GIVE GOD’S GOOD NEWS

Week 12 – 8.27.17

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Matthew 9:35-10:8

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

10:1 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

 

 

“Dad, I’ve got some good news!  She said ‘Yes!’”  “Great news, Mom! I made the team.” “All that work paid off!  I got the job!  Let’s celebrate!”  “The Brewers won the World Series!  Can you believe it! We are the champions! This is the best news ever!”

Now, this kind of good news is pretty subjective, meaning it’s good as long as you agree with it.  What if you are the parent who doesn’t like the future daughter-in-law?  What if you are the kid that didn’t make the team because that other kid did?  What if you are the one who wanted that job or you are the one dating this woman who has to move to the new job?  What if you aren’t a Brewers fan (how is that even possible?)?  Then, the news isn’t so good, is it?

When we see Jesus today, he is traveling and teaching throughout Palestine.  He is seeing people in need of good news every day.  And what is his good news for these people who were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd? Is Jesus holding rallies protesting hate, spreading love and unity?  Is Jesus promoting better laws and leaders?  Is he providing superior schools and educational resources?   Does he offer affordable health care and top-notch hospitals?    Does Jesus give them all the money and pleasures this world has to offer?  For so many people, this is the good news they are looking for.  Their ears perk up and their eyes widen when Jesus is healing and providing for people.

But is that really Jesus’ good news?  No! Not even close!  He had the kind of news that was good no matter who he was talking to or helping.  He had news that was good for everyone, no matter their color, creed, or country.  He had news that was good for the sick and the healthy, for the religious and non-religious, for the hurting and the happy – it is good news for every single person, ever.

See, this is where the road splits between giving the kind of news that we call good and our topic today – giving the kind of news that God calls good.  See, giving our kind of good news is good as long as you agree with it.  Evangelism is giving God’s good news, his unchangeable, unconditional, and universal good news.

Do you know what his good news is?  I could stand up here and give you the full rundown for hours, but I’ll keep it short.  It’s not enough for God’s good news to be that you will never feel alone.  It’s not enough for God’s good news to remove sicknesses or diseases.  It’s not enough for God’s good news to get rid of bullies.  It’s not enough for God’s good news to be a relationship, a job, a championship for your favorite team.  And it’s not enough for God’s good news to give you ten steps to happiness.

God’s good news is that he came here to earth as Immanuel.  Remember what that names means?  God is with us!  God’s good news is that you are never alone because he came for you.  God’s good news is that Christ removed sin and death from your record and at your baptism, he replaced it with righteousness and life.  God’s good news is that there are no enemies for his children that he has not completely destroyed for eternity.  God’s good news is that Jesus purchased a home in heaven for you and you and you…

But it’s not just for you.  Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful.”  Our Savior looks out over ripe fields where there are no categories, only souls for whom he shed his blood.  God does not play favorites with this field.  God doesn’t pick spots during all these tense times in politics and society.  God wants all the harvest, all to be saved.  Yes, the racist, the rapist, the liberal, the conservative, the terrorist, the terrorized, the religious, the irreligious, the smart, the simple, the happy, the sad… All are in his harvest field!  He wants all not because of who we are, but in spite of who we are.  He wants all not because we offer him something special, but because he gives us something special.

This good news is the gospel!  And if this good news has come from heaven to our hearts, then what do you do with good news?  “Dad, I’ve got some good news!  Jesus saved me…and you.”  “Great news, Mom!  Jesus brought me into his family… and he’s your brother, too.”  “I was lost, but I have a Savior who searched me out and found me.  He’s looking for more.  Let’s celebrate.”  “He won!  Jesus came back from the dead.  The victory over death is ours!”

Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore to send out workers into his harvest field.”  “Ok, I’ll ask him to send someone else!  I don’t know if I’m the right one to share it.  I go to worship. I pray for missionaries and evangelism efforts.  I support with my offerings.  But when it comes to actually speaking the gospel to others, I’m not up for that.”

Or maybe you’re the type that says,  “I don’t know what to say.  If were are talking about accounting, construction, insurance, health care, then I’m fine.  But I don’t know what to say about Jesus.”

Or you are the one that says, “I don’t know who to tell. My parents and kids are believers, my friends are believers, most of my relatives have a church, I think.  My coworkers kind sound religious the way they use God’s name so much.  My neighbors… you know I’m not sure about…”

Or is it possible that you’re the type that puts yourself up on a pedestal looking down on others, “I don’t want to tell them my good news.  When have they ever done anything nice to me?  Why should I care about them?  Besides, I wouldn’t want them in my church, I see them at work or around the neighbor too much the way it is.”

If you fit into any of these groups, join the club. Did you notice the list of Jesus’ disciples? Did he send out religious leaders?  Did he send out wise and persuasive professors?  Did he send out people who were well liked?  NO!  He sent out Peter, the denier; John and James, the proud wanna-be-rulers in God’s kingdom, Matthew, the cheat; Simeon, the anti-government activist, Judas, the betrayer.  He sent out men who were not respected members of the educational community.  Jesus sent out people who had only known him for about 2 years.  As I look around today, I know that you have been with Jesus long enough to know the basics.  You know your sin and you know how Jesus has removed it from you for good.  That’s what makes sinners such good evangelists.  We personally know how God’s good news has changed us.

Do you really think I am a holy man?  Do you think Pastor Wolfe doesn’t sin?  Not a chance! Every single person is in the same harvest field.  I don’t go to people and point out my good life as the good news.  I give God’s good news, “My life would be a wreck if Jesus hadn’t intervened.  Let me tell you what he has done for me and what he will do for you.”

Jesus has answers to all our doubts or excuses.  Jesus tells the disciples to ask God for workers. And do you see the answer to their prayers?  It’s the disciples.  God can make that raggedy band his evangelists, and he can make you speak his good news, too.  If you notice, they went because they had Jesus’ power and authority to speak.

Some of you might still be thinking, “What do I say and who do I say it to?”  Jesus has that figured out for you, too.  “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”  That’s the good news.  Jesus came to us and brought his light of life.  Jesus has washed us clean and made us ready for the perfect paradise.  Jesus has empowered us with his Spirit to be witnesses of his saving work.

Now, who do you tell? Listen to what Jesus says, “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  Jesus wasn’t saying he didn’t want Gentiles in his church. He did plenty of ministry to them, as well.  Not to mention he died for the sins of all people.  This is what Jesus was telling his disciples, “Guys, as you get started with ministry work, go to your family and your friends.  Go to the people who know you, respect you, and who will listen to you.”  Jesus has put those kind of people in your life, the kind of people that you love to spend happy moments with, the kind of people who you share good news with,  the kind of people that might not have a relationship with your pastor (but maybe they could use that), and the kind of people who won’t bite your head off if you want to talk about God’s good news.  And even if they do, you have the kind of love and compassion Christ has put in your heart to handle that situation with humility and strength.

