March 21, 2021: 5th Sunday in Lent

Let us  pray: Dear Savior, as the long, hard days of winter conclude, uplift our spirits!  Hold before us the empty cross and the empty tomb!  Remind us that darkness leads to light and life!  Yes, give us the same attitude about living in the here and now that you had—one of self-giving love.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR SAVING LORD!

TEXT:  Philippians 2: 5-11

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          Attitude is everything.  Doctors know this.  Cancer patients who give up and adopt a defeatist attitude succumb far faster than those who retain an upbeat mindset.  Players on a team who are positive, even if they have limited skills, are much more popular than “stars” who are always grumpy that others misplayed a baseball.  Teachers respect C students who really try more than A students who are lazy and uninterested. 

          Where does a person’s attitude come from?  Some is inherent.  Some is learned.  Some is a product of family life or perhaps good or bad company.  And, of course, all attitude is either uplifted by God or corrupted by Satan along with our inherent sinful nature.  Let’s take a quick quiz.  When you converse with another are you: 1. Quick of judge them and point out their weaknesses? or 2. Do you seek ways to lovingly built them up without monopolizing the discussion?  Are you more concerned with them than with you?  I think you know the answers. 

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          As Christians, our attitude about life filled with blessings, leaves something to be desired.  All our attitudes need improvement.  And today St. Paul lays before us God’s example of all this.  “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”  Whoa!  That’s a tall order!  In other words, get rid of all dissension, pride, hate, grumpiness, arrogance and all other negative emotions and actions that tear others apart. 

          “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

          From our perspective, Christ debased Himself.  He became a slave to our sins.  He took all that nastiness upon Himself.  And He didn’t consider that He was a lesser member of the Trinity because of it.  He did all this willingly to show us the real  meaning of love. 

          “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!  Think about that.  God Who is the Supreme Creator agreed to save His wayward creation.  So, the Potter took on the form of a deformed pot.  He did so knowing that the pot would be smashed, burned, and ground into dust.  That would all happen to Him, the Potter, because He cared about the deformed pots and through His sacrifice of self, all the other deformed pots could be remade and born anew.  The only word that describes His attitude is: pure love.  Yes, Jesus gave His all—to us!

II

          “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” 

          In other words, out of Christ’s passion and death comes Easter and life.  Because Jesus laid down His life and His all to save us, His holy Father raised Him to life in heaven at God’s own right hand.  Through and because of Jesus’ lovingly giving Himself up to save you, all creatures are forced to confess that His attitude about showing true love permeated all He did and that it alone is worthy of emulating.  Moreover, only this kind of undeserved love, or grace, is worthy of praise. 

          Unless you’re a bump on a log, Paul’s words should shame you a bit.  That’s because we know how often our attitude stinks in comparison to Christ’s.  But we’re a deformed pot that needs help, we’re not the potter.  We don’t remake ourselves, or reform our attitude by ourselves, that’s Jesus’ job.  And He both has and is doing so right now!  He already paid for our deformities and rose from the ultimate deformity of death in our place.  He already has given that status of perfection before God to us via faith.  And now He’s working at  polishing us by smoothing off all the rough spots.  So, armed with His grace, try to appreciate it!  You’ll be amazed at how much calmer and happier you’ll be! Follow Christ in ALL Things and you’ll never go wrong.     Amen

THE peace of God which….

Pastor Thomas H. Fox 

March 14, 2021: 4th Sunday in Lent

Let us pray: Dear Savior, thank You for working out our eternal salvation and giving that priceless gift to us via faith.  Thank You for the blessed gift of grace which permeates our lives from beginning to end—from baptism to our grace-filled entrance into glory!  May we never tire of hearing the truths of grace or take them for granted.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM THE GIVER OF EVERYTHING GOOD—JESUS CHRIST!

