How Will They Hear?

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

Romans 10:14

I was at my dear friend, and brother-in-Christ, Jeff’s wedding. I was an usher at the wedding and I was getting ready with the other groomsmen and the father of the groom.

All the other guys were ready and headed out into the narthex of the church. I was left along with the father of the groom, Ron, who was also the presiding minister of the wedding.

Ron, at that time, was also the District President of the South Wisconsin District of churches in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. I, on the other hand, was a radio host and producer at KFUO in St. Louis. I had taken an extended leave of absence from my seminary studies but with no plans to continue those studies.

As I was straightening out Ron’s bow tie and he mine, he looked me in the eye and said, “I need your help.”

I thought he meant he needed my help with something else on his tuxedo or something for the wedding and asked him what it was.

He again looked me straight in the eye and said, “I need your help in the Church. I need you to go back to school, graduate, and be ordained as a pastor.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t really say much of anything.

But I never forgot that.

One year later, I re-enrolled in seminary and five years later was called to serve Christ Lutheran Church in White Cloud, Michigan and ordained on June 25, 1995.

The people of God at Christ Lutheran in White Cloud called me to be their pastor. I served among them for 25 months until I was called to serve in South Wisconsin, which I did for nearly nine years. Serving with Ron, by the way.

It was – and is – my privilege to preach the Law and Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is my prayer that the Holy Spirit moves those who hear me to believe in Jesus. It is my joy to be called and sent by the people of God in various places – Michigan, Wisconsin, California, and Illinois – to tell the Good News about Jesus.

It is the Holy Spirit who calls men to be pastors and men and women to be teachers, deacons and deaconesses, directors of Christian Education, and other workers in the Church. The Holy Spirit calls these workers through the congregations of the Church.

And it is our awesome privilege and responsibility to tell, proclaim, teach, and preach the Law of God and the Gospel of Jesus.

And as we proclaim and call, people will then believe in Jesus as Savior.

And when people believe in Jesus as their Savior, they are then able – and encouraged – to call upon their Heavenly Father for help, support, strength, protection, and to give thanks for all that God has done for them!

A member of a Christian congregation has a great privilege and responsibility. To not only hear the Gospel and believe in Christ, but also to tell others the Gospel. And to support their congregation and pastor(s) and teachers.

It is all part of the overall Great Commission of the Church that Jesus gave us:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” Matthew 28:19-20.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, for the benefit of your people you call faithful men and women to serve in a variety of offices in your Church. Grant that your Holy Spirit may lead and guide the Church to call qualified workers to serve among us according to your gracious will; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Fruit Recognition

[Jesus said,] Thus you will recognized them by their fruits.
Matthew 17:20

When my family lived in Southern California, we were blessed to have a plum tree and a lemon tree in our backyard.

Alas, the plum tree only produced fruit one of the four years we lived there. But the lemon tree had a lot of fruit each and every year.

The home next door had an orange tree – part of which hung over our fence. The orange blossoms in the spring gave a wonderful aroma to the backyard!

Each summer we would go out into the backyard and look for oranges on the orange tree, plums on the plum tree, and lemons on the lemon tree.

It would be silly to look for bananas on the orange tree, green grapes on the plum tree, and apples on the lemon tree.

We looked for the fruit that was expected on the various fruit trees. Each tree produced its own distinct fruit.

We were disappointed when the plum tree didn’t produce plums. We found out later that it was due to insufficient water reaching the tree roots.

As I remember looking at the trees without their fruit, I could tell they were different trees but that’s about it. I could not tell what kind of trees they were until the fruit appeared.

As Jesus says, “Thus you will recognized them by their fruits.

This is true of fruit trees. This is also true of people.

Everything we do – as Christians, that is, – should be pointing people to Jesus Christ and his salvation. This is our fruit.

But unless we actually produce the fruit, no one will know we are Christians.

Our fruit is a distinctive kind of love, as the camp song says, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love! Yes, they will know we are Christians by our love!”

When Jesus talks about good fruit and bad fruit in Matthew 17, he begins by pointing out that he’s talking about being warry of false prophets.

You will know a false prophet by the fruit they produce. They may “talk a good game,” meaning they may sound religious and doctrinal. But unless they actually produce the fruit of a prophet, they are to be seen for what they are: false prophets.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that since you are not a prophet, Jesus is not talking about you.

