The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, The Helper

The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, The Helper

The day of Pentecost is one of the few days on which we talk about the Holy Spirit. Lutherans tend to turn our focus away from the power of the Spirit to Jesus. Why is that? Why don't we focus as much on him?

Jesus describes the Holy Spirit's job in John 15 and 16. The Spirit is a helper. He reveals Jesus' message to people. He only says what is given to him. See a pattern? The Holy Spirit's whole job is to get out of the way. His job is to point us to Jesus and strengthen our faith. 

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It's All About Jesus

It's All About Jesus

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How do we interpret the Bible? Everyone has rules that they follow that help them understand each passage as they read. Fancy theologians have a word for those rules: a hermeneutic. A hermeneutic is the process that each person uses when they read the Bible to understand it's meaning. There are lots of rules that we use in our hermeneutic. Here are some examples:

  • The Bible doesn't contradict itself.
  • You have to read the Bible for what it says. You can't make things up.
  • The Bible interprets itself.

The most important rule, however, is the one Jesus gives us in Luke 24:44-53. He tells us that the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms point to him. "“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations." When Jesus opened the disciples' minds, he told them that it focuses on his death and resurrection. 

But our temptation is to turn the Bible away from Jesus and to make it about ourselves. We act like the stories from the Bible are about life lessons that we should learn or give us principals by which we should live. But that's not what the Bible is about. It's about Jesus. Listen to more. 

Working As A Beloved Family Member

Working As A Beloved Family Member

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Jesus tells the disciples that they are not servants. They are friends. Both of these words do not quite give us the full impact of what Jesus was saying. Servant is the same word used for slaves throughout the Bible. "Friends" is the same word used for beloved throughout the Bible, too.

Jesus says that the disciples are not slaves. Rather, they are beloved. 

We are also part of Jesus' beloved, since he claimed us as his own by his death and resurrection. We don't serve him like servants. We serve as his beloved. This difference in relationship is makes a big difference in how we approach daily life. 

Servants serve because they are compelled to, because they fear punishment from their master. When you only respond because of fear, you do what you must to avoid punishment but no more. 

When you serve as a beloved member of the family, Jesus' business is your business. You do it because you care about what the family does. You freely desire to do your best for Jesus and the rest of his family. 

Servants also don't get to make decisions about how and where to serve. They only obey the master, who gives them orders. 

Beloved family members know the Father's business, so they have freedom to choose. Since they don't have to fear punishment from the Father, they can use their best judgment when approaching new problems and practices. 

 

What Is A Good Work?

What Is A Good Work?

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Jesus says, "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." 

 People who are connected to Christ through his word and sacraments can bear much fruit, that is do good works. Those who are disconnected from Christ can do nothing. Does that match up to your experience? We all know people who are not Christians who do good things. They love their families. They help their neighbors. They do their jobs diligently. Are not these things good works?

They are not. 

Good works are only those things which are done from faith in God. When we are connected to Christ, his holiness flows through us into the good things we do, making them good actions before God in heaven. 

Why is this important? You'll have to listen to find out more. 

The Good Shepherd, The Hired Hands, and The Wolf

The Good Shepherd, The Hired Hands, and The Wolf

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Jesus is the good shepherd. He lays down his life for the sheep when the wolf comes to snatch them. He dies for us to give us eternal life. 

In John 10, Jesus describes a scene that is almost a competition between the shepherd and the world, Jesus and Satan, over the sheep. Jesus fights the wolf, and he gathers the sheep into one flock. 

Today, Jesus sends his under-shepherds to point the sheep to the one, true shepherd. But the wolf and the hired hands can cause problems. Martin Luther, when writing a sermon on this passage, identifies different kinds of pastors with each.

  • The wolves, he said, are the ways the Pope drove Christians to their own works, including indulgences.
  • The hired hands were the bishops who only wanted the wealth they would gain by being bishops
  • The faithful shepherds only pointed to Jesus, the true shepherd

Today, we have all of these. There are wolves who scatter the sheep and drive them away from the shepherd. 

  • The wolves who point us away from salvation to a gospel of health and wealth
  • The hired hands who make church all about themselves, unwilling to deal with conflict or discipleship
  • Those who get out of the way of their shepherd.

Spoiler alert! Your pastor isn't Jesus, so you need to help him stay faithful to the true shepherd. 

He's Not A Ghost! Jesus Is Alive

He's Not A Ghost! Jesus Is Alive

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In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24, Jesus is very concerned to show the disciples that he is not a ghost. He asks them to touch him. He tells them that he has flesh and bones. He even eats a piece of fish! He takes special care to show that he is truly alive.

Why? Why would Luke spend so much time on showing that Jesus was not a spirit? If Jesus was raised as a spirit, it would change the message of the gospel. It would mean three things:

  1. Jesus was not strong enough to break free from death.
  2. God had abandoned his material creation in favor of the spiritual.
  3. We are still in our sins and do not have salvation.

None of these three things would be good for us, because it would mean that we do not have eternal life. Jesus did not save us, because he could not save himself. 

But Jesus is alive. He has risen from the dead, body and soul. He has a heart that beats, lungs that fill with air, and fingers that wiggle. He eats fish! That means

  1. Jesus was strong enough to defeat death for us. 
  2. God has not abandoned his creation to decay and destruction. Instead he promises renewal.
  3. We will rise from the dead just like Jesus did. 

 

Leaders and Followers in the Church

Leaders and Followers in the Church

Three times in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus predicts that he will die and rise from the dead. Each time, his disciples don't understand what he is talking about. In Mark 10, James and John ask Jesus to place them at his right and his left in his glory. They don't see Jesus as a suffering servant. instead, they want glory and power. Jesus tells them that anyone who would be great must be the servant of all.

