December 01, 2019: 1st Sunday in Advent

Let us pray: Dear Lord Christ, as we begin a new church year, focus our attention on what awaits us—not only this coming Christmas and new year, but the larger issues having to do with the eternal future that awaits us.  Equip us to cast aside the deeds of darkness and its attendant temptations and walk into the Light of your grace and mercy.  Yes, sweep our hearts clean of sin so that we have room for your forgiving love.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR COMING CHRISTMAS KING!

TEXT:  Romans 13: 11-14

Dearly Beloved in Our Coming Lord Christ: 

          About 10 years ago our country’s Secretary of State was the point person for a new campaign to improve relations between Russia and America.  That official met with the Russian government in a televised press conference and spoke about a new “reset” of relations.  She even pulled out a giant “reset” button as a prop—kind of like you might see in a Staples ad.  Then she hit the button, expecting it to light up.  Nothing happened!  It was a dud.  It didn’t work.—And so we still find ourselves today at odds with Russia.

          Advent is a Godly time for us to hit a “reset” button in our own lives.  Hopefully, peace and harmony with God and ourselves will come out of it.  And today’s lesson gives us a blueprint to accomplish this, otherwise your life will turn into a dud….

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          Advent is our “present time.”  Advent 2019 foretells snow storms on the horizon, a cold winter, people spending far more than they can afford, superpowers squaring off against each other, superbugs which will lay many low, and basically more problems than we can count.  It will feature evil’s intrusion into our lives and cause us to question the meaning of life.  So what are any of us going to do about it?  Listen to Paul: “And do this, understanding the present time.  The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.”

          Most would say that the Christian Church is outmoded and time has passed it by.  Most would say it is comprised of stodgy, boring people who live in the past and cling to ancient ideas of right and wrong, along with a morality that doesn’t fit our fast-paced world.  Most would say that the Church is an anachronism, a concept that time has left behind.  Paul tells us to throw off your blanket of accepting this view, to rouse yourself from the slumber of complacency you often indulge in, and to get ready for big things, cosmic events leading up to Christ’s 2nd coming and the end of the world.  Can you imagine eating a big turkey dinner, engaging in self-congratulations around the table, shuffling off and going to sleep—right through the evening news—and missing out on the “breaking news headline” which announces the end of the world?! Christ is coming.  The future of God’s power and judgement is very close by.  And Christmas, in 24 days, will inaugurate His 1st coming in preparation for His 2nd coming.

II

          It’s time to reset ourselves.  “So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.  Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

          The word: holiday means “holy day.”  Anything holy is associated with God, isn’t it?  And yet the holidays, including Christmas, usually revolve around selfishness, greed, drunkenness, illicit sex, and generally almost anything that isn’t “holy.”  Because it is the modern American way, even Christians get caught up in this web of evil.  From now until Christ’s birthday the headlines will scream about how holiday sales are up.  It will reek of materialism.  The vast majority will spend most waking hours “thinking how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”  And then in the hard, cold light of January, the bills will come due with a thud.  Likewise, God’s bill will someday soon come due, too, concerning our life and the future of our soul.

          And so we are to ponder all these issues during Advent and hit our own reset button!  Elsewhere, Paul tells us this: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things, and the God of peace will be with you.”  If you do that, these days leading up to Christmas will be full of meaning, none of which will cause you a sleepless night.  And you can do that by focusing on the Baby Jesus Who is coming to win your freedom from the inroads of evil by triumphing over it on a cross and by handing you His victory—all wrapped up and lying in a simple manger.  Most would call that a quaint, delusional dream; but by His grace, we call it: a promise of God!  So hit your reset button starting today and see the beauty and timelessness of that promise fulfilled in your life this very year!  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox

Dec. 1, 2019 

November 24, 2019: Christ The King Sunday

Let us pray: Dear Savior, You alone are the King of all creation.  You alone know everything and shape and mold everything so that Your name will be hallowed and Your kingdom of grace may flourish.  Today give us a glimpse into Your greater truth that surrounds and protects us.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM OUR LOVING KING!

