THE IMPOSSIBLE IS POSSIBLE…THROUGH FAITH IN JESUS.

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Luke 18:18-27

18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”
21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

 

What happens if 100% isn’t good enough?  Let’s say you have the chance to be a quarterback for just one play in the NFL.  You could try your very best, 100%, for just one play.  Now, what if a 325-pound lineman broke through and was heading, full steam, for you?  You would probably break a bone or get knocked out cold.  100% of your very best effort in the NFL would not be good enough.

Kids in elementary school can study until their math book is memorized backwards and forwards, but if that math test was college level calculus, how do you think that will go?  At work, your computer system develops a glitch and an order that was supposed to be done by the end of November now is expected by the client in two days.  No matter how much extra help you call in, an order that was supposed to take a month won’t be done in two days.   Teachers and parents, you can do everything in their power to lovingly and carefully correct poor attitudes, but kids will still misbehave.  Your 100% isn’t always enough.

Jesus brings up a pretty good example of that for us today.  You can try as hard as you want, you can explore every option, you can use all the force and energy you have, you can think up every trick, but you will never get a camel through the eye of a needle.  When my best, most efficient, most careful, most loving effort doesn’t get me where I want to be, what then?

That is kind of what the rich man was dealing with when he walked up to Jesus.  He was giving a good life 100% of his effort. He had a good reputation.  The Bible says he was a wealthy ruler of some kind, likely in the local synagogue.  But to be sure, he wanted to know if there was anything else that he was missing.  You see, he was making sure that his 100% was good enough for heaven.

Jesus is perfect at getting to the heart and core of the rich ruler’s request.  First, Jesus says that anyone who wants to have heaven must obey the commandments perfectly.  He lists a few: do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, and honor your father and mother.  This pleased the rich man, because he readily admitted that he was a good, law-abiding citizen since his childhood.  This man gave no one any reason to second-guess his decisions or his lifestyle.

Each one of us here today would like to say we fit into the sandals of the rich young ruler quite well, right?  We like to think we have a pretty good reputation. Maybe you run down the list in your head. ‘My character is not questionable.  I have not killed anyone.  I have not been openly perverse.  I have not lied about my life. I have not stolen someone’s belongings.  I was always the perfect child for my parents, but I have learned and recognize them as God’s representatives.”

However, Jesus has one more thing to add.  God makes the rules and sets the standard by which the rules must be followed.  So what Jesus adds next for the rich ruler is what all of us need to hear.  You still lack one thing.  Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me. 

The life of someone who wants to live in the kingdom of God forever, is not only about being good, showing kindness and care to others, and being respectful to all authorities, but it is also about how you live and for whom.  Your motivation must be pure and your attitude needs to be selfless.  So too, your life must be for others – others in your family, others at work, others who you don’t know, others who are even cruel to you, and, most importantly of all, your life needs to be dedicated to the Lord, all the time.

That is where the ruler’s good life, his 100% effort, wasn’t quite up to snuff.  This is also where my 100% isn’t good enough and neither is yours.  I don’t have the pure motivations and selfless attitude all the time.  My sinful nature is just like yours – it has made me unclean in God’s eyes.  Those thoughts aren’t always decent and caring, are they? The words coming out of your mouth don’t always give God glory, do they?  In one way or another God’s laws have been broken, if not in the grossest, public ways then privately in thoughts or intentions.  I may not struggle with the same sins as one of you and you may not struggle with the same faults as a family member or friend, but God’s law still convicts us, that even one time is enough to shatter God’s commandments to pieces.  This is what Jesus tells the rich young ruler inside of each one of us.  The life of a Christian is all or nothing.  Jesus gets to the heart of the issue and says our 100% effort isn’t good enough.