You actually are a prophet, in a sense. You are one who is to speak God’s Word to other people (the first and foremost role of a prophet in the Old Testament).

Martin Luther describes what a modern-day prophet does this way:

“You must hold on to the chief part, the summary, of Christian teaching and accept nothing else: That God has sent and given Christ, His Son, and that only through Him does He forgive us all our sins, justify and save us” (Luther’s Works, American Edition, Vol. 21 quoted from The Lutheran Study Bible, copyright © 2009 by Concordia Publishing House, p 1593).

This is our fruit. This is our love. This is our story that we share.

By this fruit we will be known.

Almighty God, you have called your Church to share the love of Christ as our fruit. This is our story: that in Christ you have reconciled us to yourself. Grant that by your Holy Spirit we may continue to proclaim the good news of your salvation so that all who hear it may receive the gift of salvation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Stories That Come to Life

[Jesus said], “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
John 5:24

The idea that reading something makes something come alive has been a creative device for a long time.

The computer game Myst has it. The plot of the game is that Atrus has written books/stories and in doing so has created worlds, or ages, as the game calls them. This was one of my favorite games to play back in the 1990’s.

The movie Bedtime Stories, staring Adam Sandler, is about a man who tells stories to his niece and nephew and these stories magically come true.

And the movie Goosebumps, staring Jack Black, is about the author R. L. Stine whose stories actually come to life!

While these are just stories written to amuse and fascinate people, the concept has its roots in the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Does that surprise you? I don’t think it should. After all, humans are created in the image of God. Since the Fall, each human carries the echo of God’s image within them, an echo that is loudest in our creativity! Consider this: the greatest stories ever told are about the epic struggle of good versus evil and our favorite stories are when good overcomes evil!

When humans create these kinds of stories, it is an echo of the very true epic battle of Good versus Evil – that is, God overcoming and conquering Satan through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Jesus comes right out and says this in John 5, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.

Jesus is saying that if we hear his word, that will lead us to believe in God and that means we have eternal life!

We hear his word. That word is the Gospel! Jesus’ words are eternal life – as St. Peter said in John 6, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).

Hearing the Gospel leads us to believe in God. The God who loves us so much that instead of leaving us in our condemned state because of our sins, he provided the perfect sacrifice to forgive all our sins.

And through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we have eternal life.

All because we heard the words of Jesus. All because we read the story or heard the story.

The story that came to life.

The Story that came to give us life!

O Lord God, heavenly Father, by the blessed light of your divine Word you have led me to the knowledge of your Son. Grant me the grace of your Holy Spirit that I may ever walk in the light of your truth and, rejoicing with sure confidence in Christ, my Savior, be brought unto everlasting life; through the same Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Goes Without Saying No More

A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell….
Matthew 13:3

Jesus tells the Parable of the Sower and in it the “seed” is the Word of God.

For generations, so many Christians have taking it for granted that the Word of God is authoritative and reliable.

It certainly is. But for too long this has been one of those things that “goes without saying.”

We now have a generation living that thinks of the Word of God – the Bible – as, at best, just another book.

In the “Gospel of Jesus” Bible study that has been used here at St. Matthew, we start by looking at just why we can trust the Bible.

Historians and academics – especially those on the university level – seem to have no trouble at all accepting the veracity and authenticity of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars that he wrote sometime between 100 – 44 BC. Same with Plato’s philosophical writings – 427-327 BC, and Homer’s Iliad, believed to have been written about 900 BC.

The earliest 10 manuscripts of Caesar’s writing date to 900 AD, about a 1000 years after he wrote it. The earliest 7 manuscripts of Plato’s writings also date to 900 AD, about 1200 years after he wrote. And the earliest manuscripts of Homer’s Iliad – of which there are over 600 – date to about 400 BC, or about 500 years after he wrote it.

Again, most historians and academics have no trouble at all accepting the authenticity of these writings.

But today, most historians, academics – and a large majority of non-Christian Millennials (those born after 1980) – relegate the Bible to, at best, equal status with these other writings. Far more common is to consider the Bible as “an outdated book with no relevance for today,” “story,” “mythology,” “symbolic,” “fairy tale,” and the worst I’ve seen is: “a dangerous book of religious dogma used for centuries to oppress people.”

But getting back to the evidence of Caesar, Plato and Homer using the same criteria of manuscript evidence – of which there is relatively little evidence and that 500 to 1000 years after the original writings.