TEXT:  John 18: 34-38

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          I watched a little bit of the spectacle in Washington over the past 2 weeks.  I watched various witnesses being sworn in, declaring they would recount: “The truth, the whole truth.”  And it brought to mind the question of Pilate to Christ: “What is truth?”  Let’s ponder it.

I

          Is it the truth to declare “the sun is shining?”  Well, not today in Burlington, MA.  But somewhere in the world it is.  So, that truth is therefore dependent on where you live and what time of day it is.  Such truth is relative.  How about: “Today is November 24, 2019.”  Is that true?  Again, it depends on the calendar you’re following.  Here’s another one: “I love you.”  How?  In what way?  Does your love ever waver or fade?  Such truths are relative.  Some will say: What about the truths of science?  I answer: How do you know gravity exists throughout the universe in the exact same way we understand it?  Maybe there’s an alternate universe where it doesn’t exist?  By now you’re a bit exasperated.  Truth, human truth, is relative, dependent upon our understanding of something at that time and in that situation.  Is it any wonder Pilate was a cynic and mockingly asked Jesus: “What is truth?” 

          What precipitated this exchange between the Roman governor and Christ, the King of all creation?  It was Jesus saying: “You are right in saying I am a king.  In fact, for this reason I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

          This whole exchange brings up a reality-jarring problem all humans face.  That is the difference between subjective truth vs. objective truth.  Subjective truth is whatever is true for you.  So, color blind people see red whenever most others see green or blue.  What is “true” for one may not be “true for the other.”  Likewise, a sociopath may adopt a murderous lifestyle as “truth” whereas most others would say: “That’s horrible and wrong!”  If you boil it down, most of what is called: “truth” in this life, is utterly subjective.  That is, it’s right for me but not necessarily right for anyone else.  And of course, this breeds chaos, so we try to ignore the problem and sort of let the majority rule. 

          Then there’s objective truth, or “it’s true whether you believe it or not.”  Or, it’s true and correct even though you may not understand or grasp its correctness.  Let me ask you this: “What happens when you die?  Where do you go?  What do you do?  Do the same rules of earthly life apply in the hereafter?  And how and from what source do you know anything about this?”   By definition time isn’t timeless.  So, is truth timeless? 

          Pilate was what we’d call a modern man.  He was a cynic.  He questioned everything and believed only in what he had experienced: The power of might makes right and money buys anything.  His question: “What is truth?” stems from all that he could not quantify.

II

          Jesus’ answer to Pilate is intriguing.  “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”  That’s a stunning statement.  It presupposes that Jesus knows real truth.  He presupposes that Jesus possesses knowledge far beyond mere human comprehension.  It presupposes that He possesses knowledge, wisdom and understanding which is timeless and infinite.  Pilate was a smart cynic and he grasped a portion of what Christ was saying.  No wonder he responds with: “What is truth?” 

          Jesus’ response is grounded in the truth that God exists, that He alone knows truth, and that Jesus is God in human flesh.  Recall Him saying: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  That would make Him the King of the universe, answerable to no one.  And because Jesus is God’s Son and there’s unity in the Trinity, all this is True! 

          Jesus tells us about Himself in the Bible.  Here’s another passage: “God Word is truth!”  So, whatever the Bible says is correct across all ages and stands the test of time and human relativity.  So, when Scripture tells us not to: cheat, steal, lie, murder, or commit adultery—those truths are always in force.  Thus, whoever breaks those rules sins against God and “the soul that sins it shall die.”  Such truth is black and white with no extenuating circumstances.  Otherwise God’s truth isn’t true.

          But there’s another great truth in the Bible.  It is this: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them anymore.”  That truth is the Gospel.  It is encapsulated in Jesus’ own words from the cross: “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  God is light and him dwells no darkness at all.  God is love.  Those truths show and tell us how He conquered the untruth of Satan’s lies.  They tell us that Godly truth won an eternal victory over sin and evil on the cross and confirmed it by rising from the dead.  So, even that commonly accepted truth: “When you die, you die” is false!  For Christ died but came back to life!  He did it for you and me.  And when we believe in Him, or as Jesus says here: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to Me” well, God’s truth trumps human relativity. 

