1539) Two Kinds of Fear

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     There is a fear that cringes and drives us away from God, and there is a fear that is sweet and draws us to God.  Moses warned against the one and called for the other in the very same verse Exodus 20:20:  “Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.’”

     The clearest illustration I have ever seen of this kind of fear was the time one of my sons looked a German shepherd in the eye.  We were visiting a family from our church.  My son Karsten was about seven years old.  They had a huge dog that stood eye to eye with a seven-year-old.

     He was friendly and Karsten had no problem making friends.  But when we sent Karsten back to the car to get something we had forgotten, he started to run, and the dog galloped up behind him with a low growl.  Of course, this frightened Karsten.  But the owner said, “Karsten, why don’t you just walk?  The dog doesn’t like it when people run away from him.”

     If Karsten hugged the dog, he was friendly and would even lick his face.  But if he ran from the dog, the dog would growl and fill Karsten with fear.

     Now that is a picture of what it means to fear the Lord.  God means for his power and holiness to kindle fear in us, not to drive us from him, but to drive us to him.


Exodus 20:20  —  Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid.  God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

Matthew 4:27b  —  (Jesus said), “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.”

Mark 16:6  —  But the man said, “Don’t be afraid.  You are looking for Jesus from Nazareth, the one who was killed on a cross.  He has risen from death.  He is not here.  Look, here is the place they laid him.”


May we fear, love, and trust in you above all things, O Lord.

–Prayer based on Martin Luther’s Small Catechism meaning of the First Commandment.

1538) Sermon Notes (c)

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Norman Rockwell, from his 1943 Four Freedoms series.


Part three of Sunday’s sermon.


     (…continued)       #5) In the meantime, those who believe in Jesus should not just sit around discussing the fate of those who do not believe in Jesus.  Rather, we must simply do what he says in the time he has given us.  And Jesus says, in Matthew 28, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  

     #6) Many people these days do not like all this emphasis on Jesus.  But when we are talking about the afterlife, Jesus is the one I want to listen to, because he is the only one I know of who has been there and back.

     About 150 years ago, there was a man who made a careful study of all the religions of the world.  Not finding any that suited him, he decided to develop his own religion.  He took what he thought was best from all the religions, added some wise tid-bits of his own, put it all in a book, and tried to start a movement.  But he had a hard time getting it off the ground.  So he went to a marketing consultant (or whatever they called those people back then), and asked his advice on how he could get a hearing, and promote this new and improved religion.  The marketing man gave him this advice.  He told him to first of all get himself killed, preferably in public and in some horrible way, with his body all mangled and bloody so everyone could see he was dead beyond all doubt.  Then he would need to get himself buried, and, stay dead in the grave for a while.  Then said the consultant, “Then come back to life and start preaching.  You’ll get a hearing then; people will listen to you, your book will sell, and you will change the world.  That’s what worked for Jesus, and I’m sure it will work for you, too.”

     #7) One last point.  In our great United States of America we have freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and I like that.  I like that for me and I like that for my Muslim neighbors.  And we should be able to talk about religions and about our differences, without somebody calling us names like Islamaphobic, or Christ-hater, or anti-Semitic; and without someone being offended or having their feelings hurt whenever someone says something they disagree with.  We are going to disagree.  We are different.  We do believe different things.  You can say that all religions are ‘equally true, but only if you believe all religions are false.

     Russell Vought says all Muslims are condemned.  Many Muslims would say Russell Vought is condemned.  I have had discussions with Catholics, Baptists, and even other Lutherans who think I am condemned.  Great!  Let’s all keep talking, and maybe minds can be changed and someone who isn’t right with God can get right with God.

     I’ve listened to Muslims, I’ve heard Muslims debate Christians, and I’ve read about Muhammed and how he came to his conclusions—and I’m not convinced that Muhammed was a prophet of God.  But I don’t resent their efforts to convert me, and I’ll even keep listening.

   Unfortunately, this kind of discussion is becoming almost out of order in our society today.  You can’t even point out the obvious facts about our differences without somebody like Bernie Sanders having a fit, and we are all the worse off for it. 

     But we Christians should know something about this.  After all, we read the Bible every Sunday here in church, and much of that book was written in the midst of persecution, misunderstanding, intimidation, and name-calling—as in this morning’s Scripture readings.  But stand firm, keep looking to Jesus as ‘the way the truth and the life;’ and the truth shall set you free; and, make you odd.


Matthew 28:18-20  —  Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I Peter 3:14-16  —  Even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.  Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.  But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.


O God of all the nations of the earth:  Remember the multitudes who have been created in your image but have not known the redeeming work of our Savior Jesus Christ; and grant that, by the prayers and labors of your holy Church, they may be brought to know and worship you as you have been revealed in your Son; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

1537) Sermon Notes (b)

Part two of yesterday’s sermon.


