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October 2, 2015, 10:26 AM

Trying to Win on the Wrong Horse

    Two Kentucky farmers who owned racing stables had developed a keen rivalry.  One spring, each of them entered a horse in a local steeplechase race.  Thinking that a professional rider might help him outdo his friend, one of the farmers engaged a professional jockey.  
    The two horses were leading the race at the last fence, but it proved too tough for them.  Both horses fell, unseating their riders.  But his calamity did not stop the professional jockey.  He quickly remounted and won the race.  
    Returning triumphantly to the paddock, the jockey found the farmer who had hired him fuming with rage.  "What's the matter?" the jockey asked.  "I won, didn't I?"  
    "Oh, yes," roared the farmer.  "You won all right, but you still don't know, do you?"
      "Know what?" asked the jockey.  
    "You won the race on the wrong horse!"
       It’s easy to think that we are winning the race in our own lives.  We are advancing in our careers.  We are accumulating possessions.  We have family and friends.  Life is good!
    But what if we are riding the wrong horse?  What if all the measures that we use for measuring a fulfilling, productive  life are simply wrong?  What if wealth, happiness, fame and knowledge are simply dead ends in God’s grand scheme of things?
    Jesus once said,  "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  (Matthew 7:13-14)
      That “the narrow gate” refers to Jesus Himself is shown by these other words of Jesus, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.”  (John 10:9)  It is only through Jesus that a person can have a truly fulfilling and happy life; only through Jesus that their sins are forgiven; only though Jesus that anyone can have eternal life.  Jesus is “the narrow gate”--even “the right horse” in the story above.
    “The wide gates” and “the broad roads” are anything other than Jesus that we trust in for a fulfilling and productive life and for a place in heaven.  “The wide gates” and “broad roads” are the things in this life that attract so many people: wealth, fame, pleasure, food.  When these things become the fixation of our lives, we have gone through “the wide gates” and are on “the broad roads” to unhappiness, despair, even hell, itself!
    By the grace of God, may we all avoid trying to win on the wrong horse, may we avoid “the wide gates” and “the broad roads.”  For Jesus is “the narrow gate” and “the right horse!”    Pastor Brechbuhl

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August 28, 2015, 10:18 AM

Count the Cost of Following Jesus

    Faithful and true Christians have been persecuted for the last 2,000 years, since the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Christ, the only Savior and Lord, and are being persecuted in many parts of the world, today, even to the point being murdered for being Christians.  In the United States, it has become very unpopular to proclaim Jesus as the only Savior from sin.  When Christians do, they are called intolerant, insensitive, and exclusive.  
    But true Christianity has always been exclusive in the sense of proclaiming that there is only one true God, not many Gods.  The only God is the Trinity–the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, three divine Persons, yet only one God!   
    True Christianity has always been exclusive in insisting that there is only one revealed Word of God and that is the Bible.  There are not many truths–just one truth.  The Bible is God’s one and only written revelation of Himself and the center and standard for all truth.
    True Christianity has always been intolerant in condemning what the Bible condemns as sin, as summarized in the Ten Commandments. But it is considered very insensitive, intolerant, judgmental, and unloving in our society today to say that homosexuality is condemned by God as sin, and that same sex marriage is contrary to the Word of God, despite what the U. S. Supreme Court just decided in June, 2015.
    So, when the inevitable backlash of persecution comes from the world against faithful Christians, as they condemn sin and proclaim Christ as the only Savior from sin, it is easy for us to hunker down and shut up and avoid controversy and the attacks of the world.  But what did Jesus say to us about this?  “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)
    Jesus here calls on us to  follow Him every day, moment by moment, in the ordinary times and also in the special times.  Following the Lord Jesus involves an accompanying cost. It means we change in our relationship to Him and to one another. It does not mean we are involved in a one-time combat with sin. This is a daily fight against sin and evil.  It requires us to leave some former sinful habits and relationships behind!
    And we will win in that struggle against sin with Christ at our side.  James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you!”  “Submitting” means that the Holy Spirit brings us to faith and keeps us in the faith.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit who works through the Word, we then are able to resist the devil’s temptations, to fight the good fight of faith, as St.  Paul says, against evil.  Only with Christ’s power--and the believer certainly does have Christ’s power, because Christ lives in us through baptism–only with Christ’s power are we able to win in that struggle against temptation and sin–and God will eventually give us the victory!     Pastor Brechbuhl

