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Saturday, June 28, 2008

T.G.I.F. MUSIC VIDEO!!
Hey, everyone!

I just finished my first ever music video! Please check it out and let me know what you think!

Thanks!

Steve

9:41 am edt

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

ORDER OUT OF CHAOS

Rev. Steven S. Billings
Trinity Sunday
Sermon
5-18-2008

Genesis 1:1-2:3

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 And the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. 3 Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. 6 Then God said, "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." 7 And God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. 8 And God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. 9 Then God said, "Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear"; and it was so. 10 And God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas; and God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, "Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, with seed in them, on the earth"; and it was so. 12 And the earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, a third day. 14 Then God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth"; and it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. 17 And God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day. 20 Then God said, "Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens." 21 And God created the great sea monsters, and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth." 23 And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day. 24 Then God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind"; and it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good. 26 Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." 27 And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 And God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth." 29 Then God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; 30 and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food"; and it was so. 31 And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. 1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. 2 And by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

Have you ever tried to imagine what the world was like just after God created it? It's described for us by the terms "without form" and "void." We read that the land and water were not yet separated from each other and that there was no life of any kind on the earth.

The surface of the earth today is about two thirds water. Mix that together with the one third that is land, and you know what you have? Mud - thick, slimy mud. That's what the earth was like at the beginning: a vast quagmire, neither land nor water, and over it all was darkness so thick that, even if there had been an eye to see, it couldn't possibly have penetrated that blackness.

You and I might have discarded a lump of mud and darkness like that, but not God; for right in the middle of this picture we see the Spirit of God.

Now, the word used here to describe what the Spirit was doing is used elsewhere to refer to a bird hovering over its nest. What a thought! Only the all-seeing eye of God could penetrate the darkness and see the potential for life lying in this shapeless ball of mud. Only the mind of God could envision the world as we know it.

We see a useless bundle of sticks and straw; God sees a nest to serve as a cradle for new life. There, in the beginning, the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters, ready to give life to this world.

"Chaos and darkness" might well describe the outlook of the disciples as Pentecost approached. Their plans for carrying out the task their Master had given them, namely, to go out and evangelize the world, were "without form and void." In spite of all the instruction Jesus gave them, they still, on the day of His ascension, asked Him: "Lord, will You at this time restore again the kingdom of Israel?" They were a confused, uncertain, frightened little group with little faith and less vision to accomplish the stupendous task of revolutionizing the world in which they lived and to conquer the mightiest empire the world had ever produced.

I wonder . . . would you have considered this a hopeless prospect? To our eyes, I suppose, it would seem that way. But here again we see the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the deep. God saw beyond the immediate present and knew the potential of that little crew. Here was the cradle of the kingdom of God; here was the seed to be scattered by the whirlwind of Pentecost. In time it would spring up in every nation upon the earth. So the Spirit of God hovered over the infant church, waiting to give it power and direction.

"Chaos and darkness" is an appropriate picture of our soul as we are by nature. Something happened to mankind when we became infected by sin.

An otherwise gentle and affectionate dog - if infected by rabies - becomes something completely unrecognizable to its family. It becomes savage, uncontrollable, unreasonable - a danger to itself, its master, and even other dogs! The only thing you can do is destroy it before it infects others.

The same was true with us after the fall into sin. Human beings became savage, unloving, unreasonable, dangerous to themselves and others - in a word, enemies of God. The darkness into which we plunged was so deep that no ray of light could penetrate to our soul. And God's efforts to reach us were met with hostility.

Was this a hopeless prospect? We might have thought so, but not God. He saw beyond the chaos of the human soul and beheld the potential for life. He saw both Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained.

When God wanted men to carry the message of Christ to the Jews, He chose a band of rough, uneducated fishermen and equipped them for the task. When He wanted a man to take that message to the Gentiles He chose one who had been the absolute enemy of Jesus Christ - Saul of Tarsus. He met him on the road to Damascus one day, changed his heart, and empowered him with all the gifts he would need. God saw the potential and the Spirit of God hovered over the darkness of Saul's soul, just as He broods over the soul of every lost sinner today.

