HOW TO SOUND LIKE PAUL

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2 Timothy 4:6-8

6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

 

There comes a time in a person’s life when you hear that clock ticking.  Really it’s been winding down ever since they were born, but it stayed off in the distance like a storm that’s not even on the radar yet. So it goes mostly ignored.  This clock ticks in the far off hypothetical, but the time comes when it creeps with every tick and tock up to the probable.

Paul is in that probable phase, hearing every tick and tock of life’s clock getting closer to the last stroke.  We aren’t sure when it started getting louder.  Was it when they had him chained up and lowered him into the dungeon? Was it during his first defense, when he was left alone?  Whenever it happened, Paul writes these words of his second letter to Timothy knowing that his end is near.

So, what would you expect him to say?  As we have seen from the past few weeks, Paul is so passionate and encouraging.  I think we would expect that.  If Paul hears that clock ticking loudly, then of course now would be the time to share inspiring messages and words of wisdom.  Of course, he would share personal advice with his colleague and friend, Timothy.  But these calm, confident words take it to another level, don’t they? And it makes a guy wonder, how could Paul be so sure?

Doesn’t Paul remember what he did?  Everyone who hears life’s clock ticking to its conclusion looks back on their life.  And when Paul looks back, he’s got quite the rap sheet.  He spent his youth enrolled in Pharisee school.  We know what that means: he grew up learning that laws and traditions were the focus of salvation and he grew up thinking that his ancestor Abraham is what connected him to God’s promise.  After his schooling, Paul’s interests got him involved with the same things Pharisees loved – hating Jesus and his followers.  But Paul was such a great student and so zealous that he took it up a notch.  He watched happily, as a Christian named Stephen was stoned to death.  He got permission to find more Jewish Christians outside of Palestine and arrest them for trial or death back in Jerusalem.  In fact, there are other places where Paul writes clearly about his past, admitting that he was zealous for persecuting Christians, that he was violent and filled with hate, that he was the worst.  And in another letter, he even admits that he always struggled with sin in various ways.

As the ticking clock gets louder for Paul, isn’t that the type of stuff we’d expect to hear about?  “Wow, I made such a mess back then.  Timothy, please forgive me for my horrible past! Please don’t count my persecutions, the pain I have caused others, against me.  Timothy, please focus on the positives and follow that example.”  You and I could relate to that.  Even if your clock is still ticking in the faded distance of the hypothetical, you could fill pages and pages with embracing mistakes, dumb decisions, and rebellion.  And no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to shake all the things that haunt our past.

To make matters worse, you and I also must realize that God sees it all, a holy God, who says, “I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands,” and “the wages of sin is death.”  Our best efforts to avoid punishment or atone for our past sins cannot appease the Almighty God, who demands perfection.  Instead, we find ourselves in utter terror.  Past mistakes and haunting sins are a plague with the prognosis of death, because we know what God thinks of it.  Any infraction at any point, even just once, means that we cannot spend eternity with a holy God because we aren’t holy.

How can we deal with these facts?  How did Paul handle it? Well, he didn’t mention any of it, not one word about how he approved of Stephen’s death or hunted down Christians as if they were terrorists.  He didn’t even say anything about his struggles with doing too much against God and not enough for God.  Instead, he says, for I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Paul looks at his life as if it’s an offering to the Lord, something pleasing and acceptable in his eyes.  He looks forward to his departure.  If a Greek heard that word, they would think of loosening their boat’s towline from a dock and casting off.  Paul says, “I’m tied down here in this world with my sinful flesh, with pain and affliction, but the time is coming soon when I’ll be leaving here to go somewhere else.” There’s no, “I’ll be dead and gone soon.”  This is a guy who does not care one bit about burial plans, because he’s leaving this vail of tears. He looks back and says it was a good fight, that he finished strong.

How could a man with such a sinful past – yes, he was such a selfless servant of the Lord in ministry, but he had some serious skeletons too – ever be so confident? It’s only because of Jesus.  That’s it!  Jesus is the only possibility.  Jesus is the only way a person can look back on their life like it was an offering to God, like it was a good fight, a victorious finish.

Because only Jesus was perfect. Paul knew that Jesus had never failed.  Jesus didn’t make mistakes or dumb decisions.  He was never openly rebellious.  He never had zeal in the wrong place.  Paul met Jesus face to face on that road when he used to be a persecutor, and Jesus changed him.  Paul didn’t have to look back on a life of sin and guilt because Jesus paid for every last one.  Paul had the righteousness of Christ as his robe because the Holy Spirit had washed him clean at his baptism.  Paul knew that he was free from sin and it’s awful curse.

You have the same faith, because you were washed the same way through water and the Word.  The power of the Spirit gave you the same robe of righteousness.  You are connected to Christ, who paid for every last one of your sins.  You don’t have to look back with guilt over all the mistakes and rebellious ways.  You can sound like Paul, saying your life is an offering to the Lord because the Lord Jesus made your life pleasing and acceptable.  Through Christ, you can look at it like a good fight and a victory lap.

With that kind of life, you don’t have to talk about death the way most people do.  No, your past mistakes are gone from your record.  There is no fear.  There is no doubt.  Instead, we have bold faith just like Paul, “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness.”  Paul knew there’s only one way to get such a prize.  It’s Jesus.  With Jesus Paul was free from death.  Jesus not only won forgiveness on Calvary’s cross, but he crushed the power of death on Easter.  Every day Paul knew that.  Every day he lived with certainty that his Lord and Savior was alive and watching over him with forgiveness and love.  Every day he knew that heaven was his home because Jesus made the payment and opened the gates for him.  Every day of his ministry Paul proclaimed that good news to a dying world.  So, when the clock started ticking loudly in Paul’s ears, he was ready for his departure.  When the time came, he was content and thankful for the crown of righteousness that the Lord had promised him.

But it wasn’t just for Paul, was it? “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”  The crown isn’t just for people like the Apostle Paul, people who can look back on years of ministry and countless hours of serving people.  This crown is for you and for all who trust in Jesus Christ.

You go ahead and let the unbeliever stare off in disbelief.  Let them mumble those words uncertain words at a funeral, “Sorry for your loss.”  Not us!  Not us!  Because we have the same confidence to sound just like Paul. We can be bold in the face of death.  We can be happy and thankful when that clock starts ticking loudly.  Because the Lord has that same crown waiting for you.  It was paid for by the perfect blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ.  It was promised to you when the Holy Spirit cleansed your heart and life in baptism.  It is kept for you through the power of God’s Word.  Nothing can change that.  The Lord will always keep you in his hands.  He opened the door to heaven when he rose and he left it open for you.

Christians view death in such a great way, don’t we?  We sound just like Paul, with calm unshakable confidence, because we have a Savior who died for our sins and then destroyed the power of death.  We talk about the crown of righteousness.  We talk about life as an offering and a good fight of faith.  We can only do that through Christ.

And so that’s how we take care of our church, with our eyes on the right prize. Our ministry is not based on numbers.  Our ministry is not about having the coolest and best events or groups.   It isn’t about the friendly faces and popping personalities.  Our ministry is not based in gimmicks or traditions.  Our ministry is founded on the facts of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.  Our ministry is based on the facts of law and gospel.  Our ministry is based on the transformational love of God, that he would change dead sinners into eternally living saints.  That’s how we sound like Paul.

So, keep it up, brothers and sisters.  Keep sounding crazy to the rest of the world.  Keep having this calm confidence that God has a crown in your future.  Keep that good news as the basis of everything we do and I promise, I promise, this ministry we share will be so powerful that not even the gates of hell will be able to withstand it.  God grant it.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

WISDOM DOESN’T COME FROM ITCHING EARS

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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.