     (…continued)  So what might this scorn and reproach look like today?  We live in a free country and we pride ourselves on that.  So what would you have to say to get yourself in trouble today?  Well, how about something like this?–

            You, my friends, are all sinners, lost and condemned before God, and without hope.  But God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to give you hope, to show you the way back to God, and to die on a cross for you so that your sins may be forgiven.  Jesus rose from the dead, and offers that same resurrection from the dead to you.  Jesus is the way and the truth and the life.  Believe in Jesus, and you will be saved.  So, as Jesus says in this morning’s Gospel, ‘Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.  But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven’ (Matthew 10:32-33).

       Any of that sound familiar?  Of course it does.  That is the basic, Christian Gospel message that has been proclaimed for 2,000 years, and every word is either from the Bible or solidly based on the Bible’s message.  Deny any part of that, and the whole thing crumbles and there is nothing left. 

      I am pretty safe in saying something like that here in church on a Sunday morning.  But in today’s culture, those are all fighting words and many people will respond with–

Sin, what do you mean sin?  Who are you to judge?  And God?  What makes you so sure there is a God anyways?  And what makes you think Jesus is so important?  There are many religions in the world, and who’s to say yours is the best and Jesus is so special?  And God sending his son to die on the cross—isn’t that like child abuse?  And isn’t heaven just pie in the sky when you die?

    And on and on.  There have always been differences of opinion on these things, but never has our culture been so openly hostile.

    Earlier this month, the United States Senate was holding a confirmation hearing for Russell Vought, the nominee for Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget.  In his questioning of the nominee, Senator Bernie Sanders referred to an article Vought wrote in which Russell Vought said this:  “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology; they do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”  That statement sounded very odd in that setting.  After a heated exchange, Bernie Sanders said, “This statement is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world.  This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms… we must not go backwards.”

       That little exchange says much about our culture and it raises significant questions about our faith; so it is worth taking some time to think about these things more deeply.

     #1) I agree with Bernie Sanders–  that statement by Russell Vought does ‘sound’ hateful—and narrow, and exclusive.  But people of every faith have very definite convictions about the truth of their own beliefs, which would indeed contradict and falsify the beliefs of other religions.  And, there is within every religion a wide variety of opinions about who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ with God.  That is in not only in Christianity, but also in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.

     #2) There was nothing in Russell Vought’s testimony that gave any indication that he would discriminate against anyone in his work in the Office of Management and Budget.  The statement Sanders quoted had to do with Vought’s belief about what happens in the afterlife.  The position Vought was nominated to fill has jurisdiction only in this world, and has no jurisdiction in the world to come.  So unless there is evidence of an intent to discriminate against Muslims in Vought’s government post, why should Bernie Sanders care what Vought’s beliefs are about the afterlife?

     #3) Regarding the life to come; after carefully looking into all the options as if my own eternal life depended on it (which it does), I have chosen to base my beliefs about these things on the Bible.  And the Bible makes it very clear that it matters what you believe and it matters what you do—and it matters for all eternity.  And the Bible says, believe in Jesus; Jesus, who said “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.”  Acts 4:12 says, “Jesus is the cornerstone, and salvation is found in no one else;” and so, says John 3:16, “Whoever believes in Jesus shall not perish but have eternal life.”

     #4) So does that mean, as Russell Vought says, that all Muslims stand condemned?  I don’t know, and that is not for me to judge.  I do not know how God is going to sort us all out in the end.  I am content to leave that up to God.  But I do know that if Muslims are to be saved, they will be saved by Jesus, and whatever arrangements Jesus has made for them, because Jesus is alive and Muhammed is dead (even Muslims believe that– check it out).  All speculation aside, it is best to do what the Bible says and look to Jesus for life and salvation…  

     I believe in what the Bible says about God, and I do not believe what the Koran says about Allah.  And if you aren’t going to believe in the Bible, you have to decide what you will base your beliefs on, because you can’t just make it up as you go on this.  Nor do you want to ignore God in your brief time on earth, for there are many stern warnings in every religion about making that foolish and serious mistake.  (continued…)


What Russell Vought also said:

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John 14:5-7a  —  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.”

Acts 4:11-12  —  Jesus is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.

John 3:16-17  —  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.


Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.

–Ancient Jesus prayer

1536) Sermon Notes (a)

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An Amish barn raising.


From this morning’s sermon.


