July 21, 2019

    The practice of letter writing has all but vanished from modern culture. When was the last time that you received a personal letter from a friend or loved one? 

    Today we begin a sermon series in which we will examine seven letters from Jesus (through the Apostle John) written to churches in what is modern-day Turkey. 

    As the Lutheran Study Bible notes: Every letter conforms to a similar pattern: (1) Jesus addresses the congregation; (2) Jesus introduces Himself as the speaker and is identified with significant titles; (3) Jesus affirms what is good and right with that church; (4) Jesus rebukes the congregants for what they lack; (5) Jesus issues a call to repentance; (6) Jesus promises blessing to “the one who conquers”; (7) Jesus gives an exhortation to “hear what the Spirit says.”

    These letters are incredibly relevant for the modern church and individual Christian. Through these letters, the Savior calls us to repentance. My prayer is that we take this opportunity to examine ourselves and our congregation, and then live in the promise of forgiveness and eternal hope for all who trust in Christ!

A Sunday in the Congregation

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Today at Living Word I got to sit in the congregation with my family and listen as the Gospel was preached to my heart, soul, and mind. For a pastor preaching week in and week out, any break from the routine is welcome. But today was special because I got to watch and listen as a gifted and passionate young man delivered his first-ever sermon. 

As I reflect on the day, I can’t escape that final question that was asked from Psalm 23: Who is your shepherd? 

If I’m honest, there are many things that vie for the title every single day. My own intellect, political pundits on television, my desire for affirmation, the love of money, and the list could go on. To what or whom am I looking in order to find my identity and sense of value? Where do I turn for comfort and refuge?

I wish I could say that I ALWAYS look to Jesus as my shepherd—but you’d see right through it and know that I was lying. My heart is prone to wander. I certainly love Jesus, but I love a lot of other things that compete with him for the role of shepherd. 

The truth is, some days I have a lot of shepherds. The stock market was up 200 points—my soul feels restored. People seemed to love my sermon or Bible study—my cup overflows. 

But here’s the thing: all of the pseudo-shepherds will fail me. They promise rest but really only put me on a never-ending hamster wheel. They advertise satisfaction but leave me wanting just moments later. They lead me on but never fully deliver. With pseudo-shepherds there is always a bait and switch. It’s never quite as good as my heart thought it would be. 

And so I need the church. I need the church to point me back to the Good Shepherd. I need the church to remind me that even when I trust in a fake, Jesus’ love for me remains. As an under-shepherd, I need another faithful preacher to proclaim the truth of Christ Crucified into my wandering and parched soul. 

Today the Good Shepherd restores my soul.

July 14th, 2019

     As individual parts of Christ's Church, we find ourselves living in the tension between rest and urgency. 

    We rest in the Gospel. We place all of our hope in God's promise that our standing before him is based entirely on what HE has done, not on what we do. We trust when God says that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, as we know that He is always true to His Word.

    And yet…

    We live with a strong and compelling sense of urgency. We know that things aren't as they should be. When we trust in Christ, we know that the same sin of which I've graciously been forgiven is blinding, drowning, and killing our friends, neighbors, and loved ones. We feel a sense of urgency because we know that these are serious matters of eternal consequence. As people who know the beautiful redemption found at the cross of Christ, we long for all people, whether in Dickinson or in Chad, Africa, to know the hope of eternity and promise of a Good Shepherd who loves us. 

    So we rest in the Gospel. And we act urgently because those around us need to be rescued from sin.

    Rest. Pray. Invite. Love. Give. That's what the church does. 

July 7th, 2019

    On this weekend in which we celebrate the independence of our nation from foreign rule, it is popular to hear talk about the great freedom and fundamental principles of personal autonomy that have long made our country great. In fact, the Declaration of Independence itself states that we are “endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Now there has been much debate about whether or not that is true in a Biblical sense, or if it just sounds nice and created a solid foundation upon which to build the case for revolution. After all, God sent His son into a region ruled by a dictator without any attempt to overthrow said dictator. However, all agree that a nation in which personal liberty is protected is preferable to one in which it is absent. 

    However, as Christians, we have to be well aware of the dangers of a liberty-driven society. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” And yet, He died that “those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him….”

    As Christians, our freedom is never for our gain or glory. Christ gives us freedom so that we can live for Him. In God’s providence, you were born into a society built on a foundation of personal freedom, but it’s not freedom for your glory or gain. In a very real sense, we have been entrusted with the gift of freedom, and the wealth and comfort that accompanies it. What will you do with that which has been entrusted to you? Give yourself away for God’s kingdom. Nothing else will last. 

June 30, 2019

    This side of Heaven, happiness will always remain fragmentary, fractured, and fleeting. In the shadow of the Cross, we are never afforded more than glimpses of the "good life." Yet it is precisely here at the Cross that all human pursuits, including the pursuit of happiness, are brought to an end; where we become the "pursued" rather than the "pursuer." And it is here that we discover that the ultimate joy is not ours at all, but His (Hebrews 12:2): "Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the JOY set before Him, endured the Cross, scorning it's shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

    For the joy set before Him, Christ pursued us to death. And it is in Christ alone—our Sabbath—that true rest from our endless quest for happiness lies.

    Or, in the enduring words of St Augustine: “This is the happy life, and this alone: to rejoice in you, about you and because of you, Lord. This is the life of happiness, and it is not to be found anywhere else.”

Excerpt from “The Secret to Happiness” by Rev. Luke Kjolhaug. Read more at www.christholdfast.org/blog/the-secret-to-happiness

Takeaways from Psalm 25

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Psalm 25 helpfully models and teaches how to pray in the midst of great trouble. We are encouraged to bring our concerns, fears, and raw emotion to God. We see in these words a beautiful integration of the reality of our sin and need for forgiveness in the midst of incredibly challenging circumstances. And that pretty much sums up the life of the Christian: a continual need to place our eternal hope and confidence in the promises of God, whether our circumstances are smooth or challenging.

As we reflected on this Psalm today, here are the five realizations that I mentioned:

  • Shame is redefined in God’s Kingdom.

  • My iniquity is great.

  • God’s mercy and love have been proven time and again.

  • God is a close friend to those who are repentant.

  • And, finally, God creates in us a desire for integrity and uprightness.

By God’s grace, may we come to realize each of these in a deep and meaningful way.

June 23, 2019

    "I believe that a man can find nothing more glorious than these Psalms; for they embrace the whole life of man, the affections of his mind, and the motions of his soul. To praise and glorify God, he can select a psalm suited to every occasion, and thus will find that they were written for him.

    They appear to me a mirror of the soul of every one who sings them; they enable him to perceive his own emotions, and to express them in the words of the Psalms. He who hears them read receives them as if they were spoken for him. Conscience-struck, he will either humbly repent, or hearing how the trust of believers was rewarded by God, rejoice as if His mercy were promised to him in particular, and begin to thank God. Yet, in its pages you find portrayed man’s whole life, the emotion of his soul, and the frames of his mind. We cannot conceive of anything richer than the Book of Psalms. If you need penitence, if anguish or temptation have befallen you, if you have escaped persecution and oppression, or are immersed in deep affliction, concerning each and all you may find instruction, and state it to God in the words of the Psalter!"                          - Athanasius (c.296-373) bishop of Alexandria

June 16, 2019

As we honor our fathers, as imperfect as they are or were, let's turn our eyes to the beautiful picture of God the Father in the parable:

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate." Luke 15:20-24

Whatever our experience with our father, and whatever our track record as fathers ourselves, let's praise God that he is a father who runs toward us and rejoices!