          My friends, Christ is our King!  He knows the truth, gives it to us through faith, and it sets us free!  It sets us free from the silliness of human understanding about all the great issues of this life and the one beyond.  It provides us a paradigm for living: “If you continue in My words, then you are my disciples; and then you shall know the truth and that truth shall set you free!” 

          Truth is a beautiful thing in that it is never wrong and never goes out of style. So  listen to Christ the Purveyor of real truth and no matter what occurs in this life you WILL live happily ever after!  Our King has made it so and nothing and no one can change that fact!

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH…..       

Welcome to Pinewood!

IMG_0231Sharing the joyous news of forgiveness in Jesus Christ is our chief purpose. To that end, we seek to nurture everyone we meet.

Join Us For Worship

Sunday Worship

10:45 a.m.

10:00 a.m. Summer Services

Starting June 1, 2019, we will begin our summer schedule with Sunday service beginning at 10:00 a.m. 

Note from the Pastor About Pinewood:

People often say: “The devil is in the details.”  We at Pinewood like to say: “God is in the details!”  It’s true!  God cares about our lives down to the smallest of details.  He never overlooks any of us.  He shows kindness, compassion, forgiveness and love to all from the smallest infant to the most seasoned member.  And along the way He breeds happiness, joy, and inner peace among all His children.  That’s why we’re a contented congregation.  He gives such blessings to each of us—and we share them.  We laugh together, we cry together, we praise God together, and we give thanks together.  We invite you to be  part of such togetherness.   Pastor Thomas H. Fox

January 29, 2023: 5th Sunday of Epiphany

Let us pray: Dear Savior, we know that You instituted marriage and through it the formation of families.  We know that this is Your will for how the human race should live.  We know that You value it so highly, You even use the marriage/family relationship as an example of how You relate to Your believers—You are the Bridegroom and we are Your holy Bride.  So, today we ask that You instruct us more fully in all these issues and thereby make us happier and more fulfilled people.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE SETTER OF  PRIORITIES

TEXT:  Matthew 19: 6: “Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate.”

Dearly Belove in Christ: 

          Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, wrote this in Proverbs 18: 22: “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.”  Obviously, although addressed to men, the same applies to women.  For God made both sexes, saved both sexes, and seeks to heap blessings upon both sexes.  And marriage is one such blessing. 

          Then, we also have that insightful section from Ephesians 5 where St. Paul writes: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”  The word “submit” here does not mean coercion.  It means loving submission.  It means that out of love for the other, both husbands and wives willingly give their hearts, their lives, their all for each other.—Just as Christ has done so to save us on the cross.

          In an age where traditional marriage is viewed as outmoded, where divorce and remarriage often causes conflicted emotions, and where families now consist of: yours, mine, and ours, we need to talk about both marriage and families.  And if we all take the words of Christ, uttered in our text seriously, we’ll learn anew:

HOW TO HAVE A STRONG FAMILY

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          Countless problems and stresses confront families today.  Each of you knows this because each of you lives this fact.  First, there is the “me” generation thing.  That is, we all place more emphasis upon “me” and upon our wants and needs than we do upon those close to us. Remember that genuine self-sacrifice is foreign to natural man and comes only through faith in Jesus Christ.   Because of this (me-ism) we superimpose our inner will upon our spouses and children, often failing to compromise and failing to set priorities in our relationships which honor and uplift all.  In a Christian marriage, we all need to adopt the dictum:  “what’s good for my spouse is good for the whole family.”  If both spouses operate that way, not only will their relationship be strong, but any children in that house will feel very safe and very secure. 

Second, there is the crass materialism of our modern culture.  This leads to a host of family stress and guilt because we view ourselves in competition with others.  Hence, we often try to buy the love of our families with “things” instead of providing them with the example of Christian virtue.  We often spoil our children out of guilt, and/or because we think that self-discipline is too hard for them to learn.  However, kids soon figure out that they can now call the shots and set the tone of family life because you are no longer leading  the way. Compound to all that the stresses of the modern job situation where both spouses work—limiting time, energy and patience with their children–and naturally, you have families in trouble.

