Archives For First Trinity

The Greater Spirit

July 5, 2013

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I’ve not had cable for much of my life, so watching ESPN and other cable networks while traveling is a fun perk for me. On one trip, I managed to find Band of Brothers from HBO, which recounts the story of the men of Easy Company in the 101st Airborne during World War II.

I later purchased the DVDs to watch the entire series. One episode tells the story of the battle of Bastogne. Undersupplied and outnumbered, Easy Company and others from the 101st march in to defend this strategic town against the Germans. Against seemingly hopeless odds, the 101st holds the line against the evil forces of the Nazis.

On a base level, we want to believe that good will overcome evil. While this is an amazing story of triumph, usually the group with the bigger guns, smarter officers, or better planning wins the battle. Sometimes I feel like the men of Easy Company: ill-prepared for a fight against a superior force.

Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 1 John 4:3-4

You are in a spiritual battle. Every day the devil and his demons work to surround you and cut you off from reinforcements. They are trying to overpower you and destroy you. But you are an overcomer in Christ. The devil may seem too powerful, but there is a greater Spirit living inside you. You do not fight alone, but with the power of God’s Spirit.

And that Spirit is greater than all the enemies that are attacking you. There is no enemy that can stand against this Spirit. There are no hopeless battles against evil in this war. In Christ—with His Holy Spirit—you are an overcomer.

The Master’s Work

July 2, 2013

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My mom was up to visit this past weekend for Eli’s birthday. When she came, she brought a beautiful dresser for us that she got from an older relative that was getting rid of some things. It’s well-constructed from solid wood with a beautiful, warm stain that brings out the grain.

It’s not the type of dresser you’ll find at Wal-Mart. There are no stickers on it to show which piece matches this peg and fits in that slot. There’s no laminate or particle board to be found in this dresser. I don’t know if this dresser would be considered a “masterpiece” by the craftsman, but it’s a far cry from most dressers made today.

Who do you think you are? That’s the question we’re asking in our current sermon series. You may not always feel like it, but you are a masterpiece:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10

We focus so much on the fact that we have been “saved by grace through faith” to “do good works” that we miss the connecting clause: “For we are His workmanship.” Other translations use masterpiece in place of workmanship, which is probably closer to the actual Greek word.

Our dresser’s value and quality was determined not by the dresser itself, but by the work of the master craftsman behind it. Similarly, your worth doesn’t come from what you do, think, or say, but rather from the master craftsman who created you.

Why did God give up everything to rescue you? Because you are His masterpiece. You are His crowning creation. You are valuable because He made you. Who do you think you are? God says you’re His masterpiece.

Sounding the Charge

May 17, 2013

One of the greatest trilogies of all time is The Lord of the Rings. While it’s hard to pick my favorite scene, it probably involves something with a cavalry charge. There’s just something about armored warriors yelling and screaming while they charge into battle that feels so epic!

One of the contenders for best scene is the charge of the Rohirrim at Helm’s Deep. Nearly overrun, the defender’s amass for one final heroic charge. The suspense builds as they steel themselves for this final assault, culminating in the sounding of the great horn of Helm Hammerhand.

And as the horn sounds, you sense the flow of the battle changing. What should have been their last stand becomes victory as reinforcements arrive over the next hill and charge as well, crushing the enemy between them. The horn becomes a rallying sound, inspiring the defenders and sending fear through the enemy.

Maybe this is why I love the Thessalonian church so much. The apostle Paul, who planted and nurtured numerous churches, wrote about them:

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 1 Thessalonians 1:6-8

Paul described this church as a place where the “Word of the Lord sounded forth” to all parts of the world. What a testament to the work of the Spirit in this church! This was a church that fought through “much affliction” to press the attack against sin and Satan. This was a church that struck fear in the enemy.

The enemy continues to press us. Stress, anxiety, sorrow, fear and doubt assail us, but we have a weapon far more powerful: the Word of God. It’s time to sound the horn. May we be a place where God’s Word sounds forth in our homes, schools, workplaces, communities, and world.

Whom Will You Serve?

May 3, 2013

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There was a popular Christian song when I was in college called Two Sets of Jones’ about two different couples and how their life developed. As the story unfolds, one family faces adversity and cracks while the other thrives. The chorus describes the families:

And the rain, came down,
And it blew the four walls down
And the clouds they rolled away
And one set of Jones’, was standing that day.

The difference lies not in their circumstances, but their foundation. The first Jones’ trusted in the sandy foundation of themselves. The rain and wind of life assaulted and destroyed them. But the other Jones’ chose to build on the solid foundation of Jesus.