TEXT:  Ephesians 2: 4-12

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          Number 1 on the favorite desert menu is: chocolate!  And if you don’t like chocolate, I pity you.  It doesn’t matter whether it is dark, milk, or semi-sweet chocolate.  They are all very tasty and even addictive.  Although, we should note that dark chocolate has the most heart-healthy compounds.  I rarely buy, or am given, a box of chocolates.  I usually just go directly to a really good bar or chips.  But when confronted with a box of mixed chocolates  it’s hard to choose where to start because they’re all tasty.  That’s the way I feel about the lesson before us.  It’s all about God’s grace.  And every aspect of God’s grace brings unbridled delight!

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          By way of review, grace is defined as: God’s undeserved love for us in Christ.  Christ and His working out our salvation with His sacrificial life, death and then resurrection is both the foundation and the edifice of grace.  From beginning to end, a Christian’s life is supported by grace. 

          Paul begins by saying: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

          All humans are born with a reciprocity gene.  That is, “you do for me, I do for you.”  Or, conversely, “unless you give to me, I won’t give to you.”  So, on your own, what can you give to God; what DO you give to God, which is perfect, holy, and selfless?  Nothing.  Quite the opposite.  Do you always thank God for His goodness, even when you get sick?  Do you always thank God when you’re laid off from work, or when a forgotten bill arrives?  Do you thank Him for friends, even after they disappoint you and let you down?  Or, do you get angry over such things and lash out in anger or plot pay-backs? 

          This last week in confirmation class we were discussing the blessings of baptism.  I made the point that we can and do destroy human love-built relationships.  We can and do quit loving others unless they feed our ego.  But God never does!  Nothing can destroy His love for us in Christ.  That’s right.  Nothing.  He loves us in spite of how we treat Him.  He waits patiently for us to come to our senses and repent.  And then, as in the Prodigal son, He welcomes us back with a warm embrace.  That is because He loves us unconditionally in Jesus.  It’s all about grace!  Since nothing can destroy or diminish His love for Christ, nothing can block His love for those for whom Christ died and extended His grace.  Yes, grace ‘tis a charming sound, harmonious to the ear!  Grace is God’s essential nature.

II

          What are the results of God’s grace?  “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

          A huge difference between us and God is that we complain a lot and He never does!  Being ungrateful and unhappy is a result of sin.  It is forgetting who we are and how we have been eternally blest and saved—by grace alone!  And when we remember that truth, grace turns us around and changes our outlook on life.  We see everything as a part of God’s plan for us.  And we see His kindness even in often overlooked events.  Moreover, if you still don’t yet feel uplifted by it, grace makes sure that you will.  For armed with grace, God takes care of everything in the end.  “All things work together for good to those who love God.”

III

          Grace brings true and lasting comfort to all believers.  For God does everything (perfectly) and we do nothing except say: “Thank You dear Lord!”  Grace is the total package when it comes to our salvation.  Paul addresses this aspect of grace, too: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

          Before God created the universe, He knew all about you.  He knew you would need His help and salvation.  He knew you’d need His comfort in the face of evil which sought to spoil God’s perfection.  So, God worked out, in advance, our soul’s salvation in and through and by Jesus Christ.  His love for us in Christ is grace in action, isn’t it?  And now  your acting upon that grace has given birth of countless, little and big, good works.  Works which honor Him and give Him glory, thus gladdening His huge heart.  That’s the meaning behind: “we are God’s workmanship.”  So, our lives begin with God alone and will end with God alone.  Which, of course, means that in Christ Godly perfection is ours.  So, the circle of life is thereby complete: we possess never-ending comfort and joy and purpose all because of grace!

          The old Lutherans often ended their sermons or writings on Scripture with a Latin phrase: Soli Deo Gloria!  Or, to God alone be the glory.  And it’s true because grace makes it possible.  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD….

Pastor Thomas H. Fox

March 7, 2021: 3rd Sunday in Lent

Let us pray: Dear Lord, how wonderful it is to be able to worship You in Spirit and in truth.  Not in our ideas about truth, but in Your Truth drawn directly from Your Holy Word. May we cherish this blessing and thereby receive many, many more such Divine gifts.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST THE SAVIOR OF US ALL!

