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Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. – Genesis 3:22-24

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After the fall into sin, Adam and Eve began to feel shame, covering themselves with fig leaves, and hiding from God. God searched them out and asked them four questions – all of which he already knew the answers (see the text below).

  1. Where are you?
  2. Who told you that you were naked?
  3. Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?
  4. What is this you have done?

God asked these questions to help Adam and Eve own their sinful rebellion, and confess to him, looking to him for redemption and help. Alas, however, such was not to be the case: Adam and Eve both played the blame game, had no faith in God that he could undo their terrible deed, and got honest enough only to admit that they were ashamed of their nakedness.

God gave the first Gospel promise in v. 15 (speaking to the serpent):

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

There would come a descendant of the woman (Christ) who would crush the head of the serpent (Satan), but who would suffer a mortal wound in the process. It would cost Jesus his life to defeat the devil. But he would do so, and even then his death would be a mere bruised heel in the context of eternity, for as we know, Jesus rose from the dead and reigns on high at the right hand of God.

There is the curious conclusion to this chapter when God determines to keep Adam and Eve from taking the fruit of the tree of life from the garden and live forever. Adam and Eve are banished from the garden and angelic sentinels are posted to prevent them from attaining immortality while on this earth. 

God wanted man not to live eternally in this state of fallenness, as “poor miserable sinners.” This benefit would come to those who sought God’s reign in Christ and the salvation that he offers by grace, received by faith. 

You might wonder just how merciful such an action was. Wouldn’t it be better to live eternally here on earth? On a good day we might think so. But as we age, or see our parents aging and dealing with the onslaught of physical frailty, we might reconsider. What if you didn’t have the hope of a new heaven and new earth? What if truly even the best of life here and now was as good as it gets? 

The Preacher says, “he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). In other words God has designed us so that there is a sense of transcendence and spiritual reality that is the faint echo of eternal glory. When we yearn for something better, for justice, truth and love, it is because though guarded, God has revealed the existence of such things. And though guarded from experiencing them fully on this earth, we have been promised this eternal glory in the life of the world to come.

Genesis 3:7-21

7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
16 To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”

17 And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”

20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

Psalm 14:3

They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.

Matthew 6:13 (NASB)

Deliver us from evil.

"The Crosses of St. John" 2014 NWHPC Portfolio Review

One of the leaders at St. John serves as an elder and key member of the prayer ministry team. I can count on him, every time he prays, to ask for forgiveness. It is such a refreshing reminder of the reality of our great need before God, and his great provision to us of forgiveness. It might be thought to be trite or merely formalism. But it is not. So whether we are praying at the beginning of a meeting, expressing our concerns for someone’s health, asking for guidance and wisdom, or any other occasion for prayer, Kenneth asks for forgiveness.

Martin Luther says that, “where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation” (Luther’s Small Catechism, VI. The Sacrament of the Altar). Either my friend and Luther are right, or the Psalmist and they over-emphasize a point. I’ll stand with my friend, Luther, and the Psalmist. We have a problem with sin that only forgiveness will solve. Only by God’s merciful and gracious lovingkindness shown in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection may we find peace and deliverance from evil.

In his book, People of the Lie, M. Scott Peck defines evil as those who lack an awareness of their own evil and seek to avoid any such awareness. God’s word here confronts us with the reality that we are sinners in need of God’s grace and mercy. Deliver us from the evil idea, O God, that we do not need your forgiveness, and bring us to the cross of Jesus where we will find forgiveness of sins, life and salvation! Amen.

Revelation 7:9-10

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

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Many years ago I sat with my good friend Jerry Snell in his grandfather’s living room as two Jehovah’s Witnesses tried to convert him to their religion. They lean heavily on the book of Revelation as well as a false belief about God’s holy name. Sadly I didn’t think to ask them about Philippians 2:9-11).The idea that there would be only 144,000 in heaven was the issue we took up. We did, therefore, point them to the verses above.

What a scene this is! A myriad of peoples: languages, tribes, peoples, nations all gathered before the throne of the Lamb of God, the crucified and now risen and reigning Son of God: Jesus whose name is above every name. Jesus the one at whose name every knee will bow – in heaven and on earth. Oh that glory of that day! What a splendid hope is ours in Jesus!

November 1 is All Saints Day. We celebrate the reality that there is gathered around the throne of Jesus, the Lamb, singing his praise. When we gather for worship today – whether in the most grand cathedral, giant worship space, or small group of believers – when we hear God’s word and receive his gifts through faith, and raise our songs in praise to him, we join angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven in praise and honor of our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

May it be so for you today.

Isaiah 40:15

The nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as dust on the scales.

Revelation 14:6

I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation and tribe and language and people.

