A Result of Love

“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit … Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Acts 7:59, 60

The first sermon I preached as a pastor was on the Old Testament text of 2 Samuel 11 & 12.

I remember it well. The Bible story is about David’s sin with Bathsheba. He broke the Sixth Commandment then he broke the Fifth Commandment. Two people end up dying – Uriah, the husband of the woman that David has an affair with and impregnates and the child of David and Uriah’s wife.

That may sound like a rather odd choice for a first sermon in a new parish and as a newly ordained pastor.

But it was part of the assigned readings for that weekend and I saw in this text an important lesson on the consequences of sin, repentance, and forgiveness.

I also remember that the sermon when 45 minutes – the first and last time I ever preached that long!

Still, my congregation was patient with me and encouraged me. I got better at preaching and, more importantly, more efficient with time and content!

My first sermon certainly went better than Stephen’s first sermon.

Stephen’s first sermon – recorded in Acts 7 – was also his last. It certainly had a lasting impression, to be sure!

Stephen laid down the Law on his hearers. He told them, and I’m paraphrasing here (you can read the entire story in Acts 7), that all the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Twelve sons of Jacob, Moses, David and Solomon were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Then Stephen told them that they killed Jesus, just as their forefathers had rejected the prophets of God in the past.

They didn’t like to hear this, so they grabbed Stephen and dragged him out of the city. They threw him down on the ground, picked up large stones, and started throwing these stones onto Stephen.

They wouldn’t stop until Stephen was dead.

That’s quite a reaction to a first sermon! But it is Stephen’s last words that are the most wonderful!

“Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

You know what this is?

It is a confession of faith.

It is loving God with all heart, soul, mind and strength.

It is loving neighbors (even enemies) as self.

The Bible doesn’t mention that Stephen met Jesus or was one of the extended number of disciples. But he was certainly well acquainted with Jesus’ teachings.

He took seriously his calling to be a Deacon that would be the hands of Jesus in distributing food to widows and others (see Acts 6).

He didn’t just distribute food, however. He also shared his faith in Jesus and was not shy about proclaiming both Law and Gospel.

His courage calls to us to have the same courage to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

I pray the Holy Spirit will encourage me to never be afraid to tell others the Truth of Jesus Christ and to never stop loving God or my neighbor (even enemies).

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Trust

“Seek me and live … seek the LORD and live … the LORD is his name….”
Amos 5:4, 6, 8

When I sit on a chair, I trust that it will support my weight and not collapse.

But that has happened. Mostly because the chair was broken and ready to fall apart (but partly because I was too heavy for it, too!).

When I turn on the light switch, I trust that the lights in the room will go on. Most of the time they do. But there have been times when the wiring wasn’t correct or the bulb was burned out and flipping the switch did not have its desired effect.

There are some things we trust and count on. We put our faith in them. Things like the support of our family or the love of our spouse.

Still, it is very important to put our ultimate trust in someone who will never, ever let us down.

I’m talking about the Creator of the universe. He is the LORD (Yahweh).

He called into being everything we see (and everything we can’t see except with a microscope or telescope). We can trust him to sustain this universe to the very end.

He also formed you and me – initially from the dust of the earth and the rib of the first man.

God is our Creator. But Adam and Eve rejected God when they listened to Satan instead and then their own desires.

Because of their Fall we are all conceived and born sinners. We also initially reject God.

Some continue to do so all their lives. They put their trust in other things. Some put their trust in gods – like Sikkuth or Kiyyun, Mesopotamia deities of the ancient near east.

Others put their trust in science. Or in the world. Or even in themselves.

But everything else will violate our trust.

Science will. After all, science once told us the world was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth.

The world will violate our trust. Ask those who once trusted in the German Chancellor in the last 1930’s and early 1940’s. Or those who trusted the General Secretary of the Communist Party from the early 1920’s to the early 1950’s.

Even we ourselves will prove to be untrustworthy. Our bodies will age and fail us, our minds can grow dim and fade as well.

If we put our trust in anything but the Creator of the universe, we will be let down.

God does not want that for us. So he sent his Son to be our Savior! Jesus Christ would bear that which causes us to reject God – our sin. Jesus paid the price to buy us back from our sin, from death itself, and from the devil who led us to this untrustworthy path in the beginning.

This is the message that we have been given to proclaim and share with the world.

The prophet Amos proclaims the Law loud and clear in his book of the Bible. And reading just his prophecy is a grim experience.

But there is more to the story! The Law is always grim. But the Gospel is beautiful and comforting!

The Holy Spirit uses both – Law and Gospel – to complete in us that which the prophet Amos calls us – to seek the Lord and live!