          When Pastors get together at conferences and talk among themselves, marriage and family issues among members always comes up.  We hear of parents under the guise of “love” allowing their kids to play mom off against dad.  We hear of extended families trying to divide loyalties among spouses.  We hear of blended families where two sets of rules apply to the two sets of kids, thus further straining the marriage and all the children’s emotional well-being.   What should be done?  What’s the answer to such stress and strain?

II

          Today, let’s begin to unravel this conundrum by pondering our text.  “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”  Every one of you who has been married at a Christian Church knows those words.  They were read at your wedding.  And, I might add, in your marriage vows you pledged yourself to those words.  Do other human beings “separate” husbands and wives?  Of course they do.  Well-meaning in-laws sometimes meddle and criticize their child’s spouse.  They play to their child’s love for them and sometimes force them to choose: “Whom do you love more?  Your spouse or the one who gave you birth and raised you?”  Such behavior is a sin.  It seeks to tear marriage relationships apart instead of building them up.  And in the end, such emotional blackmail usually backfires.

          Friends can often separate spouses, too.  Why did you get married in the first place?  Wasn’t it because you loved the other and valued their friendship and wanted an even closer relationship with them?  So, it follows that your spouse should be your very best friend on this earth.  Letting others interfere with that is letting sin take root in your heart.  And bad fruit results.

          Work and the relationships spawned by it are another source of contention.  When your self-worth as a human and as a father, mother, husband or wife is defined by the amount of your paycheck and what you bring financially to family life, when that equation changes people are pulled apart by guilt, shame, and frustration.  You may owe your job your time, but you don’t owe them your heart.  As a Christian God must always come first, family second, and job third. 

          And now we come to the 3rd rail of any family relationship—kids.  To be sure, Christian parents dearly love their children.  They rightly view them as blessings from God.  And every loving parent will gladly sacrifice almost anything for the sake of their kids.  That being said, do children sometimes come between mom and dad?  And do you parents allow that to occur?  Do you sometimes allow the love you have for your kids to get in the way of the love you have for your spouse?  And if you do, are you then guilty of breaking Christ’s words of our text and also your marriage vow when you promised that nothing and no other human being would ever come between you and your spouse?  Well, only you can answer that question.

III

          What makes a strong family?  We all want and desire such a family.  But how is it achieved?  First, it should be built on Jesus Christ and allegiance to Him and His Word of truth.  For in loving submission to His Father’s will, Jesus gave up His life to save each of us, and through Christian marriage He organizes our priorities so that everything follows His perfection instead of our imperfection.  And never forget, when we make mistakes in this regard, His forgiveness covers all our sins!   And to benefit from that forgiveness we must be honest about our failings through repentance.   

          Second, strong families are not defined by children.  I say that as a married man who has no human children of my own.  (I have a whole congregation of spiritual ones, instead!)  Some have said that: “children make you a family.”  That’s wrong.  Married folks without kids are a family, too.  Marriage makes a family.  Children are an added blessing to that family.  Likewise, any 101 psychology class, common sense, and most of all God’s Word tells us that children simply are not emotionally capable of keeping the family together because it’s not their job!  Think of all those passages that speak of children being trained, growing up, and learning.  Passages such as: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”  Passages like: “When I was a child I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I acted like a child; but when I got older I put childish ways behind me.”  In other words, parents who allow their relationship with their children to become the focal point of their marriage are putting undo stress and pressure upon those kids.  Parents are responsible for their children.  Children should not be forced to be responsible for their parents and their parent’s emotional well-being.  If you put them into that position the whole family will suffer.  The best way to equip your kids to handle the stresses of family life for their future well-being, is to always have a unified front with your spouse, to honor your spouse with words and actions, thereby teaching them by example what the Bible means when it says: “The two will become one flesh.”  This applies to traditional and blended families alike.  Yes, “What God has joined together, let man not separate.”  Those words apply to in-laws, kids, spouses, friends, to everyone.

          St. Paul’s words in Ephesians 4: 15: “Speak the truth in love” are especially apropos in this regard.  First, practice Christ’s forgiveness by forgiving one another.  Second, be honest with loved ones, but do so with love controlling all your words.  Third,  don’t allow others to ever denigrate your spouse.  Remind them that to do so also denigrates you because through marriage you are now “one flesh.”  And finally, continue to work at keeping your marriage vows when you promised that very special someone that you would honor, love, cherish and esteem them more than anyone else on this earth.   Amen   

THE PEACE OF GOD….

