Here you will find Christ centered messages by Pastor Lee Stisser of the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Tampa, Florida

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Jude 20-25 Hang In There

Sermon for Last Sunday of the church year, Nov. 23, 2009
Jude 20-25 “Hang in There”

20But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; 21keep your¬selves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22And have mercy on those who doubt; 23save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
24Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
In times of prosperity, it’s said that one becomes irritated when the dog and cat will not eat the expensive canned food set before them. In times of recession, one becomes thankful when the pets will not eat the pricey food. In times of depression, one begins to look at the dog and cat, thoughtfully!

The Epistle, Jude reminds us that these days in which we live, the dark world in which the Church will continue to live until Christ returns, these last days, are truly times of depression. So we are encouraged to “hang in there” in these last days, because Jesus always remains faithful.

To keep from becoming depressed ourselves, Jude says in verse 3, we must “contend for the faith.” So how do we “contend” or “strive” for the faith to keep our own faith from growing weak? For one thing, scripture teaches that each of us has been given gifts, or talents, to be used in strengthening each other and for the building up Christ’s church. St. Paul explains it this way in his letter to the Ephesians in Chapter 4:11-15 ~ “11And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ”

Pastor Jeffrey H. Pulse, wrote about as a child being “tossed by the waves.” Growing up on the farm, we had a bus to catch each morning in order to arrive at school. The bus was supposed to arrive at a certain time, but it was seldom running according to schedule. I recall standing at the window with my brother and sisters, waiting and watch¬ing for the bus. As we stood there, Mom would ask, "Do you have your homework?" Sure enough, at least one of us would have to run to his or her room to get it. "Do you have that library book that's due?" It was in the living room. "Did you kiss your dad good-bye?" Again, we had neglected a very important task. We were so busy waiting and watching for the bus that we neglected to do what needed to be done to be prepared for the bus! Like Pastor Pulse and his siblings, too often we get side-tracked in the way we wait and watch for Christ to return.

There is a wonderful little book, written by Pastor Steve Wyatt that puts all this in practical terms. First, he reminds us of God’s great promises and all that God has done and continues to do for us. But then he says that if “God’s great makeover in your life is … to be, there has to be a partnership. God doesn’t just zap people, and all of a sudden you’re joyful and loving and gentle and thoughtful land gracious and forgiving! NO! It’s a partnership (for change).” God has done His part but He has given us work to do also. “God has given His Holy Spirit, but we still have to exert some ‘holy sweat.’”

“He’s given us the vine of His abiding strength, but we’ve got to stay connected to that vine. He’s developed a makeover plan absolutely guaranteed to give you a great new look, but there’s some Putting Off and Putting On that is ours to do.” Pastor Wyatt’s whole book is about putting off the old and putting on the new. His book, called “Trading Places” is about contending for the faith of which Jude speaks. While it would be profitable for us to go through the book page by page, this morning I’ll outline just two things we should be doing ... and that we can do. These two things speak directly to the issues we face right here in our own little Christ’s community.

We are directed to begin with Acts 2:42 ~ “And they continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine … and in prayers.” They (that is: first century Christians) had listened, spellbound, awestruck, and amazed; to the words of Peter and the other disciples from the Day of Pentecost on. And they had heard enough to know that they had stumbled on something exceptionally worthwhile and precious.

But they felt the need for more instruction. They hungered for more knowledge. They wanted to know more and more the full story about Christ, the Old Testament prophecies, the life and ministry and meaning and message of Jesus, His crucifixion, His resurrection, His ascension, His glorious promises. So we’re told that they continued steadfastly in their hearing and study of the Word.

Here we learn what must be the first and outstanding characteristic of the Christians of every generation if the Church is to exert any real power and influence. We must be Christians who continue steadfast in doctrine. There can be no strength of faith, there can be no power for the Christian life, unless there is a firm foundation of real convictions based on a sure knowledge of the Word of God.

We dare not ever think that we have graduated from learning, from the instruction period of our Christian life. As Jesus Himself tells us in John 8:31 ~ “If you continue in My Word, then you are My disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” We must be people who hear the Word of God at every opportunity, participate in organized, formal Bible study, and read our Bibles frequently and regularly in our homes. If we are to be distinguished as Christians, we must first of all continue steadfast in doctrine.

Also we learn from Acts that the first Christians continued steadfast in prayer. They were people of prayer. And because they were people of prayer, they were people of power. They lived in close com¬munion with God. Daily and often every day they lifted up their hearts to the Lord of life. Many of them remembered personally the long and frequent periods of prayer in the life of the Master. And they were often admonished by the Apostles to “Pray without ceasing,” 1 Thess. 5:17.

