Monday, October 31, 2011

This Week at Mt. Olive

Good evening, fellow redeemed!

Today is Reformation Sunday in North American churches. Unfortunately today, Reformation is often overshadowed by Halloween celebrations and, in the case of this week, Monday Night Football. Check your local listings.

The common indications that the Reformation has largely been glossed over in many Lutheran circles are fairly easy to identify. Children who hear the name Martin Luther immediately think of the civil rights leader of 1960s United States, Martin Luther King. Though Dr. King is significant in American history, I believe his accomplishments to be largely relegated to the civil realm while the efforts of Dr. Luther and his colleagues in the 16th century refocus the Church on the saving message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified which we call The Gospel.

As many of you have heard me say, while the Reformation returned to the Biblical teaching of justification by grace through faith, I believe a critical return provided by the Reformation concerned original sin. Get sin wrong, and justification will undoubtedly be wrong. Preach sin in the severity in which God sees it and justification will be the wonderful message to be heard. Perhaps this is the real reason why the Reformation is overshadowed not only in the secular arena, but often in churches, too. The preaching and teaching about sin is seen as harmful, distasteful, passe, or just downright inconvenient.

There's only one problem for churches: the reality and severity of sin and God's anger against it is Biblical. Preserve sin and Jesus is a Savior, a Deliverer, a Redeemer. Dilute sin, soft pedal it, or just ignore it, and Jesus becomes a life coach to help us find our purpose, a buddy, or a political force. In the coming days, I hope to provide a few devotional thoughts on a subject many find morbid and hurtful, but one about which we need to be keenly aware: sin!

This Week at Mt. Olive
Tomorrow evening, all families are invited to Mt. Olive for the annual Trunk Treat fun! Currently, four families have volunteered to take on this task. If you would like to join in decorating your car at Mt. Olive and passing out some goodies, please feel free to join in! Trunk Treat begins at 7 p.m.

Wednesday, Lutheran Book Club resumes. Please read Part II, Jesus Only, in "The Hammer of God" by Bo Giertz. Don't have the book but want to join the discussion? We meet at 7 p.m. in the Overflow area.

There will be no Adult Information Class this week. I have a prior commitment with my family and won't be able to lead. Please check the update next week!

Jr. Confirmation class will be held as usual next Sunday. The movie "Luther" will be shown the following Sunday, November 13, at noon. All church members are invited to attend (bring your lunch if you wish).

Don't forget: Fall Shrimp Boil at the home of Jack and Judy Rohde on Saturday evening at 6 p.m. Tickets are $10 each. If you'd like to attend and haven't purchased a ticket, please call the Church Office for more information.

Finally, this past week I had the pleasure of visiting a family member of one of the faithful at Mt. Olive. It was a delightful time, and I got to share the good news about Jesus. If you have a family member, especially one who does not have a pastor to visit him or her, who is hospitalized, please give me a call or send me an email. Folks are in need of pastoral care while in the hospital and I'm happy to provide it.

I will be out of the office a good chunk of Tuesday.

Prayer Concerns:
Sandra Headley (Suzette Hamer's mom)
The Homebound: Ruby Rieder, Ann Cleveland, Bud Bird (Phyllis Bowling's brother), Walter and Pearly Theiss (Houston)
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Ft. Campbell, KY), Richard Rhode, John Sorensen (Corpus Christi)
The Churches which confess the Unaltered Augsburg Confession throughout the world, that they be kept firm in their confession of faith
Those who have lost loved ones in the past year, as we celebrate All Saints' Day

This Week at Mt. Olive
Monday, October 31
6:30 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics

7 p.m.
Trunk Treat Night in the Parking Lot

Wednesday, November 2
8:30 a.m.
School Chapel

9:30 a.m.
Bible Study (the remainder of Revelation 8)

6:30 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics

7 p.m.
Lutheran Book Club

Saturday, November 5
6 p.m.
Fall Shrimp Boil at the home of Jack and Judy Rohde (call the office for tickets if you haven't already purchased some)

God bless!

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

All Saints’ Day November 6, 2011

Lessons for ALL SAINTS (Lutheran Service Book)

Revelation 7:(2-8) 9-17 ~ John saw the multitude of saints in glory serving the Lamb at His throne.
Psalm 31:1-5 (antiphon Rev. 7:14)
1 John 3:1-3 ~ God loves us so much that He called us to be His children, and made us His for eternity!
Matthew 5:1-12 ~ Jesus revealed the true nature of blessings in the Kingdom of God.

"Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!" (Isaiah 43:1) With these words, God reminds us that we and those believers who have gone before us are saints (that is "holy ones") because of His action. No other truth brings as much comfort. If sainthood were up to us by good works, our hope would be uncertain at best and futile at worst. We would be lost for sure and there would be no celebration today. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:57)

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Gracious and eternal God, be with me in suffering and in death to strengthen and comfort me by your Holy Spirit. Keep me in the true faith and give me peace and joy in the assurance of the resurrection of the dead and the glory of life everlasting through Jesus Christ, your Son, my risen Lord. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Because we know that our citizenship is in heaven where we have an everlasting inheritance, we are free to be generous with the earthly goods God places in our care. Our use of these blessings should bring eternal blessing to the lives of the poor, the meek, the mournful, and those who seek justice.

OFFERING PRAYER: Blessings abound in the power of Your Word;
Blessed are we in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Grant that these offerings we bring may secure
Blessings eternal for meek and for poor.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We do not recognize the saints of God because we see things from earth’s perspective and our point of view, where joy and wealth and power and fame are the blessings we seek. Surely the Lord knows who His saints are because He has clothed them with the robe of Christ’s righteousness. When we are known by Him, we are called children of God – and called to be His children. Then opportunities to serve become blessings, and even persecution becomes a sign of our identity as a saint of God’s grace.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Justified by Faith Apart From Works of the Law

Romans 3:19-28
The Church exists for one purpose and that is to clearly teach the world the way of salvation: that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. And the church of Luther’s day was dead wrong about this one thing that truly matters eternally because they taught that salvation was found not only in Christ—but also in what we do.

On October 31, 1517 Luther posted 95 Theses on the church door at Wittenberg that challenged this false doctrine-- and that act of his confessional courage began the Reformation of the church through the restoration of the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Each year on Reformation Sunday we remember with thanksgiving a man who knew the truth about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and restored that truth to the church-- and we give thanks for the Lutheran Church because it still clearly teaches the one thing needful: that we are justified by faith apart from works of the law.

The text we have before us today for our meditation are the words of Holy Scripture that led Luther to the re-discover the truth about the way to God and restore the Gospel to the church for the sake of the world’s salvation. Paul writes:

We know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

In the church of Luther’s day—the fundamental truths of God’s Word regarding sin and grace and the way of salvation (the very heart of Christianity) had been lost. Monasticism and prayers to the saints and indulgences—as wrong as they were and still are—were only symptoms of something much worse. The real problem went much deeper. People were taught that their works could merit salvation.

