Comfort and Joy

As John the Baptist was facing the end of his preaching ministry, and the end of his earthly life, being put in prison because he told king Hared it was a sin to marry his brother’s wife, John fulfilled his office of prophet by once again pointing to Jesus.

John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, sent to prepare God’s people for the coming of the Savior by the preaching of repentance, and fiat hint he promise of the Messiah, and John was the first to see the Lamb of God come to take away the sin of the world. One last thing does John do before his beheading. He sends His followers to the one come with good news for the poor.

Isaiah was sent with a word of comfort to God’s people, to the poor, and lowly who were waiting for God to bring an end to evil. Like a lifeline thrown to a person who has fallen overboard into the icy water, is the Word of God given to us from heaven. When all else has failed, for truly all things in this world will indeed come to nothing, it is the eternal Word of the everlasting Father that will endure forever. Faith grabs hold of all that the Lord speaks, and clings as though your very life depends upon it, for indeed it truly does.

Comfort rings from the joy filled glad tidings that by the sending of this perfect Lamb of God, Jesus brings the sacrifice of His own body and blood. Comfort is in the healing of Jesus’ Word of forgiveness, given that we may know the reconciliation of God to each sinner. That we may receive from the Lord healing.

John the Baptist faced his earthly death with joy – knowing that his eyes has seen the good news word made flesh Jesus. That his ears were filled with the good news preaching of God’s love in the forgiveness of sins. He wasn’t happy to die – happy as in how most define joy. Rather, He was filled with the Holy Spirit, who comes in the Word, that Word of God which stands forever, and finds comfort in the face of decay. Joy in knowing that nothing, not death, not life, not the present things of the world, not the things that are yet to come can separate you from God’s love in Christ Jesus.

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Peace

There are two ways in which we can approach God. The way of human nature is to approach God according to our own works. For the people of the Old Testament, this meant bringing offerings and sacrifices, and trusting in these acts, believing that by the action of sacrifice, God is made to be pleased with the person doing the work. This is made known in our lives when we attempt to bargain with God, believing that we can make God happy with us, or earn a blessing form Him by our works. If we give to church, or charity, if we help others. This notion goes by the word Karma in some circles. This approach to God is through the Law.

The other way I which we can approach God is by His grace and mercy. Through His promises in His Word. God our Father in heaven has made it clear by His Word that His desire is to be our God. This means that He wants us to look to Him to receive all we need, both physically and spiritually in this life. This is the way of the Gospel, trusting and believing in the Word that in Jesus, God is pleased to be our help. In Jesus, God loves us, forgives us, and leads us by His Spirit filled Word.

One of these approaches to God, ways of coming into His presence leads to peace. The other leads to uncertainty. One way leads to salvation. The other leads to hell.

God has given to us the Bible, His Holy Word, so that we can know with full confidence and certainty His will and desire for our lives. The one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can only be known by His Word.

Think of it this way. When you face a terrifying situation in life, what do you need?

You need assurance. You need hope. You need peace.

God has given us full peace and assurance in His Word. We can know without doubt that God loves us, and is with us in all that we face in life. We can know by the preaching and the Word of Christ that we have in the blood of Jesus forgiveness of sins. We can know, by what the bible teaches us that God will indeed work our all things for the good of those who love God, and His purposes will be fulfilled.

Peace comes in knowing Jesus as God and Lord, and trusting in His Word of grace.

Hope

The gospel lesson for the first Sunday in Advent takes us to a time far from what is on our minds this time of the year. Cities and homes are being lit in festive array in anticipation of the upcoming celebration. Anticipation and joy hangs in the air, as people bustle about this busy time, looking forward to family gatherings, while we hear the news of the coming of the son of David, the Palm Sunday message leading to the cross.

Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna!” and the waiving of tree branches is a foreshadowing of His coming in glory on the last day. Jesus rides to claim His kingdom by sitting on the throne of His cross.  Clearly fulfilling what was written of Him, Jesus, who is the branch of David, rides to claim His kingdom. A kingdom won by the shedding of His own blood. The hope that sprung from lips shouting praise come from souls long oppressed by the darkness of sin.

This cross becomes for us a symbol of hope. Jesus death signals the end of death, for He, the Lord of Life could not be held by the grave.

The reason Advent begins with lent, is that we poor sinners are in constant need of repentance. As inheritors of the seed of Adam’s sin, our thoughts are too often turned, not to God, or to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, but to our own bellies. Repentance means to turn away from yourself, for your eyes have seen, and your ears heard of the glory of Jesus.

