Saint Paul's Lutheran Church of Irvine

Tomorrow at Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church of Irvine, September 30th, 2012: “Pray”


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

After receiving the saving Gospel, the most important thing for the Christian to do before anything else is to pray. Jesus Himself taught the first disciples, "Pray so that you will not fall into temptation (Matt. 26:41)." Prayer is the heartbeat of faith; prayer is the most important response to God's faith-producing Word of Truth; and prayer -- when coming from a heart that has received Christ's righteousness -- is powerful and effective (James 5:16)! Why do we neglect the gift? The simple and core answer to this question is on account of our sin, but it is also on account of the perpetuation of bad ideas about prayer and the lack of awareness of what the LORD teaches about this invaluable gift. WHAT is prayer? WHY pray? HOW do we pray? This is what we are proclaiming tomorrow. I hope to see you in God's house!
May the peace of Christ which flows from His blessed Word into your baptized hearts and minds, fill you with the Holy Spirit and lead you to pray even as you confess your sins constantly while praying, "Lord, teach us to pray (Luke 11:1)!" And then as absolved children of God, know that you never pray alone, Christ prays with you as you pray "Our Father!" and through Christ who prays with you and in you and through you, watch as God leads you to pray in accord with His Holy Word!
Here is the first part of the sermon with some important clarifications on the topic of prayer:

Introduction: The Most Neglected Resource on the Planet is Prayer!

A. It is something we so much take for granted, but consider for a moment this very simple revelation from Sacred Scripture:


James 4:2: “You do not have, because you do not ask.”

B. My ex-WW 2 Marine dad was very strict -- a great dad and a loving dad -- but also strict and it was never easy just to come out and ask him for the stuff I really wanted. But when I gathered up the nerve to ask for something really special – and as I look back on it – he was also amazingly generous. This wasn’t an incessant thing and because of the way he raised me, I was conscientious about not getting carried away, but I think back and there were big items: when I was a little boy, a great big GI-Joe set with an all-terrain vehicle and helicopter, then when I was a little older, a telescope, then a weight bench and weight set, and while I still in high school, a car…I look back on that, we were never rich, but my dad was extremely generous…I learned that he took his son’s ASKING very seriously.

C. But we all have another Dad: our Heavenly Father, and He is very rich, very gracious, very generous, very loving, and He wants the absolute best for each of us…and He actually invites you and I…to ask! I am, however, just touching on one little element of what prayer is. Prayer is a great gift indeed and it is much more than just asking, but consider how much we do not tap into this resource.

D. Our Lord says to His disciples, “Pray so that you will not fall into temptation (Matt. 26:41).”

1. Soak that in a bit: it may be accurately said therefore that if we fall into temptation by committing sin that it is because – at least in identifying one real cause according to Scripture – we do not pray.

2. Prayer is God’s way of protecting us from committing sin and therefore prayer is a tremendous weapon and resource for blessing in our lives. And yet…how easily do we neglect it?!

E. James 5:16 (from our epistle today) says that the prayer of a righteous man [of course righteous only on account of faith in Christ] is powerful and effective!

1. God has given to you and to me a powerful and effective resource! It makes a tremendous, impactful, and significant difference in our lives precisely because it is powerful and effective!

2. How many of us would really like a powerful and effective resource in our life? And yet how easily we neglect this resource!

F. 1stPeter 4:7 says, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.”

1. Prayer is so highly prioritized here that we are instructed by God to care for our own lives in such a way – by being self-controlled and sober-minded – that we are in a position to continue praying. Take care of your life in such a way that nothing will interfere with this amazing resource given to you by God: prayer!

2. Scripture seems to be teaching that after believing in the saving Gospel itself, that there is nothing more important for the Christian to do! And yet, we so easily neglect this gift from God called “prayer”!


Part I: But if we are going to truly repent and use this gift of prayer, then we must know exactly what it is (much of the following are highlights from an excellent document entitled “Theology and Practice of Prayer,” a report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, November 2011):

A. First off, prayer is marked by dualities: it is instinctive and simple and taught and learned; ex corde (from the heart) and from a book; one’s deepest desires are given to God and at the same time, we pray for God’s will and not ours; and it is as easy as a breath, yet we often struggle to pray (6).

