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Responding to Conflict

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It’s amazing how the book of Genesis, written so long ago, shows us so much about God, but it also shows us so much about ourselves as well.  In just the first couple dozen chapters we see stories of rebellion, anger, deception and wickedness on the part of people, but we also see our God respond with intervention, provision, promise and love.  Not much has changed.  We are the same people behaving in the same sinful and rebellious ways and God is the same God responding with mercy and love.

So when we read the account of Isaac’s sons Jacob & Esau in Genesis 25, we see conflict.  It’s nothing new.  In fact, it’s ancient.  But it still rings true.  Just in this week’s news we saw a tragic shooting in Pittsburgh that took the lives of 11 Jewish citizens in what should have been the safety of their house of worship.  Yet sadly, this sort of news has become the norm.  Clearly as a people, we still need to learn about our human propensity toward conflict.  But even more we need to learn God’s direction in light of it.

The brothers Jacob and Esau wrestled from the time they were in the womb:

“The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ So she went to inquire of the LORD.” – Genesis 25:22, NIV

The weight behind the Hebrew word here translated “jostled” is a bit stronger than that – it’s more of a struggle or fight.  You could say they were trying to “crush” each other!  And even when they exit the womb – Esau comes out first, but Jacob is seen to be grabbing onto the heel of his brother (Genesis 25:24-26).  What does this tell us?  Conflict is something that is “baked-in.”  It is part of our human nature – you can see it, with Jacob and Esau, even inside the womb.

I am sure you are no stranger to conflict.  The question is not whether conflict happens in your life, but how do you respond in the face of it?  In Sunday’s message (You can listen to it here, and download the sermon slides here), I shared ways to deal with conflict.  The key is not to let the devil gain a foothold and then use our anger against us.  We are warned in Scripture:

“… Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” – Ephesians 4:26-27

The devil doesn’t need to “possess” people who are in conflict – he simply uses that conflict to twist the truth and create bigger deceptions and misunderstandings.  Our puffed-up human pride and our equally large fear and insecurity will do the rest!

What is the answer to conflict?  There only is one that is effective – Love.  Any true resolution to conflict is going to be born out of two parties acting in love – and that’s usually the result of one party acting in love first.

I shared a video clip during Sunday’s sermon that showed the power of a hug, in response to an act of terrorism and aggression following the 2013 bombing at the Boston Marathon.  Notice the smiles in the video.  It’s contagious, isn’t it?  But notice something else very important about a hug … an embrace takes two.  For two people to resolve conflict, both parties must respond in love.

And that’s what our Lord wants for us!  He has made the first move.  He has opened his arms to us in love, as Jesus died for us on the cross (Romans 5:8).  In that act He ended the conflict that existed between God and humanity!  And in so doing He extended an open and willing embrace for all who would receive it.

How will you respond to Christ’s love, ending the conflict between you and God?  There’s a bad response, a good response, and a better response.  The bad response is what so many choose.  Even though Jesus came to earth in humility, (Just as Jacob finally came before Esau in Genesis 33:3-4) suffered and died to end the conflict between mankind and God, so many people still choose to remain enemies of God. They refuse to end the feud, even though the battle is over.  Clearly, that is not the right choice.  A better response is to do what Martin Luther discovered in the season of his life that would lead to the Reformation – surrender to God.  Luther finally realized that he was no longer an outcast trying to earn God’s love, or an enemy needing to cower in fear.  The answer for him and us is simply to receive God’s grace.  That’s a good response.

But an even better response to Christ’s love is to show it to others!  So often, I think that we readily receive God’s humble gift of forgiveness to us …  but then we fail to share that forgiveness with others!  I don’t mean that we don’t tell them about Christ’s forgiveness.  Sometimes we do that, but then we still fail to forgive that person ourselves!

