Confidence in the Storm – His Time Radio Homily

Confidence in the Storm

Acts 27:27-44

His Time Radio Homily

August 4, 2014

 quote-Mark-Twain-to-succeed-in-life-you-need-two-100473Author Mark Twain once quipped: “To succeed in this life you need two things: ignorance and confidence.”  Anyone who has witnessed a toddler fearlessly leaping into a swimming pool with no clue as to what will happen if there is no one there to catch them understands where Twain is coming from.  There is a certain confidence that one might have when he or she is clueless about the consequences.  But this confidence pales in comparison to the confidence that fills your soul when you are absolutely certain of the outcome.  Scary movies are not as scary the second time around when you already know how they end.

Such is the confidence that Paul had in the midst of a terrible storm at sea.  The waves crashed against the boat.  The rain fell so violently that hardened sailors were praying for morning.  Fearful that they might be crushed against the rocks, the soldiers sought to escape by using the ships lifeboats, desperate for any hope of reaching shore.  They were convinced that their ship was a lost cause.  In the midst of the panic, there sat the Apostle Paul, urging them to eat something.  What gave Paul such tremendous confidence in the face of petrifying conditions?

He knew the outcome.  He knew how that story would end.

Paul-shipwreck_1349-361You see, Paul had been visited by an angel, a messenger sent from God, who told Paul, “Do not be afraid, you must stand before Caesar.”[1]  Paul knew that he would survive the storm, for he had been told as much by God.  Paul knew that the soldiers, sailors, and other prisoners on the ship, 276 people in all, would survive the storm, for he had been told as much by God.  Paul had the confidence not of being oblivious to possible dangers, but the confidence of knowing that no matter what dangers reared their ugly heads, he and his travelling companions would survive the journey, for he had the promise of God.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we too have the promise of God.  We too have the confidence that comes only from knowing how the story ends.  As Paul himself wrote in Romans, the sufferings of this life are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us at the end of the journey.[2]  So often our lives are laid siege by fear and doubt and uncertainty.  A disease threatens our lives or the lives of loved ones.  A job loss ushers in the uncertainty as to where we will come up with the money to meet our bills.  The loneliness of a broken relationship or a relationship that never materialized fills us with uncertainty about the future.

In such moments we, like Paul, are called to put away our fear and remember the promise of our Lord.  No matter what hardship this life throws at us, we have the promise of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We have the hope of deliverance given to us personally through the cleansing water of baptism, a hope that is strengthened and nourished as we feast on our Lord’s Supper.  And while the knowledge of this promise doesn’t take the problems away or make our lives smooth sailing, it does give us the confidence to sit and eat in the midst of the storms.

We, like Paul, know how to handle whatever this life throws at us.  We know how to be brought low and we know how to abound.  We know the secret of being content in any circumstance, be it good or bad.  We know the secret of facing plenty or hunger, abundance or need, sickness or health.  We can handle anything through Christ who gives us strength,[3] for we know that we do not handle it alone.

We have the promise of God that he will see us through.  He will provide comfort for us in the promises of his word.  He will provide for our needs in the fellowship of his church.  He will not abandon us to the rocks and waves.  So the next time you find yourself terrorized by one of life’s storms looming on the horizon, or by the crashing of the waves as they threaten to overwhelm you, fear not.  Take heart.  Don’t let Satan drive you to despair.  You are a baptized child of God – you will make it safely to your heavenly home.

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[1] Acts 27:24

[2] Romans 8:18

[3] Philippians 4:11-13

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The Words We Sing

 

singers

When confronted with the raunchiness of the lyrics in their music of choice, teenagers often tell their parents or teachers that they don’t listen to the lyrics, they simply like the beat.  Parents and teachers alike tend to roll their eyes at such a feeble defense for listening to music that blatantly glorifies violence, drug use, and debauchery.  But perhaps it would be wise to pause a moment and consider whether adults always know and believe the lyrics we sing consistently, or whether we too simply like the beat or rhythm or melody – especially in church.