B. But in going past these real dualities, let me offer you some great definitions for the sake of clarity:

1. “Prayer is speaking to God in response to His speaking to us in His Word, just as sheep respond to the sound of the shepherd’s voice by ‘bleating back’ to him their inarticulate expressions of gratitude, affection, and dependence.” (p. 7)

2. But Scripture itself gives no systematic or comprehensive definition (p. 12) To be honest, Scripture seems to be infinitely more concerned that we would actually be in the practice of praying rather than talking about it all day and theorizing.

3. Still, here are two outstanding summaries of what prayer is:

a. Clement of Alexandria: “conversation and intercourse with God.” (12)

b. Francis Pieper: “the conversation of the heart with God (Ps. 27:8).” (12)

C. But no matter how it is defined, this you can be sure of: prayer is only born and sustained by the Gospel of Jesus Christ…that is, you can only be in holy conversation if you know and believe that Jesus lived, and died, and rose for you to save you from sin, death, and the power of the devil. This saving and powerful Gospel launches you and it keeps you in a holy conversation knowing that God is on your side through Christ. But this is not easy to do, because our sinful flesh resists this relationship with our Heavenly Father. And so we must pray like one of those first original disciples of Jesus prayed – and not just once – but every, single day: “Lord, teach us to pray!” (Luke 11:1) [let’s say that Scripture together, ready? “Lord, teach us to pray!]

In Your Service and To Christ's Glory,


Dr. Espinosa

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Tomorrow at Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church of Irvine, The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 23, 2012: “Christ’s Ambition over the World’s”


Dear Christian Friends,


In James 3:13-18, the first bishop of the Jerusalem Church warns us against "selfish ambition" (eritheia) two times. Does this mean that ambition is a selfish thing? Does this mean that one should never be ambitious? The short answer is "no". In John 4:34, our Savior and Lord described His ambition while conducting His earthy ministry to save us: "Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.'" Saint Paul elaborated upon His new, born-again ambition: "that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:10-11)." These touch on the fact that there are good ambitions indeed.

Luther's Small Catechism is a veritable outline of our God-blessed ambitions in the table of duties. We should strive to be good husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, children, workers, citizens. We should be ambitious to glorify God in our holy vocations; we should be like our Savior: we ought to be ambitious to do the will of God and to accomplish His work in this world. We should be like St. Paul: we should be ambitious to know Christ and the power of His resurrection!

But James is warning against something different. The word eritheia is something I expand on in tomorrow's sermon. Allow me to give you right here an important part of that analysis. What is most helpful in understanding this concept of selfish ambition in James 3 is the triad description that corresponds to Luther’s famous “the world, the flesh, and the devil.”

 1. This selfish ambition is “earthly” [v 15] (like Luther’s “world[ly]”) = living in such a way so as to have no awareness of God so that thoughts are controlled by what you see in this world. Let this soak in: the Christian by God’s grace approaches the world with the lens of God; God is everywhere and applies to everything, but this is not so with the “earthly” or the “worldly.” In those who are earthly God is absent and all situations are responded to as if God were not there.

 2. This selfish ambition is “unspiritual” [v 15] = takes the situation a step further, not only is the world all one sees, but they are also totally preoccupied with it. All of one’s concerns are directed to his or her existence in this world. This is the “flesh” for Luther which is completely self-serving.

 3. This selfish ambition is “demonic” [v 15] = under the control of Satan. Point blank: other terrible problems arise from such a condition, see v 16: “there will be disorder and every vile practice.”

If we are truthful, we will have to confess that we see this selfish ambition within ourselves. It is the sinful tendency that mars all ambition and it is the sinful tendency that causes us to thirst for worldly "success" like a drug and idol. Thanks be to God that He also reveals in this text the answer to this terrible malady: God's wisdom that "comes down from above."

There are many forms of wisdom, but "the One from above" is Christ and Christ is Wisdom (Proverbs 8). John 3:31 identifies our LORD as the One "who comes down from above." In Him and in Him alone is the antithesis to selfish ambition, but not only for Himself while accomplishing our salvation and our liberation from the bonds of sin's selfish ambition, but also for us so that in this life we would also know that our LORD's wisdom applies to our daily lives.