            Our family lived in Preston, Minnesota for nine years in the 1980’s and 90’s.  There is a large Amish community in the Preston-Lanesboro-Harmony area, and we got to know several of those good people.  And they are good people, but they do have their odd ways.  They speak German, not English, among themselves.  They allow gas engines, but not on wheels, so they have no cars or tractors; the Harmony grocery store has a hitching post for the Amish horse-drawn buggies.  They have no indoor plumbing and use no electricity.  The women all wear bonnets and the men all have beards.  The clothes are all home-made, all the same, and no colors are allowed, only black and white; there must be nothing fancy to set anyone above anyone else.  The Amish do not believe in insurance, so when tragedy strikes, they join in to help each other buy a house, raise a barn, or rebuild a herd.  They will go to the doctor and even the hospital, as long as the bill can be paid without the help of insurance.  If the treatment is going to be too expensive, they are content to let nature takes it course.  They never work on Sundays, but always worship together on that holy day.  You won’t find rules on all of those things in the Bible, but the Amish are very intentional about living by II Corinthians 6:17 where it says “Be ye separate” from the rest of the world. 

            There are lots of ways to be a Christian, and the Amish way is, of course, not the only way.  But when the verse says ‘Be ye separate,’ it does mean at the very least, that there are many choices offered to us in this world that are not at all consistent with the way Jesus would have us live; and when we have the courage to say ‘NO,’ there is going to be a separation of ways that will create some tension and anxiety.  A conversation takes a wicked turn, and you know you should object or walk away.  You are asked to do something at work that you know is not right, and you have to take a stand.  Your faith in Jesus is not shared by those you know, and is perhaps even ridiculed, and you feel that separation.  You know what Jesus says about the dangers of wealth and possessions, and you feel a little uneasy about all the possessions you have and keep on accumulating; or, some others may feel uneasy about being jealous of those who have what they cannot afford.  In a society that is not only moving away from its Christian roots, but is increasingly hostile to religious faith, you don’t have to be Amish to feel disconnected.  You may find yourself struggling with either choosing to ‘go along to get along,’ or, intentionally separating yourself from the flow; even making it known at times that you see things from a different perspective, and you will not join in.

            Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) was an award winning Southern writer, a brilliant intellectual, and a devout Roman Catholic.  Her book awards often put her in the company of other writers, most of whom sneered at religious faith, and whose writings displayed their deep hostility towards all things Catholic.  O’Connor was witty, had a sharp tongue, and could hold her own in a brisk conversation.  But she always felt the separation, she always felt different. Jesus says  in John 8:32, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free;” Flannery O’Connor once rephrased that verse to say:  “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.”

            This morning’s Scripture readings speak of this separation.  The writers, because of how they are living for the Lord, and what they are saying in the Lord’s name, are facing tough opposition from their neighbors and even from their own family.  The Psalmist says to the Lord, “I have endured scorn for your sake, and shame covers my face.  I am like a stranger to my own family, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me” (Psalm 69:7-9).  Jeremiah, a preacher who was severely persecuted for proclaiming an unpopular message from the Lord, said, “I am ridiculed, and everyone mocks me.  The word of the Lord has brought me insults and reproach all day long” (Jeremiah 20:7-8).  And Jesus said, “A disciple is not above the master; if they call me a devil (or Beelzubel), they will malign you too” (Matthew 10:25).  (continued…)


II Corinthians 2:17a  —  “Come out from them and be separate,” says the Lord.

John 8:32  —  (Jesus said), “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Psalm 69:7-9  —  For I endure scorn for your sake, and shame covers my face.  I am a foreigner to my own family, a stranger to my own mother’s children; for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.


 O God, give us patience when the wicked hurt us.  O how impatient and angry we are when we think ourselves unjustly slandered, reviled, and hurt.  Christ suffered strokes upon his cheek, the innocent for the guilty; yet we may not abide on rougth word for his sake.  O Lord, grant us virtue and patience, power and strength, that we may take all adversity with good will, and with a gentle mind overcome it.  And if necessity and your honor require us to speak, grant that we may do so with meekness and patience, that the truth and your glory may be defended, and our patience and steadfast continuance perceived.  Amen. 

–Myles Coverdale, English reformer and Bible translator  (1488-1569)

1535) Life is Too Short

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Garrison Keillor (1942- )


By Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days, 1985, from pages 242-248.

     Uncle Virgil Bunsen’s death caught almost everyone by surprise, though they hadn’t even known he was alive.  He moved to Nevada in 1925 and didn’t keep in touch, so not many people at his funeral knew him well enough to feel as bad as they knew they ought to.  They went to be sociable.

     Clarence had got the news on Monday from his cousin Denise, Virgil’s daughter, who asked Clarence to handle the arrangements because she couldn’t be there.  “I think Dad would’ve wanted to be buried up there.  He hated Nevada.  Anyway, Burt and I have to go to Hawaii for two weeks.  It’s something we’ve been planning for a long time and, anyway, I want to remember Dad the way he was.  I can’t see what good it would do me to be there.  I don’t know anybody and funerals depress me.  I think we have to look ahead.  Not look back.  You know.”