I was struck by this today as I happily sang “A Mighty Fortress” during morning services.  Although we sang the isorhythmic setting instead of the rhythmic, which I prefer (If you know the difference, you’ve been Lutheran for a few years now . . .), that melody still stirs me.  It brings back memories of choir tours and Reformation Festivals and simply makes me proud to call myself Lutheran.

But I caught myself a bit today as I was happily singing that even if the devil, the world, and my sinful flesh would take my house, goods, honor, child, or spouse, even if my life itself would be wrenched away, they would not win the day, for the kingdom’s ours forever.  In my moment of pause I wondered, are these words my words, or do I simply like the melody?

For that matter, how often do we think about the words we say in our liturgy on a weekly basis?  Do we believe them?  Do we believe that we deserve nothing but temporal and eternal punishment?  Don’t we prefer to believe that we are entitled to health and comfort?  Don’t we tend to act as if the struggles in life are the injustice and the good times are what we ought to expect?  Yet that’s not what we confess as we kneel before our Lord praying for his boundless mercy.  That’s not what we sing at the end of “A Mighty Fortress.”  Would we still consider ourselves victorious if we, like Job, lost our goods, fame, and children?

But then I remember that this is the point of confessing and singing these things each week.  Left to ourselves and our own understanding, of course we will fashion a god to suit our own desires.  Of course we will fashion an idol out of our own impressions about the way things ought to be.  But our Lord has not left us to ourselves.  In the water of baptism, he has claimed us as his dear children.  And now he has given us his word so that we know what being his child means for us – both now and into eternity.

God’s Word breaks into the darkness and gives the confession of his truth – which is the only truth.  Left to myself, I’m sure I would never declare victory after losing my wife and children; such a loss would be too devastating.  It is only through the working of the Spirit that such a confession can ever be mine.  It is only because our Lord has made the promise of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, both for me and for my family, that I can with the Apostle Paul declare that I can get through all things through Christ, who is my strength.

I need to be reminded of who I am as God’s child, and I need to be reminded a lot.  That’s why we teach and admonish one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  So as we continue through Lent, then through Easter, then through whatever comes down the road, I rejoice that our Lord has given us such words to sing and speak.  I plan to pay attention to the words, and I encourage you to do the same.  For as we sing the confession our Lord has given, we might just learn something about ourselves we had forgotten, or perhaps that we didn’t know before.

 

Christmas Eve Meditation #3 – Luke 2:1-7

Tonight we are here to celebrate the birth of our Savior.  We are also here to ponder the mystery of the incarnation.  And mystery it is.  Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand.  Ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand, Christ our Lord to earth descending, comes our homage to demand.  It is difficult for us to comprehend God becoming man.  We tend to present Jesus as if he was born a baby without tears or diapers, perhaps even arriving in the manger as if he was dropped by a stork, delicately drifting back and forth as a falling leaf lazily carried along by gravity and the gentle breeze.  While such images are nice, they are not likely reality.

Martin Luther poignantly put it this way: “Think, women, there was no one there to bathe the baby.  No warm water, nor even cold.  No fire, no light.  The mother was herself midwife and maid.  The cold manger was the bed and the bathtub.  Who showed the poor girl what to do?  She had never had a baby before.  I am amazed the little one did not freeze.  Do not make of Mary a stone.  It must have gone straight to her heart that she was so abandoned.  She was flesh and blood, and must have felt miserable – and Joseph too – that she was left in this way, all alone, with no one to help, in a strange land in the middle of winter.  Her eyes were moist even though she was happy, and aware that the baby was God’s Son and the Savior of the world.  She was not stone.  For the higher people are in the favor of God, the more tender they are.

