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Prepare Your Heart!

Advent 1

Prepare Your Heart!Text: Genesis 19:15-17, 23-29

Did you get everything prepared this weekend?  For many, as soon as they awake from their turkey coma and the last bit of stuffing is stuffed into tupperware, the mad dash is on.  Black Friday shopping for Christmas.  Hang the Christmas lights.  Get the tree out.  Take down one season’s decorations and put up the Christmasy things.  Suddenly homes are transformed with lights, decorations, and smelly fufu from a rustic harvest festival to a pine-smelling winter wonderland.

Part of this is holiday cheer.  The other part is practical.  We all know the next 25 days are going to be crazy.  No matter who you are or what you do,  this time of year is always busy.  It’s better to take your free time now to prepare for Christmas or else you’re going to have problems.  If you don’t prepare diligently with focus on the day that’s coming, Christmas will sneak up on you and you’ll be running around like a gingerbread man with his head cut off because you were caught unprepared.

The same could be more true spiritually.  It’s very easy to become so wrapped up in our Christmas celebrations and Christmas cheer that we forget to prepare our hearts for the real meaning of Christmas—preparing our hearts to celebrate our Savior’s coming. Read the rest of this entry

Something to Boast About

15th Sunday after Pentecost

Something to Boast About

Text: Galatians 6:12-16

Seventeen days ago, on September 4, 2014, comedienne Joan Rivers died.  Though she showed the battle wounds of countless plastic surgeries and several frantic decades of Hollywood life, it seemed to many that Joan Rivers was ageless and would keep going strong for years.  But after complications during a surgery, she finally passed away at the age of 81.  Not to worry though, Joan Rivers had her funeral planned out well in advance.

The funeral was two weeks ago at Temple Emanu-El in New York City.  Here are some of the details of the funeral.  Guests started arriving around 11am and were welcomed by the New York Gay Men’s Chorus singing “irreverent, fun songs” as they were described.  The Rabbi opened with prayers that were followed by Broadway star Audra McDonald giving a moving performance.

Next, several celebrities stood to honor Joan Rivers and share their fond memories and gushing compliments.  The last to speak was Melissa Rivers who read a touching letter that left the audience laughing.

Actor Hugh Jackman ended the service with another spectacular performance that ended with the crowd standing and cheering.  As guests left, Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York was one of the songs played.

The funeral was apparently quite the event.  Hoda Kotb, co-host of the Today Show described the funeral this way:  “It felt like a Broadway show with tons of humor, lots of tears and it ended with a standing ovation.”  Hoda and countless other celebrities attended this extravaganza.  Although someone was conspicuously missing—Jesus.   Read the rest of this entry

Here is the Man! Rejected.

4th Wednesday in Lent

Here Is the Man!  Rejected.

Text: Mark 14:55-65

Bakhytzhan Kashkumbaev was released from prison on February 17 this year. The 67-year-old retired Presbyterian pastor had been in prison for nine months in Kazakhstan. He was originally arrested on charges of “intentionally inflicting serious harm to health.” Some of the main charges were brought by the family of a woman who was attending his church.  The family claimed that Kashkumbaev caused the woman to be mentally ill.

When the authorities originally raided his church in 2012 they confiscated materials, brochures, valuables, and even a certain red-colored communion drink they claimed had hallucinogens in it.  They accused the church of espionage, fraud, money laundering, and possession of extremist literature.  While in prison for those nine months Pastor Kashkumbaev experienced torturous conditions, including attempts to mentally break him and the denial of health care and medicine for his heart and circulation issues. It is disgusting to hear what people will say and do when they reject Jesus Christ.

Pastor Kashkumbaev’s story is similar to the stories of many early Christians in the Roman Empire.  They accused Christians of being in a secret cult or sect, of defiance to the emperor, and even of being cannibals (because of Christ’s body and blood in Communion). It was fun and sport to drag Christians out of their homes and throw them to the lions or the gladiators and watch them die in agony and pain.  It is disgusting to hear what people will say and do when they reject Jesus Christ.    Read the rest of this entry

1st Sunday in Lent

One Little Word Can Fell Him

Text:  Matthew 4:1-11

In the beginning everything was perfect and good.  This world was paradise.  Man and God lived in perfect harmony.  Man was destined to live with God and serve God forever and ever in paradise.

The devil didn’t like this.  So the tempter approached Adam and Eve with some serious temptations.  He tempted them with the allure of more knowledge, power, and glory.  He tempted them with a whisper of doubt that God might not mean what he says.  The fulcrum leveraging these temptations was one tree in the middle of the Garden and its captivating fruit.

The first man and his wife fell for the devil’s lies.  Sin and death immediately entered this world.  So did the need for a Savior.  In mercy and grace, God promised to send one.