Jesus warns against this kind of action in Matthew 18:21-35. He tells a parable of a man who is forgiven an extremely large debt, but then immediately after that won’t forgive someone who owes him a mere pittance by comparison.  What I see too often in myself and in others is that we readily receive the grace and mercy of God…  we even tell others of His great mercy…  but then we fail to show mercy to others, choosing to keep the conflict alive.

May this not be so with us.  May we not only be recipients of God’s grace, but purveyors of that grace to others!

In the grace of God,

Pastor Augie.

Reformation 2017 – It’s Still about Jesus

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“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9, NKJV

I distinctly remember sitting in a Lutheran Church in Arizona – well into my adulthood – when I first really grasped the Grace of our Lord’s Gospel.  I remember the pastor preaching and it hit me right between the eyes: I was not saved by any amount of my good works… but wait! I thought that was the point of keeping the Commandments? … No, while my obedience was good, it would never be good enough to earn me salvation or somehow to make me worthy of the eternal blessings of God.  Those would only be received as a free gift – given by the Grace of God because of the completed and perfect work of Jesus Christ on the cross!  I would never be able to be so good as to merit this favor, and I would never be able to be so bad as to be unforgiven of all my sins.  Wow.  In that moment, I truly felt lighter.

And in that moment, this former Catholic perhaps had more in common with Martin Luther than do many life-long Lutherans.  Why is that?  Because what I experienced – being freed from condemnation of the Law through the Grace of God in Christ (Romans 8:1) – is what Martin Luther personally experienced that sparked the Reformation some 500 years ago in Wittenberg Germany!  I can relate to being under the same crushing effects of guilt and shame that drove Luther to spend hours in the confessional as he tried to lead a pure monastic lifestyle through which somehow to attain God’s Righteousness.  But it was in that struggle, under the fear of condemnation, that Luther stumbled upon the merciful offer of comfort found in Paul’s letter to the Romans.  The verse “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” (Romans 1:17) held special meaning for Luther.  This verse used to plague him with fear, because he knew he was not righteous before God, due to his many sins.  But one day, the light of the Gospel broke through to him and he saw clearly that Scripture points to the source of the righteousness we need.  It is in fact God’s righteousness given to us by faith (faith alone!) not our own righteousness that saves us.  And for the struggling sinner – me, Luther, you – this is music to our ears!

So with a heart full of renewed hope, Luther set out to release the Gospel from the obscurity it had known under centuries of the Papacy.  Such atrocities had developed, that poor sinners were filled with fear believing that they would be condemned for their sin, with no hope other than to pay for “indulgences” with money, or suffer punishment in purgatory – a spiritual sort of waiting room before entrance into heaven.  Unfortunately, man loves the darkness, and the Good News of freedom in Christ that Luther shared was not well received by his contemporaries.  The rest is “history” as they say.  There are a number of good documentaries and even a new movie coming to a theater in our area (see www.luthermovie.link/SanMarcos) that teach about the Lutheran Reformation that began five centuries ago in late October 1517.

Our church body, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, even has a website (https://lutheranreformation.org) dedicated to providing all sorts of resources regarding the Reformation.  I particularly like the phrase they use for this quincentennial celebration: “Reformation 2017 – It’s Still All about Jesus.”  Yes, it has been 500 years since the Reformation; and while many things in our culture have changed in that timespan, one thing has not changed, and that is what the Reformation was about: Jesus.  It was about freeing lost, condemned, guilty and burdened souls with the life-giving and freeing Gospel of Jesus Christ then … and it still is now!  So as we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation at Redeemer by the Sea, we do so not only looking backward – but looking outward toward the lost and hurting people who need Jesus and His Grace as much today as they did 500 years ago!

You hear me talk a lot about “mission” … that we are a people who are “Joining Jesus on His mission” to seek and save the lost.  It truly is mission-critical work that we are always about – sharing the message of the Gospel with those who need to hear it.  Luther did it in his day, in his way, and we do it today, in our way.  The people that we encounter today may not be worried about whether they will spend years in purgatory… but they are worried and weighed down with a great many things. And they need to hear about Jesus.  As Luther said, “God doesn’t need your good works.  Your neighbor does.”  Please put the freedom and joy that you experience as a saved soul, certain and firm in your salvation, into action loving and serving your neighbor as the hands and feet of Christ.

