Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Lent Mid-week 6

Mid week Service 6
March 31, 2004 
Psalm 23:6 (KJV)
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”

The good Shepherd shares the secrets of a happy eternity

INTRODUCTION: King David in this much-loved Psalm gives us an insight to a life lived well. He gives us the secret to happy life, a happy death and now a happy eternity. David concludes our Psalm for this Lenten season by reminding us: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” -Psalm 23:6 (KJV) How can we be assured of a happy eternity?  By this verse David gives two directions of thought; the preservation of our life and a place of eternal security.

I.        David assures us of the Preservation of our life – “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life”

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me...” Goodness – God’s goodness consists of righteousness, holiness, justice, kindness, grace and love. Goodness is also one of the fruits of the Spirit which characterizes Christian behavior. {Galatians 5:22}  Christians are called to goodness even as God the Father is perfect and good. Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew: "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
There is a problem, however; you know the problem. It’s a problem found in all of us. It’s a problem with sin. Because of our sinful nature our goodness fails to measure up to the Father’s standard of perfection. What are we to do?

We trust in the mercy of Almighty God. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me...” What is the mercy of God? Mercy is that aspect of God’s love, which causes Him to help those who are miserable. Those who are miserable may be so either because they have broken God’s law or because they find themselves in circumstances beyond their control.
What are we to do when we find ourselves to be in such circumstances? We rely and fall upon the Savior’s amazing grace, which, of course, is that aspect of God’s love that moves Him to forgive those who are guilty.

God shows mercy on those who have broken His law. Daniel 9:9 reminds us: “To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him”

God’s mercy is given to us although it is undeserved. Paul reminds us in Romans 9:16: “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on god who has mercy.”  No wonder we cry out to god when we pray the Kyrie: “Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us.”

Especially when we poor sinners find ourselves in circumstances beyond our control the Savior reaches down to us with His mercy. Jesus had mercy when He healed the blind men {Matthew 9:27-31; 20:29-34} and when He cleansed the lepers. {Luke 17:11-19}   Because God is merciful, He expects us, His children to be merciful. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy”

Jesus says in Matthew 5:7 In James 1:27 we are reminded: “This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of god our Father; to visit orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world”

Transition:  Not only will the Good Shepherd provide for the preservation of our lives; He will also bring us to a place where we will live and reign with Him.

II.     The Good Shepherd gives us a place of eternal security.

A.     David reminds us: “...and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

United by God’s election and salvation through Jesus Christ our Good Shepherd we are included in the Father’s household of faith. St. Paul explains it this way:

 “So them, while we have opportunity let us do good to all men – especially those of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10)

“We will dwell with God in heaven, the dwelling place of God; the dwelling place of the righteous” (Ephesians 2:19)

CONCLUSION: This is how the Good Shepherd shares the secrets of a happy eternity; in goodness, mercy, and security.

Lord Jesus Christ, shepherd of Your Church, You give us new birth in the waters of baptism, You anoint us with oil, and call us to salvation at Your table. Dispel the terrors of death and the darkness of error. Lead Your people along safe paths, that they may rest securely in You and dwell in the house of the Lord now and forever, for Your name's’ sake. Amen 

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Lent mid-week 5

Mid week Service 5
March 24, 2004
Psalm 23:5 (KJV)

"Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anoitest my head with oil; my cup runneth over."

The Good Shepherd sets the table

“Let’s run the table!” That’s a phrase used in sports, which would suggest to us “Let’s get out there and win!”  “Let’s run the table” -Go for it all, and win the ultimate prize!  As we are nearing the completion of the NCAA men’s and women’s national tournament there are many wondering which team will run the table. Which team will pull out all the stops and emerge as champions.

Regardless if you interested in sports or not our Lord and Savior has “run the table” for us. He has offered for us salvation and life on a table of sacrifice, namely the cross. In the fifth verse of Psalm 23, our Psalm for this year’s Lenten observance, David speaks of a table set before us by the Good Shepherd Himself. Here we might recall a banquet hall where a feast, fit for a king has been spread before us. This evening we see how the Good Shepherd has set a table before us.

Participation – “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”

 Notice how highly David magnifies the Lord. He recalls how gracious God has been. Consider what the Lord has bestowed on him (v. 5): "Thou preparest a table before me;”

David says in essence: “Lord, You have provided me with everything pertaining both to life and godliness.” All things needed for both the body as well as the soul are given by the Shepherd’s caring hand.  His benefits are not only for this life they spread well into eternity.  Such a bountiful benefactor is God to all His people; and because these blessings come from God David is called upon to utter thanks for His great goodness.  David acknowledges two realities:

A. That he had food conveniently given to him; a table spread, a cup filled, meat for his hunger, drink for his thirst. What is it that Christ has given to you? Luther explains in the explanation to the 1st Article of the Apostles Creed: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them; also, clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and home, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods; that He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life, that He protects me from all danger, and guards  and preserves me from all evil; and all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which I owe it to Him to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him. This is most certainly true.”[1]