     Who was Burt?  Her husband, Clarence guessed, but which one?  The last he heard she was married to a Ray.  And where was Aunt Ginny?  “Oh, she died about six years ago,” Denise said.  “I thought Dad wrote to you.”

     The upshot was that he had to get up at six a.m. and go to the Minneapolis.-St. Paul airport, find a certain freight terminal, sign a receipt for Uncle Virgil, and talk a young man in a suit into letting him put the box in the panel truck instead of hiring a hearse.  The man told him that he was only an assistant manager and didn’t make the rules.  He said, “Would you want people hauling you in an old truck after you pass on?”  Clarence said, “It depends who the people are.”  Back home, he dropped off the box at Lundberg’s Funeral Home and went to persuade Pastor Ingqvist to give Uncle Virgil the benefit of the doubt and provide a Christian burial, then he called Elmer about the honor guard, and about four o’clock he headed up to the cemetery with Bud to help dig.

     “It looks like rain for tomorrow,” Bud said.  “That’s why I didn’t want to wait.  You ever dig a grave in the rain?” Clarence worked the pick and Bud shoveled.  The men took turns in the hole.  The plot was between Clarence’s Uncle Frank, the oldest boy who never married, and an Alphonse Herberger whom he had never heard of: 1881-1924.  It was going to be a tight fit, they could see as they got down to four feet, and Bud said he hoped Virgil was the sort who got along.  Clarence was sweating.  He shuddered each time he raised the pick and brought it down.  Pieces of what looked to be Frank’s coffin kept turning up beneath his feet and he was afraid of bringing up a bone.  “Don’t be afraid to dig down around Frank,” Bud said.  “It’s only dust, you know.”

     Clarence’s one clear memory of Virgil was from a family trip out West, when Clarence was nine or ten.  He remembered eating hamburgers in buns (his family always had them on bread) and leaving the cafe and his father put him up on his lap and let him drive the car.  In Nevada, it was his mother’s idea to at Virgil’s house, a little white house, and Virgil came out to see them.  They stood around, and he didn’t invite them in.  Aunt Ginny wasn’t feeling well.  His mother tried to be friendly, but his dad and Virgil did not say more than two words to each other.  They all went for a walk.  They walked along some railroad tracks and past a water tank, and next thing, Virgil was forty, fifty feet out in front of them; walking like he forgot they were there.  That night, they stayed in tourist cabins.  “Uncle Virgil doesn’t have room for all of us,” his mother explained.  His father snorted.  He said, “Virgil never did have room.”  Years later, from his father, Clarence heard a passing reference to bad blood between Virgil and Clarence’s grandfather, which had to do with being cheated on some cattle, and led to Virgil moving away and which apparently never got patched up.

     Clarence put himself out for the funeral, as several people remarked to him afterward.  “This was real good of you, Clarence.  You did the right thing.”  He made four big sprays of evergreen and dug up enough about Uncle Virgil to make a decent obituary, and when Pastor Ingqvist said he couldn’t stay for the graveside service, Clarence handled that himself.  He read the Twenty-third Psalm, and then, even though it gave him a bad case of the shakes, he faced them, all sixteen of them, and said, “Uncle Virgil left here when I was pretty little and I only saw him once after that, so I don’t have much to say about him.  I do know that it was because of an argument that he left.  I wish I knew more.  I’m glad to have him back and I hope that he is finally at rest.  I hope that all of us will take a lesson from it– to settle our arguments as quick as we can.  I say this especially to the younger ones.  Life is short.  The Bible says, don’t let the sun go down upon your wrath.  Settle these things.  It isn’t true that time heals all wounds.  Sometimes they get worse if you don’t do something about them.  I didn’t mean to talk this much, but I know I’ve done things to make people mad and I ask you to forgive me for them, and I forgive you for anything you ever did to me”  He stopped, not certain how he should end it.  Finally, he just reached for the ropes.  They lowered Virgil into his grave and shoveled in the dirt and made a nice mound over him.  They shook hands and got in their cars and went home to supper.

     Clarence sat in his green easy chair and Arlene fixed him a cup of Sanka.  She kissed him on the top of his head.  “You did good, honey,” she said.


Ephesians 4:26  —  Be angry, but sin not:  let not the sun go down upon your wrath.

Genesis 3:19b  —  Dust you are and to dust you will return.

Job 7:21  —  Why do you not pardon my offenses and forgive my sins?  For I will soon lie down in the dust; you will search for me, but I will be no more.


Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.


