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Tough Questions: What Are You Wasting?
What DID Jesus Do? He modeled a servant's heart.
7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? 8 Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?
But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Some of the most famous words in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” From that moment on one of the concepts that has been part of our lifeblood here in America is the concept of “our rights”...and the defense of “our rights”. The defense of that which we perceive should rightfully be ours for moral or legal reasons.
When my wife and I were in D.C. for a year, it seemed like every weekend, there were multiple rallies or protests or gatherings of people who were taking up a particular cause or position. They were defending their rights. Republicans marching their rights. Democrats marching for their rights. One of the non-dominant political parties marching for their rights. And then of course, all the marches from the hundreds of various groups as they defend the rights that are important to them….
And we would be silly to think that as people who live in this country that this concept of “our rights” isn’t also deeply ingrained in us. And so the Biblical concept that is laid out before us today is not a popular one. It’s one that can even be foreign to us as Christians who live in America. The concept is this: GIVE UP YOUR RIGHTS. That’s right, you heard correctly: GIVE UP YOUR RIGHTS.
Alright, Let’s jump into our 2nd reading and see just what that means. If ever there was a character who pretty consistently did a great job of mirroring the servant heart of Christ, it was Paul. And we see that servant attitude in the reading we have before us from first Corinthians. In that first section (verses 7-12), Paul makes a logical argument about how a worker should receive his wages. Yet, he says, he never came with the intention of exercising this workers’ right. At times in Paul’s ministry, he had a side job to make ends meet. At other times in Paul’s ministry, he didn’t need a side job because other churches he had visited provided for his needs and so he was able to give himself fully to the work of the Lord. We often see Paul giving up his right to wages for young and budding Christian congregations. He gives up his right to wages for the sake of the gospel. Paul certainly hopes that they will give eventually...but he wants that giving to be properly motivated after they hear and believe in the gospel.
Now in this second paragraph, we again see Paul’s servant heart come out. We again see him giving up his rights for the sake of the gospel. 19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Sometimes I hear the question, “Why do we still observe some of God’s commandments in the Old Testament, but not all of them?” So right now we’ll briefly answer that question because it has to do with what Paul is saying here. In the Old Testament we see 3 types of law: moral law (like the 10 commandments), civil law (the governing of the nation of Israel), and the ceremonial law (the festival days and the regulations God had given his people). Today we still uphold the moral law (once again, think about the 10 commandments). However, it is made clear in the New Testament that Christ upheld all of the law perfectly, and in doing so, we are no longer bound to the civil and ceremonial law. Some examples of that would be...We no longer have to sacrifice animals. We no longer have to obverse all the special religious holidays that had been given to the nation of Israel. We no longer have to observe the Old Testament regulations on what we can and can’t eat.
So here is what Paul is saying: as a Christian, he is no longer bound to all those laws that were specific to the nation of Israel. BUT… he gives up that right for the sake of the gospel. So even though he did not have to, in order to win over the Jews, in order to win over those still under the law, he lived like one of them. He observed the Sabbath on Saturday—the original day of the Sabbath. He observed the festival days. He followed the Old Testament regulations regarding the eating of things like pork and shellfish. He observed the right of circumcision. He didn’t have to do those things. It was his right as a Christian to NOT do those things. But he did them anyways so that he might have an opportunity to being the message of Jesus to his Jewish brothers.
Then it was just the opposite for those who were never bound by the ceremonial and civil law—those who were not of Jewish descent. He lived like one who was never bound by the law. Again, he’s not talking about the moral law—God’s moral law still stands. So that means Paul wasn’t going to the tavern to get drunk in the name of reaching the other drunks. That’s not what Paul is talking about. He IS saying, and we see this in his writings, that he is not going to burden non-Jewish Christians with all the regulations of the Old Testament that were specific to the nation of Israel. They can be Christians without doing those things! They can be Christians without being physically circumsized. They can be Christians and they can eat the foods they want. They can be Christians and worship God on whatever day and in whatever location they would like.
Okay, up to this point it has maybe felt like we’re talking about a bit of an abstract concept. The culture Paul lived in looked different than the one we live in. But regardless of that, the truths he talked about still stand and have application. So now, with the rest of our time here today let’s pull out the principles that Paul gives us and ask what application they have for us in today’s world.
So first let’s pull out some of those timeless truths Paul relays to us. We’ve already hinted at one a number of times: GIVE UP YOUR RIGHTS for the sake of the gospel. Another would be, don’t put any kind of unnecessary hindrance or stumbling block in a person's way that is going to turn them away from the gospel. And I’ll give you one more—and this one is maybe the easiest to understand—don’t let the earthly definition of who you are get in the way of sharing the gospel with other people.
For high school I attended a public school with somewhere around 2000 students. And today I would like to first apply this concept in a high school setting—you’ll see why in a minute. High schools tend to be notorious for divisions. Those divisions are called, cliques. You’ve got your athletes. They all hang out. Then you’ve got your studious and straight A students. Sometimes you find them forming a group. You’ve got your arts and drama people that tend to form a group. You’ve got your choir people that tend to form a group. And the list goes on… Now, remember our truth: When you let the earthly definition of who you are get in the way of sharing Christ’s love with others, you’re doing something wrong. As a volleyball player, you’ve earned the right to be a part of the volleyball group. But when that earthly definition of who you are begins to interfere with you showing love and concern for everyone in every other group, then you’ve lost your focus—you’re not being all things to all people. If you let your straight A’s define you to the point that you forget to show love to those who are struggling, you’ve lost your focus—you’re not being all things to all people. If you let being part of the popular group define you to the point that you forget to show love and kindness to every single person, then you’ve lost your focus—you’re not being all things to all people.
Alright, here’s why I started with high school as an example. As adults, we like to think that we grow out of those things. But the truth is? We don’t. We too have things in our lives that define us to the point that they get in the way of us sharing God’s Word and his love with others. We’ll go through just a few common ones today.
We’ll start with the most fun one first: politics. Do you ever let your political leanings get in the way of showing Christ’s love to others? Maybe you’re a Democrat. Maybe you’re a Republican. Or maybe you identify with another political party. But now the real question is this… Do you let that earthly identity—that earthly label—outshine your identity as a child of God? Do you let it outshine your identity as servant to all? When we let that earthly identity outshine our identity as child of God, we end up alienating a significant portion of the people we are trying to reach with the gospel before we even get a chance to tell them about Jesus—before we even get a chance to show them his love.
What about race? Do you let your ethnicity define you to the point that it gets in the way of you showing love to others? If you’re in the majority, do you let that identity cause you to become insensitive and calloused to the struggles of minorities? If you’re in the minority, do you let that identity cause you to become suspect and skeptical of the entire majority? When we forget to let our identity as Christians be our primary identity, then we forget the importance of seeking to show love to all humans, regardless of race or nationality.
And we can ask the same question for all the things we tend to get wrapped up in here on earth. Status, friend circles, net worth, the sports teams you follow, how well you have your live together compared to others… you name it. Do we get so wrapped up in those things that we forget our purpose of showing love to ALL people?
Praise be to God that Jesus didn’t come down here and get wrapped up in earthly identities. He didn’t come down to earth to establish or identify with any one political party. He didn’t come down to earth to set up a dominant race or nationality. He came down to earth to meet us where we’re at. He gave up his rights. As the king of the universe, he didn’t need to come down to earth...But he did. As the only perfect human to have ever lived here on earth, it was his right to not suffer and be punished… but he gave up that right for us. As true God, the good creator of life, it was his right to never experience death… but he gave up that right and he gave his very life for us.
When it comes to showing love to others, follow Jesus’ example, follow Paul’s example: Give up your rights. With the help of the Holy Spirit, may we not let the things we associate with here on earth consume us to the point that we begin to alienate entire groups of people rather than look for ways to bring them the gospel. Christ had every right to turn his back on a world of sinners, but he gave up that right. Instead, he lived amongst us as a servant. May he give us that same servant heart. May our Christian identity shine forth more powerfully and more brightfully than any other identity as we serve and love others with the very love of Jesus that lives in our hearts. Amen? Amen.
Tough Questions: Do We Trust that God's Plan Is Greater than Our Plan?
7 Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.download
Shine Like the Stars
At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.Sermon:
Sunday, October 1st, 2017 - Las Vegas, Nevada, shortly after 10PM at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival:
At first, it just sounded like fireworks… The Sunday headliner, Jason Aldean, had taken the stage not 30 minutes before, and it seemed natural that there would be some pyrotechnics [at the show]. Even Jason Aldean stayed on stage as the first loud bursts rang out above the crowd of some 22,000 people.
But after "a pause," everyone seemed to understand that something was wrong. It "was weird because we didn't see anything in the sky," said one vendor.
"And then, the screaming started. And the running."
A gunman, perched in a Mandalay Bay hotel room 32 floors up, had opened fire on the crowd at about 10:08 p.m. local time, police said later. In the hours that followed, 58 people would die and about 500 others would be injured. It was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Thursday, November 8th, 2018 - Paradise California
Ernest Foss Jr.—a bed-bound, two time cancer survivor who now relied on an oxygen tank—attempts to escape the flames of the Northern California wildfire. The flames of the fire were too hot and too fast. The CA wildfire has claimed the lives of more than 70 people. That number is expected to rise as more than 1000 are still missing. The fire has burned an area over 4 times the size of San Francisco. It has destroyed over 12,000 buildings and homes. Numerous firefighters have suffered burns and injuries.
Friday, November 2, 2018 - Egypt
Gunmen open fire on a small white bus transporting Christians in central Egypt. The attack took place on the road. The gunmen killed seven people and wounded 14.
Daniel 12:3 - " There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then." Do you ever look at the events in today’s world and wonder if we are in that final time of distress that would signal that the end is near? It is still reasonable for us as Christians to look at the events in a world that’s broken by sin and say to ourselves, "I hope Jesus comes back soon." When we see the violence, the shootings, the natural disasters, and the worldwide persecution of Christians it’s hard not to wonder if Christ’s return will be here soon. How much worse can things really get? Maybe Christ’s return is days away. In a bad case scenario, maybe it’s years away—or a decade or two. In a worst case scenario, maybe it’s a hundred years or so away.
At the time the book of Daniel was written, I would imagine that God’s people were having similar thoughts. How much worse can this situation get? When will God deliver us? As we consider the circumstances under which Daniel was written, we want to be careful that we neither undersell nor oversell how difficult life was for God’s people at that time.
Don’t misunderstand me, life was difficult. The glory days of Israel were long gone. A split had occured between the 12 tribes. The 10 northern tribes of Israel had broken away and formed their own kingdom. Over the course of two centuries there were 19 kings who ruled over the northern tribes of Israel. Scripture tells us that all of them were wicked. Eventually, the Assyrians invaded and defeated the northern kingdom and the people were carried off into captivity. They never returned. The southern kingdom—known as the kingdom of Judah—lasted a little longer—350 years. Like the northern kingdom, they had 19 kings over the course of that time. Scripture tells us that the Lord considered 8 of those kings to be good kings. The temple was in that southern kingdom of Judah. But even though the temple was there, over the course of time, the people’s hearts became cold. They didn’t worship God and God alone—regardless of the fact that the temple was there in the southern kingdom. The people began to take up the practices of the nations around them. God allowed the Babylonians to invade the southern kingdom. Over the course of 20 years the Babylonians invaded 3 different times. Each time they destroyed the southern kingdom a little more and they would take tens of thousands of captives.
Now we get to Daniel. Daniel was in that first group of exiles that were taken into captivity. Here’s why I said we don’t want to oversell or undersell how difficult life was for those exiles. On the one hand, the Lord continued to bless his people—even while they were in exile. When they were eventually given the chance to go back to their homeland, some of them didn’t because they had a good life after having been uprooted and replanted. On the other hand, this wasn’t the case for everyone. Not only that, but think about the entire experience of being taken into captivity. It was in no way pleasant. It was a difficult and traumatic experience. Can you imagine? What if another nation invaded our nation? What if you were taken captive and hauled off to a foreign country. Some families were certainly separated—maybe some family members never saw each other again. And once you reach that new location, your old life is gone...your house, your possessions, your way of living—all gone. Even if you’re allowed to rebuild your life in the new country, the fact still remains that you have to rebuild your life.
And God did protect and bless his people...but let’s not get the picture that life was peachy keen for everybody. For example, just take what has happened in the book of Daniel up to this point. Yes, Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were given positions of high honor. They were even given positions of power in their new home. However, think about what happened to Daniel. He was persecuted for his faith. People tried to bring about his downfall and end his life. He was thrown into a lions den. Think about Daniel’s friends. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to the king’s idol and they were thrown into a blazing furnace. God protected Daniel. God protected Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. But can you imagine having to go through something like that? We’d probably need counseling after having to go through an experience like either of those.
I would imagine that those who went into exile had questions on their minds. They probably had questions similar to the questions that we too have on our minds. Lord, when will you deliver us? When will you come back for us? Have you forgotten about us? Is this really a part of your plan to prosper your people? The people living in that day needed comfort just as we still do to this day. And God used Daniel to bring that comfort to his people. He uses Daniel to bring that comfort to us.
When we get to Daniel chapter 12, we are at the end of a vision that God has given to Daniel. And for the sake of briefly summing up that vision up to this point...God shows Daniel that one nation will rise against another. One nation will rise, one nation will fall. Not only that, but an evil figure—the antichrist—will set himself against God’s people and attack them. Ultimately, things will get worse before they get better.