Pastor Thomas H. Fox

January 22, 2023: 3rd Sunday after Epiphany

Let us pray: Dear Lord Christ, in the midst of a cold winter, warm our hearts and souls with the reality of all Your blessings!  Fill us with the happiness of knowing that You have made us right with God.  And for all this and more, we also bless Your holy name.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE SOURCE OF ALL GODLY BLESSINGS!

TEXT:  Matthew 5: 1-12

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          “And may God bless America!”  That phrase often accompanies speeches from our national politicians.  We’ve heard it more times than we can count.  But, do we really know exactly what those words mean?  Moreover, does the person uttering them know exactly what they mean?  Does everyone equate blessings with Christ, alone? 

          Thomas Jefferson was a great man in human terms.  But, he was a pygmy before God.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like Jefferson.  I’ve studied his writings a great deal.  He could well be called: a universal genius.  But, Jefferson was not a Christian.  He was a Deist.  That is, he believed in some sort of higher power, but refused to acknowledge that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and his eternal Savior.  Yes, Jefferson admired the teachings of Jesus.  Yes, he had his own version of the New Testament Gospels compiled, laid on his nightstand, and read it every evening before he dozed off.  But, in that compilation he cut out all the miracles, all the supernatural references to Jesus being God’s Son, and only included some statements from Christ that he liked.  Jefferson especially liked the words of the Beatitudes, the text before us today.  He liked those words of “blessing” just like politicians do today.  And he also tried to achieve that state of blessing before his “higher power” via his own good deeds. 

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          The word “blessed” comes from the Greek word “makarios.”  It literally means: happy, fortunate, or blest.”  The word is used throughout the Bible in both Testaments.  Usually it is reserved for God and either Him giving such goodness to us, or humans honoring and praising Him for His goodness.  Occasionally, it is also used by humans for humans.–Such as when Jacob sought out his father, Isaac’s, blessing.  Thus, it also connotes an ongoing state of happiness and good fortune for the one on the  receiving end. 

          Here in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, He speaks and seeks to convey that state of Godly good fortune to His followers.  The question is: Who is able to achieve and attain Godly happiness by their own will-power?  Is any human able to cause God to bless them strictly by doing what Jesus says?  Look at the exact words following: blessed.

          “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  What human being is poor when it comes to human pride?  Can any of us perfectly renounce our self-love?  Can any of us totally get rid of our egos?  So, humans can never achieve heaven by trying to be poor in spirit on their own, can they?  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  Yes, we humans mourn over loved ones who die.  But do we mourn, cry, over our sins?  Do we grieve over every single time we hurt God by breaking a commandment?  No!  So, our human attempts at mourning fail to give real comfort, eternal comfort, don’t they?  At best, they are stop-gap measures to help us get through the day.         “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”  Doesn’t all human life teach us that the strong, the risk-taker, the folks that aren’t afraid of the spotlight—that they are the ones who “get ahead.”?  Meekness, or failing to put yourself forward, sounds good.  But, does it really buy you a career, or that job promotion, or human accolades?  Moreover, who is truly meek—within the confines of their own life and self-image?  Don’t we all stroke our own ego?   “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  Our natural inclination, once we realize we’re empty inside, is to gear up and try to make God like us.  So, we attempt to live moral lives and try to help people in need.  Then, we reason, that because we worked hard, like Jefferson, to do good things with our lives, God will fill us up with happiness.  But righteousness means “rightness with God.”  It means perfection.  It means freedom from and the absence of all inner and outer guilt.  What mortal human can ever hope to attain such a state?—If they are honest with themselves….

          “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”  Who among us has never borne a grudge, never wished ill upon another, never uttered words of contempt towards another?  So, who of you has earned God’s mercy?  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  Ah, pure in heart.  It sounds clean, bright and beautiful.  But, who can boast of a pure heart?  Doesn’t Jeremiah say: “The heart is deceitful above all else and desperately wicked, who can know it?”   “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”  All people have a temper.  All people get angry.  All people want and often try to “get even” with those who have hurt them.  If Jefferson admired these words so much, why did he agree to go to war with the British during the Revolution?  And what mere human can ever make peace with God and appease His anger over sin? 