So what about the world as we know it? Does darkness still shroud its future as densely as it did at the beginning? You bet! Can anyone predict what will happen next year, next week, or even tomorrow? We all know the feeling of uncertainty, don't we. Who's going to be the presidential nominee for the Democrats? Who's going to be the next President of the United States? What's the price of gas going to be a month from now? Will I get to keep my job, or will I be laid off? Will there be a school here next year? If so, what will it look like? Will I or my family be a part of it? If it closes, how many families will leave? Can the congregation survive if we decide to keep it open? Is there any end to the "chaos and darkness" in which we live? In all the uncertainty of life in this world, is there anything that remains constant - I mean besides death and taxes?

One thing does. Wherever there is need, wherever there is confusion, wherever there is doubt and fear, there you will find the Spirit of God - ever present, always hovering - ready to provide guidance and direction, ready to supply whatever we truly need.

In the beginning, the brooding, the waiting, the preparing came to an end. Over that great, black void God said, "Let there be light." And that was all that was needed to accomplish the miracle: the Word of the living God.

God didn't light any fires to create that light; He didn't have to. He simply spoke, and His Word accomplished His purpose. That's how it was for all of creation. The record of each day's activity begins with the same phrase: "And God said," and it came to pass.

Throughout history the work of the Holy Spirit has been accomplished through the Word of God. The Word came to that little band of disciples on the Day of Pentecost; they saw the light and began to speak that Word to others. The Word came to Saul, who at first was blinded by the light, but was filled with the desire to share it.

Down through the centuries we see a virtual marching band, a countless host of those to whom the Word has come, and always it's the power of the living God which makes that Word effective in their lives.

The Word of God is still the means through which the Spirit works today. When a pastor speaks the Word to you, his voice has no power of itself. Fine phrases, clever argumentation, appropriate illustrations, eloquent delivery, these are all useless in accomplishing God's purposes unless the Word of God is spoken. Then all the power of God's Spirit is unleashed. That same God who in the beginning brought light to the darkness by His Word still brings light to darkened hearts through the Gospel.

Of course, it's not just the pastor who is called upon to speak the Word of God. Parents, teachers, church leaders, children - each of us who has received the light of the Gospel has the commission - indeed, the privilege! - to "Go and tell." I daresay, if every one of us here today were reaching out with the Good News of Jesus Christ, as He has called us to do, budget crises would be unheard-of, for our church and school would be overflowing with those who have seen the light.

Before the final judgment comes to pass, the last soul that's possible to be saved must be illuminated with the light of Christ. Maybe somewhere in the world the Spirit of God is brooding over that soul right now. Maybe it's in India or Africa - or maybe it's next door to you. Maybe today or tomorrow or next week someone will speak to that soul and the Word of God will bring it into the light. Maybe that someone will be you. God give you the vision, the knowledge, and the courage to carry His light into the darkness of our world. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

2:10 pm edt

Monday, June 23, 2008

LIVING WATER

Rev. Steven S. Billings
Pentecost Sunday
Sermon
5-11-2008

John 7:37-39a

37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. I suppose you could say this is the birthday of the church. For on this day the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the apostles and their proclamation of the Gospel to all the world began. We call this day Pentecost because of the Jewish festival on which it originally took place.

It was at a different festival, however, that Jesus predicted this day. We see Him at this other feast in today's Gospel.

It was called the feast of Tabernacles, or Booths. It was a week-long festival during which Jews from all over the country came to Jerusalem and lived in tents made of palm leaves. Each day they would gather in the temple area carrying a palm branch in their right hand and a willow branch in their left.

In addition to the usual temple sacrifice, a number of the worshipers would follow a priest to the Pool of Siloam, where he filled a golden pitcher with water and carried it back to the temple. The return of this procession would be signaled by trumpets, and the people would cry out, from Isaiah 12: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Following this, a priestly procession would be led around the altar - once on the first six days of the feast, and then seven times on the seventh day. In conclusion, the water would be poured out on the altar and the steps leading up to the altar, after which would come the responsive chanting of numerous Psalms.

I've told you all this because it is in the context of the pouring of the water that Christ’s words in our text occur.

Picture the scene: There's a large gathering of people in the temple; they have just watched the priest carry the water and pour it out. Then, in a loud voice, Jesus calls out: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” What a powerful image!

Though it's not exactly clear, the passage Jesus is probably referring to is from Ezekiel 47, in which the prophet had a vision of the temple, with water coming out from under it. That flowing water formed a great river that went East toward the Dead Sea. As it emptied into the Dead sea, the prophet says that it “healed” the Sea, and fish could live in it once again.