We’re ready to again hear our verses from Daniel 12: "At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then." Pause here for two thoughts: First thought: who is Michael? Daniel chapter 10 pictures Michael as the great angelic prince who is work throughout the course of history to defend God’s people against the schemes of Satan. We’re told here that as Jesus’ return approaches, Michael will continue to be hard at work to defend God’s people. Second thought: It would indeed seem that things will get worse before they get better. Before Jesus comes back there will be a time of distress that has never before been seen...and that’s all we’re told. Are we in that time of distress now? Is that time of distress close? I don’t know. Will we know for sure when it arrives? It’s hard to say because we know that judgement day will come like a thief in the night—when we least expect it.
Let’s keep reading: "But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever."
Two comments here as we bring things to a close today. Our first closing thought: Look at that promise from God… everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. What a powerful promise. Next time you are bummed out about the state of our world… let that promise come to your mind. What does it take for your name to be written in the book of life? Faith. By the power of the Holy Spirit, you believe in this message about what Jesus has done for you—he has paid for all your sin on the cross. And because of that, your name is written in the book of life and you WILL be delivered. As we are confronted with the evils and the trials of this world, that promise from God is our assurance and our confidence. God will continue to take care of his children and on that last day, he will take us to be with him.
Our second closing thought for today comes from verse 3: (Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever). Have you ever had the chance to go to an observatory? It’s really a neat experience and I recommend you go if you ever have the chance—even if you’re not into astronomy. I’m not into astronomy, but when I was young I had the chance to go to the McDonald Observatory in Texas. Their prize telescope is called the Hobby-Eberly telescope. It’s a 13.5 million dollar telescope and it’s one of the biggest in the world. It’s absolutely incredible what can be seen with that telescope.
But we’re not here to talk about the milky way today. Here’s the direction we’re going to go rather… Mcdonald Observatory is up in the mountains in west Texas. The closest metropolitan with just under 1 million people is El Paso and it’s 3 hours away. Why is it that they tend to put observatories far away from cities? Because cities give off a lot of artificial light. If you’re standing in downtown Milwaukee or downtown Chicago and you try to look up at the stars, for the most part it’s a lost cause. On a clear night, you might be able to see the brightest of stars when you’re downtown. But when you go out into the country, or when you go to an observatory, what happens? You can see all the stars. In those places where is it the darkest, when you look up at the sky, the stars shine brighter than ever.
The world around us is most certainly darkened by sin. As we talked about at the opening...every week we are confronted with another example of the darkness that sin causes. BUT, as that darkness of sin continues to seemingly get darker and darker, guess what happens to you as a Christian? You become brighter and brighter. The darker the world becomes, the more opportunity you have to shine like the brightest of the stars. The darker this world becomes, the more more brightly the love of Christ is able to shine through you.
We’ll never know the exact day Christ is coming back. It may be tomorrow. It may be a decade from now. It might be centuries from now. But we do know with 100% certainty that when he comes back he will take us to be with him. He has promised us this. And we know that in the midst of darkness, nothing shines brighter than the love of Christ. And as we continue to remain witnesses to the love of Christ—no matter how dark things around us may seem—people will be drawn to that love of Christ. The love of Christ lives in you. Let that light shine in the dark world around you. Jesus will return and take us to be with him in heaven. Until then, shine like the stars. Amen? Amen.
Keep An Eye On the Scoreboard
13 "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
Do you ever get wrapped up in the day, age and location in which you live in? Getting wrapped up in those things can lead to 2 different responses. It can lead to either pride or discouragement. I’ll explain what I mean.
Getting wrapped up in today can lead to pride. And don’t misunderstand me here, there’s nothing inherently wrong with being proud to live in a day, age and place. It truly is a blessing to live in the time period we do. We enjoy medical and technological advances that the world has never known before. In addition we truly do live in a special nation. It’s a blessing to live in America. There is what you might call a healthy pride in regard to these things. By healthy pride I really mean gratitude. We can certainly feel grateful and thankful that we live in the day, age, and place we do. However, getting wrapped up in our circumstances can lead to and UNHEALTHY pride as well. I would call it UNHEALTHY when we slip into the thinking that we live in the single greatest time—we live in the single greatest nation—that the world has ever known or will ever know. It’s unhealthy thinking because it’s just not true. No earthly era or nation will ever be heaven. They will all have their weaknesses, flaws, and blind spots.
We said that getting wrapped up in today can lead to either pride or discouragement. And really, we’ve been talking a little bit about this for the last few weeks since we’re in end times. But to review this point… when we look at the things that are going on around us—the shootings, natural disasters, political tensions, world tensions, violence, hate, persecution, et cetera—those things can cause us to feel discouraged about the world in which we live.
Today we’re going to discuss the solution to those wrong ways of thinking—the solution to an unhealthy pride about the here and now and the solution to becoming discouraged about the here and now.
Last week we talked a little bit about the setting under which Daniel was written. Let me just briefly remind you. The glory days of Israel were gone. Over a 20 year period, the Babylonians attacked that which remained of God’s people 3 different times. Daniel was among those who were taken into captivity after Babylon’s 1st attack.
God protected his people throughout all of this, but that doesn't mean life was picture perfect. They faced trials. They faced hardship. They faced persecution. They needed the comfort that God brought them through Daniel.
The first 6 chapters of Daniel are—for the most part—historical. We hear of Daniel and his friends being taken into captivity. They were taken out of Jerusalem and relocated to Babylon. In Babylon, they enter the kings service. They’re even given positions of authority. But life’s not perfect. Daniel is thrown into a lion’s den and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are thrown into a furnace.
Chapters 7-12 of Daniel are a vision of future events that God gave to Daniel. Before we get to our verses, we’re going to want to talk about the opening verses of chapter 7 because they tie into one of the things we talked about in our introduction. At the outset today we talked about how getting wrapped up in the here and now can lead to an unhealthy pride. It would be silly for us to think that if the citizens of every nation on earth were to be polled, ONLY American citizens would say they live in the greatest country in the world. That’s just foolish. There’s people around the world that have a sense of pride for their country, just like we have for ours.
I’m sure there was a time when the king of Babylon and the citizens of Babylon thought that they were the greatest nation on earth. But the vision that God gave to Daniel said differently. In that vision, God showed Daniel that there would be another world power to enter the picture. The Medo-Persian empire overcame the Babylonian empire. I bet the rulers and citizens of the Medo-Persian Empire thought they were the greatest nation the world—but God said differently. God showed Daniel another nation that would become the dominant world power—that would be the greek forces under Alexander the Great. And boy...talk about a candidate for greatest nation on earth. Alexander and his forces conquered the known world in 12 years! By age 30 Alexander the Great and his 30,000 men had conquered the world and defeated hundreds of thousands. Impressive...but they weren’t the greatest nation on earth either. God revealed another nation that would come after them. We know now that nation was Rome. The greatest nation of that day? Maybe. The greatest nation the world would ever know? Nope. They too would fall.
And that’s where God’s vision to Daniel about the rising and falling of various nations ends. So God lays out for Daniel a brief explanation of the world powers that would rise and fall until the time of Christ. He also gives Daniel a brief explanation of the antichrist but ultimately says that the antichrist will fall too….he will be destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. So after all that, the vision just moves on and begins to focus on the one true God, and the one true king—the son of man—Jesus Christ. Our verses for today are about that one true king.
Before we move on to speak about the one true king that we read about in our text for today, there’s something to be learned from the verses that come before it...the ones we just discussed. If God wanted to, he could have lengthened the vision he gave to Daniel and told Daniel about every single nation that would rise and fall from then until the end of time. But in all honesty, I’m glad God didn’t do that because it would have made for really boring reading. It would have just been chapter after chapter that essentially repeats one thing over and over again...A nation rises and has its glory days. Then other nations rise and have their glory days. Followed by other nations that rise and have their glory days. History tends to repeat itself. Here’s the lesson for us to take from all this: There will never be a heaven on this earth, and there will never be an earthly ruler who will bring about heaven on earth. So by all means, give thanks to God for the time and place in which you live but don’t get so wrapped up in it that you forget where your true citizenship is. Your citizenship is in the everlasting kingdom. A kingdom whose glory days will last for eternity.
Let’s read about that kingdom and that ruler… 13 "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
Talk about the greatest kingdom to ever exist….Talk about the greatest ruler the world will ever know. As the verse says, God the father, the creator of the universe, has given to Christ all authority, glory, and sovereign power. On that last day, all people will recognize Christ as the one true king. And as the verse also says, Christ’s kingdom is a kingdom that will never pass away. Christ’s kingdom stands in direct contrast to everything we have talked about in regard to earthly kingdoms. Here on earth, nation after nation rises then falls….but not Christ’s kingdom. Christ’s kingdom already exists now and will continue into eternity. When the Pharisees asked Jesus to point to the kingdom of God, he responded by saying that the kingdom of God is within you. Christ rules in our hearts through faith. This side of heaven, his kingdom is found in the hearts of believers. And as we share this message about what Christ has done for us, Christ’s kingdom continues to advance. And on that last day when Christ returns, all other nations and kingdoms will fade away for good, and his kingdom will be established for eternity.
Alright….I’ve thrown a lot out there today. I usually try not to do that because I personally don’t appreciate having a lot thrown at me. So let’s boil down all these thoughts from today into a single illustration….
Firstly, I just want to let you know that I’ve been up here preaching for a little over 4 months, and in all that time, I have not yet used a sports illustration...so I’d say I’m entitled to one today. However, I have purposely chosen something that happened almost 100 years ago so that we don’t ruffle any feathers… On December 8, 1940, the Chicago Bears beat the Washington Redskins in the National Football League championship game 73 to 0. Whether you watch football or not… You have to know that a score of 73 to 0 is not a common thing. It’s what they call a blowout...in no situation is 73 to 0 a good thing—whether we’re talking sports or not.
Let’s say for a moment, that in that game that was 73 to 0, there were 10 minutes left… and let’s say that the team that had 0 points managed to score. Is the team with 73 points going to start to worry? No way. The game is essentially won. The other team just so happened to score…. So be it, it’s no big deal.
As a Christian, you are on that winning team. The game is already won in Christ. The score is 105 to… who cares? Maybe 5 or 6? Now, how do we keep from getting wrapped up in this life? How do we keep from getting discouraged by this life? Keep an eye on the scoreboard. When you’re discouraged because it seems like the other team has had a couple of good plays, take a peek at the scoreboard. It’s 105 to 6. Christ, the one true king is winning. Whenever you find yourself getting caught up in the here and now and starting to become a little too attached to this life… take a peek at the scoreboard. It’s 105 to 6. Christ, the one true king is winning.
Don’t get too caught up in this world. At times we can become obsessed with this world and slip into the thinking that we’ve achieved heaven on earth. At other times, the trials of this life can seem overwhelming. The solution to both? Keep an eye on the scoreboard. Christ is winning. It’s 105 to 6. The game is almost over. There’s no chance of a comeback. He is the one true king. He is the one true ruler. His kingdom will extend into eternity. It’s in his kingdom we have our citizenship. Amen? Amen.
Your Identity in Christ: A Timeless Child of God
Ephesians 1:3-14 New International Version (NIV)
Praise for Spiritual Blessings in Christ
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 hea]">[a] predestined us for adoption to sonshipb]">[b] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 hec]">[c] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
11 In him we were also chosen,d]">[d] having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
Your Identity in Christ: A blood-bought stone in God's temple
Ephesians 2:13-22 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the LORD. 22And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Tough Questions: Are you buying it?
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
There’s about 325 million people who live in the U.S. It’s estimated that 77% of Americans have a social media profile—so about 250 million. It’s estimated that 85%—or 277 million Americans—use text messaging. Platforms like text messaging and social media have become one of our main ways of communicating. If you’ve done any research on texting and social media, you know that it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Social media and texting are beneficial to us in some ways, and harmful in others.
I’m not here to rail on texting and social media today…. Like I said, there are come very clear benefits to these things. They help us keep in touch with people that we might not otherwise keep in close touch with. But I do want to speak about one of the ways those things can harm us spiritually if we’re not careful.
Texting and social media… they are all forms of quick and convenient communication. Personally, I love these things for just that reason. If you need to ask someone a question, you don’t have to line up your schedules so that you can find a time to call them, you can just send them a text. With social media, if you want to update someone on what’s going on in your life, you can just simply post a picture and a few words and BOOM, people have an update on what’s going on in your life. If you want an update on someone else’s life, you can just look at the things that they post. It’s quick, easy, and convenient. However, as nice as that is, let me read you one of the unintended consequences that texting and social media has brought about:
This comes from an article put out by Forbes magazine in 2017: "Perhaps one of the biggest differences in why [we] struggle with face-to-face communication [more than ever] is because we [now have] the ability to edit a message. Even for the most mundane of conversations, we have the time to think something over. This removes a sense of vulnerability [and] raw emotion.
While yes, this ability has its advantages in that we get to come off in our best light, that’s not always the most human approach. We’re supposed to make mistakes with what we sometimes say, as these errors contribute to us being stronger mentally. As much as we hate regrets, we do have a certain sense of pride in them. They’re a catalyst for growth, which is necessary to be successful."
See what it’s saying? When technological forms of communication become our primary means of communication, we can actually begin to struggle with face-to-face communication. Younger generations are notorious for this very thing. But even if you’re in an generation that came before all this technology, don’t think that you are immune to what we’re about to talk about. It was before the dawn of social media that people started to struggle more and more with a specific form of communication. Even the TV has the power to cripple this form of communication. If we allow them to, all of these things we’ve mentioned have the ability to cripple our communication with God.
Let’s be careful to not misunderstand me here. It is certainly OKAY if our conversations with God sometimes look more like a text message than a full on conversation. God tells us to bring everything to him. I would certainly hope, that throughout the day, we are sending text message type prayers to God. However, if that is our only type of communication with God, that’s when we should be worried. God desires to also have full on conversations with us, and honestly, we need full on conversations with him as well. When was the last time you went to God in prayer for a period of 10 or more minutes? What about even 5 or more minutes? Really, it’s not the number that’s important...it’s the concept. In a world that is always vying for our attention, we struggle to communicate with God.