God’s people were faced with a decision: What would be their foundation? Joshua, the young leader who followed after Moses, called them to action:

Now therefore fear the lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the lord. Joshua 24:14-15

Faced with a choice between the solid foundation of rock or shifting sands, the people reply:

Far be it from us that we should forsake the lord to serve other gods, for it is the lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. Joshua 24:16-17

You now have a choice: Whom will you serve? Which set of Jones’ will you be?

Grace to the Thief

March 22, 2013

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Someone asked me recently to clarify exactly what grace means. We use the word regularly here at First Trinity, as well as in the greater Lutheran and Christian Church. I told this person that it simply means “undeserved favor”, but it’s helpful to consider GRACE as an acronym for God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. We hold Ephesians 2:8-9 especially dear here. It reads:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

By grace you have been saved. It means that there’s nothing you did to deserve salvation, but rather, it is “undeserved favor”. It means that we are saved not because we do something, but simply because we believe and accept the free gift of God in Jesus (His riches at Christ’s expense).

We hear an excellent example of that grace today. Crucified with Jesus were two criminals on that ultimate Red Letter Day. One had a conversation with Jesus:

And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:42-43

It was a simple statement of faith: remember me. This man was at the end of his life. In just a few short hours, like Jesus, he would be hanging dead on that cross. He had no hope of surviving this day. He had no way of “fixing” what he had done to deserve death. Facing the end of his earthly life, he called out to this man that others were mocking: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus heard that cry of faith and responded with grace: Today you will be with me in Paradise. There would be no waiting period in purgatory to pay for his crimes. He didn’t release the man so he would have opportunity to pay for his crimes. Jesus simply demonstrated grace—undeserved favor—to a broken, desperate man who believed.

This is part of an ongoing series on the Cornerstone Confirmation Curriculum we are developing at First Trinity Lutheran Church. (Main Confirmation Page)

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God asks us to trust Him for all our needs. He alone brings forgiveness of sins to us. We respond by forgiving others, even when they don’t deserve it or ask for it.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Read Exodus 16:4-5

  • Underline: the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day
  • Margin: Daily Bread

Read Psalm 145:15-16

  • Underline: you give them their food … You open your hand
  • Margin: God provides.

Read Matthew 5:45

  • Underline: For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
  • Margin: God provides for all people.

Read 1 John 3:17-18

  • Underline: let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
  • Margin: We provide for others.

God calls us to trust Him alone to meet our needs. The phrase “daily bread” represents all the things we need to survive (including food, shelter, clothing, and more). While God physically provided bread daily for His people in Exodus 16, we understand this to mean a daily trusting—God is not forbidding us to plan ahead and prepare for the future, but rather to remember that even our best plans are dependent upon Him. So while we plan ahead, we remember to focus on God as our source of supply, not our own plan. In addition, God provides for all people, not just Christians, but He calls on Christians to also provide for others as we love them “with actions and in truth” according to 1 John 3.

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Read Psalm 51:1-2

  • Underline: Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
  • Margin: God forgives.

Read Matthew 18:21-22

  • Underline: “how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
  • Margin: We forgive because God forgave us.

Read Matthew 6:14-15

  • Underline: but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
  • Margin: To receive is to give.

Jesus paid the ultimate price by dying on the cross so we could be forgiven. He alone is able to forgive our sins, so we ask Him here to do as He promised. However, we also ask Him to help us forgive others. Because God has first forgiven us, we are able—and should be willing—to forgive others. If we are unwilling to forgive others, then God will not forgive us.

Class Documents

 

It is Finished.

March 16, 2013

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Our Middle School Youth Group does a winter retreat every year in Ohio on the second weekend of March. As an aside, that was this past weekend and the students had a wonderful time learning about running the race and “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” from Hebrews 12.

I love the winter retreat, but it is quite exhausting. I do what I can to get enough rest, but ultimately have to rely on the adrenaline to make it through the weekend. Then, after everyone is picked up and I get home, I crash on the couch, turn on the TV, and rest. Finally, the weekend retreat is finished.

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30

Think about this: From the moment of creation, Jesus knew what was coming. He knew Adam and Eve would sin. He knew He would be born of a virgin. He knew He would be whipped and beaten. He knew He would die a painful death on a cross to bring forgiveness to you and me.

What a monumental task! And finally, the moment Jesus has known would come is here. He finishes strong, then cries out, “It is finished.” His task complete, Jesus gives up His spirit and rests from His labor.

I love that first night of sleep after the winter retreat. Back in my own bed, in my own house, with my family. It usually takes another night to recover fully, but that first night is so great. But there’s something else coming. Easter is just around the corner. Then there’s confirmation. Then summer and VBS. There’s always more opportunities to be exhausted in the future.

But not for Jesus. This one moment in time—this one act on the cross—brings forgiveness once and for all to all people. Everyone before this point in time looked forward to the forgiveness that would come. Everyone after looks back and remembers what was done for them. Jesus paid the ultimate price on that Red Letter Day for you and me. It is finished. We stand forgiven in Christ.