This specific chapter of Amos – chapter 5 – warns us to not play at or pretend to trust in the LORD. There is no “going through the motions” of a worship service. That won’t work.

The trust that will truly work is that which comes from faith. Not actions but where the actions start – in the heart.

This is why Amos’ prophecy tells us that the LORD is not delighted in “solemn assemblies” or “burnt offerings and grain offerings.”

These are important, no doubt. God instructs us to worship him. But our trust is not to be in what we do. What we do should flow out of our trust in God.

And we trust in God because Jesus Christ forgives and removes our sin and gives us his righteousness.

Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for us, “justice” can “roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (v 24).

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Consequences

“…yet you did not return to me,” declares the LORD.”
Amos 4:6, 8, 9, 10, 11

Actions have consequences.

If a person smokes 3 packs of cigarettes a day for 30 years, it would be no surprise that he gets emphysema and/or lung cancer.

If a person eats an entire pizza and drinks a 2-liter of soda pop every day for lunch, it should be no surprise that he gains weight and feels sluggish and weak.

Sickness and obesity are not punishments for this behavior so much as they are consequences of it!

If a person rejects God’s love and provision, there are also consequences to this rejection. There is no spite or “I’ll get you for this” kind of attitude on the part of God.

Famine, drought, pestilence, foreign invaders – all of these are in the control of God but not spiteful punishments from God.

They are consequences of Israel’s behavior.

But God, in his great mercy, is using these consequences to constantly call his people back to himself.

“Return to me” is a call to repentance. It is a call and an action of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of God’s people to turn away from sin and turn to God.

It is a call to turn away from death – a consequence of sin – and turn to life.

Even in all these consequences laid out in Amos 4, God is calling his people back to himself.

These consequences are intended to get the attention of the people.

It is like a person who is angry, in despair, and ranting and raving loudly all at the same time. A person who they love and who loves them dearly sometimes must literally slap them in the face to get them to stop and pay attention.

That’s what is describe in Amos 4.

When God has his people’s attention, they will turn to him. Turn to God who is the creator of “mountains and … wind.”

The last Old Testament-type of calling God’s people to turn to him would be in the words of John the Baptist, “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2)

Three years after John’s message, there would be all the consequences of turning away from God poured out on one person – Jesus Christ.

He would take all the sins and the consequences on himself and suffer and die on the cross.

The ultimate consequence of sin – eternal death – would be paid in full by Jesus Christ.

And now the Holy Spirit – using the Means of Grace – calls each one of us back to God.

His mercy and grace are now ours for the sake of Jesus Christ.

His power and love give us the power to return to the Lord!

©2017 True Men Ministries

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What You Need to Hear

“You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”
Amos 3:2

As a pastor and leader in a church, I sometimes feel I have two choices.

I can either a) tell the people what they want to hear; or b) tell the people what God wants them to hear.

There are a lot of pastors and a lot of churches that I have observed that tell people what they want to hear. It is as if their mission for ministry is to do whatever they can to make the people who come to their church feel good. To tell them that they are okay. That everything is going to be alright.

I suspect that if I were to follow this example and model it in my own church, more people would come and listen to me.

But I am certain that I wouldn’t feel right about it. Not that I have anything against people feeling good! Quite the contrary. I try to make people feel good, to be happy, and to leave my church feeling better than when they came in.

But when I became a pastor, I wasn’t called to make people feel good. I wasn’t called to make people happy.

I was called by God through a congregation to tell them what God wants them to hear.

I was called by God to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

A good summary of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ was born to be our substitute under God’s Law. Jesus Christ lived a perfect life and gives us his righteousness by faith. Jesus Christ died on a cross to forgive all the sin of all people of all time. Jesus Christ rose from the grave three days later so that we, too, might rise from the grave one day. And Jesus Christ ascended into heaven with the promise to come back and take those who have saving faith in him back to paradise to live there forever.

This is what God wants people to hear. This is what I’ve been called to proclaim.

This is the Gospel.

But the Gospel means little unless we understand why Jesus Christ did all this for us!

And that understanding comes from something I’ve also been called to proclaim – the Law.

Law and Gospel are the two teachings of Holy Scripture. The Bible passages we read from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 are either Law passages or Gospel passages.

They are God’s Word to us – and that which I have been called to proclaim – about the things that we should do and don’t, the things that we shouldn’t do and do anyway, and the things that only God can do for us and does out of love for us.

John 3:16, for example, is a Gospel passage. It tells us what God has done for us because he loves us.

Amos 3, on the other hand, is mostly Law. And it is just as hard to hear today as I’m sure it was for God’s people when this shepherd from Tekoa first spoke it.