Let’s do a little exercise here this morning. We are going to take 2 minutes—120 seconds—out of this sermon to talk to God. We’ll just have it quiet for a couple of minutes and each of us can have some personal time to speak with God about whatever it is we need to speak with him about. I’ll keep a timer and I’ll let you know when there’s 10 seconds left so you can wrap things up. So, go ahead, have a couple minutes with God in prayer, starting now.
Maybe a bit of a different exercise to have in the middle of a sermon...but there was a purpose to it. I asked my wife, "Amber, if I had silent prayer in the middle of this week’s sermon, how long do you think it would take for the majority of us to start feeling a little uncomfortable—how long till the majority of us run out of things to talk with God about?" 2 minutes was the answer—and that was my thought as well before I asked her the question. Prayer is such an important thing in our lives, and yet we often struggle to have long, meaningful and open conversation with God.
1 John 5:14 - This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
Ephesians 6:18 - And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 - Pray without ceasing.
James 5:16 - 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Here’s how this ties into our tough question for the day: Are You Buying It? We know what God says about prayer. We know that he tells us prayer is important, that it’s powerful, and that he hears our prayers...But...Are You Buying It? Do you really believe what God says about prayer? Have you really, truly, bought in to—do you really truly trust that prayer is important and powerful? And as we go along today, we’re going to widen our focus to include more than just prayer. Do you really truly buy into all of God’s promises? All the things he tells us in his Word?
Paul was buying it. Paul bought into God’s promises hook, line, and sinker. He trusted in all of them. "14 For this reason I kneel before the Father... 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." Every time we hear from Paul in the New Testament, he’s reminding young congregations that he is constantly praying for them. And the praying he does for them, they’re not just little text messages. When Paul prays for them, he shoots for the stars. I know that so often, when I pray, I tend to be too business oriented. "Dear Lord, please help so and so, keep them safe, bring them healing, help them with this situation or that situation." Not that that prayer is a bad prayer, of course not….but the reality is, God wants us to ask him for so much more. Paul’s prayer is incredible. "May God strengthen you with power, through the Spirit...so Christ might dwell in your hearts through faith!" May God strengthen you by means of the Holy Spirit who lives in you, by means of Christ who dwells in you. Paul prays for their spiritual strengthening above all else.
He goes on, "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." Here’s why that’s such a powerful prayer. As sinful humans with finite minds, we will never fully be able to understand the depth of Christ’s love—not till we get to heaven. We might say we fully understand it, but the truth is we just don’t. We can’t fully understand a love that would go innocently to the cross on our behalf. The world hates injustice—chances are you hate injustice too….especially when something unjust happens to you. Talk about the biggest injustice the world has ever seen… Christ did not deserve to die on the cross, but he did it out of love for us. By faith, we can understand it in part. But we can't understand such a radical love in full. But guess what…? Paul prays for it anyways. Paul has bought into the power of prayer. Paul has bought into the fact that with God, all things are possible. So when Paul prays for young Christian congregations, he does aim for the stars. He prays that God would do what he is able to do—achieve the impossible.
He does it because he believes with all his heart that which he says next, "20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!"
How true it is, and yet how often we forget it. Our all-powerful Lord is able to do far more than we even have the capability to ask. Our all-powerful Lord is ready and eager to do for us so much more than we are able to imagine.
Do we really buy into everything that God says in his Word? Do we really buy into all the promises he gives us? Let’s just go through a few examples today to help us examine our hearts.
Do you buy into what God tells us about prayer? When was the last time you prayed for the mission of St. Luke’s, New Hope, and Oasis Youth Center? Do you pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ? Do you pray for those in leadership roles in these ministries?
Do you buy into God’s promise to take care of your every earthly need? When it comes time to give offering, are we giving to him off the top of our income, or do we give from the bottom—give him some of the leftovers?
Do you buy into the depth of God’s love for you? Do you see the trials in your life to be a blessing from God that he’s going to use to grow you and draw you closer to him?
Do you trust that God’s promise that he will give you the words when it's time to witness? Do you approach evangelism opportunities with the boldness of Christ who lives in you?
Our goal here isn’t to go on a huge guilt trip and then send everyone home. The truth is, we all fail. There are times that all of us would have to answer no to some of those questions. It goes back to that inner struggle we have within us. The struggle between the old person and the new person. As Jesus said in Matthew 26, "The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." For those times we fail, may we remember the forgiveness we have in our Lord Jesus Christ. In him, every sin, every failure, and every doubt has been wiped away. May we not only remember the forgiveness we have in Christ, but may we be strengthened by it. Only by the power of Christ who dwells in us—by the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us—are we able to trust in God’s promises more and more fully.
May we ask God for the strength to buy into all his promises with all our hearts. May the Lord increase our trust in him so that our peace and security is found in him—not in the things of this life. May God give us hearts that are focused on his kingdom. May he move us to pray more passionately and frequently. May he help us better grasp the depth of his love for us every single day. May he drive us back to his Word so that our faith might grow and so that we might better know and understand that love he has for us. Amen? Amen.download
The Light of the World is Revealed
2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
It hardly seems like it, but 2 days from now, will be 6 months. July 8th was the date that St. Lukes, OYC, and New Hope had a new pastor installed. And I don’t know about for you, but for my wife and me, it has been a good 6 months.
By my estimation, it is time to start asking the tough questions. The tough questions are going to make us a bit uncomfortable. And in case you’re not with me—in case you don’t believe it’s time to start asking the tough questions—let me just share a little something with you. I looked up the statistics for the 7 WELS churches here in the Racine/Kenosha area—2 of those 7 being St. Luke’s and New Hope. All 7 of them are in decline. All 7. I don’t mention that to discourage us. I don’t mention that because I want us to start fixating on numbers. I mention it so that we might recognize how important it is that we start asking the tough questions...so that we might recognize how important it is that we start doing some heart and soul searching and evaluation. Rather than looking at the state of our churches in Racine and Kenosha and becoming discouraged by it, we’re going to see the opportunity. We have in front of us an opportunity to reimagine how we do ministry. We have in front of us an opportunity to reimagine what things look like 5 years from now as we figure out how we are going to bring this message of salvation to the communities around us.
Our tough question for today is this: Which kingdom are we focused on first and foremost? The big kingdom—God’s kingdom? Or the kingdom of St. Luke’s—the kingdom of New Hope?
We’ll start today with some questions intended to poke at us a little and make us seriously think about that question: which kingdom are we most invested in? Before I ask these pointed questions… hear me out. Our goal here is not lay out the things that pastor thinks needs to change. Our goal here today is to get all of us to start the conversation. Our goal here today is to get all of us to start thinking about that question: Are we more focused on our little kingdom? Or are we more focused on God’s kingdom?
First question: How attached are we to the name on our building—St. Luke’s….New Hope? If it was for the good of the big kingdom—God’s kingdom, would we be ready to give that name up?
Next question: How attached are we to our church building? If it was for the good of the big kingdom, would we be willing to give this building up?
How attached are we to our location? (New Hope - 5970 Douglas Ave, Racine, WI / St. Luke’s - 6700 30th Ave, Kenosha, WI) If it was for the good of the big kingdom, would we be ready to give this location up?
How attached are we to our memories? It’s okay to cherish memories—but fixating on them can be harmful. If it was for the good of the big kingdom, would we be eager to loosen our grip on the memories of the way that things once were?
How attached are we to our programs and outreach strategies? If it served to advance the big kingdom, would we be willing to give up one of our current outreach efforts? Would we be willing to add a new one?
How attached are we to our preferences? Could we willingly give our preferences up if it serves the good of the big kingdom?
How attached are we to our church culture? Could we willingly change it if it served the good of the big kingdom?
How attached are we to the status quo? If it was for the good of the big kingdom, would we be happy to rethink the norm—rethink the status quo?
Paul was all in—he was all about the big kingdom, God’s kingdom. And we see that in our verses for today. I’m not going to re-read our verses today, I’ll just comment on them. If you’ve got those verses in front of you, you’ll see words and phrases like, administration of God’s grace, mystery, and revelation…. Verses 2-5 are almost a little confusing—It’s almost like, come on Paul, spit it out, what are you talking about? Well in verse 6 he finally says it. This mystery, this revelation he is talking about is this: in Christ, the Gentiles are on the same level as the Jews. In Christ, Salvation had come—and it wasn’t just for the Jews, it was also for the gentiles (all other races who were not of Jewish descent). In verse 8 Paul says that he was chosen for this task of bringing this message of salvation to all nations—not just the Jews. Paul says in these verses that this message—this mystery—of salvation for all nations was previously hidden. And Paul is right. When you look through the Old Testament, this message that God will provide salvation for all nations is somewhat hidden. In the Old Testament, it is very clear—it’s very obvious—that the nation of Israel was God’s chosen people. It’s very obvious that the Lord would send a savior to rescue his people—the nation of Israel. But the message that this Savior would be for all nations is not quite so clear. However…. It is there. We do find it.
Genesis 22, God promises Abraham that through his offspring all nations on earth would be blessed. Even from early on, God gave his people clues that the coming Savior would be the Savior of all—not just the Savior of Israel. We had another example in our first reading for today. There we had a picture of people from nations all over the world—people who had previously lived in the darkness of sin—coming to praise the Lord and worship him. There’s dozens of other instances in the Old Testament that speak about the day when people from every nation will worship the Lord.
However, as Paul says, this message was indeed hidden. By the time Jesus comes onto the scene, the idea that the Messiah would be for all people was not something that made it into the mainstream way of thinking. It was not something that was readily promoted by the Jewish religious leaders. By the time Jesus comes, what IS promoted? Separation from everyone and everything that wasn’t Jewish. The idea that the nation of Israel is God’s chosen people and everyone else is not, and therefore, we keep them at arm's length.
But God made sure that Paul understood this truth….the truth that salvation is for ALL people, not just the Jews. Do you think that this message that Paul took into the world was a popular message? It wasn’t. Every time Paul would enter a city, where would he go and preach first? He would go to the synagogue—the place where the Jews would go to worship and listen to God’s Word. And more often than not, what would happen? He would get run out of the synagogue. There were a lot of things about Paul’s preaching that was offensive to many Jewish listeners and especially to the Jewish religious leaders. We’ve already mentioned one idea that was offensive… the fact that the Messiah who came was the Savior of the whole world—not just the nation of Israel. That certainly offended some people. In addition, Paul would often lay out how it was God’s people themselves that had actually killed the Messiah when they crucified him on the cross. That was definitely an offensive message.
A lot of times, these "offensive" teachings from Paul got him into trouble. Multiple times he got in trouble with the Jewish leadership. Multiple times they abused him. Multiple times they tried to kill him. So why did he keep preaching? Even after being beaten and almost killed, why would Paul keep preaching this message of salvation for all nations? It’s because Paul’s focus was on getting this message of salvation out into the world. Paul’s focus was on the big kingdom—not the little kingdom.
Paul received opposition on this matter from the religious leaders, and from some of his own. In Galatians chapter 2, Paul had to oppose Peter for this very issue. Peter! Another apostle! Peter was associating and eating with Gentiles, but when a certain group of people showed up, Peter began to hold back. He withdrew from the gentiles and closed himself off in his group of Jews. Others started following his example. Paul sees what’s going on and he calls all of them out right there, publicly.
Was it easy for Paul to let go of all the customs that he had been raised in? No. Was it easy for Paul to go against the grain when it came to his cultures most closely guarded beliefs? No. Was it easy for Paul to give up everything that he formerly held dear? No. But he did it. He did it because his focus was on getting this message of salvation out into all the world around him. He did it, because he was all in when it came to God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom was for all people. Paul set aside every other kingdom for the sake of the gospel. Paul set aside the kingdom of Israel. He set aside the kingdom of Paul. He focused entirely on the big kingdom—God’s kingdom.
One question I have to refresh myself on every year is this: what exactly is Epiphany? In its simplest form, you might say that Epiphany is the day when we celebrate the fact that Jesus came not just for the Jews, but he came to save the whole world. That’s why we have the reading from Matthew chapter 2. Wise men from a foreign nation come to worship Jesus. But for today, let me frame the purpose of Epiphany Sunday a little differently. On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of our Savior. During the Epiphany season, we’re still thinking about the birth of our Savior, but we’re asking the question: So what? What’s the big deal? Why is my life any different now that Jesus has been born?
Today we saw Paul answer that question: So what? Christ is the Savior of all the world. This news is too big, too important for us to let anything stand in the way of sharing it. Christ didn’t just come to save one nation. He same to make payment for the sins of every person from every nation. How can we not tell this story of salvation? Paul wasn’t going to let cultural custom or personal preference or racial division stand in the way of sharing this message. He turned his back on all those things and preached the message of salvation for the advancement of God’s kingdom.
Brothers and sisters of St. Luke’s and New Hope. I have every confidence we can do the same. What sacrifices will we make for the sake of taking this gospel message into the world around us? I don’t know. But I have confidence that God will strengthen us to do just that. You’ve already started to do it. It wasn’t ideal to have to share a pastor between 3 ministries—but you were willing to do it. Was it partly out of necessity? Sure. But I also think it’s a move that points to some big kingdom focus. And for the last 6 months, we’ve been making it work. We’ve maybe sacrificed our ideal service time, or we have had to do without pastor for part or all of an event, but they’re things we’re willing to let go of as we focus on God’s kingdom and spreading this message of salvation.
So, I hope you’ll continue the conversation with me on this one. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. Don’t be afraid to poke where it hurts. When we start doing those things, growth will start to take place. Forward thinking will happen.