Now, there's a couple of important points to make before we move on. First of all, in John 2 Jesus identifies Himself as the temple of God. Secondly, the vision of Ezekiel 47 is reflected in the very last chapter of the Bible - Revelation 22 - where we see “the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.”

Follow me now: Water flows from the temple in Ezekiel 47. It flows from the Lamb in Revelation 22. Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is also the Temple, which, when torn down, will be rebuilt in three days. Remember how, when He was on the cross, and He was pierced with a spear, that out of His side flowed water and blood? Do you see? It is from within Christ Himself that the river of life flows.

Now watch this: John points out that what Jesus was referring to was the Holy Spirit. Isn't that interesting?

The Scriptures often speak of the Spirit in watery terms, referring to His being “poured out” or of the "pouring out" of His gifts. For the Apostles, the Holy Spirit was poured out on Pentecost, when flames of fire appeared on their heads. For us, the Holy Spirit is poured out at our baptism - our baptism with water and the Spirit which, in most Lutheran churches, is accomplished through the pouring of water - united with the Word of God - upon the head of the one being baptized. At our baptism God gives us His Spirit and enters into a covenant with us – that His Spirit will create faith in us and keep us in that faith throughout our lives.

I have to stop here for a moment a recognize a vital link between the Holy Spirit and the child being baptized - parents, especially mothers. You mothers had a very key role in introducing your children to their Savior, when you brought them to the font and beamed with joy as your pastor poured the water of Holy Baptism over them - indeed, pouring the very Spirit of Christ over them and into them by the power of the Word of God in and with the water! What a wonderful and marvelous gift you have given to your children! Thank God for mothers who faithfully raise their children in the Christian faith!

The watery analogy of the Holy Spirit helps us in a number of ways, one of which is to come to terms with our desperate need for the Holy Spirit and the life He gives. Just like having water in the desert helps to avoid the threat of death, so it is in the desert of life apart from God. In the desert, if you have no water, guess what - you die! If you are without the Holy Spirit when you depart this world, guess what - you will suffer death for all eternity! For we know that only those who die in the Faith enjoy everlasting life, and that Faith only comes through the work of the Holy Spirit.

How more vivid a picture could we ask for than that vision of the prophet Ezekiel? He saw a valley of bones - old, dead, dry bones - to which God instructed him to prophesy. As he watched, the bones began to come together. Then flesh appeared on them. Amazing! But they didn't live until Ezekiel proclaimed God's Word to them. And when the Spirit entered them through this proclamation they came to life.

Dear friends, in our need - in our thirst - we are little more than dead, dry bones. But the Word of God gives these bones a voice by which we call upon the Spirit of God. As He spoke through the prophet Isaiah: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost” (55:1). Now, doesn't that sound just like our Lord in the temple at the Feast of Tabernacles? “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”

Of course, this is not the only time that Jesus spoke about the Holy Spirit this way. Another time, Jesus spoke with a Samaritan woman about her need for living water. He said to her: “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The picture here is one of water overflowing from its source. The Holy Spirit indeed overflows from Christ and fills us with eternal life. But then that water overflows from within us, filling others, too, as Jesus said: "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."

The Apostles received the Holy Spirit and immediately preached the Gospel to the people around them. And by the power of the Holy Spirit they took that message of Jesus and spoke it to others wherever they went.

You see, there is no reason to be selfish with this message. I mean, it's not the kind of thing that you are in danger of running out of. We needn't hoard it like food in Myanmar. The source of the Spirit is Jesus Christ, and flowing as it does from the mouth of God, how could it ever be used up?

In Ezekiel 47, the river that flowed from the temple was so wide and deep that it could never be exhausted. The same goes for the message of Christ.

The Holy Spirit came to the Apostles that first Pentecost. He also came to those who believed their message that day - so that 3,000 of them came to faith! Throughout history He has been coming to believers, adding millions upon millions to the family of God. He is indeed a river flowing from Christ, a river flowing to this day, a river flowing now to you. Oh, beloved, drink deeply of this water of life! And share it liberally with our thirsty world!

