Resurrection Power

Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! Matthew 6:22-23

Jesus isn’t talking about our eyesight. He is talking about faith. Can you see what God is up to in your life or are you so skeptical that feel all alone?

Read this again from another translation…

Jesus said, “Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!” Matthew 6:23

Jesus encourages us to not only look… but to also see God’s activity in our lives and in the world. 

Doubt, fear and anger causes our “spiritual eyes” to go bad.

I want to be your spiritual eye doctor so that you may see clearly the most important things. 

Doubt subtly suggests that Jesus really is NOT the Son of God instead a great teacher. Many who have reservations believe Jesus was a great man but that is all.

I don’t know if you know this, but the Old Testament is filled with all sorts of predictions about the Son of God coming to be with us including his death and eventual resurrection!

Jesus fulfilled each of these predictions written hundreds of years before his birth.  It is difficult to be “just a normal guy” and fulfill every prediction written about a Messiah (a savior). 

Seriously, what are the odds of one person fulfilling all the prophecies written about them? 

Well, let me tell you…

Cover the state of Texas, all 268,597 miles of it with silver dollars, three feet high. This is about 7.5 billion cubic feet of silver dollars. 

Now mark one of those silver dollars with an “X” and throw it anywhere into the pile within the state of Texas. 

Now, let’s drop a blindfolded person from an airplane over Texas (with a parachute), and tell them to reach down anywhere, and pick up one silver dollar after he lands. 

The odds of them picking up the silver dollar with the “X” out of all those coins are the same as one person satisfying all of the predictions about the Son of God in the Old Testament. 

And that is exactly what Jesus did (fulfilled the predictions, that is, not the dollar thing)!

That helps clear up some of the darkness in our eyes, doesn’t it?

This past Sunday we celebrated the most important event in human history. The resurrection of Jesus Christ. Had that not happened, human history would be completely different, and I wouldn’t be writing to you in this moment!

Do you believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus? I do.

Do you believe that the same divine power that resurrected Jesus from the dead is available to us today? I believe that too.

That is the difference between belief and faith. Believing is knowing that divine power raised Jesus from the dead almost 2000 years ago. Faith is knowing that resurrection power is available to us as well. 

Belief is the first step… faith is the last step. Belief is good but faith is better. 

It is the resurrection power of Jesus that comforts me when I am sad or scared.

It is resurrection power of Jesus that gives me courage to lead.

It is resurrection power of Jesus that gives me the strength to share my faith and even serve others. 

Never forget: That power is only a prayer away. 

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

Article: God’s Master Plan

Personal reflection is a hallmark of the Lenten season. Jesus spent 40 days reflecting on his mission to save the world. We too have the opportunity to spend 40 days reflecting on what God has done for us and for humanity. 

We often miss the “big picture” of God’s Masterplan. God’s plan took thousands of years to implement and involved many course corrections because of human error. 

Below is an extremely abbreviated guide of “God’s Masterplan” so that we may get a glimpse of what God has done for us… and at what lengths. 

Take some time to reflect on each of these.

  1. God Created – The Universe and Us!

God created everything there is, including us. What motivated God to take on such a big infrastructure project like this? Love. God is love and everything God does is done out of love.

  • Genesis 1:1
  • John 3:16a
  • 1 John 4:8

2. Humanity Rebelled – Against God’s Rule

From the earliest days of recorded history, we recognized our preference to do things our way and not God’s way. We created a rift between God and ourselves. Yet God never gave up on us and decided to repair the relationship we intentionally broke. We walked away. God will never give up on us.  

  • Genesis 3:2-7

3. God Chose – Abraham and Sarah to Build a Nation

In order to fix what we broke, God’s first step was to build a nation in which to share the most important principles of life and God’s will. God chose old, childless Abraham and Sarah. God gets all the credit for building this nation from two retirees. 

  • Genesis 12:1-4

4. God Instructs – The Nation of Israel 

Many years after God chose Abraham and Sarah, the nation of Israel is ready to move towards a clearly defined relationship with God. God not only gives them the 10 Commandments but also many other principles to help us understand how bad sin is and how to receive forgiveness. These laws will one day help the world understand what Jesus Christ did on the cross. 

  • Exodus 20:1-17

5. God Establishes – The Promised Land and a Place of Worship

More years pass and the nation of Israel is more than just a people, it also possesses a homeland! God promised the Israelites a place to call home all the way back when Abraham was alive. More years pass and the first temple to worship God is established in Jerusalem thereby cementing the practice of sacrificial atonement of sins. Once again, this plays a crucial role in understanding what Jesus did for us on the cross.