Would you like to make my week? Let me tell you how you can make my week. Think about this tough question we talked about today: Which kingdom are we focused on—God’s kingdom, or our kingdom? And come up with an answer for both sides of that question. Come up with a way that we’re potentially too focused on our kingdom of St. Luke’s or New Hope, but also come up with a way that we are clearly focused on the advancement of the big kingdom—God’s kingdom. Once you’ve done that, either email or text me your answer. My information is on the bulletin. That would make my week.
This message of salvation is big news. I’m excited in this new year to start making some strides, to start asking the tough questions, and to start thinking outside the box so that we can figure out how to get this message of forgiveness to more and more souls. We saw it today from Paul: this message of salvation isn’t just for us. It’s for everyone. Every nation. Every culture. May Christ bless our new year. May he guide our steps as we bring this message to our communities. May he help us answer the tough questions that are going to result in spiritual growth. Amen? Amen.
Your Identity in Christ: A Builder
SERMON TEXT: Ephesians 4:1-7,11-16
Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ
1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work
There are many companies that are starting to dedicate a lot of time, money, and energy to bettering the employee experience. Reason being, is that there has been a fair amount of research coming out about the work atmosphere. There’s a whole hoard of statistics but I’ll just kind of simplify it and say this: studies show that billions are lost to extra healthcare costs and decreased productivity at workplaces where the environment is negative and stressful. Where as, they’re finding the opposite to be true for places that invest in their employees and are very mindful of their work atmosphere and environment. More productive. More creative. More driven. Less sick days. Less health issues….
While the church is not a business, I think there are some things that can be learned from this shift of business practices. And in fact, I think a case could be made that the importance of workplace atmosphere is not a new concept. We’re going to see Paul talking about it today, not with the same terminology, and not within the context of a business, but within the context of the body of Christ.
Today I want to start with the last verse first. Because everything that comes before it is leading up to it. This last verse here, verse 16, it’s our goal, its the pinnacle of our existence as a church: "16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." So right there, we have the identity in Christ that we are considering today: a builder. The body of Christ grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work. And so when you think builder, well you could picture construction worker here if you wanted, but Paul is using imagery again. Maybe it’s better to think, "encourager." Have you ever had a friend who is down in the dumps for some reason or another, and you encourage them. You pick them up and get them back on their feet. You build them up. That picture of the body of Christ building itself up in love as every part does its work is an inspiring picture, isn’t it?? Every single person doing their part to encourage one another, to show love to one another, to be there for one another, to help to one another…. Who wouldn’t to be in a place like that, right?
As we go through our verses today, we’ll keep that end goal in mind. In the verses leading up to it, Paul is going to tell us how we get there. And it has to do with workplace atmosphere, or… if you’ll allow me a pun… it has to do with our Christ-motivated "churchplace" atmosphere.
Paul starts off by urging us to, "live a life worthy of the calling we have received." So right away, before we even get started, it might be helpful to note that, really for the entirety of the verses in front of us today, we will be dealing in the realm of sanctification. At the Seminary they tell us to never leave big words like that hanging. So, quick recap: Justification has to do with the process of your salvation. Jesus dying on the cross for your sin, and through faith you receive the benefit of that work of his. So as you stand before God, you’re justified. God does not see your sin because Jesus has taken it away. You are no longer guilty. Justification is complete. It’s done. It’s cartain. There’s no if, ands or buts about it. But sanctification, that’s different. That’s life after salvation. In our Christian lives we desire to know God’s Word better. We strive to do a better job upholding his law and all he commands… NOT because that’s how we get to heaven, but because we know that what he tells us is good and right. His commands were given to us in love… not in spite or anger.
So… here’s an easy way to figure out if a particular section or even phrase your reading is gospel or law… if it has to do with justification or sanctification. If whatever you’re looking at says, "do this" then it’s probably law—it probably has to do with sanctification. If whatever your looking at says, "this has been done for you" then it’s probably gospel—it probably has to do with justification.
So when you hear Paul say, "Live a life worthy of the calling you have received." What is it, law or gospel? "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." Justification or sanctification?
Right. So here were speaking about life as a Christian (sanctification). And thank God… because I don't know about you, but when I look at that list, It’s immediately apparent that I fail to uphold it time and time again. There’s not a day that goes by that I don't just utterly fail when it comes to that list. You probably don't have to go very far back either to think of a time that you’ve failed to do these things perfectly. Maybe even this morning we have already failed. Completely humble, gentle, patient… bear with one another in love….be one who seeks to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. And it’s so convicting because it’s not just a matter of outward actions… it’s also a matter of the heart. Pride, harshness, impatience… all those things originate in here… It doesn’t matter if you’re one of those who does a good job of keeping your cool on the outside.
Here Paul is expecting us to remember who we are and what we have in Christ. On the cross, Christ paid for every single time you’ve been impatient, harsh, and prideful; every time you’ve been one who creates strife rather than one who seeks to keep the peace. That includes times in the past. It includes the times you’ll mess up today. And it includes all future blunders. Paul knows full well that we can’t keep this list perfectly as sinners. Paul’s the one that wrote that famous discourse in Romans 7… "What I want to do, I do not do. But what I hate, this I keep on doing."
And yet, with all confidence, Paul tells us to do these things. It’s because Paul is not expecting us to look within ourselves for the strength to do these things. He wants us to look to our Savior for the strength to move forward with these attitudes.
Right before our verses for today, Paul had another prayer, "(3:16-19) 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he would strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner self, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. Then, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 I pray that you would be able to comprehend, along with all the saints, how wide and long and high and deep his love is, 19 and that you would be able to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled to all the fullness of God."
We are capable of creating this "churchplace atmosphere" that Paul has set in front of us today… not because of our own strength, but because we are strengthened by Christ himself who dwells in us. And the longer we stay grounded in that self-sacrificial love of Christ, the more deeply we come to understand that self-sacrificial love of Christ, the more naturally we simply reflect it and overflow with it because we are filled to the brim by it.
And then Paul goes on to give us a reason we strive to maintain the "churchplace atmosphere"... "(4-6) There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." All of us here are on the same team. It’s not pastors team. It’s not the elders team. It’s not this member or that members team. It’s God’s team.
Paul then goes on to speak about some of those that God has given us to help us in this process of maintaining a Christ-motivated churchplace atmosphere as we build up the body of Christ: "11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."
And indeed, we give thanks for all those listed. We hear terms like apostles and prophets and we think of the characters we find in Scripture that God used to bring his Word of salvation into the world and build up the body of Christ. Then we hear words like pastors and teachers and we think of those people in today’s world. Maybe you think of the pastors and teachers that have been a part of your life. They have sought to build you up. They have sought to equip you. They have sought to prepare you for works of service. They have sought to walk alongside you at your faith matures. And so this is certainly a prayer of mine, that by the grace of God I might be one of those pastors for you, the people of SL & NH & OYC and for the communities of Kenosha and Racine.
But Paul doesn’t for a second leave us to think that the pastors and teachers are the only builders. It takes everyone’s involvement to build up the body of Christ takes every part being involved. You too are a builder. In the verses we just read, as you are equipped for and as you perform acts of service, you too are taking a part in the building of Christ’s body. And you too play a vital and important role. Now we’re back to the last verse that we started with today, "16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." The body of Christ grows as each part does its work. Building up the body of Christ is not a one-man show. It takes that whole team participating and actively striving for and seeking that churchplace atmosphere that Paul laid out for us: gentleness, patience, humility, bearing with one another in love.
A couple weeks ago in India, in a division on the north side of what is called Greater Noida, a 6 story building collapsed and killed 9 people. It caused a fair amount of uproar because it was something that could have been avoided. The building project was rushed, cheap materials were used…Safety guidelines weren’t followed... There’s testimonies from the workers about the poor working conditions. It was a tragedy that could have been avoided.
As we think about how our congregations move forward and reach out into the communities around us, I think there are some spiritual applications to be gleaned from that story. Inspired by the love of Christ, let us think about how we go about building up the body of Christ. Firstly we fall on our knees before God and ask for forgiveness for the times we have been lazy or relied on ourselves as we seek to build up the body of Christ. And we’re all guilty of it because we’re sinners. When we rely on ourselves the building project goes awry. An atmosphere of selfishness and self-interest is created. Impatience, greed, pride and hostility take root and breed. Our focus is no longer outward: What can we do both in our midst and in the communities around us to build the body of Christ? Rather it becomes an inward focus: what can I do to build my own kingdom here on earth? What can I do to protect myself and my own self-interests? And while our building may not literally come crashing down, our efforts are hindered and crippled.
But by the grace of God each day is a new day. Each opportunity is a new opportunity in which we might strive for that churchplace atmosphere Paul speaks about.
Here’s a quote I came across in preparing for this sermon that struck me. It’s a secular quote from an architect and designer by the name of David Craib. He said, "Design should never say, "Look at me!" It should always say, "Look at this!"
That quote is just begging to be spiritualized, isn’t it? By the grace of God, may we keep that concept in mind. This church is not about us. Our outreach efforts are not about us. The goal is not to say, "Look at me!" It’s to say, "Look at this!" Look at our awesome God. Look at the love he pours out on each of us in Christ. Look at the amazing things he has done for us! We’re not a congregation that strives for humility and gentleness and patience because it makes us feel better at the end of the day. We are a congregation that displays these things because we ourselves have been filled to the brim with Christ’s love and we are overflowing with it. May Christ strengthen each of us as we live out our identities as builders in him. Amen
Your Identity in Christ: A New Creation
17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
If I were going to guess, I’d say there’s not a single one of us that walked in the door this morning without bringing with us some baggage. And this morning I’m going to the baggage that us humans tend to carry around with us into two fairly simple categories: The first kind of baggage we like to carry around is our feelings of guilt and shame. The second kind of baggage we like to carry around is our pride.
Here’s why I have divided it into those two categories and why I can pretty confidently say that every single one of us is carrying at least one (maybe both of those bags around with us). You remember the story of the prodigal son, yes? It was a parable that Jesus told. I’ll just briefly recap... There were two brothers. The younger brother came to his father and asked for his share of the inheritance. (That’s essentially like saying dad, I’m done with you, I wish you were dead, give me my inheritance so I can leave.) And so his father gave him his share of the inheritance. And the younger son...the prodigal son set out and and just blew through the money that his father had given him. He used it to live life up in extravagant and even in promiscuous ways. When he ran out of money he had to find a job. So he’s working with a pig farmer. And one day he finds himself looking at the pigs food longing to eat it...and that’s when he comes to his senses. He says he would rather be a servant back in his father’s house than be here craving pig slop. So that prodigal son went home. And my question for you… What kind of baggage did that prodigal son carry back home? Exactly. Feelings of guilt and shame.
When the younger brother finally gets home, his father sees him while he’s still a long way off and comes running to meet him and hug him...and he throws him a welcome home party. He slaughtered the fattened calf because his boy had come home. In today’s world that’s the equivalent of no expense being spared. But now, here comes the older brother. He hears the party going on and has no idea what’s going on. He finds his father and his father says, "We’re celebrating because your brother has come home!" What does the older brother do? He gets mad. He gets angry. He starts saying things to his father like, "Now hold on, I have always been faithful to you and done what you ask, I would never ask for my half of the inheritance and run off like your younger son! And here you are throwing him a party? You’ve never thrown me a party!" So… what kind of baggage was the older brother carrying around? Exactly…. Pride.
It’s a brilliant parable by Jesus that really sums up our existence as sinful humans. My guess would be that you can relate to one of the brothers more than the other. But regardless of being able to relate to and identify with one more than the other, I would guess that we could all point to times where we find ourselves acting like both brothers.
So boy if you walked in without any baggage this morning, we should chat after the service because you either (A) are ignoring the 18 wheeler load of baggage you’ve been hauling around or (B) you’ve got it figured out, and I want to know how you do it… Because I admit it, I’m just as human as you are, and I too walked in with baggage this morning.
The reason I bring up our baggage this morning is because the text we have in front of us today is a difficult one for us to read when we approach it with the feelings of guilt or shame or pride that we’ve been carrying around. For those of us who walked in carrying our feelings of guilt and shame, this passage almost just makes us feel worse because here Paul is telling us not to live like those who don’t know Christ and yet here we are still struggling with the same old sins…. For those of us who walked in carrying our pride, this passage probably feels falsely uplifting for us. We read what Paul says and point the finger at ourselves and say YEP! THAT’S ME! I wouldn’t ever dream of living the way Paul is speaking about, and shame on those who do! And so us who walk in carrying our pride are at risk of missing the point entirely, kind of like the older brother.
So let’s read it again and I’ll make a few comments as we go through...
Eph 4:17-24 - 17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. [He doesn’t say so right here… but Paul does expand on the concepts of giving oneself over to sensuality and impurity and greed a little later. When he gives those broad categories he later tells us what he’s thinking and it’s really a pretty inclusive list…. He’s got on his mind things like: lying, anger, stealing, unwholesome talk, bitterness, gossip, sexual sins as defined by God, coarse joking, greed. Really it’s a pretty inclusive list. So Paul says, "You must not live like those who do not follow God. You must not chase after sin and let your sinful desires control you. Have nothing to do with those things."]