Compare that to the manuscript evidence of the New Testament:

The New Testament was written over a span of about 60 years – 40-100 AD. And our earliest copies of at least fragments of the New Testament date to 125 AD – only 25-40 years after it was written. And here’s the most interesting fact: there are over 24,000 pieces of these fragments in existence today!

The overwhelming evidence of the authenticity of the New Testament Scriptures has, for too many generations, been one of those things that “goes without saying.” I want to change that and will continue to say that we can trust the evidence of the manuscripts of the Bible.

The truthfulness of the Bible can also be trusted – although that, too, has “gone without saying” for far too long.

O holy and most merciful God, you have taught us the way of your commandments. We implore you to pour out your grace into our hearts. Cause it to bear fruit in us that, being ever mindful of your mercies and your laws, we may always be directed to your will and daily increase in love toward you and one another. Enable us to resist all evil and to live a godly life. Help us to follow the example of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and to walk in steps until we shall possess the kingdom that has been prepared for us in heaven; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Seek First

Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Matthew 6:33

In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus makes it clear that there is no reason to worry or be anxious about anything in this life. None. Zero. Nada!

There’s no reason to worry about what clothes you’ll wear tomorrow.

There’s no reason to worry about having clothes to wear tomorrow!

There’s no reason to worry about what you’re going to eat tomorrow.

There’s no reason to worry about eating tomorrow!

No reason whatsoever!

Why?

Martin Luther explained it this way:

“For how could [God] allow us to suffer lack and to be desperate for temporal things when he promises to give us what is eternal and never perishes?” (The Large Catechism, Part III The Lord’s Prayer, quoted from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, copyright © 2005, 2006 by Concordia Publishing House, p 415)

Jesus Christ took care of our eternity! He took all our sins on himself and paid the penalty for them on the cross.

God has forgiven us of all our sins for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Heaven is assured! Eternal life is now ours.

With our eternal life taken care of, there is simply no reason to worry about our life here and now. God promised to take care of our eternity (the first of many times in Genesis 3:15).

He also promises to take care of our “hear and now.”

He promised to feed his people: 1 Kings 17:4, Psalm 81:16, Isaiah 49:9, and Isaiah 58:14, just to name a few.

He promised to clothe his people: Genesis 3:21, and Ezekiel 16:10 tell us this.

There is no reason to worry about what we will eat or wear. There just isn’t!

Worrying won’t do any good anyway. Jesus says clearly that we can’t add a single hour to our lives by worrying.

Doctors tell us that just the opposite is actually the case. We can actually shorten our lives by worrying!

But worrying is a big part of so many people’s lives! What are we supposed to do if we don’t worry?

Jesus tells us this also – which is also the way to stop worrying.

Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness….

Make this your number one priority and use of time – seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Do this and you won’t have time to worry!

Nor will you have need! As Jesus concludes: and all these things will be added to you.

God will be taking care of your food and clothing – and everything else – needs as you seek his kingdom and righteousness.

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, your mercies are new unto us every morning, and though we have not deserved your goodness, you abundantly provide for all our wants of body and soul. Grant us your Holy Spirit that we may heartily acknowledge your merciful goodness toward us, give thanks for all your benefits, and serve you in willing obedience; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Guard the Good Deposit

By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.
2 Timothy 1:14

During my senior year of high school, I worked as a “utility clerk” at a local grocery store. (“Utility Clerk” is just a fancy name for “bagger.”)

Part of my work was to receive and then sort “pop bottles” (“pop” is the Chicago way of saying “soda pop” as in cola, white soda, cream soda, root beer, etc.).

The empty glass pop bottles were brought into the store because there was a 10¢ “deposit” on each bottle.

You have to be of a certain age and generation to know what and why this was. It was the 1980’s and when you bought an 8-pack of cola, root beer, etc., you were charge an extra 80¢ but you would get that money back when you brought the empties back (intact, of course).

That extra 10¢ was the deposit. You gave the store that money to use. But then they returned it to you when you requested it back (by bringing back the empty bottles).

The “good deposit” in today’s Scripture text is the Gospel. But not just the Gospel as in “the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension” of Jesus for our salvation. It is the Gospel in a wider sense, meaning what we believe, teach, and confess to the entire world.

St. Paul, in his two letters to Timothy, tells him to “guard the deposit” (1 Timothy 6:20 and 2 Timothy 1:14).