What Jesus is telling you is that if you are not interested in giving his good news to others, than that needs to change.  It needs to change! But if you’re a little nervous or just starting out, you don’t need to go to the mall or grocery store and tap people on the shoulder saying, “Hey do you know the good news?” You don’t need to go to work with a bullhorn and walk through the halls shouting, “Jesus died for you, your sins are forgiven, and heaven is open for you.”  You can go to your family members.  You can go to your friends and neighbors.  But you have to start with them.

Why?  Why do you have to get into the fields?  Why do you have to give God’s good news?  Is it because you have a God breathing murderous threats down on you if you don’t?  Is it because you will lose heaven if you don’t?  I think you know Jesus better than that.  Jesus says, “Freely you have received; freely give.”  Jesus says you have good news and good news is great when others get it.

When you get engaged, you plan a wedding and a wedding dance, because you want to share your joy.  When you make the team you are happy to be one of the guys.  When you get the job, you celebrate with people because that’s what a celebration is, a bunch of people being happy together.

Doesn’t that kind of sound like us when we are hearing God’s good news together?  Evangelism will be a burden if it’s all about trying to avoid God’s punishment.  The news ceases to be good if that is how you see it.  The only way God’s good news gets from your heart to your lips and to someone else’s ears, is with the power and compassion that Christ used to get it into us.  It was all him and it cost you nothing.

Free stuff is great because it’s easy to share.  Do you ever notice that?  If someone drops off a bunch of food, it’s easy to say to your wife, “We should have some people over to help us eat all of this.”  Or is that just me?  God gave you his good news freely so that you can be free with it.

Do you notice what is not a part of evangelism?  Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to each get 10 prospects.  Come to think of it, Jesus didn’t make any demands for results.  Do you know why?  Because the results can never be up to us.  We don’t save people.  Jesus does.  We don’t change hearts.  The Spirit does. We don’t make God’s children.  He does.

We speak good news!  God’s good news is what changed you and me, and that is the only thing that can help make an eternal difference for someone else.  Good news is good if a person agrees with you.  Evangelism is always good, because it’s God’s good news.

You were made for this. God called us out of darkness into his wonderful light so that we will shine for those who are still in darkness.  Jesus made us witnesses who are filled with his love and compassion, filled with his power and authority, filled with his good news.

And now there’s one little piece of good news left.  It’s time for the…Amen.

 

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CHURCH & church

Week 10 – 8.13.17

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John 8

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

 

 

In East Perth, Australia, there is a sculpture known as the Impossible Triangle. If you approach the sculpture from the north, east, or west, it looks like a field goal post that some giant tried tearing apart. But approach it from the south and you find something impossibly beautiful: a perfect equilateral triangle made from 90 degree corners. Ask any mathematician and they’ll tell you the math doesn’t add up; all the angles in an equilateral triangle add up to 180 not 270.  You just can’t make a triangle out of three perfectly square corners.  But this sculpture does. It is impossibly beautiful. And it works because of perspective.

This is a good way to understand the two perspectives of God’s Church. We have the human perspective, which is like the north, east, or west view.  The human perspective does not always look pretty to us. Lazy pastors, preoccupied members, and hypocrites mixed into the batch. But God has the south view.  What he sees in the church is impossibly beautiful, a group of people, perfect in holiness and destined for heaven.

We describe the difference in perspective as looking at the Church with a capital “C”, and our churches with a lowercase “c.” Knowing the difference helps us appreciate God’s grace and keeps our attention on him.

  1. The Church

We start with the Church as God sees it, that is all true believers who will spend eternity in heaven. And just who is in that group? That’s as basic as John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Who shall have eternal life? Whoever believes in Jesus as the Son of God sent by God the Father and given over to death for the sins of the world. This is the church with a capital “C,” a church without an earthly membership list or any specific building. In fact, only God knows who the members of this church are because only God can look into hearts and see where faith is genuine and true.

For that reason we often call this Church of true believers the “invisible” church. We can’t identify it with any visible denomination or church body. The true saving church of God is not Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, or the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, or the Roman Catholic Church or any other denomination. It is a group defined by saving faith in Christ alone for salvation. There is no defining language or roster or location. In fact, this invisible Church is what we confess in the Apostles’ Creed when we say that we believe in the “Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.” We can call the members of this church holy and saints because of the south view that God has.  Washed clean in the blood of Jesus and with his robes of righteousness covering us, God sees every member of this church as spotless, holy, blameless, radiant, saintly.

So by God’s definition there is only one saving Church, the invisible, holy Christian Church. The natural follow-up question is: why are there so many different Christian church bodies? And shouldn’t we be working to bring the churches back together into one church on earth?

  1. church

Let’s answer the first question first. Why so many different Christian churches? Well, in our 2nd Lesson we heard the Apostle Peter warn Christians that there would be false prophets who would sneak in among Christians distorting the truth and that “they will secretly introduce destructive heresies.” We know that Peter wasn’t the only one who gave these warnings. Jesus called these false teachers “ferocious wolves” who come to us “in sheep’s clothing.” In other words, Jesus knew that false teachers would come in his name, try to gain a following, and infiltrate the church. They would hide their destructive teachings and gather people for themselves instead of for him. Jesus even said some of these false prophets would come with counterfeit signs and miracles so convincing they could almost deceive anyone!

Now, I don’t think the pastors at any non-denominational or at a Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, 7th Day Adventists (and on and on down the line) actually think they are being deceptive or destructive. But that doesn’t change the facts that tweaking God’s Word is harmful eternally.  Yes, even a little change to make it more palpable, more socially acceptable, or helpful for numerical growth is destructive for people.  Sure, these false teachers want to help people.  But mostly they want to help people cope with life, help people see the good in others, and help people better themselves. They make God’s Word point out how doing those things will make God happy and you will gain heaven.  But that’s a me first religion.  It’s a false teaching.  It’s using God’s Word in an incorrect, deceptive way.

Our ferocious enemy Satan knows that the surest way to drag someone into hell is with lies, big or small doesn’t matter to him. It’s what he did to Eve by whispering to her, “Did God really say…?” It’s what he continues to do today in churches and pulpits whispering, “Is it really so bad to go against what God says in this one little way?” Or “Does God really mean you can’t have any fun, can’t make a good living, can’t be popular, can’t associate with any unbelievers?” and so on… Satan knows that if he can deceive people into just one or two errors, that he’s got the foothold he needs. When the Apostle Paul talks about false doctrine, he compares it to gangrene. It starts small and grows to infect the whole body.  And if false doctrine is left to grow, it can even destroy saving faith.

So why so many churches? Because false doctrine divides. Either the false teachers separate themselves from the true church in order to grow or the members of the true church identify the false doctrine and force the false teachers out. Paul was so convinced of the need to protect God’s truth that he told the Christians in Rome to keep away from those teaching false doctrine. Romans 16: “Watch out for those who continue to cause divisions and put obstacles in your faith that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.”

This is where we (finally) get to the words of Jesus in John 8. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  The truth of God is freeing from the false teachings and their eternal destruction.  The truth of God is freeing from a bunch of visible churches that clamor for you have a real relationship with God.