Our hope is in this Jesus, whose name means, “The Lord Saves.” Our life of faith is often a struggle. We struggle with the trials and sufferings we face. We struggle with repentance, if only because our sinful flesh too often sees nothing wrong in sinning. We struggle with placing trust in worldly things that never seem to be enough to bring us happiness. In the midst of this struggle comes the Word of Jesus. The Word of forgiveness for His sake, by His love.

This Word of God speaks hope into your soul, and sustains you on the journey of faith. Jesus is your hope, you light, and He will not fail to love you and lead you to His eternal home.

A New Song

Throughout the book of Psalms we hear the exhortation to “Sing a new song unto the Lord.” This new song is the hope of salvation. This new song is the song of Jesus our Lord, who comes as God, not to bring Law, or to punish us in the righteous wrath of God, but to suffer the consequences of our sin in His body, that by His death and resurrection we may be free. This new song is the tune of the end for the faithful baptized of Christ.

The future coning of Jesus on the day of judgement is often illustrated by the Bible from two different human perspectives, and can sometimes seem jarring, especially for we who have heard the Word of Jesus to love our enemies, and do good to those who hate us. The first is the perspective of the unbelieving world, those who have rejected the forgiveness of Jesus, and shelter not in the arms of the loving Savior, but in their own works. To these people, the coming of Jesus as judge of the living and the dead will be a day of sorrowful terror. Defeat and punishment will be the end of these labeled as enemies of the Gospel.

For the faithful baptized this day is seen as a day of joyful victory. What is jarring is that this joy comes from the defeat of those who hate Jesus and hate the church – the enemies of the Gospel. It seems that we will rejoice in the blood of our enemies – like warriors victorious after long and difficult battle.

This truth that the Bible is teaching us is not joy at the death of human beings – even those who would gleefully see all followers of Jesus dead. Rather, the joy of victory is that death, sin, and the devil himself is finally put to destruction, and the Lord of light and life is brining healing in His wings. Our hope is found in Jesus, who offers forgiveness to all who repent, and hear and receive in His Word, His forgiveness and life. Our joy is the defeat of all that is evil, and the triumph of all that is good and right.

While we do not know the day of the hour of Jesus’ return, this day will not come as a surprise to the faithful baptized. On this day, we will rise with joy to meet the Lord with praise and gladness.

Nones

When it comes to religious affiliation in the United States, pollsters, who track these kinds of things, are telling us that the fastest growing category is “none,” meaning no religious affiliation. These “nones” as they are now called are a curious group. They are not claiming to be atheists, but rather that they are not affiliated with any religious organization. (That atheists are considered a religion is wholly true and appropriate.) It is not as though they don’t believe in God – rather that they are “Spiritual, but not religious.”

The truth is, the devil has deceived them. In the face of the uncertainty of this life, and the enormity of the universe, it is easy to become overwhelmed by how small, and insignificant we are. Add to the mix how little we control the circumstances of life and things can be pretty scary. Instead of turning to the true God, the God who created, and saved us by the blood of Jesus, “nones” turn to an imaginary spiritual force. Somehow they find comfort in the idea of an impersonal deity, set somewhere up above, who will not interfere with their pursuit of fleshly pleasure, but will help in time of crisis.

We have a better word. We have a God who is right here in our midst. By the Word of God Jesus is among us, leading, guiding, and forgiving us. True comfort is found in the saving knowledge of Jesus. Our human longing for meaning, and for God finds fulfillment in the God who comes down from heaven, to live in our own flesh and blood. To suffer for our sake, and to bring us peace by His death and resurrection.

There is an innate sense in each person that things in this world are not quite right – not exactly the way things are meant to be. This often translates into a sense that this world, because it seems broken, will one day come to an end. This is certainly the case with the Pharisees who asked Jesus about when the end will come. (Luke 17) What they are really asking is “when will this broken world be remade to be the perfect kingdom of God?”

Jesus replies with pure grace. God’s kingdom – because He has come, because He shares our poor flesh and our poor blood, is in our midst. Where Jesus is, there the kingdom is. Where Jesus is, there we find comfort and hope. Where Jesus is, there we receive forgiveness and life from His Word.

E Pluribus Unum

It is my honor to be with you today as we have gathered to remember, and celebrate the gift that the veterans of our nation – the men and women who have served the cause of liberty are to us as a nation. Men and women dedicated to service – a service that didn’t end when their terms of enlistment were over. Christians recognize that service flows from what Jesus has done for us. Jesus came, not to be served, but to serve. Jesus came to suffer and die, that those who believe may have hope and life in Him. This example of service is lived out as we seek to serve our neighbor.  The veterans of our armed forces exemplify this virtue of service as they continue to serve in the vocations and places in which they live.

