Sermons, Uncategorized

Seek to Show Hospitality: A Devotion for RSTM Welcoming Workshop

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Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Romans 12:9–18).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Social media was abuzz this week with a photo of Ellen DeGeneres sitting with former president George W. Bush having a good laugh in the Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones’ private suite. Twitter users were surprised at the unusual seating arrangement, and some were angry to see, as DeGeneres put it, “a gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican president.” She took a lot of heat for this particularly from the LGBTQ community.

“I’m friends with George Bush,” DeGeneres explained Monday on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” “In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have.” “We’re all different, and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s OK.” “Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them.” “When I say be kind to one another, I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone.”

Obviously, Ms. DeGeneres and I part ways on a number of important topics. But I think she has a very reasonable point about just being kind and cordial—something this world could use more of.

Now, I don’t bring this up to hold her as a role model, but to make a point. Ellen was just talking about basic civility and human decency and many people were scandalized. St. Paul describes something even more scandalous: genuine Christian love, love not only for the fellow Christian, family member, but for the stranger!

This is a Welcoming Workshop. I presume you are here because you wish to learn how to help your congregation be more welcoming—unless you’re like one of my elders who told me: “I wasn’t sure I could make it, but I’ll come because it seems to be real important to you, Pastor.” Whatever your reason, I’m glad you’re here and we will be focusing on welcoming today.

As I started preparing this devotion, I did a search for various Bible passages that speak of welcoming. I didn’t really find any that fit what we are focusing on today. Then I thought of the word “hospitality,” after all, that is what we’re really trying to do, isn’t it? We’re trying to learn how to be more hospitable.

The Greek word usually translated “hospitality” is filozenia, “love of strangers.” It is this kind of love St. Paul mentions in our text, along with filadelfia, “brotherly love,” filostorgos, “familial love,”  and agaph, “love.

Paul’s God-given understanding of love stands in sharp contrast with what much of our world perceives love to be. All too often, our love degenerates into something like “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” In other words, love becomes a response to favorable treatment from someone else or a least depends upon such a response in return. Otherwise, love is withheld. Paul calls such conditional love “hypocritical.” Thus, he encourages us to love “without hypocrisy,” that is regardless of what comes back in return, whether good, evil, or nothing.

As sinners living in a fallen world, such love does not come to naturally, but must come from outside of us. We are by nature, hypocritical, self-centered, loveless. Love for neighbor, love for family, love for friend, love for the stranger—even one’s enemy!—must come from outside of ourselves.

Much theological hay is made of the many Greek words for love and their distinctive nuances you’ll find in our text. But richer by far is the observation that all uses of the noun “love” (agaph) thus far in Romans communicate the love of the triune God—the Father (5:5, 8; 8:39), Christ (8:35), and through the Spirit (5:5) for us. The same is true of the verb “to love” (agapaow). Only here does Paul begin to use agaph of the Christian’s love. Love from God in Christ through the Spirit to us then serves as the foundation and motivation for all responsive Christlike behavior. This follows what 1 John 4:19 says: “We love because He first loved us.”

Origen summarizes the theological basis for what follows using Paul’s language:

It happens that we hate things we ought not to, just as we love things we ought not to. We are ordered to love our brothers, not to hate them. If you think someone is ungodly, remember that Christ died for the ungodly. And if you think that because your brother is a sinner you do not have to love him, remember that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.[i]

Love is the sum and summary of all God’s Law, His commandments. Love for God and love for neighbor. Jesus, citing Leviticus 19:18  says to the rich young man who wanted to know what good deed he must do to inherit eternal life (Matthew 19: 16 ff). “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Everything we want someone to do for us, we should do for them. Everything we realize helps us so much: a helping hand, a kind word, a little attention, silent understanding in sorrow, and sincere participation in our joy. It’s things like that we should do for our neighbor.

Love needs to be made concrete and apparent in this way. It’s so easy for us to think that love is a general feeling of kindness. Love is not the same thing as decency or kindness. It goes way beyond that! Love must hate what is evil. It must “hold fast to what is good” (Romans 12:9), even if no one else does. Love has its own image that sometimes doesn’t fit in modern society at all. It can have a completely different, biblical view on abortion and divorce and how to spend your Sundays than other common, well-meaning people do, and it can do that without despising anyone. It prays for those who persecute and does favors for its enemies and is at peace with everyone, “if possible, so far as it depends on you” (Romans 12:18).