Brothers and sisters, the one thing – the only thing – that can save souls is the truth that Jesus brings.  It’s what we have been studying all summer: God’s total grace for mankind’s total sin; Jesus’ innocent sacrifice to pay for our debt of guilt; the Holy Spirit’s work to call us by the gospel and set us apart as people who serve the Lord. These truths are everything our Lutheran heritage embraces about God’s love for us sinners.

This is also the only truth that can bring believers into unity with each other. Not just some of the things Jesus said or taught. Not just the outlines or basic concepts. No, every truth that God reveals to us in Scripture. If God says it, then it’s important. His truth, and our holding to it all in faith, show us to be true disciples of Jesus and members of the one, true invisible Church with a capital C.

If what Jesus says is true, then we need it all the time. We must read, hear, study, learn, memorize, sing, and pray about those teachings, in home and here in worship. We must dedicate ourselves to holding to those teachings, even if a cool preacher in Bismarck or on TV says differently.  We must continue to hold on to Jesus and his Word even when tons of other “Christians” say things like, “we all have the same God and we all love people.  That’s all that matters.”

It’s not just the pastors that need to hold the truth.  You know that in almost every case in church history, it was the pastors who led faithful laypeople into false doctrine, don’t you? False doctrine sneaks into the church more often through the seminaries than through the farmer’s fields or the office breakroom. You are the ones who must know the truths of Jesus that set and keep us free. Because it will be men that look and sound like me who will come to carry you away from Christ.

And that brings us to the second question I asked a few minutes ago. If there is indeed one Holy Christian Church in God’s eyes, then shouldn’t we be working to bring the churches back together into one church on earth? The answer is absolutely, yes! But we have to remember that unity must be based on the truth of Jesus that sets us free from sin. We have to remember that unity cannot be established between visible churches if it is not based on the Word of God.  We have to remember that unity cannot exist outwardly if it doesn’t first exist inwardly in what we believe. We call this teaching fellowship.

This part of our Lutheran, our Christian, heritage has never been more important for us to remember. Around the world there are people calling themselves Christians holding to some of what Christ taught. They are the ones who look for outward unity between churches without being too concerned about unity in what God says. Jesus said that those who don’t hold to his teachings are not really his disciples. How can we be united with those who Jesus wouldn’t even acknowledge as disciples?

Here is why all of Jesus’ teachings, why the Bible is so important. In a world dominated by evil darkness and death, Jesus’ words are light and life. Jesus’ words are the only thing that breathe unconditional love in a world filled with hatred. Jesus’ words are the only thing that confer holiness in a world ruled by sin. Jesus’ words are the only hope in a world of doubt and despair. Jesus’ words alone tell us the truth in a world of deceit and lies. Jesus’ words are the only free gift of salvation in a world where everything comes at a cost.

So how do we hold to his words? Well, we do it by faithfully learning, studying, and sharing God’s Word. By teaching the Word to our children. By seeking out churches that preach this truth. By warning each other when we see or hear some straying. By holding your pastors accountable. And by rejoicing when we find others who do indeed teach the truth. Because when unity is based in truth it’s an eternal joy. That unity crosses borders, transcends languages, and overcomes every human difference.

It’s the joy of knowing I share the same Savior with someone who is not the same as me. It’s the joy we have when we kneel at the altar together for communion, confessing to the same need for Christ’s forgiveness and receiving it from him as members of his body. The world, and other churches, may not understand the joy of fellowship but we do. It’s a part of our heritage of faith as Lutherans, part of our joy in the truth that Jesus teaches, a truth that sets us free from division and protects us in the unity and peace of God’s Holy Christian Church.

In a way it’s like that impossible triangle in Australia. We see true unity in a way that others simply cannot. Our congregation (our church) may not be the one Church of God on its own, but here we know and confess the one true faith. Hold it. Treasure it. Spread it.

God grant it. Amen.

FEELING LIKE FOREIGNERS NOW, BUT NOT FOREVER

Week 9 – 8.6.17

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1 Peter 2:11-25

11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

 

You are a foreigner and exile.  You look different.  Talk different. Think different.  Act different.  Sure, you celebrate the 4th of July and sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before every kind of ballgame, but you are living as an alien in this land.  Do you know how I know that?  Here’s what God says: you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

See, brothers and sisters, when Jesus called us to faith, he gave us a new life that encompasses all of life, not just certain days or select portions of days.  You aren’t just a child of God on Sunday morning or at home, but he made you his child all of the time.  That’s what we want to review todays and we listen to what Peter has to say about Christian life in society.

In order to talk about our life in society, we first need to address the way we view humanity as a whole. To do that, we need only go to the well-known passage, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son…” Jesus lived a holy life for all. Jesus shed his lifeblood for all. He did not die for some more than for others. The umbrella of his redeeming work did not leave some out in the rain.

Jesus gave his life for all humans because God made mankind in his image, perfect and in holy harmony with God.  He intended that to continue for eternity. So when mankind ruined that harmony, God sent his Son to restore that harmony for all humans. If Jesus gave his life for all, that means that God has imposed the same value on all people, regardless of color, ethnicity, language, ability, age, or any other qualifier. That value, that price tag is this: worth the expenditure of the precious blood of his own Son.

You have never encountered anyone – I don’t care how much they rub you the wrong way or how curmudgeonly they conduct themselves – you have never encountered anyone worth less than you. You have never encountered anyone for whom Jesus did not shed his blood, anyone whom God does not love with an all-surpassing love.

So if God loves everyone, what should be our attitude toward everyone? We should love them too. The most basic command when considering God’s will for our life in society is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Loving them does not mean we have to feel good about them; it means that we regard them as people for whom Christ died and that we always seek to do what is best for them, regardless of how we feel about them. Help and befriend them in their bodily needs. Help them improve and protect their property and means of income. Defend them, speak well of them, and take their words and actions in the kindest possible way. Set a good example for them in the way you act and speak. Honor, serve, and obey them if they are in authority over you.

Also remember that your goal in doing all these things isn’t just to make the world a better place, or even just to make Christ happy. Peter told us what our goal is: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” Your goal is to win souls for heaven. People can and do argue with doctrine and slander organized religion, but it is extremely difficult to argue with love. It is extremely difficult for someone to say to you, “Your religion is worthless,” when you consistently treat them in a fundamentally different way than most, treating them in a way that reflects the value and worth God has given them as souls for whom Christ shed his blood. Little else so attracts people, especially skeptics, to the Christian Church and the gospel of Christ like Christian love does. That’s why God made you a foreigner, living with this selflessness and loving servant heart

Secondly, in order to talk about our life in society, we need to realize what holds sway in society, what makes it go, so to speak. Here we need to talk about the doctrine of the two kingdoms of God. First, there is the  kingdom of the word.  That’s the kingdom that cares primarily for souls, the kingdom of the Church.  And there’s the kingdom of the sword.  That’s the kingdom that cares primarily for bodies, the kingdom of the State. In the Church, the gospel holds sway, but in the State or civil government, the law holds sway, because society is also made up of unbelievers and people who care nothing for God. Thus, if there is to be any good accomplished in society, society needs to be forced and compelled to do it by reward on the one hand and threat of punishment on the other.

