Beware Self-Serving Preachers

Beware Self-Serving Preachers

2 Corinthians 11:19 - 12:9 Selected verses:

“For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness…

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

St. Paul was a missionary, and he established churches throughout the Mediterranean region. After he founded the church in Corinth, a group of preachers moved into town who took over. They disparaged Paul and his coworkers. They claimed that they were better, wiser, and more worthy. They even abused the congregation, and the congregation went along with it!

In 2 Corinthians 11:19 - 12:9, Paul contrasts his ministry with that of the interlopers, whom Paul calls “Super Apostles.” Super apostles make the ministry about themselves, about personal glory, about their charisma, about their personal wealth. They make the ministry about the man.

But when the man looms large, God must be small. When the man is small, God can be large.

Paul’s ministry pointed only to Christ. He didn’t burden the Corinthians. He didn’t demand payment. He didn’t brag about his accomplishments for the church. He just preached Christ.

We, too, must beware preachers who make ministry about themselves. In this sermon, you will hear about how pastors can make the ministry about their glory by

  • building a ministry on their personality or charisma

  • watering down God’s word

  • by doing only the work that gives glory and not the real work of ministry

Our Unity Is In Christ

Our Unity Is In Christ

Ephesians 3:1-12

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.

A central theme among the early Christians was the natural divisions between Jews and the Gentiles. Before Jesus came, the division was clear. Jews were the chosen people. They had God’s promises. They followed God’s covenant.

The gentiles didn’t. They were immoral and awful pagans who were outside God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

St. Paul says that the mystery of Christ is that the Gentiles, the outsiders, are united in God’s promise with the Jews. In Christ, they have unity and salvation.

Contemporary Americans generally acknowledge that God unites people of all times, places, and cultures in Christ. We affirm diversity in Christ.

Where is there division? Christians look to build their unity on a number of things that aren’t Christ. Maybe they want a charismatic pastor so the people can unite around a visionary leader. Maybe the people love the way a congregation feels or the way other people treat them. Maybe they want a common set of traditions, the same altar and font that their parents used years before them.

But none of these is our true unity. They all can fail. They all can change. Only Christ unites us.

Listen to the sermon here.

Adoption as Sons

Adoption as Sons

Galatians 4:1-7

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

St. Paul uses a metaphor of adoption to help us understand what happens when we are saved. Roman adoption was different than the way we do it. Romans viewed a family unit as the whole extended family under the oldest living male relative. He was the Father of the family, or the pater familias. He controlled everything the family owned, including the power to have his children divorce their spouses.

Adoption was a way to bring someone from outside the family into the family, but it was not to take care of an orphan. Adoption almost always happened to adults, not children. When Julias Caesar died, he adopted his great-nephew, Octavian (who would become Augustus Caesar) as a son so he could inherit Julias Caesar’s estate. The same thing happens in Japan with family businesses. When a father wants to pass on the business to his family, he finds the best candidate and adopts him or her.

When God adopts us, he takes us from slavery to the world and to the law, and he makes us a son in a new family. We have freedom from our own works to impress God, because he has made us heirs.

Listen to the sermon to find out more!

A note about the word, “son,” in Galatians 4. Many want to make this word more inclusive by adding the phrase, “and daughters.” This, however, changes the message of Paul’s metaphor, since only sons could be heirs in a Roman family. The word, “sons,” is inclusive of women, and it makes women co-heirs with men in Christ, a big deal in Rome and Israel.

Stewards of the Mysteries of God

Stewards of the Mysteries of God

1 Corinthians 4:1-5

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

Paul calls himself and his coworkers, “stewards of the mysteries of God.” What is that? In this sermon, we take a look at each word in the phrase to help us understand how it applies to our faith.

First, we look at the “mysteries of God.” We use “mystery” to mean various things:

  • Mystery Genre of novels or movies

  • Mystery as a puzzle to solve or a crime scene to understand

  • Mystery as something we can’t understand, like how the Trinity works

Mystery in Paul’s letters, however, tends to point to something different than how we use the word. In his day, Greeks and Romans had “mystery” religions, where the faithful held certain secrets from the outside world. You had to become a part of the group to know the secrets.

The gospel is such a mystery, known only through the Bible and only truly revealed to those who believe.

A steward is someone who manages the master’s or owner’s belongings. The steward can’t do whatever he wants with his master’s stuff. He can only do what his master wants. A steward of the mysteries of God can only do with those mysteries what God wants him to do.

This says a lot about how Pastors, as stewards of the mysteries of God, should act toward God’s people. Listen to the sermon to hear more.