TEXT:  Psalm 122: 1: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord.’”

Dearly Beloved Worshippers of the One and Only Savior: 

          Are you an introvert or an extrovert?  Introverts tend to be drained by people interaction.  So, they marshal their energy when in  a crowd.  Extroverts are energized by such interactions.  Was Christ an introvert or an extrovert?  Actually, He was both.  Think of those times when He “went off by Himself to pray.”  And then there were those times when He drew large crowds and embraced them.  Christ truly was: “all things to all people.”  Which means: He can relate to you.

          Increasingly there are Americans who identify themselves as Christian but don’t attend regular worship services.  Why?  I suppose it is because they want God in their corner on their own terms.  We should be saddened by this, as is Christ.  For they are depriving themselves of great blessings.  I don’t know any instance where Jesus neglected regular corporate worship.  But I do know of countless passages where we find Him worshipping in the local synagogue.  Think about that?  He’s the one who wrote the Scriptures.  They are all about Him and His plan for our salvation.  Did He go just to keep up appearances?  Did He attend to worship Himself?  No.  He went to keep the 3rd commandment in our place and to honor His Father and uplift those who were with Him.  Remember that Jesus said through David of old: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord.’”  If going to church brought Jesus joy, how can it not for you?

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          Many people today think that liturgy and hymns are old-fashioned, outmoded, and out-of-touch with our modern lifestyle.  Well, most of liturgy is drawn directly from both Old and New Testament practices proscribed by God.  And God never goes out of style.  Liturgy literally means: service.  It does have sacrificial aspects where we serve God with prayers, hymns, confession, praise, and thanksgiving.  But primarily, liturgy is about GOD SERVING US!  He does so with the declaration that our sins are forgiven (absolution), the words of comfort, instruction and truth in the lessons, the sermon, and most especially in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper where He applies directly to our souls heavenly soul food, or Christ’s forgiveness for all sins.  These sacraments (holy things) are glorious!  They are God’s way of personalizing His love directly into our hearts.  Recall the passage from Isaiah 55:6: “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call on him while he is near.”  Since God’s word and sacraments are the center of corporate worship, church is where we find Him with His grace.  Likewise, recall the passage: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ!”  Searching for God’s empowerment over evil apart from regular worship flies in the face of all this.

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          Just like “no man is an island unto himself” so no Christian is an island who survives all by themselves.  Sunday worship is a must!  David says as much in his words: “I was glad when they said, ‘Let US go into the house of the Lord!’”  Likewise, the writer of Hebrews: “Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is.” 

          Here is where the introvert/extrovert thing comes into play.  Many of you would say that I’m an extrovert. You’d be wrong.  In reality I’m an introvert.  I enjoy time alone to think, ponder, plan, and learn.  I don’t come by being outgoing and extroverted naturally.  But God enables me to be so in order to upbuild you.  Every time we worship together He empowers me to step out of my comfort zone and embrace you—your fears, your hopes, your dreams, and your needs—and to do so through and with the Gospel—the fact that He loves us enough to forgive our sins each week through the transference of our pain to Christ where it died with Him on a cross.  That is the central theme of every Christian worship service.—God serves us with the best of the best.

          I’ll admit that such formal proceedings, as we have in our worship service, and the sometimes archaic wording in our hymns may strike people today as different and even odd.  That’s because our society has given up any sense  of formality.  We’re hip, slangy, focus more on our feelings than on ageless truths.  That strikes me as a bit superficial.  We need deep roots when it comes to our soul’s salvation.  Otherwise, when the hurricanes come and break off and strip the tree of faith bare, there is nothing left to grow back. 