          “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Now we’re getting closer to understanding the true meaning of the Beatitudes.  True righteousness comes only from God through Jesus Christ.  It is His gift to us.  It is a gift which cost Him everything and costs us nothing.  It is a gift that works faith and confidence within the human heart, so much so that because of it we’re willing to suffer persecution for our faith.   Christ amplifies this in the concluding section: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” 

II

          The whole point of the Beatitudes is this: GOD’S BLESSING IS ATTAINED ONLY THROUGH FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST.  Only Jesus laid aside His heavenly splendor and became a slave, poor in spirit, for us.  Only Jesus mourned even over the enemies who crucified Him.  Only Jesus was meek and humble, always putting hurting souls before Himself.  Only Jesus hungered and thirsted for the salvation of all people—thus His words: “I thirst” from the cross.  Only Jesus showed mercy to all people of all generations in giving up His life for theirs on a cross.  Only Jesus was perfectly pure in heart since He was and is the Son of God.  Only Jesus is the Prince of Peace Who took away the sins of the world and God’s anger over them.  And when Jesus hands to us His gift of grace, of undeserved, perfect love, by faith His perfection is extended to us and into us.  That’s why Christians are willing to risk all under persecution—because Christ’s eternal love compels them! 

          My point is this: you cannot understand any of the Beatitudes apart from Jesus Christ.  You cannot follow them and attain their blessings apart from faith in Jesus Christ.  You cannot be truly happy in life without Jesus Christ.  So, divorcing Him from their truths is a fool’s errand.  Don’t be a fool!  Instead, cling to your Savior in humble faith, let His holiness cover all your own failings, try to show your faith by doing your best in every situation, and then  God’s blessing will rest upon you!  That’s because Christ and only Christ is the Center and Source of all true blessings!  Amen. 

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox

January 15, 2023: 2nd Sunday after Epiphany

Let us pray: Dear Savior, today we join our hearts in that great prayer for the Word within which Your people pray that they may: read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the holy truths of the Bible.  May we never again overlook or pass by the comfort each Word of truth contains and brings to our troubled hearts.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE WORD MADE FLESH IN ORDER TO COMFORT AND SAVE OUR SOULS!

TEXT:  Isaiah 9: 1-4

Dearly Loved By Christ: 

          One of my fellow pastors in the Wisconsin Synod with whom I attended college has this wonderful website title for his congregation: peacewithGod.  Now most of us use our church name to identify us on the web.—Much like our pinewoodlutheran.org, or kingofgrace.org.  But that pastor’s designation of: peacewithGod is really, really good, isn’t it?  For it aptly describes exactly what his church preaches, teaches, and stands for.  I applaud his insight.

          One of the great truisms of life that you learn at a very early age is that “nothing in life is free.”  You end up paying for everything—even gifts.  You disagree?  Well, hasn’t someone given you a gift and then later on expected something, perhaps a favor, in return?  Don’t you expect others to speak nicely of you or promptly return your calls after you’ve gone out of your way to help them?  And if they don’t, aren’t you sometimes emotionally “cool” with them and make your displeasure known?   Yes, nothing in life is free—except, except Christ’s gift of eternal peace with God.  That is the one and only instance in life where Someone gives a precious gift to us with absolutely no strings attached. 

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          When I was a little boy we didn’t have malls.  In fact, in my little town we didn’t have too many stores, either.  But what we did have was the Montgomery Ward catalogue.  It was chocked full of anything and everything.  Sears Roebuck and J. C. Penny’s had similar treasure books.—I call them that because they were about 3 inches thick!  Come Christmas time I would take out the special Christmas toy edition of the Monkey Ward’s catalogue and develop my own little wish list.  I seldom, if ever, got any of the items.  But, it didn’t matter.  It made cold nights pass quickly and sparked imaginary journeys to imaginary places.  It was window shopping at home.