Let us then meditate upon the nativity just as we see it happening in our own babies.  I would not have you contemplate the deity of Christ, the majesty of Christ, but rather his flesh.  Look upon the baby Jesus.  Divinity may terrify a man.  Inexpressible majesty will crush him.  That is why Christ took on our humanity, save for sin, that he should not terrify us but rather that with love and favor he should console and confirm.

Behold Christ lying in the lap of his young mother . . . Look at the Child, knowing nothing.  Yet all that is belongs to him, that your conscience should not fear but take comfort in him.  Doubt nothing.  Watch him springing in the lap of the maiden.  Laugh with him.  Look upon this Lord of Peace and your spirit will be at peace. [. . .] You cannot fear him, for nothing is more comforting to the sight of a man than a babe. [. . .] Trust him!  Here is the Child in whom is salvation.  [. . .] There is no greater consolation given to mankind than this, that Christ became a man, a child, a babe, playing in the lap and at the breasts of his most gracious mother.  Who is there whom this sight will not comfort?  Now overcome is the power of sin, death, hell, conscience, and guilt, if you come to judge this gurgling Babe and believe that he is come not to judge you, but to save.”

(From Martin Luther’s Christmas Book)

Christmas Eve Meditation #2 – Micah 5:2-4

In case you missed it, there’s apparently a war on Christmas again this year.  Social media is flooded with Christians bemoaning the fact that the unbelieving world has supposedly hijacked this holy day, taking Christ out of Christmas.  Maybe I’m just being overly cynical, but why are we surprised when an unbelieving world does not acknowledge Christ at Christmas?  Do they ever acknowledge him?  Christ and his word have been abandoned by our culture a long time ago.  So the unbelieving world may not speak much this time of year about the birth of the Savior, but the unbelieving world has never spoken of the birth of the Savior.  Those words have been given to the Church, given to us as God’s people to speak.  We are the only ones who have the ability to take Christ out of Christmas.  Take stock of your own home.  How many Christian kids across the country know about Rudolph and Frosty and the Grinch but have no idea what an Advent wreath is?   Is it government or retailers who have taken Christ out of Christmas?

Even more significantly, I often wonder why we are so desperate to see the celebration of our Lord’s incarnation validated by a culture that rejects him at every turn?  Why do we want television stations and retailers to wish us a merry Christmas one minute when we know full well that the very next they will continue to produce movies, shows, and music that run completely contrary to our Lord’s Word at every turn?

To me, it seems a simple and obvious truth that the unbelieving world does not understood Christmas.  How could it?   It never has, all the way back to the first one.  There in Bethlehem was born the Savior of the Nations, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Yet there was no parade.  No city officials or governors or kings or emperors were there to greet his arrival.  He was instead greeted with the stink of the barn yard, by donkeys and cows and camels and whatever other animals were unceremoniously forced to share their lodging with the source of their very existence.  The unbelieving world missed the first Christmas, and it’s missed every Christmas since.  But why should that surprise us?  Our Lord has never shown much interest in the world’s opinion.  He was never swayed by the pretensions and accolades of his creation.  He has never sought approval and acceptance from the popular crowd.  He rather goes about the business of being savior, whether the kings of this world revere him or not.

What a comfort this provides for us.  Even as the ancient world ignored the first Christmas, God was doing something great.  Even as the world today ignores Christmas, God is doing something great.  Even as the world today mocks the Church and belittles us for believing in what it considers superstition, our God is doing something great.  Bethlehem was a no nothing, Podunk, backwater town of little to no significance to the Roman Empire, yet from there was born one who is to be ruler in all Israel.  The world views us as being as insignificant as Bethlehem.  We are labeled as ignorant simpletons for holding to the truth of our Lord’s Word.  But where would the world have us turn?  To the opinions of politicians? Celebrities? Professional athletes or musicians? The world eagerly dinks in these opinions as if they were the Gospel truth, all the while rejecting the true Gospel as antiquated, outdated, and old fashioned.  We who continue to believe it are held in no regard.  But you, O People of the Living God, though you are considered least among the people of earth, from you comes forth something great, the truth of Salvation.