What Paul is encouraging Timothy to do is to continue the work of the Gospel with which he has been entrusted.

Paul has been entrusted with the same deposit. But as he writes these letters to Timothy, he is apparently closer to physical death and the time when the deposit will be returned to God.

Which brings us to an interesting point about the Gospel in this wider sense.

God has deposited the Gospel in us. Out of his fatherly divine goodness and mercy he has saved us from all our sins, from death, and from the power of the devil through the sacrifice of his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus deposited this Gospel in us in order to “go and make disciples of all nations” (see Matthew 28:19-20).

Here’s where it might get a little uncomfortable.

God saves us by grace alone through faith alone. There is nothing we do or don’t do in order to merit this salvation.

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t do something.

It isn’t enough to just think we are saved by grace alone through faith alone and we don’t have to do anything at all – even go to worship, read the Bible, participate in Bible studies with other Christians, have daily devotions, or even pray regularly (that is, without ceasing – see 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

It is very “fashionable” today to berate going to church, being a part of a congregation, and the like, as “religious” and, therefore, not what Jesus came to give us. This is nothing but a heinous heresy that will doom many to hell unless corrected!

When Paul tells Timothy – and us – to “guard the good deposit” he is telling him – and us – to use the Gospel as it was intended to be used.

He is telling us to proclaim it through our words, our actions, and our very lives.

He is telling us to live the Gospel 24/7/365.

Sound hard? It is actually impossible. Which is why Paul prefaces his words with “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us….

It is impossible for us by ourselves. But, as God’s Word says, “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37 and see Matthew 19:26).

Because the Holy Spirit dwells within us, we can “guard the good deposit” and do the work that God has entrusted us with.

But we need to actually do the work! Not in order to be saved, but because we are saved!

Almighty God, you have called your people to guard the good deposit of the Gospel, which is that we are reconciled to yourself through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Grant that by your Holy Spirit we may proclaim the good news of your salvation so that all who hear it may receive the gift of salvation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Salt Is Good

[Jesus said], “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away.”
Luke 14:34-35

Summertime! Here on the Illinois prairie it is a time of warm, humid days. Sunshine and wind rustling the corn fields.

Picnics and backyard BBQ’s with hamburgers, hotdogs and watermelon.

Ah, watermelon. I love a sweet, juicy, chilled watermelon on a hot summer day.

I have fond memories of sitting in my grandparent’s yard along the banks of Squaw Creek in Ingleside, fishing for bluegill and crappie and eating watermelon in the shade of their huge and ancient willow tree.

As I look over to my right in my memory I see my grandmother – Nana – sitting there with a cane fishing pole eating a big slice of watermelon.

Before she takes each bite, she sprinkles a little salt on it!

Now, I like salt. I like salt on my popcorn, on my salad (along with lemon juice), on my potatoes and chips.

But on watermelon?

It was a delicacy to her, but I never understood it.

Salt is an important part of a person’s diet. According to the website fitday.com salt helps retain water in the body, stimulates muscle contraction, and contains nutrients vital to the digestive system while low levels of salt in the body, along with low blood pressure, leads to shock.

It is also known that salt, like just about everything else, is only good in moderation. Excessive intake of salt is very bad for a person.

Salt has also been an important economic commodity, especially in its importance in preserving food. So much so, it is thought by some, that early in the Roman era soldiers were paid in salt.

Both the words salary and soldier have their roots in the Latin word for salt.

The benefits and commodity of salt seem to be on Jesus’ mind when he tells us that “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away.”

He would go on to call his followers the “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13).

Our faith is what makes us “salty” – that is, what makes us beneficial and precious to others. As long as we have faith and continue to grow in our faith, we can be of benefit to others in this world. A benefit by sharing the Good News of Jesus with them.

We are precious because of our response – in faith – to God’s love for us. Our response is to love and serve others. Loving and helping others is how we are “salty.”

Like real salt, we can lose our saltiness. If we do not strengthen our faith through the use of the Means of Grace (most notably the reading of God’s Word regularly and receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion regularly – if appropriate) we can suffer from weakened faith that will not be considered “salty” by Jesus’ standards. See what Jesus says about what to do with such salt!

Let’s stay salty! Let’s continue to be a benefit and precious to the people of our world by salting their lives with the Gospel and the love that responds to the Gospel!

©2017 True Men Ministries

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