          Very few people use their bibles as catalogues.  But, in fact, they are just that!  They are catalogues of God’s riches and blessings and gifts beyond all compare.  Take today’s lesson from Isaiah 9: 1-4.  It’s a very descriptive section outlining God’s gifts to us in Christ.  But, because it uses some ancient historical references to describe those gifts, most just give it a glance and pass right on by.  We fail to take the time to “inwardly digest it” and thus go hungry. 

          When the children of Israel settled the promised land around 1350 BC, the tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali were given a couple of northern frontier sections around the sea of Galilee.  Because they were frontier states which bordered heathen lands, they interacted a lot with those heathen people.  Over time such ungodly influences pulled them away from truly honoring the Trinity.  They became lethargic in their faith, much like most of America today.  And so, stripped of their moral and spiritual strength, they became easy conduits for invading armies to attack the entire holy land.  They had been the first line of defense and now inward corruption made them easily crumble when faced with tough times. 

II

          But, here Isaiah lays out an amazing prophecy: “In the past he (God) humbled the land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”

          Couple that statement with Jesus directly applying it to Himself in today’s Gospel from Matthew 4, and you clearly see the rich meaning.  Christ came from Galilee.  Christ is the light of the world.  He came to dispel the terror of death with the light of His love and His gift of eternal life.  Moreover, since He was God’s Son and is all-powerful, His work was totally pure, perfect, complete, and holy.  And He did it for people who could never, ever, claim they deserved it.   He did it for sinners like us who had turned their backs to Him.

          The result of Jesus coming to earth and dying for lost sinners is now amplified: “You (Christ) have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.  For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.”

          When we live apart from knowing God and having faith in His Son it’s as if we’re groping along in total darkness—tripping and stumbling at almost every turn.  How wonderful to have light appear!  How wonderful it is to have light illumine our steps!  Suddenly we know where we’re going and we can see the pathway!  Well, this was and is Christ’s work when it comes to our lives today.  By enlarging the nation of believers we have safety in numbers and we can comfort and help each other even more.  By having all fear, including the fear of death dispelled via the resurrection, our hearts rejoice because just as in ancient harvest times we know death by spiritual hunger will not stalk us.  Just as conquering armies were made rich via plundering their enemies, so Christ has plundered Satan and divided the fruits of His victory with us—peace with God, freedom from guilt and slavery to sin, and the certain knowledge of an eternal life with Him.  Midian was an ancient enemy of Israel.  Their raids were bloody and awful.  When they were finally defeated, everyone gave a huge sigh of relief.  Well, just as a heavy oaken yoke weighed down plowing oxen, so the weight of internal guilt weighs down every human.  But now, in Christ, the weight has been forever removed from us by Christ.  That weight of sin was carried to the cross by Him and removed when He offered up Himself as a sacrifice to God in our place.  The rod of regret, the heavy bar of shame over our selfish attitudes—all that is gone forever!  Taken away by Christ, the Lamb of God.   And so now, peace with God reigns within us!

          PEACE WITH GOD IS CHRIST’S GIFT TO YOU!  It costs you nothing.  It cost Him everything.  It comes with no strings attached.  You’re totally free to do with it as you wish.  However, please, please do not be foolish!  Don’t take it for granted.  Don’t throw it away.  For if you do, you’ll never, ever, get to enjoy it.  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox     

January 8, 2023: 2nd Sunday after Christmas

Let us pray: Dear Lord Jesus, we know that You don’t look upon our outward appearance as much as You do upon our hearts.  And today, because our hearts are full of the joy, gladness, thankfulness and faith that You have placed within them, we truly are beautiful in Your sight.  Enable each of us to celebrate such beauty and never to hide it.  Amen

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

TEXT:  Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Fellow Redeemed Sinners Basking In the Afterglow Of Christ’s Birth: 

          Every time I gaze into a mirror I see something a bit different—and I’m not always pleased!  I’ll bet most of you feel the same way.  In my case, because I inherited my mother’s rather wonderful skin, I don’t have many wrinkles.  However, the hairline continues to grow  sparser,  the sideburns now white, and if Tori woke us up before 5 a.m. the skin under my eyes is a bit puffier.  Vanity, vanity, all is vanity!