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August 28, 2015, 10:16 AM

Meditating on God’s Word

    Troubles and worries come into the lives of all of us--such things as cancer or not enough money to pay the bills or the loss of a job or conflict with children, parents or spouses or coworkers. Sometimes these difficulties stay with us for years.  Often there may not be an easy solution to them.  How does a Christian cope?
    The simple answer is that we meditate on God’s Word, especially the promises from God centered in Jesus Christ.  Consider what the Holy Spirit wrote through the pen of the writer of Psalm 119, who was also experiencing similar difficulties:
“ 143 Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands are my delight.
 144 Your statutes are forever right; give me understanding that I may live.
 145 I call with all my heart; answer me, O LORD, and I will obey your decrees.
 146 I call out to you; save me and I will keep your statutes.
 147 I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word.
 148 My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.”
Although these inspired words were written almost three thousand years ago, they still speak to our modern human condition.
    First,  the psalmist has trouble and distress to the extreme.  The original Hebrew words are used to describe the suffering that a city endures when it is under siege and depict a tightness or narrowing on the sufferers.  We often experience a similar narrowing or feeling of being trapped by the troubles and problems in our own lives and we wonder where to turn for help and comfort.
    The psalmist gives us the example, as he, in the midst of his own troubles, turns to God’s Word for comfort and meditates on its commands and promises.  He calls the Word of God his “delight,” the Hebrew word describes the delight that a person takes in her children.  The psalmist trusts God’s promises and believes that God’s word gives him life, hope and salvation!  He meditates on God’s Word through the long hours of the night and strives to obey its commands.  
    Similarly, as we face the problems, temptations and sufferings of our modern day life, may we meditate on God’s Word, especially His promises centered in Jesus Christ, promises of deliverance, forgiveness, life and salvation through His Son.  
     Pastor Brechbuhl

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September 29, 2011, 2:09 PM

"F.O.A.F." STORIES

    "Did you know that there are catfish so large down by the dam, divers refuse to go down there?  They say they can eat a man!"  I heard this story for the first time, when we were living in Quincy, Illinois.  The specific location was at the Quincy Soybean loading facility where they loaded the barges with soybeans.  The explanation for why the catfish are so large there is that they feed on the soybeans spilled into the water.  You've probably heard the same giant catfish story about lakes and rivers around here.  
    David Lusk wrote this about “giant catfish stories”: “I discovered recently that every lake that has a fish in it has such a story.  The tale is called a ‘F.O. A. F’ story.  A ‘F.O.A.F’ is a story we are just sure is true.  We didn't see it first hand, but we heard it from a ‘Friend of A Friend.’  ‘F.O.A.F.’ stories make the rounds for years, changing just a bit in every generation.”
    There is something in our sinful nature which just loves to pass on stories told to us by someone whom we assume is reliable.  We especially like to pass on gossip, especially about someone we don’t like.  It has been said: "The more interesting the gossip, the more likely it is to be untrue and the faster it travels."  
    The Bible warns us about the gossiping tongue: “The tongue is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. . . . With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who have been made in God's likeness.” [James 3:6, 9]
    In the Eighth Commandment (the Ninth for many protestants), God forbids the passing on of “F.O. A. F.” gossip and slander: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”  Dr.  Martin Luther explains this commandment: “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way!”
     May each of us, by the power of the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament, never pass on “F.  O.  A.  F.” gossip and always speak words about others which are pleasing to God.  When we do pass on a  "F.  O.  A.  F." story, and we all do at times, the good news is that there is forgiveness through Jesus Christ: through His perfect life, death and resurrection.




September 29, 2011, 2:06 PM

The Reformation and the “Righteousness of God”

    Reformation Sunday falls on October 31st this year, the exact day in 1517, when our Lord through Martin Luther began the Reformation by hammering a document on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  That document is known as the 95 Theses or statements protesting the indulgences being sold by the Roman Catholic Church.  Indulgences were pieces of paper promising the forgiveness of sins which could be purchased with money.  Knowing his Bible, Luther rightly protested the selling of forgiveness.
    As an Augustinian monk and professor of theology, Martin Luther had believed, as he had been taught, that man had to earn forgiveness from God by doing good works.  Luther writes about his time in the monastery,
    “When His [Christ’s] name was mentioned, I would rather have heard the devil mentioned, for I believed that I would have to do good works until Christ was rendered gracious to me through them....I could not make myself believe anything but that I had offended God, whom I would have to make favorable to me again through my good works.” (Schwiebert, E.  G.  Luther and His Times, 1950, pg.  154).   
In believing that he had to do good works to earn God’s forgiveness of his sins and make God favorable to him, Luther simply believed what he had been taught his whole life by the church.
    Luther writes that before coming to faith in Christ, “‘God’s righteousness’ was repulsive to me,” because he understood it to mean a “righteousness, in which God proves Himself righteousness in that He punishes the sinner as an unrighteous person.” (Schwiebert,  pg.  286)  Luther understood the “righteousness of God” to refer to God punishing us for our sins.
    Eventually by His grace, God revealed to Luther that the “righteousness of God” referred to God’s merciful forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Luther writes:
    “Then I began to comprehend...that the ‘righteousness of God’ which is revealed through the Gospel was to be understood in a passive sense in which God through mercy justifies man by faith....I then went through the Holy Scriptures..., and I found in other parts the same sense: the ‘work of God’ is that which He works in us, the ‘strength of God’ is that through which He makes us strong, the ‘wisdom of God’ that through which He makes us wise.” (Schwiebert,   pg.  286)
    Through His Word, the Bible, God revealed to Martin Luther that the righteousness of God meant the mercy and love of God which motivated God to send His only Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for the sin of the world by which God gives forgiveness through the gift of faith and then justifies the believer, declares the believer to be innocent and “not guilty” of his sin.


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