Due to the snow and ice on the roads, we will just have service at 10:30am (no Sunday School). If you are not able to make it, you can watch a short service online:
Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany + February 3, 2019
Text: Jonah 1:1-17, Matthew 8:23-27
One of the great myths about our life is that we’re safer at some times than at others. The disciples were under the impression that they were safer on land than when they were on the stormy sea. It’s only when the waves are crashing into the boat that they realize how fragile their existence is.
Jonah thought that he was free and clear if he just fled to Tarshish, in the opposite direction from where God would have him be. But on the way, God intervened and caused a great storm. And Jonah, even though he was resting secure in disobedience to God, was awakened and called to account.
On the other hand, the disciples in Matthew 8 were doing the Lord’s will, and they still suffered near disaster. What gives, God?
This is the great question of Christians: I did everything right, so why am I suffering? I know that Jonah fled from the will of the Lord, and he was driven back by the will of God to preach to the Ninivites. But what had the disciples done that this terrible storm came upon them?
The answer is, we don’t know. If we look for God in the chances and changes of this life, all we will find is uncertainty and doubt, “Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish” (Jon. 1:6)
But let’s explore this in what we might say to either Jonah or the disciples. Jonah, though a professed Hebrew “who fears the Lord who made the sea and dry land” (Jon. 1:9) did a very foolish thing by disobeying the Lord’s call. If you read on through chapter 4, you find out that Jonah did it because God doesn’t give people what they deserve. He relents over disaster for those who fear Him. (4:2) He demonstrated this not only for the mariners but also for the people of Nineveh. So, Jonah, if you believe God should give people what they deserve, what would happen if that judgment were applied to you? Do you believe that suicide at the hands of the sailors is the last word God has for you? What is your faith, Jonah?
Jonah, the God you fear and serve is indeed “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” (Jon. 4:2) You did a foolish thing fleeing the presence of the Lord because you disagreed with His ways. But repent of your evil and believe that He is a God gracious and merciful to you also, and His intent has always been to save you from disaster. “He will not always chide, nor will he keep His anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high and the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:9-12)
What would we say to the disciples? Remember, they are following the will of the Lord; they got on the boat in the right direction. Yet, disaster still visited them. The fishing boat is being swamped by the waves, and even worse, Jesus is the one sleeping this time. They wake him with a prayer: “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!”
Peter, James, John, and the rest, who do you have in the boat with you? Jesus awakens with a question, “Why are you afraid; O you of little faith?” You rightly fear the God who made the sea and dry land. You are right to call on Him to save you. But why are you afraid? Won’t He will care for and protect you as much on the sea as on the dry land? Why do you fear this circumstance more than the God who made heaven and earth?
What is your faith and where is your faith? They’re both important questions to ask, especially, if like Jonah, we’re called to be witnesses of this God and Savior. We learn what our faith is when we are exposed as sinners and have to learn anew who God reveals Himself to be. True knowledge of the Gospel is not learned by memorizing doctrines and Bible passages in confirmation class—no matter how demanding your pastor was; it’s “taught by the Holy Spirit and the school of experience” as one pastor put it. That means you need to be made a real sinner before you can know a God, gracious and merciful.
The other question is, once we poor sinners know a gracious and merciful God, what does that look like in the dangers and disasters we face in life? What did we confess in the Creed? “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” It does no good to compartmentalize where God works—whether sea or dry land, on Sunday morning or five minutes before closing when your supervisor tells you you’re being laid off. The God who made both visible and invisible is also our strong defense against all spiritual dangers. “The waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below” as much as the demons obeyed when He commanded them. This is the God who holds your life at every moment! Repent of your little faith and the fruit of fear it bears!
What damage can be done to our calling as disciples by little faith. Through fear of temporal things—the church running out of money, the lies of the devil and the narrative of the world gaining ground, the future of the nation in which we live. All of these things are temporal, and we believe in theory that they’re all going to pass away. But God help us to believe His holy Word, that He cares for us and gives us and the whole world our daily bread.
In the boat, it was not time for Jesus or His disciples to die. But the time came when this same Jesus, fully man and fully God, was offered up on account of your sins and those of the whole world, that whoever believes in Him should not cry, “We are perishing,” but have forgiveness and eternal life.