1534) To All Nations

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By Eric Metaxas and Roberto Rivera, June 22, 2017 post at http://www.breakpoint.org


     A year ago, National Geographic told readers that “religion is rapidly becoming less important than it’s ever been, even to people who live in countries where faith has affected everything from rulers to borders to architecture.”

     But as Rodney Stark documented in his recent book, The Triumph of Faith, that statement is wrong.  In fact, it’s the opposite of the truth.  According to Stark, “The world is not merely as religious as it used to be.  In important ways, it is much more intensely religious than ever before . . .”

     This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.  For years, Chuck Colson, John Stonestreet, and I have been telling you about the explosive growth of Christianity around the world, especially in what is called the “global south.”

     We’ve told you about what’s happening in places like sub-Saharan Africa, and even China, which, by some estimates may have more Christians than any other country by the middle of this century.

     But the story that Stark tells goes beyond these two examples.  The growth of Christianity in Latin America is, in many respects, just as amazing as its growth in Africa.

     That might sound strange, since Latin America has been ostensibly Christian since the sixteenth century.  But until the mid-20th century, it was largely a nominal kind of Christianity.  As recently as the 1950s, only between 10 and 20 percent of Latin Americans were “active in their faith.”

     The arrival of Protestant missionaries, especially Pentecostals, changed this.  Not only did they succeed in turning nominal Christians into practicing ones, they also forced the Catholic Church to, as they say in sports, “up its game.”  This, in large measure, took the form of the Charismatic renewal.

     Today, Charismatic Catholic rallies fill the same stadiums as Pentecostal ones.  And the result is that in large parts of Latin America, sixty percent or more of the people attend church on at least a weekly basis.

     Another largely untold story is what’s happening in India.  The son of a BreakPoint colleague recently traveled to India.  One Tuesday, he went to Mass.  When he arrived, he was stunned to see that the church was full— so full that the worshippers poured out onto the street.  On a Tuesday.

     Late last year, Christianity Today ran a story on “Incredible Indian Christianity.”  Since 1980, the number of pastors sent out by the Delhi Bible Institute has grown from 100 per year to nearly 7,600 in 2015.  As CT tells us, part of India’s so-called “tribal belt,” which runs across central and northeast India, is becoming India’s “Bible belt.”

     But even in Europe and the United States, the rise of secularism has been overstated, if by “secularism,” you mean “denying the supernatural.”  For example, sociologists consider Iceland to be one of the most secular nations on Earth.  Yet, here’s a list of things that a significant percentage of Icelanders believe in:  reincarnation, elves, gnomes, fairies, fortune tellers, and Spiritualism.  You find similar results across so-called “secular” Europe.

     Here in the U.S., the same period that witnessed the rise in the religiously unaffiliated did not witness a decline in church attendance or an increase in atheists.  The increase in the so-called “nones” was a function of people who rarely, if ever, attended church finally admitting as much.

     Those who claim that people of faith were “on the wrong side of history” have it exactly backwards.  Religion, especially Christianity, is not in decline.  It’s going from strength-to-strength.  You just need to know where to look, or, in this case, what to read.


Matthew 28:18-20  —  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Isaiah 66:1…  This is what the Lord says,…  I am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory.

Mark 13:10  —  (Jesus said), “The gospel must first be preached to all nations.”

Revelation 15:4  —  Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name?  For you alone are holy.  All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.


O God of all the nations of the earth, remember the multitudes who, though created in thine image, they have not known thee, nor the dying of thy Son their Savior Jesus Christ; and grant that by the prayers and labors of thy holy church they may be delivered from all superstition and unbelief and brought to worship thee; through him who thou hast sent to be the resurrection and the life to all men, thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Francis Xavier, Missionary to India, Japan, and Borneo (1506-1552)

1533) What Do You Want, a Miracle?

By Joshua Rogers, at wwwjoshuarogers.com, May 24, 2011.


     My father, David, was younger than me when his first wife left him for another man (note: my father’s first wife was not my mother).  It was 1974, and the implosion of their marriage was messy, leaving him bitter and questioning his faith.

     Sitting in the passenger’s seat as his father drove down the highway, he vented his frustrations and eventually began railing against God.

     “All of this ‘Jesus loves me’ stuff is a bunch of bull,” he said, crying.  “How am I supposed to believe Jesus loves me when He lets this kind of stuff happen?”

     My grandfather, a seasoned, Free-Will Baptist preacher, said, “David, you know Jesus loves you.  We always taught you that.”

     “That ain’t gonna cut it today, dad.”

     “But it’s there in the Bible, David,” grandpa said.

     “That ain’t gonna cut it either,” said dad.  And then he asked, with his voice shaking, “Daddy, do you really believe Jesus loves me?”

