Monday, March 30, 2015

Yesterday at Ebenezer, we celebrated Palm Sunday, the confirmation of eight of our young people, and it was my last Sunday.  In the message, we looked at the crowd that assembled on Palm Sunday, and compared it with another crowd that gathered later that week to condemn Jesus.  And we asked: What Will You Do With Jesus? To stream or download the audio file, just click on the link.  This week, I'll begin serving Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Beulah, ND.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Last night, on our last Wednesday evening worship service of Lent, I shared about The Signs Accompanying Jesus' Death.  We saw that, as Jesus died, several things happened which revealed to the people who he truly is.  However, some recognized it and some didn't.  The same thing is true in our own time.  Some recognize the signs given by God and what they indicate to us about Jesus.  We receive him for who he truly is.  But other refuse him.  They deny the signs and what they mean, along with the salvation Jesus has provided.  The question for us is this: What is our response to Jesus?  What is our response to the signs that accompanied both his life and death? To stream or download this message, click on the link.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Thy Will Be Done

            On the night that Jesus was betrayed, we see how he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He prayed (Luke 22:42 ESV): "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done."
            A couple of things stand out as we read this prayer.  We see that, first of all, Jesus didn’t look forward to the suffering he was to endure.  He knew what was to happen.  But, if he could somehow satisfy God’s will without enduring this pain, he asked that he might not have to withstand it.
            I think that most of us can understand his feelings.  None of us like to suffer.  None of us enjoy pain.  If it’s possible, we would much rather avoid it.  And so it’s understandable to us that, even though he is God, Jesus felt that same way.  Because he was fully man, like you and me, he didn’t want to endure unnecessary suffering.
            However, he was willing to endure suffering that he might satisfy the will of God.  And we know that it was the will of God for Jesus to suffer.  It’s was God’s will that Jesus should die upon the cross that he might pay the penalty of our sin.
            The will of God for our life in no way compares to that of Jesus.  We have been given a great calling by God.  We’ve been called to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.  But our suffering can never accomplish the end that his death produced. However, there are times when the will of God for our life involves pain of some sort.
            For this reason, like Jesus, we submit ourselves to the pain.  We submit ourselves to the Lord, that his will might be accomplished.  And we excitedly anticipate what God will do as he works in our life.
            This partially explains how I feel right now, as I leave the people of Ebenezer and Northwood.  In the few years that I’ve lived among you, I’ve grown to love the people of this church and this community.  And, for this reason, it pains me to leave.
            I am also not a person who enjoys moving around a great deal.  I like stability.  I prefer to build long-term relationships.  I feel that the best ministry can take place once the pastor and the congregation get past the “honeymoon” phase into the comfortable routine of life together.  And for this reason, in my mind, it’s much too soon for me to move on.
            However, that being said, I’m also excited to see what the Lord has in store.  I know that his will for me, and for all of us, is good and gracious.  And, for this reason, I believe that the greatest blessing will be experienced when we submit ourselves to his will, no matter how painful it may be.
            For this reason, I want to thank the people of Ebenezer and Northwood for allowing me to serve you the past few years.  Please know that you will be in my prayers.  And I hope that you’ll share my confidence that the Lord will work everything out for our mutual blessing.

            I ask for your continued prayers as my family and I move to Beulah, and I begin serving as pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church.  Pray that God will smooth our transition and that he will use us to bless the people of that church and community.

Monday, March 23, 2015

This past week, I was on vacation as I began moving our household to our new home.  However, here is the message from a week ago, as I continued our series on major Bible stories.  We looked at the story of Joseph Sold into Egypt.  And we asked ourselves how we respond to feelings of jealousy and hatred.  To stream or download this message, click on the link.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Content in God's Blessing