The godless employee does his job well not because he cares about others, but because he gets money if he does it well, and fired if he doesn’t. The godless politician supports beneficial legislation because the voters are watching. Rape, robbery, and murder are restrained because people don’t want to get fined, imprisoned, or the death penalty. Some have been swayed from divorce because of the legal and financial ramifications.

Here we should note, before going on, that this is precisely why your Christian love in society has such a huge impact. In a world where most are doing the right thing because they have to, it is a breath of fresh air to encounter Christians doing the right thing because they want to. In a world where mechanics are fixing your car because they want to feed their family and not get sued, it is a breath of fresh air to encounter a Christian who fixes cars because he is genuinely concerned about your possessions and your transportation ability. In a world where employers give their employees fair pay and benefits because it’s mandated by law, it is a breath of fresh air to encounter a Christian employer who gives his employees fair pay and benefits, perhaps even more than what is mandated, because he is generous and genuinely cares about their lives and their families outside of work.

Nevertheless, civil government with its law-based system is a valid institution of God. Here’s our God-given attitude toward civil government: Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.  It’s makes us look like foreigners to be willing subjects of the government no matter who is ruling, but it’s a good thing.

One application of this, that I need to remember just as much as anyone else, is the way we speak about our president and other elected officials. We often equate conservatism with Christianity. While there are certainly elements of conservatism that are Christian, the two need to be distinguished. Conservatism is a political ideology; Christianity is a religion. Fox News is conservative, but when they disrespectfully rail against our elected officials, that is not Christian. If we have a problem with our elected officials, there are better, godly ways to address those problems than simply railing against them over a cup of coffee. We can call them. We can write to them. And ultimately, we can go to the voting booth or run for office ourselves.

While we’re on the topic of voting, let me say a brief word about that.  We just heard that God has established every government. Ours happens to be a government by the people. To vote, then, is to uphold the government that God has established in our country. So voting is a good thing, but remember that every vote is always going to be a choice for sinful human beings.  Elected leaders can never change the real problem that plagues this world.  They will do their best to keep peace and prosperity, to help our nation on earth. So do your research and use your conscience.

When you are researching the candidates, it is good to look for those who will, as much as possible, uphold God’s moral standards. We heard last week that marriage should be honored by all. We heard in the First Lesson that righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. Our first concern should not be, “How will this candidate’s ideology affect my wallet?” Our first concern should be, “How will this candidate’s ideology uphold the standards of God’s law and benefit the country at large?”

After doing all of this, pray that God would bless your vote and the outcome for his purposes. And then remember that Jesus still reigns on the throne of heaven, no matter who gets elected.  His kingdom operates with the power of his Word and that shall be our chief endeavor.   That makes us look like foreigners and that’s a good thing, a godly thing, a heavenly thing.

We should also say something about serving in the military here. Since we do uphold the civil government and its rule by law, that means that we also uphold its God-given right to have an army, to wage war, and to execute criminals. Peter said the authorities punish those who do wrong, and when the soldiers asked John the Baptist what they should do, he did not say, “Leave the army.” Not all killing is hateful murder. If God has given authority to kill within a legitimate government and you are working for that government in the armed forces, then you may kill within your sphere of responsibility to the glory of God.  War is a part of a sinful world, not God’s design, so governments will have to make those tough decisions and God has given them the job of making those decisions.  As Christians, we honor those decisions. We need to give our Christian soldiers the benefit of the doubt. Even if we ourselves do not think a war is just, we have the benefit of looking in from the outside. Once a soldier is enrolled in the armed forces, he does not have that benefit to the same extent. Once he is enrolled, it is his job to trust his superiors and follow their orders, because if he does not, he is putting the lives of his fellow soldiers at risk.

The last thing we need to say about God’s other kingdom, the civil government, is what Peter says in Acts 5:29: “We must obey God rather than men.” If the government explicitly mandates something that is contrary to God’s will as clearly expressed in his Word, then we not only may, but also should disobey it. That doesn’t mean we riot and rebel. It means we simply disobey. If we know it will mean consequences, we have two choices – humbly accept the consequences or move to a different country.

In closing, thank God that we not only live in the kingdom of the law, like all people do, but that we also live in the kingdom of the gospel. Thank God that he has given us the motivation through Christ to want to do what others must be forced to do. Thank God that we have the good news of life eternal beyond this earthly life of sweat, tears, and death. Thank God that he has placed us in a kingdom of the law that, up to the present, has protected our right to promote the kingdom of the gospel and preach the full and free forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus. Thank God that he has equipped us not just with the ability to make our society better, but also to save the souls within that society by telling them of our ultimate king, Jesus, who gave his life for you and for me and for the whole world.

A Christian life in this society makes you look like a foreigner now, but not forever.

To God be the Glory.   Amen.

 

ONLY CHRIST MAKES A CHRISTIAN HOME

Week 8 – 7.30.17

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Colossians 3:12-21

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
18 Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

 

 

“It is so good to be home.”  Have you said it before?  I’m sure.  I said it when we got back from our trips earlier this July.  It doesn’t mean you hate vacation.  It’s just that you are happy to be done living out of a suitcase, sleeping in a hotel or tent, driving or flying from place to place, spending more money than normal, or eating too much.  You are happy to be back in your normal routine, your own bed, your own kitchen, and of course for the guys, our own couches and clickers.

Now, today we are not talking about the advantages and disadvantages of being at your house vs. being on vacation, but I think that comparison helps us get into the topic of a Christian home.  Because where does Christ need to be in a Christian home?  Should he be the visitor, the vacationer… or should he be living among your family and dwelling in you?  Should he have a continuous place in your home?

The Lord God himself makes the answer very clear in these words before us this morning: “Let the Word  of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Jesus needs a dwelling place, not a vacation spot.  He wants to be in your conversations and what you study and learn.  He wants to be the reason and the motivation for everything you do and say.  He doesn’t want to be relegated to visiting hours a couple days of the month or year.  He doesn’t want to have a quick mention before you eat.

So, let me ask you, where is Jesus in your home?  Is he the vacationer?  Or does he have a dwelling place there?  You don’t have to wonder about God’s willingness to be in your life and home.  When you were washed in baptism, he was taking up residence in your heart.  And your Lord wants nothing more than to stay there forever.  Since God loved you that much, since he has brought you into the family, what is your response?  How are you keeping the Lord present in your home? What does your side of that relationship look like?

There is a pretty easy way to tell.  Listen to what God says. “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly,” “ whatever you do, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,” and  “give thanks to God the Father through him.”  Christ is dwelling in your home – not just visiting or vacationing – when his Word is in regular use.  Christ is dwelling in your home when you carry out your responsibilities with a focus on his purpose and for his glory.  Christ is dwelling in your home when prayers are not just a bunch of requests, but also thanksgiving for all that he has done for you and all the blessings God has given to you.  Christ is dwelling in your home when you follow what he says about family life and roles.