B. David acknowledges that the Shepherd had this table carefully and readily provided for him. His table was not spread with any thing that came haphazardly; rather God prepared everything for him. The Shepherd provided for all of his needs and prepared it before him. Under the heading “daily bread” Luther lists just some of the gifts and blessings the Good Shepherd provides for us each and every day: What is meant by daily bread? —Everything that belongs to the support and wants of the body, such as meat, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, field, cattle, money, goods, a pious spouse, pious children, pious servants, pious and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like”.[2]

Preparation – “Thou anoitest my head with oil.”

Samuel anointed David to be the king over all of Israel. To be anointed was an outward sign not only of God’s acceptance but more then that, it gave recognition that he alone was to be ruler and king over Israel. Jesus was anointed at His baptism when He was recognized as being the one sent by the Father to begin the work of redeeming the world. On the Mt of Transfiguration the Father spoke His word of approval once again. As the Savior descended from that mountain to the valley of the cross the Father had only one strategy which was to run the table for us on the table-board of sacrifice at the cross.

We are anointed in our own baptism. In the waters of baptism we are buried with Christ into His death and raised to a new life in His resurrection. In baptism we are marked to be included at the dinner table with Christ. In baptism we are anointed to receive an inheritance which leads to eternal life.

This is how the children of God are looked after. Plentiful provisions are made for their bodies, for their souls, for the life that now is and for that life which is to come.  The Good Shepherd has seen to it that we have been blessed and anointed.

 He provides for our daily wants and needs and has seen to it that our spiritual provisions are met also.

Plenty – My cup runneth over.  
Having thought of all the Good Shepherd provided him, David must concluded that he was blessed beyond measure. Not one restriction was placed upon him. was Not once David placed into a crisis wondering if God would provide for Him. Never was he in want but rather he had abundance poured into his lap: "My cup runs over,” David reminds us there is more then enough for my friends and myself too.

Jesus has set a table before us filled with abundance and life. That table has been set before us for us to enjoy every single day. As our Lord and Savior has “run the table” for us, He has offered for us salvation and life on a table of sacrifice, at the cross and empty tomb. What more can we do but to thank and praise serve and obey Him?     

-Oh, magnify the Lord with me,

With me exalt His name!
When in distress to Him I cried,
He to my rescue came.3

1 Bente, F., Concordia Triglotta, (Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Northwestern Publishing House) 1997.
2 Bente, F., Concordia Triglotta, (Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Northwestern Publishing House) 1997.
3 The Lutheran Hymnal (St. Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House) 1942 hymn 29

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Lent mid-week 4

Lent Mid-week 4
March 17, 2004 
Psalm 23:4
The Good Shepherd prepares us for a Happy Death

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (KJV)

We are now half way through our pilgrimage of Lent. The Good Shepherd shares His life with us. He also prepares us for a happy death. David now directs our attention to the tomb. The Scriptures remind us: “It is appointed for men once to die and after that comes judgment.” {Hebrews 9:27} How can we be assured of a happy death? David reminds us the assurance we have as we look at verse 4 of our Psalm for tonight. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” -Psalm 23:4 (KJV)

1.      Death brings about parting and separation – “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”

There are numerous definitions of death. Some may suggest that death is the absence of specific functions of the body; such as no pulse, or that the person isn’t breathing, or that there isn’t any heart beat. Still other may say that the definition of death is the absence of brain waves.

Yet the Scriptures give us a concise definition of death. In the book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 12 reminds us that the definition of death for the believer is the separation of the soul from the body.  “then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7 NAS)  When the body and soul are separated the Christian can safely assume that death has occurred.

Parting is also a part of the entire dying process. It has been observed that especially when an elderly person, who had been married for some fifty, fifty-five, or sixty years looses a spouse often they quite frankly loose the will to live. The Lord commenting on the marriage union tells us in Genesis 2:24: “For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” (NAS)  The bond of marriage grows stronger over the years. When death occurs after a half century of memories are made there is a parting that brings immense sorrow. 

David is correct, when death draws near, though it be a shadow, it casts a long silhouette and we walk through a deep valley filled with loneliness and sorrow. Even we Christians grieve at death. St. Paul says in 1Thessalonians 4:13-14: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” (NAS) Paul acknowledges that we grieve and sorrow at the point of death. We face separation and parting yet we grieve differently then those who have no Christian hope. We mourn our dead differently. We have a hope in the resurrection.

2.      Yet, there is peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ – David reminds us: “I fear no evil”

The evil which men experience as death draws near is the prospect of facing God. It is amazing what men have said as they realized the certainty of their own demise. Consider what men have said on their deathbed.