 

Have you ever noticed the Latin words printed on the official seal of the US – E Pluribus Unum? Take a look at a one dollar bill, and you will find printed on the back the great seal of the United States.  This phrase;  E Pluribus Unum grasped in the beak of the American eagle. This phrase means “From many, one.”

 

From many – one. This motto was chosen by the founders of our great nation, not as some sort of communist manifesto, to express the idea all citizens are the subjects of an all-encompassing government. Many people made one under the authority of government. Rather – when this phrase was included on the official seal of our nation in 1782 it reflected one of the founding principles of our nation. The American people, already at the very beginning of our nation came from a large diversity of backgrounds. Because of this, unity as a nation would not come from human affiliations – by family, by tribe, or creed, or by the color of our skin, or our place of origin, or the language we spoke. This was the European way. American unity would not reside in group affiliation, or identity,  but in the love of liberty. The idea that all men – that is all people, (As an aside……….) are equal under the law. Yes – our nation bears the sin of racial slavery and other inequalities in her history. Reality always falls short of the ideal – even so, the remarkable thing about founding a nation on principles of liberty and justice for all, is that these virtues have a way of bringing about the needed corrections – as this country did many times as for example in ending slavery at the time of our Civil War.

 

 

I come from a family that is no stranger to service in our nation’s military. My great grandpa LaPlant – at the age of 16, too young to enlist legally BTW – hitchhiked from Grand Rapids, MN to New York City so he could enlist in the Army. He served in Europe during WWI.

My grandpa Eischens was drafted into the Navy, and was stationed at Pearl Harbor shortly after the attack of December 7th, 1941. My Dad served in the US Navy – on the USS St. Paul even, and was involved in the US support of the removal of French troops from Vietnam. His enlistment ended just before the US escalated the conflict there. My brother served in the Army Iraq in 2003 – at the same time as I was sent to Afghanistan. My mom told me that shortly after learning both LaPlant sons would be sent to fight in the war on terror, Dad fell to his knees in the driveway after coming home from work – weeping with worry that both his sons would be called on to give their lives in the cause of freedom. The Lord preserved both of us, and we both did made it home alive.

 

If you spend much time watching cable news, or reading news on social media it would appear that our nation is no longer united. That we are no longer E Pluribus Unum. In some ways this is true, however, in all the most important ways it is not. Sure, we see how many are divided over how best to run our government, but when you enter our neighborhoods, and schools you find a far different picture then the one of division being peddled to us by the elites of the media. You find neighbor serving neighbor. You find families going about the business of living their lives, and enjoying the liberty guaranteed to them by the constitution.  You find – dare I say it – Democrats, and Republicans, and independents and everyone else living, working, and even praying together. A diverse people united as a community. Often times united by service.

 

 

 

In 2001 the US Army, in an effort to boost enlistments began offering a nice bonus attractive enough to entice a poor, recent college grad, me, who was trying to help his wife finish her college education to enlist. As I already mentioned, I come from a family familiar with service in the armed forces, so it seemed like a good way to earn some extra money to pay off my college debt, and serve my country at the same time. I enlisted, and at the beginning of September, 2001 I found myself at Ft. Sill, OK. reporting for Army basic training.

Then September 11th, 2001 came. That morning we were scheduled to see a weapons demonstration. As we were getting ready to board buses to the firing range, I remember vividly the drill sergeant pacing back and forth in front of us, angry – talking about how those …… well, its best not to repeat what drill sergeants say when angry – how someone blew up the world trade center.  How we, as a nation were attacked by those who despise liberty and justice for all. Later that day – once we had finished eating our supper, we were led into the assembly hall, and were shown the news feed video of a passenger airplane flying into buildings – of glass and steel and concrete collapsing into a cloud of dust and smoke. Of firefighters bravely working to save lives. Of E Pluribus Unum in action. Let me tell you – an attack on your nation really focuses you – mind, body and soul when you are training to fight for your country.

I completed my training at Ft. Lee Virginia, at the US Army Quarter master school, and went home here to Minnesota to serve in the Army reserves with the 407 CA battalion. I settled into the routine of work, and monthly drill with my Army reserve unit until about one year later, when my unit got called up for deployment to Afghanistan.

 

 

 

 

Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”

 

In late June of 2003 I found myself on a C17 globemaster III, along with 60 of my closest friends (those of you who have served know what I mean.) With one layover in Germany, I was on my way, along with the 407 CA BN to Bagram air base in Afghanistan.