Are we speaking too boldly when it comes to the fruit of the forgiveness of sins that we have in the saving Gospel of Jesus? Not at all. Verse 18: "And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." This truth, however, must begin with our Wisdom over selfish ambition who made peace for us on the cross of Calvary. It must be through the wisdom of the One who did not come to live for Himself, but to live for us while He did the will of the Father. Peace over the fever of selfish ambition comes only through the forgiveness of sins that we have in Christ Jesus, our Wisdom and Life!

I hope to see you in God's house tomorrow morning!

In Christ,

Dr. Espinosa

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This Coming Sunday, September 16th 2012 at Saint Paul’s: “The Fiery Tongue and the Sustaining Tongue” (James 3:6 & Isaiah 50:4)


Dear Christian Friends,

Words...they get a lot of attention in Scripture and if we perceive them in terms of logos, then they should, because this is the stuff of revelation. That which is "Word" reveals what is behind it. If you want to know the Father, then you must know the Word made flesh Jesus; and if you want to know Jesus, then you need to get behind Him...and receive the Word of Holy Scripture and the Word of the Holy Sacrament...there is no knowing without the Word.

But we speak words too and in a very real sense our words "get behind us" or better said they "reveal" us, they reveal our hearts...out of the overflow of the heart, a man speaks. This is what Jesus taught (Matthew 12). Needless to say to take stock of our words is to wind-up realizing we are far from God's holiness. In fact, our words prove we are worthy of condemnation. But this "fire" coming from our words is not confined to hurting ourselves (they do that well enough), but the fire spreads from us to hurt others. James 3:6: "And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell."

Needless to say, we are in deep trouble. Our words set us on fire and this is the stuff of hell, not heaven.

This is where our Old Testament reading from Isaiah 50:4 comes in to give us hope. The Word of the LORD which is greater than our words: "The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught." Isaiah describes a different word...this one does not set on fire, but it sustains. It helps. How overwhelming -- in the best sense of the Word -- that LORD speaks His words of absolution on us poor sinners?! Our condemning fire is quenched (extinguished) through the Niagra Falls of Holy Baptism, because God speaks a more powerful Word, a sustaining Word that helps and brings life upon sinners in flames: "In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

Not long ago I saw the movie "The Help"...I was moved by the positive influence of the Nanny upon the little children she cared for. In language lacking the luster of education, nevertheless power flowed from the Nanny upon the child: "You is is is important!" Words are powerful!

Listen to God poor sinner; He speaks to you:

"You are mine!"


"You are forgiven!"


"You are sustained!"


In Jesus Name,


Rev. Dr. Espinosa


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Tomorrow at Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church of Irvine, September 9th, 2012: “Show No Partiality” (James 2:1-10)


Dear Christian Friends,


Tomorrow I begin with this:

Introduction: A Lutheran Primer On Sanctification


As taught in the writings of C.F.W. Walther and consistent with the Word of God and as confessed in the Lutheran Confessions and by Dr. Martin Luther (excerpts taken from the essay written by Pr. Espinosa in the book C.F.W. Walther: Churchman and Theologian, CPH, 2011):


Summary Thesis 1: Faith brings forth fruit/good works commanded and therefore necessitated by God so that when true faith in Christ is present, a person is changed and he experiences a new life in thought, word, and deed.


Summary Thesis 2: Faith also brings forth a necessary cross that is felt in the spiritual battle between the sinful nature of the Christian and their new life in Christ through which the Holy Spirit leads the Christian to crucify the flesh, feel the anguish of the struggle in keeping humility, and conduct discipline against the possibility of dwelling in unrepentant, deliberate sin that would otherwise destroy faith.


Despite the fact that the Scriptures and our Confessions elaborate on the Christian life, our holiness for living that is in Jesus Christ, we have a tremendous challenge in actually teaching it and applying it. But the two summary thesis statements may be boiled down to these six (6) major elements about your sanctification as one who is God’s new creation by grace alone. Keep in mind that these are not the basis for your salvation (only Christ is!), but rather the evidence that you are saved (that is, that you are in Christ your sanctification!):

 1.      An accurate ORDER (a theological sequence and progression which intimates cause and effect) in stating that faith always comes first while good works follow. The order can never be inverted if one is faithful to biblical theology.