What Jesus says is pretty uncomfortable isn’t it?  He told a rich man that he couldn’t be rich anymore if he wanted to be in heaven.  Today, those same uncomfortable words apply to us.  If there is anything in the way of a fully dedicated, 100% Christian life, then you need to get rid of it.  If you are trusting that your income and savings will give you a better life, then you need to give it all away.  If you really enjoy using your HDTV, iPad, cell phone, if the TV schedule, texting with friends, checking facebook is preventing you from following Jesus all the time, then you need to get rid of them.  If traditions are becoming so important that you’ve lost sight of why you follow them and what Jesus says about them, then you need to throw them away.  If your garages are filled with boats and snow mobiles and 4-wheelers and other fun toys that you enjoy so much, to the point where on a sunny Sunday morning you would rather be on your boat or snow mobile, then you need to sell them.  When hunting takes over for these fall months to the point where parents and kids are regularly neglecting the Savior and their relationship with his Word, then Jesus says you can’t go hunting anymore.

Are you starting to see the problem?  Our best efforts aren’t even close to good enough?  Jesus says if anything is more important than him, get rid of it.  Jesus says if anyone is more important than him, that relationship must change.  Jesus says you must follow him with everything you have.  God says he must have 100%.  That means all your motivations, all your attitudes, all your interests, all your hobbies, all your character, all your love, all your respect, all the time.  In other words, Jesus is telling us today that he must have your entire life if you want to be in heaven forever.

For those standing around Jesus back then and for us right now, the question becomes, “Well then, who can be saved?”  As people heard Jesus talking to this rich man, they were really starting to wonder if it was possible for anyone to go to heaven.  Today, you and I might be taking a step back wondering, “Who can be saved?”

I have to be honest with you, this is an impossible task for us.  Every one of us needs to see just how similar to this ruler we really are.  Today, realize that even your best effort isn’t good enough.  You and I cannot earn a place in heaven and we can’t try to make up for our mistakes so God will take it easy on us. Every day you must hear Jesus say, “It is impossible for you…

…but not for me.”  Jesus started the whole conversation with the rich man by saying that God alone is good.  Only God could follow the commandments with 100% of the effort, 100% of the attitude, 100% of the motivation, and 100% of the time.  Only God could walk this earth always caring about others more than himself.  Only God could do the good things necessary for heaven.  Only God is good, Jesus says.

With people like us heaven is an impossible dream never to come true.  But God took human flesh, gave us his 100% in every way, paid the price for all our mistakes and errors, and opened heaven for us.  You do not need to walk away sad, because Jesus has saved you.  You do not need to walk away sad, because our good God has restored the broken relationship and brought you into his family through Christ Jesus.  You do not need to be nervous, because God did the impossible.

Today, that’s what we need to hear.  Living as a follower of Jesus is not a life like that rich ruler, where you’re not quite sure about your salvation because you are nervous if your 100% is good enough.  That’s why Jesus didn’t leave it up to us. Jesus accomplished eternal life fully for us. When he died, he said, “It is finished.  My work to save you is 100% complete.” And then he proved that the impossible was possible when he rose from the dead on Easter.

But how does that certainty become ours?  Do we have to sell everything and give to the poor?  Do we have to say prayers 5 times a day?  Do we need specific qualities or talents?  Well… NO!  If that were the case then heaven would be impossible for us.  See, we don’t have what it takes to believe all of this.  We are like the rich ruler; we just can’t make it all work out.  It is not possible for us to make the right choices or do the right things in order to believe in Jesus.  We weren’t able to turn on our own spiritual light bulbs. We aren’t able to crawl out of the deep pit of sin and death.

So God did the impossible.  Not only did Christ die to pay for our sins, not only did Christ go into the pit of death and destroy it when he rose, but he also gives us his robe of righteousness with the sacrament of Baptism.  God uses baptism to plant faith in your heart.  Heaven is not possible without this gift of God, so God made it possible for you with something so simple. He uses plain water connected to his all-powerful Word to change your identity.  We were born just like that rich ruler, but in baptism the Holy Spirit put saving faith in our hearts.  It’s this gift that holds on to Jesus and his forgiveness.  It’s this gift that makes our eternity in heaven secure.  It’s the gift that changes our life.