Imagine for a moment how you would have felt if you had just left behind a young wife, a home, and extended family to go to a place that was affectionately called the “armpit of the world.” What would be going through your mind? How would you be feeling?

 

Courage is not the lack of fear – but the conviction to face fear, and do your duty – do what needs to be done to complete the mission.

I was afraid, but fear was not the strongest emotion I felt. Deep down, I felt lonely.

When we landed at Bagram in Afghanistan it was about 1 in the morning. In a war zone there are no lights shining at airports. No runway lights, no lights on the plane, no lights shining from the terminal – nothing that would give away the position of the aircraft to the enemy. We landed in pitch darkness. We de-planed in pitch darkness, and in a single file line we were led into the dark, not knowing where we were going, or how long the walk would be, from the plane to the terminal. Because we couldn’t see anything.

Sandwiched between two other soldiers – two other people that I knew very well, trained with, lived with, ate with, prayed with, Just spent close to 20 hours on a military cargo jet with – I never felt more lonely. I found myself half a world away from those who I most deeply cared about – my wife, my family –not just on the opposite side of the globe, I was in a war zone too. In my loneliness, I felt as though God had abandoned me.

It was at this moment that I looked up. Have you ever had the chance to look up at the stars on a dark summer night while out in the wilderness far from the invasion of artificial light? The sky was brilliantly lit. Each star – each shining light became for me, at that moment, a reminder of God’s promises. Remember Abraham? Each star a shining proclamation of what God had promised him, of why Abraham had left his home behind.

When I looked up, when I considered the heavens above, and who put each star in its place, a profound sense of peace entered my soul. God had not abandoned me. The heavens declared to me in that moment His glory.

People are profoundly lonely these days. From the hospital rooms, to the nursing homes that I visit right into the halls of Lutheran High, people are longing for community. Our nation is crying out for a return to the founding principle of E Pluribus Unum. That, no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like you are an American. Blessed to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

In light of the divisions we see all around us today, what a golden opportunity we have. That we, who by the blood of Jesus are called into fellowship with the creator of the stars of night, are called to confess this hope we have in Jesus. The church – the body of Christ is the community that is needed. It is the true E Pluribus Unum, for by faith in Jesus, we are all knit together into the one body of Jesus.

At a time of great need in my life, God, by his very creation, sent comfort down from heaven. So too, as you look to the heavens are you reminded of the promise of God to never leave you, nor forsake you.

 

After serving for 10 months at a logistics station in Uzbekistan, I came home. Welcomed back into the warm embrace of family. Actually – I left Afghanistan in February – with 80 – 90 degree days to come to Minnesota with -20 temps. I needed the warm embrace of my family!

God has given each of us a purpose – a vocation in life that is focused not on yourself, but on others. As we remember and celebrate the service of our nation’s veterans this day, let us be renewed, first by the Word of God in faith to Jesus our Savior, and second renewed in service. That as Jesus loves us, forgives us, so may we serve our neighbor.

 

Thanks you!

Made Well

It is the order of things in this world, broken by sin, that sorrow and suffering is inevitable. Psalm 126 poetically portrays this like a farmer going out weeping to sow seed too precious to simply cast into the soil. His family is starving, and the only hope they have is to cast the seed into the ground, and pray that the Lord brings a harvest before it is too late.

Such is this life of faith in Jesus. We sow our sorrow at the evil of this world, and the corruption of life, and at our own sin, and suffer, even as Christ our Lord suffered for us on the cross, knowing that soon we will receive inexpressible joy. In the words of the psalm, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” For we who hope, and wait on the Lord, this faith will bear the fruit of life, we will be made well.

Faith is, as we read in Hebrews chapter 11, the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Biblically, we can understand faith as having three components summarized nicely by the explanation of the first commandments. “Fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

First, faith is trust. A trust that looks to Jesus and the word, and believes that Jesus is our Savior.

Second is knowledge. When a child is baptized, this baby is given the gift of faith. This faith now cries out to be filled with the knowledge of Christ as found in His word. Every day the life of a Christian is to be spent in seeking the knowledge of faith. This is why it is of critical importance that Christians be catechized, and that they continue to study the Word of God by making it a priority to attend Bible study.

Finally, faith is ascent. That Jesus died and rose again is knowledge even the devil knows. However, ascent is when you are able to say, Jesus died for me, that in Him, all my sins are forgiven, and I will live eternally with Him.

Faith grabs a hold of the promises of God given to us in Jesus, and makes those promises ours. This kind of faith is the faith that makes us well by the forgiveness and life of Christ.