Then Paul goes on...20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Paul wants us to hand our baggage over to Jesus as we think about these verses today. And we know that because of everything Paul has said in Ephesians up to this point. Over the last few weeks Paul has been working on both those of us who tend carry around feelings of guilt and shame, and those of us who tend to carry around our pride. For those of us who carry around feelings of guilt and shame...Haven’t you found it rather impressive how positively Paul has been speaking to us up to this point? He has used all kinds of imagery to build us up. He’s called us children of God. He’s called us members of his household, blood-bought stones in his temple, and builders of the body of Christ. And as we’ve gone through those uplifting and encouraging identities in Christ, maybe you’ve occasionally found yourself thinking… man, sometimes I really struggle to live like a child of…. Sometimes I really struggle to live like a member of his household. Sometimes I really struggle to be one who builds up my brothers and sisters in Christ with every word that comes out of my mouth. And It’s true. We struggle. But here’s what Paul has been doing so far in Ephesians. He has been addressing our primary identity. In Christ, your primary identity is a child of God. Your primary identity is member of his household. Your primary identity is an encourager and builder of the body of Christ. Formerly our primary identity was that of condemned sinner. But the day you came to faith, all of that changed. Now when God looks at you, he doesn’t even see your identity of sinner, because Christ paid for that sin on the cross. When God looks at you, he sees you for who you are. He sees your primary identity: his child, a member of his household, one who encourages and loves one another.
And for those of us who tend to carry around our pride… once again, Paul has been working on us for the last 3 and ½ chapters….remember everything that Paul has said up to this point. He has made it clear that we played absolutely NO ROLE in gaining the status of child of God or member of his household. We are powerless to change our identity from that of sinner to that of blood-bought child of God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit worked together to make that happen. So how could we ever let it become a source of sinful pride? We had nothing to do with it!
So by the grace of God, let’s set down our feelings of guilt and shame and or pride. Remembering that we, purely by the grace and work of God, are his forgiven and blood bought children, let’s read and think about the last 4 verses again.
20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.
So here we see it again, Paul is addressing our primary identity. It’s only by the power of our new identities that we can agree with Paul here. You’re right Paul! I don’t want to live that way anymore. I don’t want to be enslaved to any form of sin any longer. And you’re not. You are no longer a slave to sin. Your salvation is complete. You’re a child of God whose inheritance is eternal life in heaven...but, now there is daily work to be done.
Paul goes on (I’m switching translations here because I think this translation has rendered one of the greek verbs a little better….22 As far as your former way of life is concerned, you were taught to take off the old self, which is corrupted by its deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed continually in the spirit of your mind, 24 and to put on the new self, which has been created to be like God in righteousness and true holiness. (EHV)
The better rendering of the verb comes in verse 23 there… "to be renewed continually in the spirit (or attitude) of your mind. There is is, Paul gets it. It takes a continual renewing of what he calls the spirit or the attitude of our minds. As humans that are both sinful, and yet also forgiven, we have a constant battle that is going on within us. And that’s why we’re so inclined to run back to our former way of life and dabble in it. We’re almost eager to run back to our sin or pride but it never leaves us feeling the way we hoped it would, and before we know it we’re once again carrying around our baggage. It takes a continual renewing in the grace of God for us to remember our primary identity and hand our feelings of guilt, shame, and pride back over to Jesus.
When you came to faith, you became a new creation. The new self was put on through faith. For many of us that was at different times in our lives. For some of us it was baptism…. Like we got to see with Harper and Paisley today. For others it was later in life… but whenever it was, that new creation is your primary identity. But the work of being continually renewed is not a one and done kind of thing. It is a continual process that by the grace of God takes place day by day, and even hour by hour and minute by minute sometimes.
You know what one of the strengths of Alcoholics Anonymous is? 4 of the steps that they have those in recovery do is regularly have to do with taking a thorough moral inventory of what they have going on in their hearts and minds and of the wrong actions and wrong ways of thinking. The reason it’s so helpful is because if they don’t regularly assess and deal with the things that cause feelings of guilt and shame or overconfidence and pride, those things will inevitably build up and lead them right back to their drug of choice.
And I always think it’s silly when someone looks at an addict and thinks to themselves, "Wow, my life is in much better shape than theirs." Because that’s usually not the case…. The harmful habits of someone who isn’t addicted to a substance just manifest themselves in different ways. How often don’t we neglect to ask God to help us do a moral inventory so that rather than picking up and carrying around our shame or pride, we can just hand it over to him as soon as we become aware of it.
May God help us, to live as the new creations that we are. May he strengthen us to rest in his grace every minute of every day. May he make us aware as soon as we start carrying around our shame and pride so that we might hand it back over to him. Although we will struggle, and sometimes we will live like we’re the younger brother, and at other times we’ll live like we’re the older brother… may God remind us that when we’re speaking about our primary identity, we are neither. We are his child. We are new creations that are being continually renewed by the message of his love and grace found in Scripture. Amen
Your Identity in Christ: A Dearly Loved Child
4:30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of every kind of bitterness, rage, anger, quarreling, and slander, along with every kind of malice. 32 Instead, be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven us.
5:1 Therefore, be imitators of God as his dearly loved children. 2 And walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (EHV)
I’d say a common human struggle is to keep things in perspective. And as Christians we’re not immune. Sometimes that struggle to keep things in perspective can bleed over into our spiritual lives. There’s a concept I want to speak about that is at times the culprit for our loss of perspective.
When it comes to the world of Art… there is a phenomenon that artists will occasionally talk about. The term for it is visual lethargy. Here’s the simple definition for it: the more you see something, the less you actually see it. I’ll explain what it means a little more… Now, if I were to tell you to picture a beautiful scene, what would it be? It’s different for all of us. For some of us it’s a beach where it’s warm and sunny year round. For others of us we might picture a breathtaking view of a metropolis…like if you’ve ever taken a water taxi ride in New York and can see the whole city before you… beautiful. For others of us maybe its a mountain range or something like the grand canyon. And still for others, maybe it’s being in the middle of the deep deep woods—the northernmost parts the United States, or maybe up into Canada or in Alaska… wherever it may be. But I want you to imagine for a moment, that the beautiful place that just popped into your mind was where you live. I know, it would be great, wouldn’t it? But if you lived there… and saw that beautiful sight day in and day out, eventually you would start to see it less.
It happened to me just last year. I was in my last year of schooling. The seminary that pastors in our circles attend is in Mequon (north of Milwaukee). We lived in St. Francis (south of downtown by the airport). So every morning, on my drive to school, I would drive over the 794 bridge (for those of you who know the roads). For those of you who don’t… It’s a huge bridge and when you’re going north and you get to the top of this bridge, there before you lies a beautiful picture of downtown...you can see it all. It’s magnificent. (my wife will tell you I’m a sucker for any good view—whether it’s nature or man made—i love it all). Anyways, I got to drive over that bridge every school day. But the longer I spent driving over that bridge, the less I actually saw and appreciated what was before me… and it’s not because it changed in any way. But it’s because as we grow familiar with something we tend to let it kind of fade into the background. In my case I would just drive past that view without remembering to appreciate it because I’d be consumed in my thoughts or, I don’t know, thinking about what needed to be done that day…
That’s visual lethargy. It’s a concept that is almost just begging us to draw out some spiritual parallels. Do you ever find yourself falling prey to a kind of spiritual lethargy? Maybe you have known the truths of God’s Word for a long time… but have we heard them so many times that we begin to just kind of drive by without appreciating them? We might all be able to point to times where this has been the case. Maybe some of us here today are wrestling with that.
I bring this up because when we fall into that spiritual lethargy, that’s when we begin to lose perspective. The truths that Paul has placed in front of us today are beautiful. They have profound implications. They are powerful. And their beauty and power never changes. But my guess is, that for some of us, they are truths that we have driven past many many times. But today, by the grace of God and with his help, may we remember to appreciate them as if we were coming to understand them for the first time. And, of course, if they’re truths that are indeed new to you, let’s enjoy them for all their worth. In the verses before us today, Paul helps us to regain our perspective.
When we read the list of things that Paul tells us to get rid of, did it get to you? “Get rid of every kind of bitterness, rage, anger, quarreling, and slander, along with every kind of malice. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another…” We can all point to times where we have lost perspective and found ourselves acting in anger. We can all point to times where we have lost our perspective and NOT treated one another with kindness, compassion and forgiveness. And Paul understands this well. Paul is the one who wrote the famous section in Romans 7, the good that I want to do I don’t do. But the evil I don’t want to do, this I keep on doing. What a wretched man I am. Paul’s speaking about life after becoming a Christian. Until we get to heaven, we’ll still have to wrestle and battle that old sinful person that lives in us. And that old sinful person is going to try and cause us problems, every day. Even as Christians who know full well who we are in Christ and what he has done for us, we’re going to have to fight to rid our hearts of the bitterness, of anger, and of the divisive spirit that our old sinful person loves so much. Our old sinful person loves it when it can cause the anger and bitterness that comes from our hearts to spill over into our relationships...whether work relationships or family or friends or even our relationships here, with your brothers and sisters in Christ. That old sinful person loves it when, rather than talk through things with one another, we get angry and bitter towards one another over silly things like worship preferences, or differences in opinion, or things that ultimately are minute details and have nothing to do with our ultimate goal and purpose of carrying the message of Christ into our communities.
But Paul goes on… and he’s going to give us the beautiful and powerful truths that shape our perspective as Christians. And even if we’ve heard them before, it doesn’t make them any less beautiful, or any less true, or any less powerful. They’re the lens through which we view life. “God in Christ has forgiven us...be imitators of God as his dearly loved children. 2 And walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself for us...”
We’re going to talk about 3 beautiful and powerful truths in that section…. Number 1. “God in Christ has forgiven us.” God, in Christ has forgiven you….me. The most unforgivable of characters. How easy it is to forget the depth of our depravity and sin. How easy it is to read over what God says about what we deserved as sinners and just kind of mentally skip over it. We were on death row. And the temporary death we were to experience in this life wasn’t even the scary part… it was the eternal death and separation from God that was the scariest part... We deserved eternal death. The evidence of our sin was stacked against us. There was NOTHING we could do about it. But God in his kindness, compassion, and love did something about it on our behalf. God did the impossible—saved us from the eternal death row on which we sat by sending his Son to die in our place. May that reality, of God’s incredible love for us always remain as beautiful and powerful to us as it truly is.
Beautiful and powerful truth number 2… You are God’s dearly loved child. And I think this one is kind of central… it’s why I went with it as the theme: your identity in Christ: a dearly loved child. It’s central because that phrase “dearly loved” is just so loaded, and it draws from the verses around it. The verses around it show the extent of God’s love for us as his children. We just talked about the phrases before it… God, in Christ, has forgiven us. That’s God’s love for you. Never has a more perfect and pure of a love been experienced than God sending his Son for us while we deservingly sat on eternal death row as sinners. God made sure the adoption price was paid so that you might be his dearly loved, blood-bought child. You are God’s dearly loved child.
Then the verse that comes after it once again shows just how loaded that “dearly loved” phrase is and it’s our third beautiful and powerful truth... Walk in the way of love just as Christ loved us and gave himself for us. Jesus, in an equally amazing show of pure and perfect love, gave himself up for us on the cross. He took our sin upon his own shoulders. In love, he was willing to suffer death and punishment for our sin. He suffered in our place. In the span of a couple sentences we see both God’s love for us, and Jesus love for us. We are indeed, his dearly loved children.
With the help of God, may we keep these potentially well-known, yet profound truths in mind...because by taking time to step back and marvel at them anew, God strengthens us to do the impossible. He strengthens us to keep the outlook and perspective on life that Paul is speaking about in these passages. When God’s love for us and Christ’s love for us remain the lens through which we view life, being imitators of God happens naturally. Walking in the way of love happens naturally. Treating each other with the same kindness, compassion, and forgiveness with which we ourselves have been treated by God, happens naturally. May God strengthen us to do the impossible… to live in the perspective change that his love brings to us… to live as who we truly are in Christ: his dearly loved children. Amen
Your Identity in Christ: Spirit-Filled
15 Consider carefully, then, how you walk, not as unwise people, but as wise people. 16 Make the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 For this reason, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk on wine, which causes you to lose control. Instead, be filled with the Spirit 19 by speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (singing and making music with your hearts to the Lord), 20 by always giving thanks for everything to God the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (EHV)SERMON:
Today we’re going to see that living out our Spirit-filled identity happens in two ways: Firstly, We live out our Spirit-filled identity when we let the joy about what Christ has done for us fill our hearts and let it flow out in our actions and our worship. And secondly, we live out our Spirit-filled identity when we consider the way we walk...namely, when we seek to walk closer to God. So...It really is a bit of an interesting identity in Christ that is placed in front of us today. What does it mean to be Spirit filled? What does it not mean?
To answer that question, we’re going to start by looking at the last half of our verses today. We’ll circle back around to the others later. We’re going to begin in the middle of verse 18. And as we read these verses again, I want you to try to visualize them in your mind.
Be filled with the Spirit 19 by speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (singing and making music with your hearts to the Lord), 20 by always giving thanks for everything to God the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." What mental picture came to mind? When I think about these verses, there’s a certain energy to them. An overflowing joy. Being Spirit-filled deals with both an inward expression of joy, and an outward expression of the joy we have in Christ. And Paul has been planting in our hearts the joy we have in Christ for the last 5 and a half chapters. Christ paid for every sin of yours on the cross and now God does not hold your sin against you. Rather, you are his child. You are a member of his household. You’re a new creation. No matter what your life circumstance, all of those truths remain. Those truths are the reason for the joy and thankfulness in our hearts.
Today Paul tells us to have joy in your heart regarding what Christ has done for you. And you have permission to express that joy as well. And when we do express that joy, it encourages our brothers and sisters in Christ.
These verses have some pretty clear overtones of worship. And so we’re going to get to talk about worship today. And it’s worthwhile to spend a little time on it because worship is a bit of a sensitive topic amongst Christians today… not just in our church body but in every church body. And that’s why we’re going to approach it delicately and think about it with a level head. But before we get into it, let me tell you where we’re not going with this…I’m not about to suggest that the way we worship is in any way unpleasing to God. I’m not about to suggest that you need to express your inner joy in a way that makes you uncomfortable—the joy you have in your heart and the way you express it is pleasing to God because you are his child. But I AM going to suggest, that you shouldn’t suppress the joy and thankfulness you have in your heart when it tries to flow out. And I AM going to say that, God-willing [and this is my prayer every single day], should our churches grow, we need to be aware before the fact that as we reach out to people of other cultures and backgrounds, their outward expression of the joy in their hearts might be different than ours… and that’s OKAY.
Let me give you a few examples of what I’m talking about. My 2nd year of Seminary, I preached a couple of sermons at Garden Homes Lutheran church in Milwaukee. It’s an ethnically mixed congregation in our circles. More often than not, the music is non-german and isn’t accompanied by the organ. A whole slew of instruments are used. It’s lively. People say amen in the middle of a sermon when something resonates with them. There’s a gospel choir. And none of that is wrong. In fact it’s God pleasing. They’re living out their Spirit-filled identity, speaking God’s Word to one another, making music with their hearts and voices, and giving thanks to God.
In my third year of schooling when I was working with one of our churches in DC...There was this big white man that would come to our contemporary service. He didn’t come from a Lutheran background. He would sit towards the front. He too would say AMEN when a point resonated with him. In addition, he enjoyed holding his hands up when he really got into a song. Similar story in the WELS congregation I was in from 7th grade on...There’s a Jamaican woman. She says amen. She holds her hands up. And all of it is okay. It’s pleasing to God. They’re living out their Spirit-filled identity, speaking the Word of God to one another, making music with their hearts and voices, and giving thanks to God.
You have brothers and sisters in Christ around the world—like in Africa for example—who believe the same as you do when it comes to the doctrines of the Bible but worship very differently. I’m sure if you took just about any American WELS Lutheran and sat them in the middle of one of their services, they would think they had walked into a Pentecostal service. But that would be very very far from actually being the case. They’re confessional Lutherans who are dancing and singing and praising God…and all of it is okay. It’s all pleasing to God. They’re living out their Spirit-filled identity, speaking the Word of God to one another, making music with their hearts and voices, and giving thanks to God.
You see, as we live out our identity of being Spirit-filled Christians when it comes to worship, God is not concerned with what instrument is used. The organ can be used to praise him. The piano can be used to praise him. The guitar, the drums, stringed instruments, wind instruments, horns… they can all be used to praise him. God also does not prescribe a way in which we are to let the joy in our hearts flow out into our actions. Singing a hymn with all your might in 4 part harmony, saying amen in the middle of a sermon, holding your hands up, dancing… it can all be done to the glory of the Lord. None of these things are superior to another in God’s eyes. But here’s what God does care about… God cares about content. Verse 17 said, "Understand what the will of the Lord is."
When God’s Word is preached and taught in it’s truth and purity, it’s pleasing to Him. When we take time to ask, well what does God’s Word truly say? It’s pleasing to him. When we take time to ask, How does God’s Word apply to my life? It’s pleasing to him. And the better we know God’s Word in it’s truth and purity, the more our joy in Christ will grow. And the more that joy in our hearts grows, the more eager it will be to flow out. And remember, our goal today was not to prescribe a particular way that that joy needs flows out, but to show that it’s okay to let it flow out naturally. And in the short time I’ve been here, I have already seen the joy in your hearts flowing out. It happens both in worship, and outside of worship. It happens when we put in the effort to be a part of one another's lives. It happens when we take the time to listen to and encourage someone that is having a tough time. It happens when we are patient, kind and loving with one another. It happens when we serve one another—when we consider one another's needs before our own. It happens when we treat one another as equally valuable members of the body of Christ. It happens when we give thanks to God for everything.
So as we opened we talked about how living out our Spirit-filled identity happens in two ways: Firstly, We live out our Spirit-filled identity when we let the joy about what Christ has done for us fill our hearts and let it flow out in our actions and our worship. So we talked about that...and now we’ll close with the second way... We live out that identity when we consider the way we walk...namely, when we seek to walk closer to God and ask him for strength to help us do so.
And now we’re going to circle back around to the opening verses because they illustrate this point, "Consider carefully, then, how you walk, not as unwise people, but as wise people. 16 Make the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 For this reason, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is."
When Paul says, "Consider how you walk..." there’s a good chance he has the Proverbs in mind. Numerous places in Proverbs speak about the path that we walk in life. And the path we walk in life has profound implications...whether it be what Proverbs calls the way of the fool—a path leading away from the Lord, or the way of the wise—a path that walks with the Lord. In our immediate context, Paul mentioned the sin of drinking too much as one of those deeds found on the path away from the Lord. But just a few verses before today’s verses he uses a much more general term. He calls all things found in that way of foolishness "deeds of darkness." And admittedly, even as Christians, walking in the way of the wise can be a struggle. You’ve heard me refer to Romans Chapter 7 a number of times in this series—that inner struggle the Christian has between the old sinful person and the new person… That’s because a lot of Ephesians has to do with sanctification. When we’re speaking about sanctification, we’re not talking about salvation. Your salvation is complete. It was completed on the cross when Jesus paid for your sin. But now, because we are both saint and sinner, remaining on the path of the wise—walking with the Lord—will be a daily battle. That’s because our old sinful person loves to make us look over at that other path—the path of sin—and trick us into thinking that it looks like fun. It looks like the easy path to walk. And that sinful person loves to make us forget that ultimately, everything that is found on that path brings us no lasting satisfaction or fulfillment.
Walking on the path of the Lord brings lasting satisfaction and fulfillment. So how do we learn to better walk on that path of life? Paul says it in verse 17: "understand what the will of the Lord is." Walking on the path of the wise, walking with God, is wrapped up in coming to know his Word better because that is where he reveals his will to us. So it’s happening right now. It happens every week as we come and seek to more deeply understand and experience the joy we have in Christ. It happens as we come and let that joy flow out in our worship and in our interactions with one another. It happens when we take time to study his Word at home and with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
May God strengthen us to live out our identity in Christ as His Spirit-filled children. May God strengthen us to walk closer to him as we seek to better know his Word. May the joy about what Christ has done for us fill our hearts—may it flow out in our actions and our worship. Amen.
Your Identity in Christ: A Mirror
Sermon Text: Ephesians 5:21-31
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Have you ever been in one of those conversations where people are giving advice on how you know you’ve found the right person to spend your life with? Maybe you were the one receiving the advice, maybe you were the one giving the advice. And I’m sure you’ve heard all the canned answers (not that they’re bad answers, they’re just the typical ones)... "They’re someone who shares your faith." "Someone who is head over heels for Jesus." "Someone you can see yourself spending every day with for the rest of your life." Over the years there was one that really stuck out to me… (And I can’t remember who said it.) The person said, "If you find a woman who will stick with you, who will forgive you for all the boneheaded things you do, and who is able to talk you down when you’re about to do something extremely foolish, then you should do everything you can to convince her you’re worth marrying." And of all the pre-pre-marital advice I have heard… I have found that one to be one of the most insightful.
Now gentlemen, I’m going to ask you to be honest and just a little vulnerable in a second… We’re going to do a hand raising exercise, and so as to embolden you to own up, I’m going to let you know before the fact that I will be raising my hand… So here we go… Gentlemen, could I get you to raise your hand if you can point to times in your life where you have done something boneheaded or foolish? So there you have it ladies, look around… Us guys need you to help us keep our cover. We need you to help us look good. And while I say that as a somewhat humorous way to start off what has become a very charged topic in our culture, we’re going to see today that there is some Biblical truth to it.
Let look at the first few verses from our 2nd reading: 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
We’re going to have to spend a minute talking about that word "submit". It has become become a dirty word in our culture. I’d say that in our culture—and indeed in our own minds—when we hear that word "submit" it brings to mind some negative things. I’d say this word has come to be associated with negative images of status, hierarchy, power of position, and domination. And before we go pointing the finger at feminists—or any other group for that matter—as being the sole reason that this Biblical concept has become such negative thing in our culture… we need to be ready to admit that there are many in Christian circles who have misapplied these verses….and in doing so, have enabled the mistreatment of women—be it emotional or physical abuse. That is certainly not what God has in mind when he uses that word "submit". God never intended the Scriptural principle of roles of men and women to be a doctrine that is used to oppress women. He never intended it to be a doctrine that suggests that women need to remain in a certain place and complete a certain list of tasks. He never intended it to be a doctrine that suggests that women are supposed to just sit there and take emotional or physical abuse. He never intended it to be a doctrine that gives men permission think of women as less valuable. Those are all horrible perversions of this doctrine.
Let’s think through this… Gentlemen, would you ever look at a lady—be it you wife or any other woman—and tell them that they are in any way a less valuable member of the body of Christ? No, of course not. And if you would, then there’s a problem because that’s a wrong way of thinking. In cases of emotional or physical abuse, there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. My prayer is that those of us in the church (and indeed it’s our job) would step in and come to the aid of those that are in emotionally or physically abusive relationships—especially if it’s happening here among us. And in regard to the abuser in those situations, we are to come down on them as hard as rocks with God’s law, because God does not promote those things.
So we talked about how this doctrine has been misused and abused… but how are we to properly understand it? Let’s start by kind of reclaiming the Biblical definition for that word submit. The definition we’re going to go with is a "gentle yielding", respect, and honor. And that "gentile yielding", respect, and honor serves as a beautiful, powerful and attractive witness opportunity for everyone who sees it. It’s a powerful witness too because when you live that way, you are modeling the relationship between Christ and the church. And that gentle yielding, respect and honor has the power to change hearts.
We saw it in our 1st reading (1 Samuel 25:2-35). Abigail was stuck between two men who were acting extremely foolish. Her husband Nabal had ignored David’s request for help, and even worse, acted like he didn’t know David. He insulted David. And wouldn’t you know it, David starts acting like his pride was hurt. He gets vengeful and starts making some boneheaded threats. "May God deal with me ever so severely if I don’t kill every single male in Nabal’s household!" This was the man who had been on the run from Saul. David had been anointed as the true king, but Saul was still acting as king. Saul was jealous of David and so he pursued David with the intent of killing David. But David valued life. He had multiple chances he could have killed Saul, but he didn’t. And so that same David, God’s chosen king, now was about to bloody his hands with a senseless and vengeful act of violence. And so Abigail acts. She sees that her husband is failing in his role… and she sees that David is failing in his role and so she herself approaches David. She doesn't insert herself into this situation with the intention of shaming or alienating. Rather, with an attitude of gentile yielding, respect and honor she inserts herself in between these two men who are failing in their roles. And her gentle yielding, respect, and honor leads king David out of his pride and helps him see the error of his ways. She makes king David look good. She keeps him from looking like a fool and starting his reign off with this horrible act. Abigail is a beautiful and powerful example of how this gentle yielding, respect, and honor can diffuse a situation and bring about a change of heart. It is indeed a powerful witness tool.
Now gentlemen, we are by no means "off the hook" in all of this… let’s listen to the HUGE calling that we are given… We read verse 25, and then 28-30. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her….28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. So gentlemen, you are supposed to be Christ to your wife. And might we also make the application for those of us here today who aren’t married… we are to mirror Christ’s love, service, and self-sacrifice to every person we come in contact with. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. There are some pretty big implications in that verse. Christ could have looked down from heaven at humanity and said what a bunch of hopeless sinners. But he didn’t. God could have wiped us out and started over. But he didn’t. Rather Christ gave up his rights. He came down to earth, took on human form, and dedicated himself to a life of service...healing the sick, comforting the broken, feeding the hungry, washing the feet of his disciples… and then he gave up his life for us. Never once did Christ use his role as head of the church to demean, or cut down, or oppress, or ignore, or abuse. In his role as head of the church he served and gave up his life. Gentlemen, you living as Christ—mirroring Christ—is the lynchpin of this Biblical concept of roles of men and women. This may be too bold a statement, I’ll let you judge for yourself… But I can't help but wonder, if men in the Christian church throughout the world had always done a good job of being Christ for their wives, and mirroring Christ’s love to everyone they interact with, if this might not be the divisive topic in our culture that it is today. Gentlemen, may God help you live as Christ and mirror his love.
Often times in our circles we hear 3 purposes of marriage talked about: Children, companionship, and sex. But let us not miss this one in front of us today… one that may indeed be more important than the rest: The relationship between a husband and a wife is to mirror the relationship of Christ and the church. And when, with the help of God, we do a good job of mirroring that relationship between Christ and the church, it is indeed a powerful witness tool...because people don’t act like this naturally! The world around us asks, what can I do to promote myself? What can I do to make sure I succeed? How can I get ahead in life? (Or so often, when you find someone asking the question, what can I do for you?...there’s strings attached.) When we live up to roles God has laid out for us as his children, it looks bizarre to the world. Ladies, when you gently yield and show respect and honor it catches the world off-guard and makes them want to know more. Gentlemen when you act with the same attitude of Christ—self-sacrificing love, kindness, and patience—it catches the world off guard and makes them want to know more.
Just one more closing illustration of this. It was the gospel for today (Luke 7:36-50). A woman came to Jesus while he was at the house of a pharisee, and I would imagine, was surrounded by many other pharisees. The woman is described as having led a sinful life. And we can be certain that the religious leaders of that day and age were failing in their roles. They had become wrapped up in outward appearance… trying to make sure that their culture saw them as holy rollers. They failed to show love, mercy and forgiveness. And you can bet that they were failing to be Christ for not just this woman, but really they were failing to mirror Christ to anyone period. But this woman drowns out all the cultural noise and norms and she just goes to Jesus her Savior. And begins to cry. She kneels down and washes his feet with her tears and pours perfume on his feet. I can't help but wonder if any hearts were changed in that room that day. Whether they were or not, I doubt anyone in that room ever forgot what they saw that day.
May all of us follow that woman’s example. Men, sit at the feet of Jesus because in doing so, God strengthens us to mirror Christ in everything we do and for everyone we interact with. To show love, patience, kindness, gentleness, and service. And when we fail to do just that, may God help us to see it quickly, and own up to it so what we can step back and ask for forgiveness.
And ladies, may God use you to be the powerful witness tools you are. My prayer is that there would be men in your life who are Christ to you. And when there’s not, or should a man fail to be Christ to you, I pray that God would lead you to sit at the feet of Jesus your Savior and ask for his guidance and strength.
May we model the relationship between Christ and the church. May God strengthen us to live as mirrors of Christ’s love. Amen.
Becoming a father is not so difficult; Being a father is very difficult!
Ephesians 5:21-6:4 New International Version (NIV)
Instructions for Christian Households
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
6 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Your Identity in Christ: A Warrior
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
Your New Pastor and You: The Care and Feeding of Your New Pastor'
Exodus 17:8-16 8The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. 9Moses said to Joshua, "Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands." 10So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up-one on one side, one on the other-so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword. 14Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven." 15Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. 16He said, "Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the LORD, the LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation."
Philippians 1:3-11 3I thank my God every time I remember you. 4In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 7It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me. 8God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ-to the glory and praise of God.
Pentecost: Words Matter
Genesis 11:1-10 1Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. 3They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth." 5But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other." 8So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9That is why it was called Babel-because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth. 10This is the account of Shem's family line. Two years after the flood, when Shem was 100 years old, he became the father of Arphaxad.
Are You Ready for the Big Day?
For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
This morning, I want to ask you if you have ever experienced a particular feeling. And it’s not really a feeling that I can name with a single word, so I’m going to have to describe it to you. Have you ever experienced that feeling that comes the day before a big event? The feeling itself can be a mix of emotions and it can be different for each of us. It’s almost a mix of anxiousness, excitement, and impending doom (a light hearted impending doom). What are some examples of big days (or big events) that might cause us to have that mix or emotions? Maybe it was a presentation you had to give while you were at high school or college. Maybe it was a semester exam you had to take. Maybe it was a big job interview. Maybe it was a public speaking opportunity. Maybe it was your wedding. Maybe it was the first day your kids went off to school—or the first day they went off to college. Maybe it was giving away a son or daughter in marriage. Maybe it was a career change or a big life change….
All those big life events can create a tangle of emotions inside us that can be hard to sort through. That "day-before-a-big-event" feeling is certainly not limited to the 3 emotions I mentioned. I just mentioned those three feelings—anxiousness, excitement, and impending doom—because those are the ones I tend to feel. But it can be different for every person.
I think one of the "big days" that everyone fears on some level is the last big day. I’m sure you could find plenty of people that would say they never worry about the end of the world… but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that even the naysayers have thoughts about the end of the world cross their minds from time to time. Over the years, people have taken time to research the genre of horror films and tv. One of the things they’ve noticed is that the horror films of a particular era tend to mirror the fears of the culture. Last decade you had people worried about terrorism… Numerous movies and TV shows about zombies followed—I won’t bother outlining all the parallels that people draw right now. This decade, we have people worried about mental health, family and technology….and if you look at lot of the horror type movies and TV showing coming out, they have to do with those exact thing.
But over the decades, you know what has been a fairly common element of the horror genre? Regardless of whether it has to do with aliens, viruses, zombies, or a technological rebellion? The end of the world. It’s not in all the movies and TV. But a good number of them throughout the years have brought up the question, what will bring about the end of the world? What will the end of the world look like? Will humanity be able to overcome whatever event it is that brings about the end of the world? If movies and tv shows are indeed any indication of what’s on the mind of a culture, I’d say the end of the world is one that is always with us as a human race.
As Christians we have a bit of a different perspective. Will a virus wipe out the majority of earth’s population? Will a rebellion from artificial intelligence wipe out the majority of humanity? Are zombies scientifically possible? As far as the answer to all those questions… I tend to lean toward the answer "no"...but who knows. Regardless, here’s our unique perspective as Christians, even IF those things were to happen, they will not result in the end of the world. There is one thing that will result in the end of the world: Jesus’ return. Talk about making a horror movie… for some people, that last day, Judgement Day, will indeed be a horror movie. But for others, it won’t—for others it will be more like the happy ending of a love story. So today we’re asking the question: are you ready for that LAST big day? Not only that, but how can we be absolutely certain that the last day will be a happy story for us, rather than a horror story?
Listen to these words from our first reading in Malachi 4, "Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire...But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves." Whether you do or don’t watch horror movies, we all have things that strike fear into our hearts. If you watch horror movies, I want you to think of the absolutely scariest movie you have ever watched. If you don’t watch horror movies, I want you to call to mind the things here in this life that causes you the most fear. For some, that last day will be an INFINITELY more scary experience than even the most scary things here on earth. But for others, that last day will be a day of joy. So how do we know? How do we know if on that last day we will experience a burning like a furnace? How do we know if we’ll be "set on fire" to use the words of Malachi? OR, how do we know if we’ll be amongst those who "frolic like well-fed calves?"
Our ability to answer that question with 100% certainty comes from our second reading. On judgement day… the thing that will ultimately be judged, is your sin. The cost of sin (even one sin) is death—not just temporary death, but eternal death. So those who can stand before God on the last day and say, "I am without sin," will be granted entrance into heaven. But for those who have sinned—and done evil—the horror movie will begin. In all honesty, who of us can stand before God and say that we are without sin? None of us can. Keeping that in mind, it becomes clear that as sinners, we need outside intervention. From our reading in Hebrews 9: "But [Christ] has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself."
Talk about the best news you’ve ever heard. When we stand before God on that last day, it’s not our efforts to do good that make us ready for heaven...It’s the fact that Jesus himself has paid for our sin. In the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites a means of paying for their sin. He told them that they were to sacrifice animals as payment for sin. But in that animal-sacrificing-system, you might say there was a weakness. For example, let’s say you brought an animal to the temple and sacrificed it to pay for your sin. And indeed your sins are paid for. But as you leave the temple, you look at someone outside the gates begging for money and you have judgemental thoughts about them. Then over the course of the next several days, you get mad at your spouse and kids. You look at a stranger lustfully. You overindulge. Et cetera. What are you going to have to do? Your going to have to bring in another animal to pay for your sins. God did not intend for that sacrificing of animals to be the ultimate payment for sin. Rather, he intended it to POINT TO the ultimate sacrifice for sins—his Son Jesus. "Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many." Christ was the ultimate sacrifice. His sacrifice for sin didn’t just take away your sin from last week, or last month, or last year. It took away all your sin.
So, when you stand before God on judgement day, guess what you can say? "I am without sin." In all honesty… on that final big day, you can stand before the perfect and holy God and say, "I am without sin." You don’t get to say that because of anything you have done….You get to say that because Christ has paid for every single one of your sins. You are ready for that big day. Because of Jesus, you are ready for judgement day.
There’s one more thing we’re going to talk about as we close the sermon today. Let me first tell you about a conversation I had with the kids from Oasis Youth Center this week. For one of our devotions, I asked the kids a couple questions. I asked them, "Have you ever had a second chance?" They all replied "yes". Then I asked, "When it comes to heaven or hell, do we get a second chance?" They all replied "no."
I bring up that point, and I brought it up with the kids at Oasis this past week so that we might be reminded that we have work to do. You’ve probably heard our days here on earth referred to as our time of grace. And that’s exactly what it is. Every day God gives us breath in our lungs, we are still in that time of grace here on earth. May God give us the wisdom to use that the time that he has given us to spread this message about Jesus Christ.
I want you to imagine that you have a very rich relative. Let’s say… just for the sake of this illustration… that your rich relative—without your knowledge—opened an account in your name and put 15 million dollars into that account. Is that 15 million dollars of any benefit to you if you don’t know about it? If your relative never tells you that they have set aside 15 million dollars for you, then you won’t benefit from it. If the bank never sends you a letter to let you know that there’s an account in your name, and a whole lot of money in it, then that money is essentially of no use to you.
See where we’re going with this? Isn’t that a bit similar to the forgiveness that Christ has won for the entire world? On the cross, Jesus paid for the sin of the entire world. Forgiveness has been won for every single person. But it is only through faith that that forgiveness comes to an individual. The work that Jesus did on their behalf if of no use to them unless someone tells them about what he did for them. And that’s where you and I come into play. Jesus has given this message of the gospel to the church. He’s entrusted us with the task of telling others about him. May we be motivated to do just that—to share the love of Christ with others, because our days here on this earth are short indeed.
In summary, when that big day comes—that last day—you can have complete confidence about where you are headed. When you stand before the holy and perfect God on Judgement Day, He will look at you, and he will see one of his perfect and redeemed child. He will not see your sin because Jesus has paid for it—he’s taken all of it away. And as people who know and believe this good news, may we be ever motivated to share it. It’s the best news there is to share. You’re ready for the big day. And I pray the Lord use you to help prepare others for the big day as you spread the good news. Amen? Amen.
Be Prepared! Lord, Prepare Us
14 "‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.
15 "‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
The Lord is our righteousness.’
Every few years another movie will come out that captivates the multitudes of children. Over the last few years we’ve had movies like Despicable Me and Frozen. And kids are just entirely content to watch those movies over and over again until they have the whole movie memorized almost. They just never seem to tire of it.
When I was a kid, one of those movies that I loved to watch over and over again was The Lion King. How many of you have seen The Lion King? Just kind of a brief overview for those who haven’t seen it. It’s a story about the struggle between the good characters and the evil characters (surprise, surprise!). The good lion is named Mufasa—he rules over all the land. He has a son named Simba who will one day be the one that rules over all the land. Evil uncle Scar is jealous that he doesn't get to rule the kingdom. Evil uncle Scar kills Simba’s dad and banishes Simba. And I’ll stop the overview of the story there so that I don’t have anyone hassle me after service about ruining the end of the movie for you.
In my 5 year old mind, one of the more memorable scenes of the movie was when evil uncle Scar was plotting the death of Simba’s dad. He sings the song, "Be Prepared." Evil uncle Scar sings this song to his evil minions—the hyenas. The basic message of the song is, "Get ready, big things are about to happen—life changing things. You can't be caught unaware. You need to be prepared." As a kid, the song and the scene is a bit scary. There’s green smoke and lava looking stuff flying everywhere and the ground is breaking apart. There’s hundreds and hundreds of hyenas….and in the midst of all of it, evil uncle Scar repeatedly sings the phrase, "BE PREPARED!"
As an adult, that call to be prepared doesn’t really become any less scary. That call to be prepared is constantly sounded in the world around us. It is sounded so often that we either begin to worry about it or become desensitized to it and ignore it entirely. There is one call to be prepared that we can't ignore. Above all else it is important that we are prepared for the coming of our Savior. Today we’re going to look at Jeremiah and think about just what it is that prepares us for our Savior’s coming.
The people of that southern kingdom of Israel were terribly unprepared. We spent the last couple weeks in Daniel. We talked about how the Babylonians attacked the kingdom of Judah three different times. Each time they crippled the nation a little bit more. Each time they took captives with them. Daniel was one of those captives. Daniel and Jeremiah were contemporaries. Jeremiah began his ministry BEFORE the Babylonians showed up. He repeatedly—at God’s command—pleaded with the people of Israel. Time and time again he told them that if they didn’t turn back to the Lord, the Lord would send destruction on the kingdom of Judah. And eventually, that destruction came. Babylon came and attacked and crippled Judah.
We can either listen to the world’s call to be prepared, or we can listen to God’s call to be prepared. We can't listen to both. The people of Israel had tried to listen to both, and it didn’t work. God gave Jeremiah this message to declare to the people in Jeremiah chapter 7, "Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message: 9 ‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, "We are safe"—safe to do all these detestable things? 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord….. If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, 6 if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. 8 But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless."
The people of Israel tried to have it both ways. They listened to the culture around them as it told them to be prepared…. "Be prepared! Do what is right for you. Do what it takes to make sure that you come out on top. Whether you have to steal, murder, or commit adultery isn’t important, just do what you got to do. If you have to suppress the weak and defenseless in order to be prepared, then so be it! Trust in your military strength—because that’s what prepares you for any coming invasion of a foreign nation! And when it comes to spiritual preparation….how can you really know if the God of Israel is the one true God? You better make sure to cover all your bases. Just to be safe, you better worship your God, AND the gods of the cultures around you."
When it comes to the spiritual realm, you can't be prepared for more than one thing. You are either prepared for destruction, or you are prepared for salvation. And let’s be careful to not be misunderstood here… I am not saying there is no value in preparing for SOME of the things that our culture tells us to. There is value in preparing for the future. There is value in making sure our finances are in order. There is value in being prepared when it comes to our health—taking care of our bodies while here on earth. Scripture even tells us that being wise about some of those earthly preparations are valuable, worthwhile and God-pleasing!
So the key question becomes this: what are you putting your trust in as though it can save you? And the truth is, we need to be careful to not be prideful and trick ourselves into thinking that we are so different from the Israelites. It is a daily battle to reclaim our trust from the things of this life. We live in a culture that tells us that the key to being prepared is amassing a small fortune. The key to being prepared is networking and knowing the right people. They key to being prepared is taking care of yourself first and foremost. The key to being prepared is being knowledgeable and educated. The key to being prepared is being the best version of yourself you can possibly be. As sinners, it is difficult for us to see these things for the false fortresses that they are. Day after day we struggle and fail as we listen to our culture and begin to place our trust in those things. None of those things prepare us for our coming Savior.
The Lord allowed the rug of preparation that the Israelites were standing on to be ripped out from under their feet. Their money didn’t stop the Babylonians from invading and taking captives….Neither did their armies, nor their worship of false gods. Just like the Israelites, we sometimes need that rug to be ripped out from under us so that we might be ready to again hear what God has to say about what prepares us for the coming of our Savior.