 

Do you feel that, the spot that starts like a little tickle?  Maybe you can avoid it, thinking it will go away on its own, but then it keeps nagging you.  Before you know it there’s so much irritation that you are screaming for relief. And so you scratch, thinking, “It’s not that bad, just a little itch and it will go away.”  Only, that’s not how this itch works.  It’s quiet for a while, and then spots start popping up again.  What started as a little nuisance is now so hard to ignore and it’s not going away.

We’re not talking about chickenpox or poison ivy.  We’re talking about the ideas that pop up at work, in school, around the neighborhood, and even in churches.  These little ideas start so small. You might not even recognize them right away, but that itch is there and it’s festering.

The subtle itch might say, “Cable or DirecTV, you must have one or the other, and a 50 inch TV to watch it on.” “A parent needs to be first and foremost a friend for their child.” “This new diet craze or these new dietary supplements will make you feel so alive.  You need them for a better life.”

Maybe you can avoid scratching at some of the smaller annoyances, but what if they spread, what if they get more intense?  “If you want to live the dream and if you want every problem to be taken care of, then you need a great government.  This election is a going to fix everything. Get out and vote!”  “In order for us to have a peaceful life, we need to be accepting and supporting of every lifestyle and every choice.”   “Young ladies have to dress a certain way if they want boys to pay attention to them.”  Similarly, “If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, sex has to be a part of that relationship.  Then, if things are getting serious, you have to move in together to see if you are compatable.” “It’s her own body, she has the right to chose what she wants to do with it.”

Maybe all of these can be summed up with the common thread of our world right now: “knowledge is a free-floating system that has no foundation and no correspondence with any absolute reality.”[i]  In other words, if you think something is wise or true, then it is.  Someone else might not think it is, but that’s OK. Wisdom doesn’t need an absolute basis in objective facts anymore. People have their own ideas and you have yours. That’s the rash that has been spreading all over the place.  It’s not going away…

…and it’s spreading into churches, too. Paul writes, 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.  What exactly do these scratchy spots look or sound like?  Well, like a lot of skin irritations, it starts small.  “Jesus is the Savior; so believe in him and be a generally good person and you will go to heaven.”  Did you catch that little itch in there?  Or this, “Jesus  plus going to worship,  Jesus plus giving cheerful offerings,  Jesus plus penitent prayers, Jesus plus service to the church will get you to heaven.”  One final subtle itch that churches scratch. “Let’s not get too bent out of shape about sin, because God loves people and forgives people.”  Do you feel that little itch every once in a while?

Maybe you’ve even scratched it before.  But that doesn’t make it go away.  It leads to bigger ones.  “We should have open communion for everyone.  It gives the wrong, judgmental, superior impression when we tell people they aren’t invited.”  “We should let women vote and have authority positions in our church, because all are equal in God’s eyes.”  “We need to join the club and support the LGBT community so that our church can celebrate all shapes, size, styles, background, and types.”  Or should we go along with what the pope has been saying lately? “Churches should join forces more.  We can do more good for Christianity if we work together.”

These are some of the wise things that churches are saying, which God simply does not say. Do you know what happens when we scratch these irritating spots?  They don’t just go away.  Rashes spread.  The bug bite irritates more.  When you give in to those itching ears, it’s not going to make it better.  It might even start to be painful after while.   Paul says when people start itching they turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.  A myth isn’t going to do anything good for you.  It’s going to leave you on the opposite side of truth.  It’s going to leave you opposed to God.  I mean, you can’t turn lies into the truth because so many people are saying it, doing it, believing it.  Myths don’t turn into facts because they sound good to our itching ears.  The problem is the itch not the truth.

It’s always going to be wrong to treat your child like a friend.  Parents, you aren’t friends.  You are a parent.  You are a representative that God is using for a child.  You are an example of real, selfless love.  You are the example of right and wrong.  You are the moral compass for you children.  You provide the structure and discipline that God designed for the family structure.

It’s always going to be wrong to fall into the trap of our oversexualized world.  You don’t have to dress provocatively.  You don’t have to move in together before being married.  A person cannot chose their gender.  You don’t have to go along with a definition of marriage that contradicts the way God designed it.

It’s always going to be wrong to think that the government can save the nation.  Trusting in our political and economic systems is putting worldly circumstances ahead of God’s promises.  That’s a recipe for eternal disaster.  This election, and for that matter any prior or subsequent election, won’t fix what’s really wrong.  Only Jesus does that.

It’s always going to be wrong for a church to pursue things that don’t come from God in his Word.  We are built on something much bigger, much better, much holier than popular gimmicks and trends.  When a church tries to change or improve the foundation God has laid, how do you think that’s going to work?

When people start scratching those itching ears it makes things worse.  We end up with mass confusion and chaos.  There’s entitlement rather than hard work.  There’s selfishness rather than humble service.  There’s lust and lies rather than love and truth. There’s single moms in high school with under cared for kids rather than the unit of a mature man and wife loving their children.  There’s abortion, rape, school shootings, terrorism.  There’s acceptance and support for every kind of religious distoriton.  Churches become a place where Jesus is merely mentioned as a positive influence and not the only source of truth, life, and salvation.

Does that sound like a good thing?  No! But people have been scratching ever since the serpent slithered and crawled through the Garden of Eden.  Peopele were scratching in the days where false gods were little statues and big monuments.  People were scratching in the days of Paul and Timothy as they argued the meaning of life and the proper philosphical study.  People were scratching during the darkness of the Middle Ages.  And they still are today.  Are you?

If you are, do you realize where that leads?  It’s worse than having an itch you can’t scratch.  It’s worse than having a rash spreading all over your body.  It’s worse than physical pain.  When people give up the truth for the myth, we’re talking about a place where the itch is never cured and where the pain is neverending. It’s called eternal death for a reason.  There is no wisdom in that.  None. Period.

But with a loving God there is something better than scratching the itch.  With a loving God who knows where we struggle and succomb, there is real hope to clear it all up.  God has the cure for all the different itches we have.  He comes to us with love and compassion, seeing the rash of problems that our itching has caused. He comes to us with the simplicity and sufficiency of his Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  There’s the cure.  It’s the wisdom that comes from the Bible.

Do you know why God’s Word works so well at curing those itching ears?  Because all Scripture is God-breathed.  I didn’t come up with it.  I didn’t have to go searching for it.  I didn’t have to decifer or decode it’s message.  God gave me the simple and true message of his forgiveness through Christ.  With his power and his love, he tells me how this world was made when he spoke.  Without trying to soften the blow, he tells me how it was all wrecked because of my ancestors.  He points out each and every spot and scar where my itching has wounded me.  He tells me with clear language that my sins mean death and hell.  He tells me how God became man so that man could live with God again.  He tells me about his own Son, Jesus, who faced the punishment I deserve.  He tells me how Jesus wiped every scar from my itching away.  He tells me how the Spirit cleansed me with water and the Word, so that I would be pure in God’s eyes.  He tells me how much power and presence he has, that nothing can step in to take me away from him.  He tells me about the home that is mine because of Christ’s payment.  He tells me how I can be a part of his work force so that others won’t have to keep itching.  He tells me all of this good news.  And he makes his good news my good news.  It’s all here in the Holy Scriptures.  This is the wisdom that you and I have because God breathed it into us.