Ø      Francis Voltaire, A French unbeliever said to his doctor: "I am abandoned by God and men! I will give you half of what I am worth if you will give me six months' life. Then I will go to Hell; and you will go with me. O Christ! O Jesus Christ!"

Ø      Thomas Paine, An American author and unbeliever: "I would give worlds, if I had them, that 'The Age Of Reason' had never been published. O God, what have I done to suffer so much? But there is no God! But if there should be, what will become of me hereafter? Stay with me, for God's sake! Send even a child to stay with me, for it is Hell to be alone. If ever the Devil had an agent, I have been that one."

Ø      Edward Gibbon, author of "History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire": "All is dark and doubtful!"

Ø      Dwight L. Moody: American Evangelist said: "Earth is receding, Heaven opens before me. God is calling...”

Ø      Paul the Apostle. -- AD 66: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness." (II Timothy 4:7,8).

Ø      John A. Lyth: "Can this be death? "Why, it is better than living! "Tell them I die happy in Jesus!" (*)

3.      David reminds us. We are protected, even in death – “For Thou art with me”

We do not walk alone. We walk through the valley of death with the Good Shepherd who took on death at the cross and defeated death and the grave once and for all. Jesus has promised: “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20) We are never alone. The Good Shepherd has promised us “I will never, no never leave thee, nor ever forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5) Here are no fewer then five negatives heaped together. They confirm a great promise. The believer in Christ shall have the gracious presence of God with him in life, at death, and forever!

4.      Life is but a pilgrimage. In death we take a walk from one end of the kingdom to the other; from the kingdom of grace to the kingdom of glory – As we take this walk we are comforted by our Good Shepherd: “Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.”

The shepherd’s rod was an effective tool. At times it was used to prod the sheep and keep them moving. At other times the shepherd used it as a hook to bring them back into the fold. Never was it used to strike the sheep. Only the Good Shepherd would be struck down.  On the night of His betrayal Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 26:31-32: “You will all fall away because of Me this night for it is written, ‘I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered’ But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”

Thus our Good Shepherd comforts us.  He was struck down on Good Friday but raised to life on Easter Sunday. The Good Shepherd, hours before His own death promised them His Easter! When we anticipate our own death we place our hope in the resurrection!

Death is so limited...

it has not crippled love,
it has not shattered hope,
it has not corroded faith,
it has not eaten away peace,
nor destroyed confidence.

It has not killed friendship,
it has not shut out memories,
it has not silenced courage,
it has not invaded the soul,
nor reduced eternal life.

It has not quenched the Spirit,
it cannot, has not,
nor will not lesson the power of the resurrection!

(*) Quotations from "Knight's Master Book of New Illustrations" (c) 1956  Published by Wm. B. Eardmens  Company

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Lent mid-week 3

Lent Mid-week 3
March 10, 2004 
Psalm 23:3 
The Good Shepherd who puts His life in us

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. (KJV)

St. Paul writes in Romans 6:3-5 “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with {Him} in a death like His we shall certainly be reunited in a resurrection like His” This passage speaks of baptismal regeneration. In baptism we died to sin and were made alive in Christ. That happened to me personally as I was baptized at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, New Haven, IN. - March 10, 1957 - forty-seven years ago today. Baptismal regeneration calls for us each day to recall what happened to us in and through our baptism and then to daily live in our baptism as redeemed children of God.  – That’s what we call sacramental living – Experiencing daily the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation as Christ comes to us in and through the sacraments. As we continue looking at the Shepherd Psalm tonight we focus on verse 3. 

Tonight we hear of the Good Shepherd who puts His life in us
1.    The Savior makes this personal - He restoreth my soul

Jesus our Good Shepherd restores me when I wander. No creature will lose itself sooner than a sheep. We often refer to them as “stupid sheep”!  Sheep are so apt to go astray, and then so incompetent to find their way back.

The best saints are sensible of their predisposition to go astray like lost sheep. It’s more then an inclination. It’s what we call our sinful nature. David writes in Psalm 119:176:  “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Thy servant, for I do not forget Thy commandments.” (NAS)

Isaiah writes: “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” (Isa.53: 6 - NAS)  That’s the story of Lent. We are all like wandering sheep. We have gone astray; each of us has turned to his own way. What shall be done? The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. We miss our way, and turn aside to a different road. But God shows people their error, gives them repentance, and brings them back to their duty again, He restores the soul; and, if He did not do so, they would wander endlessly and be eternally lost and undone.

When, after one sin, David's heart smote him, and, soon after another, Nathan was sent to tell him, “Thou art the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7) God restored his soul. Though God may endure when His people fall into sin, He will not tolerate them to lie still in it.  Through contrition repentance and faith we are restored back to the Father.

Our Good Shepherd recovers me when I am sick, and revives me when I am faint, and so He restores the soul, which was ready to depart. He is the Lord our God that heals us.