Above all, however, love is not a principle or theory or teaching. It’s a way of behaving in a concrete situation. Paul gives us a long list of examples: you’re appreciative toward people and take note of what they do; you aren’t apathetic. Instead, you gladly help others. You’re anxious to show hospitality and don’t regard your home as a private domain that you keep to yourself but understand the happiness that exists in sharing the comfort of a home with others. You’re happy when others are happy without feeling envious but delighted that it’s going so well for them. You can cry with those who cry and suffer with them, not with conventional phrases and meaningless clichés , but as a friend who understands and experiences how others feel in a way that can be felt and experienced without words.

Love for your neighbor assumes there is a neighbor, a tangible human being. Love doesn’t exist in general. It’s always a question about living human beings. It’s about the people we see around us in need of love. Love is an essential motivation and quality for becoming more welcoming congregations. May God grant us to grow more and more in our love for one another and all our neighbors. Amen

Let us pray:

Help us, Lord Jesus, to see not with cold eyes that see only indifferent people we want to avoid or dismiss as quickly as possible. Help us to see our neighbor whom You’ve put in front of us. Help us to be the kind of neighbor You want use to be for that person. Be with Amy, our presenter for today, give her words of wisdom and insight and a reminded of your love and grace. Help us in our congregations to be welcoming, to sincerely love one another with our hearts so we can help one another, support one another, carry one another’s burdens, and gladly do what we can to reach out to the lost and lonely. May we be joyful in hope, patient in suffering, and steadfast in prayer. For Your name’s sake. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[i] Origen, Romans (Bray, Romans, ACCS NT 6:315), quoting in italics Romans 5:6 and 1 Timothy 1:15.

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Count the Cost

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[Jesus said:] “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:26-28).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Jesus is at the height of His success as we measure it. People are flocking to Him—the numbers growing as He gets closer to Jerusalem. Yet, Jesus has to ruin it by telling the people a bunch of hard truths they can’t handle. He can’t help it. Jesus never compromises the truth, for that would be compromising Himself.

The Lord’s criteria for discipleship are as simple as they sound horrifying: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” You can almost hear the church growth gurus gasp. “That’s not the way to win a following. You have to give the people something they want. Jesus, we know following You involves sacrifice, but if You can, please keep those demands to a minimum. Otherwise, they’ll go and listen to the preacher down the street.”

But that’s not Jesus. He doesn’t want anyone to be His disciple who hasn’t “counted the cost,” for such will not be disciples for long. And let me tell you: The cost of discipleship is high! Remember, Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. He knows what awaits Him there. He knows that this crowd will reach its peak on Palm Sunday as He rides triumphantly into the city. He knows that as the week wears on, the crowds will thin. By Friday, they will not cry “Hosanna!” but “Crucify Him!” He knows, in the end, He will be alone. His many followers will abandon Him. Even His Twelve closest friends will scatter. One will betray Him for the price of thirty pieces of silver. Another will deny even knowing Him.

Jesus knows all that, and so He sets forth the conditions for following Him. First, there must be a willingness to leave family ties. The word “hate” sounds harsh to our ears. Jesus means to shock you, to make you realize that nothing dares come before Him in your life as a disciple.         

No, Jesus Christ—Love Incarnate—isn’t commanding you to “hate” as we use and understand the word in English today. For Jesus, “hate” is not so much a feeling, but a choice of the will, a matter of priorities. To “love” one thing and to “hate” another gives preference to the former. Jesus is not calling for you to despise your family members; He is calling upon you to love Him more than them. He is telling you to keep the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods.” That’s what Jesus means!

But before you breathe a sigh of relief and say, “Oh! That’s all He meant!” you must realize that even this level of commitment is far beyond you. Quite naturally, you place family above the Lord. Stalwart supporters of sound doctrine and church discipline may find fault with a pastor or congregation when that doctrine and discipline is applied to their own wayward children. Spouses and children give in to the temptation to skip worship at the request of an unbelieving family member. And who is courageous enough to correct a false teaching when the family is gathered around the table for Christmas dinner? Nobody. You believe that keeping the peace is more important. The cost of discipleship is high, way more than you are willing to pay.

And just so you understand this clearly, Jesus gives it a second go-around: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”

What’s Jesus doing? Not only does He not understand all the latest marketing techniques, He seems to have some crazy death wish. Crucifixion is a cruel and agonizing way to die, a form of punishment reserved for the vilest offenders and sub-human slaves. For the Jews, it was the death of the damned. But here, it looks like Jesus is telling you that you have to embrace this terrifying, shame-filled way of dying, this cross and its curse, in order to be His disciple.

That’s right! That’s exactly what’s He’s saying. If you don’t bear your own cross, you’re incapable of being His disciple. Following Jesus means self-denial. It means the sacrifice of your own will for the sake of Christ.