  • Joshua 1:1-6
  • 2Chronicles 7:11-12

6. God Sends – Jesus to the World

Another 1000 years goes by and it is now the right time for God’s greatest gift to be given (since creation). God sends himself and lives among his people. Jesus teaches, heals and loves all.

  • Galatians 4:4
  • John 1:14
  • Luke 2:10-11

7. God Repairs – The Damage of our Sin and Rebellion

Jesus knew that his mission was to repair the damage done by humanity when we chose to do things our way versus God’s way. Jesus came to repair the rift in our relationship with God caused by sin. Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins. Yet, three days later he rose from the dead and reminds us that love wins in the end.  Because of Jesus, we are forgiven and promised to be reunited with him and other Christians at the end of our lives. 

  • Matthew 17:22
  • John 1:29
  • Mark 15:37-39
  • Mark 16:5-7
  • Revelation 21:1-4

8. God Gives – The Holy Spirit

God accepts us as we are but does not want to leave us in that condition. Jesus wants to transform our lives by giving us the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us. It is the Spirit that causes us to grow in our relationship with Jesus and shapes us for service in this hurting world. 

  • John 14:26
  • Acts 1:4-5
  • Acts 2:17-18

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: Lent

So, it is the church season of Lent.  

Some don’t like Lent because it is too somber, serious or shame filled. Lent should never be a season of shaming, but it can be a time of serious reflection. 

The fact of the matter is that we are sinners. We are broken. We choose our way long before God’s way. The image of God within us is marred, distorted and incomplete because of our choices. I get it,  we don’t like to be told those things nor do we want to own that part of our lives. Yet, it is the truth. 

That is only part of the equation. If we don’t see ourselves as sinners then we don’t need Jesus. Saint Paul reminds us that, “Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6b) If you don’t count yourself among the ungodly, then it is difficult to receive the forgiveness of Jesus not to mention the adoption into God’s family. 

Lent is the time to think about our great need for a savior. Lent is a time to face the fact that without Jesus we would be totally lost. Lent can be a time of great joy because we are reminded of God’s mercy towards the broken, lost and forsaken (us). 

When we start playing the comparison game, we lose perspective. Remember when Jesus told the story of the Pharisee (religious leader) and the tax collector (despised) who went to pray? The Pharisee started his prayer this way, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.” (Luke 18:11). 

This guy thought, “Well, I am not so bad, compared to other people.” God isn’t grading on the curve. We all need what Jesus offers. 

The culturally despised tax collector approached God, “He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’” (Luke 18:12)

Clearly, we need to take the approach of the tax collector. This isn’t just my opinion, Jesus thinks so too.

Jesus said, “I tell you that this man (the tax collector), rather than the other (the Pharisee), went home justified (accepted) before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:14

  • The Church takes 40 days to consider our need for what Jesus offers during Lent.
  • Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness contemplating and being tempted.
  • The children of Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness attempting to be faithful after turning their back on God’s promises. 

40 is a number of testing and trial in the Bible. I don’t think we are being tested by God but I do believe that Lent is the time to wrestle with our misperceptions about ourselves. If we engage, we will celebrate Good Friday and Easter morning with greater appreciation, greater joy and greater assurance of Jesus’ love in our lives.  Amen.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Jesus + Nothing = Everything: Galatians 1

We begin a new sermon in the letter Saint Paul wrote to the church in Galatia. We often want to add requirements the free gift that Jesus offers all. We spend the next 6 weeks getting ready for Easter by going back to the basics. At the end of the message is a wonderful song performed by Robby Wingfield.

Article: Love Your Neighbor

Did you see this news story from last week? It warmed my heart, and it has something to teach us…

An Austrian man who fled the Nazis with his family during World War II has bequeathed a large part of his fortune to the French village whose residents hid them from persecution for years. 

Eric Schwam, who died at age 90 on December 25, wrote the surprise gift into his will for Chambon-sur-Lignon, located on a remote mountain plateau in southeast France that historically has a large Protestant community known for offering shelter to those in need.

Schwam and his family arrived in 1943 and were hidden in a school for the duration of the war. They stayed until 1950. 

He later studied pharmacy and married a Catholic woman from the region near Lyon, where they lived.

President Jacques Chirac gestures as he visits Chambon sur Lignon’s former train station, central France, Thursday July 8, 2004. Between 3,500 and 5,000 Jews were hidden by villagers, mostly Protestants, during WWII. Behind is Nazi death camp survivor Simone Veil while at left is mayor Francis Valla.

A local government official said that Mr. Schwam asked that the money be used for educational and youth initiatives, in particular scholarships.

Around 2,500 Jews were taken in and protected during World War II by Chambon-sur-Lignon, whose residents were honored as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center.

