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Peace be with You (December 11, 2018)


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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

You may have noticed that there’s generally a familiar ring to the beginning of my sermons.  I usually start with something like, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:2) It’s not an original idea.  If you take a close look at Paul’s letters, he begins them with a similar greeting.  Letting His hearers know God’s “peace” is with them, provided comfort to the young, persecuted, and troubled early church.  The same comfort God provides to us today. 

When we think of “peace,” it’s hard not to think of “conflict” in our world today … ranging from wars resulting in death to simple arguments over what color new carpet should be or who’s team is best.  These conflicts cause division in God’s creation … something He never intended.  But the peace God desires is much more than an “absence of conflict.”  So, I truly pray that God’s “true peace” is with each of us.  And not only here in the days of Advent, as we celebrate the Prince of Peace’s birth, but throughout the year. 

Like many modern words, “peace” is another one that originally meant much more that it has come to mean.  The word “peace” comes from the Hebrew word “Shalom (שָׁלוֹם).”  “Shalom” has a sense of “completeness, intactness, and unity” associated with it.  It’s much more than a “lack of conflict.”  Only if something is truly “complete, intact, and unified” with all that is around it, can “true peace” be achieved.  God mourns that we don’t have true peace with Him and each other.  However, in His infinite love, He has given us a way to find true peace.

The source of all conflict is sin.  Satan has sown seeds of sin in the world for one purpose … to create conflict between us and God and each other.  If Satan can separate God’s children from God, he is satisfied.  Satan uses sin to carry out his wicked mission.   But God has worked through His people to defeat Satan’s evil intentions in His creation.

Advent is a time of preparation.  We prepare, of course, to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace.  And, more importantly, we prepare to receive Him when He returns.  But, through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, Jesus defeated sin’s power to create eternal conflict.  His gift of forgiveness is what we need to have God’s true peace.  We believe in God’s promise!  As we confess our sins to God, He forgives them … all of them … completely and totally.  He removes the source of conflict between us and Him.  He also calls on us to forgive each other (Matthew 18:21-35).  When we confess our sins to each other … and forgive each other, as God has forgiven us … true peace begins to take hold.  By our witness, this peace grows and smothers the seeds of conflict Satan tries to plant.

  This Advent, let us be lights of God’s true peace in the world.  Let us destroy Satan’s seeds of conflict by spreading God’s true peace in our words and deeds to all we meet in this season AND in our “Advent” life He calls us to live.

                                                   May God’s Peace be with you,

                                                   Pastor Jim

A Hopeful New Year (December 6, 2018)


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Dear Servants of the King,

Happy New Year!  True … we’re barely past Thanksgiving and Christmas is still a few weeks away.  But, it is “New Year!”  The first Sunday in Advent is also the first Sunday in the Church Year.  So “Happy New Year!”

The new year is always a time to look back and remember the past year … remembering the “good old days” as we get together with friends and relatives.  We also look to the future, hoping for better times ahead … especially if the past year was filled with difficulty and challenge.  We might make … and even keep … a few resolutions to help make our hopes come to fruition.  Some of these hopes will be realized … some will transform into other hopes … some will simply fade.

Advent is a season in the church where we wait for the coming of Christ and the hope He brings with Him.  For many in the world, the focus of the waiting is Christmas Day.  However, for Christians, the true waiting is not for Christmas … Jesus has already been born.  The true waiting is for His return.  As we wait, we hope.  In His return, Jesus will deliver on the hopes Christians across the ages have had and still have.  We live in hope, knowing He’ll establish His kingdom and His new creation once and for all here on earth.  And He’ll bring all who believe Him and His promises with Him to live for eternity in this place we can only imagine through God’s Word and promises.

In some ways we’re a lot like Saint Paul, the writer of 1st Thessalonians.  In Paul’s day, 2000 years ago, the Thessalonians rapidly converted to Christianity through Paul’s Spirit-inspired teaching.  Unfortunately, this rapid conversion caused intense persecution by those who felt threatened by the gospel.  Paul was forced to flee.  And he worried constantly about the faith of those he left behind.  He longed with all his being to visit them again in order to bolster their faith.  He says, “We pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face…” (1 Thessalonians 3:10) As they waited to see if Paul could make it back to them (he isn’t able to by the way), Paul also urges them to remember Jesus’ promise to return.  He encourages them by praying that God “may establish your hearts in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.”  (1Thessalonians 3:13) He exhorts them to maintain hope in Jesus’ promise to return and bring them into His eternal kingdom, free from the hardships they face in the world.