Jesus did not die to be your guest now and then.  He paid the price to take all your sins away and to bring you back into the family of God forever.  He established a dwelling in your heart, and he doesn’t want to leave.  To show us how much he cares and does for us and our homes God has some very practical things to say for his people about family life.  There are really three groups he addresses: the married, the children, and the parents.

First, when God thinks about a family, he wants a wife and a husband.  That might sound totally obvious, but when we live in a country where more than half of the marriages end in divorce, where many couples don’t even value the bonds of marriage, and where the very definition of marriage is being rewritten, we can’t just skip over that point.

Marriage is a lifelong commitment based in love that one man and one woman make to each other before God following the laws of the land.  It is the fabric of society and the foundation of a Christian home.  When God brings a man and woman together in marriage it is beautiful, and God wants to keep it that way.

Jesus said in the Gospel, “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”   God doesn’t encourage divorce or like it, because it not only ends a marriage but it fractures his foundation for a Christian home. Only when the other spouse makes it absolutely clear that they have broken their side of the commitment does Jesus permit divorce. The only evidence Jesus gives is sexual unfaithfulness, and God adds willful abandonment as part of that.

To keep a marriage going God’s way, then, it cannot be based on earthly things.  Sure, it’s a blessing to have a spouse who is fun, smart, passionate, prosperous, genuine, trustworthy, beautiful, and hardworking.  But those are not the main reasons to get married.  What if some of those things change?  What if time, stress, children, or an accident makes it hard to keep those traits going?  Would that mean it was time to break the marriage?  No!

No, a marriage cannot be based on what someone else gives or does for you.  The primary earthly reason for marriage is your love for the spouse.  It’s about what you give and what you do.  It’s not about how your spouse makes you feel but about your commitment to them.  And the only place to learn this kind of love is from the God who showed us what love is and what love does.  A Christian home will be built on God’s Word and the love of God that is shared between a husband and a wife.

The Word of Christ tells us, “wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.   Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.”  Wives, you are not slaves submitting to an oppressive master.  You are God’s perfect and necessary complement for your man.  Your submission to your husband shows you follow his leadership and support him with care and compromise. Husbands, we are not the dictators. We are the example of Christ in the home, willing to give up everything for the glory of God and the benefit of the family.

Maintaining a Christian home will be difficult when this Word of Christ is not dwelling there.  If a relationship other than the marriage union that God established, if a marriage is based on something other than loving sacrifice and submission, then maintaining a Christian home will be difficult because you are not following the Word of Christ.  And when you don’t follow the word of Christ, then how can he be dwelling in your home?  He is being treated like a sporadic guest.

The next part of the home God mentions is children.  “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.”  You won’t find God saying that children deserve a bunch of their favorite things.  You won’t find God saying that children can complain and groan if they don’t get what they want.  You won’t find God saying that children should focus first and foremost on sports or school or hobbies.  You will hear God say that it goes well in a home if children honor and respect their parents as God’s representatives.  You will hear God say that children should look to obey their parents more than looking for their parents to provide for them.  You will hear God say the children who listen to the Word of Christ are a huge blessing for a Christian home.

And that leads to the third category, parents. “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.”  Often in a marriage, God will give the blessing of children.  It’s a privilege and responsibility.  It takes love, patience, wisdom, hard work, discipline to be a parent.  It takes a husband and a wife to give children the proper foundation for life.  It takes the word of Christ and the proper roles for the husband and wife to provide a Christian home for God’s blessing of children.

Sure, parents can give their children a nice upbringing without Jesus, but those children will be molded to think that life is about this world and my place in it.  They will grow up working hard and being good citizens to make a good life for themselves, but that’s all it will be.  And “how sad and poor and dark” is a place where Christ and the eternal joy he provides is not there.  So our primary goal is to let the Word of Christ dwell in the home. Our primary goal is to give glory to Jesus by trusting him and doing our best to live for him. If that is our primary goal, God promises that he will take care of everything else.

There are two reasons why Jesus cares so much about the home.  First, the family is the main way Jesus provides for us.  A father who is missing physically, emotionally, spiritually, a strained relationship between the father and mother, a lack of proper discipline, attraction/addiction to worldly pleasures, some kind of abuse –  when there is any kind of dysfunction in the family, it hurts.  It hurts the marriage, the parenting, and the children.

The second reason Jesus is concerned with the home is that God intended the family to be an illustration of his relationship with us. God wants a parent’s attitude and actions toward their children to be a picture of his own toward us. God wants a husband’s relationship with his wife to be a picture of his Son’s relationship with believers. If we don’t learn these examples at home, what are the odds that we will learn elsewhere? God could still make it happen, but the home was designed by God for that purpose.  If you don’t see God’s forgiveness play out at home between husband and wife, parents and child, a brother and sister, then where else can you see it? How are we going to see God’s Word in action if we have no model for it in the home?

That’s why Christ wants to dwell in your homes. But guess what, friends? Even if you grew up in or have a home that is a complete failure, it is still possible to learn and practice love and forgiveness and patience and discipline, because we will always have God’s household as a model. We will always have the relationship between God the Father and God the Son.  We will always have the relationship between Christ and his believers.

Paul doesn’t say, “Husbands, love your wives, just like your father loved your mother.” No, he says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word, and to present her to himself as a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”  That is why Paul doesn’t say, “Forgive each other as your parents forgave each other and as you and your siblings forgave each other.” What an inconsistent and sinful model that would be! No, he says, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Remember how Paul started this whole section?  You are God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.  Christ doesn’t visit you, he dwells with you and lives in your heart through faith.  God brings you into his heavenly family so that you can live like his children here in your own family.  So be God’s children in your marriage, your parenting, your family roles, your obedience, and your life.  To God be the glory.  Amen.

GOD’S GOT THIS

Week 7 – 7.23.17

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John 11:23-27

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

 

Our church body has a publisher called, Northwestern Publishing House.  There are so many resources that it produces for people who want help studying God’s Word and growing in faith.  One of the great resources is a series of books known as the People’s Bible Teachings. Each book in the series addresses a doctrine of the Bible and talks about it in terms that everyone can understand. They’re great books – we have a few in the church library for anyone to check out. All the books are short and simple, except the one titled End Times. This one is twice as long.

When you think about the questions people have about the end of the world, it isn’t really that surprising. When? Where? How? What happens next? There’s a mystery to the end of the world that captures interest. Because of that, many people, even churchgoers and theologians, make their own guesses and interpretations of just what The End will bring. But we’re Lutherans, and if you have picked up on anything during the last 7 weeks, I pray it has been that we stand on this really solid, unshakable ground called, The Holy Scriptures.

Today we want to hear what God says about the Last Day. Now, there’s no way we’ll cover every angle or answer every question. That’s the reason we have Bible study and I encourage you all to follow a Bible reading plan at home. But while we might not be able to get to all the details, there’s one overarching truth that binds them all together: God’s Got This!

Part 1. God’s Got Rescue Waiting for His People

The Bible calls the time of the world from Christ’s Ascension until the end as the “End Times” and “Last Days.” We’re living in them. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul described these days. “Mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:1-5a).