     Before grandpa could respond, my dad blew up and said, “I’ll tell you what.  You can say whatever you want.  If Jesus doesn’t show up on this highway, look me in the eyes, and tell me He loves me, then I don’t want anything to do with Him anyway.”

     As soon as the last word left his mouth, a truck with a camper on the back pulled in front of the car.  Three little girls looked at him from the back window of the camper and screamed, “Hey mister!  Jesus loves you!”

     My dad and grandpa looked at each other in shock.  It was the dead of winter, the windows were rolled up, and they had both heard the three little girls perfectly.

     I love miracle stories like that.  And I hunger for more of them, seeing them as signs of God’s love.  Yet in the back of my mind, I’m nagged by Jesus’ words: “a wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign.” (Matthew 16:4).

     I struggle with that verse.  What’s so wicked about wanting a little confirmation from God?  For me, the problem is that the desire is often rooted in doubt.  I seek miraculous signs so I can justify believing in a God I can’t see – a God who sometimes lets me down.  And in those moments, I’m not that different from my frustrated dad, demanding Jesus perform a magic trick before I will surrender and give Him the trust He already deserves.

     Now, to be clear, I love heavenly breakthroughs just as much as anyone, and I’m not putting them down.  But here’s the thing – Jesus isn’t a circus performer.  Sometimes He blesses us with tangible glimpses of glory; but many times, we’re stuck walking things out in blind faith.  I know, it’s disappointing – we want a sign, something to validate our faith and remove our doubts.  To that, Jesus says, You want a sign?  My faithless child, look at My death and resurrection.  These were for you.  Pause before demanding further proof and remember, “Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe (John 20:29).”

     I know He’s right, but simple belief doesn’t come naturally.  So I throw myself at His feet and say, ‘Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:24).

     And in time, Jesus always casts out my doubt with His love, “takes me by the hand, lifts me up, and I arise” (Mark 9:27), recognizing that His love is the miracle.

Joshua Rogers and his father


Matthew 16:4  —  (Jesus said), “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.”  Jesus then left them and went away.

John 20:29  —  Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Mark 9:24  —  Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

II Corinthians 5:7  —  For we walk by faith, not by sight.


Lord, I do believe in you; help me overcome my doubts and lack of faith.

–Based on Mark 9:24

1532) Psalm 100 (b)

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     (…continued)  Ernie was able thank his neighbor in person for the money.  But how do we thank God, who we cannot see, for all he has given us?  Prayer is one way, but the emphasis in this Psalm is on worship—“Worship the Lord with gladness,” it says.  “Enter his gates and his courts with praise and thanksgiving.”  Worship has been the primary way God’s people have expressed their thankful response to God since even before this Psalm was written three thousand years ago.

     But what is it that is so often said about worship?– “Same old thing, same old thing;” just like what Ernie said about his growing annoyance with his neighbor’s visits.  So he asked him to just put the money in the bank.  The temptation is to want the gifts but to disregard the Giver, and His unwanted interruptions on our time.  Ernie made no effort to get to know his neighbor, and soon grew tired of him.  He became irritated with the interruptions of his life, and asked his neighbor to keep his distance.  But the neighbor did keep giving Ernie the money; and that is just like God who, as Jesus said, “Causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

     Many people grow tired of paying attention to God.  Worship becomes an unwanted interruption and prayer a chore, and many make little effort to get to know God better.  There are, says the Bible, serious long term consequences to disregarding God.  But if all we want is the daily blessings to continue for now, God does that, even when not thanked or acknowledged in any way.

     The Psalmist speaks of shouting to the Lord with joy and worshiping him with gladness.  But what if that is not how it feels for you?  To be honest, joy and gladness are not the words many people would use to describe their feelings about sitting in church for an hour– along with complaining that they don’t get anything out of it anyway.  Now, I understand that, and the last thing I would tell anyone is that they better shape up and enjoy the worship service and be glad to be there.  First of all, emotions come and go, and cannot very well be forced or commanded.  And secondly, in this entertainment culture, there are endless choices, and we are all so used to having it our own way.  It is impossible to come up with anything what would ever appeal to every age group all the time; not even on television or at the movies, and certainly not in worship.  This is not an excuse.  It is a fact.

     It is the job of pastors and musicians and worship leaders to make the worship as meaningful as they can; but we all have to remember the true focus and purpose of worship.  Worship is, by definition, something we offer to God.  The goal of worship is not primarily to get something out of it for yourself.  Rather, the goal of worship is to offer it to God; to offer to God our time, this mere one hour a week out of 168 hours; our prayers, our hymns, and our ears.  Whether or not this appeals to you is not the main thing.  The main thing is that you offer yourself to God.

