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We Have Hope

Saints Triumphant Sunday

We Have Hope

Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

It was a long day.  A usual day, but a long day.  Get the kids up.  Get the backpacks packed.  Rush out the door.  Meetings, meetings, meetings.  A pile of work that somehow was growing and not shrinking.  More meetings.  A massive headache.  Screaming down the highway, rushing to pick the kids up from school on time.  Getting home past dark.  Whipping up something for dinner.  It was a long day, but a normal day.  Until the phone rang.

“Is this Sheila Johnson?  Ms. Johnson it’s your husband.  There’s been an accident.  You need to come to the hospital immediately.”  Sheila nearly dropped the phone as she dropped her dinner plate.  She left the pool on the floor of spaghetti sauce mixed with fresh tears as she grabbed the kids and rushed out the door.  Whatever the speed limits were, she wasn’t following.  She drove almost as fast as her heart was beating.  Her family had never really prayed before.  They didn’t care too much about God because they didn’t really have time for God.  But to whatever god was out there, she was fervently and feverishly praying.  “Oh, Lord, please.  Please no,” she kept repeating.

Sheila burst into the ER.  She left the kids in the waiting room as the doctors pulled her into a private room.  “I’m sorry Ms. Johnson.  You’re too late.  There’s nothing we could do.  Your husband has passed.”  The room erupted with an inhuman roar.  And as quickly as the wild wailing began, Sheila was passed out on the floor.   Read the rest of this entry

Why Are You Here?

Easter Festival Service

Why Are You Here?

Text: 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

Why Are You Here today?  Well many of you are members of this church.  Some of you are families from our school.  Some of you might be family visiting one of our church members or school families for Easter.  Some of you might be visitors who got one of our shnazzy Easter postcards in the mail.  I’m aware of all this.

But really though, Why Are You Here today?  What brought you to this church on this day?  Is it because “It’s Easter and that’s just what you do—you go to church”?  Maybe you’re a Chr-easter Christian—you don’t go to church much but at least you show up on Christmas and Easter.  Did your wife drag you to church today?  Did you come for the free Easter Egg Hunt for your kids?

Maybe you’re here because your’e looking for some kind of relief from that crazy, messed up world out there.  Maybe you’re hoping that church will give you some kind of answers.  Maybe God will make things better, or at least make you feel better, if you come to church.  Maybe you’re here because you feel like you have to, like it’s an obligation, like God would be really mad if you don’t at least go to church on Easter.  Maybe you’re here because you’re a Christian and that’s just what you do—you go to church.  Maybe you don’t know why you’re here.

You must be here today for some reason and you must be looking to get something out of church.  Otherwise why would you waste your time, right?  Some people look for strength from church.  Some people hope God will take away their aches and pains or sicknesses.  Some people hope God will finally make life easier, maybe take away a few bills and make a few dollars magically appear.  Some people have hope that God can change this crazy, messed up world.

What if I asked you right now to write down in your service folder the top two things you want from God?  What do you think you would write?  My guess is that most answers would be like the hopes I just mentioned:  I want a new job (or better job) from God.  I want God to fix my family problems.  I want God to remove the threat of terrorism.  I want God to take away my stress.  I want God to let me catch my breath for once.

I would also guess that if you pray, your prayers often sound a lot like that too:  God, could you take away this sickness!  God, could you heal my sister!  God, would you please take this problem out of my life!  God, just a little more money.  Not a lot.  But a little more money would go a long way for me!

But do you notice what every one of those things has in common?  Yes, most of them are things I want.  Some are about other people, too.  But the one thing that is common is this—they all have to do with things in this earthly life.

So I’ll ask you again:  Why Are You Here today?  What is Easter really about?  What do you want God in your life for?  A quick fix?  A better life?  An easier, happier life?

On a day as important as Easter, it is good to do this self-reflection about why we are here and what God means to us.  So it is also important to hear these words from Paul today in the first verse of the second lesson:  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”

What a striking verse!  If the reason that we are here today, if what we hope to get out of church, if what we hope to get from Jesus only has to do with things in this life and this world, then we are to be pitied more than all other people.  Think about that.  If what you want from Jesus and what Jesus offers to you are only things for this life, what a giant waste of time!  We are wasting our time at church and we are wasting our time with Jesus.  If Jesus came only to fill your wallets and give you a big house and take away all your problems and bring world peace, what good will any of that be when you die?  If Jesus only gives us hope for this life we should be pitied because we are wasting our time, our service hours, our offerings.  It would be a waste because nothing he would give us would last.  What good would any of that do for me in eternity?