In Genesis 29-30, we read about the children who were born to Jacob. And we see that his wives, who were sisters, had a competitive attitude when it came to children. It began when God opened the womb of Leah, because she was not loved like Rachel, and gave her four sons. She envied her sister because of the love Jacob had for her.  And she felt that, because she had given him children, Jacob would finally love her.
     Rachel, however, was barren and was jealous of her sister because of the children God had given her. So she gave her servant to Jacob as a wife that she might build a family through her. With this serpent, Bilhah, Jacob had two sons. When the second was born, she declared that she'd prevailed over her sister.
     The competitive attitude didn't stop there. Because she'd stopped bearing children, Leah also gave her servant to Jacob as a wife. And with this servant, Zilpah, Jacob had two sons.
     At this point, Leah conceived again. She bore two more sons to Jacob. And, again, she was convinced that her husband would honor her because she'd born to him so many sons.
     Then, finally, God opened Rachel's womb and she bore a son. She would later have one more son before dying in childbirth.
     We see in this that Rachel and Leah were jealous of each other. They envied the blessings that God had given the other. Leah envied Rachel and the love that Jacob had for her. And Rachel envied Leah for the children God had given her.
As we read this account, it seems almost ridiculous.  We realize that Rachel should have thanked God for the blessing of a loving husband.  And we realize that Leah should have thanked God for the children he’d given her.  But, instead, they focused not on the blessing God had given to them, but on the blessing given to the other.
     Even knowing that all we have is a gift of God, we often struggle in the same way. Even though God has richly blessed us, we envy the blessings God has given to others. We completely overlook the blessing God has given us.  We aren't satisfied with the grace God has given us. We want even more.
     Some women, who struggle to get pregnant, envy those who have several children. Mothers with many children sometimes envy the freedom of those who have no children. Mothers who work outside of the home envy mothers who are able to stay home with their children. And mothers who stay home with their children envy those who have an outside career..
     Even though they have a great job, men will often envy others who have a job with more responsibility, or a job that pays more. Even though God has given them a nice home, they envy those who have a bigger or nicer home.
     We even see this in ministry. Even though God has called them to serve him in ministry, which is a great honor in itself, some pastors become envious of others who serve in a larger congregation or who have more exposure.
     Instead of being envious of one another, we should rejoice in the ways that God has blessed others. And we should be thankful for the many ways in which God has blessed us.  Why God chooses to bless us in one way and someone else in another, we can't be sure. But, regardless of the reason, our own blessing is absolutely sure.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Longing for His Blessing

            In Biblical times, parents didn’t simply choose a random name for their child.  They didn’t go through the list of most popular names in their effort to choose the right one for their baby.  Names typically reflected the character of the child or, at times, the promise of God given to a child.
            We can see an example of this when we look at the story of Esau and Jacob in Genesis 25.  They were twins.  However, Esau was born first.
            When Esau was born, he was red.  His body is described as a hairy cloak.  And this is why he was given the name Esau.  It means “red.”
            Jacob came out of the womb with his hand holding Esau’s heel.  It seemed to his parents that he was trying to prevent Esau from being born first.  So they gave him his name, which means “he takes by the heel” or “he cheats.”
            When we consider their reasoning, we can understand why they chose this name for their second son.  He did emerge from the womb grasping the heel of his brother.  However, in another sense, this name hardly seems endearing.  After all, who would want to name their son “cheater?”
            Yet, even though his name may seem far from appealing to us, it reflects a quality in Jacob that’s essential for us to possess.  As an infant, it seemed that he desired to be born first.  And this was not simply a random occurrence.  We see that, as he grew, he desired the benefits of the firstborn.
            In their culture, the firstborn child was entitled to the birthright.  This meant that he would receive a double portion of the inheritance, and that he would be the leader of the family when their father passed.  In the case of Esau and Jacob, it also included the blessing of God which had been given to their grandfather, Abraham, and then passed to their father, Isaac.
            We see his desire as he took advantage of Esau.  After coming back exhausted from a day of hunting, and finding his brother cooking stew, Esau asked Jacob to share it with him.  Jacob, however, demanded Esau’s birthright in exchange for the stew.  It seems ridiculous that Esau gave in to Jacob’s demands.  But it seems equally absurd that Jacob was unwilling to share the stew with his brother and demanded something so valuable for so little a price.
            We see his desire again as Isaac intended to give his blessing to Esau.  Jacob, with the help of his mother, deceived Isaac.  And, in this way, he received the blessing instead of his brother.
            In no way am I suggesting that Jacob’s actions were right.  After all, God had told his mother before he was born that he would be greater than his brother.  And, for this reason, he should have trusted that God would be faithful to his Word.  He should have simply trusted that God would give to him the blessing.
            However, that being said, Jacob’s desire is one we should all share.  There’s, of course, no way we can scheme to gain possession of God's blessing.  There’s no way we can attain it by our own efforts.  However, knowing what God has done for us in Jesus, and knowing his promise that’s found in Jesus, we should desire his blessing above all else.  We should long for it more than anything this world has to offer.