If you are a child of God, that means you live by faith alone.  You don’t need the riches to be God’s child.  You don’t need everything your heart desires to believe in Jesus.  In fact, sometimes those things need to be taken away so that our faith is not distracted or destroyed.  We live by faith alone, because faith in Jesus is all we need for eternal life.

That’s what makes faith in Jesus such a treasure, a treasure we will never give up.  God gave this eternal treasure to us by grace alone found in Scripture alone.  That’s our identity.  And it always will be, because Jesus made the impossible possible.  Amen.

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WHO IS LIKE GOD?

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Micah 7

18 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. 19 You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. 20 You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.

 

 

He was scared of God.  Night and day, he lived in fear of a God who knew every thought, heard every word, and saw every action.  God’s demands were oppressive and cruel to him.  He was hopelessly lost in a cycle of trying to earn God’s love, but his love always seemed out of reach.  That’s the way Martin Luther lived the first half of his life.  He saw God as an angry and holy Judge.

It’s not surprising that Luther had this understanding.  It was readily accepted in his day because that is how the church was portraying God.  Yes, he was the God who loved the world and sent Jesus to save it.  Yes, he was the God who died for the sins of the world.  Yes, he rose from the dead to give eternal life to all believers.  But, in order to be a believer in Jesus, you had to work for it.  You had to show God how much you loved him with your good works, and then he would respond with his love and mercy.  With that kind of view, people thought God was always looking for good works and not really doing much for his people.

A lot of people still have that kind of viewpoint today.  They think of God this way for a couple reasons.  Number 1, if people don’t read the Bible, they won’t know who God is and what he is like. Instead, they will listen to others talk about him or they’ll watch shows and movies about him to see what he is like.  Because that is how so many people are hearing about God, they don’t have the right view.  And the second reason people think about God like a judge who is always watching is that it makes human sense.  It makes sense to us that people are watching us and that when we do good they reward us and when we mess up they do not reward us.  We see this kind of thing happening all around us.  If you get good grades, then your teacher likes you and your parents give you more privileges or games (or whatever kids are asking for nowadays).  If you do your job well, then your boss likes you, your coworkers can depend on you, you might get a raise, and if you are really good, you might get that promotion.  If you are kind, honest, humble and giving, then you won’t go to jail.  Instead, your neighbors will like you, do nice things for you, and you will be a respected member of the community.  This is how people naturally think.  It’s what we see every day.  And so why wouldn’t people think about God this way?

Micah poses this question for us today: Who is a God like you?  If someone answers that question by thinking in human terms, then they are making God way too much like all of us.  And when people think God is like us, when people think he decides things based on what we do, then do you know where that leads?  Sinful people are left in despair trying to earn a relationship with a holy God.  It turns into high school dating where there is no certainty, just a frenzy of worried people who try to grab attention and get what they want, sometimes by any means necessary.

A relationship with God does not exist when you look at God like that, because you cannot earn God’s love.  We don’t have enough perfection to earn it.  In fact, we have a big fat ZERO in the perfection column.  And because of that, we don’t deserve anything from God.  There is no reward for trying hard, for sheer determination, or for not getting caught.  Are you starting to realize why Martin Luther was so afraid?  He knew and believed that Jesus had died for his sins and risen from the grave for his eternal life, but he wasn’t able to make God happy enough with him to get those blessings.  All he could do was continue to try to work for them.  A sinful person was trying to live without sin in order to get forgiveness of sins.  How’s that going to work?

But, your identity as a Lutheran is not based on human reasoning, viewpoints or terms.    That’s what freed Luther from his fear of a holy, judge-God.  As we studied last week, you and I stand on the solid foundation of God’s Holy Scriptures. We have a God who reveals himself in the Bible.  And so when Micah poses the question today – who is a God like you? – the answer is so clear.  There is no other God, because no god that originates in human minds could be one:

who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance.  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.