See, God doesn’t use worldly wisdom.  He doesn’t use popular opinion.  He uses his simple and divine power  found in the Word to cure me and to cure you of those itching ears.  So if I’m cured from all sin by the forgiveness of Christ, then that means I don’t have to itch any more and neither do you.  Instead, Paul says Preach the Word.  People need the cure for itching ears.  They need to know the truth and wisdom that gives salvation.  People need Jesus.  So give it to them.  Don’t give them popular opinions.  Don’t give them worldly wisdom.  Give them God’s Word.  You know, Paul doesn’t say you need to have a certain degree or specific training.  He just says use God’s Word.  Use the simple and superior wisdom that comes from heaven.

Be prepared in season and out of season.  Think of hunting season or football season.  When pheasant season is open, that’s when you have all of your equipment, and clothes, and everything else ready.  When the NFL is in full swing that’s when you watch the games and talk about your team.  God’s Word doesn’t have an off season.  Paul is saying that we can use it when it is popular and when it isn’t popular.  We can use this good news when people are feeling great and when people aren’t.  We can invite friends and neighbors when it seems like there is a good chance they will say, “Yes,” like at Christmas or Easter or maybe when we have no idea what they might say.  It’s always the time to be ready to share the good news of Jesus.

Correct, rebuke and encourage.  Sometimes people need to be corrected because they aren’t listening to the truth but to myths.  Sometimes people need to be rebuked when they won’t listen the first or second time.  Sometimes people need to be encouraged because their guilt is overwhelming and their sin is crushing.  The Word of God has all of the above.  It gets people back on track or finds people who didn’t know they were off track.  It shows how bad the rash of sin has spread.  But the Scriptures also show how completely Jesus has cured us.

But it might take some time and some clarity.  Paul says use the Word with great patience and careful instruction.  If you lack one of these things, don’t worry.  Your God doesn’t.  He is patient and careful with you.  So spending time with his Word is going to help you with this.  Maybe now’s the time to review in a BIC class.  Maybe now’s the time to get involved with one of our Bible study groups.  Maybe now’s the time to go over your catechism that you had when you were a kid.  It’s always a good time to be connected to the Scriptures.  It’s always a good time to listen to God’s Word.

This is how to avoid those itching ears. This is how to be thankful for God’s truth.  This is how to serve in ministry and take care of our church.  It’s with the Holy Scriptures, the true wisdom that comes from God. Brothers and sisters, thank God for the truth that gives salvation.  Thank God, and then use it. Amen.

 

 

[i] © 2012 Clayton J. Whisnant. All Rights Reserved

Citation: Clayton J. Whisnant, “Some Common Themes and Ideas within the Field of Postmodern Thought: A Handout for HIS 389,” last modified November 19, 2013, http://webs.wofford.edu/whisnantcj/his389/postmodernism.pdf

ENDURANCE COMES FROM THE RIGHT MEMORY

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2 Timothy 2:8-13

8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
11 Here is a trustworthy saying:

If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
12 if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
13 if we are faithless,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot disown himself.

August 23, 1992 – it’s name was Andrew.  August 29, 2005 – it was Katrina. October 22, 2012 – Sandy. And now October 7, 2016 – it’s Matthew.  Hurricanes are hard to handle.  Can you even imagine the devestation?  It’s challenging to picture it.  It’s hard to think about what it would be like to evacuate your home not knowing if it will be there when you get back.  It’s hard to watch those interviews with people who are sifting through huge piles of debris and rubble, that used to be their home.  It’s hard to see the stunned faces of people who litterally don’t know what to do.  These kinds of images burn themselves into our memories.  When another one comes along –and it will – the images and thoughts all come flooding back into our memories. That’s what it’s like this week.  We remember the Andrews, Katrinas and Sandys.  We pray for the people in Haiti, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.  We pray for those who have lost their homes and for the families of those who lost their lives. We pray and we’ll always remember.

It’s not just the hurricanes; we remember days where it wasn’t the groaning of nature that brought disaster but it was the depraved mind of man.  December 7, 1941 – Pearl Harbor.  November 22, 1963 – Assassination of JFK. April 19, 1995 – Oklahoma City bombing. April 20, 1999 – Columbine. September 11, 2001 – 9/11 Terrorist attacks.

And there’s more memories, aren’t there?  The personal ones like the only D you’ve ever had on a report card.  That time when the wind was knocked out of you or you ran full speed into a tree.  That time you pulled a three inch screw out of your leg after you were tackled on the pavement in what should have been two-hand touch.  Ok, maybe some of those are just me.  How about the time your friend or family member had a severe diagnosis from the doctor.  Was there a time when you had to go through the couch cushions and all the nooks and cranies to try and make the payments? Do remember your first heartbreak?  How about the a death of a close loved one?

Your memories are full of this kind of thing.  These memories can come from anywhere at any time.  And they take up so much room in our heads and hearts. How can anyone cope with it all?  How can anyone have hope when literal and figurative hurricanes are ripping apart lives, when this groaning world brings destruction, when people cause unmentionable crimes?

You know, Paul encourages us today to endure, but with a head full of all those bad memories how is that possible?  Bad memories don’t really help with enduring through the struggles and hardships.  In fact, they make it harder.  Bad memories cause anxiousness and fear.  Don’t bad memories make you want to avoid those kinds of things?  And that doesn’t help with enduring.  The opposite happens.

But good memories are no better.  Can a birthday, an anniversary, or family reunion really help you endure? The birth of your children? A great trip? A pay raise? A championship for your favorite team?  Can these kinds of good memories really give you the courage and strength to put up with the problems and pain that come up? I don’t know if that’s how it works.  NDSU wins a 6th championship in a row and that’s somehow going to take care of the destroyed homes and lives from hurricanes, tornados, or terrorism?  A great relaxing and luxurious vacation to Hawaii is supposed to take the sting out of all these mass shootings?  Those twenty pounds you lost a year ago can make family feuding go away?  Sure, good memories fill us up with joy and thankfulness now, but one dangerous thing can happen from all these good memories you have.  You want more!  And when life becomes a pursuit of more great moments, that kind of temporal life can never satisfy.  You can’t endure.

The problem when the focus is on us, our good or our bad memories, is that a sinner is taking center stage.  My memories, even the good ones, are not of a perfect life and neither are yours.  We are tainted by a past filled with accidents, mistakes, and poor choices.  We have disowned the Lord too many times to count. We cannot remember even one perfect day.  And if you can’t remember one, does it make any sense at all that there will be perfect days ahead of us?  Imperfect people cannot create a perfect future. That kind of realization isn’t helping anyone.  It makes real endurance through all of the difficulties a phantom we will never find.

We need a different kind of memory.  We need the kind of memory that drives away doubts and despair and gives joy and hope.  We need the kind of memory that puts vim and vigor into our hearts and steps.  We need the kind of memory that will help us face the challenges of each day head on with determination.  We need the kind of memory that causes contentment no matter what the circumstances.  You’re probably interested in that kind of memory.

So was Paul.  He’s writing these words to Timothy while “suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal.”  And yet Paul is peaceful.  He’s content.  He’s enduring everything.  One might ask, “How, Paul, how do you do it?  How do you act as if everything is fine when you are locked up for simply preaching and teaching?  Paul, give me the secret so that I can face my haunting memories.  Paul, give me the hope for a bright and lasting future.”

And do you know what he says?  “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel…”  Of all the things that you could remember, of all the things that you might remember, of all the memories that fill you brain, of all the things that try to crowd your memory so that you forget what really matters, none of them can compare to Jesus Christ.  You have got to remember Jesus Christ. The bad memories you have won’t help you get rid of your sin.  The good memories you have won’t pay the debt we owe to God.  Remember Jesus.

