January 14, 2018

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Jan 152018

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Devotion: 2 Chr. 2:4-6, 1 Ki. 8:27-30

4 Now I am about to build a temple for the Name of the LORD my God and to dedicate it to him for burning fragrant incense before him, for setting out the consecrated bread regularly, and for making burnt offerings every morning and evening and on the Sabbaths, at the New Moons and at the appointed festivals of the LORD our God. This is a lasting ordinance for Israel.

5 “The temple I am going to build will be great, because our God is greater than all other gods.

6 But who is able to build a temple for him, since the heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain him? Who then am I to build a temple for him, except as a place to burn sacrifices before him?

27 But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!

28 Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day.

29 May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place.

30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.


As we heard this morning, the Holy Spirit caused the writers of Scripture to use the imagery of the shepherd and his sheep in many different places in the Bible. The first person to use this imagery was King David, in the 23rd Psalm. David was the shepherd king of Israel. He was an ancestor of, and one who foreshadowed the Good Shepherd, Jesus. David wanted to build a proper temple for the Lord. He didn’t think it was right that he lived in a palace while the Ark of the Lord had only a tent. But the Lord told him through the prophet Nathan that he was not going to be the one to build the temple. His son Solomon would be the one who would carry out David’s wishes and build a beautiful temple for the Lord.

When you think of Solomon what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Probably wisdom, right? He was one of the wisest men who ever lived. Today we want to take note of what this wise man says about building a temple, a building for the name of the Lord.

The first thing he says (v 5) is that the building he would build for the Lord would be great. It would be the best he could build. It would have gold and silver and expensive cloth with beautiful embroidery. He wanted it to be great, the best, because it would reflect what he thought of God. God is greater than all so-called gods. He is the one and only true God who had offered to give Solomon whatever he asked. And when he humbly asked for wisdom so that he could be the best he could be in service of God and his people, God had given him fame and fortune as well. Solomon wanted this temple, this building for the Lord, to reflect his respect, love and thankfulness to God for all he had done for him.

There’s always a tension in our hearts, and between Christians, when it comes to building a building for the Lord. How much should you spend on a building, and how much should you spend on actual ministry? It’s a good discussion to have. I have known congregations who are building poor. The mortgage on their building is so large that they can’t afford to spend much on ministry. But sometimes people mistakenly think that if only they had a great building they wouldn’t have to do any ministry.

The bottom line of this discussion is, God always deserves our best, both in whatever building we build for his name, and in whatever ministry we do. We want to have the heart of Solomon, the desire to do the best we can for God because of all he does and has done for us- He gave his only perfect Son to save us. You can’t get much better than that. Our God is the greatest! He deserves the best.

The building and the courts around the Temple were to be the place where the OT priests brought the required offerings and where the great required festivals were celebrated. It would be a place where people would learn the truth about the one and only true God; that he is holy and righteous, but also a God who has provided a way for sin to be forgiven- through a sacrifice that served as your substitute.

Today we are not required to bring sacrifices because what those sacrifices foreshadowed has been fulfilled. Jesus has offered himself as the once-for-all-time sacrifice for sin. He is the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world.

Our buildings today are a place where people learn the truth about God; that he is holy and righteous, that he requires payment for sin, but that he has provided that payment in Jesus. They are places where we see the new covenant in action as children are received by him through baptism in place of circumcision, and as the Passover is replaced with its fulfillment, the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood for the forgiveness of sins.

Solomon knew that the building he built for the Lord, no matter how great, could not contain God, as the heathen thought. Heaven, even the highest heaven, cannot contain him. But, Solomon knew that God promised to be present with his people who gathered at the temple courts for worship. Jesus still promises to be present with us when even as few as 2 or 3 gather in his name, here in this building, or anywhere.

A building dedicated to the Lord doesn’t save anyone. But, when people come to a building dedicated to the Lord and hear his word, the Holy Spirit is at work. God himself is present as he promised, wherever he causes his name to be honored he will come and bless.