Do you see how short-sighted and narrow-minded we sometimes become?  Do we have lots of pains and problems and troubles and sicknesses?  Absolutely!  Should we be going to God for help with those things.  Definitely.  No one else can help us like God can.  But should these worldly things be our greatest concern in life?  Absolutely not.  No way.  Not at all.

You see, that’s how sinful hearts work.  They draw attention and focus away from God.  Like a horse with blinders on, my sinful heart becomes completely focused on my life, on this life, on this world.  That’s why the old song Amazing Grace says, “I once was lost but no am found, was blind but now I see.”  We get lost in sin and blinded to what really matters most.

And this is what matters most:  What is my relationship with God like and where am I going to spend eternity when I die?

So good news.  You are here today.  And it’s Easter.  Whether you know it or not, whether you are here for this reason today or not, God has a most important message for you to hear.  Are your ready for it?  It’s the beginning of verse 20:  But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.”  Isn’t that awesome?  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.

Do you get the flow of thought?  Go back to the first verse again:  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”  If Christ only gives us hope for this life, that is pitiable and useless.  But he doesn’t because, Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.”  Because Christ has been raised from the dead we have a different hope and a better hope than just for this life.  And that’s the best news we could ever hear.

Here’s how it works.  Let’s explore this paragraph.  Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”  Jesus is called here the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep, or died.  In the Old Testament, the firstfruits were the first and best of an offering presented to the Lord.  The firstfruits were waved before the Lord first and they were a guarantee of blessings yet to come.  In the same way, Jesus was the first and best to rise from the dead and he is the guarantee that others will rise from the dead.

Keep reading:  For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”  Sin and death entered this world through Adam and Eve when they sinned.  Every single person has been a sinner and has had life in this world end.  But through the one God-man Jesus Christ comes resurrection.  In Adam all die, but in Jesus all are made alive.  Verse 23 then:  But each in his own turn:  Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.”  So Jesus was the first to rise from the dead.  Afterwards, all those who belong to him, who believe in him, will also rise from the dead.

That’s what this day, Easter, means to you.  Jesus died on Good Friday to pay for all your sin.  He suffered the death and hell that you deserve through Adam and your sin.  But on Easter, Jesus rose to prove to us that sin has been paid for.  Jesus proves to us that death cannot hold us.  Jesus proves to us that a resurrection to a new and better life is waiting for us.  He was first and won the victory, then he gives the victory to us.

There’s one last result to look at—the end, as in the very end on the Last Day.  Finish the paragraph.  Verse 24:  Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

This is not to say that Jesus’ reign will ever end.  We know that “He shall reign forever and ever.”  Rather, these verses tell us that on the Last Day Jesus will finally once and for all put an end to the reign of all spiritual dominions, authorities, and powers.  All his enemies will be done away with.  So come the Last Day, Jesus will once and for all do away with death and the devil.  He’s already defeated death and the devil.  He did that on Easter morning.  But on the Last Day he will get rid of them forever and ever.  Jesus will hand the keys back to the Father and say, “Mission completed.”

And guess what—you’re on his team!  Not only does that mean when you die you will rise to life in heaven, but you are also going to reign with Jesus forever and ever in glory!

So ask yourself this question again:  Why Are You Here today?  It’s not for Easter Eggs.  It’s not for egg dishes at Easter brunch (though they were great).  We’re all here to worship, to praise, and to thank Jesus Christ for delivering us from death and the devil and for giving us hope.  That’s right, we have hope now.  Not hope like, “I hope it doesn’t rain today,” or “I hope I win the lottery.”  You have real hope.  And not hope for things in this world either, like the hopes of being a millionaire or the hopes of world peace.  You have a real hope for a better life—an eternal life in heaven.

What a difference that makes in my life!  The apostle Paul was right, if Jesus gave me hope only for this life it would be pitiable, worthless, and a waste of time.  What good will fame and fortune, health and happiness do me when I die?  They’ll all be gone.  But Jesus doesn’t give me those things.  Jesus gives me something better.  Jesus gives something perfect and wonderful and beautiful to look forward—a life of peace and joy and happiness forever and ever with him.

That makes a difference in my life.  Do I really need to get so stressed out about schedules and appointments when I know peace and tranquility are coming in heaven?  Do I really need to worry so much about money or work so hard to get bigger TVs and faster cars when I know better riches are coming in heaven?  Do I really need to be afraid of every disease or disaster or even death when I know that death only means going to sleep and waking up in heaven?