Over the centuries this village has taken in a wide range of people fleeing religious or political persecution, from priests driven into hiding during the French Revolution to Spanish republicans during the civil war of the 1930s, and more recently migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa.

As it turns out, Mr. Schwam’s estate will end up being a gift of approximately $2.4 million USD.

Honestly, I am more touched by this city’s kindness than I am about the gift. 

This town didn’t take in this Jewish family thinking, “What’s in it for us?” They welcomed the stranger because it was the right thing to do. But it wasn’t just this one Jewish family, it was 2,500 people—that’s as many residents as were living in the town at the time.  This means that they welcomed one refugee for every citizen! I think Israel has it right, this town is definitely numbered among the “Righteous Among the Nations.”

This town knew something about oppression. This town was predominantly protestant (like us Lutherans) and had faced persecution by the Roman Catholic majority of France over the years. 

The people of Le Chambon acted upon their conviction that it was their duty to help their “neighbors in need.” 

Many factors joined together to create this generous spirit: the history of Protestant persecution as a religious minority in Catholic France; empathy for Jews as the people of the Old Testament and a shared biblical heritage; and, last but not least, the powerful leadership and example of the pastor and his wife, André and Magda Trocme.

That’s right, the local pastor of this town led the charge to hide and save as many Jewish people as he could. 

Of course, the government suspected that something “big” was happening in the town of Chambon and they investigated.

At one point, the authorities demanded that the pastor cease his activities. His response was clear-cut: “These people came here for help and for shelter. I am their shepherd. A shepherd does not forsake his flock… I do not know what a Jew is. I know only human beings.

May we only see human beings when gaze upon others. Lord, let the silly and superficial things that divide us fall away so that we can truly see the image of God in each other. 

God grant us the vision to see those who are in need and the will to serve our desperate neighbor regardless of their background or ethnicity. Amen.

Article: Getting Ready

What are you doing to grow your faith in Christ during the pandemic? Have you seen this time as an opportunity to grow?

The old adage is true, one can sometimes “make lemonade out of lemons.” I hope you have seen this as a time to build up your faith instead of losing it in the despair of this past year. 

Or if you already have a “spiritual routine” in your life, I hope you have continued.

There are 168 hours in a week and if you devote one hour a week to spiritual matters that is only .6% of your entire week. Not even a full one percent! If our only spiritual endeavor is worship, you are starving your soul!

There are lots of tools available to you. Daily broadcasts from church, a once-a-week Bible Study on Wednesdays, free daily devotionals that we will mail to you.  Bruce Ewing writes a daily devotional that can be emailed to you. There are also podcasts, audio books and even just plain old regular books to read!

Besides studying scripture throughout the week, I also listen to audiobooks whenever I am in the car. Most recently, I have been listening to “The History of Christianity, Volume 1.” It is not a devotional, but I am refreshing myself on the history of the Christian church.

Honestly, I want you to be ready for the day you meet Jesus face to face. We all share the same destination. Whether you believe it or not, a part of this life is getting ready for what awaits us in eternity. A part of my calling is to help you get ready for that day. 

I am reminded of something that Pastor Paul wrote to the church of Corinth about this very idea. He reminded them to get ready too. 

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any person builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day (of judgment) will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what they have built survives, they will receive their reward. If it is burned up, they will suffer loss; they will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. 1Corinthians 3:11-15

Our foundation is faith in Christ alone. I think we can all agree on that. However, what we build on that foundation might not be godly. To put it another way, the things we invest our time, money and effort in this life may not be of God. Of course, we still have our faith in Christ, but not much to show for it. 

Saint Paul reminds us that the fruit of our labors will be put to the test (a refiner’s fire) at the end of our lives. The things we did that lift the name of Jesus and helped others will remain. Everything else will be burned up.  It is clear that there will be nothing to show for our selfish earthly labor. 

Paul makes the point that any Christian living an unfruitful life will still enter into heaven because of their faith in Christ, but it will be like escaping a fire with only the charred clothes on their back. 

I don’t know about you but I don’t want to get into heaven “by the skin of my teeth.” (That phrase also comes from scripture originally. Job proclaims it in the book by the same name in chapter 19, verse 20. “I am nothing but skin and bones; I have escaped with only the skin of my teeth.”)

I don’t think you want to enter heaven with only your soul either. Now is the time to get ready. It is never too late. 

Jesus reminds us that the things we do today, have eternal consequences. 

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19–21 

Every time you spend time in God’s Word you are storing up treasure.

Every time you help someone in need, you are storing up treasure.

Every time you meditate, contemplate and act on the love of Jesus you are storing up treasure.

We don’t need to add to the chaos of this world by chasing our own dreams and agendas. As Jesus said, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34

God bless you,
Pr. Ben