Fast-forward several thousand years.  God kept his promise and sent a Savior, his own Son Jesus Christ.  The devil didn’t like this either.  Just as he wanted to ruin God’s perfect creation, he also wanted to ruin God’s perfect redemption plan.  So the tempter approached what Scripture calls the “second man,” Jesus Christ, with some serious temptations.  There were certainly many attempts from the devil to get Jesus to fall, but the three most vicious and difficult temptations are recorded for us today in Matthew 4.  Here’s what happened:

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.  After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.'”

Make no mistake about it.  The devil is good at being bad.  Jesus was fasting for 40 days in the desert.  He was hot, tired, mentally exhausted, and certainly very hungry.  So the devil came to him with a temptation for not only what he wanted, but what he really needed.  Just like with Adam and Eve, food was the fulcrum for leveraging temptation.

But this temptation was about more than just food.  This was about glory.  This was about power.  This was about pride.  If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”  It was like school yard trash talk, “Oh yeah?  Prove it!”

Jesus humbled himself to come to the world he created and save it.  Satan was tempting Jesus to step outside of that role.  To take away his humility and the serving and to show a little flash of God’s glory.  To recklessly use God’s power for something when it wasn’t needed.  This temptation of pride was also a temptation to doubt that his heavenly Father would give him that day his daily bread as he had promised.  And it was a temptation of pride that Satan would not drop.  Even up to his death the devil prodded at Jesus through the soldiers and the criminals, Aren’t you the Christ?  Save yourself and us!”

We know these temptations well.  Satan attacks my pride all the time.  I want to get the last word in.  I want to have the most input.  I want to be in charge.  I want to prove what I can do.  I want to put down others so I can look better.  If pride goes before the fall, then I know I’ve fallen a lot.

Satan tempts us not to trust too.  How many times have we prayed, “Give us today our daily bread”?  Thousands and thousands of times.  And every day I have something to eat and drink and something to wear and a roof over my head.  God is so gracious he even provides daily bread for unbelievers.

So why would I doubt that my heavenly Father would provide for me?  But I do.  Like with Jesus, the devil comes to tempt me when I’m weak.  When I have a lot of bills due.  When money is spread a little thin.  When my car breaks down and it will cost way too much to fix.  When I’m hot, tired, mentally exhausted, or hungry like Jesus in the desert—that’s when Satan attacks and whispers in my ear to puff up my pride and doubt my God.  And oh how many times I’ve failed!

Take a look at what Jesus did though:  Jesus answered, ‘It is written:  “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”‘”  The perfect answer from our perfect Savior!  Jesus came right back at Satan with the Word of God and a quote from Deuteronomy chapter eight.  Sure humans might need bread and food to live, but spiritual food is more important.  Feeding ourselves with God’s Word is more important than feeding ourselves with Wonder Bread and Kraft Singles.  And besides, when you trust in God and his Word, then you know and trust that God will provide daily bread for you anyways.

A perfect response.  A perfect use of God’s powerful Word.  Perfect trust.  Our perfect Savior.

So Satan took it to another level, literally even.  Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.  ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down.  For it is written:  “He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”‘”

The top of the white steeple on our church is about 45 feet high.  The highest point of the temple in Jerusalem was about 450 feet high—40-50 stories up!  It would not be a safe or comfortable place to be.  There Satan had a doozy of temptation.  Not only was it a total trap, but he even used God’s Word, Psalm 91, in his temptation.  This temptation was also about pride, being the Son of God, but it was especially about trust in what God says.

It was the perfect lose-lose situation.  If Jesus threw himself off the temple he would be putting his life in danger.  As a human, there was no way he or anyone else would survive that.  Killing himself would be breaking the 5th commandment.  But Satan was insinuating that if Jesus didn’t throw himself off the temple, then obviously he didn’t trust God and his Word that his angels guard and protect us.  It was an impossible choice.  Either he puts his life at risk willfully when he jumps, or he doesn’t jump because he doubted God’s protection.

Satan is very good at twisting God’s Word.  We see it all the time today.  If someone wants to live a certain lifestyle—a life of homosexuality, a life of adultery, a life of indulgence, a life of greed and money loving—what is the most common thing to say these days?  “Well God is a loving God.  Jesus preached loved and forgiveness and he loves me just the way I am.”

All the while Satan is bent over sideways laughing.  Surely God is loving and Jesus preached forgiveness.  But Satan is leaves out the part about God being a holy and righteous God who hates sin.  He will forgive sin.  But he doesn’t want us to sin.

Satan is also good at whispering these doubts in our ears.  “Didn’t God say . . . ?  Doesn’t God love you . . . ?  Why would God do that to you . . . ?”  And oh how often I have walked right into his traps and believed his lies and twisting of God’s Word and doubted God.