As we live in faith in the world today, it doesn’t seem like much has changed.  We’re still here, waiting.  We might even wonder where God is and what’s taking Him so long.  But, we also have hope in His promise, knowing He’ll return.  Torn between our desire for immediate results and our hope for what awaits us, we wait.  God has promised to save us.  Jesus, born over 2000 years ago on the first Christmas, will return again to save us.  And when He does, our hope will become our reality.  Happy New Year!

                                                                                                        In Hope,

                                                                                                        Pastor Jim

The Last Word (November 28, 2018)


Dear Subjects of Christ the King,

I’m sure we’ve experienced this situation before.  We find ourselves under two authority figures.  It might be parents or bosses at work.  As long as one of them grants our wish, we can consider that “the last word.”  Unfortunately, sometimes this plan backfires when the authorities work together to get their responses lined up.  “Dad, I’m hungry.  Can I have a cookie?”  “I don’t know, what’ll your Mom say?  Dinner’s in an hour.” “Oh Dad!  Grrrr.”

It isn’t just “cookies before dinner” where this happens.  It’s human nature to ask until we get an answer we like.  There are many versions of right and wrong … acceptable and unacceptable … truth and untruth in today’s world.  And we can usually find someone to support our version.  If we can’t … it’s okay to just make it up and call it right, acceptable, and true.  The topic might be “cookies before dinner” or something critical – care of the poor, premarital sex, or acquisition of wealth.  Truth varies based on who thinks they’re in charge.

Unfortunately for many in the world – including kings, presidents, prime ministers, our favorite bloggers or political pundits – aren’t the last word in this world.  They may point to their own concept of freedom to justify premarital sex or the use of clever business practices to acquire excess wealth.  They may justify care of the poor using the logic that strong work ethic enables one to get what they need.  But these aren’t the last word.  The last word comes from “the Ancient of Days” and the “Son of Man.”  People may ignore their Last Word, but it’s at their own peril. 

Daniel says, “The Ancient of Days took His seat … the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.”  (Daniel 7:9-10) As this happened, another arrives, “One like the Son of Man … to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him … an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away.” (Daniel 7:13-14) John’s Revelation explains more clearly, “Jesus Christ … the ruler of kings on the earth … He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him.” (Revelation 1:5-7) When Jesus, the King of the Universe, returns … He will be the Last Word … and many may not like it.  As far as He’s concerned, it doesn’t matter what the “kings” of this world say.

Where do we find King Jesus’ Last Word?  He told many, “My kingdom is not of this world … For this purpose I was born … to bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:36-37) If we want the ultimate Last Word, look in God’s Word.  What does God’s Word say about anything in this world?  Read and listen to God’s Word carefully.  It is the Last Word.  Against that Word, the world will be judged when King Jesus – who loves us, frees us from sin, makes us His priests, and returns to bring us into His kingdom (Revelation 1:5-6).  God’s Word, the Last Word.

                                                        In the Love of the King,

                                                        Pastor Jim

Right-Hand Man (November 21, 2018)


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We all need someone we can trust no matter what.  With all that goes on around us … with so many different tasks to accomplish – and only one of us to do them – we need help to be in more than one place … doing more than one thing at one time.  That’s what the “right-hand man” does for us.  Historically, the “right-hand man” is the person a leader most trusts to do their will in their absence.  The leader sits them their right-hand.  We all need a “right-hand man” we can trust without reservation to help us when we can’t help ourselves.  The key to a “right-hand man” isn’t just the trust … it’s the trust that they will actually DO something when needed.

Hebrews 10 describes how Jesus, the Son of God, is God the Father’s right-hand man.  The writer of Hebrews says, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God.”  (Hebrews 10:12) The Father selected His Son, His co-equal along with the Holy Spirit, to sit at His right-hand.  But, before this, the Father first sent Jesus into His creation to redeem it from the sin that had corrupted and separated it from Him.  Jesus faithfully discharged His Father’s call to Him.  He willingly gave up His rightful place to the right-hand of His Father to lower Himself to live among us.  Giving up all His glory in heaven, He exchanged His life for ours as He suffered a horrific death to overcome the effects of sin and death separating us from God.  Having faithfully served His Father, His Father glorified Him by returning Him to the seat of honor at His right-hand.  But … Jesus won’t just be sitting there, luxuriating in the glory of heaven.  He’s still working on our behalf!

