YOUR REAL TEST IS JUST BEGINNING

5.6.18 Easter 6B Confirmation

1 John 4:1-6

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

 

Jakob and Hunter, I bet you’re glad to finally be here. You’ve been studying God’s Word with me for two years, and with your parents and Sunday School teachers for a lot longer than that. Then, this past Thursday you had the Examination…ation…ation…ation. You sat in front of your family and some members of the church and faced a thorough body of questions. I’m sorry I couldn’t be here, but I saw it on FaceTime while I sat over in the parsonage basement. I told you before and Pastor Wolfe said it again Thursday night that it wasn’t a test, but I know it felt like it. You were still up front, and you still had to answer questions all on your own. I’m happy to say you both did well. I know how much effort and interest you put into your studies. And everyone there Thursday found out how much study you put into your examination. Hours and hours, right?  That’s good.

So now, maybe the last thing you want to hear this morning is that your real test is just beginningYou see, there’s a growing thought in Christianity that confirmation is maybe not the best thing for young people. This whole day looks a lot like the end of something, doesn’t it? You’re done studying! You’ve accomplished something. We put you in robes, we have a reception.  Your family throws you a party where you get cards, money, and presents.  I remember it well.

But confirmation is NOT a graduation. Confirmation prepares you for the testing that you have to face and have to do for the rest of your life. For far too many people, the day you are now having is the height of their faith and knowledge of God’s grace. They worked their way up to this day, with studying, memorizing, praying, worshiping, learning…  And then they stopped. They stopped reading God’s Word. They stopped gathering together for Bible study, and then all too often, even stopped coming to worship.  And do you know what happens to your faith when it isn’t fed by God’s Word?  (whistling sound down) Statistics tell us that about 4 out of 10 people confirmed in 8th grade are no longer attending church by the end of high school.

I don’t want that to happen.  Your brothers and sisters in this family of God don’t want that to happen.  God certainly doesn’t want to see his young children turn from their loving eternal Father.  That’s why I think this section from 1 John is great for you and all of us today. The Apostle John tells Christians that our whole life is one of testing.  It’s not like God has his red pen out, watching and waiting to whip another check mark.  But there are certainly many opportunities in our life of faith to be tested.  It’s good.  It helps us grow.  Like lifting weights, it’s hard but it makes your faith stronger.

What John is talking about here is that as we live in faith we also need to test for something, the truth. We need to test the voices that we listen to. Are they speaking from God or from God’s enemies? When our testing shows that we have found a pastor or a church that speaks the truth, then we will listen gladly and faithfully to the Lord. Here is how John puts it: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

The whole concept of “fake news” has been in the headlines for the past two years, but fake news is nothing new. Even in the church, false teachers have been around as long as there have been teachers of God’s truth. In the time the Apostle John wrote these words, fifty or so years after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, the “fake news” was a denial that Jesus was both true God and true man. There were other “religious” people coming up to Christians to convince them that what the Apostles said about Jesus wasn’t entirely true. Specifically, back then, they were combining Bible truth with Greek philosophy to highlight that the Christ was only a spiritual thing. He wasn’t actually human, just looked like it. He didn’t actually die, just made it look that way.

So the Holy Spirit gives believers here an easy way to test for the truth. Verses 2 & 3: “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit [every person] that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.” Jakob, Hunter, and everyone here, your lives have to be a life of continual testing based on this same truth. If someone comes to you with a good sermon, nice worship, cool programs, a good philosophy, an amazing opportunity that sounds so good… but they don’t acknowledge Jesus, they aren’t coming to you as God’s messengers.  They aren’t helping you for eternity.

Today we don’t run into Greek philosophy so much. I think the biggest false teaching you will face is not a denial that Jesus is human.  The biggest false teaching is that Jesus just isn’t that important.

Atheists, agnostics, and rationalists, and humanists say you don’t need a savior because either there is no such thing as heaven and hell or we all end up in “the good place” anyways because you try to be good and divine beings, whoever they are, care about you. Some churches and pastors will teach you that the Bible is just a book that you have to search to find your own truth. Some teach you to add to what Jesus has done for you in order to make it to heaven.  Some teach you that being a Christian is all about God’s great blessings and how they can all be yours if you make the right choices and commitments.  Others say that your feelings and emotions are what bring you close to God.  Even your own brain and sinful heart will try to teach you that you’ve got it all figured out. Do you notice what’s wrong there?  Jesus isn’t that important.  He’s not the beginning, middle, and end.  He’s not the foundation.  He’s not the champion.  You are.