Who does that?  Who is like that?  Who gives and gives and gives?  When you think about it, this makes no sense whatsoever. God pardons sin.  Why would he do that?  What’s in it for him?  Why would God just take all your sins and all your guilt off your shoulders? Why would he carry them away from you, removing them from your past and future? There’s no good human logic here, unless it’s because he loves you so much that he doesn’t want to see your eternity ruined.  Unless he has so much compassion that he cannot bear to see you struggle or see you lost and alone.  That and only that is the reason.

Micah says we have a God who forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance.  Let’s unpack that a little bit.  The Hebrew word used for “forgive” is a word that means to pass over.  Think of the Passover in Egypt.  Those doors that were painted with the blood of a lamb were passed over by God.  He was killing every first born from every house that night but he passed over the ones that were marked with blood.  God marked you with the blood of Jesus so that he passes over you instead of giving you death.

But what about that remnant?  What’s that all about?  That’s another good history lesson.  During Micah’s ministry as a prophet the people of Israel, God’s chosen nation, his inheritance, were exiled by the Assyrian army because God had to discipline his rebellious, unrepentant people.  He was trying to wake them up from spiritual slumber.  Micah prophesied that it would happen and it did.  Well, out of the 12 tribes, 10 were now gone, but there was still hope for the southern 2.  They could learn the lesson.  They could wake up.  And Micah gave them the warning to turn away from sinful rebellion, to get rid of the false gods who were really nothing at all.  He warned them that there would be another exile if they did not listen to God.  Well, you know what happened, don’t you?  The southern part of Judah tried for a while, but they kind of reverted back to bad behavior.  God sent more warnings from more prophets, but it didn’t help them.  And so the Babylonians exiled Judah.  But that’s where this section comes in.  God’s undeserved love and compassion are so great that he says he forgives the remnant.  Micah says, “You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us…” God is telling his people, “I know how much you messed up.  I know how much this discipline hurts you.  I know how bad this must be for you, but I still love you.  I will always love you.  I will watch over you in exile.  I will protect you.  I will bring you back to the Promised Land to start over. I will keep my promises.  I will pass over your wickedness and rebellion because that is how much I love you.”

Brothers and sisters, you are a part of that remnant.  No matter what has happened in your life.  No matter how much guilt you carry, God carries away your sins and passes over you with the punishment.  Instead, Jesus takes the full wrath of God in our place.  Jesus is handed all of our sins.  Jesus carries them all to Calvary.  Jesus is not passed over but given the death penalty in our place.  Jesus suffers what we should suffer.

This next part is where Kix come into the mix.  Do you know that cereal, “kid tested, mother approved?”  I loved those as a kid.  Well, we have lots of those at our house.  Lute loves them.  Issy loves them.  And sometimes with an 21-month old and a 3 ½ year-old, they don’t always successfully get all the Kix into their mouth.  So when I wake up and it’s still dark or when I come home for lunch or dinner, sometimes these delightful puffs end up under my foot.  Do you know what happens to a Kix when it is under my foot?  It is crushed to powder!  It becomes nothing.  It is unusable.  It must be swept up and thrown out.  Here’s how Micah describes what God does to our sins, “You will tread our sins underfoot.”  God makes our sins like those Kix in my kitchen.  He crushes them.  He makes them unusable.  Doesn’t that bring a smile to your face?  God loves you so he crushes sin out of your life.  He treats our sins like the dirt.  He tramples on them.  He sweeps them up.

And then he, “hurls all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”  God not only makes our sins unusable, but he also makes them nonvisible.  See, he doesn’t just take them away from us.  He puts them out of sight where we can’t find them again.  When God says he forgives you, he means it.  He means that his people do not need to get up with pet sins anymore.  “But I like that one, and it’s harmless, and I repent of it a bunch.”  God says, “Those sins are no good for you.  So I am getting rid of them.  You don’t need them to be happy.  You don’t need them to be secure.  You need me.  You need my love.  You need my peace.”