“Cross” here, does not refer to the troubles that commonly come in life to all people. Many of those come as a consequence of our own foolishness or the sins of others or of just living in a fallen world. Rather, for a believer, “bearing a cross” means to accept whatever suffering might result from a sincere commitment to Christ and His kingdom. Sometimes it means standing toe-to-toe with those who are speaking lies or teaching falsely. Other times it means not speaking up for yourself when you are personally attacked, but rather taking the blows for the sake of the greater good of the Church. For most of the disciples present on that day Jesus spoke these words, bearing the cross was more than just a figurative expression. Their confession of Christ meant their own martyr’s death—often on an actual wooden cross. But even if it does not mean literal death for you, the cost of discipleship is high. It is way more than you can pay. And you better realize that before you begin.

Jesus gives two examples to emphasize this point. The first involves counting the costs of constructing a tower. If you were to launch a major building project, wouldn’t you first sit down to find out how much money you need and how much you have before you begin? Otherwise, you may be mocked for starting something you couldn’t finish. Think also of a king. He’s planning for war, but then finds out he’s outnumbered two-to-one. Knowing he will face certain defeat, wouldn’t his best course be to seek terms of peace before he engages in battle?

Count the cost. You simply can’t afford what it costs to be Jesus’ disciple. You don’t have the necessary level of commitment. You don’t have enough to defeat your enemy. You simply can’t do it. No one can meet such impossible demands. The cost of discipleship is just too high.

So what are you to do? Do you throw in the towel, give up, and say, “Why even bother?” Are you like the rich young ruler who wanted to be a disciple? When he heard what Jesus told him to do—to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor—he simply gave up his desire to be a disciple. Jesus says: “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple.”

This news should leave you disturbed, troubled, anxious. But before we go on for relief, let me point out two other things.

First, this text well illustrates why I waste no time telling you that you are saved by your commitment to Jesus or by how much you love Him or how hard you are trying—because no one can do it. No one can achieve the level of commitment to hate his family, hate himself, prepare to die, and renounce all things. I certainly include myself in that list!

Second, and far more importantly, I must point out that I have only spoken in terms of the Law so far. Remember, the purpose of God’s Law: It tells you what God demands of you if you are to be perfectly holy and righteous before Him. It is also to show you your sin, to show you that you cannot do it. When Jesus says this, He is preaching the Law. He is declaring to all who hear that the cost of discipleship is extraordinarily high, and it is one that you in your sinfulness are incapable of paying.

Being Jesus’ disciple is impossible! Believe it; get used to it. You don’t have enough “hate” for the things of this world to love God enough. You certainly don’t have the commitment to bear the cross for your own sins. You don’t have the money, the ability, or the strength to build a bridge across that chasm or a stairway to heaven. That’s what Jesus wants you to learn today. When you count the cost, you’ll discover that the cost of discipleship is just too high!

I said earlier no one can meet such impossible demands; but that’s not completely true. There is one exception! The God-man Jesus Christ. Jesus loved His heavenly Father more than His family and His own life. We read in the Gospels that Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see Him to plead with Him to stop teaching, maybe even to haul Him away. Rather than give in for the sake of family peace, Jesus continued to do the Father’s will that He might go to the cross for us.

Jesus put His heavenly Father’s will over His own. We hear His prayer in Gethsemane: “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” Though He did not wish to suffer, Jesus gave up His own life to complete His Father’s plan for your salvation.

Jesus kept the Law for you and He gives you the credit for His obedience. By His grace, He covers you with His righteousness. Therefore, the Father looks upon you and does not see your sin; He sees Christ’s perfect obedience. Jesus does not demand that you die for your sin, because He has already died for it. Instead, He calls you to confess your sin, to acknowledge that His death is the one you deserve. And then He declares that He shares His death with you. He joins you into His death so that you do not have to die for your sin yourself.

What you cannot do, Jesus does for you. From the cross, He builds His Church. You can’t do it. I can’t do it. No one can pay what it costs, except Jesus. Only He frees you, a lost and condemned creature. Only He has purchased and won you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with silver or gold, but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.

For you, it’s impossible. The cost of discipleship is too high, way more than you can pay. You just can’t do it by your own reason and strength. But the Holy Spirit has called you through the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, and sanctified, and kept you in the true faith. He does what is impossible—to make you Christ’s disciple, to make you God’s own dear child.

And surprisingly, you will find that you have taken up your cross and followed Jesus. How did this happen? The Apostle Paul says in Romans 6: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, that, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in  a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His” (vv 3-6).

In baptism, you were crucified into the death of Christ and raised to life in His resurrection. You have eternal life. And you have the promise that though you die, the Lord will raise the bodies of you and all believers on the Last Day.