Monday, March 09, 2015

Yesterday, we heard the next message in our series on major Bible stories.  We looked this week at Esau & Jacob and their contrasting attitudes.  We saw that, even though he obtained them wrongly, Jacob greatly desired the blessing of God.  Esau, however, despised his birthright.  We then asked the question, are we more like Jacob or Esau?  The audio file of this message can be streamed or downloaded by clicking on the link.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Abraham's Faith Tested

            In Genesis 22 we see how, after receiving the child of promise, God made a difficult request of Abraham.  God told him to take his son, his only son whom he loved, to a mountain and to sacrifice him as a burnt offering to the Lord.
            We see in this chapter that Abraham did just that.  In fact, we see that he did so without hesitating.  We see that he got up early the next morning, and saddled his donkey.  He took two of his servants, and his son Isaac.  He cut the wood for the burnt offering.  And then he left for the place about which God had told him. 
            As we read this account, it forces us to ask how Abraham could do such a thing.  This question arises for a couple of reasons.  First of all, after waiting 25 years for the fulfillment of God’s promise, after waiting this long for a son to be born to them, how could he kill this son?  How could he take the life of the son he loved?
            Second, as I mentioned, Isaac was the child of promise.  He’s the one through whom God was going to establish his covenant.  It was through Isaac that Abraham would become a great nation.  It was through Isaac that Abraham’s descendants would inherit the land of Canaan.  So how could God’s promise be fulfilled if this very child was put to death?
            We find the answer to this question in Hebrews 11.  Starting in verse 17, we read: By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”
            Even though the promise of God and this command of God seemed contradictory, Abraham believed that the Lord is faithful to his Word.  He believed that, even if he sacrificed his son as God had commanded, the promise of God would be fulfilled through Isaac.  Even if God had to raise Isaac from the dead, his promise would be fulfilled.
            What an example of faith this is for us.  If I were there, in Abraham’s shoes, I doubt that I would display the faith that we see in his actions.  I think I would begin to doubt and to question the Lord.  I think I’d get so rattled that I would fail to act on his command.
            In all reality, I’ve failed to trust in God’s faithfulness in lesser circumstances.  At times, I’ve allowed my emotions to hinder my faithfulness.  I’ve allowed by reason to sabotage my trust in the Lord.  I’ve allowed my own wants and my own desires to entice me away from the great blessing God has for me.
            We’ve all failed in this regard.  However, like Abraham, we can be absolutely confident in God’s promise.  As God asked when Sarah laughed at the notion of bearing a child: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” No matter how things seem outwardly, and no matter how unreasonable they may seem in our mind, God is certainly able to keep his Word.

            The question we must ask ourselves is this: Are we willing to trust the Lord no matter how unreasonable it seems?  Will we cling to the Lord’s promise even when it doesn’t seem rational?  If we truly know that the Lord is faithful, and if we truly know his power, there is no reason we should fail to do so.  Like Abraham, we can heed his Word leaving the outcome in his hands.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Yesterday, as we continued our look at major Bible stories, we talked again about Abraham.  And we looked specifically at: Abraham's Faith Tested.  We saw how God commanded him to sacrifice his son, the son of the promise, and how Abraham was able to do so.  From this, we saw that our actions are a direct response to our faith.  We saw that, if we have faith within our heart, it will be expressed in our life.  To stream or download the audio file, click on the link.

This past Wednesday, Pastor Nate continued our series on the Passion history by looking at Judas' Betrayal.  Again, for the audio, click on the link.

We held our annual men's conference on Saturday, with Pastor Jonathan Unverzagt.  Our focus was on passing the faith to the next generation.  Session 1 can be downloaded at this link.  Session 2 is found here.  And Session 3 is here.