God’s Word teaches just the opposite. The Bible says that “every mouth is stopped” by the law—that the “whole world” is accountable to God—and that by the works of the law (that is by what we do) no human being will be justified in God’s sight. Far from leading to salvation as the church of Luther’s day taught—the law leads to condemnation for all people because it reveals the depth of our sinfulness—which is its God-given purpose—to show our need of a savior.

Each Sunday in the Lutheran Church the Law is still preached and taught-- not so that we can justify ourselves by what we do—but so that we can see our great need for a salvation that lies outside of ourselves—a salvation that must be given to us as a gift—because the poor righteousness of our best deeds- and the perfect righteousness of God- are so far removed from one another that we cannot bridge that gulf on our own—someone else must make a way for us to God. Paul writes:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

The “righteousness of God” was a phrase—actually a biblical reality--that tormented Luther. He wrote that he hated it. He knew that if a righteousness like God’s was what was demanded from him for salvation—he was lost forever. No matter how hard he tried he could never measure up to God’s standard of holiness.

But when he came to this verse about there being a righteousness of God APART from the law--his life was changed because he discovered that the righteousness that God demanded from him in the Law—was also the righteousness that God gave to him as a free gift through faith in Jesus-and he found peace with God.

This Good News was not just something that one lone monk came up with—in fact, it was not a new teaching at all--but it was the teaching of all of Holy Scripture—New Testament and Old. It wasn’t just found in the Pauline epistles, it was found in the law and prophets as well. It is the central message of the Bible.

From the beginning in Genesis to the end in Revelation the Bible tells just one story—and that is the story of God’s gracious love for all people and desire to save all people by giving us his righteousness as a gift received in faith. Paul writes that:

There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift,

Just as surely as God’s guilty sentence falls upon all people through the condemnation of the Law-- so also does God’s justification apply to all people through the Gospel.

Now, to justify means to declare someone righteous. And that is what God has done for the world. But how did God do that? How did a perfectly holy God declare a world full of sinners right in his sight? Did he turn his eyes from our sins? NO! Did he lower his standard for our holiness? NO!

Instead, HE has fully and finally dealt with the world’s sin in his Son—laying the sins of the world upon his Son. HE has punished the world in his Son’s death on the cross. And HE has forgiven the world in his Son and justified all people in his resurrection, declaring them right in his sight. The Bible says that HE has done that:

through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood

We don’t hear that word “propitiation” very much outside of the Bible. In fact, it is not even a very common word in the Bible. It means that the sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross has taken away God’s wrath over our sins. Other English translations say that Christ was put forward as the atoning sacrifice that has brought God and mankind back together. And that’s a good translation too.

But the actual Greek word that we translate as propitiation or atoning sacrifice was the same word used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant where once a year the high priest would take the blood of the sacrifice and lay his hands upon the mercy seat and so atone for the sins of Israel.

No matter how this important biblical word is translated: propitiation, atoning sacrifice, or mercy seat--the picture is the same: that Jesus’ bloody sacrifice on the cross was offered up for the sins of the whole world and has reconciled God to all people.

Paul calls Jesus’ blood our redemption because in the ancient world, that word described the price that would have been paid to set free a slave or prisoner of war.

That’s what God has done for us in Christ: the blood of Jesus Christ was the price that was paid to set you free from the condemnation of the law that your sins deserve—it was the perfect offering that removed God’s wrath from you—it was the sacrifice that has reconciled God to you—and it is the reason that God has declared you- and all the world- “not guilty” in Christ.

But it is critically important for us to remember that-- while God has done this for all people—the Bible also teaches that Christ’s atoning, forgiving, reconciling work must “be received by faith” by us, personally and individually, if we are to be saved.

Nowhere does the Bible teach “universalism”—the idea that all people will be saved irrespective of personal faith in Jesus—in fact, it teaches just the opposite: that while Christ’s sacrifice was for all people, reconciling God to mankind and justifying the world, each person must believe in Jesus for themselves if they are to be saved.

And that is why we are so grateful for Martin Luther and the other reformers—it is why we set aside this day to thank God for the Reformation of the church—because there was a time when the Gospel of salvation in Christ had become so obscured by false teaching and false practice that it was nearly impossible for people to come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved. The restoration of the Gospel through the Reformation of the church is why we earnestly pray that God would keep us steadfast in his Word-- so that the Good News about God’s salvation would never be lost through neglect or indifference but would always be clearly and correctly and courageously proclaimed in the Lutheran Church.

It is only in the preaching of Christ crucified for the sins of the world that people can be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth—it is only at the cross that people can come to know God as he truly desires to be known: holy and righteous to be sure—but also merciful and forgiving. Paul says that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross:

…was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

And so what does Paul mean when he says that “in his divine forbearance God has passed over the former sins”? After all, God sent the flood- and he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah -and he raised up the Egyptians and Assyrians and Babylonians to chastise his people—terrible temporal punishments indeed!

But as terrible as those chastisements were, it is only in the death of the sinless Son of God that we see what our sin deserves from God. When Jesus cried out on the cross “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” that was the cry of every sinner separated from God—except that Jesus suffered it for us—in our place—so that we will never be forsaken by God in life or in death.

That dark Good Friday afternoon was the “present time” of which Paul writes when God showed his righteousness: both in his justice—but also in his mercy--for the death of God’s own Son on the cross was not only the fullness of his wrath-- but it was also the fullness of his grace and mercy to all men.

This gracious gift of salvation was given to us in Holy Baptism as we were crucified with Jesus in his death and raised up with him in his resurrection. It is renewed in us every time we hear that our sins are forgiven and when we receive Christ’s body and blood in Holy Communion.

Through faith in Jesus Christ, we can be confident that God has declared us right in his sight and innocent of all wrongdoing. What our works could never do in bringing us to God—God has done for us in his Son Jesus Christ—and so there is nothing left for us but to receive God’s gift of salvation in humble faith and thanksgiving. Paul writes:

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

The Good News for us today on this Reformation Sunday is the same as it was for Martin Luther—that while we cannot work our way to God, God has come to us in his Son Jesus Christ and brought us to himself and made us his children.

As members of the Lutheran Church we are blessed to be a part of that apostolic “we” of Christ and the apostles and the church fathers and the blessed reformers who continue to believe that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. There is no boasting in this for us because we know that it is only by God’s grace that we continue to believe the Gospel and proclaim that Gospel to the world.

But knowing the Gospel of Jesus -and having this heritage of the true faith- also lays a responsibility upon our shoulders to do all within our power to make sure that there will always be a church that clearly and courageously proclaims that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ apart from works of the law just as Scripture teaches. To this holy end, may God keep us steadfast in his Word! Amen.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Entrusted With the Gospel, So We Speak

1 Thessalonians 2:1-13
Several years ago Joel Osteen appeared on Larry King and was asked a straight-forward question about the necessity of believing in Jesus to be saved and he could not bring himself to say that it was only through faith in Jesus that there is hope of eternal life. Several weeks ago Pat Robertson was asked on his program what a man whose wife had dementia ought to do about his sexual attraction to another woman. Robertson said that the man should divorce his wife who wasn’t really there anyways.