Take a moment to let these words soak into your heart again: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matt. 10:28-31)
God revealed His will
to Jonah—go and preach to these pagans so that they might be saved. And they were. So was Jonah, perhaps the biggest unbeliever
of the book until the end. He revealed
His power to the disciples in calming the stormy sea. But the lesson for both is that God’s saving
purpose will be done, even if for the moment it looks like He’s changed His
mind. Every person who believes in Him,
He chose from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3-6), and as God does
not lie, we can be sure that “nothing in
all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”
(Rom. 8:39) This is not a license to put
our faith to the test, but a reason to fear the God who made the sea and dry
land, who is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in
steadfast love, and relents from disaster; through Jesus Christ. Amen.
 C.F.W. Walther, “Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel” Thesis III. http://lutherantheology.com/uploads/works/walther/LG
 “Be Still, My Soul” (LSB 752, st. 2)
A radical idea from the Founding Fathers that still works today
Since 1993, the president has formally recognized January 16th as Religious Freedom Day. The day marks the anniversary of the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which cut formal ties between the Church of England and the state of Virginia.
In an age of hyper-partisanship, Religious Freedom Day offers all Americans — religious and nonreligious — an opportunity to celebrate and renew our commitment to safeguarding principles we have historically agreed on: religious liberty and conscience protection.
Drafted by Thomas Jefferson and passed into law in 1786, the Virginia Statute disestablished the state church, abolished parish taxes, and protected the civil rights of citizens to express their religious beliefs without fear of censure or reprisal. A precursor to the First Amendment, the Virginia law recognized the pursuit of religious truth as a basic human good and acknowledged that citizens should be free to live out their faith without imposition from the government. The law also anticipated Article 6 of the Constitution, which states that there “shall be no religious test” for anyone seeking to serve in public office.
Because religious freedom is largely taken for granted today, it is easy to forget the radical nature of Jefferson’s proposal when he first made it 233 years ago. At a time when cuius regio, eius religio (Latin for “whose realm, his religion”) was still the dominant way of conceiving the relationship between church and state, Jefferson argued that religion is inherently an interior matter between an individual and God and that consequently, faith cannot be coerced. The state has no business interfering with man’s quest for religious truth because God, not the state, is Lord of the conscience.
Moreover, true faith requires sincere adherence to specific doctrines. The state cannot force anyone to believe. While people may feign belief to avoid punishment, the state can never effect genuine belief at the level of conscience. Therefore, civil authorities should allow the free flow of religious opinions and use persuasion, not coercion, to encourage belief in God.
Historically, America’s commitment to religious freedom has enjoyed broad support. In fact, in 1993, when the issue was again brought to the nation’s attention by the Supreme Court’s decision in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), Congress responded by passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) with a bipartisan consensus. Then-Congressman Charles Schumer drafted the House bill. In the Senate, the bill was introduced by Ted Kennedy (D., Mass.). The law passed unanimously in the House of Representatives and by a vote of 97-3 in the U.S. Senate and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
Article accessed from http://www.nationalreview.com/2019/01/religious-freedom-day-vital-founding-principle/ on January 16, 2019. Our congregation does not have any affiliation with or endorsement of this news source.
LSB 655 Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word is a children’s hymn that Martin Luther composed in 1541-42. At that time, the Evangelical (later called Lutheran) church was under ongoing threat by those loyal to the pope. In addition, the advancement of the Turks into the region of Budapest brought war to the eastern border of the Empire. In the original text of stanza 1, we beseech God to “curb the Turks’ and papists’ sword” (later a more general and mild “by deceit or sword”) so that the Gospel of Christ may be preached and believed in spite of its devilish enemies.
LSB 496 Holy Spirit, Light Divine was written in 1817 by Dr. Andrew Reed in London. During his ministry in the Congregational church, Dr. Reed had a heart for orphans and the mentally ill. This hymn was penned as a prayer to the Holy Spirit, who alone can enlighten the darkness of our guilty hearts and sanctify us to fully know and trust in Jesus Christ.
TLH 650 Joseph Grigg was a Presbyterian pastor in London and composed this hymn in 1765. Behold, a Stranger at the Door, based on Revelation 3:20 expands on the Lord Jesus’ call for spiritual renewal and perseverance within His Church. Aware of how easy it is for us sinners to become spiritual indifferent and not pay attention to our Shepherd’s voice, this hymn rather bluntly admonishes us to realize this and repent of it, and then to be forgiven and renewed in devoted serve to our Lord and Savior.
LSB 718 Jesus, Lead Thou On, composed in 1721, has long been a favorite among Lutheran Christians. Nicolaus von Zinzendorf, its composer, was born of royalty and had strong roots in the Pietist revival movement in Halle, Germany. He zealously left everything to become a missionary and travelled around Europe, the British Isles, and America. Although during his lifetime, von Zinzendorf caused trouble by inserting himself into established congregations, he left a beneficial legacy of several hymns and spiritual songs.
Jerusalem the Golden, written by Benedictine monk, Bernard of Cluny (France), echoesthe hope of all the faithful. Based on visions from Revelation 21 and 7, “we know not what joys await us there,” but it will be our eternal Sabbath rest andhome with our God.
In Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones, we sing of the angel hosts of heaven (Eph. 1:19-21, 6:12; Col. 1:16), whom we are privileged to join in adoration and praise of God. The Lord’s Supper is a foretaste of the Feast in Revelation 19, therefore the preface says, “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven…”
For All the Saints, though a relatively recent hymn (19th century), depicts the great cloud of witnesses with which we are surrounded (Heb. 12:1-2). On earth, the church “feebly struggles; they in glory shine,” but though hidden from our eyes for now, the same hope awaits all who have hoped in Christ in every generation.
Onward Christian Soldiers, an American favorite, emboldens us for the journey and spiritual warfare that still await us in this present world. Our victory over sin, death, and the devil belong to our Lord, and He calls us to follow Him as His cross goes before us. (Exod. 14:13)
24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26)
I mentioned in the sermon on Sunday that it’s dangerous for a person to be baptized without being part of a congregation because it paints a big target on their back for the devil to attack them. I wanted to elaborate on that more.
In Baptism, there is necessarily an exorcism, a casting out of all evil spirit as the Holy Spirit enters in. Martin Luther’s 1526 baptismal rite actually begins very boldly, “Depart, O unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit.” In the more familiar rite, this is what’s happening with the threefold renunciation of the devil (“Do you renounce the devil…all his works…all his ways?).
Well, once a person has had an evil spirit driven out, it’s necessary for the Holy Spirit to take residence in the heart and create and sustain faith. But what happens to the person who is baptized, but does not stay in the Christian community around the Word of God?
This issue is personal for me, because I was brought to the saving waters of Baptism, but my parents rejected subsequent invitations to worship. Whatever faith the Holy Spirit had created in my heart eventually died because my discipleship was stunted (remember Jesus commands not only Baptism but also teaching in Matthew 28:19-20). The result was I became a rank unbeliever and was even adverse toward the Christian faith. For 23 years, my last state was worse than the first because I had lost the treasure delivered to me in Baptism and Satan sifted me like wheat.
Despite the sinful will and the devil’s evil plans for me, my Good Shepherd brought me back to the faith of my Baptism. But it was rough going and I now bear the scars of a Christian who spent years under the devil’s sway. The message for parents of baptized children who don’t go to church is get them into the holy ark of the Christian Church at all costs. I mean, if you will drive them to dance, soccer, and Boy Scouts for their social and physical development, why not on Sunday morning drive them (or have a relative get them) to church for their eternal welfare. Don’t put the Lord to the test. Who knows? You might even be saved along with them.
The point which the Lord makes, and which I was trying to convey in the sermon, is how profound Baptism is, and what an enemy the devil is. It’s not safe out there in the world, and the baptized believer needs a community in which they are regularly renewed and prayed for. Keep praying for your baptized, yet unchurched relatives. I had people praying for me and I didn’t even know it. Remember that Jesus is the Stronger Man who is able to cast out Satan and make room once again for His Holy Spirit. Thy Kingdom come, Lord. Amen.
 Acts 2:38, Ephesians 2:8
From the Pastor: Lead Us Not Into Temptation
We are familiar with this prayer, because the Lord taught it to us. But what are we really asking for? Is there a chance that God actually would carry us into temptation?
Luther explained it well in the Small Catechism: “God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.”
Jesus teaches us to pray this, because He knows that there will be no shortage of temptation for Christians. “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!” “See that you are not led astray!” “Watch and pray!”
But these temptations are not always easy to identify. It’s not like a devil appears with a pitchfork and a pointy tail and sits on your shoulder like in the cartoons. Satan comes into your day to day life to tempt you. Most often, he tempts you, not with obvious blasphemy and sin, but with doubts and reasonable-sounding arguments.
Each of us has times when Satan will offer a substitute for God’s clear command. The Word of the Lord says that we should love our enemies and do good to those who abuse us (Luke 6:27-28), but there are so many reasons why some people don’t deserve the time of day from us. God tells us that we should give back to Him a portion of what He gives us (Malachi 3:8-10; 2 Corinthians 9:6-10), but boy if our budgets look tight and it sure is hard to give with so many demands on our limited income.
Christian congregations as a whole are also under attack. Satan would have us exchange the truth of God for what seems to “get results.” He puts the lie in our heads that church is about the externals: the building, the music, and how many pews are filled. When Satan is at work, the things which God actually commands—being salt and light to our neighbors (Matt. 5:13-16), giving to missions (2 Cor. 8:1-7), and providing a living for the pastor (Galatians 6:6-8)—are sacrificed in the name of what’s more appealing. Thus Satan subtly turns our eyes (and our prayers) from God, and worries a congregation about “keeping the doors open.” The devil would have us believe the life of a congregation runs under human power.
Pastors, too, are tempted in a variety of ways. Remember that the devil’s goal is to get them out of the pulpit or make their word ineffectual. So, Satan attacks pastors’ families and is quick to point out the pastor’s inadequacies. He points out all the places that their sowing seems to only sprout weeds or die. He plays the gripes and grumbles of people on repeat in the pastor’s head and is sure to connect every departed member with something the pastor did wrong.
Beloved in the Lord, this is honestly what we’re up against. Satan is an enemy too powerful for any of us, yet One fights for us who holds the victory. Jesus is our great Deliverer who crushes the Ancient Serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15, Rev. 20:2-3). Therefore, pray that He would defend you, your congregation, and your pastor against such spiritual assaults. And the Almighty Lord will come quickly to your aid!
“Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.” Amen, Lord! Yes, yes, it shall be so!
 Matthew 18:7; Luke 21:8; Matthew 26:41
Come to Bethlehem and see Him whose birth the angels sing!
Sunday, December 24th
10:30 AM – Sunday Worship (4th Sunday in Advent)
7:00 PM – Christmas Eve Candlelight Service
Monday, December 25th
10:00 AM – Christmas Day Divine Service
Special 3-Part Sermon on the words of the Nicene Creed: “Who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man.”
Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Second Sunday in Advent + December 10, 2017
Text: Luke 21:25-36
Let’s be honest, the things described in the end times are scary! They make even the worst terrorist attack seem like a hiccup, because it’s not just going to be in one city or a few cities. It’s going to be worldwide, with even frightful signs in the heavens above.
Then, they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Game over. No more second chances, no more putting off turning to Jesus. For those who have despised the Lord Jesus as Savior, they will say to the mountains, “Cover us,” and to the hills, “Fall on us.” Yet, for those who love the Lord, “Straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Fear about the Lord’s second coming is a real thing. Here are some things we’re afraid of:
We want there to be a easier way. When we go to Portland, and there’s a big line of cars backed up, we want to be in the car with that person who knows a back road. If we’re buying a car or a TV, we want to be that guy who gets a great deal on it. Perhaps the end times is something like this. Maybe there’s a secret code to unlock that will help us sail through without batting an eye. What’s the significance of “the time of the Gentiles” in verse 24, or maybe there’s a special sign of the fig tree that other people will miss. When it comes to tribulation and distress, we want to have an exempt card. This is the method of the apocalyptic cults who gather around their leader, hoping the Lord will notice their astuteness while the rest of the world burns.
Well even if there isn’t a secret code of the end times to decrypt, we’re still afraid that faith won’t hold out. After all, life is long and the end of the world seems so far off. Everyone so far who has hoped for a short period until Jesus’ return has been disappointed. We fear for our children as they grow up, that they would persevere in the faith. We fear for those who we know used to go to church but now have more pressing things to do with their life. We fear for the countless numbers of souls who have never heard the Gospel—even in our own country. Out of fear, people come up with complicated scenarios about the Last Days.
It’s also possible you’re afraid you don’t have what it takes to make the grade in the end. Are you afraid that faith is not enough? It sounds too easy to say that a person is “saved by grace through faith and this is not our own doing; it is the gift of God.” It sounds too simple, too easy. It must take something more! After all, your eternal destiny rests on whether you’ve got this right. Maybe we should take a popular vote, and see what the majority of people think (kind of like we depend on star ratings for buying products). The trouble you’ll find is the majority of humanity agrees faith isn’t enough. The majority say you must add some effort of your own on the road to salvation. But what could be better than a fellow sinner’s opinion? God’s Word, and He would not and will not deceive us.
What would be most helpful is to read this as a believer and child of God. Listen to how your Lord speaks of nearness: “Your redemption is drawing near…you know that the kingdom of God is near.” The nearness of the Son of Man and His Kingdom is good news, right? He is near, not in the sense of time or distance, but of divine presence. He is intimately joined to His people on earth: He shares your flesh and He knows your weakness. He has made the all-atoning sacrifice on the cross, so that He, though holy and exalted, can dwell with you and bear you up. The children of Israel in the wilderness had God’s presence in the glory cloud, but a believer has His very Spirit dwelling within their body! He is near to you with His creative, renewing, and sanctifying Word. He is near you with the assurance of grace and sonship that He made to you in Baptism, and He is near you when you eat and drink His Holy Body and Blood. Truly his last words in Matthew’s Gospel were not a lie: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Here’s an interesting observation: Those who are most afraid and fixate the most on the End Times are those who also reject the power of the Means of Grace. Along with a lopsided view of Revelation as the code to world history, not one of them teaches the efficacy of Baptism. Not one of them confesses the authority of the Absolution for forgive sins on earth. Not one believers in the bodily presence of the risen and ascended Lord in the Sacrament. For many, the Bible is more information about God than the realized story of God dwelling with sinners and making them His children. But where the Sacraments are, there is the divine presence of the Lord with His people. And where the Lord is, there is freedom, and there is His abiding peace—even in the midst of turmoil in the world.
But there is a warning for believers, lest they wrap themselves up in a warm blanket of delusion. 34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” There is a very real danger for Christians to grow indifferent while we wait for the Lord’s return.
Certainly it could come in the form of drifting away from church and losing your faith. That’s the obvious one that we can see with our eyes. Plus, it makes us more comfortable to think that we can draw lines on where Jesus is going to find His sheep versus His goats.
But even more dangerous is the unbeliever who sits in the pew every Sunday! This is the Christian who comes to church and goes to Bible study just out of habit. They listen for the pastor to say the right things—Ah! There he talked about sin! Wow! I’m glad he mentioned that one! Oh good he ended by talking about Jesus, so I can go home with a happy heart. This secure churchgoer is more interested in the social benefits that church membership gives—a shoulder to cry on, group activities, and a discounted rental hall.
But when the Lord comes back in glory, these people will be caught off-guard because it will become shockingly apparent that their life of repentance and faith was only lip service. The Word of God did not touch their hearts so that they felt true terror over their sins and instead took the cross as God’s free pass.
If that scared you, Good! It should. Each of us should look in the mirror of God’s Word and be afraid of persevering in the faith. Remaining a Christian in these Last Days is no human accomplishment. We cannot do it, but for God’s grace through the Holy Spirit.
“36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
As we approach Christmas, we ought to all live in a healthy fear of God. The God who came in the flesh is not the mild illustration which adorns our Christmas cards. He is almighty! He Is holy! But it is His will for you to stand before Him redeemed on that Day. Pray that your almighty, holy Savior would give you strength, purge away your sloth, and keep His Word in your heart throughout this life. This is a prayer He delights to answer, because it is the very reason He came in the flesh.
Will it be easy or smooth? Not likely. Will there be scary moments as time draws to a close? Definitely not. But your God and Savior loves you and He is faithful. “23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” Amen.
 Luke 23:30
 Ephesians 2:8-9
 Matthew 28:20
 Matthew 25:33
 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
On August 29 of this year, a group of conservative Christian leaders released a biblical statement about LGBT matters called the Nashville Statement. A little over a day later, a dissenting group who is strongly in favor of LGBT inclusion in the Christian Church released a statement under the name Christians United.
The Church has but one weapon with which to wage war–the Word of God. Personal attacks and slander are irrelevant and don’t truly bring people around to a God-fearing understanding (James 1:20).
So, I offer this Scriptural critique of just the preamble to the Christians United statement, to better understand the arguments that are being made in favor of “alternative sexualities and genders” under the Name of God.
A note on the choice of the featured image: Ever since the first temptation in the Garden of Eden, the Word of God has been used as a playing card in people’s agendas. Greedy televangelists twist it to explain why you should send them money. Politicians use Bible quotes to give epic weight to their platforms and policy choices. The LGBT inclusion movement is no exception. Their agenda is to live the life they want, so they read the Bible insofar as it supports their goals. This a deeply dishonest way to regard the Word of the Living God. May the true Holy Spirit who calls us to repentance for our dark deeds and enlightens us to hear the Bible as God’s Word work in their hearts before it is too late.