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I recently learned that The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (the denomination of which I am a member) is the second most monolithically-white denomination in the United States. This does not make me happy for at least two reasons. First of all, we do not reflect the reality of the cultural and ethnic mix of the nation in which we live. Like it or not, legal or otherwise, our nation is a mix of ethnic and cultural groups, and our failure to reflect that is surely not pleasing to God. Secondly, and more importantly, this is a far cry from the vision of heaven in the Bible:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10

I realize that we LCMS Christians are not the only tribe, but sometimes we act and speak as though we are. Even more sadly, however, our monolithic makeup point to a sectarian bent (not on purpose surely!) that is difficult to deny. We pride ourselves on being pure in our doctrine. But somehow we must ask ourselves how pure we are if we are not reaching and embracing the many tribes and nations in our communities and nation itself.

Thank God we are not saved by our purity! Thank God for the Gospel message of God’s love in Jesus Christ, his atoning sacrifice, his perfect faith, his mercy and goodness, his promises and power, his resurrection and reign, his second coming on the Great Last Day. I look forward to that expression of the fullness of God’s redemption as we “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages,” stand before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in our hands, and cry out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Come Lord Jesus!

Nehemiah 13:2

Our God turned the curse into a blessing.

2 Corinthians 5:19

In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.

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There is no more unjust treatment of a human being than that which was visited on Jesus of Nazareth. Consider this: He was fully and unwaveringly committed to doing the will of God from a perfectly pure motive. He did not seek his own glory. He did not do good so that good would come to him. He did not flinch from the truth or stray from the path of love. He showed God’s mercy and love to those who needed it. He expressed God’s word of truth and judgment to those who deserved it. He was gracious with sinners, yet calling them to “go and sin no more.” He was outraged at the self-righteousness of the religious leaders who hid behind false pretenses in order not to show love and mercy to those in need.

Jesus did everything right. Everything. And not just right, but right from the heart: loving, merciful, gracious, and good. All that Jesus did was done for God’s glory and man’s benefit, with a pure heart, without ulterior motive.

Then God, man, government, and religion all conspired against him for his demise. And as if that weren’t enough, the means by which he was tried, convicted, and executed was unfair, contrived, and falsely based. He was charged with things he did not do, convicted of things he was not responsible for, and executed like a common criminal on a shameful cross – a physically-excruciating experience of human torture, and a naked-to-the-world experience of shame and humiliation.

Out of all that, however, God brought us salvation. For Jesus embraced all this injustice, sin, and unrighteousness willingly, taking to himself the sin of the world, and dying in faith in the face of the abandonment of God. Because Jesus saw it through, we have been saved. God’s wrath has been appeased. True righteousness has been vindicated. What no one else could do, Jesus did. And by his stripes we have been healed.

Injustice has gone good in Jesus, and we have the privilege of spreading the message of reconciliation between God and man to everyone. In fact, it is only because justice was so thoroughly miscarried and fully embraced that the result is as powerfully good. Thanks be to God!

Psalm 16:10 (NIV)

You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead.

Romans 7:24–25

Paul wrote: Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

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As we have been looking closely at Greg Finke’s book, Joining Jesus on His Mission we have seen again and again that the mission of God is indeed God’s mission. He is the One who is saving lost people. He is the One moving people’s hearts to faith. He is the One who has redeemed us. We are agents of his grace. We are carriers of his word. We are messengers of his Good News. How that Good News, redemption, and grace is received, embraced, or (sadly) rejected is something over which we have no control. God is the great Deliverer.

As such, however, God used a human agent – Jesus of Nazareth – to bring about our deliverance. He was delivered over for our sins, mocked, scourged, crucified, dead, and buried. All that came upon him as if he was the worst sinner of all time; which he was certainly not. Through it all Jesus remained faithful, trusting in God, entrusting his spirit into the hands of the Father in his final hour.

Jesus was laid in the grave, but he was not abandoned to that realm. He was raised from the dead by the power of God. He was delivered from death by God and reigns over all now, at the right hand of God. We can embrace this truth with joy and confidence: we have a Deliverer. When we face our final hour, we have a deliverer. When we struggle against sin and it seems to have the upper hand, we have a deliverer. When all seems lost, we have a deliverer. Jesus who was delivered from the sharpness of death now delivers us.

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Psalm 86:11

Give me an undivided heart to revere your name.

2 Timothy 2:8

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.

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One important aspect of worship has to do with remembering Jesus Christ, his life, death, resurrection, and promise to come again. Worship allows us to recalibrate our memories, adjust our moral/spiritual compass, and rejoice in the hope of the resurrection and the promise of the life of the world to come.

As we remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, we are able to put all injustice, pain, suffering, difficulty, and failure into proper perspective. Jesus has conquered all those, and more. He has conquered sin and Satan. He has conquered death. We have a hope that nothing will destroy. Remember: Jesus has risen; and those who look to him may rejoice in hope. Those who are set against him and his ways and works have only dread and fear to embrace in the face of that truth.