In the fables we hear of people searching for a “fountain of life” that will let them live forever. Out of Christ’s side we have such a fountain - a fountain of eternal life. For those who drink of this living water of the Spirit will indeed live forever. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

10:24 am edt

Thursday, June 19, 2008

THE PRAYING PRIEST

Rev. Steven S. Billings
Easter 7
Sermon
5-4-2008

John 17:1-11

1 These things Jesus spoke; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify Thy Son, that the Son may glorify Thee, 2 even as Thou gavest Him authority over all mankind, that to all whom Thou hast given Him, He may give eternal life. 3 "And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent. 4 "I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do. 5 "And now, glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was. 6 "I manifested Thy name to the men whom Thou gavest Me out of the world; Thine they were, and Thou gavest them to Me, and they have kept Thy word. 7 "Now they have come to know that everything Thou hast given Me is from Thee; 8 for the words which Thou gavest Me I have given to them; and they received them, and truly understood that I came forth from Thee, and they believed that Thou didst send Me. 9 "I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine; 10 and all things that are Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 "And I am no more in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to Thee. Holy Father, keep them in Thy name, the name which Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, even as We are."

We have here a description of one of the most dramatic moments in Holy Scripture - the Lord's High Priestly Prayer.

Jesus had completed celebrating the Last Supper with His disciples, during which He had revealed who His betrayer was, and had instituted the Sacrament of the Altar, which His followers were to continue until the end of time. After this, He spoke His final words of instruction - warning and comforting the remaining apostles whom He was about to leave behind in this world.

Looking at the events following this prayer, we see the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal by Judas, the hearing before the high priest, the beatings of the soldiers, the trial before Pilate, and the crucifixion on Calvary with all its horrors. With all of that in mind, we see Jesus in our text lifting up His eyes to heaven to pray . . . for us.

Oh,
dear friends in Christ, listen to me now and strive to grasp what this means: We have a High Priest who prays for us!

John writes in his first epistle: "If anybody sins, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense, namely Jesus Christ, the Righteous" (1 John 2:1). The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans: "Christ Jesus, who died - and more than that, who was raised to life - is at the right hand of God and is interceding for us" (8:34). Here in our text, my friends, we have a glimpse of what that looks like, what it sounds like. I can't begin to tell you what a thrill it is to think that Jesus is speaking similar words on our behalf right now!

Listen to what He says: "Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You." He was about to suffer and die for the reconciliation of the world! And what s His concern? That His Father on heaven be glorified!

The truth is, in His suffering and death the Father would indeed be glorified. His very obedience to the Will of the Father - His coming here, taking on human flesh, living a perfect life in accordance with the Holy Law of God - these things in and of themselves glorified the Father! And now His further obedience in dying and rising again would certainly continue to bring glory to God.

Oh yes, Jesus has every right to say to His Father: "I have glorified You on the earth."

But isn't it interesting that He doesn't stop there. He goes on to say: "I have finished the work You gave Me to do."

Remember, He prayed this prayer on the night before His death. How can He say that He has completed the work?

Man, what a lesson for us! Jesus claims victory even before the battle has begun! He knows He will be the victor! He is confident He will win!

Paul, too, when he faced death at the guillotine because of Christ, proclaimed: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race" (2 Timothy 4:7). He, too, was certain that the power of the risen Lord would sustain him and he would remain faithful to the end; victory would be his and the Father in heaven would be glorified.

What encouragement, dear Christian! You and I can be certain that because Jesus arose, victorious over death, we too will be victorious. We, too, can be as confident as He was that before the battle even begins, the victory is ours, and that through us Jesus is still - through us! - bringing glory to the Father!

Of course, the devil isn't content simply to sit by and watch the Father be glorified through us. So he distracts us; he confuses our priorities.

For instance, do we - with any kind of consistency - allow Christ to work through us, encouraging us, strengthening us, giving us the victory? Does the prevailing testimony of our lips and our lives show forth the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light? Do we live - day-by-day - as children of Light?

The world is full of people who don't know the Father or Jesus Christ, whom He has sent. Isn't it God's Will that these countless millions hear about Him, believe in Him, love Him, and glorify Him? And shouldn't we be asking ourselves: "What contribution have I made in leading others to faith?" Do the people in my life know that I am a child of God? Listen, I know we can't all be pastors or missionaries or evangelists, sharing the message of Christ with strangers, but can't we do our best - with God's help - to live as a Christian, simply to be the Christian we are before the world in which we live?