Micah finishes by saying, “you will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.”  God keeps his promises.  It’s not an optional thing that depends on how good you are.  It’s not a logical thing that we have to understand.  God keeps his promises.  When he promised to Abraham and Jacob that he would make their descendants a great nation, he kept his promise.  When he promised to Abraham and Jacob that he would take care of them and protect them, he kept his promise.  When he promised to Abraham and Jacob that he would bless the whole world with one of their descendants, God kept his promise and sent Jesus.   Jesus kept his promise to forgive us and save us.

I don’t care what happens this upcoming Tuesday,  I don’t care about a 108 year-old wait for a championship that just ended this past week, I don’t care about anything like that, it cannot compare to joy and comfort that God’s love gives.  We have an eternity with God because he loves us and forgives us.

Brothers and sisters, does any of this sound like something we could think up?  Does it sound like something we could do?  No.  That’s why Luther treasured this so much, because it changed his view of God.  No longer was God angry all the time.  No longer was God a Judge looking to punish.  When Luther read passages like these, the Spirit brought peace and joy because he had a God who loved him.  He had a Savior who forgave him completely 100% without any added works.

That’s what gives us our identity still to this day.  That we have a God and Savior who loves us with no conditions or fine print.  He loves us even though we do not deserve it and have not earned any of these spiritual and eternal rewards.  God gives us this gift not because it’s a birthday, graduation, or anniversary and not because you did something great but simply because he really wants you to know what he is like and how much he cares.  Do you know what this is?  It’s called grace.

Micah and Martin Luther loved it, and so do we, because it gives us the answer to this question: Who is like God?  The easy answer is NO ONE, NOTHING, not now, not ever.  Because our God gives us… grace.

Amen.

WHEN GOD SPEAKS…

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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.”
33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.”
39 “Abraham is our father,” they answered.
“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. 40 As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41 You are doing the works of your own father.”
“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47 Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”

 

What makes a church what it is?  What defines it?  What gives it an identity?  On a day when we are celebrating the Lutheran Reformation, it’s a good question for us to ask.  A big part of the answer to that question has to be what the church teaches.  It’s not uncommon at all, therefore, that if someone is checking out a church they will probably wonder, “What does your church say about…  Where does your church stand on…”

Do you know how to answer those kinds of questions?  I’ve come to realize over the years that the real question is not what we believe or teach about this, that, or the other thing, but how do we get to our answers, what process do we use to answer questions, how do we arrive at our doctrines, or what means do we make use of.

One of the huge things that makes our identity at Our Saviour’s (and throughout WELS) is that no matter what the question is, no matter what topic comes up we will always and ONLY listen to God speak through his Word; we will go to the Bible for the answer.  It’s not going to be the Bible and popular opinion or philosophy.  It’s not going to be the Bible and traditional writings or practices.  It’s not going to be the Bible and churchly hierarchy.  It’s not going to be the Bible and family ties.  Jesus makes that clear.  He says if we’re talking about the identity, the fingerprint, of a church, of his disciples, then it needs to be his words. “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.”  It’s the Bible, Jesus’ word, and that’s it.

That means when Jesus speaks, people should listen.  But that hasn’t always been the case for churches and religious people.  That was one of the huge problems going on for these Jews that we hear about in John 8.  They had the Old Testament Scriptures.  God had spoken his laws and promises through prophets and kings so that people would have everything God wanted them to have to recognize the real thing, the Messiah, the Savior, Jesus.  God had said things like: he would be born of a virgin, in Bethlehem, he would stay safe in Egypt for a while, he would be perfect, he would save people, and he would be rejected by many – you know, all that stuff that totally happened when Jesus came.  These Jews had even listened to Jesus for a while, but then they started to hear things that they didn’t like as much.  So as time went on they plugged their ears because he wasn’t what they wanted.  Instead, they focused on their ancestry to Abraham, as if your family line is what opens the doors to heaven.  They left out certain details.  They added traditions.  They threw the truth away. When God spoke, they didn’t listen.