We try to take Jesus' words to heart in the church, but it is difficult to fight our human nature. Leaders want to take power and status rather than focusing on serving. We have to keep coming back to our Savior to receive his word and keep his cross in our minds. Followers, too, want to assert their own power. Rather than submit their lives to the rest of the church, we like to go our own way. That's not what Jesus did. He submitted to the will of his Father. 

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Introducing Our Deaconess Field Work Student: Irene Swift

Introducing Our Deaconess Field Work Student: Irene Swift

Hello!

My name is Irene Swift and I am the new deaconess fieldworker at Concordia Lutheran in Berwyn. I am a junior at Concordia University Chicago studying to become a deaconess. I am originally from Cleveland, Ohio and am a diehard Indians fan. I enjoy singing and jamming out to music. I am teaching myself to play guitar which has always been a dream of mine. I am learning American Sign Language (ASL) and hope to do deaf ministry in the future. 
For those of you wondering what a deaconess is, I’ll tell you. A deaconess is a professional, theologically trained female church worker. A deaconess typically works in three different fields of mercy-work. Mercy-work is just a fancy way of saying caring for and serving people. She can work in a church, and institution, or as a missionary. In a church a deaconess normally assists the pastor with preparing for worship service, with confirmation, Sunday school, Bible study, youth group, and visiting shut-ins or people in the hospital.  
I am so excited to be doing my fieldwork at Concordia and worshipping there for the next two years while at school. I will be learning and practicing different aspects of church ministry under the supervision of both Pastor Huenink and my program advisor Deaconess Kristin Wassilak. I feel extremely blessed for this opportunity and I am looking forward to getting to know you all. 

All for HIM, 
Irene Swift 

God Is Just And The One Who Justifies

God Is Just And The One Who Justifies

We all know what justice is. We can see it on TV. Every police procedural show ends up with the bad guy getting caught. They offenders go to prison. The criminals get punished. That's justice. Justice for sinners is terrible. Every sin means we have rejected God. Justice demands nothing but temporal and eternal punishment. 

You might not know justification, though. It is like forgiveness. It's when the guilty are declared innocent. The offenders are freed. The criminals are not punished. Justification for sinners is wonderful. Despite our sin, God declares us innocent and gives us eternal life.

The problem, however, is that justice and justification are opposites. One cannot be fully just and the one who justifies. But that is what St. Paul says about God. How is this possible? Only through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God becoming man. He is the key to both God's justice and his justification. 

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The Word of God is the Power of the Holy Spirit

The Word of God is the Power of the Holy Spirit

When Americans think about power, we imagine immense displays. We think about private jets and the power of the wealthy. We think about military might, seeing our technologically advanced military in our mind's eye. We think about Jesus' miracles, showing his spiritual power. 

But is that the best example of the power of God at work in the world? Should we expect God to work the way that we do? St. Paul tells the Thessalonians about the power of God to create faith. It might seem small, but it is the most perfect power that the Holy Spirit gives to his people. 

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Rejoice in the Lord, Always

Rejoice in the Lord, Always

God gives us wonderful promises through Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus' death and resurrection, we have eternal life. He gives it to us through his word and his sacraments, a promise that never fails. 

We can loose sight of that both when life is going terribly and when life is amazing. Either way, God calls us to rejoice in him. We don't look at our personal situation. We constantly turn to God's love and mercy for our joy. 

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Holiness and Christian Freedom

Holiness and Christian Freedom

Romans 14:1-12

God has given Christians a great deal of freedom. While he has commanded and forbidden many things, we have freedom in the ways that we conduct much of our lives. He doesn't command a particular mode of worship, what clothes we should wear to church, or what color we should make the walls. All of this falls under Christian freedom.

St. Paul describes a situation where some are judging other Christians for practices that fall under Christian freedom. It seems that some Jewish Christians were still eating kosher and holding to the old holidays. Some Christians looked down on those still doing the old ways as if they were weak in the faith. Paul writes that Christians are free to practice certain habits or disciplines if they want to. 

It's important to remember that Christian freedom doesn't mean that we can do whatever we want. God still commands that we hear his word, receive his sacraments, and follow his will. All our decisions about what we do should drive toward the best way to serve that aim. 

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Government as God's Servant

Government as God's Servant

When Martin Luther explains the fourth commandment, he writes, "We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them." 

St. Paul describes how God appointed rulers for the early Christians as his servants. He used the Roman government to restrain evil and promote good. God does the same with our current government. Whether you love, hate, or don't care about our representatives, they are appointed by God to govern. We give them their due respect as God's servants. 

But we also know that government or civil society cannot stop sin. People will always use others for their own ends. Only Jesus, by his death and resurrection can bring an end to sin. When he returns, he will end sin and make everything perfect. 

Listen to the sermon here.

God's Love For Others

God's Love For Others

God loves the whole world, and he shows us that love through Jesus Christ. Jesus gave himself to us, everything that he has, so we could live forever. God desires that we love each other that same way. In Romans 12, he calls on each Christian to show love to other Christians, the the people who are mean to us, and to the lowly. Click here to listen to the sermon

Romans 12:9-21

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

God Is Unsearchable and Inscrutable

God Is Unsearchable and Inscrutable

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

  “For who has known the mind of the Lord,

   or who has been his counselor?”

  “Or who has given a gift to him

   that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. 
Romans 11:33-36

God is beyond our understanding, because he is infinite, all-powerful, and all-knowing. How could human beings even begin to understand anything so foreign to our world. Because he is unsearchable, we know that we can only know about him from how he reveals himself to us through Jesus Christ. Listen to the sermon to hear more about God’s inscrutable wisdom for us.

 

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