          Some days, as I’m shaving, I see happy eyes full of excitement.  Other days I see the weary eyes of a man age who has had a tough week.  Because I’m so familiar with such looks, whenever I see each of you here at church I usually steal a few glimpses into your eyes, too.  Those glimpses tell me a lot about how you’re doing.  We can hide inner hurt behind a laugh or steer conversation into neutral areas that don’t reveal our inner selves, but the eyes, the eyes are the windows to the soul.  They can be bright, lively, and happy.  Or, they can be sad, weary, and reflect inner turmoil.  My lovely wife likes to remind me that: “The face shows all.”  She’s right.

          Everyone has something to hide.  We try to hide wrinkles and blemishes with skin cream and make-up.  We try to hide hair loss via wigs, or the “hair club for men.”  We attempt to hide a bulge or two with tailored clothes or spandex.  But how about hiding that thing or two inside of you that isn’t very pretty?  You know exactly what I mean.  When you look into your own eyes in a mirror, you know the person looking back at you.  You know the inner shame you carry around.  You know the nasty thoughts you harbor.  You know how you try to hide your prideful superiority complex behind a mask of piety.  And as a Christian, you also know that your inner corruption is ugly to behold.  As a Christian, you’re not proud of it, but it just seems to ooze out of you at the worst possible moment.  As a Christian, you’re immensely frustrated with having to put up with yourself and ashamed that God has to actually see you for what you really are.  And if you don’t feel this way, at times, then you’re not being honest with yourself!

          All this is why today’s lesson from Isaiah is so beautiful and uplifting and comforting!  Perhaps you’ve never thought much about this question: WHAT DOES GOD SEE WHEN LOOKING AT ME?  But, knowing the answer to that question is the ultimate—not in skin care, but in soul care.

I

          Adam and Eve were perfect human beings—no inner blemish or wrinkle, no outer stain or spot spoiled their perfect beauty.—Until, that is, they tasted the sour taste of sin.  We all both know and experience daily the result.  But now, now, to us a child is born and a Son is given.  To us a second Adam has come to transfer to us His ageless beauty.  A sin-free life, a forgiven life, is the Christ-Child’s gift to you and me.  He’s the gorgeous Bridegroom that has come into this world to eternally marry the ugly Bride, the Church, you and me.  However, and it’s a really big “however”, as God Almighty, Jesus has graciously worked a miracle, a miracle of transformation, upon us.  By faith in His love and goodness, He has re-made us into a stunning, glamorous new creation!  His love and inner beauty has been given to us through faith. 

          Isaiah prophesies this amazing transformation when he writes: “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my god.  For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” 

          So much for the outer transformation in God’s sight, now Isaiah speaks of the inner transformation as well.  “For as the soil makes the sprout to grow up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.”

          That praise from the heart, that inner beauty shines forth from your soul and mine when we praise our Christmas King.  And God both sees and hears it and smiles.

II

          Zion is often spoken of as the city of God.  Since Christ once said: “My kingdom is not of this world” and since the Bible also says: “The kingdom of God is within you” we know that Zion is codeword for Christ’s Bride, for the Holy Christian Church, for all believers like you and me.  So, God, speaking through Isaiah now adds: “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.  The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.”

          God the Father sent His Son into the world as a humble suffering servant in order to save fallen mankind.  Christ came as the Anointed one chosen for the task of making us beautiful in God’s sight.  In carrying out that task, He took on another name: Jesus, or God saves His people.  And by doing so, His glorious perfection has now become yours and mine.

          And that leads us to the final words of this lesson.  Since all that our Bridegroom possesses He gives to His Bride, the Church, God’s final words aptly describe both Jesus and also us who live by faith: “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.”

          So, WHAT DOES GOD SEE WHEN LOOKING AT YOU?  He sees the beautiful, glorious daughter-in-law that His Son married.  He sees you and me as worthy heirs of heavenly glory, made worthy only by the loving blood of our Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.  And thus, He rejoices over us perhaps even more than we rejoice over Him!  Next time you’re feeling frumpy, think about THAT!  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox