"Thanks be to God for the Victory!" 2 Corinthians 2:14
It’s fall sports playoff and championship season this month. The majority of teams have already or will soon have their seasons come to a bitter end. But for one team and its members, this month will be a very exciting one. After a hard fought battle, they will come out the victor. They will achieve the championship!
Very often the coach or a heroic standout player or two will be hoisted on his/her teammates’ shoulders and paraded around the field. Depending on the type of victory and the character of the town, a parade may soon follow. The entire team will be led through the town in celebration of its victory. Police may escort them. The mayor may congratulate them. Smiles, cheers and joy surround them. Victory is sweet! The celebration is on!
Picture yourself in the middle of that celebration . . . as the focus of that celebration. Not just for a moment or a day, but every moment of every day! By virtue of being on Team Christ through faith in him, “God always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ.”
Do you always feel that you are being paraded around as the victor? Do you consider yourself to be (as the Bible calls you) “more than conquerors through him who loved us”? (Romans 8:37)
Or are you struggling to find reasons to be thankful this Thanksgiving season? Has the devil convinced you that you have lost at the game of life;that God has disregarded you? Do you feel defeated, neglected, cheated?
Think again! Jesus has defeated your opponents, sin, death, Satan and hell. He’s won the victory! He’s done this for you! By his death and resurrection Jesus has “destroyed him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15). Jesus is on your team and he “gives us the victory!” (I Corinthians 15:57) He “divides the spoils with the strong” (Isaiah 53:12). He gives us his love, forgiveness for our sins, answers to our prayers, his strength to help us overcome sin and temptation, and protection and providence in our lives. One day – at the end of this particular parade route called life – he will give us the place he’s prepared for us to enjoy with him in heaven. “I am going there to prepare a place for you. . . . I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3).
So be thankful. Celebrate God’ gracious goodness to you in Jesus. This Thanksgiving let “thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ.”
Serving Jesus by serving you,
Pastor Matt Vogt
"Be Still and Know that I am God" Psalm 46:10
Have you had enough of the wind yet? It’s spring in the desert, which means lots of windy days, blowing trash and dust, and – for many – horrible allergies. A gentle breeze is one thing; especially as the days get warmer a gentle breeze is welcome. But high winds are annoying (bad hair days!) and even destructive. Imagine having the power to calm the wind at will!
Jesus had that kind of power. On more than one occasion Jesus was in a boat with his frightened disciples while the wind was kicking up quite the storm around them. Many of them had spent a good portion of their lives out on the water as fishermen. But these particular winds were extraordinarily strong and the waves extraordinarily fierce. Jesus calmed his disciples’ fear by calming the wind and the waves. He did both by a simple command, simply by the power of his word: “Quiet! Be still!” Like a parent to a child or a dog owner to his/her pet, Jesus “rebuked the wind.” “Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (Mark 4:39).
Imagine the look on the disciples’ faces. Not just the moment the wind calmed down just like that at the simple command of Jesus, but also when Jesus asked them the question: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 5:40) Jesus – the Son of God, Ruler over all creation – was with them. They knew who he was and what he was capable of. God had given them the faith (and more than enough evidence to base their faith upon) to trust Jesus. Even while the storm was raging, what did they have to be afraid of?
We, too, have been given the gift of faith. Faith, by definition, is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Even in the midst of the storms of life, we have reason to enjoy peace. We know who Jesus is and what he’s capable of. We have more than enough evidence and promises upon which to build our faith in Jesus. We know that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given” to him (Matthew 28:18). We know that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). We know Jesus loves us, forgives us, has saved us and promises to watch over us. So why are we ever so afraid?
“Be still!” Jesus said to the wind whipping around the disciples. “Be still!” Jesus says to us throughout his Word. “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). “Let not your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1). “God is love. There is no fear in love” (I John 4:16,18). “Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me” (Psalm 50:15). “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
Whether the raging wind and fierce waves come in the form of a terminal illness, the loss of a job, family instability, unexpected change, or an uncertain future, let not your heart be troubled. Do not fear. Peace be with you. Jesus is your all-powerful, ever-compassionate, all-knowing, completely caring and understanding Savior God. Trust him in all things, and be still.
In Christ’s love,
Pastor Matt Vogt
The Power of the Resurrection Philippians 3:10
I recently heard someone share the story of a friend of theirs who was completely flabbergasted trying to get power to their home entertainment equipment. This was an otherwise intelligent, professional individual. But this person could not – for the life of her – figure out why the power strip into which she had plugged all the other components wasn’t getting power. Come to find out, she was plugging the power cord for the power strip back into itself!
Power strips don’t work that way. A power strip doesn’t contain within itself any power of its own. A power strip must be plugged into a source of power, from which it draws power and then passes that power on to other items plugged into it.
The Lord – our Creator and Savior God – has designed us much the same way. We have no power within ourselves to do either ourselves or anyone else any good. Jesus once said, “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. . . . I am the vine. You are the branches. Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). The Bible uses terms like “dead” and “powerless” and phrases like “nothing good lives in me” to describe our natural spiritual condition apart from Christ. “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one,” the Bible declares (Romans 3:12).
However, like hundreds of volts of electricity charging through an electrical outlet, the resurrected Jesus gives life to our souls! His powerful, forgiving, saving love awakens life and love and strength within us! It empowers us to live for him and do good to others! Jesus’ defeat of death gives us power over sin and temptation and enlivens us to serve God with energy and conviction! “Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4).
Far too many struggle through life without energy, without purpose, without drive. Perhaps you, too, feel yourself running out of energy, lacking enthusiasm, feeling physically spent, emotionally exhausted, and spiritually drained. You try to muster up the strength within yourself to keep going. You attempt to search within your own heart and mind for a reason to care. You look to your family or the glory years and successes of the past in an attempt to find some source of motivation, but keep coming up empty.
Do you understand why the apostle Paul so passionately cried out: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection!”? Having defeated death for us, our Savior now lives to strengthen and empower us. Daily he makes us alive and energizes us with his forgiving, saving love. He “works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). He gives us peace in our struggles and the energy to fight on. Jesus’ sacrifice inspires us to make sacrifices for him and for others. The promise of our own resurrection and the guarantee of eternal life through faith in Christ motivates us to make the most of every opportunity each step of the way along that path to heaven.
Do you need your batteries recharged? Do you find yourself dragging a bit? Do you need something to get you motivated? Join us this Easter season! Get to know Christ and the power of his resurrection!
In Christ’s powerful love,
Pastor Matt Vogt
A Lesson for Life
I once learned a life lesson from a rather odd source. As a teenager growing up in downtown Lansing, MI, I would train for football running the streets around my house and near the capitol building. Once, having just completed a grueling training session, I spit saliva out of my mouth onto the sidewalk beneath me. Just at that moment a homeless man walked by who said to me, “I’ve learned one lesson in life . . . spit in the grass.” As you can imagine, I was humbled a bit and took this lesson in common courtesy to heart. To this day I haven’t spit on a sidewalk or pavement again.
The Scripture reference above is a lesson meant to be taken to heart by each one of us . . . a lesson which is taught by a rather odd source. They are the words of a once-hardened criminal in the midst of his execution. As he suffered the due penalty for his life of crime, he witnessed the gospel being played out in front of him. He saw the Son of God hanging from the cross, as was he. He heard Jesus pray to his heavenly Father words of intercession for his executioners: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” That gospel message in which lies the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes was being written before his very eyes. And as he does with the written message in the Word for us today, the Holy Spirit did for this criminal crucified next to Jesus that day . . . he worked repentance and saving faith in his heart.
It was from that heart of faith that the following words were spoken: “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong. . . . Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:41-42).
Within those words we find a lesson for life . . . true, lasting, eternal life. In a word it is repentance. It starts with an honest understanding, ownership and confession of one’s sins. It’s about being sorry to God for the wrong you’ve done and admitting you truly and fully deserve whatever punishment he feels your wrong deserves. Like the criminal, our crimes against the law and will of God are deserving of death, even eternal death.
But it also includes turning to Jesus, as did this criminal, and looking to him for forgiveness, salvation and eternal life. It includes trusting that Jesus lived a perfectly innocent, sin-free life in your place and then offered his sinless self on the cross as the perfect sacrifice and payment for your sins. It includes trusting that Jesus’ speaking up on your behalf and in your defense is all it takes for you to be guaranteed a welcome into his heavenly Father’s kingdom. It includes taking to heart in faith the assurance offered by Jesus to the criminal that day: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
It certainly takes humility to accept such a lesson from such a source. But if you do, you will have learned a lesson that will serve you well not only throughout this life but also for the life to come!