This is part of an ongoing series on the Cornerstone Confirmation Curriculum we are developing at First Trinity Lutheran Church. (Main Confirmation Page)

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God’s Kingdom will reign on earth no matter what we do, but we ask Him to use us to make it happen. We also pray that He would send His Word and the Holy Spirit to help us believe in Jesus.

Your Kingdom Come

Read Romans 14:17

  • Underline: the kingdom of God is … righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit
  • Margin: Send me your Spirit, Lord.

Read 1 Peter 2:12

  • Underline: Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that … they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
  • Margin: Send me in your Spirit, Lord.

Read Isaiah 55:11

  • Underline:my word … shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
  • Margin: God’s kingdom will come

God does not need our help making His kingdom come. In fact, it will come whether we help it along, fight it every step of the way, or do nothing. But we pray that God would send His Holy Spirit to rule in our hearts and establish His kingdom there first. But we also pray that He would use us to bring His kingdom about, as we are sent out in the Holy Spirit to live lives that point to the saving love of Jesus. When we aren’t sure if we’re being effective, we remain encouraged.

Your Will Be Done

Read John 6:40

  • Underline: For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life
  • Margin: God wants to save me.

Read 1 Timothy 2:4

  • Underline: who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
  • Margin: God wants to save everyone.

Read Romans 16:20

  • Underline: The God of peace will soon crush Satan
  • Margin: God’s Will frustrates Satan.

God’s desire for you is that you would know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. He created you and He’s crazy in love with you. He doesn’t want you to go to hell, but to instead spend eternity with Him in heaven. Not only that, but He wants all people to be saved. Here we pray that God’s desire would come true for all people: that they would accept Jesus as Lord. God’s will also “frustrates” the plans of Satan. Satan carefully lays plans to lead us away from Jesus, but God disrupts that plan with His Word, bringing hope and life to His people where Satan would send despair and death. Ultimately, God will defeat Satan once and for all, casting him into the fiery pit of hell.

Class Documents

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“It’s OK.” Or maybe, “It’s fine.” Perhaps you’ve said those words to someone who has hurt you in the past. My personal tendency is to brush off the hurt and make it seem like it’s not a big deal. Sometimes, that’s true. But other times there’s a significant pain that accompanies the hurt.

“It’s OK” and “I forgive you” are completely different statements. “It’s OK” doesn’t even remotely capture the depth of forgiveness. Things aren’t OK, but we forgive anyway. What you did hurt me, but I forgive you anyway.

Jesus showed us the true depth of forgiveness that fateful Friday on the cross:

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34a

Imagine the difference had Jesus chosen a different response:

And Jesus said, “Father, it’s OK, for they know not what they do.” Not Luke 23:34a

Jesus, hanging on the cross between two thieves, chose forgiveness. He had been betrayed by one of His disciples, beaten, whipped, mocked, and made to carry the cross that would kill him—and yet He chose forgiveness.

What the people did to Jesus was not “OK.” The way we continue to choose our own sinful desires and actions over God’s will for our life is not “OK.” Our stubborn refusal to give up the hurts of our past and forgive others because they don’t deserve it is not “OK.”

And yet despite all we do and have done, Jesus brings forgiveness, and the Father grants it—not because we are so great, but because Jesus is so good. He bore the punishment we deserved, allowing us to share in the forgiveness and grace we do not deserve.

So what’s “not OK” in your life today? Give it over to Jesus, and hear again that prayer from the cross: “Father, forgive them.”

Light-at-the-End-of-the-Tunnel

I grew up in a Christian home. My parents took us to church on a regular basis. I went to Sunday School most weeks, participated in the Christmas program, Vacation Bible School and other special events. But coming to church never really felt personal to me. It just seemed like something we did.

It wasn’t until I was in High School that I understood what it meant to have a relationship with Jesus beyond showing up to church on Sunday morning or youth group in the evening. It was my DCE who reached out to me and helped me understand the concept of a loving God who wanted to know me personally.

The reason I’m a Christian today is not because I went to church, but because I was in relationship with Christians who walked alongside me and invited me to experience what they had. It was personal conversations with my DCE. It was the friendships I made with other Christians in college. It was my professors and spiritual mentors who took an interest in how I was doing in my relationship with God independent of my theology and DCE classes.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9

You are a chosen race. A royal priesthood. A holy nation. Why? To proclaim Jesus in every aspect of your life, showing and telling how Jesus called you out of darkness into His light. Who job is it to share Jesus with others? The pastor’s? The youth director’s? The worship leader’s? Not really. God has rescued you and claimed you as His own child for a purpose.

You are the light of the world. You are the city on the hill. It’s trite, but true: You may be the only Bible someone ever reads. So let us “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”