That certainly also changes my priorities.  If I have a real and certain hope of life in heaven, that’s something I’m going to want to learn more about.  That’s something I’m going to want to thank God for.  That’s something I’m going to tell others about.   Real hope from Jesus changes every aspect of my life.

So Why Are You Here today?  Well I’m not sure what your real reason for coming was.  But I do know why you’ll come back.  I know why you’re life is going to be different.  I know why you have peace and joy that you can’t explain.  And I know why you have a real and certain hope for a real life forever with God.  Because Christ is risen, he is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

AMEN

Life is Very Different When You Have Christ

1st Sunday after Christmas

Life is Very Different When You Have Christ

Text: Luke 2:25-40

The Christmas picture.  A staple of the season.  We have a whole basket full of Christmas pictures and Christmas cards.  Tech savvy folks see Christmas pictures all over—Facebook, Instagram, Email.  Everyone wants to share their holiday cheer.

Here’s a picture of a family of four in matching Christmas sweaters and jeans.  There’s a picture of the retired couple with all their children and grandchildren.  Here’s a picture of the young kids surrounded by a mountain of presents.  There’s a picture of the family in front of the Christmas tree.  Every picture is the same, right?  A couple, a family smiling in some staged pose with the message, “Happy Holidays,” or “Merry Christmas.”

But the Christmas picture is deceiving.  It’s staged and posed in more ways than one.  The message might say, “Happy Holidays,” or “Merry Christmas,” but the people in the picture are anything but happy or merry. Read the rest of this entry

God Knows the Plans

School Opening Service

God Knows the Plans

Text: Jeremiah 29:10-13

Intro

There are only a few left who would remember this.  It was the Spring of 2008.  Christ the King had been given a small grant to start up a preschool.  The search was on to find a location.  We had been renting out Wadsworth Elementary School for worship, but we had no place to start the preschool.  At the time, there weren’t a lot of spaces available in Palm Coast.

One of the first sites we looked at was the empty space attached to the gas station way over I-95 on the corner of Palm Coast Parkway and Clubhouse Dr.  A contract was being worked out, but the owners became afraid of insurance liability with a school and they backed out.  We didn’t know it, but that was a very good thing.  Then we looked at one of the retail spaces behind Goodwill.  But that was way too small.

Then we looked at the strip mall on Palm Coast Parkway right next to Sears.  Right now the spaces are occupied by Massey.  They were two big open spaces—big enough to seat both our Sunday morning worship and to host our preschool.  It was perfect!  No more lugging things in and out of Wadsworth every Sunday, dripping sweat and wasting time.  One ministry location for both the church and the school.  And a decent price, too!  It was perfect!  Quickly we signed the contract.

I’ll never forget the excitement I had on that one Sunday as I pulled the keys out of my pocket and announced we soon would be moving to a  new, permanent.  Everyone (which was about 25 people back then) cheered.  But that very next week the city of Palm Coast said they wouldn’t allow a playground area there and we had to cancel the contract.

Dejected, the search went on.  The next location was the landscaping business in Bunnell next to the campground and the storage facilities, across from Church on the Rock.  It was spacious and very affordable.  A contractor made drawings for the renovations.  A contract was drawn up.  It looked promising—until the agent didn’t return my phone calls.  Finally, two weeks later he got back to me to say that he sold it out from under us to someone else. Read the rest of this entry

Which is Better? Life or Death?

3rd Sunday after Pentecost – Confirmation Sunday

Which is Better?

Text: Philippians 1:18b-26

Intro

Today is a special day for Christ the King.  We haven’t done this before.  Strange enough, in the six year history of Christ the King today is our first ever confirmation Sunday.  We’ve had plenty of adults join our church when standing up here to confirm their unity of belief and dedication to the Lord.  I’m privileged to have taken most of you adults here today through those instructional classes.

We’ve also had plenty of young’uns at Christ the King.  Hence the herd that stampeded down the hallway to children’s church a few minutes ago.  But we’ve never had eighth grade students go through catechism classes and confirmation.  Today, we have our first three.

The practice of catechism classes and confirmation is not something unique to Christ the King.  It’s not even specifically Lutheran.  In fact, the practice is as old as the Christian church itself.  Just before Jesus ascended into heaven he told his disciples, Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing the in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  You heard those words this morning and saw that command carried out with Lucy’s awesome baptism.  But Jesus also continued that command saying, Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing the 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.”  So Jesus’ disciples and the early Christians began to thoroughly teach everything Christ taught. Read the rest of this entry