Take a look at what Jesus did though:  Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written:  “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”‘”  The perfect answer from our perfect Savior!  Again Jesus came right back at Satan with the Word of God, this time from Deuteronomy chapter six.  Humans either lack trust in God’s promises and doubt or they are overconfident and arrogant in their choices.  Jesus gave an answer that was perfectly down the middle.  He certainly had trust in his heavenly Father’s protection, but he wasn’t going to jump and put him to the test.

A perfect response.  A perfect use of God’s powerful Word.  Perfect trust.  Our perfect Savior.

Then came the final temptation:  Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.  ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.'”

When I was younger I always thought this was the easiest temptation.  Why would Jesus bow down to Satan?  Why would Jesus be tempted with power and wealth?  He already owned everything as God.  But the more we think about this, the more we realize this was the hardest temptation.

Remember that Jesus is true God and knew what was coming.  He knew he would be rejected and hated by his own people.  He knew he would be betrayed by his friend Judas and denied by his friend Peter.  He knew he would be beaten and mocked and ridiculed.  He knew he would suffer an excruciation execution and die a horrible death.

Remember at the same time that Jesus is also true man.  He knew what pain was like.  He knew it was going to hurt and he would feel every bit of it.  And though he owned everything as God, at this time he was being humble as true man.

Satan knew this too.  So he gave the most dangerous temptation of all:  Avoid all the pain and sorrow.  Stop the humility and serving.  Claim the glory you deserve.  Take the path you deserve.  Not only is that the most challenging or appealing temptation, but it’s the most dangerous because if Jesus did not suffer and die we would not have a Savior.

The tempter comes to us nearly every day to tempt us in this way.  He wants us to walk away from God’s righteous paths.  Who wants to live a humble Christian life?  Who wants to give up the pleasures of this world?  Who wants to keep their thoughts and their words in check?  Who wants to live differently than everyone else?  All the pleasure and joy of this world can be yours if you just give in to your craving for money or glory or power or lustful things.  And oh how often the allure and desires of this world have pulled me away from God’s ways!

Take a look at what Jesus did though:  Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan!  For it is written:  “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”‘”  The perfect answer from our perfect Savior!  How dare the devil even consider offering worship of any other “thing” of this world!  Glory, honor, praise, and worship belongs to God and God alone!  Jesus would never do anything but about his heavenly Father and give him all glory.

A perfect response.  A perfect use of God’s powerful Word.  Perfect trust.  Our perfect Savior.

Three things are very clear to us today.  First, it is very, very clear how evil, twisted, maniacal, and skilled Satan is.  He is to be feared.  Second, it is very, very clear how easily and how often I fall prey to his temptations.  He is so good at tempting, and I am so bad at resisting.  But thirdly, it is very, very clear how much we need Jesus.

Today we see what perfect Savior Jesus is.  Every temptation of the devil he resisted and avoided—on this occasion and any occasion.  He turned the devil away with perfect answers from the powerful Word of God.  He lived the sin-free and perfect life that God demands but that we have all failed to do.

Today we see how perfectly Jesus kept his Father’s plan of salvation.  Never once did veer off the path.  Never once was he sidetracked with selfish desires.  Never once did he doubt the plan.

Today we see how perfectly Jesus loved us.  He lived humbly for us.  He gave up glory and power and riches for us.  He lived a perfect life for us.  He even went on to die to pay for the sins we have done.

This is our perfect and powerful Savior.  With his forgiveness and with his strength, we need not ever fear the devil.  Satan and sin ruined God’s perfect creation, but Jesus redeemed God’s fallen creation.  That Savior and Redeemer is on our side.

We just sang in Martin Luther’s famous hymn:  Though devils all the world should fill, All eager to devour us, We tremble not, we fear no ill; They shall not overpow’r us.  This world’s prince may still Scowl fierce as he will—He can harm us none.  He’s judged; the deed is done!  One little word can fell him.

Most scholars believe that the one little word Luther was referring to was the word tetelestai.  Jesus said that on the cross.  Tetelestai means It is finished.  Others feel that the one little word he meant was Jesus or Lord or Savior.  All of the above are good options!

Jesus, our Lord and Savior, defeated Satan.  He resisted his temptations in the desert.  He resisted all sin.  And then he delivered the final blow of defeat and finished him off once and for all with his victory at the cross.

That is our confidence today.  Satan is crafty, dangerous, and even deadly.  But for all his apparent might and power, just One Little Word Can Fell Him.  Look at Jesus.  With every temptation today, how did Jesus respond and win?  With the powerful Word of God.  We have that same Bible, that sword of the Spirit, too.  And look at who it was that was wielding the Word of God—Jesus Christ, true God, our perfect Redeemer and Savior.

The devil left Jesus when he resisted.  He will leave us too.  But we can’t do it alone.  We need help.  We need one little word.  We need the Word of God.  We need the Word made flesh.  We need Jesus.  With Jesus, we shall overcome.