2.      Good works are necessary in the life of the Christian, which when understood in biblical context, is axiomatic.

3.      In true sanctification, the Holy Spirit creates new affections, spiritual movements, and changes the entire life of the believer.

4.      The Holy Spirit leads the Christian to crucify (subdue, put down, kill, mortify, drown, etc.) the flesh (the sinful nature marked by impulses to sin against God and our neighbor).

5.      The Christian is led by the Holy Spirit to feel anguish in this struggle as his sin is put before him, but God produces true humility in the Christian as a result.

6.      The Holy Spirit leads the Christian to conduct a holy discipline against the possibility of persisting in unrepentant, deliberate sin that would otherwise destroy faith.


Part I: Now wouldn’t know that the Epistle of James emphasizes sanctification! This is God’s letter in God’s Word for you, God’s people...and it’s all about sanctification!


At this point I jump into tomorrow's epistle from James 2:1-10. With a proper understanding of sanctification, we may examine this very important command given to His people saved by grace through faith in Christ: "show no partiality."

Please join us to receive Christ's Word and Sacraments and to be further equipped in God's powerful way of putting us and keeping us in Christ Jesus! Best of all, we will hear proclaimed how Christ showed no partiality to ensure that you and I were also included in His saving work!


In Christ,


Dr. Espinosa

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Tomorrow at Saint Paul’s, September 2nd, 2012: “The Full Armor of God” (Eph. 6:10-20)


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Happy Labor Day weekend! Talk about "labor," though, we have a doosie in tomorrow's text about our most formidable labor. In a way, though, it will turn out to be tremendously liberating to get the full scoop. I'm talking about the battle we are all in (all of us who are actually children of God and disciples of Jesus Christ). "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." (Eph 6:12) The Christian life is a fight; it is a battle. This fact in itself is liberating. How often have we heard false "Christian" messages/enthusiastic rantings that the Christian life is deliverance from troubles and worries; an earthly reward to be among those who no longer labor, no longer worry...super Christians with super attitudes and super lives? Let's return to reality. God teaches us about our fight, our battle. The full scoop though is understanding the LORD's teaching on how we can do more than stand under such circumstances: the LORD equips you with three weapons for protection, two for defense, and one for attack (against the dark powers). What are these? What do they do? How are they employed? In what context are they enacted? These questions will be answered as I elaborate on one of my favorite sections in God's Holy Word!

Here is an excerpt from the sermon:

God’s Word does not suggest that all ailments and maladies are connected to demon possession. The point, however, is that the evil spiritual realm is absolutely real and furthermore, affects the lives of people. Our epistle, however, at verse 13 states that there comes for all Christians when in the midst of your fight against the powers of the devil, the really big day comes, “the evil day.” What will you do dear Christian when this “evil day” comes? It is a day of exceptional temptation; an amazing occasion of spiritual trial. Your faith will be rocked. How will it happen? For Job it happened through extreme weather, the loss of loved ones, his wife, diseases, and friends. Some of these will appear treacherous and ugly, others will be disguised bright and beautiful like an angel of light. It may be the death of a loved one, the sin of adultery, the loss of a job, a physical, mental or emotional ailment, it may be a divorce, a loss of property, bankruptcy, winning the lottery, going to a party that will change your life forever, a car accident, a promotion...but on this day, this evil day, your life will change and the evil one will have occasion to rock your faith, to rob you of your faith, to rip it out of your heart.


         Think of life’s battle as a boxing match and you are called to withstand during the entire stay in the fight, but then in the ninth round you’re hit with a left uppercut and it lands square on your jaw; then that overhead right comes and you’re hit right on the temple, your legs buckle, and you are thrown back. This assault here is one way of describing the evil day. What will you do? Will it be over for you? Will you turn from God as the devil celebrates his knock out? No, that is not what the LORD wants for you.


            His commitment in Christ is to protect you through the battle, and to instruct you so that you will be able to withstand and remain in the victory of Christ as He fights for you and fights in and through you! 


See you in God's house!


In Your Service & To Your Glory,


Dr. Espinosa

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