Beloved, please don't hide the light that is within you; let it shine for all the world to see.

What Satan has tricked you into believing is that it takes a lot of effort to share your faith. The truth is it takes more energy to hide the light than it does to let it shine. We waste so much time trying to cover up our Christian faith. Why? So that we won't have to answer any questions? So that we won't be singled out and put on the spot? So that we won't be ridiculed or mistreated? Who cares? Let them say what they will. Let them think what they will. Let your light shine. Bring glory to God. Honestly, what do you really have to lose? Think of what you - and they - have to gain!

But, maybe you're a little like Moses, who said: "O Lord, I have never been eloquent . . . I am slow of speech and tongue" (Exodus 4:10). What Jesus tells His disciples reminds us of God's answer to Moses: "I will be with you."

Do you think God sends us out to testify about Him, to bring glory to Him by ourselves, under our own strength? Not a chance! He promises to be with us! He strengthens us. He leads and guides us.

Jesus says in our text: "I have revealed You to those whom You gave me out of the world. They were Yours; You gave them to me and they have obeyed Your Word. For I gave them the words You gave me and they accepted them." The disciples had learned to know the Father by the words of Jesus. He had given them everything they needed to believe in Him and to follow Him. And He gave them everything necessary to do the work He had called them to do.

Dear friends, they weren't any different from us. Their knowledge of God was still limited, their faith plagued by many weaknesses. They often forgot to apply Jesus' teaching to their own lives. Their flesh frequently led them off the path of relying completely on what they had learned from their Savior. But that didn't change the fact that they believed in Him, trusted in Him, believed that He had been sent to them from the Father. Where do you think that strength and determination of faith came from? It was a gift from the Lord - a gift you and I have been given as well. Oh, if only we would take advantage of it!

Thank God today, my brothers and sisters, that our great High Priest still prays for us! He even promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us. Why, He comes to us at this very hour in His Holy Word and Sacraments. Through these He reveals the Father to us, showing us the Father's love. By the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace we rest secure in the faith of our Savior, knowing that our destiny lies with Him in heaven.

Yes, there will be times when, like the disciples, we will be buffeted by weaknesses and doubts, but in spite of them all our High Priest has led us to know Him as the Son of God, and will continue to support and strengthen us. Let this be a comfort to us and let us be assured that He will continue to enable us to glorify Him as we believe His Holy Word and lead godly lives according to it. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

12:52 pm edt

HOW'S LIFE?

Rev. Steven S. Billings
Easter 4
Sermon
4-13-2008

John 10:1-10

1 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2 But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. 4 And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. 5 And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. 6 This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. 7 Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. 10 The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

Dear friends in Christ, how’s life? When you think about your life, would you say that it's good or is it something less than good? I mean, besides all the ordinary struggles of life - the finances, the health concerns, the work struggles, the riffs in the family - those things that wear us down at times, how is lifein general?

Based on recent acts of violence in the news, I think we'd have to say that for some life has no meaning. Tragedies take place all over the world and we wonder: "How could these things happen?" I mean, how can children beat each other to a pulp, video tape it, and put it up on YouTube for all the world to see? How can young girls be systematically abused by so-called "religious" men and school officials they're supposed to be able to trust?

How? we ask, and yet, in our search for answers we miss the whole point. It's been said that we need to teach our children to deal with anger, but all the while we teach them that life is disposable. From the legalized murder of the unborn to the timely elimination of the sick at the hands of those like Michael Schiavo, we teach our children that life is no longer sacred. We condemn the actions of sexual abusers - and rightly so! - but culturally we push sexuality on our children at an ever-decreasing age. Women in their underwear parade across our TV screens in prime-time - and the commercials are worse than the programs they interrupt! Not long ago there was a popular soap commercial featuring an apparently pre-teen girl in the shower, with the camera zooming in on various parts of her body - the "forbidden" zones always just off-camera or covered with lather. What are we teaching our young girls about their sexuality? And what ideas are we planting in the minds of middle-aged men?

Thousands of years ago, King Solomon contemplated life apart from God when he said, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What profit has man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes; but the earth abides forever . . . That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun." How does that compare to one Christian's estimation of life: "Life can be a struggle; but for the Christian, in spite of all the turmoil, life is a feast."