AMEN

Christ the King Lutheran Church and School is a Christian church and Christian school / private school located in Palm Coast, FL.

Christ the King Church and School

5625 N. US HWY 1

Palm Coast, FL 32164

http://www.ctkpalmcoast.com

Yes It is My “Business”

The doorbell rang. Of course! Right when I’m in the middle of something!

I went to the door, looked through the stained glass, and knew immediately who it was. I could tell by the mid-length floral dresses. It was the Jehovah’s Witnesses–again.

I opened the door and they began their regular and rehearsed routine. But I cut right to the chase. “Thank you very much, but I don’t need information from anyone who denies that Jesus Christ is truly God.” They had the look in their eyes like they knew they were in for an up-hill battle.

The two ladies at the door couldn’t answer many of my points from Scripture about Jesus being true God and our true Savior who gives eternal life in heaven to all who believe (not just 144,000). They needed to bring in the cavalry for reinforcements.

I shared more truths from Scripture, but they simply wouldn’t listen. Finally, I made one last-ditch effort to wake them from spiritual slumber. They needed a huge wakeup call from the full force of God’s Law.

I smiled and calmly stated, “My name is Phil. I want you to remember that. I want you to remember so that on the Last Day when Jesus comes and you find out you were wrong, you will know that at least one person tried to tell you and warn you.”

Recently I have been writing about a particular topic–homosexuality. In a broader spectrum I have actually been writing about unrepentant sin of every kind–sinning against God without care, sorrow, or regret. The last two days these posts have been a hotbed of discussion and opinions. One of the more common things I have heard from people is this:

“It’s none of your business.”

“It’s none of your business what other people do. It’s none of your business what people do in the privacy of their own homes. It’s none of your business because it doesn’t affect you.”

But don’t get me wrong, I haven’t only heard this from people living the homosexual lifestyle or in favor of homosexuality. I hear this from the church prospect whose living situation isn’t pleasing to the Lord. I hear this from prescription pill addict who won’t admit he has a problem and is in danger of going to prison. I hear this all the time from many, many people. They all say the same thing:

“It’s none of your business.”

But listen to what the Lord said to the prophet Ezekiel 33:7-11:

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked person, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person to turn from their ways and they do not do so, they will die for their sin, though you yourself will be saved.

10 “Son of man, say to the Israelites, ‘This is what you are saying: “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of  them. How then can we live?”’ 11 Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’

It was Ezekiel’s job, his commission, his mission, and his ministry to be a watchman for the people of Israel. Just as a city watchman would stand on the city walls and warn of impending danger, so Ezekiel’s job was to warn the people of Israel about the danger of their sins.

Amazingly, the Lord even told Ezekiel that if Israel did not repent of their sins and Ezekiel had not warned them, then he would share in the guilt and responsibility of their sins!

Ezekiel was to be a mouthpiece for the Lord. Why? Because the Lord does not desire that people go to hell. The Lord wants people to turn from their sin and evil ways, to repent, to be forgiven, and to be in heaven. That’s what the Lord wants, and that’s what the Lord wants us to tell others.

Imagine you are at the Grand Canyon. What a beautiful sight! But suddenly, to your horror, you see a blind person walking around the rim of the canyon. The person is using a cane, so he has some awareness of the danger. But he chooses to walk in danger anyways.

It gets worse! Terribly worse!

You see that blind person walking toward the edge. Slowly but surely he nears that edge. Then, sadly, he even walks off and falls to his peril.

You stood by and watched the whole thing take place. But you didn’t say anything. Why? Because it was “none of your business.”

Was it really loving of you to “mind your own business”? Would you not say that though that blind person brought on his own death, you also shared in culpability because you said nothing?

That’s exactly what God told Ezekiel, and that’s exactly what God tells his people today. We are his watchmen. It is absolutely, completely, definitely our business what other people do because it our  job, our commission, our mission, and our ministry to speak the Word of God to others.

No, we are not to stand in judgment of others. That’s for God to do. No, we are not to look down our noses at others as if we have never sinned and we are so much better. That’s neither realistic nor loving.

But rather we are supposed to be God’s watchmen carefully, clearly, and lovingly proclaiming the truth. Listen to the apostle Peter:

15 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, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:15-16)

God wants us to be prepared to speak his truth, to be his mouthpiece, to be his watchmen. Yet–so importantly–he tells us to do so with gentleness and respect. It is in love for the eternal salvation of those living in sin that we proclaim God’s message: “Turn! Turn from your evil ways!” (After we preach the message to ourselves first!)

Many have told me before, “It’s none of your business.” Well actually, yes it is. God has charged me as both Christian and  pastor to be a watchman and to proclaim his truth with gentleness, respect, and love.

And besides, I care! I do not want to see people walk off the edge of the cliff!

So, fellow Christians, stand your watch. Care. Love. Proclaim God’s truth.

It is your business.