In Matthew 24 Jesus describes the End Times as being filled with wars and rumors of war. Famines, earthquakes, persecution of believers and false prophets. A time when the love of most will grow cold.  But Jesus also says that this time of rampant sin and persecution will come to an end. He said, “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.”

This is the first thing we need to remember about the End Times and the Last Day. Even as our world gets dimmer and darker in sin, God is patiently waiting for his elect. We wonder sometimes why God allows the world to continue, but here is our answer. Imagine a bridge under attack from an advancing army in World War II. The bridge is wired to explode and you have the detonator but there you still have fellow soldiers coming across. Don’t you wait as long as you can until those soldiers are safe before you blow the bridge and cut off the enemy? That’s what God is doing now. He’s waiting, patiently, so that more souls might hear the gospel of Jesus and be rescued for eternity. We have to get it out of our minds that the Last Day is all about judgment. For believers in Jesus Christ, that day is about rescue.

Jesus assures us that the gospel will be preached and spread throughout the whole world to all nations. Satan can rage all he wants, but he cannot be stop God’s plan because he is defeated. Christ crushed Satan’s head on Good Friday and remains in absolute control at God’s right hand. He is using and guiding even all of the evil in the world in such a way that it serves for the good of those who believe in him. As just one evidence of that, look at how many people are here to listen to God’s Word today. In a world where love grows cold, God’s people still gather around his Word.  God’s Got This!

Part 2. God’s Got the End of Our Lives in His Hands

The Bible says that some Christians will still be around to see and experience the End, and it tells us to be ready for it at any time. However, if it works out for us like it has for the vast majority of Christians, we will experience our own personal end before The End. The Bible describes the end of our lives as a temporary separation of body and soul, two things God designed to be united forever. When we die our sinful bodies return to the ground from which mankind first came. Whether we’re embalmed and buried, cremated, or lost at sea our bodies eventually return to dust. But don’t think this is your end. At the moment of death our souls stand before God. The soul who knows Christ as Savior and Lord enters heaven forever. The soul who doesn’t, faces eternal fire in hell. Remember the thief on the cross next to Christ? Jesus told him, “I tell you, TODAY you will be with me in paradise.” One moment we suffer in this world. The next we are with Christ forevermore in paradise. When a believer dies, the Bible helps us understand that God’s Got it all under his control.  It is proper to say they are with him right now, and you can look forward to the same.

That’s really the focus of Jesus’ words here in John 11. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” As believers we don’t fear death because we will never actually experience it. Yes, our bodies will, but we are more than our bodies. By his victory over death on Easter, Jesus made death serve his purpose. It is the tool that God uses to bring his children home. The time between our lives on earth and our lives in heaven will be so seamless that each of us can honestly say, “In Christ, I will never die.”

Part 3. God’s Got Judgment Day All Sorted Out

So if our souls are already in heaven, then what is the Last Day all about? There are many Christians today that have turned the Bible’s teaching about Judgment Day into something very complex and confusing. They look for a rapture when believers will be taken away bodily into heaven. Or they expect a special time of tribulation or multiple returns of Jesus from heaven. Some expect a thousand years of peace on earth with the true church ruling in glorious power. Trying to make sense of all the different ideas  that are out there is enough to make a person dizzy.

But what the Bible actually says is much more straightforward. The Bible says that the Day is coming soon, though we don’t know specifically, when Jesus will appear in the clouds with the trumpet blasts of angels in a manner so powerful and glorious that he will be seen all around the world. The Bible says the angels will gather all the believers and separate them from the unbelievers. On the Last Day the dead will rise, both believers and unbelievers. Bodies will be reunited with souls. Believers who are still alive will be reunited with believers from the past and we will all be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord. The bodies of all believers will be transformed in an instant into glorious bodies that are ready for the perfection of heaven.

The unbelievers raised on the Last Day will stand with unbelievers living at the time and there will be a final judgment of all people, the living and the dead. Remarkably, the Bible says that believers, in addition to being judged themselves, will also participate with God in the judgment in some way.

And on the Last Day there will be a literal falling apart of the universe. See, this place has been marred by sin, so at the Last Day God will rid all creation of sin.  And these events will terrify and horrify the unbelievers. They will burst into tears and attempt to flee, but there will be no escape. But believers will stand up and lift up their heads because they know their redemption is drawing near. The world will be remade, a new heavens and a new earth.  God’s Got This!

Part 4. God’s Got Eternity

And then after the end comes eternity, a concept so foreign to us bound by time that the very thought of it makes my head spin. Not just a long time, but a never-ending time.

There are two sides to eternity, and no matter how you might break it up, it is not pleasant to think about one of those sides.  Eternity for unbelievers will be spent in banishment from the grace and blessing of God. The Bible describes hell as being “in torment” and “in agony in…fire” (Luke 16:23-24), a place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48), and where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12). All of this is meant to give us a taste of what eternal banishment from God is like. Whatever you imagine hell might be, it is far, far worse.

As unpleasant as it is to think about, we must think about it, because it is going to happen to so many. And God doesn’t want anyone to endure it.  That’s why he has placed his Word in our hearts and on our lips – to tell of his wonderful works, to proclaim his rescue through Christ, to give good news to those who are lost on the road to destruction.

There is another side to eternity, of course, and whatever you imagine heaven might be it is far, far better.  The Bible describes it in two main ways: We will be with God and we will see him face to face, as he really is. Please note this, brothers and sisters. The essence of heaven is not being reunited with your loved ones on earth.  The only thing that matters is being in the presence of the one who gave up everything to save your from hell.  Special relationships that you share on earth cannot compare to the relationship you have with Christ.  In heaven, you will enjoy that completely, perfectly, and fully forever

This paradise will never perish, spoil, or fade.  It is full of everything good and it has zero bad parts.  There will not be one person in heaven who says, “Well, I could think of something better.”  This treasure in heaven has been purchased for you by the blood of Jesus and it is yours by God’s grace alone, through faith in Christ alone.

If God’s Got this, then what is left for us?  That’s simple! Be ready.  Keep your faith active.  Make use of the grace God has given you in his Word and Sacraments so that you are ready for these Last Days, ready for the end of your life, ready for Judgment Day, and ready for eternity with him in heaven.  And whatever happens in life, patiently endure what the Lord allows, knowing that what awaits you on the other side is worth it.

When we talk about the End, God’s got this, and that takes all the fear away.  Amen.

 

GOD MADE IT SO WE BELIEVE, TEACH, AND CONFESS IT

Week 6- 7.16.17

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Hebrews 11:3

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

 

The very first words of Scripture are, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The first two chapters of Scripture detail how God did that. So why is this sermon on creation and preservation number 6 in our Lutheran Legacy series, when it is on page number 1 in the Bible?

The answer is here in Hebrews 11:3.  “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command…” By “faith” the writer means saving faith, faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Without knowledge of Christ and trust in him alone, the account of creation makes no sense.