          One final thought.  Trees that are clumped together in a grove have much less damage during powerful storms. They support each other and so they endure.  That’s a fact.  So it is with each of you.  Yes, the blessings of corporate, in person worship, are manifold.  And all Christians over the centuries ultimately have grasped this truth!  In fact, you’re living proof, as a faith-filled child of God, that they were right.  “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house  of the Lord!’”  Amen

THE peace of God which…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox 

February 28, 2021: 2nd Sunday in Lent

Let us pray: Dear Lord, thank You for giving us all the blessings of grace!  Thank You for providing us with hope, joy, fortitude, and inner peace so that we can endure the hardships of life and come out on the other side with a heart that rests in Your unfailing love.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO IS GOD’S GRACE PERSONIFIED!

TEXT:  Romans 5: 1-8

Dearly Beloved in Christ: 

          Think back 6 months ago.  It was early September.  The weather was beautiful, the temperatures typical for Fall.  The Apple harvest was coming in.  The land seemed peaceful and calm.  But the country, and most of its people, were not.  Our fellow Americans were seething inside.  We’d been locked up or locked down for 6 months.  The open fear over the virus had ruptured America’s calm.  An uncertain election loomed.  Nasty words with a nasty tone were spewed forth each day.  People longed for a vaccine, an antidote to their woes.  If the average American had heard me read these words of our text then, they would have said: “That’s pie-in-the-sky nonsense!”  They would have cringed, especially at the phrase: “but we also rejoice in our sufferings.”  Rejoice over Covid?  Rejoice over economic disaster? Rejoice over the pain and anguish we’ve endured?  Rejoice over knowing that everything we’ve taken for granted, normalcy, would be forever changed?  Yes, apart from faith Paul’s words DO sound like nonsense.  But not for the believer in Christ!  Only the Christian can accept and rejoice over Paul’s words.

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          Paul had a hard life.  In many respects his life had more pain, suffering, rejection, and upheaval than most.  You know his history so I won’t catalogue it here. (And if you don’t know read the Acts of the Apostles this week.)   And yet from the depths of his soul, he writes this seemingly (to the world) paradoxical text. 

          War is horrible.  You cannot escape it.  It grinds you down and will kill you.  Longing for peace and “normalcy” won’t end war.  It might put it on hold for a time, but war is always with nations and peoples.  War within your heart is even worse.  It is continual upset and unease and fear over any sense of a blessed afterlife.  Such war is fear over and against God.  This is America today—or at least the non-Christian part of our nation. 

          How do we attain non-war, or the status of peace with God?  Well, here’s the answer: “Therefore, since we have been justified (declared by God Almighty as totally forgiven and right with Him) by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”  On the macro scale, the eternal one which actually counts, this is our reality.

          Like all of you, I have had my moments of weakness and unease over this past year.  I, too, have questioned God with the weekly repeating of: ”Why Lord?”  That’s because, like you, I often get bogged down in the micro-minutia of life instead of focusing on the macro plan, which is the grace of God. 

          But, whenever God gives me a good gospel shake, I return to my Christ-centered roots. And then I take comfort in the truth of Paul’s next words: “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”  This is the active result, the fruit of the Gospel, which all Christians possess.  It’s also why the Spirit is known as: The Comforter from on High.

II

          No one longs for suffering, but everyone longs for peace. And is here how it comes to us and why.  “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone mighty possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

          Christian hope it totally different than human hope.  Christian hope is grounded in and founded by God’s undeserved love for us in Christ, His Son.  It is foolishness, nonsense, to the myopic world.  But it reveals the amazing heart of our Creator and shows why He alone deserves honor and glory. 

          God’s grace, His peace, His hope is what keeps us centered amid chaos.  It keeps our eyes on the prize of heaven, even when depression and despair begin to overwhelm us.  So,  yes, for you and me, “we rejoice in our sufferings.”  We rejoice because they lead to perseverance, character building times, and by grace alone we come out the other side filled with hope—not only of a better tomorrow, but a better forever.  And it all stems from grace—the love of God for  us—which can never be destroyed!  And if you doubt that, just focus on Christ’s empty tomb.  There even death itself got swallowed up and stomped on in His victory to and for Life!  Amen

THE peace of God which….

Pastor Thomas H. Fox