The baptismal life is one of dying and rising. The Old Adam must be put to death daily. The Old Adam in you should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

That makes bearing your cross an entirely different matter. To bear your cross is to bear Christ’s cross, and it is not nearly as heavy as when He carried it to Calvary. In fact, your burden is as light as a feather—even lighter! You bear His cross when it is traced upon you in Baptism. This is the cross that you might outwardly sketch upon yourself as you hear the Invocation and receive the Absolution—you will feel no greater a weight or pain of Christ’s cross than that, for He has suffered all the weight and all the pain for you.

Rather than demanding your body and blood as a sacrifice for your sin, Jesus gives you His body and blood into death for the forgiveness of your sins. In His Supper, He now gives you His risen body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. That is what it means to bear your cross—it means to be forgiven, for in forgiveness Jesus shares His cross with you, taking away your death and giving you His resurrection.

Therefore, set aside all pretenses of your commitment to Christ, for the Lord exposes how weak and unsatisfactory that commitment is. Instead, boast in the Lord. Confess your sins—including your pride in your dedication to Him, and trust solely in His grace and mercy. Give thanks that He has made you His disciple by His commitment, by His sacrifice, His once-for all ultimate sacrifice.

This is the Good News we proclaim to the world: Yes, the cost of discipleship is high, but it has been paid by Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior. For His sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sermons, Uncategorized

Love One Another

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Love One Another

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“Paul, Apostle of Christ” – A non-review and hearty endorsement

Pastor’s Ponderings

Dear Christian friends,

Easter Monday, Aimee and I went to see Paul, Apostle of Christ. The setting is Mamertine Prison in Rome, where Paul has been held because he is deemed a threat to the Roman Empire. Emperor Nero has sentenced Paul, along with a number of other Christians to death. Luke has come to visit Paul to minister to him and to record the last of Paul’s story, so that the Church might be encouraged in their persecution. While it is a fictional account, the storyline and characters stay close to the biblical and historical accounts.

Paul & LukeWhile I’m not going to give a full-blown move review, I will say that it is one of the most powerful movies I’ve seen. I don’t say this lightly. I’ve generally been disappointed with the quality of most Christian films.” I find many of them—even some of the more popular ones—to be weak in their plot and dialogue and acting. But I do give them credit that at least they are trying to offer something reflects the Christian worldview.

I have often lamented that I wished more talented Christians would take up the vocation of writers, director, actors, and producers of our various entertainment media. These arts have such an influence on our culture that we should not shy away from them, but pursue them with excellence. I think that goal has been achieved in this film, and I look forward to seeing more. I would highly encourage people to see this film while it is still available in the theaters. Motion picture studios will produce the kind of movies people come to see. The best way to ensure more of this kind of movie is to support it with our entertainment dollars.

Some have talked about using this movie as an evangelism tool, but it seems to me to be better suited to encouraging those of us who are already Christians. God’s grace is so amazing; His ways are so much higher than our ways; I can understand why some jaded reviewers or those unfamiliar with Christianity might find parts of the plot implausible. How can a man’s life be so changed that he goes from being one of the Church’s fiercest persecutors to being its foremost missionary and leading apostle? Only those who have already felt the grace and forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ, will be able to relate to it, especially its concluding scenes.

I left the theater that afternoon feeling I had experienced the joy of grace and forgiveness in Christ through Paul’s eyes. I was left in awe of the depiction of the faith of Paul and other Christians who faced impending torture and death with courage and boldness. I think I now have a much better understanding of this man, who called himself “the chief of sinners,” “the least of the apostles,” who found strength in his own weakness, joy in his trials, and God’s grace to be sufficient in his suffering.

It also challenged me to consider how we Christians can be light and love in a world that is filled with much darkness and hate. How can we witness to world who does not understand us, who rejects what we believe, and scoff at whom we believe? The same way the early Christians did. They loved. They loved their Lord. They loved their brothers and sisters in Christ. They loved their neighbors. They loved even their enemies. And the people were drawn to Christ and His Church because of their love, saying, “See how they love one another!”

I would like you to consider how we might reflect the light and love of Christ in our own community. How can we grow in our understanding and application of God’s Word so that we might develop and maintain healthy relationship within and between our congregations? What can we do to intentionally reach out to our neighbors with the Gospel? How can we show mercy and love to those in need? What needs might we be equipped to address? How can we open the doors of our congregations to the community?

In the next few month, I hope we will begin to discuss such questions and begin to develop a strategy for addressing them. My prayer is that the day will come when people in the Pipestone, Jasper, and Trosky areas speak of us, they might say, “See how they love one another,” and they will be drawn to the love of God in Christ Jesus.

God’s richest blessings in Christ!

Pastor Moeller

P.S. If you’re interest in checking out a trailer of Paul, Apostle to Christ, here is a link to one of its trailers: