FEELING LIKE FOREIGNERS NOW, BUT NOT FOREVER

Week 9 – 8.6.17

LL pic 2

1 Peter 2:11-25

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To God be the Glory.   Amen.

 

Is Christianity Broken?

sermon-on-the-mount

Matthew 5:38-48

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

 

Love is in the air.  You felt it this past Tuesday, right?  That’s the day we’re all supposed to acknowledge people we love with gifts, cards, and flowers, and the people who love you do the same.  Now, it’s not a good idea to keep this kind of thing hidden until February 14.  That’s not what love does.  When you love someone you find ways to show them that fact every day.  Love isn’t butterflies in your stomach, that’s nerves.  Love isn’t that feeling of walking on the clouds, that’s infatuation or fixation.   Love is giving your time to make a meal and clean up so that your wife doesn’t have to.  Love is taking him out to get a grill or a new hunting accessory.  It’s giving your wife some time away from the kids.  It’s letting your husband go to the game or on the fishing trip.  It’s cleaning up your room before your parents ask.  It’s being honest and helpful. It’s letting your little brother have the last scoop of ice cream.  It’s all that kind of stuff that you do for someone you care about, not really looking for something in return.  That’s what love does.

And this kind of love is not only key for a marriage and in a family, but also for Christians and a congregation.  God has so much to say about love in the Bible and most of the time it is not in the context of a marriage.  Most of the time, he is telling us how we can care about our brothers and sisters in the faith.

But today, Jesus takes it even a step farther than that. “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”  He says love is also for people that don’t love you back.  He says love is for your enemies. This isn’t the kind of person that annoys you at work. This is the kind of person who lies about you, trying to ruin your career.  Jesus isn’t talking about the quiet outsider but the loudmouth protester who’s trying to wreak havoc. This isn’t the talkative kid who sits behind you at school. This is the bully who keeps verbally and physically putting the hurt on you.

What do you want to do to people like that?  The natuarl human reaction is…to get even, or worse! Just look at kids.  When a brother steals his sister’s toy, she gets mad and takes it back with a little shove.  Then, the brother trips her.  Then, world war III breaks out.  To keep that natural reaction in check, God gave civil laws to his people in the days of Moses so that people wouldn’t go crazy with retaliation.  The civil government would levy just and appropriate punishments.  If someone’s eye got hurt by another person it wasn’t the death penalty.

Jesus recalls that rule. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  Jesus is not saying that you can’t defend yourself from an attack to your home or family.  He’s not saying that you must be a scrawny passivist with no gumpiton.  Jesus is saying that for his people there is something much more important than your idea of personal justice.

Listen to his next example. “And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” The tunic was the shirt, the garment right next to your body and the cloak was the outer garment. Of the two, the cloak was more expensive and more important. In the Old Testament, God made a special point to say that if you were borrowing a cloak you had to return it by sunset so that the owner could have it for sleeping.  Jesus is saying here that if someone is suing you for “the shirt of your back,” then give them your more expensive and most important garments, too.

Is Jesus saying this is what your enemies deserve?  Not at all! Really Jesus is saying there is something more important than your personal rights and feelings.  Jesus wants our primary concern directed to others, not just the people who care about you but also those who are mean to you or who are trying to take advantage of you.

Jesus loves being really clear for us, so here’s another example: “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” Maybe your dad used that experession, “Go the extra mile.”  Mine did. This is where we get that from.  Here’s the background to that phrase.  In Jesus’ day, Palestine was under Roman rule. There were Roman soldiers there to keep the peace, which the Jews weren’t thrilled about.  Romans soldiers were permited by law to compel civilians to carry their baggage for one mile.  How do you think Jews felt about such a rule?  They hated it.  And you would, too.

Let’s just say we live in a country that is under the rule of another nation.  You’re driving down the expressway and a soldier of that foreign nation can stop you, put his bags in your trunk and tell you a new direction.  And you have to do it!  How would you feel about such a rule?  You’d hate it.  And you wouldn’t be so fond of the soldiers either. Even if it was legal, it doesn’t seem fair.

Jesus says, “Don’t just do what is expected, but go beyond what is asked of you. And do this for people who you don’t care for.” Why is this something that Jesus wants us to do?  Well, he says there is something more important than your idea of fairness.