So let the unbelieving world have its own commercialized holiday season.  They cannot take Christ out of Christmas, not while there are still Christians all around the world today gathered around our Lord’s Word.  The world cannot take Christ out of Christmas, for neither Christ nor Christmas belongs to the world.  And even though the world is not impressed with us, take comfort in knowing that our Lord has never been one to cater to the world’s ideas of greatness.  He used Bethlehem as the beginning of your salvation, and we know how that turned out.  Likewise, he has historically and will continue to use unimpressive people like us to bring the news of that salvation to a world that doesn’t think it needs to hear it.  Our Lord is not obsessed with the ever changing opinions of a sinful world.  Let us find our own peace in the promise of his word

Christmas Eve Meditation #1 – Isaiah 11:1-9

There is much talk of peace this time of year.  I believe Stevie Wonder was the first artist to sing his hopes that “someday at Christmas men won’t be boys playing with bombs like kids play with toys.”  Since the song’s initial release, several popular recording artists have reiterated the hope that “someday at Christmas there’ll be no wars, when we have learned what Christmas is for, when we have found what life’s really worth, there’ll be peace on earth.”  Peace on earth . . . now there’s a thought.  In the song, peace is identified as the absence of war.  It’s also equated with the absence of hunger, the absence of fear, and the absence of hate.  When the world speaks of peace, the world speaks of absence, for that is the only peace the world understands.  But even in the absence of war and hate and hunger, the world will not know true peace.  For the world is selfish.  We are selfish.  Typically when we think of peace, we want peace for ourselves regardless of what that means for others.  We live in a world where people are constantly clamoring for their own rights, crying out at perceived injustice.  Christians are quick to object when they are portrayed as if they are trying to force religion on someone by wishing them a Merry Christmas as they exit the check-out line.  Non-Christians are quick to cry foul at the suggestion of setting up a nativity on the front lawn at city hall.  Everyone wants everyone else to stop what they are doing so that we might finally have peace. The world seeks peace through the removal of all annoyances, but in order to pursue such a course of action one must first seek out all the annoyances.  And so we find ourselves in the midst of a culture looking for all the times that we have been wronged, searching high and low to find the ways that the government, our neighbors, our employers, or some guy from Duck Dynasty have treated us unjustly.  This, dear friends, is not the peace of Christmas.

            The peace of Christmas is the peace that passes all understanding.  It is not found by removing annoyances, but by looking past them to the greater reality.  As the prophet Isaiah says, it is not one that can be judged with the eyes or the ears.  It is the peace that comes from the knowledge of the Lord.  And the knowledge of the Lord, the knowledge that the Lord gives is this: God showed his love of us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  The babe in the manger is the savior of the world.  To put it quite simply, with my salvation firmly secured, what can this world do me?  It’s almost comical how frustrated I get watching live sports on TV, especially football.  I am a Michigan fan and a Lions fan, so I have had my share of frustration over the last few years as I helplessly watched my teams commit stupid penalties, give the ball away as if they were playing hot potato, and regularly stumble all over themselves in the biggest games.  But a funny thing happens when I watch the classic games on the Big Ten Network.  When I watch an old game that I already know my team is going to win, the penalties and turnovers and missed opportunities don’t bother me in the same way, because I know how the game will end.  They’re still irritating, but I have an easier time looking past them because I know what the final score will be.  That, dear friends, is the peace of Christmas – the peace of knowing the final outcome even in the midst of trial and frustration.  It is not the absence of frustration or trial, as if we will ever be free of it in this life.  No, it’s the knowledge that for all of this world’s headaches, the life that awaits us is one in which the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the predator with the prey, at peace with each other.  It is one in which the nursing child will play safely with the cobra, and there shall be peace between them.  It is the life that awaits all the baptized, so let the world rant and rave and foam at the mouth all the perceived injustice around us.  We will be at peace, for we have an eye on eternity.  We will be at peace, for a little child leads us.  We will be at peace, for we belong to the Prince of Peace.  We will be at peace, for we know the rest of the story.