As Jesus sits at God’s right-hand, He continues to work through the promised Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit … one might call Him “Jesus’ Right-hand Man” … “bears witness to us” (Hebrews 10:15) and gives us Words to speak as He works through us in these difficult days (Mark 13:11).  He’s the one who enables us to believe God’s Word and promises.  Especially the incredible promise that “‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’ Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (Hebrews 10:17-18) We are forgiven … not because of more sacrifices and offerings for our sins, but because Jesus made the one and only sacrifice, giving His body and blood for ours.  All who believe in Jesus’ saving work, will be saved from the power of sin and death (Mark 16:16).

One day Jesus’ will finish His work.  As we wait for this Day, He calls us to continue meeting to celebrate and worship, to encourage each other through difficulties, and to do works of love for each other and those in our midst. (Hebrews 10:24-25) Then, when He returns, we will join Him and all who have endured to the end.  He will save us by bringing us into eternal life with Him as He reigns eternally at God’s right hand. (Mark 13:13)

                                                                                                        In the Love of Christ,

                                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Nothing Else Needed (November 19, 2018)


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Dear Body of Christ,

Unique architecture fascinates me.  Especially when it’s a building that looks like it ought to fall over, yet is solid as a rock.  Architects and engineers do amazing things to balance structures that look like they’ll collapse under their own weight.  For example, the Center for Innovative Technology in Fairfax County (VA) looks like it should tip over.  Long arches are another architectural feature that can amaze.  There’s a monastery in Spain where the king ordered the architect to install a column to make sure the arch wouldn’t fall down.  The architect complied.  However, after the king died, he revealed the column was built in a way that it never actually supported the arch.  The arch was built to support itself … it needed no assistance to stand on its own.

Humans beings have been concerned about supporting a different kind of structure every since sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden.  Throughout the Old Testament, we see people trying to build towers that reach into heaven (Genesis 11), building temples to perform sacrifices to various gods of their own making, and creating other structures to try to achieve salvation for themselves.  All of these structures collapsed under their own weight, unable to support in any way the salvation of anyone. 

In a similar way, many people today still feel they can support their own salvation through their works.  They find it impossible to believe that, aside from their own efforts in life, they don’t need to do anything to be saved from sin and death.

God’s Word repeatedly reminds us that Jesus Christ is the only bridge between us and God.  And, He needs no help to support His saving work.  His one, single sacrifice on the Cross is all that is necessary for sin to be destroyed for all who believe in Him (Hebrews 9:26).  Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:28) Jesus needs no assistance to save us from our sins.  His sacrificial death on the Cross followed by His resurrection is all that’s needed to save all mankind, across all time, from sin, Satan, and death.  Jesus, the Son of God, tells us, that those who believe in Him will be saved (Mark 16:16). 

We’re saved for a purpose though … not simply to wait around for Jesus’ return.  He calls us to use, in faith, this life, given to us by our heavenly Father, and the many gifts of time, talent, and treasure He also provides to us to serve Him and His creation.  Through these gifts, supported by the Holy Spirit, we act in faith as Jesus’ hands and feet, eyes and ears, and mouths in the world to bring the love of Jesus, found in His Gospel, to those who’re sadly trying to support their own salvation.  He enables us to use our lives, skills, and money and other resources God provides to us to save all remaining in unbelief.  Then (Jesus) will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.” (Hebrews 9:28)

                                                                                                        In the Love of Christ,

                                                                                                        Pastor Jim

For All the Saints (November 14, 2018)


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Dear Saints of First Lutheran,

The popular image of a “saint” is quite varied.  We laud Jesus’ apostles as “saints.” These witnesses to all Jesus said and did while He lived among us led Saints Matthew, Mark, and Luke to write the gospels … Saint Paul also witnessed our Lord’s work firsthand.  Some hold up other men and women of outstanding Christian character as “saints.”  Saints Augustine, Jerome, and Cyprian are often called out in the Book of Concord for their work in the early church.  Today, we celebrate another group of “saints.”  Those who have gone before us in faith and now live in eternity with God our Father and His Son Jesus Christ in the Kingdom of Heaven.  All of these people are truly “saints.”  However, we don’t often think of ourselves as “saints.”  Yet, that is exactly what we are … we are “living saints!”