I don’t know what you expect out of preachers-- but at the very least shouldn’t they be able to call sin, sin and point people to Jesus Christ as their Savior?!

This is the 19th Sunday after Pentecost—not “Bash TV Preacher Sunday”—but on this day we ARE led by God’s Word to think about what we ought to expect from those who are called to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ-- and to guide our meditation on God’s Word we have the example of Paul, preaching at Thessalonica. He wrote:

You yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.

Since that appearance on Larry King, Joel Osteen has appeared on the show many times. When asked about abortion—he said, “You know Larry, I don’t really go there.” When asked about using the word “sinner” he said: “I don’t use it.” When asked about homosexuality he tried everything to keep from answering the question. And watching him, what you yearn for is boldness to clearly say: Jesus Christ is the way to salvation and sin is sin.

This guy has every God-given gift and ability in the world and yet he cannot bring himself to BOLDLY declare the truth of God’s Word without excuse or equivocation and that is really too bad because boldness is a necessary quality in a preacher. Paul had it.

Despite being beaten and cursed and shouted down—ridiculed by the intellectuals of the day—and ostracized by his own people—Paul preached the Gospel with boldness. He knew personally the consequences of a life apart from God and he knew the joy of having his sins forgiven and not for one minute was he going to “hem and haw” when it came to the truth of God’s Word—because the salvation of souls was at stake.

Boldness in preaching is especially needed in our world today. We live in a culture where you are free to believe whatever you want so long as you never say anyone else is wrong. It takes boldness and courage to take a stand on the Word of God and preach the Gospel unashamedly. But where does that boldness come from? Paul wrote:

Our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed— God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.

A couple of weeks ago at the Values Voters Summit, Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas Texas told the assembled crowd that they ought to vote for Rick Perry rather than Mitt Romney because Perry is a Christian and Romney is a Mormon. From the uproar that ensued, Jeffress was invited to appear on all of the national news shows to defend his statement.

Now I have no doubt that Jeffress is a very fine pastor and a very fine preacher—First Baptist—Dallas is one of the most prominent pulpits in the United States—but in that moment and the interviews that followed—he missed a God-given opportunity to tell a national audience about Jesus --which is the one thing God has called him to do.

This upcoming election is important—I hope all of you do your Christian duty and vote—I hope your values as Christians inform your vote—but this election IS NOT more important than preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ—the very thing that Pastor Jeffress and every other Christian pastor has been called to do, as Paul says: approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel.

Out of all of the billions of people on the face of the earth, Christian preachers are called by God to do one thing: and that is to call sinners to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. That message has been entrusted to preachers and they should remember—that having called them to that singular task upon which the salvation of the world depends—God then looks on as they conduct their ministry.

God is a witness to their preaching and so Paul says that the Christian preacher makes it his aim to please God rather than men. This is where boldness in preaching comes from—the recognition that Almighty God has entrusted preachers with the message of salvation through which people can come to faith and be saved and his sole duty is to please God in carrying out that ministry by preaching the Gospel boldly.

Preachers lose this boldness when their gaze becomes fixed on pleasing their hearers rather than pleasing God.

They do it because they fear their members—they do it because they want their approval—they do it because they don’t want to offend anyone—they do it so they don’t lose their income. But no matter what the reason, to preach for the approval of men rather than the glory of God destroys everything that the ministry stands for—and that is the salvation of souls through faith in Jesus. Paul wrote:

We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers.

In today’s Gospel lesson, the Pharisees came to Jesus with—what they thought—was an academic question about the Law. But Jesus wasn’t content to leave it at that—he wasn’t sent by the Father to engage in philosophical discussions—he was sent to proclaim the truth of salvation-- and so he didn’t let their question remain at academic arms’ length-- but brought it back to himself as the Savior of the world and their personal need for salvation.

To become a pastor in our church is an arduous academic path. It takes years and years of study and the mastery of modern and ancient languages and history and philosophy and theology. There is an intellectual component to the preaching ministry and always has been-- but the preaching task is not a disengaged philosophical exercise but is an impassioned call from one dying man to others to come to the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. It is not a job or a profession—it is a calling—and the stakes are life itself.

Paul used the example of a nursing mother who gives of herself for the life of her child. She shares herself for the sake of her child. That’s the way Paul preached. He shared his life. He didn’t hide that he had been a persecutor of the church. He didn’t hide the love that was in his heart on account of Christ. He didn’t keep those around him at arm’s length, maintaining a detached, emotional distance. He loved them and wanted them to be saved.

The preacher must be a man who understands the depth of his sin and the height of God’s love in a deeply personal way in his own life so that he can share that same love with others. He must understand that time is short and eternity is long and every person must know Jesus Christ if they are to be saved.

That’s what was at stake for the Thessalonians and having been given the gift of life by the living Christ, Paul wanted to share that with others. And so there was no detached indifference to the lives of others, but Paul poured his life into his ministry for their sake.

The preacher’s own life ought to be the template for the greatness of God’s love that embraces even the worst of sinners and every preacher ought to claim that title for himself as Paul did so that others can see that there is room in God’s family for them too no matter how badly they have failed.

But the preacher also needs to point people to a new and better life than what they have lived in the past—just like Paul did—a life worthy of God. He wrote:

Like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

On November 2, 2003 something happened in the Christian church that had never happened before. Gene Robinson, an openly homosexual man with a publicly identified male partner, was consecrated a bishop in the Episcopal Church.

His solemn task as a preacher of the Gospel-- to exhort and encourage his flock to live their lives in a manner worthy of God was abandoned—not just because his life was a repudiation of it—but because his public teaching no longer affirmed it as the moral will of God for mankind.

You should be perfectly clear about this in your own minds—there is a wholesale attack upon biblical morality taking place WITHIN the Christian church. Those who are preachers of the Gospel- and have a responsibility to call their flock to holy living—have, in many places abandoned the biblical standard of morality and followed the example of the world. While our church and preachers have largely been immune to this temptation, the challenge also lies before us.

It does us no good to rail against homosexuality if we ignore couples who live together outside of marriage or make excuses for those getting an unscriptural divorce or if we are using pornography. It is pious lie if we denounce abortion and yet fail to support groups who work to oppose abortion. We are simply fooling ourselves if we express concern about the values of the world while we live lives that are not very different than our unbelieving neighbors.

The Holy Spirit has called us into God’s kingdom by the Gospel and prepared us for eternal glory by the shed blood of his Son and a necessary part of the preaching task is to call Christians to holiness of life—to “go from preachin to meddlin”-- and call sin, sin and exhort and encourage Christians to live lives that are worthy of God.

There is only one way to do that and that is to insist that our preachers proclaim the whole counsel of God—when it suits us and when it doesn’t-so that there can be no doubt on Sunday morning that we have heard the voice of the living God because we have heard his Word preached. Paul wrote:

We thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

On October 19, 1999 Benny Hinn prophesied that in the upcoming year, people around the world, rather than burying their dead, would place their caskets in front of the TV, turn on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, lift their hands to the TV and they would be raised from the dead. So far, not so much. Harold Camping prophesied that on May 21, 2011 the world would end- and when that day came and went -he prophesied that God told him the world would really, really end this last Friday. Whoops!