     Now, when we do that, God may bless our time, and we may, by the power of the Holy Spirit, get something out of worship.  That is your hope, and that is my hope as a pastor, and I suppose that does happen sometimes.  But our primary concern and goal must be that we obey God, and that we offer ourselves to God in worship, giving God praise and thanks in the words provided, and in the words spoken in the quiet of each heart.  And that primary purpose is fulfilled even if you are not overflowing with joy and gladness, and even if you don’t get much out of it.  Our focus must remain on God, for that is what worship is according to the dictionary, and, according to Hebrews 12:28, which says:  “Therefore, let us be grateful to God for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus, let us offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe.”

     Acceptable worship to who?  To me?  No, to God, it says.  We must not, in our self-centeredness, think that even our worship to God must first of all be acceptable to us and suit us.  We should, most of all, be concerned that what we do here is acceptable to God; and that we hear his Word, come to him in prayer, and sing songs (even if not in our favorite type of music).

     If my heart is focused on God and my worship is acceptable to Him, it should be immaterial if I find it exciting, or if I find it boring.  It is not all about me.

     So, “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,” says the book of Hebrews.  And Psalm 100 tells us why:  “For the Lord is good; and his love endures forever, and his faithfulness continues through all generations.”


“To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, feed the mind with the truth of God, purge the imagination by the beauty of God, open the heart to the love of God, and devote the will to the purpose of God.”

–William Temple


Matthew 5:45  —  (Jesus said),  “Your Father in heaven causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Hebrews 12:28  —  Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.

Psalm 100:5  —  For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.


O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

–Psalm 107:1

1531) Psalm 100 (a)

     Once upon a time there was a single dad named Ernie, who had two kids in elementary school.  His ex-wife had abandoned the family, was nowhere to be found, and contributed nothing.  Ernie’s factory job paid the bills, but just barely.  As long as there were no extra expenses, he was able to make it, but it was always living check to check.

     Then everything went wrong at once.  His daughter ran into a tree with her bicycle and broke her arm, and that cost him some money.  The transmission went out Ernie’s car and he had a big repair bill at the shop.  Then an old back injury flared up and the doctor told Ernie he needed surgery.  But Ernie did not know how he could pay for his portion of that bill along with everything else.  His back was getting worse and going to work was getting more difficult, and he was stuck with nowhere to turn.

     One day a retired man from down the street came to visit Ernie.  Ernie knew who the man was, but didn’t know him well.  The man told Ernie he had heard about his troubles and wanted to help; and then handed him ten one hundred dollar bills.  Ernie couldn’t believe it.  There were tears in his eyes as he thanked the man over and over, hugging him, telling him how the money came at just the right time, how badly he needed it, and how much he appreciated the help.  After a short conversation, the man left.

     The money did not solve all of Ernie’s problems, but it got the wolf away from the door for that week anyway.  A few days later, the man from down the street visited again, and, after a brief conversation, gave Ernie another thousand dollars.  Again, Ernie could hardly believe it, this time saying he could not accept the money.  The man insisted, and again, Ernie went on and on thanking him.  This helped pay off some more of his debts, but Ernie was still a long way from being able to afford the much needed back surgery.

     A week later, the man was there again, and after some small talk gave Ernie ten more one hundred dollar bills.  Ernie could not imagine why the man was doing this, but again expressed his gratitude.  The man never made a big show of his gift and did not insist on knowing all the details of Ernie’s finances.  He just gave him the money, said ‘you’re welcome’ after Ernie thanked him a dozen times, chatted a bit, and walked back home.

     This continued on and on.  Every few days, it was the same thing; a knock at the door, a little conversation, a thousand more dollars, and a friendly good-bye.  The expressions of gratitude went from saying thank you ten times in a row with tears in his eyes, to a single, sincere ‘thanks.’  One time, Ernie forgot to say thank you at all.  Ernie thought about it after the man left, and then called to say thanks.  Ernie was embarrassed, but, a few days later the man was there again and the pattern continued. 

     In time, Ernie had all his bills paid, was able to afford the surgery, bought a new car, and even started putting money in the bank.  Everything was going just great, and the money kept coming.

     But then Ernie started to get used to getting the extra money, and even began to expect it.  Not only that, but Ernie began to view the man’s visits with the money as an interruption, and sometimes he was even annoyed by that knock on the door.  “Same old thing, all the time, same old thing,” Ernie said to himself; “I have to stop what I’m doing, listen to him talk about the weather and whatever else is on his mind, act like I’m interested, try to remember to say thanks, and then get back to my TV show and wonder what I missed.”  Ernie added little to the conversations and never invited the man in.  A few times, he told one of the kids to answer the door and get the money.  But then they started to complain, and finally Ernie had enough. 