Solomon also reminded the people, and he reminds us, that whether we are in a building dedicated to the Lord or not, he promises to hear our prayers. Although we can pray at anytime, anywhere, about anything, the most fervent prayers usually come when we are in trouble. The most fervent prayers come when we realize that we have sinned and brought not only earthly trouble on ourselves, but that we deserve to have God punish us for all eternity. So, Solomon says, when you pray, remembering what you learned at the building dedicated to God’s name, that you are a chief of sinners and that Jesus came to save sinners, then be assured that the Lord hears and forgives.

Today Bethel is celebrating 10 years of worshiping in the current building, and Grace dedicated their/this building 7 years ago in January. As you thank God for the blessing of theses buildings, do so remembering the wisdom of Solomon. God is the greatest! He always deserves your best. Make sure these buildings are always places where people, where anyone, can come and learn the truth about God. He is holy and just, but also gracious and forgiving. Make sure these buildings are always a place where God’s word is taught in truth and purity, and the sacraments are given as Christ instituted them, for the forgiveness of sins. When you face trouble, when your conscience convicts you of sin, remember that God hears your prayers. In Jesus God forgives.

December 31, 2017

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Jan 022018

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Colossians 3:16a

The old year is almost over. There are just a few hours left. The new year is about to start. If you could look at the new year as a clean slate, a fresh start, what would you do? What would your priorities be? What would you do differently than you did last year?

The context of these words of God through Paul provides a fitting answer to these questions. His encouragement is to put off the old and put on the new. By the old, he means the old man, the sins of the past. By the new, he means the new man, the things that are pleasing to God, that reflect his image, his holiness and unselfish love.

Paul understands that’s a tall order. He understands what it means to struggle to put off the old man and put on the new. You know what he shared in Romans 7 about sometimes doing the evil he didn’t want to do and failing to do the good he wanted to do. That’s why he starts this section by reminding us of what God has made us in Jesus. He says, Therefore, as God’s elect, holy and loved.

He reminds us that, in eternity, even before we were born, God elected us. He chose us to be his dear children. Because Jesus came to earth and lived a holy life in our place and then paid for all our sins by his death in our place in the cross, He considers us holy. Through baptism and the hearing of the word, he has brought us to know and believe that he loves us more than anyone else in the world, for who else would sacrifice their only perfect son to save a sinner like us? Knowing who we are, elect, holy, loved children of God; knowing what God did to make this happen; that’s our motivation, our reason for struggling, for doing the hard thing, for putting off the old and putting on the new.

When people make resolutions for the new year you know what usually happens. They start out like gangbusters, but after a while, maybe a month, or a few weeks, or even a couple days, the resolution goes by the wayside and they are back to old habits again. The guys I swim with over lunch joke about it. In January the pool is full, it’s hard to get a lane. We look at each other and say, wait a few weeks, it will be just us again.

We laugh about it when those resolutions are about earthly things that really don’t matter all that much in the great scheme of things, but it’s not a laughing matter when in comes to spiritual things and where we spend eternity. So, how do we keep from losing our motivation to put off the old and put on the new? Paul says, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.

It is the word of Christ, the good news of our forgiveness in Jesus, that provides us with the motivation we need. So, Paul says, let it dwell in you. Have it become a part of you so that every time you face a decision, no matter how big or small, a word of Christ comes to mind. When you find yourself worrying about something, the word of Christ I am with you always comes to mind. When you are faced with some temptation, the word resist the devil and he will flee from you, and he who stands firm to the end will be saved, comes to mind. When you face a difficulty, a medical crisis, and you wrestle with God in prayer, the word of Christ yet not my will but thy will be done comes to mind. When people seem to laugh at you, or you suffer loss because of your faith in Jesus, the word take up your cross and follow me, and whoever confesses me before men I will confess before my father in heaven comes to mind.