Sunday is an opportunity to remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead. It is a day to seek God’s help to have an undivided heart (a life-long struggle for which we will continually need God’s help), and a time to rejoice that Jesus Christ is our righteousness. His heart was perfectly undivided. Our hope, life, salvation, and every good thing is in him.

That is worth remembering, repenting of our sins, and rejoicing in his salvation. I look forward to that today. I pray that you do as well.

Jeremiah 30:11I am with you, says the Lord, to save you. 

Philippians 1:6
Paul wrote: I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. 

  
A few questions this morning…What if we really, really did need to be saved? What if our sins and our sin was actually so bad that only the intervention of God in the affairs of the world could deal adequately with them and that condition? What if the things we know and feel – guilt, shame, discouragement, loneliness, doubt, and the like – were only the tip of the iceburg that is our sinful, fallen nature? What if God really is holy, righteous, just, and all knowing? What if our sins actually separate us from God so that he does not hear when we pray?

Those rhetorical questions may seem silly and unnecessary to those who read this blog. They speak to the reality of our sinful, fallen nature. We know these things to be true. We know we are part of the “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) reality. We confess this regularly. 

God, however, knows all that and has committed himself to our redemption and salvation. He has intervened in the affiars of the world in Jesus Christ and appeased his own wrath through Jesus’ death on the cross. As if that isn’t enough, he then vindicated Jesus, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand. And those who look to him have the promise of abundant, eternal life. 

This bit of good news reported to us from Jeremiah and reiterated by Paul is more precious than we can even imagine. When we do encounter the reality of our fallenness and need for salvation, and then the joy of God’s mercy and grace in Christ, we at best get only a glimpse of how profoundly good this news really is. 

God has saved us. And he won’t give up on us until the saving is done. That will certainly be some Day! In the mean time, however, as we encounter the reality of our sinfulness, let us rejoice even more in God’s love, redemption and eternal commitment to our glory and joy in Jesus. 

Luke 24:36-43

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.

On the road to Kilgoris -a Landscape from Kenya

On the road to Kilgoris -a Landscape from Kenya

One of my favorite movies is Independence Day. I watch it every year on July 4; it’s a tradition with me. In that movie, Randy Quaid’s character, Russell Case says, “I’ve been sayin’ it. I’ve been sayin’ it for ten … years. Ain’t I been sayin’ it, Miguel? Yeah, I’ve been sayin’ it.” This happens when Case is vindicated about having been abducted by aliens 10 years earlier. Vindicated, now he is making his point about having been right all these years, but no one believed him. I get that.

But not Jesus; when he greets his disciples with a word of kindness, “Peace to you!” Jesus has a message to convey, but it’s not combative or petty. If Jesus spoke Aramaic his greeting would be similar to the Hebrew, “Shalom!.” It is like that but so much more. “Shalom” is a powerful word, rich in meaning, and filled with good will, conveying a desire for wholeness, favor, and blessing. It can be used simply as a greeting, so that it is like an Aggie saying, “Howdy!” or a New Yorker saying, “How ya doin’!

But context is everything. Jesus was dead, but is now alive. These people had hoped so much in him, but their hopes – so they thought – were so dead. Jesus had won their salvation. All was right with God. All that was needed – and still all that is needed today – is faith. In this case, Jesus’ greeting, “Peace to you!” was an invitation to faith. It requires nothing from them or us, except that we believe. Through faith that peace becomes ours.

Perhaps there is a place in your life where that greeting of peace would be most welcome. Maybe you know where you need the peace of God most fully. Truth be told we all need that peace somewhere. And here Jesus is, offering it to us in a word. I hope to let that wash over me today in a rich and refreshing way. How about you?

Exodus 14:21-25

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. 24 And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, 25 clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.”

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The great salvation event of the Old Testament is the Exodus. From the final plague of the angel of death who passed over the houses and families of the Hebrews who had the blood of the passover lamb on the door posts and lintels of their houses, to the crossing of the Red Sea, the mighty hand of God was unhidden. The deliverance was decisive, clear-cut, and the defining moment of Old Testament history. The people of God looked back on that great deliverance event as testimony to God’s love, power, calling, and their special place in his heart and in the world.

Today, as we remember the horrific attack on the people of the United States in 2001, the Grand Deliverance of God was in a much more far-reaching manner. It didn’t look decisive. It didn’t appear powerful. His Son of God hanging on the cross doesn’t appear decisive, but it was decisive. In that moment the most grave tyranny was defeated. Satan and sin were overcome. And just as the Israelites’ safe passage through the Red Sea, signaled the success of God’s Passover plan, so the resurrection of Jesus shows Jesus to be the fulfillment of all hopes and promises of God. 

As the Israelites looked back on the Passover, so we look back on the cross and empty tomb. We must not only look back, however, at what God has done, but look with anticipation toward the future and ultimate deliverance of all things at the End of Time when Jesus returns and we will experience the fullness of God’s Great Deliverance…shown in the Exodus and centered in Jesus’ death and resurrection.