     The next time the man came by, Ernie suggested that he set up an automatic transfer of funds at the bank.  The man was quiet, looked disappointed, said ‘okay,’ and walked away.  Ernie wondered if perhaps he made a mistake, and hoped the flow of cash would not end.  But it didn’t.  The man did what Ernie asked, and the money kept coming.  And Ernie, now happy to be left alone, never once took the time to walk down the street to thank the man ever again.

     So, what do you think of Ernie?  I would guess your opinion of him changed as the story went on.  You probably liked him at first.  He was a hard worker, he was doing his best to play the bad hand he was dealt, and he provided for his family.  Then perhaps you felt sorry for him as the troubles piled up.  And then you were happy for him and his good fortune.  But then your attitude toward Ernie probably changed.  Once he started to take the kind man’s generosity for granted, Ernie’s lack of gratitude was outrageous and inexcusable and disgusting.  His response to this man who gave him so much and changed his life was, indeed, a most inappropriate response.

     Nobody had to tell Ernie to be grateful for that first $1,000 gift.  He knew where he was without it, and he knew what a difference it made in his life.  But as time went on, and the gifts continued, Ernie forgot to be grateful.  Someone from the outside looking in– someone not accustomed to getting $1000 every few days in an envelope from a neighbor– could sit down with Ernie and give him a little perspective, and remind him that he should be grateful. 

     Psalm 100 is a reminder to be grateful to God.  It is a reminder, perhaps for people like us, who might otherwise begin to take God’s gifts for granted.  You all woke up again this morning.  God gave you another day.  Do you always keep that in mind, remembering to be grateful to God?  Or, do you begin to take that for granted?  What is more valuable, $1,000 every few days, or the gift of the day itself, every day?  “It is God who made us, and God is good, and his faithfulness continues,” says the Psalmist.  It just goes on and on.

     Even a made-up story about someone getting $1,000 handed to them every few days is enough to get our imaginations going; thinking about what we could all do with that much money, and what an ungrateful fool Ernie was to take that for granted.  But what ungrateful fools we are when we begin to take for granted God’s gift of each and every day, and everything we have and are.

     Psalm 100 is a reminder to give a proper response to God for all his goodness, for the gift of life, for the forgiveness of sins, and for the gift of Jesus Christ our Savior.  It is a reminder that we all need once in a while, because in our sinful blindness we do tend to forget about, and even be annoyed with, our responsibilities to God, “from whom all blessings flow;” like Ernie, with his most improper response of greedy ingratitude.  Read the words of Psalm 100 and be reminded:

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.  Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

   Know that the Lord is God.

    It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

   Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.

   For the Lord is good and his love endures forever, and his faithfulness continues through all generations.  (continued…)

1530) You Are Welcome

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The following welcome is printed each week in the bulletin of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Community in Daytona Beach, Florida.  It reflects the kind of welcoming community every congregation should be.  It does not say that all the choices reflected in the welcome are good choices, and it says nothing about what is and is not sinful.  It just says that all are welcome to worship at Our Lady of Lourdes, along with the rest of the sinners that gather there each week.  What is right and what is wrong will most certainly be a part of any church’s message, and certainly a part of being a child of God– but that is not where we begin.  The church begins with an invitation, and this ‘welcome’ has it right– ALL ARE INVITED!



     We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, ‘y no habla Ingles.’  We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail, or could afford to lose a few pounds.

     We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli, or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket.  You’re welcome here if you’re just browsing, just woke up, or just got out of jail.  We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.

     We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast.  We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians junk-food eaters.  We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted.  We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion.”  We’ve been there too.

     If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here.  We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or want to go to church only because grandma is in town.

     We welcome those who are inked, pierced, or both.  We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid, or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake.  We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts… and you!


     The Gospels of Luke and Matthew record parables of Jesus in which he compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a wedding feast.  In both parables there are those who refuse the invitation, but in both ALL ARE INVITED.

Luke 14:15-24  —  When one of those at the table with Jesus heard this, he said to him, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
     Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.  At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, `Come, for everything is now ready.’
     “But they all alike began to make excuses.  The first said, `I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it.  Please excuse me.’
     “Another said, `I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out.  Please excuse me.’
     “Still another said, `I just got married, so I can’t come.’
     “The servant came back and reported this to his master.  Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, `Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
     “`Sir,’ the servant said, `what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
     “Then the master told his servant, `Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.  I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’ “

From a similar parable as recorded in Matthew 22:8-10  —  “Then Jesus said to his servants, `The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.  Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’  So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.”


Lord God of our salvation, it is your will that all people might come to you through your Son Jesus Christ.  Inspire our witness to him, that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection.  Amen.  –-Lutheran Book of Worship