In order for this to happen, in order for the word of Christ to dwell in you richly so that his words come to mind when you need them, you have to be in contact with the word richly. That doesn’t mean putting a Bible under your pillow, or on the coffee table, and hoping the word will transfer to you by osmosis like a phone on a wireless charger. It means actually plugging in to the word. It means coming to worship regularly, and actually listening and maybe even reading along and taking notes. It means being involved in some kind of regular Bible study, with a group at church, on your own, using the online Bible studies, so that you aren’t just reading words but actually thinking about what they mean for you. And, people like to down-play it in our world today, but the best way to have the word of Christ dwell in you is to memorize parts of it, and richly means more than just John 3:16. When you face trials or temptations in life the first line of defense and comfort will be those words that you memorized, either because you heard or read them so often, or because you memorized them on purpose. As I have told some of you before, when my dad was totally incapacitated by polio, in an iron lung, unable to move, what gave him strength and encouragement were the hymns and Bible passages he had memorized in his Lutheran Grade School and Catechism class.

What will happen as the word of Christ dwells in you richly so that you are reminded constantly of how much he loves you, and so that you think about what he says about every situation you face in life? The peace of Christ will control your hearts. You will experience what the world is looking for but can’t find because they are looking in all the wrong places. You will experience a peace that passes understanding, a peace the world can not give because only Jesus can give it. It’s peace with God that comes from knowing your sins are forgiven and that you have eternal life because of what Jesus has done for you.

When the word of Christ dwells in you richly and the peace of Christ controls your heart, it changes the way you interact with others. It enables you to be filled with heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience as you deal with others, whether in your family, at work, or at school. It enables you to bear with one another and forgive each other if anyone has a complaint against anyone else. You are able to forgive, because you know that Christ has forgiven you, and has payed for that person’s sins too, even if they don’t realize it. And when it comes to your fellow Christians, especially the members of your own congregation, you are reminded that you are one body, so that, whatever you say or do to another you are doing to yourself, to a part of your body. As Paul wrote by inspiration in the previous verses, here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

When the word of Christ dwells in you richly and the peace of Christ controls your heart, it changes the way you look at worldly things. It helps you set your sights on things above instead of on earthly things. It helps you fight against greed and coveting and moves you to be thankful. It puts a song in your heart so that you, sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. It moves you to do everything you do, whether in word or deed, … in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

We had a wonderful example of what happens when the word of Christ dwells in you richly in our Gospel lesson today. God’s word was dwelling in Simeon richly. Through the word he learned about the coming of the promised Savior. Through the word he realized his personal need for a savior. He longed for that savior to come. He prayed for that Savior to come. He watched for him. And, in some way we are not told, God not only let him know that the Savior he longed for would come in his life time, but enabled him to recognize him among all the other babies who were brought to the temple courts that day. When he saw Jesus and held him in his arms he was filled with the peace that passes understanding. He was ready to depart this life, confident that he had eternal life because of what God had done for him.

The start of a new year seems like a clean slate, a fresh start. What will you do with it? I pray you will take Paul’s advice and let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Hear the word, read it, study it, meditate on it, take it to heart. Let the Spirit use the word to point out your sins, and then point you to Jesus for forgiveness. Then you will have peace that passes understanding, a peace that the world and all it offers cannot give. Then you will find that your new nature wins its battle with your sinful nature more often. Then you will find that your words and actions are more often filled with kindness, gentleness, humility and forgiveness. Then, no matter what happens, even if you face sickness or death, you will find yourself giving thanks to God the Father because of Jesus.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in this new year.

December 25, 2017

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Dec 272017

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John 1:1-14

Fellow Children of God,

The wonder of Christmas… You hear that phrase at Christmas time, but what does it mean? To some it’s nothing more than sitting back and watching children excitedly opening presents. But you don’t need Christmas for that. Something similar happens on their birthdays. To some it’s a spirit of giving and helping others. To some it’s working and praying for world peace. Again, you really don’t need Christmas for that. Those are things you can, and probably should be doing all year round. You won’t truly know or appreciate the wonder of Christmas until you have listened to what John says.