They prayed morning, noon and night! And most important for us – they prayed with each other! So we see them praying in the Temple, in their homes, in the catacombs, in the streets, in prison, in court, and in the arena. And often they prayed their way right into the hearts of their jailers and judges! They were zealous, courageous, and powerful because they drew their power from God in prayer. They continued steadfast in prayer!

We, too, must be people of prayer. We should all pray more than we do. We should pray regularly and frequently, and we should pray long. I look forward to praying with the elders before worship for all of the reasons above. I cherish their prayers. I am lifted up by their prayers. I am given a joyful spirit to lead worship in their love and the love of Jesus by their prayers. I am encouraged and strengthened by their prayers. Our prayer time in the sacristy is an important example of the life of prayer in which we should all be participating – wherever or however and whenever! The power of prayer cannot be underestimated.

If you are dissatisfied with your spiritual life, if you feel that you’re not accomplishing a great deal for Christ, if you are discouraged in your battle against temptation, if you long to be more and do more in the Kingdom, try praying more. Continue steadfast in prayer, as did the early Christians. Pray for the teachers and workers in the Church. Pray for your children. Pray for your parents. Pray for your relatives and neighbors and friends. Pray for all people everywhere.
But, above all, pray for yourself. Pray for wisdom and understanding. Pray for a strong, sure faith. Contend for your faith in prayer. Pray for comfort. Pray for peace. Pray for heaven.

Ask God to help you to find the place where you are to serve Him, and then continue steadfast in prayer that you may be able to fill that place with zeal and courage and power and to accomplish great things for Him during the time He allows you to remain here in this world. Amen.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

September 2009 Newsletter

September 2009 Newsletter

Dear Blessed Redeemed;
A pastor recounted calling members of his parish who had been absent for a long time. Several declined to speak of their reasons for being absent; but one man simply said, “Every sermon is about sin and grace, and we are sick of hearing about it. So we won’t be back.” The pastor readily admitted that every sermon is about sin and grace, saying, “That is unlikely to change.”
Of course, every sermon is about sin and grace, or, as we say in the Lutheran church: law and Gospel. That is what the Christian religion is all about. There is no greater problem in the world than sin, and there is no better solution than hearing and receiving the love, mercy, and forgiveness of the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Sin can only be rightly dealt with by forgiveness and only then are we reconciled to God. If the church does not forgive sin then it leaves people to their own devices, which – always – only lead away from Christ and His church. They seek ways to assuage their burning consciences, trying to put out the fires with the gasoline of self right­eousness. Or they try to paper over their fail­ures with legalistic excuses: “Everyone is doing it,” “I am better than everyone else,” “I did my best,” “I couldn’t help myself,” “I was close,” “I had the best intentions,” and so on. None of this will squelch the fires of conscience, because the excuses are so clearly an evasion of the truth; because without the intrusion of for­giveness from God, the sinner is in a closed system, where there is no help. Something from outside must come in to change the sinner’s status in the presence of God. That something is the forgive­ness of sins.

How remarkable forgiveness is because of its absolute character. God generously and for Christ’s sake forgives all; none are beyond His love. No one can run so far as to be beyond the reach of God’s grace. No sin is too big, and no amount of excuse making can keep God from offer­ing full and free blood-bought forgiveness to sin­ners like us. Only in God’s speech to us, “I forgive you,” can the conscience be pacified and calm to the heart restored. This is why the church is always talking about sin and forgiveness. They belong together in the church’s speech. Anything else is just a painful evasion. And that is unlikely to change.
In Christ’s love and forgiveness,

Pastor Lee

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sermon 10/4/09 Mk 10:2-16 Let Them Come

Mark 10:2-16 "Let Them Come"
Holy Trinity, Tampa Oct. 4, 2009

Our Lord Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. There, He was about to shed His lifeblood as the sacrifice for our sins and the sins of the world. Prophesied by the inspired messengers of God for years and years, the fulfillment must have been on our all-knowing Lord’s mind.
His reputation had been well-established by this time. His miracles attested to His power, His teaching to His gra­cious wisdom. People flocked to see Him wherever He went. His popularity had increased among the people of Israel and so had the opposition and hatred of the reli­gious establishment, the scribes and the Pharisees. The Pharisees followed Him and tried again and again to chal­lenge Him and His work. In our text, Jesus taught them and answered their questions – He tells them that God brings couples together; He guides their lives together that they might live their lives for God. And with the dis­ciples He urged the sanctity of marriage.