God has specially chosen Israel to be his people, purely out of love for them. He didn’t choose Israel because they were the most beautiful, most prosperous, or the most numerous of nations.

God chose Israel only because he loved them.

By the way, that doesn’t mean that God didn’t love the rest of the people of the world. Oh, no! John 3:16 is still true! “For God so loved the world” that he put a plan of salvation – for the whole world – in play through his special people Israel! The Savior of the world would come from the nation of Israel!

But the prophet Amos had some very tough words to proclaim to Israel. They had been rejecting God and his love for them. Even though God had chosen them. Even though God had saved them from slavery in Egypt. Even though God had given them everything they needed: food and water in the desert, fertile land to live in, victory over their enemies, good kings (like David and Solomon) and powerful prophets (like Elijah and Elisha).

God did all of this for Israel out of his love for Israel, and yet they rejected him and his love over and over again.

And so God – like any loving father – would punish them. Not to hurt them out of spite but discipline them so they learn to not reject him!

The prophet Amos could have been like other prophets and told Israel that all was well, that everything was okay, and that they would be alright.

But it wouldn’t be right. It wouldn’t be true. And it wasn’t what Amos was called to do.

Amos loved God. And he loved his brothers and sisters. And so, he proclaimed to them what they need to hear and what God wanted them to hear.

It wouldn’t be easy. It wouldn’t make Amos popular.

But it would be exactly what God’s people needed.

And that is what your pastor does as well.

Please pray for him as he tells you what you need to hear!

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

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C.F.W. Walther

Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther (1811-87), the father of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, served as its first president from 1847 to 1850 and then again from 1864 to 1878. In 1839 he emigrated from Saxony, Germany, with other Lutherans, who settled in Missouri. He served as pastor of several congregations in St. Louis, founded Concordia Seminary, and in 1847 was instrumental in the formation of the LCMS (then called the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States). Walther worked tirelessly to promote confessional Lutheran teaching and doctrinal agreement among all Lutherans in the United States. He was a prolific writer and speaker. Among his most influential works are Church and Ministry and The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel.

For Your Safety

Image courtesy of Joe Shlabotnik, Creative Commons

A few days ago, three young people were visiting Vernal Falls at Yosemite National Park. They decided that they would hop the railing to enter the water right above the falls.

They were then swept over the falls and presumably fell to their death 300 feet below. As of this writing, their bodies have not been found and the families are holding out hope they they somehow survived.

The National Park Service had installed those railings years ago. Not with the intention of ruining people’s fun. Not with the intention of limiting the lives of people. Not with the intention of controlling people’s lives. Those railings are there to keep people safe so they can enjoy their lives at Vernal Falls.

That’s the reason for the 10 Commandments – the Law of God. God doesn’t establish His Law to limit people’s lives. God gives us His Law to allow us to live our lives to the fullest.

The 10 Commandments have a three-fold purpose.

One, they are a mirror. They show us our sin. They show us that we are lost and condemned creatures. Condemned because God said that if we do not keep the Law perfectly, we will be punished. (See Romans 2:12)

Two, they are a curb. They are there to keep us from sinning. Sinning brings death and destruction. So really, the Law is to keep us alive.

Image courtesy of gardkarlsen.com

Much like that railing at Vernal Falls or on the edge of the Grand Canyon, or on the observation deck of the Empire State building.

The Law’s purpose in its second use is to keep us alive.

But it cannot do so on its own. We have to respect its railing. We have to not climb over it.

Yet we do it all the time. We want to know what’s out there beyond the railing. We think it might be better. It is the great unknown, it is an adventure waiting to be experienced.

We are warned that it is not an adventure but only death.

Stay inside the railing of the Law and you will live.

But we are also lied to. We are told that this is not really living. It is boring. It is mundane. It is ordinary.

Really?

The alternative is death – each and every time. Hop the railing at Vernal Falls and you will be swept over the edge to fall 300 feet to your death. Is that an adventure? Hop the railing on the observation deck of the Empire State Building and you will not live a life of adventure, you will fall to your death.

God does not want you to die. Keep the Law and you will live.

But you can’t do this on your own. You need God’s power to keep God’s Law. That’s why God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus kept the Law perfectly. He lived the perfect life. Yet in a great exchange, Jesus took your sin as His own and died the punishment your sin deserved. In its place, He gives you His righteousness and power to live – truly live.

The third purpose of the Law is a guide. When we have Christ’s righteousness, when He takes our sin away, we return to the Law to find out how to truly live in this life. The Law becomes our road map to truly live a great adventure.