The wonder of Christmas isn’t that a poor couple had a cute little baby boy and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. The wonder of Christmas comes from thinking about who this baby is. John reminds us that he is no ordinary baby. He is God, the eternal God who existed before the beginning and always has existed. He is the creator of everything that exists. In fact, John says that not one single thing exists that was not created through him. He is the eternal Word made flesh. Isn’t that a wonder? The eternal creator of all that exists, chose to take on flesh and blood like us, to live on this sin-infected world like us, to make himself subject to the laws of nature, the laws of God and the laws of man. He was willing to live inside of Mary for 9 months and be born; to be a helpless baby who had to be nursed and changed, and undergo circumcision. It’s a wonder. It’s beyond our comprehension that anyone would be willing to give up the freedom and perfection of heaven for the restrictions and imperfections of life on this earth. But, by means of the Virgin Birth, that’s what Jesus, the Word, did. The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

You would think that something so wonderful would be recognized and celebrated by all. But it wasn’t; it isn’t. He is the light of the world. Without him there would be no such thing as light since he created it. But, because of sin, the world loved darkness instead of light. The darkness of sin and Satan tried to snuff out the light by nailing Jesus to the cross. But the darkness did not overcome the light. Yes, He died on the cross, but after three days he rose in glory from the dead and he now shines in his full glory as the God/Man at the right had of the father.

The world did not recognize him, but surely his own, his blood relatives, the descendants of Abraham and David, those who knew to look for his coming, who claimed to believe the promises of God regarding the Messiah; surely, they received him. No, they led the charge of the powers of darkness that tried to snuff out the light.

It’s a wonder. How could this be? We know the answer. It’s because of the power of sin. It’s because of the total depravity of the sinful nature, both of the Jew and the gentile. We are all born in the dark. We don’t want to come into the light because our deeds are evil. We don’t want our sins exposed. The light hurts our eyes. It hurts to see ourselves as we really are, condemned, slaves of sin, unable to do anything to change who we are or where we deserve to end up. Our natural reaction is to try to snuff out the light, to reject Jesus and consider a virgin birth and God becoming man as no more than a fairy tale.

It’s a wonder that Jesus didn’t respond to his rejection, even by his own people, by sending out a flash of light brighter than the largest hydrogen bomb to put an end to all life on earth. But he is full of grace. He is full of love for the unlovable. He is full of love for those who reject him and want to snuff out the light. He is full of love for sinners like you and me. In love he not only endured the rejection of the world, but he used it. He took the rejection, the mocking, the crucifixion and used it as a way to pay for the sin of the world, to suffer the punishment we deserved for our sin and rejection of the light.

It’s a wonder that, although Jesus was flesh and blood like us, although there was nothing about his looks that made him stand out, nor anything about his place of birth or his home town that was glorious; yet John and others saw his glory. They saw the light of his glory as God shine through like the rays of the sun piercing the clouds for a moment, when they witnessed him healing sickness and disease, calming the storm, walking on the water, casting out demons, and raising the dead. They saw the light of his glory as God shine through as they heard him teach, for no one ever taught the way he did, with such humility and yet with such power and authority. They literally saw his glory as God shine as they stood with him on the mount of transfiguration. They witnessed what the voice of the Father had proclaimed from heaven at his Baptism and again at his Transfiguration, Jesus is the one and only, the only begotten Son of God. He is the only one capable of doing what was necessary to win salvation for mankind. They saw him risen from the dead. They watched as he ascended back to his rightful place in the glories of heaven.

The world did not recognize him. The darkness tried to snuff him out. His own did not receive him. Was his coming worthless? No. There were some who received him. There were some who were born again, who were not only born physically, but also spiritually. There were, and still are, some who are born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. They, we, are born of water and the Spirit. We are brought by the Holy Spirit to see the light, to believe that the name Jesus means savior; to believe that he is the light, that he is our tabernacle, that he is Immanuel, God with us. We have been brought by the Holy Spirit to call on the name of the Lord, and whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Through faith in Jesus we have been adopted into God’s family. We have been given the rights of sonship. We are children of God and heirs with Christ of eternal life.

That’s the greatest wonder of all, isn’t it? We, as imperfect, as full of sin as we are, have been given the right to be called children of God!

The wonder of Christmas. It’s not the gifts, the excitement of children, the spirit of giving, not even the beauty of the music of Christmas. The wonder of Christmas is that the creator of all who would have every right to come and destroy his rebellious creatures, chose instead to become one of us in order to save us. The wonder of Christmas is that, in Jesus, God shows his glory, not only as the almighty, holy and just God, but as the one who is full of grace and truth, who wants us to be his children forever.

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