God's Word Sets Us Free

God's Word Sets Us Free

When Luther posted his 95 theses, he didn’t know that he was starting a reformation. He just wanted to help the church see the truth written in the Bible. When we celebrate the reformation, we celebrate the Christian emphasis on the word of God.

In the reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

God’s word sets us free. How? There are many ways, but here are three I highlight in the sermon:

First, God’s Word sets us free by teaching us what is really going on. It tells us about the spiritual forces at work behind everything we see and touch.

Second, it dispels the myths that we tell ourselves. We all like to believe that we’re free. The people who heard Jesus said so, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” But people need something to follow. God’s word tells us that we either belong to Sin or to God.

Third, God’s word sets us free by restricting us. Infinite options are terrifying. We get analysis paralysis, and we can’t function. When God’s word gives us an identity, as God’s child, and a purpose, those restrictions give us freedom to live.

Hear more in the sermon

Worldly Blessing or Christ's Blessing

Worldly Blessing or Christ's Blessing

Many people talk about the good things that happen in their lives as a blessing. Our kids succeed. We get a bonus or a promotion. We’re having a great day. Whatever good thing it is, we call it a blessing.

The Bible’s view of blessing, however, is different. It’s not in things, experiences, or even people. It’s only about Jesus. His presence in your life through the Word and Sacraments brings you blessing.

Which lasts forever? Which brings eternal life? Which will never fail you? Only Christ stays with you no matter what.

Listen to the sermon, here.

The Money Trap

The Money Trap

Mark 10:17-22

Everyone has an image of the person he or she wants to be. Sometimes the image is just minor changes. You want to lose a few pounds. You want to be a nicer person. You’d like to watch less TV.

Other times we have bigger ideas in mind. You want to start a new career. You’d like to run a marathon. You want to make a bigger impact in your community.

The problem rests, not in our dreams, but in our ability to push past momentary desires to be the person we imagine. We want to lose weight, but we can’t resist the plate of cookies. We want to run a marathon, but the couch is so comfortable. We want to start a new career, but it’s too much work.

Christians do the same thing. We all want to be dedicated disciples, followers of Jesus who are willing to take up our cross. But sin is what keeps us from living that way in our daily decisions. Sometimes it just easier, more comfortable, to choose disobedience to God.

One of the most common areas is our finances. We love money. Actually, we love what money can do for us. We love that it can buy us a nice meal at a great restaurant. We love that it can get us access to great movies and fantastic TV series. We love that it can buy toys for the kids and get them soccer leagues.

But we also want to be generous people. We want to have a strong relationship with our God. We want to be able to give. The love of money interferes with those things. Our day-to-day decisions with money just don’t match up with the person we want to be. It’s a trap. How can we find freedom? Only in following Christ.

Listen to the sermon here.

I Believe. Help My Unbelief

I Believe. Help My Unbelief

Our latest sermon recording is up.

When the man took his son to see Jesus, he wasn't sure if Jesus could help him. Jesus said, "Anything is possible for him who believes." The man replied, "I believe, help my unbelief."

Doesn't that sentence summarize the Christian struggle in faith. I believe, help my unbelief. We know God's promises, but doubt creeps into our hearts when we face terrible circumstances. How does God answer it? The same way that Jesus answers the man, with healing.

Jesus does it, however, in the same ways he heals us all our lives. He does it through his word and sacraments. He strengthens us by repeating his promises through his word. He unites with us by his body and blood. He comforts us by sending the Holy Spirit to us.

No matter what you face, God has an answer for our doubt so we can rest only in him. He gives us the peace that passes all understanding.

Listen to the Sermon

So Much Anger

So Much Anger

When John preached God's word to Herod, Herod threw him into prison, because his wife, Herodias was angry. She was so angry that she asked for John's head. It wasn't just John who received that kind of welcome for preaching. Elijah was almost killed. Jeremiah was persecuted. Paul was stoned. 

It's not just then. We're angry now. So angry that it seems that's all we see. Why? Because we're ashamed. 

What's the cure for shame? Arguing? No. That only makes for more anger. 

It the one who became shame for us. Jesus.

Listen here for the sermon

For God So Loved The World

For God So Loved The World

It's the most famous passage from the Bible, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life." It's the entire message of the gospel boiled down into one sentence. 

But why would we just leave it at that? Why not expand on it to show us that this verse is more than a summary of Jesus' message. The passage tells us some particular things about God. 

We see that God's motivation to save the world is his love. He loves us so much that he was willing to give up everything, even his only Son, to save us. That sounds a lot like one of the parables that Jesus used, the parable of the treasure in the field. 