That means we first need to know who God is before we can understand what he made.  We covered that in the first week, the festival of the Holy Trinity.  Before we understand how this world got here we also need to know what our standing is before God, how does he see us.  That’s where those 4 key concepts of the Bible that we covered in the 2 and third weeks come in.   God tells us about our sin and he shows his undeserved and unearned love toward fallen mankind.  His grace gave us the greatest gift we could ever have, a Savior, Christ the Lord.  His grace is so completely responsible for turning us from unbelief that it also creates faith in us to believe and understand who God is and what he does.  The faith he plants in us through the Word and sacraments will produce the fruit that God expects of his children.

Does all of this sound familiar?  It’s what we have covered so far.  It’s the legacy that we carry on as Lutherans. It’s this faith alone that we confess before all the world, faith that is built on grace alone found in Scripture alone. This is the faith that God gives us so that we can believe, teach, and confess how God created and preserves the world.

So, here we are now at week 6, Creation.  Genesis 1 and 2 tell us that God created the universe out of nothing in six normal days, by the power of his Word. On Day 1, he began his creation with light. He simply spoke and it came into existence. God divided the day into a period of darkness and a period of light. On Day 2 he separated the water into waters above and waters below, with the sky or heavens in between. On Day 3 he organized the waters below the sky into seas and had dry ground appear. He also had the land produce seed-bearing plants and vegetation, according to their kinds. On Day 4 he created the sun, moon, stars, and all the heavenly bodies to serve as signs, to regulate the time into seasons, and to give light on the earth at various times. On Day 5 he created the sea creatures and winged creatures, according to their kinds, and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply. On Day 6 he created the land creatures, according to their kinds, and then he crowned his creation with mankind. He formed Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, so that he became a living being. After Adam had named all the animals, God caused him to fall into a deep sleep and he took a rib from Adam and used it to build Eve from the dust of the ground. He also commanded them to be fruitful and multiply. And on Day 7 God rested from all the work of creating, with which he was now finished. It was all very good, perfect.

Of course that perfect creation has changed tremendously since God made it. The devil, a fallen angel, tempted Adam and Eve to sin. They used their free will to follow his temptation.  With that sin changed the world into a place of selfishness, corruption and death. Every human conceived by a human father and mother since the fall into sin is conceived and born sinful. Yes, we enjoy the blessings and beauties that remain in God’s creation, but it’s not the perfection of Eden.  Instead, this world continues to suffer the decay sin causes.

And as the stench of sin grows, the sweet fragrance of God’s Word is covered up and his creation forgets about him.  This even happens among us.  Where God planted faith to make us beautiful and holy in his sight, the devil uses the Old Adam to rear sin’s ugly face. Many get caught up in the apathetic mantra, “who cares.”  Some say the Bible serves as a good resource of life lessons and self-help tips, but they also turn to the trending “wisdom” found in posts and blogs. Others defiantly deny God’s work and his word as a bunch of fairy tales.

And the biggest argument against God’s account of creation coming from science is evolution.  Everything happened to work out over billions of years.  The sun, the stars, the planets, they just formed out of a massive expansion of energy called, “The Big Bang.”  Gradually since then, life grew from simple forms to the more complex until it reached its highest form, mankind.

The “scientific theory” of evolution is a closer to faith-based thinking than scientific reasoning.  Because where did the rapidly expanding matter come from?  Why has another Big Bang not happened?  If everything has been gradually evolving over billions of years, then we should not be able to classify all life into different kinds. It should just be one long continuum ranging from less complex life to more complex life, with every possible combination and variation in between. At the very least, there should be tons of evidence for these in-between life forms. But there is not.

Ultimately, though, we can’t prove creation either.  So how do we know and follow what God says about creation?  Why do we care about it?  It’s a faith issue.  The Bible says, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”  We believe it because God says it, because God made it happen.  It’s the same for everything in the Bible.  We believe that God had a plan to save us from the corruption of sin, from the decay of this world, from the destruction of death.  We believe that Jesus left heaven to carry out that plan.  We believe that God’s Son paid the full price for our corruption.  We believe that God’s Son proved this by conquering death on the third day.  We believe that God’s Son ascended back to heave to rule all things for the benefit of his people and to prepare a place for us.  And we believe that if God loved us like this, even when we don’t deserve it, that he is more trustworthy than any mortal scientist or modern philosopher who claims to have the answer.

If Bill Nye would die for my sins and rise from the dead, then I would believe in him and his theories of how this world got here.  But he has not and he cannot.  Only Jesus Christ could and did.  Jesus Christ does not teach me the theory of evolution or allow it be an option for my understanding.  Instead, he takes me to his Word and the account of creation, inspired by the Spirit.  So that is what you and I believe, teach, and confess.

What is important to remember in all this, is that the Lord God who created this world in 6 regular days and then rested on the seventh, did not rest from that point on.  He still sustains the processes that he himself put into action at creation.  If he withdrew his hand at any time, the universe would fall apart. We heard Paul say he gives all people life and breath and everything else. The Psalms say he sends the rain, makes grass grow for the cattle and plants for man to cultivate, bringing forth food from the earth (104:14). We might be tempted to attribute those things to nature and it’s order, but who created the natural order? Who regulates the seasons? The Creator does.

Jesus says, You are children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil (unbelievers) and the good, (believers) and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  Our heavenly Father feeds and waters the whole world, whether the unbelievers acknowledge it or not.  One quarter of the world’s population confesses to being Christian. That means our one true God feeds ¾ of the population even when they do not worship him or give glory to objects of their own creation. See how gracious our LORD God is, how he still preserves us?

This week in the devotions that I posted to our facebook page from Your Time of Grace dealt with worry.  They were great reminders taken from Matthew 6 where Jesus reminds us we don’t have to worry about anything.  We have a heavenly Father who knows all things and knows how to provide exactly what you need so that your physical and spiritual life will be taken care of.  Elsewhere in Scripture, God tells us he even has an army of angels that he sends to carry out his will.  You have nothing to fear.

What is our response to all of this? David wrote in Psalm 8, When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings (angels)  and crowned him with glory and honor.  Our response is awe and wonder that the LORD God of all creation sent his Son to save us from our sin and death, to make us children of God. Our response is to thank and praise, serve and obey him!  Our response is to carry on in life knowing that nothing is really ours, but everything is the Lord’s to be used for his glory and purpose. Our response is to trust our creator God, not worry. Our response is to remain calm day by day even during a drought.  We can trust our loving God’s care and protection. Our Lutheran Legacy is to believe, teach, and confess these simple words, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”

God grant it.  Amen.

GOD’S WORD IS OUR GREAT HERITAGE

Week 4 – 7.2.17

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2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God p may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
4:1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

 

This is the land of the free and the home of the brave.  Our country was built on liberty and opportunity. In a couple days, you can celebrate our Independence Day and our American freedoms.  You can remember our storied heritage and think of all the worldly blessings you enjoy here.

But celebrating our American heritage, is kind of like giving a fresh coat of paint to dilapidated ruins.  Don’t get me wrong, this country is such a blessing.  We have so many freedoms and opportunities that don’t exist in most of the world.  But that last time I checked, having a bunch of freedoms and opportunities, having great celebrations, and doing all sorts of fun things here can’t fix what is broken in my life.