He’s the one who has a perfect past and a perfect future. His past encapsulates God’s promise to save you and me.  Every single word that God gave in the Old Testament is funneled into one man, the King of kings, the Promised One who would save his people from the oppression of sin, the Messiah who would rescue us from all our enemies and give us a kingdom with him.  And his future is endless because he is the one who rose from the dead.  He conquered death and hell for us.  He assures us that there is life forever in heaven.  He has a place ready for you because he is the living enduring Savior from this world of sinful memories.  He has replaced our pursuits of good memories and our tireless efforts to make up for the bad with his perfect life now given to us through faith. You and I don’t need to hang on to anything we have done, because we have the memory of Jesus Christ.

This is the good news that lives and dwells in our hearts by the power of the Spirit.  It is my gospel.  It’s not just the message that Jesus has.  It’s not just the good news that apostles and evangelists have.  It’s not just the testimony of those who have gone before us.  It’s not only for the preachers and teachers who serve in our churches and schools. This gospel is mine.  And it is yours.  God has personally delivered it to you and unwrapped it in all of it’s goodness.  It is your message to hold now and til the day God calls you to be with him.  Nothing can change this gospel for you.  It is your sole source of salvation, because your gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ.  It is the memory that he has taken away your sins and raised you to a new life of faith in him.

If you want to endure in this life, if you want to make it through any and every situation, you have what you need in the memory of Jesus Christ.  You can look back on a life of a sheep who loved to wander, and you don’t have to worry about what God will do.  You don’t have worry about what happens to wayward sheep, because Jesus has forgiven your sins.  He has found you when you were lost and brought you into his fold.  You can look at the future with bold confidence, not fixated on temporal pleasures and goals because you know those mean nothing in comparison to the home Christ has won for you.  You can look at your life right now, and it doesn’t have to be a mess of trying to avoid more bad memories with synical fingers that are always pointing to other people as the problem in the world.  Rather, you can enjoy the gifts and talents God gives you.  You can live in joyful thanksgiving for all that the Lord has done.  You can remember Jesus.  Endurance can only come from remembering him.

Paul knew a thing or two about enduring hardship. Having been harassed like he was on the top 10 most wanted for much of his ministry, he kept going with endurance that can only come from Christ.  So he passes that on to Timothy and to you and me these words that must have been old lyrics to a hymn.  (There’s a reason why we sing so many songs about Jesus in church and have our kids memorize them.)  Paul tells us it’s a trustworthy saying, it’s a faithful word for our lives as we remember Jesus. If we died with him,  we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.  Keep singing that song.  Keep that in your heart and mind. Never let it go.  And see, that’s how to take care of a church.  Remember Jesus.  That’s our gospel.  That’s our endurance.   Amen.

THIS IS HOW IT WORKS

 

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2 Timothy 1:3-14

3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.
13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

 

Faith in Jesus makes a person do and say some strange things.  Faith made Noah build a boat in preparation for a world-wide flood.  Faith made Abraham leave his home.  Faith made Jacob wrestle with God.  Faith made Joseph say “no” to a woman who was throwing herself at him because she was not his wife.  Faith made Moses lead a stubborn and rebellious nation through the desert for 40 years.  Faith made Gideon go up against the Midianite army with just 300 men. Faith moved people to give such treasures and talents to build the temple, as David told us in the First Reading from 1 Chronicles.  Faith made Daniel pray to God when he knew it meant he’d be thrown to the lions.  Faith made Ezra and Nehemiah continue with their work of rebuilding Jerusalem.  Faith made Joseph take a pregnant virgin home to be his wife.  Faith made fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, and others give up everything to follow Jesus.  Faith made servants do their duty willingly and cheerfully as if they were working for the Lord.  Faith made believers take beatings and imprisonments.  Faith made people peaceful as they faced the lions.  Faith in Jesus as the only Savior from sin makes a person do and say some things that are not normal.

What does it make you do?  Now, in this section from chapter 1 of Paul’s second letter to Timothy, you aren’t going to hear this long list of all the things Christians do because God has planted faith in your heart.  There are other sections of Scripture that help us, that train us, that teach us in our life of thankfulness and service.  So today God is not trying to convince you that you have to do something extreme, something great in order to have real, genuine faith.  But it is still a good question to consider: what does faith in Jesus do?  What does it sound like?

For starters, let’s just consider some general examples.  One is John.  He’s your typical guy, who works at the office, likes sports, loves his wife and kids, and has a few hobbies like golfing, hunting, and grilling.  He comes to church a couple times a month.  He strolls in about one minute before the bells.  When he comes his family has to sit in the back left corner.  He sings softly, if at all, because he doesn’t want anyone to hear him.  He listens to the readings and prayers and sermons attentively most of the time.  And then, when worship is over, he’s trying to hustle his family out the door.  Maybe he’ll have a quick chat with a buddy, but that’s it.  He isn’t rude or angry to anyone; he just wants to get home and on with his day.  During the week, he’ll talk about the news or sports with coworkers and friends.  He’ll hang out with his family and read a devotion after supper.  But he pretty much just does his thing.  He doesn’t want to cause waves.  He doesn’t want argue about politics or religion.  John is a normal guy that likes things simple.

Next, you have Mary.  She is the bubbly, chatty one.  She comes to church early so that she can catch up with everyone and greet any new people. (Maybe that means get the latest gossip or talk about her current accomplishments.) She sings alto in the choir because she thinks she has a great voice.  When she brings something for the potlucks, she is always sharing where she found the recipe.  She likes to get involved with projects so that they are done well.  People at work think she’s nice, but maybe a little full of herself.  Her family loves her; she cooks well and has great organization, but they get a little annoyed that things always have to be perfect.  Mary is outgoing and fun, but she struggles with pride in herself and her abilities.

Then, there’s Lacy.  She’s not as outspoken.  She’s gentle and kind. She is the type that bakes cookies for everything.  For the kids at school: cookies.  For fellowship snacks: cookies.  For new neighbors down the road: cookies.  For the big game over at the in-laws house: cookies.  For the office: cookies.   She just wants to help.  She’ll look over the newsletter for the birthdays and anniversaries so that she can send a card or say something to them next time she sees them. She likes the personal touch but she doesn’t get very personal with many people. Lacy is peaceful and loving but also shy and soft.

Now, each one of these people has faith in Jesus.  They believe that Jesus is God’s Son and the Savior from sin and death. We praise and thank God for the Johns and Marys and Lacys.  We praise God because only he could save a John or a Mary or a Lacy.  We praise God like the Apostle Paul writes, because he has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Only a God with all-knowledge and power could give us this kind of comforting promise that he has loved us from before time began.  Only a Savior who appeared in our world and took our punishment for sin could rescue us from death and hell.  Only a Savior who defeats the devil, the world, and our sinful nature can remove our darkness and bring eternal life to light.  Only a God full of love for the unlovable could make these kinds of people his very own through the power of his Word. Only a God that comes down to us in the sacraments could raise us to live a new life.  All the praise and all the thanks goes to our eternal God.

But I think we would all agree that there is room for growth for the Johns and Marys and Lacys.  That’s why Paul reminds Timothy and all believers to “fan into flame the gift of God.”  The life of faith is all about continual growth! There is something each one can work on.  John can be a little more helpful and thoughtful.  He can own the mission of the church more, meaning he can get involved and serve for others.  Mary can be a little less self-centered.  She can serve others with the kind of self-sacrificing humility and compassion that our Savior gave us rather than trying get the praise for herself.  Lacy can be a little less timid.  She doesn’t have to shy away from people because she’s worried what they might think of her.  She can be bold and powerful with God’s Word.