Then He teaches us that God not only loves husbands and wives, but that He loves the products of these mar­riages, their children. They are indeed beloved by God, and they are important to our Lord! Scripture is clear: Jesus Came For All!

The incident that brought this to light was parents bringing their children to receive a blessing from Jesus. These children were already members of the kingdom of God since they were members of the faith. The boys were circumcised on the eighth day by the faithful. Yet these eager parents still brought their young children to Jesus. They recognized that Jesus had come not only for them but also for their little children. They went to have their children receive the blessing and the love of the Savior. But someone didn’t approve of the parents’ action. We don’t know why the disciples did what they did. Perhaps the disciples thought Jesus was too busy to be bothered with such actions. The disciples turned them away ­and the parents kept trying to bring them to Jesus.

The action of the disciples troubled Jesus; indeed, the Gos­pel recorded that “when Jesus saw it, He was indignant” (v 14). Jesus had righteous anger and proceeded to show the disciples how wrong they were, as our text records it: “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (vv 14-15).

Jesus came for all. His life, death, and resurrection would attain salvation for the world! If only the world wouldn’t reject God’s grace! The Son of God indeed came to seek and to save the lost – from the greatest to the least. He went to the Samaritans, He rejoiced over the con­fession of a Roman, and here He showed that even the youngest child was precious in His and His Father’s sight!

The disciples, like many in our time, think that little children can’t believe, that they don’t matter. The disci­ples failed to understand why Jesus came and what His Kingdom was all about. So Jesus proceeded to teach His disciples and us adults two important lessons.
First, God’s kingdom (His gracious rule in the hearts and minds of the believers) is also for children. Faith is not a matter of the intellect or will, but a matter of trust in Jesus and in the promises of our gracious Father.

Today there are many obstacles to that faith. How many children today don’t even have a chance to live, because their parents, for the sake of convenience, expe­dience, or some other reason, determine that it would be best to terminate their life before they’re born? They are God’s creation! How indignant must Jesus be over these who are kept from life?
Or there are the parents who think, “I will give my child his choice of religions when He grows up. I won’t do anything with him now.” Jesus said, “Let the children come!” Bring them to Him – now! – that the Holy Spirit may do as He intends – create faith in that infant’s heart by the washing of regeneration, Holy Baptism. And then this faith must be fed, just as the little baby needs to be fed and nurtured.

So, too, the faithful Christian parent and the Church seek to nurture the child in the faith. The parent educates the child in the way he or she should go. Teaching and leading by example, by word, and by deed. Bringing the child to God’s house, placing the Word into their hands and hearts – catechizing them, leading them in the way of Christ, that when they are older they might not stray away from the way of our Lord.

Second, not only are children part of God’s kingdom through faith in Him, but also, it is precisely that kind of faith that God looks for in all of His believers: simple, humble, trusting faith that looks only to Him.

By nature, just like little children, we’re unable to save ourselves. We truly are dependent on God; we can’t make a deci­sion to follow Christ, but the Spirit comes and creates this faith in us. This faith, a gift of God, is in the child, the parent, the grandparent who believes, and it is by this faith that we apprehend the Kingdom! “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (v 15).

Despite what others teach, the truth remains that there is original sin. Children do receive the guilt of their par­ents by nature and thus need salvation. Jesus said, “Let them come!” Today, through the water and Word of Holy Baptism, they come. Through Baptism, He gives His gra­cious forgiveness of sins to even the youngest child. “Let them come!” It is no accident that this passage is included in the Order of Baptism of children.

Jesus told the disciples not to hinder these children. He was indignant, the text says, angry with the disciples, with anyone who would prevent even the youngest child from receiving His blessings. How much righteous anger must He have for those who ignorantly prevent children from receiving the blessing of Baptism today! That day, thinking ahead to the cross, He proclaimed the precious­ness of the life and salvation of these babes in arms.

Christian parents bring their children to Christ. In Bap­tism, God graciously welcomes their gifts into His saving faith, bestowing upon them the Holy Spirit. He grants them faith and forgiveness through this gracious water of life. This faith is valid. It is sincere! It is the faith of which Jesus spoke when He said, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (v 15).

“Let the children come!” And you, too, trust in Him as a child – with a faith that takes His Word to heart, completely trusting in Him and His love. As our heav­enly Father, He desires to bless us every day, and that is exactly what He does. Amen.

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