Perhaps a person's view of life is formed more than we might think by the shepherd that he follows. There are good, true shepherds, and there are bad, false ones. Ultimately, the false shepherd comes to destroy the joy and meaning of life. He comes to enslave his flock. He doesn't care about them; in fact, he's a thief and a robber. He'll take whatever he can get - power, wealth, fame - and then he'll leave his sheep hating life because of the burden he has made it.

In Jesus’ day it was mainly the Pharisees who were the false shepherds, those who made life miserable. In the verses just prior to our text, the Pharisees had cast out one of their flock because he had the audacity to allow himself to be healed by Jesus on the Sabbath. Jesus then declares that He is the Door to the sheep pen - the true Way of life, the only Way of life. The Pharisees taught the way of laws and ritual, the burdensome way of life. For them, life was to be an exercise in doing all the right things. Life was to be measured according to standards set by men. In other words, to get it right, life had to be a chore.

My friends, false shepherds come to satisfy their own desires, to make life before God whatthey think it should be, and in so doing they leave their flock shackled with a life of legalism. Jesus said, "they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers...Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves" (Matthew 23:4, 15).

A true shepherd, however, comes not to bind, but to set free, not to destroy life, but to give it. Today pulpits around the globe are filled with true shepherds, undershepherds of the Chief Shepherd, and they have but one task: to give Christ; to proclaim Christ and the life that is found only in Him. Jesus said, "the thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly."

Life in Christ is abundant because, first of all, there is freedom from slavery to the Law. Not freedom from the civil law, the law of governments and societies, mind you, but freedom from the condemning nature of God's Law.

How often do we fail to keep what God demands in thought, word and deed? The Law says to have no other gods, that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and soul. And yet, there are so many other things, other gods, that we often put on par with or even above God. There's family, finances, pleasure, happiness and success, all competing for the allegiance that belongs only to the one true God.

If we were to heap those failures on top of one another, life would become unlivable. But in Christ we are freed from such a burden. Instead, we rise each day in the freedom that comes to us through Jesus' perfect sacrifice. We live, then, as those who are free from the condemnation of the Law. Free from the guilt of the Law. Free from the burden of living under, of standing up under, the weight of the Law. Indeed, life in Christ is abundant in its freedom.

But it is also abundant in its purpose. Young children wield weapons, killing their piers, because life to them has no purpose, no meaning. To them it doesn't matter whether they die that day, or some other day. To them it doesn't matter whether anybody else is hurt or maimed. None of it matters because life has no purpose. Our culture has taught them that.

But, into that despair, that self-defeating mind-set, Christ gives Himself so that in Him people can find purpose in life. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who have been called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). And the Apostle Paul says elsewhere that he was called to make known the unsearchable riches of Christ, "according to the eternal purpose which (God) accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore, I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory" (Ephesians 3:11-13). Beloved, I ask that you do not lose heart, because in Christ life has meaning, it has purpose.

Freedom and purpose are features of the abundant life in Christ, as is a whole new way of looking at the world. The world we live in is not to be abhorred; it's to be enjoyed as a precious gift from God.

But as we continue in this Easter season, we are reminded that the life we celebrate is not only a gift for the handful of decades we walk this earth. But God has promised us an everlasting life, that one day each of us shall participate in the resurrection of all flesh, that our bodies will rise from the grave, and that we will live in His presence forever.

So, dear friends, how’s life? Remember, your estimation of life is formed by the one you follow, your shepherd. Christ came that you might have life and that you might have it more abundantly: freedom from the burden of the Law, a purpose for living, a new way of looking at the world, and even the promise of eternal life. If the Lord is your Shepherd, my friends, life is very good! In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

10:30 am edt

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

CHRISTIAN RADIO WEEKLY - JUNE S-DISC

Christian Radio Weekly has just released its radio promo disc for the month of June. The June 2008 S-Disc features Lincoln Brewster, Brandon Heath, Brooke Barrettsmith, and YOURS TRULY!

"The Spirit In You" is song number 5! Please pray with me that radio stations all over the country will pick up my song and start playing it! And, if you would, please consider calling your local Christian music station and request me!

Thanks!

11:38 am edt

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For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
(Philippians 1:21)

Be sure to get in touch so I know you're out there!