God sends his son to save us so we would not perish. It's like when the coast guard shows up to save a bunch of drowning people. They throw out the life preservers so they can be pulled to safety. Jesus comes to dying people who are trapped in sin, and he offers us salvation. 

There's more to it, of course, but you'll have to listen to hear it all!

The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, The Helper

The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, The Helper

The day of Pentecost is one of the few days on which we talk about the Holy Spirit. Lutherans tend to turn our focus away from the power of the Spirit to Jesus. Why is that? Why don't we focus as much on him?

Jesus describes the Holy Spirit's job in John 15 and 16. The Spirit is a helper. He reveals Jesus' message to people. He only says what is given to him. See a pattern? The Holy Spirit's whole job is to get out of the way. His job is to point us to Jesus and strengthen our faith. 

Listen here

 

It's All About Jesus

It's All About Jesus

Listen here!

How do we interpret the Bible? Everyone has rules that they follow that help them understand each passage as they read. Fancy theologians have a word for those rules: a hermeneutic. A hermeneutic is the process that each person uses when they read the Bible to understand it's meaning. There are lots of rules that we use in our hermeneutic. Here are some examples:

  • The Bible doesn't contradict itself.
  • You have to read the Bible for what it says. You can't make things up.
  • The Bible interprets itself.

The most important rule, however, is the one Jesus gives us in Luke 24:44-53. He tells us that the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms point to him. "“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations." When Jesus opened the disciples' minds, he told them that it focuses on his death and resurrection. 

But our temptation is to turn the Bible away from Jesus and to make it about ourselves. We act like the stories from the Bible are about life lessons that we should learn or give us principals by which we should live. But that's not what the Bible is about. It's about Jesus. Listen to more. 

Working As A Beloved Family Member

Working As A Beloved Family Member

Listen to the sermon here

Jesus tells the disciples that they are not servants. They are friends. Both of these words do not quite give us the full impact of what Jesus was saying. Servant is the same word used for slaves throughout the Bible. "Friends" is the same word used for beloved throughout the Bible, too.

Jesus says that the disciples are not slaves. Rather, they are beloved. 

We are also part of Jesus' beloved, since he claimed us as his own by his death and resurrection. We don't serve him like servants. We serve as his beloved. This difference in relationship is makes a big difference in how we approach daily life. 

Servants serve because they are compelled to, because they fear punishment from their master. When you only respond because of fear, you do what you must to avoid punishment but no more. 

When you serve as a beloved member of the family, Jesus' business is your business. You do it because you care about what the family does. You freely desire to do your best for Jesus and the rest of his family. 

Servants also don't get to make decisions about how and where to serve. They only obey the master, who gives them orders. 

Beloved family members know the Father's business, so they have freedom to choose. Since they don't have to fear punishment from the Father, they can use their best judgment when approaching new problems and practices. 

 

What Is A Good Work?

What Is A Good Work?

Listen to the sermon here

Jesus says, "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." 

 People who are connected to Christ through his word and sacraments can bear much fruit, that is do good works. Those who are disconnected from Christ can do nothing. Does that match up to your experience? We all know people who are not Christians who do good things. They love their families. They help their neighbors. They do their jobs diligently. Are not these things good works?

They are not. 

Good works are only those things which are done from faith in God. When we are connected to Christ, his holiness flows through us into the good things we do, making them good actions before God in heaven. 

Why is this important? You'll have to listen to find out more. 

The Good Shepherd, The Hired Hands, and The Wolf

The Good Shepherd, The Hired Hands, and The Wolf

Listen to the sermon here

Jesus is the good shepherd. He lays down his life for the sheep when the wolf comes to snatch them. He dies for us to give us eternal life. 

In John 10, Jesus describes a scene that is almost a competition between the shepherd and the world, Jesus and Satan, over the sheep. Jesus fights the wolf, and he gathers the sheep into one flock. 

Today, Jesus sends his under-shepherds to point the sheep to the one, true shepherd. But the wolf and the hired hands can cause problems. Martin Luther, when writing a sermon on this passage, identifies different kinds of pastors with each.

  • The wolves, he said, are the ways the Pope drove Christians to their own works, including indulgences.
  • The hired hands were the bishops who only wanted the wealth they would gain by being bishops
  • The faithful shepherds only pointed to Jesus, the true shepherd

Today, we have all of these. There are wolves who scatter the sheep and drive them away from the shepherd. 

  • The wolves who point us away from salvation to a gospel of health and wealth
  • The hired hands who make church all about themselves, unwilling to deal with conflict or discipleship
  • Those who get out of the way of their shepherd.

Spoiler alert! Your pastor isn't Jesus, so you need to help him stay faithful to the true shepherd. 

He's Not A Ghost! Jesus Is Alive

He's Not A Ghost! Jesus Is Alive

Listen to the sermon here. 

In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24, Jesus is very concerned to show the disciples that he is not a ghost. He asks them to touch him. He tells them that he has flesh and bones. He even eats a piece of fish! He takes special care to show that he is truly alive.

Why? Why would Luke spend so much time on showing that Jesus was not a spirit? If Jesus was raised as a spirit, it would change the message of the gospel. It would mean three things:

  1. Jesus was not strong enough to break free from death.
  2. God had abandoned his material creation in favor of the spiritual.
  3. We are still in our sins and do not have salvation.

None of these three things would be good for us, because it would mean that we do not have eternal life. Jesus did not save us, because he could not save himself. 

But Jesus is alive. He has risen from the dead, body and soul. He has a heart that beats, lungs that fill with air, and fingers that wiggle. He eats fish! That means

  1. Jesus was strong enough to defeat death for us. 
  2. God has not abandoned his creation to decay and destruction. Instead he promises renewal.
  3. We will rise from the dead just like Jesus did. 

 

Leaders and Followers in the Church

Leaders and Followers in the Church

Three times in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus predicts that he will die and rise from the dead. Each time, his disciples don't understand what he is talking about. In Mark 10, James and John ask Jesus to place them at his right and his left in his glory. They don't see Jesus as a suffering servant. instead, they want glory and power. Jesus tells them that anyone who would be great must be the servant of all.

We try to take Jesus' words to heart in the church, but it is difficult to fight our human nature. Leaders want to take power and status rather than focusing on serving. We have to keep coming back to our Savior to receive his word and keep his cross in our minds. Followers, too, want to assert their own power. Rather than submit their lives to the rest of the church, we like to go our own way. That's not what Jesus did. He submitted to the will of his Father. 

Click here to listen to the full sermon.

Introducing Our Deaconess Field Work Student: Irene Swift

Introducing Our Deaconess Field Work Student: Irene Swift

Hello!

My name is Irene Swift and I am the new deaconess fieldworker at Concordia Lutheran in Berwyn. I am a junior at Concordia University Chicago studying to become a deaconess. I am originally from Cleveland, Ohio and am a diehard Indians fan. I enjoy singing and jamming out to music. I am teaching myself to play guitar which has always been a dream of mine. I am learning American Sign Language (ASL) and hope to do deaf ministry in the future. 
For those of you wondering what a deaconess is, I’ll tell you. A deaconess is a professional, theologically trained female church worker. A deaconess typically works in three different fields of mercy-work. Mercy-work is just a fancy way of saying caring for and serving people. She can work in a church, and institution, or as a missionary. In a church a deaconess normally assists the pastor with preparing for worship service, with confirmation, Sunday school, Bible study, youth group, and visiting shut-ins or people in the hospital.  
I am so excited to be doing my fieldwork at Concordia and worshipping there for the next two years while at school. I will be learning and practicing different aspects of church ministry under the supervision of both Pastor Huenink and my program advisor Deaconess Kristin Wassilak. I feel extremely blessed for this opportunity and I am looking forward to getting to know you all. 

All for HIM, 
Irene Swift 

God Is Just And The One Who Justifies

God Is Just And The One Who Justifies

We all know what justice is. We can see it on TV. Every police procedural show ends up with the bad guy getting caught. They offenders go to prison. The criminals get punished. That's justice. Justice for sinners is terrible. Every sin means we have rejected God. Justice demands nothing but temporal and eternal punishment. 

You might not know justification, though. It is like forgiveness. It's when the guilty are declared innocent. The offenders are freed. The criminals are not punished. Justification for sinners is wonderful. Despite our sin, God declares us innocent and gives us eternal life.

The problem, however, is that justice and justification are opposites. One cannot be fully just and the one who justifies. But that is what St. Paul says about God. How is this possible? Only through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God becoming man. He is the key to both God's justice and his justification. 

Listen to the sermon

The Word of God is the Power of the Holy Spirit

The Word of God is the Power of the Holy Spirit

When Americans think about power, we imagine immense displays. We think about private jets and the power of the wealthy. We think about military might, seeing our technologically advanced military in our mind's eye. We think about Jesus' miracles, showing his spiritual power. 

But is that the best example of the power of God at work in the world? Should we expect God to work the way that we do? St. Paul tells the Thessalonians about the power of God to create faith. It might seem small, but it is the most perfect power that the Holy Spirit gives to his people. 

Listen to the sermon