Jakob and Hunter, more than ever you need to test the spirits. Test the people that will try to influence you and “educate” you.  Test the teachings to see if they stand on the Savior who lived, died, and rose to save you from hell.  Test the churches to see if they are built on all of God’s Word or just some of it.  Test churches on Baptism and The Lord’s Supper to see if they say the arrow is point up – it’s something we do for God – or if the arrow is pointing down – something God’s grace does to us and for us.  Test things with this blessed faith in Jesus that God himself has planted in your heart.

Because your trust in who Jesus is and what he did is the most important thing God will ever give you. You know about Jesus’ miraculous birth, his perfect life, his innocent death, and how he did all of that to save you from sin.  You know that your sins condemned you to hell, but Jesus’ work and promises carry you to heaven. You know you’re saved by his work and not your own. You know the Bible is the Word of God and the trustworthy source of truth. You know that the stone was rolled away.  Christ is risen.  He is risen, indeed! You know it and believe in it.

But the world denies it. The world makes Jesus less important, or it removes him altogether.  John calls that attitude toward Jesus the “spirit of the antichrist.” Now this isn’t the Antichrist with a capital “A” in 2 Thessalonians. That’s a real person and a real office that we can cover in a different sermon or Bible study, but John is talking about the same mentality: the desire to make Jesus less important or replace him altogether. With your own good habits and works. With sacrifices that you make instead of the sacrifice Jesus made. With pride in yourself and how you do you. With the rules of society or the manmade traditions of the church. That’s the spirit of the world.  It is not for Jesus.  It is against him, making him less important or totally replacing him with something more socially acceptable.

Today you are making a promise to be different from that – to stand before God and your families and your whole congregation and be willing to say no to the world. It’s not a vow to take lightly. In this vow you are saying, “I’m willing to be different. I know that Christ has set me apart in faith, made me a child of God.” You’re saying today that you will keep on testing everything you hear and read. Everything the world and your neighbors and your teachers tell you is right. You’ll compare what people say to what God says. That’s what you’re committing to today. To be faithful to God because you recognize the great gifts of forgiveness and faith that he’s given to you first.

Now if you’re going to do all this testing, you’re going to need the standard to judge by, an “answer sheet” you could say. You know where the answers are, right? In the Bible, God’s holy, inerrant, eternal Word. So read it! Read your Bible. If you need help with that, ask what your parents do. I’ll show you what I do and what I use to help me. Check out our church Facebook page where I post devotions almost every day.  Go to our WELS website.

For years you’ve spent an extra hour a week studying the Bible with other people. Don’t give that up now. Make Sunday morning a two-hour time with the Lord. Come to adult Bible study where the Lord uses his Word to continue your growth and development so that you can be a better and better tester of truth.

You can keep reading your catechism, too. It’s not a textbook, and it was never meant to be a textbook. I almost wish we didn’t use it that way. That little blue catechism is filled with God’s Word in a really organized layout. Let it be the blessing from God that it can be. Read it. Review it. Rejoice in the good news of Jesus that fills it.

By the way, this is not just stuff for two teenagers.  This is how God works for all his people.  He’s not an ogre, trying to ruin your life with all this studying and testing.  He’s your Father trying to keep your life from ruin.  Use his Word, that is where your Savior Jesus is.  It will be a blessing to you.  That’s God’s promise.

You think today is about the promises you two are making.  But God has so many many more promises for you.  Listen to this one from God in 1 John 4:4: “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them [false teachers, enemies], because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

God is in you and that means all the false teachers and all the temptations of this world cannot beat you.  God is greater.  Jesus came to overcome all of them, and he did.  That’s the love God has for you, and that is the love that God has put in you.  It rolls away all the hatred and doubt and worry.  God’s love in Jesus is everything you need.  The one who is greater than all the world keeps you in his hands and guides you in all you do.

You have successfully finished catechism class. Those tests are over, but your real tests are just beginning.  But you don’t need to worry because God has overcome them for you. To him be the glory. Amen.

 

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CHURCH & church

Week 10 – 8.13.17

LL pic 2

John 8

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

 

 

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

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

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

  1. The Church

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

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

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

  1. church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God grant it. Amen.