But that is not really something you can do for yourself.  Paul didn’t want Timothy to despair as he tried to work on some of these things.  He doesn’t want anyone of us to think that our life of faith is “all on me.”  He doesn’t want us to focus on our own mistakes and misgivings.  For a plant to grow it has to get sunlight and water.  Someone else has to do something for that plant to be healthy and productive.  The same is true for us.  God reminds us through the Apostle Paul today, “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you (that’s faith) – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”   You and I need the Holy Spirit.  We need the resources that he uses to feed faith.  We need a constant dose of the Means of Grace.  We need regular reminders from God as he speaks through his Word.  We need the forgiveness and strength offered in Jesus’ body and blood.  That is where growth happens.  It doesn’t happen because, “I know about God and stuff.”  That’s like a plant saying, “I will grow because I know about the sun and water and stuff.”  Growth happens when the Spirit does his work.  And when the Spirit is doing his work, that’s when Johns and Marys and Lacys grow. As Paul tells us, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 

I don’t know about you but to know that God is doing all of this for us takes the pressure off of me.  Our worship series has been all about taking care of our church; it’s reassuring to know that we are in God’s hands.  He is working on us.  He is giving us all that we need to guard the good deposit of faith.  His Spirit gives us the power and love and self-disciple.  And he keeps giving it to us so that we can keep it up.

But there’s one more thing that helps you take care of God’s church.  This is the second letter from Paul.  Timothy had been at this ministry thing for a while.  And the Lord was blessing his efforts.  But that doesn’t mean he was done growing.  And what do you need to grow?  God needs to feed you.  And God will often use someone else to do that.  For Timothy it was Paul writing these inspired words of God.  But Paul needed help, too. Paul had also been working tirelessly and all of that effort got him into prison, again.  It’s this beautiful blending of comradery that describes what faith does.

Do you remember in the beginning, all those examples of extreme things, strange things to some, that faith makes us do?  Well, here is something pretty simple that helps the Johns and the Marys and the Lacys of the church so much.  It’s you.  Timothy needed Paul and Paul needed Timothy. I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.  Paul’s sitting there in prison and he’s encouraging Timothy.  Paul says he’s praying for him.  He directs him to the power of the Spirit working through the gospel of Jesus.  But Paul was also encouraged as he sits in prison by memories of Timothy’s faith-filled family and his own faithfulness.  And he wants Timothy to visit so he can have more joy and comfort.

Brothers and sisters, this is how it works.  God uses believers to help believers.  Maybe you noticed how much that helped David.  Maybe you see how much that helps when Jesus describes repentance and forgiveness between believers.  Maybe you heard the joy in Paul’s words about Timothy and his family.   And that’s what you can be for a Jon and a Mary and a Lacy.  You can be a source of encouragement and comfort.  Your faith can help them and theirs can help you.  When faith does that, when faith in Jesus is supportive like that, then good things happen.

God grant it.  Amen.

Free from the Trap

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6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

 

 

Aron Ralston was all alone in the middle of the secluded Blue John Canyon in southeastern Utah.  An 800 lb. boulder had pinned his right arm.  He was trapped with no way out and no one around.  It was a devastating conclusion for a promising life.  He had two college degrees, one in engineering the other in French.  He had been an office man with Intel.  He gave that up for the guts and glory of mountaineering.  Now, that was the very thing that was trapping him.  He had about 12 oz. of water and a couple burritos with him.  No phone.  He didn’t tell anyone he was going out that day.  It was just him, the meager rations, and the 800 lb. boulder.  If everything worked out perfectly he could last a week – but even that was carelessly optimistic – and then he would die, trapped and alone.  What he loved so much would ruin him.

Maybe you haven’t been pinned by a boulder in the middle of a desert canyon, but there is a different snare that is just around the bend if we aren’t careful.  There is one thing that beckons people off the trail into a dangerous trap. Paul says, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

Let’s just be clear, the trap is NOT money.  Money is a blessing from a God who loves us and takes care of us.  Money is something we use to provide for the needs of our families. Money cares for the poor and destitute.  Money supports the church.  Money is not bad.  It’s not a sin to have money.  Looking through the Scriptures there are plenty of examples of God-fearing rich people:  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, David, Solomon, and many others.  And looking around here today, brothers and sisters, we are wealthy, too.

You cannot even begin to think that you are poor.  You have a place with walls, ceilings, rooms, windows, and even yards to call home.  Most of the people living in the world right now do not have that.  Do you know that the average salary in America right now is over $50,000 a year?  That’s about 137 dollars a day for 365 days of the year. Over one third of people around the world work for about 2 dollars a day.  You are very rich.  God has put you in one of the wealthiest places on the planet.  Kings from Bible times through 1700s would gawk at your extravagance.  You have heating and cooling throughout the whole house.  You have bathrooms and electricity.  You have a place to keep meat, milk, fruit, and vegetables cool and fresh for days and weeks.  You have more entertainment at your fingertips than what you know what to do with.  We are rich.  And that’s ok.  There is nothing wrong with blessings.  Don’t feel guilty because you live in America in the 21st century.  It’s not a sin to be wealthy.

What did Paul say? The trap is “the love of money.”  Loving money is the root from which all sorts of evil grow.  It’s loving money that Solomon warns against in the OT reading.  When the wisest man who has ever lived (who also happened to be quite wealthy) warns against loving money, then you know just how much of a trap it can be.

I think John D. Rockefeller can illustrate this point very well.  He was the guy who started Standard Oil in the early 1900s.  At one point he was the richest person in the world and first ever American billionaire.  Once a reporter asked him, “How much money is enough?”  Do you know how he answered?  “Just a little bit more.” The love of money is such a dangerous trap because when you love it you can never have enough of it, as Solomon says and so, so many more would agree.

Having money doesn’t have to turn you into a greedy money-lover.   I thinking most of us here today would say we aren’t tipping that greedy side of the scale like Scrooge, but what about Rockefeller?  Is there a slight possibility that similar thoughts have entered your mind and similar words have been spoken?  “Just a little bit more and everything will be ok.  If I can loosen the budget just a bit then I will be content.”  It’s that simple thought that seems so harmless but pushes us into a dangerous situation.

It’s like Aron Ralston.  He just wanted an exciting afternoon in the Blue John Canyon. His thrill-seeking spirit never expected to be caught in a deadly situation by one of his adventures.  And yet there he sat, waiting to die, trapped by his own doing.

And isn’t that exactly how greed works.  It starts small,  “just a little bit more.”  But that root can grow into such a huge tree of evil.   It starts small thinking that generosity means less for me.  It’s thinking, “I need” when really, it’s “I want or like.”  It’s thinking, “someone else who has more money can help with that.”  It’s that little bit of greed that confuses my priorities and wrecks my balance.  Selfishness creeps up more and more and service is forgotten, because service is not about me and mine.  It makes me think of my life now rather than my eternity.  And when I live that way, then I’m trapped.

Nothing can do that more than the love of money.  It’s the first thing that newlyweds argue about.  It’s the topic that keeps parents up at night.  It’s the last worry on the hearts of retirees.  Loving money is the quickest way to ruin a family, not help it.  It’s the best way to short-change God and trap yourself in the devil’s snare.

Going over these words from Paul today, I hope you aren’t thinking to yourself this is just another ploy from a pastor.  I hope you aren’t getting the idea that the church is all about money.  That’s not it!  At all!  Paul is trying to help us understand that loving money makes no sense because it never lasts.  It makes no sense because it always leads to the devils trap.  And that trap is not easy to escape, because it’s eternal death in hell.

Paul says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” That’s where Aron Ralston was.  He was about to take nothing out of it.  And that’s where loving money gets us, too.

Do you know what happened to him?  Maybe you’ve seen the movie, 127 hours.  See, Aron was trapped in that canyon for 3 days and then 4 days, getting more dehydrated and delirious.  He knew what it would take to get out. He would have to cut his own arm off if he wanted to escape.  He had a multi-tool in his bag and he thought it could work.  He tried sticking the blade into his arm, but he couldn’t get through the bone.  On day 5 he took a video of himself on his camera and carved his own tombstone.  Then on the morning of the 6th day, he had a lucid moment and realized he could just break the radius and ulna using torque against his trapped arm.  And so he did it.  He wrenched his body to break both bones in his arm.  And then he MacGyvered a tourniquet and cut through his own arm for about an hour with a small dull multi-tool knife.

Do you think that something similar is needed for you when it comes to loving money?  Is it going to take that kind of desperate and drastic measure to get out of sin’s trap?  Of course it is!  Sin isn’t easy to get rid of.  It won’t just take care of itself.  The devil won’t just up and leave.  And it’s going to take a sacrifice bigger than cutting off your own arm.  It’s going to take more that you could ever do.

That’s why Jesus came.  He didn’t want you wallowing to death in the trap of greed.  He didn’t want your life to be ruined by your own stupidity.  So Jesus went into the pit for you.  He was trapped by sin and death in your place.  He let you go free.  Not because of how hard you were trying to get out and you just needed an extra push.  Not because of how long you were trapped and how many prayers you said.  It’s because of his grace and mercy.  It’s so unearned and so undeserved and so needed for people like us.

Each one of us feels these temptations.  Each one of knows the dangers.  Each one of us has experienced the traps.  It’s the love of money.  It’s the materialism.  It’s the “just a little bit more” mentality.  It’s lusting eyes.  It’s perverse mouths.  It’s selfish thoughts.  It’s harmful actions.  It’s lazy faith.  It’s mixed up priorities.  It’s sin, and we all know it too well.  And so does Jesus, because he took all of those sins and carried them out to Calvary.  He traveled that path and went out to that cliff to die for us.  We don’t have to free ourselves by making some serious sacrifice.  He made the sacrifice.  He freed us from the traps.  He took them away forever.  You are not going to die trapped by your own sin.  Jesus died for you.

That’s the kind of God you have, a God who didn’t just send out a search party to find where you were trapped, a God who didn’t just try and get you the help you needed, you have a God who found you and freed you completely.  There was no punishment that you needed to endure.  No pain that you needed to survive.

But there is a fight left.  After he freed himself, he could still die in that canyon.  He was free from the death trap, but he still had to climb, rappel and hike 8 miles back to his truck.  Talk about a grueling and punishing fight?  If Aron was going to live he had to keep fighting and keep going.

That’s where Paul is getting at today.  No, we don’t have to free ourselves from greed.  Jesus took care of that for us.  But there is a fight to stay on the right path, not wandering into another one of sin’s traps.  Paul says “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.”  That’s the best kind of fight you can have.

That’s kind of where our story is different from Aron Ralston.  We didn’t free ourselves.  We aren’t fighting to stay one step ahead of death.  We aren’t waiting for rescue like him. He was a goner if he didn’t get help.  And it came.  Four hours after cutting off his own arm.  After climbing and rappelling and hiking, two hikers happened to see him on the trail.  They gave him food and water.  They called for help.  After 127 hours, Aron Ralston was rescued.  He was going to live, because he fought and because he got help at just the right time.

Our fight against the temptations and trappings of greed is not like his. We are fighting this good fight of faith because we are already free.  We pursue this new life, because Jesus has already given it to us.  We have the freedom from sin.  We have the eternal life that God has given us.  We have this glorious ministry of love and service.  We have this message to carry with us.  It’s not a fight to stay alive and reach safety.  It’s a fight that knows we are already safe in the arms of Jesus; we have life with him no matter what happens.  No one can take that away from us.  This is not the fight for freedom and life.  We have this good fight of joy and thankfulness because we already have freedom and life in Jesus.

So, do you know what this fight of faith is going to look like this week?  It’s a godly life where Jesus is the focus.  We won’t turn from this side to that looking for another trap to catch us.  We keep our eyes on Jesus and the life to which he has called us.  That means you’re going to be a godly employee fighting the good fight of faith, giving your best as if you were working for the Lord.  You’re going to be a godly boss, fighting the good fight of faith to be generous and kind.  You’re going to be godly parents not because of what you buy for your kids, but because of your patience and gentleness.  You’re going to be a godly spouse looking not at what you can get but what you can give, serving with love and humility.  You’re going to be a child of God who’s not trapped by greed but content with whatever the Lord has given.  You’re going to be the kind of person who’s not looking for whatever this world has to offer but to the Savior, Jesus, keeping your eyes on him and in his Word.  That’s the good fight.

You know Aron Ralston is probably pretty happy how things worked out back in the Blue John Canyon.  Your story is better.  Jesus freed you from sin’s trap and has given you a new life.  You have the eternal freedom from the ruin of sin.  You have an eternal life at your Savior’s side.

So keep fighting the good fight of faith.  Amen.

IN, NOT OF

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I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 7 And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.
8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. 9 I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

 

 

So, are you in or are you of?  Because there is a difference.

Carson Wentz is of North Dakota. (Although Wikipedia says he was born in North Carolina and moved here when he was 3.) This is where he grew up. He went to school here in Bismarck. No matter where his career takes him, he is of Bismarck, and Century High School, and North Dakota State University.  He can’t change that and neither can you.

“Of” is the source that describes your past, and so “of” can also be a helpful description for who I am and what matters to me.  It can give you characteristics about me.  If I say I am of Watertown, WI then you can understand a few things.  You know that I have experienced all four seasons of the year.  I’ve seen the beautiful colors of fall. I’ve trudged through the biting cold of winter.  I’ve worn short sleeves and shorts that first day over 40 in spring time.  I’ve sweated out a hot muggy stretch in summer.  Being of Wisconsin also helps you understand my fanaticism for the Packers and Brewers, brats and cheese.  If you know anything about our Wisconsin Synod, it began in Milwaukee and Watertown.  So you will also know that I kind of grew up in a Lutheran bubble.  I had Lutheran friends and neighbors.  My family and most of my friends’ families had long genealogies in WELS.  I knew tons of pastors and teachers.  I experienced plenty a potluck in my youth.  I played grade school athletics in a league of only Lutheran schools because almost any town around Watertown had a Lutheran school.

There’s one more way that “of” describes a person.  In Luke 2 we hear that Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem to the town of David, because Joseph was of the house and line of David.  “Of” describes to whom you are connected and related.  That’s kind of how last names started in the Middle Ages.  Rather than saying I’m Tom of the house of Martin of the house of Robert of the state of Wisconsin of the immigrants of Germany of the bowl making clan, I can just say all of that with Moldenhauer now.

“Of” says a lot.  So, what does it mean if someone says, “I am of the world?” Well, it means that they are from here, but it also describes a lot about them and what they care about.   If you say, “I am of the world,” that means you really care about this world and it means a lot to you.  That means that things like the elections this November are a big deal.  You watch the coverage and news reports.  You can’t wait for the debates.  You discuss (it seems that means complain about) the issues and the candidates with family and friends.  If you are of the world, then this election is a huge deal and holds a decisive path for the future of our country and world.

If you are of the world that means peace and quiet is probably a rare guest in your life.  Have you noticed how busy everyone is?  Have you noticed how little time people spend in peace without distractions and devices?  If you are of the world then you are caught in the hurry up and go.  Your schedule is maxed to capacity with work stuff, family stuff, fun stuff, and random stuff to the point where you don’t have much of any time for God and his church.  I mean, honestly, if people are of the world, then that means the relationship with God is strained to say the least, because God is not of the world.

If you are of the world, then where is the truth?  You see a world where people are told what they want to hear.  You can’t offend anyone anymore, so morality, politics, religion, sports, hobbies, food – all that stuff is all in the eye of the beholder.  You have to make your own way and your own truth.  Do what makes you happy and steer clear of other people so that you don’t offend them.  If you have to say something about personal ideas or feelings, do it on facebook or twitter so you can hide behind social media and a screen.  Then, offer a vague apology post a couple hours or days later.  That’s the way of truth if you are of the world.

If you are of the world then, brothers, then you have probably flared your nostrils and had a heated exchange with someone.  Guys get macho like that sometimes, because we think winning an argument with another guy proves something.  We have this this insatiable desire to be right and to win.  You want to be the person who has the answers and knows how to get things done.   You work really hard to “support your family,” which is maybe a cop out that means you want to give your wife and kids things they want and like.  That’s what is important if you are of the world. And that spills over into other aspects.  You want NDSU to get the 6-peat, or you want UND to pull off a huge upset over NDSU.  You want the Vikings to win tonight so you can say, “We got you, Pastor!!!”

And maybe one final thing that really matters in this world is the way you look.  If you are of the world then, sisters, you are all about fashion and hair and accessories.  You’ve got the magazine subscriptions to see what’s hot this year.  You stop at the malls and shops at least once a week to check out the sale racks.  You’re on a first name basis with the salon stylists. If you are of the world you probably have membership at the Y or at some point in life you’ve taken on a popular diet so that you can look good.  Because these kinds of things really matter when you are of the world.

People who are of the world are into all of this stuff.  You’re consumed by it.  You find your purpose for life in all of the worldly things.  But let me ask, does being “of the world” produce any lasting joy?  Is it really a good thing?  Let me ask it this way: will the election change our life?  Will the busy schedule give us hope for a better future?  Will speaking the world’s version of truth help people who are struggling to find some?  Will cheering for the Vikings or Bison or Brewers help us in the fight against Satan?  Do the shopping trips pay the price for our sins?  Can any of our worldliness help others with their sins?  Does being of this world shine God’s light in the darkness?

Not so much!  In fact, that kind of life is a part of the darkness.  Being of the world is a life where nothing lasts and where we can never stop the pursuit of ourselves. That kind of life is serving the devil’s purpose, really.  And we fall into that scary trap too often.  We get caught think about worldly problems and worldly passions and worldly possessions and worldly preferences.  And we may excuse it saying everyone else is doing it, but that doesn’t work with God.

That’s why God sent Jesus.  He didn’t send Jesus to be of the world.  He sent Jesus into the world.  That’s why Jesus’ main purpose here was not to show us the best kind of political leader.  He wasn’t interested in giving worldly wisdom for us and our kids.  And Jesus’ main message was not motivation to make a better life for yourself.  Jesus came into the world to be the Savior from the world.  He gave himself as a ransom for all.  He paid the price so that people wouldn’t think life is always about paying the price to get ahead. Jesus gave his life so that we can have a life that lasts forever.

God does not want people to fritter away in life trying to make this sin-darkened and broken world a better place.  You see, the world is broken and the devil wants you to think that you can fix it.  He’s hoping that you will love it so much here that you won’t think about eternity that much.   The devil hopes you will buy into the “be part of the solution” mentality.  But it won’t work.  The only solution is Jesus.  And if he wasn’t of the world, do you think you have to be?  No.  You have a God who loved you and saved you for an eternity with him.  You have a God who guards and protects you.  You have a God who guides you in the right paths.

That’s where Paul is getting at with this section of his letter.  If we are saved by God’s grace through Christ, if we have been paid for in full by a Savior who loves us and gave his life as a ransom for us, and if we have the truth that being of the world leads nowhere, then you don’t have to be of this world.  Instead, Paul gives us some ways to live in the world and not of it.

He says that you don’t have to think this election is the be all and end all of America.  You can have the right attitude.  Make requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  That’s the right view of government.  Pray for it.  There is not one divinely ordained government in this world.  Every government is filled with a bunch of sinners just like every country is filled with sinners like us, but God works through the government for the purpose of peace.  God doesn’t want heaven on earth, he wants us to have peace while we serve him with a godly life.  So being in the world gives us the right attitude about government and elections; you’ll pray for a government that allows us to share the gospel, for a government that lets us take care of the church.

Because in this world God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  That’s what matters, the gospel of Jesus.  God wants that to get out.  He wants truth to prevail, because his truth lasts.  If you have been struggling, if you have been running around trying to make life whole again, if you are fed up with everything going on, then the truth is still that God loves you and wants you to live with him in heaven forever.  HE sent his own Son to face hell so that you wouldn’t have to.  There is nothing more powerful than that.

So that changes things for us, brothers and sisters.  We don’t have to be macho men who win arguments, disputes and fights.  We don’t have to be alpha dogs, who everyone is afraid of.  We don’t have to put such an emphasis on being of this world.  We get to be bringers of peace because Jesus brought us peace and we want others to have it to.  We get to be honest leaders because Jesus gave us the truth.  We get to be good examples to our families, friends, and neighbors, because we know that being of this world leads nowhere.  We get to plan out time personally and for the family where Christ is the center.  That might be before or after meals.  That might be before bed times. That might be in the morning.  And that will be every week in church.  That is what a godly man does when he is in the world and not of it.

And for our sisters in Christ, Paul isn’t saying that looking nice and feeling nice is sinful, but there’s no need to find your worth and purpose in how you look or what gossip you know.  That’s being of the world.  God uses you in the world to be the example of decency and propriety.  Our younger girls and daughters don’t need better fashion tips and bigger closets.  They need godly mothers.  And you have a God who makes that possible because he fills you with his grace and mercy through his word and sacrament.

That’s what God has done for all of us.  Because he didn’t make us of the world.  He is using us in the world to be lights where the devil wants darkness.  He is using us to show love, the kind of love that speaks truth and speaks it with such selflessness and humility. All by grace and mercy, God is using us to take care of his church so that people will know their Lord and Savior.

So, are you in or are you of?  Thank God that he sent Jesus into the world to save us from being of the world.  As you go out this week, be in, not of.  God grant it.  Amen.

 

 

 

MIND-BLOWING MERCY MOTIVATES MINISTRY

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12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

 

 

The reports were horrific.  The buzz was unnerving.  The images burned into memories like the fireballs burned through those World Trade Center twin towers. What kind of people could do such a thing? Who could hijack a plane and fly it, with innocent civilians, into a building like a bomb? How could this happen?

As the events of 9/11 played out, we learned the shocking and sad answers.  It was a group of Islamic extremists called, al-Qaeda. They were angry with American involvement in the Middle East.  They could not stand how Muslims were being treated around the world.  The teachings and confessions of their Muslim religion only added fuel to the fire.  They wanted to show the world what happens to enemies of their god and his followers.

It’s still sobering to remember that day 15 years ago, that some could be so evil.  But it’s not the first time terror has been unleashed in our world.  It’s not the first time that politics and religion mixed into an explosion of hate and terror.  History is littered with this kind of thing. Today we are listening to someone we know, appreciate and love, who knows a thing or two about being so obsessed with fighting for his religious viewpoint and taking it to the next level of extreme.