What’s more important than your personal justice, what’s more important that your personal rights and feelings, what’s more important that your personal idea of fairness?  Jesus tells you.  It’s love.  Jesus says his people will sacrifice our own personal feelings, attitudes, and even our personal possessions in the name of love, because love is more important.  Demonstrating Christ-like love to another person is more important, even if that person is your worst enemy.

Is that how you live?  Is that what you teach your children, not just with your words but also with your example?  Is that what Christianity is known for?  Are we known for how much we love people?  Are we known for how much we will sacrifice for others who might even hate us?

Reading this section from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount made me ask a few times this week: is Christianity broken?  Because for a lot of people,  the answer is “Yes.” Christianity is not the answer but a problem.  You may know people personally that think Christianity is not doing anyone any good.  Churches are filled with hypocrites who learn about love and peace and serving others, but refuse to practice it.  Churches that preach Christ don’t follow his example.  Christianity just gives people a superiority complex and a license to do whatever they want, because God’s always going to forgive.

Is that the message you are sending? Are you failing to give up your own desires, opinions and preferences for the sake of others?  Are you too interested in your comfort zone and the way you like things to show love to people who need it?  Are we willing to love people with the kind of love Jesus is teaching us?

You know, this is a section of Scripture that can be down right offensive to us.  “Lord, I’m trying.  I come to worship.  I give offerings.  I help out for different church things.  I wear a smile on my face.  I try to be as positive as possible.  But ‘Love my enemies.’  I just can’t.  They have hurt me too much.  I don’t want to have anything to do with them.  It’s not going to work.  They’ll never change.”  If you have ever had those thoughts, then do you know what you are doing?  You are saying, “Thanks, Jesus, but no thanks.  I love what the Bible says, but not this part of it.”  And do you know what God says to people who treat his Word like that? “If anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city…”  If you can’t be perfect, if you can’t love your enemies like Jesus teaches here, then you don’t get to live with a perfect God in his perfect home.

Who can?  Who can do this?  Who in this world can love people, even enemies all the time?  Who can prove that Christianity is not broken?  I have to admit today, I can’t.  You can’t.  Not one person in the world can have this kind of love perfectly.  Not one person can hold up themselves or their church and say, “I’m not broken.  I’ve got it right.”

But listen to this: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”   Did you hear that?  God causes the sun to rise on good and evil people.  He sends rain for his believers and unbelievers.  God says the only person who can have this perfect love for enemies is him.

So God decided to come here for people who were not on his side.  God came down to live in a place filled with evil people.  And he showed them love.  When he was rejected by so many, he did not give up.  When plans were made to get rid of him, he did not stay away.  When he was arrested, he didn’t argue.  When he was on trial he spoke the truth in love. When he was mocked, spit on, and beaten, he turned the other cheek.  When he was crucified, he prayed for them.  When our sins caused all of this to happen, Christ willingly and lovingly decided to take it all for us so that we would never face the punishment we deserve.

Christ did this for us while we were sinful and evil opponents to God.  He died for us.  The Spirit washed our sins in the blood of Christ with the water of Baptism when we were still hostile to God.  God loved you, even when you were not lovable so that you would be a child of the Father in heaven.

Is Christianity broken?  Not a chance with Christ at the center.  When Christianity starts to be about me and my feelings and my preferences, it’s doomed.  But when Christianity is about the love of Christ, when it’s about showing others the sacrifice that Christ made, when it’s about the home Christ has won for sinners, then nothing can stop it.

Brothers and sisters, you have a God who loved you and made you his very own when you weren’t on his side.  Now that he has brought you in and made you his child, what does that do to you?  It makes you live every day for him.  It makes his love show up in your life.

A really nasty coworker, protestors with different political viewpoints, bullies at school, and every other enemy there may be has a God who loves them, has a Savior who died for them, and has a Christian just like you who cares for them.  That is what God’s love has done to you.  He has made you like his Son.  He has filled you with his love that is not partial or restricted, but it’s for all.  It’s that kind of love that puts others first because Christ put us first.  Last week was about showing love to those you care about and the people who love you.  Now, Jesus gives us a different focus with our love, to those who don’t care so much for you.  And you can do it because God’s love fills you and then it works through you.

God grant it.  Amen.

 

MIND-BLOWING MERCY MOTIVATES MINISTRY

Taking Care of Our Church.JPG

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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