We have spent our time meditating on what the Holy Spirit has to say about preachers. But now Paul goes to those who are hearers and he says that we have every right to expect—and in fact, we must insist, that what we hear preached on Sunday morning IS NOT the word of men—but the Word of God.

What the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets and apostles and caused to be written in the pages of Holy Scripture is what must be clearly preached on Sunday morning without excuse or equivocation—that sin is called sin and Jesus Christ is identified as the one Savior of the world and hope of mankind—and we must come to church with hearts ready to hear what our Savior has to say to us about the faith and life of a child of God—believing that what we hear preached from the pages of the Bible is God’s Word to us.

In Romans Chapter 10 the Bible says that faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ. Preaching is the means by which the Holy Spirit works to bring people to saving faith in Jesus Christ. It is serious business for the one who preaches and for those who listen and I pray that God would richly bless the preaching of his Word in this place and throughout his church and continue to raise up men who will speak the Gospel entrusted to them. Amen.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

Proper 25, Series A October 23, 2011

Lessons for The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Leviticus 19:1–2, 15–18 ~ God’s relationship to us defines our dealings with our neighbors.
Psalm 1 [Antiphon: Ps. 1:1a]
1 Thessalonians 2:1–13 ~ In order to share the Gospel of God, Paul was gentle yet straightforward.
Matthew 22:34–46 ~ Love for our neighbor flows from our love for God.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: Total Love; Total Commitment
God commanded us, His people, to be holy because we belong to the holy God! To be holy is to be wholly committed to God in heart and soul and mind. Our love for one another will move us to share the news that in Christ Jesus our failure to love and our half hearted commitment have been overcome. Like the Apostle Paul, we will gladly share the Gospel of forgiveness and our lives of hope with those in need. Jesus taught that our love for God determines how we treat one another, as we recognize our place under the grace of Christ our Lord.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord God, only through the love of Christ my Savior am I able to love You with all my heart and soul and mind. Make me just as loving toward all those You love as I have been loved by You. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Love for our neighbors flows from our love for God and shows itself in how we use the material blessings God has given us to meet the needs of our neighbors.

OFFERING PRAYER: We dedicate to You, O Lord,
Our life and our love.
Sanctify us for Your service
In all we say and do. Amen.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We approach God’s law with the idea of measuring ourselves by it and find some commandments greater than others and some sins more damaging, but Jesus cuts through all our manipulating postures. He lived and died by His love for us and His complete obedience to the Father so that we may enjoy the fruit of His perfect love.

A Congregation For Which To Be Thankful

Over the last several years that I have been the circuit counselor for this area of the Texas District, there have been five pastoral vacancies in our circuit. Three of them have been filled, one of them has a call out right now, and one is in the early stages of the process of calling a pastor.

Working with these five congregations has been an education. All of them have very definite ideas about what kind of pastor they want—a pastor for whom they can be thankful to God. But what they are less clear about is whether the pastor who has been called there will find a congregation for which he can be thankful—a congregation that will lead him to add his voice to that of the apostle Paul who said of the Thessalonians:

I give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in my prayers,

That’s what I want to talk about today- a congregation for which we can be thankful--and to guide our meditation on God’s Word as it applies to this congregation- I want to use the three-part report that Paul received that summarized the congregational life of the Thessalonians—how they had turned to God in faith—how they served God in love—and how they steadfastly waited in hope for the Lord’s return.

Paul rejoiced to hear how people from all over the Roman Empire were reporting that the Thessalonians had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.”

This is any pastor’s number one priority—that people he serves would repent of their sins and turn to God in faith.

We know that when Paul first arrived in Thessalonica, he went to the synagogue where he began to preach the Good News about Jesus and a number of Jews, many Gentiles, and quite a few of the prominent women of that city turned to faith in Christ. Paul said that the:

“Gospel came to them not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

The Church at Thessalonica heard the Good News about Jesus and not only were they convinced of its truth in an intellectual kind of way, but they were convicted in their heart that this Good News of forgiveness and life in the death and resurrection of Jesus was for them-- and their lives were radically changed as they turned from sin to God.

That is the outcome that every preacher hopes would come from his labor in the Word of God.

Every sermon that I preach, every confirmation class that I conduct, every bedside that I stand beside, and every bible class that I teach has but one purpose—and that is that you folks would turn to God again and again by repenting of your sins and putting your faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

And thanks be to God--you have! I am blessed by your faith! In the conversations that we have, in the questions that you ask, in your faithfulness in worship and generosity in stewardship, it is evident how sincerely you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ and I always hope and pray that you would see the same thing in me.

Paul said to the Thessalonians, “You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” Dear friends in Christ, it is my sincere hope that you always see in me and hear from me that I am a sinner who believes in Jesus Christ and that I daily beg the help of the Holy Spirit to live a life worthy of him. That said…

As your pastor, I preach and teach-- not on the basis of my own righteousness (of which I have none) but because God has called me to share with you the grace and forgiveness that he has so abundantly (and necessarily!) given to me through the righteousness of Jesus Christ. May God always grant that the pastor and people in this place go through life as forgiven sinners, trusting in no one and nothing but Jesus-- come what may!

How necessary our faith is because we do not know from one day to the next what life will bring! When the Thessalonians repented of their sin and put their faith in Jesus, their day-to-day lives did not somehow miraculously become free of hardships—in fact, Paul said that they received the Word in much affliction. There were real hardships that came with following Jesus--but because their lives had been changed eternally and they were now united to the Father and the Son—their lives were marked by the joy of the Holy Spirit -- and that joy was obvious in how they served God. Paul wrote:

I remember before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is absolutely the worst mischaracterization of the Christian faith that somehow our life with God consists only of knowing a certain set of data and being able to correctly explain justification and if we’ve got that down we’re saved no matter how we live.

Nothing could be farther from the truth! A true and living faith in Jesus Christ will always show itself in how we live our life-- and Paul not only gave thanks that the Thessalonians had turned to God in faith--but also that they served him in love.

It’s remarkable to me, and always worth being reminded of, that the Christian life laid down in the words of Jesus and the apostles is really nothing heroic. There is no great pilgrimage to go on—no rigorous self-discipline to endure regarding food and drink—no hard asceticism to undergo, beating ourselves into submission.

Instead, we are called to fulfill the commandments by loving God and one another.
This life of genuine love flows from a sincere faith in Jesus and when it is actually lived out by Christians—a life of love is always a powerful witness to Jesus Christ—in fact, oftentimes the most powerful witness of all!

When the Romans wrote about the early Christians, the thing that amazed them was the love that they had for one another. Husbands treated their wives with kindness. Mothers did not abort or abandon their children. They shared their material goods with one another and the pagan world looked on in amazement at the early Christians because their lives were so completely different than the culture around them—and our lives are to be the same, imitating Christ and the holy apostles.

In the terms of the number of people who have ever lived, very few ever got to see or hear Jesus—very few ever got to meet one of the apostles. But in the lives of Christians over the last two thousand years, billions of people have come to know Jesus and the apostles through Christian lives of love. Paul said that the Thessalonians:

Became imitators of us and of the Lord, for they received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that they became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

Imitators of Christ and examples to others--that is what we are called to be as those redeemed by the sacrificial love of Christ and I am so blessed to see that love evidenced in this place in your lives!

When I look out at this congregation I see marriages that reveal the love that exists between Christ and his church and families that love each other—I see countless acts of generosity that are largely unknown because of the humility of those who give—I see acts of mercy and kindness to those in need. I see Jesus in you. And I see a sincere desire to share the love of Christ with others—just like the Thessalonians had. Paul wrote that the:

“Word of the Lord had sounded forth from them and that their faith had gone forth everywhere.”

Their lives had been changed forever by Jesus Christ and they wanted to make sure that others also came to faith and so they witnessed to those around them and they supported the apostolic mission to take the Gospel to the world.

I am blessed to say that the same can be said of this congregation. We are rapidly approaching the time of year when we work together to produce a budget so that we can prudently plan to financially support God’s work. A significant part of that work is done in this place through preaching and teaching and administering the sacraments. But we all know how great the need is throughout the world for people to know Jesus.

And so we also give to support the work of missions. For years, we have given well over twenty percent of our total offering to the work of missions so that people throughout the world can come to know Jesus like we do—as their Lord and Savior. And I hope that we will step out in faith even in these uncertain financial times and do the same in the year to come.

But we also need to recommit ourselves as individual Christians and as a congregation to the great task of personally sharing Jesus with others because the day of grace and salvation before our Lord’s return will not last forever. Paul wrote that we:

“Wait for God’s Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

If you continue reading Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians you will discover that this is where they had faith struggles. Paul had taught them that not only had Jesus lived and died and been raised for them—but that he was coming again in glory for judgment. And they believed him. But they were confused about what to do while they waited and a number of them simply put their life on hold expecting the Lord at any moment.

Now the Lord may indeed return in any moment but waiting for the Lord is really about our attitude toward life at this moment. And so what should our attitude and outlook be as we wait for the Lord’s return?

Because we know that this world not only had a beginning-- but will have an ending-- we value those things that matter in the light of eternity and in the sight of the Lord’s final judgment. We have an eternal perspective about life right now- and what really matters- and that perspective guides how we live.

Over the life of any congregation there are going to be differences of opinion about building projects and budget issues and worship style. But these differences won’t divide us because we have an eternal view about what’s really important—and that is those things that will matter when the Lord comes again: our faith in him and the lives of love that has flowed from that faith.

That is what endures the grave- and that is what endures the day of judgment- and that is what matters.

Dear friends in Christ, I want you to know how thankful I am that I can add my voice to that of the Apostle Paul when he says: I give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in my prayers—thankful that you have turned to God in faith and that you serve others in love and that you wait in hope for our Lord’s return. And I pray that God would continue to richly bless our lives together as pastor and people in this place. Amen.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

Proper 24, Series A October 19, 2011
(Tweaked for a mission theme!)

Lessons for The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 45:1–7 ~ God commissioned Cyrus to subdue nations and carry out His will.
Psalm 96:1–9 (10–13) [Antiphon: Ps. 96:9a]
1 Thessalonians 1:1–10 ~ God chose the Thessalonians to receive the Gospel and model the Christian faith.
Matthew 22:15–22 ~ Jesus taught that even Caesar’s taxes should be used in service to God by His people.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: Citizens of God's Kingdom in the Cities of the World
Through Isaiah, God promised to give wealth and power to the Persian king, Cyrus, so that he would know the Lord, the God of Israel, is the only God. St. Paul reminded the Thessalonian believers that they had been chosen by God, for their lives were motivated by their faith, love, and hope in Jesus Christ. In the Gospel lesson for the day, some Pharisees intended to trap Jesus between the law of Rome and the loyalty of the people by making him decide for or against Caesar’s tax. Jesus made them show the people that even Pharisees carried an image of Caesar around with them! Because we were made in God’s image, we belong to the Lord.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord, everything I have is yours. Help me use it to spread your kingdom and proclaim your glory and to promote the welfare of my neighbors. Amen.

A PRAYER FOR MISSIONS: Almighty Lord, You form the light and create darkness; You bring prosperity and create disaster; apart from You there is no God. Help us see that because we belong to You our work is produced by faith and our labor prompted by love, so that all people everywhere may know Your salvation; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: God has commissioned Christians to use the riches of this world to share the riches of the world to come.

OFFERING PRAYER: Lord, bless these gifts from willing hands
To bring good news to many lands.
Give messengers to spread your grace
To hardened souls in every place. Amen.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: Like the Pharisees, we find it all too convenient to adopt the idolatries of this world when it suits our purposes; even so, Jesus reminds us that God created humanity to be his own, made in His image. In Christ, God has restored us to Himself, so that we are to dedicate our lives to Him. Would that we could as readily adapt the conveniences of this world to the urgent task of extending the kingdom of God’s grace!

Monday, October 10, 2011

This Week at Mt. Olive

Good evening, fellow redeemed!

7And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.

These words from Isaiah 25 present us with the very real promise of deliverance. What is it that has been the pall cast over all peoples except death? Isaiah announces deliverance from death and its two cohorts, all sin and the devil. On this mountain, on the mountain of Calvary, at the cross, death is swallowed up by death, the death of Jesus. In Christ's death, He delivers sinful people.

It's been said the Bible is the account of the greatest rescue operation in human history. Indeed, it is true, for the Bible's central figure, Christ Jesus, lives up to His name (the Lord saves) as He dies to swallow up death, the sinless shedding His blood at the cross to redeem the sinful. To all who believe in Him, who trust in Him for deliverance, who are joined to Christ by faith, death is no longer the last word, for it has been swallowed up on the mountain of Calvary.

Son of Mary, Son of the Living God, Lord Jesus, do not deal with us as our sins deserve, but according to Your great mercy. AMEN

This Week at Mt. Olive
Two important needs at Mt. Olive continue.
1. Counters - those who count the offerings each Sunday. If you're available once a month or for a full month, please prayerfully consider this important task. A sign up sheet is available on the Narthex Table.

2. One of the saints at Mt. Olive is in need of some daily sustenance of the Ensure kind. I'll be happy to deliver this. I only ask that we get several packages in the coming days. This will provide needed calories to our fellow saint and, in addition, a restoration of health.

This week, the Church Council meets on Monday evening at 7 p.m. and will begin its budget deliberations. Please remember these brothers and sisters in Christ as they deal with the earthly matters of Mt. Olive.

Also this week, the Lutheran Women's Missionary League (LWML) meets Tuesday evening at 6:30 p.m. All ladies of the congregation are invited.

There will be no Book Club this week due to a schedule conflict on my part. Hopefully we'll resume next week.

There is Bible Study on Wednesday morning. This week, we'll finish up Revelation 7 and maybe get into the second vision in Revelation 8.

Finally, all are invited to the Hymn Festival at Trinity next Sunday, OCT 16, at 6 p.m. Having practiced some of the music this past weekend, this will be a great opportunity for praise. Plus, amazingly, for the brass ensemble on one of the hymns, there is actually tuba part that Jonathan will be playing!

Over this next week, I will be in and out of the office quite a bit. If you need to reach me, please leave a message with Mary and I'll call you back.

Prayer Concerns:
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Ft. Campbell, KY), John Sorensen (Corpus Christi)
Zora Simonds (recovering from surgery)
Ann Cleveland, Ruby Rieder, Walter and Pearly Theiss (Houston)
The leaders of our nation
Those who have fallen away from the faith

This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, October 10
6:30 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics

7 p.m.
Church Council

Tuesday, October 11
6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, October 12
8:30 a.m.
School Chapel

9:30 a.m.
Bible Class (Revelation)

6:30 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics

7 p.m.
Choir Rehearsal (at Trinity)

God bless!

The Secret to Contentment

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
These are some of the most remarkable words in the Bible! Here is a persecuted Christian, sitting in a dark prison cell, not knowing from one minute to the next whether he would be facing torture or even death--and he is the one writing to other Christians—telling them to rejoice no matter what their circumstance. Absolutely remarkable!

We know about ourselves how difficult this is to do—to rejoice always. Certainly we rejoice when things seem right in our world--when there is good news: the birth of child or a promotion at work or a financial windfall.

But to rejoice always: in a hospital bed—at the graveside of a loved one—when we’ve lost our job—these are the times when things don’t seem right in our world and we struggle to rejoice. And yet we have the Spirit inspired words—and example-- of the Apostle Paul—that shows the way to be content in every circumstance of life and rejoice always. Paul wrote: Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.

English translators are all over the map when they attempt to translate the Greek word that our text translates as “reasonableness”. Some say gentleness. Others say moderation. Another says “forebearing spirit” which is better—but still not quite right.

Forrest Gump, that great southern grammarian, is actually the best when he tells those who ask about his condition that he is “just fine and dandy, thank you very much.” That’s the spirit of what Paul means here. No matter what your situation—no matter how difficult or painful—rejoice in the Lord and tell everyone who asks how you are doing that things are just “fine and dandy”, thank you very much!

Now we know what the word means---but what we still don’t know is how is this possible that we can rejoice and give thanks and be content and think things are “fine and dandy” even in hardships! Paul explained how: The Lord is at hand. In your joys and in your sorrows—in your successes and in your failures—the Lord is near.

What Good News this is that Jesus is our Immanuel—God with us! He’s not removed from our lives. He’s not “up there” in the sky somewhere. He’s not disinterested in what we are going through or detached from our lives. He’s with us.

And because he is right beside us in every moment and circumstance of life—we can go to him in prayer—laying our requests before him—knowing that he listens and cares and can help us no matter how great our need. Paul wrote:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Prayer is God’s cure for anxiety. The Greek word that is translated in our text as “anxiety” means to have a divided mind. When we’re anxious we say that our mind is going a mile a minute or I’ve got a thousand different things on my mind. That’s the opposite of contentment!

But Paul says: rejoice in the Lord—know that he is near—recognize that things with you really are fine and dandy—and rather than letting your mind run in a thousand different directions—talk to the Lord in prayer and let him know your need.

Now, there is a little secret to prayer that Paul lets us in on that we often times forget: that our prayers and petitions and requests are to be made with thanksgiving. In other words, not only are we invited to go to God in prayer, asking for what we need—but we are to remember and give thanks for what we already have.

Thanksgiving is just exactly the attitude adjustment we need when we are discontent with our circumstances and discouraged about life. Being thankful forces us to really look at our lives in a new way—not just from the perspective of what we lack-- but from the perspective of everything that God has already given us.

When we do that—when we recognize that the Lord is with us—when we realize that in the big scheme of things, everything really is fine and dandy—when we take our needs to the Lord, Paul promises that:

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

This is really the key to understanding everything that Paul is talking about today. Rejoicing while imprisoned—thinking that things are fine and dandy no matter what—giving thanks in every circumstance of life—this kind of faith and life is ONLY possible when the FOCUS of our joy and contentment IS NOT on our current circumstances-- but on our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ has forgiven your sins and reconciled you to God. He has promised to be with you in every moment of life and to take you to heaven when this life is over. There is nothing in this world that can rob you of your salvation. This Good News is true NO MATTER what else is happening in your life because it flows from the reconciling work of Jesus Christ. This Good News transforms our mental outlook on life. Paul wrote:

Brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Before I became a pastor I had a job where I was out in pick-up most of the day, checking on projects and workers and customers. I always had the radio turned to country music. Eight—ten—twelve hours a day of “Your cheating heart” and “I’m so lonesome I could cry” and “He stopped loving her today.” And for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why I was depressed and then it dawned on me: most of my waking hours I fed my mind with had a steady diet of adultery and drinking and loneliness. And when I turned that music off—it was like a dark cloud was lifted off of me.

A steady mental diet of crime shows and the medical dramas and detective novels and violent video games are not good for us. They negatively shape how we view the world. But when we go outside into the beauty of God’s creation and when we enjoy our families and relax with friends--when we read good books and watch wholesome programs on television we have good things to think about.

The things we feed our mind with have a dramatic effect upon our view of life. You can imagine how it was for the Apostle Paul—sitting in a prison cell—everything had been stripped away and he was literally left with his thoughts. And what is his counsel? Fill your minds with good memories! Think about God’s gifts! Call to mind the beautiful and true and lasting. And he wants us to follow his example. He wrote:

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things…

Lutherans do not pray to the saints—but they do have a role to play in our lives of faith! We are called upon to follow their example and learn from their lives of faith.

Several weeks ago we heard how the imprisonment of Paul actually served to advance the Gospel—not only because he had a chance to witness to people who he never would have met otherwise—but the Gospel was advanced because his fellow Christians (when they saw how God cared for him and provided for him even in prison) were strengthened in their own life of faith by his example.

Now Paul may seem a little far removed from our lives but the examples of the saints can still have a profound impact on our life of faith, teaching us how we are to live.

I’ve heard the ladies talk about Jeanette Rice and how she overcame so many hardships in life and never lost her firm faith and gentle spirit. Most of us know Dolores Barnett and the hardships she went through and yet I don’t think I’ve ever met a more joyful person.

Mature Christians have a perspective we need because they have seen with their own eyes how God is able to provide for and protect his people and as we put into practice their example—we will experience and know the same: that the God of peace will be with us.

When it comes to living a joyful, contented Christian life we Christians matter to one another—in the example of our lives-- and the help we give and receive from one another. Paul wrote:

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.

A number of years ago I read—and have shared with the adult bible class--an essay by the Lutheran ethicist, Gilbert Meilander, entitled: “I Want to be a Burden to My Loved Ones.” Now I know that this seems counter-intuitive--but Meilander makes the point that to be a burden to others means that there are others who care about us—that we are loved—and in fact, the Bible says that we are to bear one another’s so as to fulfill the law of Christ.

Paul’s fellow Christians lovingly came to his aid and they were better Christians for it because they got to show the love of Christ in a real way. Paul received their aid and was a better Christian for it because he learned humility and thankfulness. We can learn the same. To know that we are part of a community where we are cared for- and where we can care for others- lifts us out of the pathetic little pity parties we throw for ourselves and focuses our care and concern on others.

The happiest, most contented people in the world are those who know the joy of being cared for—and caring for others—following the example of Jesus Christ who laid down his life as a sacrifice for us and strengthens us to do the same for others. Paul wrote:

I am not speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Four hundred years ago a hymn writer asked a question: “What is the world to me with all its vaunted pleasures?” And sad to say that much too often our answer is: a great deal. But then he goes on to the right answer—the only answer that leads to contentment in every circumstance: “What is the world to me with all its vaunted pleasures? When You and You alone, Lord Jesus are my treasure! You only dearest, Lord, My soul’s delight shall be; You are my peace, my rest. What is the world to me!”

Paul experienced the lows and highs of life—times of plenty and times of want—but what did not change was the strength of Christ’s love for him.

So it is for us. The secret to contentment and joy and peace- is a life with Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. He is with us every moment of life—in good times and bad. He listens to and answers our prayers. He calms our troubled hearts. He forgives our sins and reconciles us to God- and he has prepared a place for us in heaven.

Knowing Jesus we understand how to rejoice always—count our lives fine and dandy—and be content no matter what life holds. Amen.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

This Week at Mt. Olive

Good evening, fellow redeemed!

"Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:13-14

These words from St. Paul were part of this morning's Epistle. We're in a time of year when we're reminded that time is getting short. After the first day of Fall, the sun begins to set earlier in the evening and doesn't rise quite as early in the morning. More activities are carried on indoors as the shadows creep and light for fun stuff outside becomes in shorter supply.

But, we're also in the time of the Church Year in which the readings start to sound the note of judgment and call for repentance and faith. The Gospel for the Day is a great example with the parable of the wicked tenants. Jesus message is one of judgment that calls for repentance and faith.

In a way, St. Paul's words also announce judgment. In fact, as a man of great faith, Paul looked forward to the great and glorious Day of the Lord. "I do not consider that I have made it my own." In fact, this is all by God's grace in Jesus Christ. The assurance given to Paul of the day of resurrection is so great that, at times, he wrote of it as if it had already happened. "Forgetting what lies behind and straining to what lies ahead..." Paul's history as a Jew of Jews proved to be nothing more than a history of wickedness. That was behind him by God's grace in Christ. Instead, Paul looked earnestly for the day when his Lord Jesus would return in glory. "...The goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." In Christ, all the accolades for Paul proved to be nothing more than rubbish. In fact, Paul's whole focus through faith in Christ was now on the goal for which all those who belong to Christ long to see: the great Day of the Lord, the Day of Christ's Return, the Day of Resurrection.

In our Revelation class, we're learning that, for those who are outside of Christ, the day is one of unspeakable terror. Yet, for those who are in Christ by faith, the Last Day is one which we long to see.

Eternal Father, the times and seasons are in Your hands. Preserve us in the faith and keep us always in Christ. For it is in His name that we pray. AMEN

This week at Mt. Olive, important choir rehearsals will begin. I'll be sending out more information on this tomorrow (I hope). The rehearsals will begin on THURSDAY evening. The time and place are what's currently up in the air. This is in preparation for the October 16 Hymn Festival at Trinity Lutheran Church at 6 p.m.

Wednesday morning, the Bible Class continues with Revelation 7.

Finally, I'll be coming out with an Acolyte Schedule this week. Next Sunday, following Late Service, there will be a short (10 minute) Acolyte Training Session. The biggest single item of this training is identifying a robe that fits.

I'll be in the office but unavailable Tuesday morning as Mt. Olive will be hosting the monthly Winkel (pastors' conference).

By the way, I'm attaching a copy of this month's newsletter.

Prayer Concerns:
Zora Simonds
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Ft. Campbell, KY), Richard Rhode, John Sorensen (Corpus Christi)
Ruby Rieder, Ann Cleveland, Walter and Pearly Theiss (Houston)
The teachers and students of Mt. Olive Lutheran School
The Sunday School teachers and staff of Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Our brothers and sisters Our Savior and Lord of Life as they continue the search for a pastor

This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, October 3
6:30 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics

Tuesday, October 4
9 a.m. - 12 p.m.
Circuit 27 Pastors' Conference (Overflow)

Wednesday, October 5
8:30 a.m.
School Chapel

9:30 a.m.
Bible Study (Revelation 7)

Thursday, October 6
Choir Rehearsal - Time and Place TBA

Sunday, October 9
Acolyte Training after Late Service

God bless!
Report as Junk

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

Proper 23, Series A October 9, 2011
Lessons for The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 25:6–9 ~ On the mountain of God, a feast of rich food will replace the sorrow of death with great joy.
Psalm 23 [Antiphon: Ps. 23:5a]
Philippians 4:4–13 ~ Whether well-fed or hungry, Paul was content to know the joy of God’s peace.
Matthew 22:1–14 ~ When his guests did not share the king’s joy over his son’s wedding, he invited others

The Psalmist wrote: "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies." Isaiah could point to the last great day and a banquet of eschatological proportions. This divine food will be the defeat of sin and death and the triumph of God for his people. Jesus' parable told of the same celebration in a different setting: a wedding banquet that is spurned by the invited guests. St. Paul contrasted great plenty with severe need but added that the good gift of God in Christ Jesus is abundance enough for all circumstances.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Gracious God, every good gift comes from your generous hand. You have supplied all my need in Christ my Savior, and still in many ways I want more. Help me learn to be content with your gifts and to be generous in sharing not only material things, but especially the spiritual blessings of your love and forgiveness in Christ. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: God supplies us with more than we could ever need or deserve, so much that in our joy over His plenty we are eager to share with neighbors and friends, and yes, even our enemies.

OFFERING PRAYER: With humble joy we celebrate Your blessings in the past;
With confidence we look to You for mercies that will last.
We sing our thanks for all Your gifts to meet our daily need,
And joyfully we share Your grace in loving word and deed. Amen.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: The eschatological banquet God has prepared for us in Christ is a final victory over our enemies of sin and death. Like a careless wedding guest, we spurn the riches of that feast for the comforts of this life. Thanks be to God, he has the feast and the guest with Christ’s robe of righteousness. In Christ, we are content to know the joy of God’s peace.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Press On Toward The Goal

Philippians 4::4b-14
The Bible says in Ecclesiastes that “God has put eternity in men’s hearts”. In other words, every person on earth knows, in the deepest recesses of their being, that this life is not all there is and we yearn for another life that death will not destroy. This desire for eternal life is part of the natural knowledge of God that he has written on our hearts.

But because we are by nature fallen creatures—this knowledge that comes from God-- does not lead us back to God—it leads us away from God to ourselves-- and the mistaken idea that we can make a life with God and get to heaven on our own.