Each of us are “saints” in Christ’s Holy Church.  What makes us saints?  Martin Luther writes, “Not on account of the external work, but on account of the Word that makes us all saints.”  In our baptisms, God our Father declares each of us righteous in His sight on account of Jesus Christ’s work on our behalf.  St. John reminds us, “Beloved, we are God’s Children NOW.” (1 John 3:2) As God’s Children, the Holy Spirit, dwells within us.  He calls us to Him.  He enables us to believe in God’s Word and His promises.  He makes us holy as we live out our lives in His grace and mercy as a gift from Him. 

As saints, living in the world, we are also still sinners – simultaneously saint and sinner.  John finishes his statement on being “God’s Children now” saying, “What we will be has not yet appeared, but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2) While we are God’s Children, we don’t look any different than those around who aren’t.  We may not feel any different either.  But, we know we are different.  We are forgiven … washed clean by the blood of Christ.  We are also being made holy (sanctified) … by the power of the Holy Spirit.  And when Christ returns to bring us into His Kingdom, the Holy Spirit will have finished His work on us.  We will be holy.  We will be like Jesus.  And, we will see Jesus face-to-face, in the flesh, as He truly is.  We will be part of the “… great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb … crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9, 10)

In this vision we see “all the saints” … all who believe, including our loved ones who’ve gone before us and ourselves.  All of us will be gathered as God’s people to Him, living in eternity as He intended … fully saints.  Believing this promise in faith gives us hope … in this hope we are blessed … now, tomorrow, and for eternity.

                                                                             In God’s Peace,

                                                                             Pastor Jim

Carried to New Life (November 1, 2018)


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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I grew up in a slightly different time.  When I was a kid we did things like drink out of garden hoses and ride bikes without helmets.  I’m not advocating a return to those days … I’m simply making an observation.  Speaking of riding bikes without helmets, we did some crazy things on our bikes.  There was a daredevil in those days named Evel Knievel who used a motorcycle to jump over cars (Evel Knievel Jump).  My friends and I were big Evel fans, but we didn’t have motorcycles to ride or cars to jump.  We did have bikes and boys.  So, we’d set up our ramps, have a bunch of boys lay down between them, and see who could jump over the most boys.  Needless to say, falling short on the jump was painful … for the last couple of boys and the bike rider.  Fortunately, nobody was hurt in this lunacy.

There is real pain, of an everlasting nature, for falling short in some instances.  Paul writes, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23). God tells us that we know what His law consists of.  And, no matter how hard we try, we cannot save ourselves through adherence to the law.  All of us sin and fall short of God’s expectations.  The impact of falling short is painful and eternal … death (Romans 6:23).  But, this doesn’t stop people from trying to fulfill God’s law by their own efforts.

This attempt at “self-justification” is one of the key false doctrines 16th century Reformers fought against.  Many in the church believed one could, through their prayers, attendance at worship, and even payment of money do enough works to save themselves from eternal death.  Good works were believed to earn God’s favor, granting eternal life in heaven.  The problem … when had I done enough to ensure my own salvation?  The uncertainty caused great pain for church members who were often taken advantage of by unscrupulous lords of the church.  In short, nobody could ever be certain they had done enough … and so, they tried to do more.

The Reformers who studied God’s Word in the original languages of Greek and Hebrew began to see the scriptures used to validate this false teaching were improperly translated.  When they translated the texts properly, it became apparent that it wasn’t works that saved a person, but rather faith in God and His promises found in His Word that saved.  For example, key verses for Martin Luther were Romans 1:17 and Habakkuk 2:4

Faith in God’s Word and promise, that Jesus’ work through His sacrificial death and resurrection from the dead three days later, is the only means to achieve salvation and eternal life.  The law has a good purpose … it shows we are sinful and fall short of God’s expectations.  Then, the gospel tells us we are “justified by (God’s) grace as a gift (not by something we earn), through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:24).  On our own, we fall short, crashing and burning.  But Jesus carries all who believe in Him over the chasm of sin and death, safely to eternal life.

                                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                                        Pastor Jim