Now, you might think that I am embellishing the truth a bit, but listen to him as he explains his life: I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.  This is none other than the Apostle Paul.  Once known as Saul, he was a student of the Old Testament in the tradition of the Pharisees.  At that time he thought he had it all figured out.  He thought he knew what God was like and what God wanted.  He was all about laws, traditions and being good.  As Paul studied and learned from his teacher his passion only grew.  He became the cream of the crop among his peers.  His zeal and feistiness was second to none.  It got to the point where he could not stand hearing about Jesus from his followers.  Paul knew how hate can boil in the human heart.  He knew what it looked like when the hate could not stay hidden anymore and came lashing out at innocent people. He knew what it was like to spew venomous words at people who were not like him.  He knew all of it so well.  And he did it all in the name of God –  who he thought God was, anyways.  His self-fulfilling work at that time, was to find Christians and shut them up.  Whether that meant in prison or lifeless in a pile of rocks, he was all for it.

It’s shocking when you think about it: Paul’s life wasn’t all that far off from these terrorist groups. How could Paul be so bad?  A blasphemer?  A man who spoke slanderous and defaming lies against the message of Jesus and his followers?  A persecutor?  A man who loved to see Christians suffer?  A violent man whose passion was to get his hands dirty with the blood of those who were not like him?  How could it happen?

I think I know.  This week, I went on YouTube to watch some of those 9/11 reports and interviews.  One of them was a tell-all interview with President Bush, recalling the events of those days.  A couple things that he said kind of hit the nail on the head.  As he visited Ground Zero he recalled that “there was a palpable blood lust from the workers at the site.  They were interested if we were going to find the enemy and bring them to justice.”  And I know exactly what that feeling is like.  You probably do, too.  When President Bush spoke from Ground Zero only a few days after the attacks, I was cheering, too, as he said, “The people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”  A few years later, as I saw the reports and videos of the “Shock-and-Awe” bombing campaign of Baghdad along with all the other steps our nation took to defend our freedom and bring justice on our enemies, I was watching in approval.

It’s really not that hard to see myself as a blasphemer, persecutor, and violent man.  I’m not in a better category because these hands have never been responsible for another person’s death.  When I have that same “palpable blood lust” as the workers at Ground Zero, that makes me just like Paul, who wanted to get rid of Christians.  It doesn’t matter if we call it terrorism or persecution or hatred, do you want to know what God calls it?  Murder!  Plain and simple.  “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer.”

And do you know something else?  It doesn’t matter if it’s rape, or having sex with someone who is not your spouse, or looking at pornography, God calls it adultery.  It doesn’t matter if it’s stealing from a store, forgetting to return something you borrowed, selfish jealousy, or discontent with what you have, God calls it theft and coveting. Or maybe this summarizes it the best: “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” In other words the problem is not only the terrorists from al-Qaeda or ISIS.  The problem is not only with the blasphemers, the persecutors, and the violent people out there.  The problem is in these sinful hearts of ours.  The problem is me and you. It sounds harsh, but it’s the truth:  terrorist, violent persecutor, and pastor are all the same.

Maybe you’re shocked and stunned by that. Maybe it’s hard to connect these dots just like it was September 11, 2001. Maybe you’re realizing that it’s impossible for people like us to adequately care for this ministry because we are consumed by things like selfishness, slander, and hate. Maybe you’re realizing and have realized for a long time now that the only thing that is really easy for us is sin.

And yet this blasphemer, this persecutor, this violent man Paul says, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service.”  How could God do that?  How could he give Paul strength?  How could he consider Paul trustworthy?  How could he appoint a man filled with such hate and cruelty into his service?  How could God make Paul a missionary to reach others?  I mean, there had to be better options?

But there is no better.  There is only best and worst.  And here’s the reality for all of us who are with Paul lumped into that same category.  This is the part where Paul wanted every ear to perk up.  This is the part where you pay attention because God is about to blow your mind.  This is the part where you elbow your husband and tell your kids to sit up straight.  Here’s a trustworthy saying:  “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.”  God looked down at a world filled with terrorists, murderers, rapists, thieves, racists, gossips, and liars.  God looked down at a world of disrespectful, selfish, arrogant, and sometimes just dumb people. God looked at Paul and he looked at you and me.  And he had mercy.  He could have and should have burned us all in a fire that is much hotter and much more eternal than the fires that brought those towers down.  But he showed mercy.  He looked at the worst and gave us his very best.

It’s not that you and I had some spark that set us apart from the rest.  It’s not that you and I had a something great to offer God.  It’s not that our works are better than others.  What happened is that there is a God who loved the unlovable.  Jesus longed to give us what we could not earn for ourselves.  Jesus saw lost people like us and went on a mission to find us.  It’s all because of him.

For the times when our hearts will filled with hate, Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  For the times when we lashed out with blasphemy against our God or those around us, Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  For the times we persecuted people who are not like us, Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  For the times we broke God’s law and his heart with our sins, Jesus came into the world to save sinners…of whom I am the worst.  That’s why it’s called mercy.

Mercy is what changed Paul so much.  He didn’t deserve any of it.  He’s not the shining example in this section.  Jesus is. Jesus was willing to look for people who didn’t want to be found.  And he never stops.  Paul says, “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” Paul had a Savior with never-ending love who found a violent, blasphemous, persecutor of the Christian faith and actually turned that man into a Christian.  He had a Savior who not only brought him to faith, but also then enlisted him into his service.  Paul was unworthy for such a task, but the Lord made him worthy.  Paul was powerless to serve with the kind of heart and help that was needed, but the Lord gave him the strength.

Paul’s Savior is also your Savior, and so what changed Paul so much is also what changes you.  You may look in the mirror and see an ugly sinner, but your Savior sees someone for whom he died to save.  You may see someone who is worthless and powerless, but your Savior sees the limitless power and heavenly worth he has given you.

This series about ministry could not begin on a better note.  When it comes to taking care of a church you and I aren’t the focus, but it’s the mercy of our Lord.  When all common sense said not to, he went out to look for the rebels and the rejects, the haters and the blasphemers, the violent and arrogant, the lusters and the liars.  His unlimited patience showed mercy to us.  We are no longer lost.  We are saved.

It’s that kind of mind-blowing mercy that changes our ministry.  The job of taking care of our church is not hard when we realize God’s mercy is taking care of us.  It’s not hard when we realize, we aren’t touting our own names around town, but his.  It’s not hard when we realize his mercy is producing the results.  It’s not hard when we remember that his mercy is unlimited.

You know, there are a lot of motivators out there.  On September 11, 2001 it was hate and evil.  I’ve been there before, so have you.  Other motivators are rewards, if you do a good job you will get something in return.  Guilt is a motivator that we use too often.  I feel bad about something I did or said, and I’m trying to make up for it.  The list goes on.  Well, today God says you can throw that list out of the window.  He’s got one thing that will motivate you.  It’s called mercy.  Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.  You are not lost anymore.  You are not bound for hell anymore.  You still struggle with sin, yes, but your sins are all taken away from you – past, present, and future.  Christ came to change the worst into the best.

That kind of mercy motivates us to do one thing – thank the Lord.  That’s really what ministry is, it’s finding ways to say thank you to a God who saved you.  Not everyone is a Paul.  Not everyone will be able to travel around talking to any and every one about Jesus.  Not everyone will start churches wherever they go.  God used a persecutor and violent man to do that work.  So God will find ways to use you. He’ll use you to plan projects.  He’ll use you to say “Hello, welcome to our church.”  He’ll use you to make food for others.  He’ll use you to listen to someone who needs an ear.  He’ll use you to fund new activities.  He’ll use you to show mercy to someone who is lost.  How mind-blowing is that!

There’s really only one response that seems fitting, and Paul wrote it down for his young colleague, Timothy, and for us so that we wouldn’t forget it:  Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.