This kind of thing continued on.  It happened in the Dark Ages, too.  The people had the Scriptures.  God spoke in the Old Testament, all his laws and promises.  And then God spoke in the New Testament.  The Word Incarnate lived here on earth.  Jesus fulfilled every law and every promise for us. He died for our forgiveness.  He rose to free us from death and hell.  He sent the Holy Spirit to work through Word and Sacrament.  But all of that was hidden away in monasteries and in the Latin language that common people couldn’t understand.  It was hidden by traditions and decrees of men who wanted power and control.  They threw the truth away.  Not many heard God speaking.

This kind of thing still continues.  God speaks in the Bible.  He shows us our sin in the law so that people will realize that heaven cannot be earned, and then God shows us how he, himself, earned it for us in the person and work of Jesus.  But people don’t want to admit that there is such a thing as absolute truth, or they tinker with it to make it sound more acceptable, or they hide some of the more offensive parts.  The truth is still being thrown away.  When God speaks, people still aren’t listening.

Plain and simple, this is called sin.  And we aren’t immune to sin, are we?  It’s a sin to plug your ears to even the smallest part of what God says.  It’s a sin to think that you have it all under control.  It’s a sin to say, “I’m a fourth generation Christian, I’ve been a member at this church for decades, I know plenty about God.”  It’s a sin to hold man-made traditions on the same level as God’s Word.  It’s a sin to put popular trends on par with God’s power.   It’s a sin to go a month, a week, even a day without listening to his voice.  There’s just so much of this kind of stuff in our lives.  It pops up everywhere.

Jesus gives us a term for this, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”   It’s true!  We get entangled by half-truths that sound close enough.   We get trapped by full-blown lies that seem to be so good because they work so well for other people.  When God speaks, we get caught not paying attention.

Maybe we try to argue like the Jews. “Slaves! We aren’t slaves.  We don’t fall into the same traps as those people.”  They were lying. They must have forgotten about 400 years in Egypt, exile in Assyria, another exile in Babylon, and that at this time they were subjects of the Roman Empire.  Later on, the Roman church lied, too.  They were forcing people to take what traditions and church fathers said and what councils and popes decided as if it was from God himself.  We often forget the times when we are dragged along by friends or family to say or do something we know is wrong, to “just let it go so there won’t be a disagreement,” or to plug our ears to God’s voice on a certain topic for a while.

Jesus goes on to describe what that slavery means, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”  These Jews were holding onto their own ideas and so they weren’t children of God or of Abraham.  Abraham listened to God’s truth, even when it was hard.  He believed and trusted in God’s promises.  These Jews were living a lie and so they belonged to the one who speaks lies.  The Roman church was holding to their own ideas about the Bible and the church.  They were living the same old lies and so they belonged to the one who speaks lies.

The same can be said of us.  Too often, we are listening when the liar speaks.  And he isn’t interested in your welfare.  His lies won’t help you; he’s out to get you.  He’s an evil master who wants to make your life miserable with a combination of guilt and pride.  He’s a murderer, using the same stealth that brought death to Adam and Eve and this whole world.

But there is one person who does not belong to the devil and never has.  There is one whose words do not imprison us to a life of lies.  When he speaks, his words are truth.  That means when God says that he spoke everything in existence in 6 24-hour days, it’s the truth.  This world did not evolve from a big bang over billions of years.  That’s a lie.  That means when God says that plain old water can be so powerful that when it is connected with his Word the Spirit delivers forgiveness and faith, even to newborn babies, it’s the truth.  Baptism is not some outward ceremony of dedication.  That’s a lie.  It means that when God says his Supper of bread and wine is also really and miraculously the body and blood of Jesus, and that this supper offers the benefits of Christ’s death, namely the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, it’s the truth.  The Lord’s Supper is not just some representation meal to remember Jesus’ death.  That’s a lie.  This means that when God says salvation is a free gift of his grace, dependent completely and totally 100 percent on Jesus’ work and zero percent on our good works, it’s the truth.  To think an ancestry, a life good works, a long list of religious traditions, or anything else we do can in some way help God save us or earn us his mercy, well, that is a lie.