I mean, if you want to have tons of worldly luxuries and liberties, America provides. If you want to be safe and secure, this is a great place to live.  If you want to do pretty much whatever you heart desires, then it can happen here.  America has a long heritage of doing that for so so many people.  But America, or any other nation for that matter, has never put the pieces back together where sin wrecks people’s lives.  No, there’s a different heritage that God, not America, has provided to perfectly put back together the pieces of a sin-shattered life, but where is it?  Why does it seem to be missing so much from American these days?

The Apostle Paul knew the problem that exists today even while he wrote these words almost two thousand years.  “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

It is a myth that all paths lead to heaven.  It is a myth that God just wants you to be happy on earth.  It is a myth that certain sins are worse than others.  It is a myth that we just need to compromise for religious peace and prosperity.  It is a myth that the church is just about money.  It is a myth that you don’t need regular worship and Bible study.  Tons of myths out there today, even in this land of the free.  Tons of myths, but you wouldn’t listen to them, would you?

You would never take the light version of God’s Word, you know, just the parts you want to hear.  You would never compromise on the truth of God so that you could avoid some difficult discussions. You would never allow someone to spoil God’s perfect plan for marriage.  You would never use God’s name for angry purposes.  You would never speak against those whom the Lord has placed over you in government, in the church, or in the home. You would never take a second or third glance when you know it’s wrong.  You would never spend a good amount of money on a car, or 4-wheeler, or boat, or snowmobile so that you could get around, but when it comes time to give your money or time so that the gospel of Jesus can get around our neighborhoods you just pass the plate.  You would never do those things, because that would be scratching the itch.  That would also be treating the Bible as if it’s just a bunch of man-made traditions, suggestions, and religious ideals.

If that is what the Bible is, then I’d be the first the throw it in the trash.  I’d be the first to start giving in to those itching ears.  But it’s not!  The bible is God’s Word.  It’s the one solution that America could never invent with all its ingenuity combined over the past 200 some years.

Here’s how we know it is: All Scripture is God-breathed … God-breathed means that this Word we have here is his. God used men like Paul and Moses and John to write the Bible, but all the words are his. It’s like playing the trumpet. The music that comes out belongs to the musician not the instrument. Now, the quality of the trumpet, the material it’s made of, the length of the slides all give the music a certain tone, but without the musician’s breath there is no sound. So it is with the Bible. Every single word of Hebrew and Greek is God’s. From Genesis to Revelation it’s all his. And not just the main thought of it. Not just the parts we like or the parts we agree with. ALL OF IT.

And all of Scripture gives us the one thing that puts those pieces of a sin-shattered life back together: Jesus.  America can’t do it.  All the liberties and opportunities and possibilities this world can off  can’t do it. I can’t do it.  You can’t do it.  But Jesus did.  He is the Word made flesh for us to save us from hell and bring us to heaven.  Paul had the Word and it changed his life.  You and I have the Word, too. The Word, who made a promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to Jesse, David, and Solomon.  The Word, who brought heaven down to earth at a barn in Bethlehem.  The Word, who lived here, not to make this world a more moral place or easier for us to survive but to overcome the world and give us an eternal home.  The Word, that spoke truth when it was wanted and when it wasn’t.  The Word, who did not utter one curse or complaint as they beat him and crucified him.  The Word, who kept the divine promise to save us from this world. The Word, who lives on, not in memories, but lives eternally because his tomb was powerless to hold him.  The Word, who says continuously “I am the way.”  The Word, who doesn’t deceive and persecute, but builds and strengthens.  The Word, who protects and guides. The Word, who gives light to your darkness and life to your death.  The Word, who, when connected to water, changes worldly creatures to eternal children of the Almighty God.  The Word, who comes in bread and wine to fill your guilty soul with forgiveness and new life.  The Word, who will call you up out of your own tomb someday and say to you, just like Paul, “Here’s my crown of righteousness for you.”

Plain and simple, the Holy Scriptures are God’s inerrant, eternal words and they make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  The Word will always be our great heritage in life and in death.  We need this Word of God.  For people like Paul, Peter, David, and Abraham it was there only assurance and hope in a world that wasn’t too much different than ours.  For people like Luther it was the strength and fortress in battles against those who tried to suppress the truth.  It was the restoration his soul needed in times of doubt and despair.  It was life for them, because it gave them the life of Christ.

We need the Bible, which is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. We need the Word of God when governments try to make laws against it.  We need the Word of God when the land of the free and the home of the brave starts to make us feel a little less free and not very brave. We need the Word of God when our ears start itching for trendy temptations.  We need the Word of God when persecutions come our way.  We need the Word when we are born, as we grow, when we get a little sassy and sophomoric, when we move out, when we get down on one knee and ask for her hand, when we get a career, when we buy a house, when we have our own kids. We need the Word when it is convenient and inconvenient, when it’s popular and not. We need the Word today, tomorrow, and till the end.

And others do, too.  God gives us this charge today:  Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.  In my life, there has never been one time when someone came up to me and said, “I would like you to tell me about Jesus and his Word.”  But there have been some hints along the way that suggest it might be a good time to tell someone.  Maybe you’re sitting around at a softball game and someone asks a question about communion practices. Maybe they mention that they are going through something difficult.  Maybe they ask you about your passions, what makes you tick.  Maybe there is something going on in this crazy country that they wonder about.  Be prepared with God’s Word in those circumstances.  It’s in season.

And then there are times to be ready when it’s not in season: when God and his message is not so popular, when someone is not interested in what your church offers, when a grieving friend doesn’t want to meet up, when a kid at school is being a bully, when your children are being difficult and won’t listen.  Those are still times for God’s powerful Word to work in the lives of people.  It’s always a good time to be ready.

And this isn’t just an encouragement for the pastor.  This is God’s Word for all God’s people.  Be prepared by being like Mary and sitting at Jesus feet.  You can do that here in worship, in Bible studies, in personal Bible reading, with devotions.  If you need help, just ask.  But the key is to be ready and then use what the Lord has given you.  Be prepared to stand on the solid foundation of truth Christ has laid.  Be prepared to offer words of healing and hope.  Be prepared.

The power and strength of the Almighty Creator, the forgiveness and life of the Beautiful Savior, and the love and fellowship of the Holy Spirit works through this Word.  It does not depend on your capabilities or your intellect.  God depends on the truth of his Word.  He simply wants to use your lips.

For Timothy, God used his grandmother Lois to tell his mother Eunice.  And then God had a missionary named Paul show up one day.   But it was always the Word of God doing the work.  If you want to help your kids, if you want a life that is worth something, if you want freedoms and opportunities,  the Word of God, not America, provides you with everything God has.

Everything we believe and know about sin and grace, faith and works, the sacraments, prayer, community is built on the foundation of God’s Word.  It’s the timeless truth that will always be relevant and meaningful because God’s Word will always point us to Jesus, who put the pieces of our sin-shattered life back together again.  God’s Word is our great heritage…and shall be ours forever.  Amen.