given to us to renew us with His Spirit.

It doesn’t seem possible that something as simple as an application of water on our heads at one time and a hearing of God’s Word another time with our ears, a tasting of the gifts of the Lord’s Supper with our mouths should be the means by which the breath of God’s Spirit enters us and continues to give us life day by day. – And yet this is what Christ has instituted in His church.

Jesus has come not just for our deliverance on the last day, but so that though the gospel that we would live in hope today.  Maybe you feel like parts of your life are hopeless, unfixable, kind of like dry bones.

Have you been emotionally hurt in a close relationship before in your life where you don’t think you will ever be able to fully trust another person again, or even the person who has hurt you if that relationship has still continued in a less than ideal manner?

Through the power of the forgiveness we have in Christ what feels like a lost cause, whether a family relationship, a friendship or a marriage, can live and thrive again. For when the divine gift of forgiveness is imparted into our relationship, barriers that divide us fall away.

Do you struggle or know someone in your life who struggles with an addiction that feels unbreakable?  Does it seem like the conscience that should say no to what is clearly not right is now dead in a particular area of life? Through the power of the Holy Spirit, what seems like a dead conscience can come to life.

Maybe you feel your ability to pray and focus on God’s Word is not what it used to be.  You feel less than optimistic about your ability to grow spiritually or feel distracted by some particular reoccurring concerns in life.  By the power of the Holy Spirit your prayer and devotion life can be renewed.

Instead of feeling that you are failing God for not being able to focus, The Spirit can breathe life into you so that you start to experience time with God’s Word or time reflecting on God’s promises to you in prayer as time of celebrating and recognizing how Jesus upholds you in your life with his forgiveness and love.

In our gospel reading we see how even as Lazarus had died and rested in the tomb for four days, Jesus was able to give him new life.  How much more is God’s Word able to bring new life to us through the promise that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

During the time of the Babylonian exile Israel had lost so much, but the prophecy of Ezekiel brought hope to a troubled people.  Their journey was long. Their lives, like dry bones were with little faith in what God would do for them.

Yet God brought hope through the prophet’s words as the bones came together and were resurrected from their dry state.  Then God put His breath into these dry bones, giving them life just as he did with man’s original creation.

The church is finishing her journey this Lenten season as we wait for the passion, cross, and resurrection of our Lord.  It is only in Christ that the Church finds her hope, in Christ who dies on the cross and after three days rises from the dead.

Like the bones of those who have gone before us, our bodies will come together in the end.  God’s Spirit gives life now and will give life at the Last Day. On the last day  our graves will be opened and our bodies will be raised, where we will join with all the saints in the presence of our eternal God.