In Exodus 15 we are reminded: “So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, "What shall we drink?" Then he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree; and he threw {it} into the waters, and the waters became sweet. There He made for them a statute and regulation, and there He tested them. And He said, "If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD, am your healer."  (Exodus 15:24-26 -NAS) Many a time we should have fainted unless we had believed; and it was the Good Shepherd that kept us from fainting.

2.                  The Savior places real and abundant life in us - He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

God’s honor is at stake. It’s His reputation, which is in jeopardy. Thus He must act and act judiciously and appropriately. He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake

 See here the courage of a faithful saint. Having had such experience of God's goodness to me all my days, “in six troubles even in seven.” The Christian will say: “I will never distrust him.”

We learn to say by faith: “Because all He has done for me, even though it was not for any worth or merit of mine, but purely for His name's sake. In the pursuance of His word, in the performance of His promises, and for the glory of His own name and for the good of His people. That name therefore shall still be my strong tower, and shall assure me that He who has led me, and fed me, all my life, will never, ever, leave me.” This is how the Good Shepherd has placed His life in us. 

Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Lent mid-week 2

Lent Mid-week 2
March 3, 2004
Psalm 23:2
The Good Shepherd who provides for us

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. (KJV)

At the cross on Calvary’s hill the Son of God Jesus Christ was suspended between earth and heaven. There He bore the sins of the entire earth in His body. He carried your sins and mine on His own back that we might have salvation and life. The Shepherd-King David describes how that was carried out for us in the second verse of this most beloved Psalm. Here we see how the Good Shepherd who gives His life for us. David speaks to us tonight reminding us: “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.”

There is a great benefit in being in the Savior’s presence. The Christian knows that God is with him and that He will take care of him now.  But what about tomorrow? What about tomorrow?   As we look to the future we can expect the benefit of the Savior’s mercy and care especially when we need it the most.

1.      With the Savior by our side David can speak of a position of security - “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures”

Consider the happiness of the saints as the sheep of God's pasture. They are well placed, well laid: He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. We have all the supports and comforts of this life given to us from God's good hand.  Our daily bread comes from Him, as He alone is our Father. This greatest abundance is but a dry pasture to a wicked man, who will relish only in that which pleases the senses.  But to a godly man, who tastes the goodness of God in all his enjoyments, and by faith relishes that, though he has but little of the world, to him, it is a green pasture. Ps. 37:16 reminds us: “Better is the little of the righteous than the abundance of many wicked.”  And in Proverbs 15:16-17 we are reminded: “Better is a little with the fear of the LORD, than great treasure and turmoil with it. Better is a dish of vegetables where love is, than a fattened ox and hatred with it.”

God's ordinances are the green pastures in which food is provided for all believers. The word of life is the nourishment of the new man. It is milk for babes, pasture for sheep, never barren, never served up bland, never parched, but always a green pasture for faith to feed in. God makes His saints to lie down; He gives them quiet and contentment in their own minds, whatever their lot is; their souls dwell at ease in him, and that makes every pasture green.

A question for us to ponder. Are we blessed with the green pastures of the ordinances of the Good Shepherd? Let us not think it enough to pass through them, but let us lie down in them, abide in them; this is my rest forever. It is by a constancy of the means of grace that the soul is fed.

2. David now speaks of the progress of Salvation “He leadeth me beside the still waters”     

We are well guided, well led. The shepherd of Israel guides Joseph like a flock; and every believer is under the same guidance: “He leadeth me beside the still waters.” Those that feed on God's goodness must follow His direction. He leads them by His providence, by his word, by his Spirit. He disposes of their affairs for the best, according to His counsel. He disposes their affections and actions according to His command. He directs their eye, their way, and their heart, into His love.

The still waters by which He leads them, is not only a pleasant prospect, but a cooling portion, a reviving cordial, a refreshing drink when they are thirsty and weary. God provides for His people not only food and rest, but refreshment also and pleasure. The consolations of God, the joys of the Holy Ghost, are these still waters, by which the saints are led, streams, which flow from the fountain of living waters and make glad the city of our God.

God leads His people, not to the stagnate and standing waters that corrupt and gather filth. Not to the troubled sea, nor to the rapid rolling floods, but to the silent waters; for the still but running waters agree best with those spirits that flow out towards God and yet do it silently - the prayers of His saints.

We lie down in security – “Come unto Me...” Jesus has told us, “...all Ye that are weary...” wearied by the troubles and burdens of life. “Come unto Me... all who are heavy-laden...” Heavy laden with the guilt and burdens of sin.

“Come unto Me...” the Good Shepherd has said “ ...and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light." {Matthew 11:28-30}  He will supply us with all that we will ever need for our soul. “It is well, it is well, with my soul.” He alone will lead to the quiet waters, which give us the Father’s peace.