Even Paul’s great words of comfort in the much-loved-by-Lutherans verses of Ephesians 2:8-9, are followed by this very important verse: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).  Fear of God’s judgment doesn’t spur us into mission.  No, our freedom in the Gospel does!  I believe the best way that we can celebrate the Reformation is to carry on Luther’s work of sharing the Truth of God’s Word with lost and hurting people, relieving their consciences and freeing their souls.

It’s Still All About Jesus,

Pastor Augie

Were You There …

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our sins have died with Christ ...

our sins have died with Christ … Good Friday at Redeemer’s “Crosses of Calvary” display

At last night’s Good Friday service, we all “laid our sins” on the cross of Jesus Christ.  There they were put to death with Him!

His blood became your blood as He died to take the punishment you deserved … and I deserved … and the whole world deserved.  Why? … Because He loves you.  How? … Because He is the Son of God.  Only His Blood has this power – to do what no other blood could ever do.

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:11-14)

Now as we wait for Easter Sunday, we wait patiently with hope – because we know the end of the story!  Jesus does not stay dead …

“Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime” – Martin Luther

… and neither will you and I!  Look around you – flowers are coming to bloom.  Seeds are sprouting to life.  They were lying dormant in the ground, only to burst forth in beauty and splendor!

It is so fitting that Easter is in Spring.  What a great reminder that Christ’s death … and our death too! … only looks like it’s the end.

May you be filled with hope as you await the Resurrection!

Only by God’s grace,

Pastor Augie.

Memory Verse: Romans 13:1

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“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Romans 13:1)

In the explanation of the Fourth Commandment (Honor your father and your mother) found in Luther’s Small Catechism of 1529, Luther writes that 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.”  And according to this week’s memory verse, we understand that the government (governing authorities) has authority because God gives it and protects it by the Commandments.  The government would have no authority if God did not establish and allow it. No matter who you voted for in the elections, they are in office and are due our honor, respect and obedience.

Likewise, our military service men and women are a part of our government.  They too are due our honor, respect and heartfelt thanks for their service – to us and to our Lord!

May God provide us with honest, worthy and faithful governing authorities. Amen.

Reformation Memory Verse …

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“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)

I picked this verse for us to work on because yesterday was the 495th anniversary of Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door on 10/31/1517.  This date is remembered as the beginning of the Reformation – certainly a day to be remembered and celebrated.  And yet, many believe* that the Reformation began not when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door, but when he rediscovered and believed the Gospel of Christ. This discovery is often called Luther’s “Tower Experience,” because in one of his “table talks” he mentions that he was studying the book of Romans in his study in the tower of the Black Cloister in Wittenberg when the light broke upon him, that the Righteousness that Paul talks about in the book of Romans is not the active righteousness that God demands, but the passive righteousness that God freely gives to those who believe the Gospel. The sinner is justified (declared righteous) by God through faith in the work and death of Jesus, not by our work or keeping of the Law. Put another way, the sinner is justified by receiving (faith) rather than achieving (works).

Later Luther would say that we are saved by the alien righteousness of Christ, not by a righteousness of our own doing. And it was this realization that Luther made clear in his writings was the pivotal event of his life, not the 95 Theses.   Prior to this, Luther was terrified at the thought of being judged by God.  In fact, he was angry at God for crushing “us miserable sinners with His law.’  But then Luther finally realized what we cherish, and that is that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… but God in His infinite grace and mercy has justified us freely through Christ and His completed, and sufficient, work on the cross!  Thank you Luther for staking your life on this truth, and Thank you Jesus for saving us, since we are incapable of saving ourselves!

*Reference: Dr. Richard P. Bucher