In Christ’s love,
Pastor Matt Vogt
Thanksgiving Psalm 118:1
Out of roughly two hundred countries in the entire world, only eight have a national holiday commemorated to giving thanks: USA, Canada, Germany, Grenada, Japan, Liberia, The Netherlands, and the Australian territory of Norfolk Island. All of them except Germany and Grenada inherited their thanksgiving festival from America in some fashion. Having a national day of thanks toward friends, family members, and the God who gives all blessings is something Americans can be proud of.
But one day out of the year to thank God and others really isn't enough is it? Are you proud of the number of times you say “thank you” on the other 364 days out of the year? According to the UK's Daily Mail, the average person says “thank you,” about 5,000 times in a single year.
That works out to a little more than thirteen times per day. Although that may seem like a respectable number, look a little deeper. How many times do we say “thank you” when our hearts aren't really in it?
We may find it easier to be thankful during the big moments of our lives: when you get accepted into a university, when you land a new job, when you find and marry your spouse, or when your child is born. But even then, do you find that you give yourself most of the credit, doling out just enough thanks to keep up polite appearances? And what about all the small blessings you experience everyday—blessings like a roof over your head, food on the table, safety on the highway, and the love of family and friends? Do you really express the appropriate thanks toward the loving God who takes care of you daily in every single way? Together with the psalmist, you and I must admit, “We have sinned … we have done wrong and acted wickedly” (Psalm 106:6).
Yet here is something to be thankful for: even though you and I have been ungrateful toward our loving God and toward those around us, he did not hold back his love toward us. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). No act of thankfulness or praise on our behalf moved the Lord to save our very souls. It was purely out of his love for us. It was purely because “he is good” (Psalm 118:1). When we were helpless to do anything about our spiritual condition, the Lord came to our rescue. “In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free” (Psalm 118:5).
Yes! Free! By Jesus' sacrifice on the cross you have been set free from sin and free from death. This freedom from God is yours, every single day and for all eternity, because “his love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1). Joining voices with the psalmist once more, you can shout, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation” (Psalm 118:14).
Living in the freedom Jesus won for you, living by the power he has given you, what other response could possibly exist but thanksgiving? “You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you” (Psalm 118:28). Join us at our Thanksgiving Eve service this month for a special opportunity to “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1). It's the perfect occasion to express that thankfulness and gratitude in your heart for sins forgiven, freedom from death, and the joy of eternal life in Jesus.
Serving Jesus by serving you,
Vicar Ben Steenbock
1 Naida Gilani, “Why We Don't Say Thank You Any More - It's Now Cheers, Fab or Cool,” Daily Mail, November 24, 2011, accessed October 26, 2013, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2065313/Thank-replaced-cheers-fab-cool.html.
I John 4:18
Do you remember standing in line staring at the roller coaster towering above you terrified at the prospect of taking its twists and turns, only to walk away from the ride moments later with a huge smile on your face shouting, “Let’s do it again!”?
Do you recall standing at the edge of the diving board and staring into the deep end of the pool terrified at the thought of jumping in, only to come up out of the water seconds later and racing to get back to the front of the line to do it all over again? What a rush! What a blast! What fun! What was I ever afraid of?
Perhaps you recall the first day of school or the first class with that professor who had a reputation for being tough or your first day on the job. You were nervous. You were afraid. But very quickly you came to realize that your fear was unjustified; that it was silly to have ever been afraid.
Sometimes fear is justified. Some people and places are truly dangerous and ought to be avoided at all costs.
But God is not one of them, and neither is his church.
Many people fear God. And certainly, especially in light of our sinful nature and our many wrongdoings, there is much to fear about God. He – in stark contrast to us – is absolutely holy and cannot tolerate even the slightest sin. He hates sin! He is omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipresent (present everywhere all the time), so he knows every sin we commit in our actions, in what we say and even how we think. There’s no hiding from him! He is almighty, which means that if he wanted to he could execute his punishment against us however and whenever he wanted! Yes, there is much to fear about God.
But the Bible reveals to us another side of God. Simply put, “God is love” (I John 4:16). And as it says in I John chapter 4: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (vs.18).
In his undeserved love for us the Lord God took out his just punishment of sin (which the law required) on Jesus instead of on us. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (I John 4:10). As a result, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Since Jesus endured the punishment for our sins in our place, there is no condemnation or punishment for us. And since there is no punishment, there is no fear . . . only love.
It’s not only in fairy tales where fear is proven to be silly. It’s not only in the movies or children’s books that the scary old woman in the spooky house at the end of the street ends up becoming the neighborhood kids’ sweet adopted grandma.
In light of Jesus and the gospel’s saving message, there is nothing to fear about God. Instead, there is much to be enjoyed in a relationship with our Savior-God, who is all love.
Join us for our Festival of Friendship Sunday or any of our worship or Bible study opportunities and come to know the peace of forgiveness, the joy of salvation, and the thrill of an eternal relationship with the Lord.
You’ll want to come back again and again!
Serving Jesus by serving you,
Stand in Awe of God!
Did you travel at all this summer? Did you stand at the base of a towering cliff (perhaps Angels Landing at Zion National Park) or look out from the top of a majestic mountain (perhaps Mount Charleston or Olympia or the Rockies)? Did you hear an impressive clap of thunder or witness the power of the wind or waves? Did you see some rather amazing feats of human strength or agility or catch an impressive car race or air show? Did you have an opportunity to step away from the ordinary and witness the extraordinary? Something that made your jaw drop, made you scratch your head in amazement, caused you to stop and stare in awe? Something amazing, something inspiring, something awesome?!!
“You need to see this!” says King Solomon. None have been as wise, few have been as wealthy or powerful as Solomon, a man who had it all, experienced it all.
Tucked deep within the pages of the Old Testament Scriptures, in a rather unfamiliar book called Ecclesiastes (penned by Solomon), is this simple command: “Stand in awe of God!” While the command itself may be tucked away a bit, the reason for such awe of God - and the fact that he is awesome - fills the entirety of the Bible.
The Psalmist comes right out and says it: “You are awesome, O God!” (Psalm 68:35) The almighty LORD God is not merely awesome in glory or majesty or might, but awesome in what he does. “Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds!’ . . . Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works in man’s behalf!” (Psalm 66:3,5)
From creation to salvation; from parting the waters of the Red Sea to walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee; from raising the dead back to life to raising those dead in transgressions and sins to spiritual and eternal life; from providing daily bread for our bodies to providing a spiritual banquet for the soul in his Word and Sacraments; from shutting the mouths of lions to opening the ears and mouths of those once dumb and mute; from conquering Canaan to conquering hell; from defeating Goliath to defeating the devil; from knocking down the walls of Jericho to knocking down the barriers of sin and pride once separating us from God; from cleansing the lepers of their disease to cleansing us of the filth and guilt of our sins through the washing of water and the Word in baptism; from his death upon the cross to delivering death’s death blow on Easter Sunday morning; from settling his people, Israel, in the Promised Land to settling us, his people by faith in Christ, in the promised land of heaven one day; from loving us to forgiving us to providing for us to saving us. The LORD, our God, is an awesome God!
Open the Bible and get to know him. You’ll be impressed by him. You’ll stand in awe of him.
Serving Jesus by serving you,
Summer is winding down and the back-to-school sales are upon us. There are supplies and clothes to buy. It’s the last chance for summer vacations and the kids won’t be able to sleep in anymore. School is just around the corner.
Now that parents and their children have grown used to the (hopefully) relaxed schedule of summer vacation going back to school is going to be difficult. Maybe you’re sending your child to the first grade or to the first year of college. Either way, it can be a tough transition.
It’s called “separation anxiety.” God made us to be social creatures and we like to be around our loved ones. So we get sad when our different situations separate us from our loved ones.
Do you ever experience separation anxiety?
I’m not talking about when you drop your kid off at school for the first time. I mean, do you ever feel separated from your God? He makes all kinds of promises. He says he loves you and that he’ll never leave you. He says he’s powerful and he knows all about you. But then life happens & it doesn’t seem like he’s around.
We experience this anxiety because, unfortunately, we are separated from our God. “Your iniquities have separated you from your God.” Says Isaiah. You have sinned. You haven’t done what you’re supposed to do and
that sin eats at you and sickens your soul and makes you feel like your God is so far away.
But Jesus changed all that.
He fixed that broken relationship that we had with God. He won for us a new friend that really will never leave us nor forsake us.
I think we’ve all experienced some sort of Christian separation anxiety in our lives. And as long as we’re here on earth the Devil will try to separate us from our God. Have you lost your job? Is your health failing? Is a loved one suffering? Does it seem like all your friends have abandoned you? Is this suffering what being a Christian is all about?
Your sin, your suffering, your situation all seem to try and separate you from your God. The apostle Paul knows that feeling and he wants you to know that nothing can separate you from your God.
Forget about separation anxiety. Going back to school isn’t that big of a deal. You’ve got the love of God, shown to you in Jesus. There’s nothing to fear because nothing can separate you from that.