When God speaks, it’s true. But how do we know that it’s the truth? Because he’s the perfect God, who cannot lie.  But there’s another reason: Jesus.  2000 years ago he actually walked on this planet.  It happened.  It’s true. The Bible is not the only record we have of Jesus’ life and times.  There are other sources that acknowledge Jesus’ life.  Even the most skeptical of unbelievers admit that he was a Jew who lived in Palestine and died a Roman death on the cross.  Because those are true facts.

After Jesus died, he rose from the dead in the most stunning accomplishment of history.  And for a period of 20-40 years, there was no New Testament to prove it.  People didn’t have the written record yet.  Do you know what they did have?  Their eyes and ears.  They had the testimony passed on by eyewitnesses.  And during that time, almost a half century, people still believed that Jesus was God in flesh living in Palestine, that he had died on a cross as the perfect sacrifice for sins, and that he rose from the dead on Easter to defeat death and open the doors to heaven.  Thousands and thousands of people believed it to be true. Even the most skeptical people admit that many, many people believed the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  They don’t know why and they might not agree, but they can’t ignore the facts that before that New Testament was written this good news spread like only the truth can.

Those facts of Jesus are still the facts now.  Nothing has changed.  If we have a God who loved us so much that he would come to save this world, if he really did live, die, and rise for us, then you would expect him to be a God who also speaks to us.  You would expect that God would want people to know him and you would expect that he is fully capable of pulling it off. When God speaks through the Word, we would expect it to be the truth from cover to cover, on the big things, on the small things, and on the historical dates and names. When God speaks, we would expect it to be everything we need to know, not a good starting point, not something that needs additional information.  You’d expect it to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me.  You’d expect that revelations and the verbal inspiration that authored such a book to stop at some point, so that we would know that God gave us everything we need. You would expect that when God speaks it is crystal, perfectly clear, not confusing, not subject to many interpretations.  You would expect that if you open up this book and read it, taking it at face value, that you would understand that God loves you, that Jesus saves you, and that you have a new life to live for him.  Finally, you would expect that if God speaks in this book that he would ensure its survival.   And he has.  There are 5300 copies that have made it down through the years. There is no other book translated into as many languages as the Bible.  This Bible, these words of God, it’s the truth just as much now as it was before it was written down. And that’s how we have arrived here today.

It was 499 years ago that these facts found a lowly monk in Wittenberg, Germany named Martin Luther.  He wasn’t much, but this message, this truth is. And because of that fact, this lowly German monk was willing to take a stand for the truth.  He didn’t want lies to continue to imprison people with guilt or pride.  He didn’t want a church to hide it any longer.  It wasn’t his power that accomplished such a great thing, it was the power of God.  When God speaks, it’s the truth.  And so a lowly monk took on the task of speaking it, even when the big church told him not to, even when it threatened his life.  And do you know what happened?  This truth spread like God was carrying it from heart to heart.  People were released from the guilt and pride of sin.

And this truth spread to you and me.  Here we are in a Lutheran church, where the truth is present and where God’s power is working.  If that’s true, then there’s one more thing you would expect, that we would love to hear it.  If that’s true, then when that one day a week rolls around, just two hours a week, you’d expect that his people would love to be there.  If that’s true, then the things you’d expect to hear in the homes of his people would not just be the news, sports, or funny sound bites but also and most importantly the voice of the God who speaks.  You’d expect that we would obey what he says. You’d expect that our whole lives would be built on the foundation of his truth, not his words and popular opinions, not his word and politics, but his pure Word.  You’d expect that the truth would be our greatest treasure because it tells us the we are saved by grace alone through faith alone.  And you’d be right, because when God speaks the truth sets you free.

Amen.

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

 

taking-care-of-our-church

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.