All the world religions, except Christianity, share that idea in common: that life with God (a life that death cannot end)—depends upon us and our efforts. This was certainly true of the Jewish religion of Paul’s day. He wrote:

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Paul grew up believing that life with God- and the hope of eternal life- was based upon who you were- and who your parents were- and what you did- and how you lived -and the rules you kept. Paul believed it so much that he persecuted those who claimed that eternal life was a gift given by God through faith in Jesus.

What about us? Have we substituted a confidence in our own flesh for a living faith in Jesus? What if Paul’s words- were our words- and they read like this:
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: of the people of Germany, of the tribe of Luther, a Missourian of the Missourians, as to the Lutheran Confessions, strict; as to zeal, a persecutor of Baptists and Catholics alike, as to my confirmation vows, blameless.

I’m afraid that oftentimes we think life that! We’ve taken a short-cut that has left out Christ. Please understand, there’s not a thing in the world wrong with being German or Lutheran or Missouri Synod or confessional-- any more than there is a problem with being Jewish or zealous or pious—UNLESS it becomes a substitute for a personal, true, and living faith in Jesus. In fact, there can be a great deal of good in all of it IF it leads us to trust in Jesus ALONE for our life with God and hope of heaven.

But who we are- and what we have done- CANNOT be compared to actually knowing Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. That is what Paul discovered on the Road to Damascus and that encounter with Jesus changed how he viewed his entire life and what he counted on to get him to heaven. He went from trusting in himself—to trusting in Jesus. Paul wrote:

Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…

It’s important that we understand what Paul is—and is not—saying- because it has an application for our lives too. He is not saying that his parents weren’t good people or that the Jews were not particularly blessed or that keeping the law didn’t matter. What he WAS saying is that when it comes to the foundation for our life with God and our hope of heaven—those things are rubbish, garbage, compared to trusting in Christ and building our life with God and hope of heaven on that firm foundation.

We must recognize and say the same. We will not go to heaven because our family was Christian or because we grew up in this congregation or because we were nice folks who did our best. When it comes to making a way for us to God and going to heaven when we die—these things will not suffice—eternity cannot be built on them.

There is only one way for us to have a life with God that death will not end—only one way to go to heaven--and that is through personal faith in Jesus.

Faith is the open hand that reaches out and lays hold of Christ’s righteousness and makes it our own—but the only way FOR THAT to happen is for our hand of faith to be empty of everything else: our heritage—our good works—our zeal and faithfulness. All of it must be turned loose and dropped to the side—in Paul’s words “counted as loss”--so that Christ and his righteousness may become ours by faith.

Now longer did Paul’s confidence before God and hope of heaven rest on who he was and what he had done—now it rested on who Christ was and what he had done-- and Paul wanted to grow in his knowledge of Christ and become more deeply identified with Christ and share in Christ’s life more and more. That ought to be our goal too—for that is the narrow way that leads to eternal life in heaven—that we …

— know (Christ) and the power of his resurrection, and share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible (we) may attain the resurrection from the dead.

When Paul met the risen Christ on the Road to Damascus, Paul was blinded by what he saw. This was the Lord’s powerful way of demonstrating to Paul that what he thought were his spiritual insights-- were really spiritual blindness.

Where before Paul had fixed his eyes of faith upon himself—who he was and what he had done—now he would fix his eyes of faith upon Jesus---- and as he was filled with the Holy Spirit, the Bible says that something like scales fell from his eyes as a powerful sign from the Lord that only now—believing in Jesus—did Paul see things clearly when it came to his life with God and hope of heaven.

So it is for every person who comes to faith in Christ. We see the painful truth about our own self-righteousness—that it cannot make a way for us to God and eternal life. But we also see the healing truth about Jesus-that his death and resurrection really have made a way for us to God and earned our place in heaven.

It is that vision that fills our eyes of faith for the rest of our lives. The Christian wants to know more and more about Christ. We delight to hear his story. We want to grow deeper in our faith and trust. We want to grow closer to him by receiving his body and blood in the Sacrament often.

From the moment we were baptized and came to faith in Jesus, his death and resurrection has become the central, defining reality of our lives. Not our heritage or our obedience—not our zeal and faithfulness—but Christ alone becomes our life here on earth and our hope of heaven.

So dramatic was the change in Paul’s life through faith in Jesus that he went from being a persecutor of Christ to a martyr for Christ. He said that he wanted to share in his sufferings and become like him in his death so that he could have a part in his resurrection. His goal was to attain the resurrection of the dead BY ANY MEANS POSSIBLE—even if that meant hardship and suffering and death.

The way to heaven went through the cross for Jesus and it would for Paul and so it does for every believer.

When we cease striving to make our own way to God and earn eternal life for ourselves--and find our confidence and hope in Christ alone--we will identify with Jesus’ life and follow him in taking up our cross and accepting the hardships and difficulties and sacrifices that come with being a Christian.

We will be glad to accept the Lord’s will—whatever that is—trusting that he is leading us through death to life because he did the same for his Son Jesus. This is the confidence that Paul had as he pressed on towards the goal of heaven. He wrote:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Paul wrote this letter about 30 years after he became a Christian. He traveled all over the known world preaching the Gospel. He faced imprisonment and shipwreck and beatings because of his faith. He served Christ faithfully.

But he knew about himself that he still wasn’t everything that Christ had called him to be—that God was still working in his life to form him in the image of Christ and fit him for the glories of heaven.

So it is for us. From the moment we came to faith, God has been working in our lives to fit us for heaven and we are called by God to live our lives in such a way that more and more we become the sons and daughters that God has already declared us to be. We strive towards that goal of Christ-likeness.

But we are able to do this ONLY because Christ Jesus has already made us his own. He has laid claim to us, shedding his life’s blood as the ransom price he paid to set us free from Satan and make us part of God’s family. His resurrection has made a place for us in heaven where we will dwell with God and the saints forever.

That is who we are- and where we are going- because Jesus says that is who we are and where we are going--even if we still have a long way to go in actually becoming the kind of people that God wants us to be—even if we still have a ways to go before we reach heaven. Paul wrote:

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Jesus completely changed Paul’s life. Everything that Paul regarded as central to his identity-who he was and what he had done—Paul counted as less than nothing compared to knowing the greatness of God’s love for him in Christ.

The sins that Paul had committed—even persecuting Christ—no longer had any power over him to make his feel guilty and ashamed because Christ had taken them away, nailing them to the cross.

So it is for us. All of us can look back at the past: the mistakes we have made—the missed opportunities to do the right thing—the self-righteousness that stood in judgment of others—with regrets.

But the amazing and wonderful thing about our life with Christ is that the past can really be the past—we don’t have to carry it around with us any longer—because Christ has carried in to the cross and buried it away in his tomb—leaving it behind when he rose again.

From this moment on our gaze—our focus—our life is directed towards a new and glorious future where day by day we are being shaped and molded into the people of God who will one day live with him forever in heaven.

And so we press on in our life of faith towards that goal of heaven and the prize of eternal life just like a runner stretching forward towards the finish life—knowing that there is a victor’s crown waiting for us when the race of faith is over. Amen.