Gerhard on Thanksgiving

“Omnipotent, merciful God, I thank you for wonderfully preserving me from the earliest days of my youth.  I cam into this world naked.  You kindly clothed me.  I entered this world hungry.  Thus far you generously have fed me.  In you, I live and move.  Without you, I fall back to nothing and die.  In you, I bend and move my limbs.  Without you, I cannot participate in life and movement.  The sun that provides me light, which I see daily with my eyes, belongs to you.  The night belongs to you.  The alternation of day and night provides me opportunity for labor and rest.  The earth whose fruit generously nourishes me belongs to you.  Every creature in heaven, sky, land, and sea that is designated for my use and service is yours.  Silver is yours.  Gold is yours.  For whatever is necessary for the preservation of this life, I have your most generous and kind hands to thank. [. . .]

“To you, the creator and preserver of all things, be glory and honor forever.  Without you, the true sun, I would vanish like a shadow.  Without you, the true light, I would be destroyed immediately.  Without you, the true being, I would be brought to nothing instantly.  To you alone do I owe all my being, my living, and my moving.  Therefore, I will live only for you an depend only on you for eternity.”

Johann Gerhard: Meditations on Divine Mercy

Concerning Meditation on God’s Gifts 

Meditation II: Thanksgiving for Preservation

Icons, Idols, and the Christian Life

Icon: an image or representation that stands for something else by virtue of a resemblance or analogy to it.

 Idol: an image or material representing a deity, or to which worship is addressed.

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Typically, when a pastor posts about idols and icons he will be writing about the appropriate use of art in church.  However, in a pastors’ gathering recently one of the older and wiser pastors present made a comment in passing.  It resonated in my ears and in my mind.  “Are you using your body as an icon or as an idol?”  Are you using the God-given gift of your body and life as an icon to point people to Christ?  Or is it your idol? Icons and idols.

The sinful flesh does not want to be an icon; it would set itself up as god.  The sinful flesh wants you to use your body as an idol, to make the pleasures of the flesh your highest good.  The sinful flesh wants you to give in to your desire for rebellion, hatred, lust, greed, dishonesty, and envy.  But pleasure is not god, so we should not use our bodies as idols to worship the god of self-gratification.  Instead, we ought to recognize them for what they are intended to be: icons that point others to God.  We are icons, not idols.

Paul encourages use to “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” [Col. 3:10].  Because we are the baptized, the Spirit of God is daily at work in us with the result that God’s Law is seen at work among us.  This shows itself, among other things, in how we use our bodies.  No longer are physical desires the dominating force in our decision making, but we live so that people may see through us to the reality of Christ and his design for this creation.  Our lives become icons that direct people to the truth of God’s Word by virtue of resemblance to that Word.  We show people what creation and relationships were intended to be.  No longer do we succumb to our desire for rebellion, but we humbly respect those in authority over us, and we do not abuse the authority over others that we may have been given.  No longer do we revel in our desire to hate and cling to grudges as if our life depended on it, but we look upon our neighbors in love.  No longer do we splash blithely in the pools of lust, but we let the world see godly sexuality in our relationships.  Greed and envy follow suit so that our entire life is one that reflects who we were created to be.  Icons, not idols.

Above all, we show the world what it is to be humble, to turn in repentance to a God of mercy.  For wherever the Law of God and his design for creation is present among us, even in the best sense, it is still showing us our failures and accusing us in our sin.  But rather than parroting the world incessant rationalizing away sin, we show the world genuine repentance.  For by daily that daily contrition and repentance, the old sinful flesh is drowned and dies, and a new creation is brought forth to live before God in righteousness and purity.  Through us the world sees what it is to live in a right relationship with God and with the people in our lives.  We are the masks of God.  Icons, not idols.