The good news is, you ARE prepared for the coming of our Savior. But not because of your net worth. Not becauses of your education. And not because you’re at the peak of your physical fitness. Nothing that you have done has prepared you. The Lord has prepared you. Listen to God’s Words in Jeremiah 33.
Jeremiah 33: "In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land...This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord is our righteousness." The thing that would bring true peace and security to the people of God was not money or armies or kings, it was a "righteous Branch." This righteous Branch would come from the line of David—so God was talking about a person that would come from the line and heritage of David. Then it says that the name of this branch is: "The Lord is our Righteousness."
As we think about the first coming of our Savior this Advent season, we can't help but also think about his second coming—that’s why our readings today have a bit of end times flavor to them. When you get right down to it, there is one thing that we need to be prepared for in this life more than anything else—the coming of Jesus. When Jesus returns, the things that we use in this life as we strive to "be prepared" will be worthless. No amount of money prepares you to stand before a Holy God. No amount of education or fame or physical fitness prepares you to stand before a Holy and Perfect God. Only that last line in our reading prepares us to stand before a Holy and Perfect God—The Lord is our Righteousness.
Only Jesus prepares us to stand before God on that last day. Christ is our righteousness. Here’s an easy memory hook for the meaning of that word righteous. To be righteous means that you are right with God. To be right with a holy and perfect God means to be without sin. We’re not made right with God by our own doing. We are made right with God through Jesus death on the cross. On the cross he took our sin and gave us his righteousness—his perfection. We are without sin and therefore right with God.
As we hear the calls to be prepared that our culture sends out, let us be level headed about them. To be prepared for matters of this world to the best of our ability. However, may God help us to regularly check our hearts and make sure that we aren’t beginning to use those things as our main source of peace, security and preparedness. Our peace and security comes from the Lord, from Christ our righteousness. In Christ, we are prepared. Amen? Amen.
The Word (Jesus) became flesh
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.SERMON
Why is Christmas so important? Why do we remember this little baby boy Jesus year after year? Without Christmas, we have no hope. Without Christmas, we are helpless. It’s a terrible feeling—to be helpless.
Have you ever been in a situation in life where you were completely helpless? We live in a pretty safe nation overall. So for most of us, it’s likely we’ll only feel that feeling of utter helplessness a handful of times. If you’ve ever been robbed or had a gun pointed at you—you know what helplessness feels like. If you have ever had someone close to you die before you were ready for them to, you might know what helplessness feels like. If you’ve ever been up to your neck in debt or lost a job when money was already tight, you might know what helplessness feels like. If you battle addiction, if you’ve ever had a life-threatening illness, if you’ve ever gone through any traumatic experience or experienced a great tragedy, you probably know what helplessness feels like. It’s a terrible feeling….Those moments when you come face to face with the reality that the situation in front of you is entirely out of your control and there is nothing you can do but ride it out to its conclusion.
Without Christmas, we are helpless. Without Christmas, we are caught in a dire situation that is entirely our fault and we have no hope of things ever changing. In these verses from John 1, John speaks about the solution to our spiritual helplessness.
He starts off alluding to the reason that we are spiritually helpless. The first words in the book of John are, "In the beginning." Where else do those words appear in the Bible? (Yes, Genesis.) For someone of John’s day who wasn’t Jewish, those words "In the beginning" may not have had much meaning, but for a Jew who heard those words, their mind would have gone immediately to Genesis where the creation account is told.
The creation account—the truly incredible record of how God brought everything we see into existence—he created all of it in 6 days. BUT... when John said those words, "In the beginning," it wouldn’t ONLY have been the creation account that came to the minds of the readers. The account of what happened right after creation would have come to their minds as well—the accounts are inseparable. Genesis chapter 1 and 2 - the truly incredible account of how God created the entire universe. Genesis chapter 3 - the truly incredible (incredible for all the wrong reasons) account of how humanity messed up God’s perfect creation with a single act.
Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command and in doing so they brought about humankind’s fall into sin. Every child Adam and Eve had were sinful—because they were sinful. Every child that Adam and Eve’s kids had was sinful—because their parents were sinful… Right on down the family line until eventually you get to each of us in this room. Each of us are sinful because those who came before us were also sinful.
Because of our sin, we are spiritually helpless. You see, in God’s eyes, there’s only 2 scenarios. Scenario number 1: You’re perfect—you are without sin—you have never done anything wrong, and therefore, you get to go to heaven. Scenario number 2: You’re sinful and deserve eternal punishment. WIthout Christmas, every one of us would fall into the category of scenario number 2: We’re sinful, and deserve eternal punishment.
But, God’s love for the human race is more profound and deep than we can grasp or imagine. Almost immediately after Adam and Eve fall into sin, God approaches them and tells them that even though they messed up, he would make things right again. He would send a Savior that would crush the head of Satan.
Over the course of the next several thousand years, God gave his people promise after promise. He gave them more and more information about who this Savior would be, where he would be born, what he would be called, and what he would do for his people. Finally the time came. The Savior from sin entered the world—born as a child. And this child was different than any child to have come before. Born of a sinful mother yes, but, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. So this child would be both true God and true man—perfect and without sin.
In these verses John refers to Jesus as "the Word." In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God. John goes on to tell how Jesus was present at creation. He was there and played a role in creation. All things were created through him. The Word—Jesus became flesh, and made his dwelling among us.
This passage from John about Jesus coming to earth is packed with more truths than we can get to in one sermon. So on this Christmas morning we’re just going to look at just a few. We’re going to look at 3 truths. These truths get to the heart of why Christmas is so important.
Truth number 1 comes from verses 4 and 5. John calls Jesus the light of all mankind. Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness. No darkness is able to overcome Jesus—the light of the world. Without baby Jesus—the light of the world—you and I would still be living in the darkness. As we mentioned when speaking about Adam and Eve, we are born into the darkness of sin. We are born spiritually dead and helpless. This message about what Christ has done for us on the cross is the light that shines in our dark hearts of sin. And when you picture Christ—the light of the world—shining in our hearts, don’t picture a dinky little cell phone light that only lights up things that are 3 feet in front of you. When Christ, the light of the world shines in our hearts, he destroys of the darkness of sin. He destroys sins grip on us. He frees us from the power of sin by his death and resurrection.
Truth number 2: comes from verse 12, "...to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." That’s as simple as it gets right there. When humankind fell into sin, we were separated from God. But Christ has fixed that by his life, death and resurrection. And the way that the work of Christ comes to benefit us personally is as simple as believing in him. It sounds too good to be true. But it’s not a scam. By believing in Jesus, we become children of God—children whose sins are washed away. Children who have hope that extends beyond this life and into eternity.
And truth number 3: And this truth actually comes from one of the verses after our reading…. But it’s just so good that I couldn’t help but add it in. Let me read for you John 1:16, "For out of his (out of Christ’s) fullness we have all received grace upon grace." Because of Christmas, we have received grace upon grace. There is a phrase in popular culture that reminds me of this phrase, "grace upon grace." The phrase in popular culture is, "stacks on stacks." Strangely enough, this phrase "stacks on stacks" provides a fairly decent illustration for "grace upon grace." In popular culture, someone who has stacks on stacks is somebody that has more money than they know what to do with—more money than they could ever possibly spend. Someone who has stacks on stacks is someone who is filthy rich—they just got piles of $100 bills lying around… millions upon millions—maybe even billions in their bank account. And really… that’s the picture behind "grace on grace—grace upon grace." Grace, simply defined, is God’s undeserved love. As sinners, we do not deserve God’s love. We deserve his wrath and punishment. But, because of that baby boy—true God and true man—who came to earth...because of the work he did on our behalf….because he has paid for every one of our sins….rather than receive God’s wrath and punishment, we receive his love, his mercy, his forgiveness. That is grace. And as God’s children, we don’t just have grace… we have grace on grace. We have more grace than we know what to do with. It will never run out. It will never leave us. In Christ, God’s undeserved love for us will never run out.
Is Christmas important? You bet it is. Without it, we are hopeless—helpless. But because of it, we have every hope. We have gone from being spiritually dead and helpless to being spiritually alive. Christ, the light of the world—the Word made flesh—had shined in our hearts and lives and destroyed the power of sin. Now, through faith—through believing this message about Jesus—we are called children of God. And God’s love for his children will never fade, it will never run out. Without Christmas, we have nothing. But with it, with Christ, we’ve been given everything. Amen? Amen.
What a Friend We Have in Jesus
9"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.
10If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love.
11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
13Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.
14You are my friends if you do what I command.
15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit-fruit that will last-and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.
17This is my command: Love each other.
The Lord is With You Mighty Warrior
Judges 6:1-16 New International Version (NIV)
6 The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. 2 Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. 3 Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. 4 They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. 5 They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. 6 Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.
7 When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, 8 he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 9 I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”
11 The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”
15 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”
Great is His Faithfulness
19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, "The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him."
25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
When peace like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought, My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul
That hymn by Horatio Spafford is one of my favorite hymns. (It’s found in Christian Worship Supplement - Hymn 760.) And the thought behind the hymn is a great thought to begin the year with…. No matter what happens to us in this life—no matter what befalls us in the coming year…. Our hope and our assurance is secure because our hope and assurance is found in Christ—not in the circumstances of our daily lives.
It happens every year… After Christmas, our whole nation sets its sights on New Year’s. And along with that comes all the talk about New Year’s resolutions—all the talk about how next year is going to be a better year. Whether you make New Year’s resolutions or not, I think it’s safe to say that, along with the rest of our culture, most of us at least do a little bit of reflecting when we get to the year’s end. And for those of us who aren’t great at reflection… let me just ask you point blank right now... How did things go for you this past year? The answer to that question is going to be different for every person in this room. Maybe as some of us look at the past year, we would consider it to be an especially difficult year. Some of us would consider it to be a great year in every way. And maybe some of us would chalk it up as just another mediocre year.
Lamentations is a great book to begin the New Year with. It’s a book of reflections. Our best guess is that Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations. In his book, Jeremiah isn’t only reflecting on the past year, he’s reflecting on a number of decades. And just like we might mentally rate how our last year has gone, Jeremiah is rating how the last many many years have gone. And how does he rate them? They’ve all been terrible. They’ve been absolutely horrible years—the whole lot of them.
Jeremiah had faithfully preached God’s Word for decades, and nobody had listened to it. He warned the Israelites that if they didn’t change their ways and turn back to God, God was going to bring punishment on them. Nobody listened. In fact, they did the opposite. Rather than put their trust in God, they put their trust in their nation. They put their trust in their military. They put their trust in their wealth. And so what happens? God lets the nation of Babylon overthrow them. They attack them 3 different times over the course of 20 years.
They leave Jerusalem crippled and barley functioning in comparison to what it once was. And after all of it, Jeremiah is reflecting. You almost get the idea that he’s sitting on a hillside looking at this damaged city. Or maybe he’s looking at the destroyed temple of God. Most of the book of Lamentations is Jeremiah reflecting and lamenting the sin of his people, that is, he passionately expresses his grief and sorrow.
But even in the midst of his grief and sorrow, Jeremiah writes down a beautiful refrain—the verses we have in front of us today: "19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. 20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. 21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, "The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him." 25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; 26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord."
Once again verse 25: "The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him..." It’s one thing to read and comprehend that verse, but living it out is far more difficult. As sinful humans, when we are met with failure and hardship, we begin to doubt God’s goodness. We begin to question his love for us. We essentially say to God, "Lord, I have faithfully put my trust in you… so why haven’t you done anything about this trial I’m facing?" On the other side… When things are going well for us, rather than keeping all of our trust and hope in the Lord, we begin to hope and trust in ourselves. We begin to tell ourselves that God must be especially pleased with us because of what a great job we’re doing...and that is why he is granting us success. Both of those are wrong ways of thinking.
Rudyard Kipling said this: "If you can meet success and failure and treat them both as impostors, then you are a balanced [person]." I don’t think Rudyard Kipling was a Christian, and yet, he still managed to hit the nail on the head regarding one of the struggles we have as Christians. So often when we are met with success or failure in our lives, we struggle to keep a level head. When we’re met with failure and trial, we start to feel the beginnings of despair. We maybe even think that God is punishing us for some reason. When we’re met with success, we begin to have feelings of pride. We begin to think that God is rewarding us for some reason.
God is faithful in every situation we face in life. His faithfulness never changes. His love for us never changes. In the most difficult of times, God is faithful to us. In the most wonderful of times, God is faithful to us. His faithfulness never changes. His love never changes. However, in the hands of Satan, success and failure become the same imposter. Satan tries to use both to take our eyes off of God’s faithfulness. Satan, in conjunction with our sinful nature constantly tries to convince us that God’s treatment of us is based on our performance. When we begin to buy into that thinking that God’s faithfulness to us is in some way performance based, we’re buying into a lie that Satan is feeding us.
Jeremiah had this figured out. Only someone who had this figured out could write down these words from Jeremiah chapter 3. Even as he recounts the depths of Israel’s suffering—the depths of his own suffering—he makes it clear that Satan has not managed to divert his eyes from his faithful Lord.
Looking at the circumstances of our daily lives is not the best place to look for assurance of God’s faithfulness. At times we might be able to see his faithfulness easily. Other times it may be more hidden. God gets to see the big picture and we don’t. For true assurance of God’s faithfulness, Jeremiah looked at God’s promises. And that’s the best place we can look as well—at God’s promises. When God makes a promise—it stands. It will come true. It will be carried out to completion. We can have every confidence that when God says he will take care of his children and bless them, he will. We can have every confidence that when God says he will work out both the bad situations and the good situations in our lives and use them to draw us closer to him, he will. We can have every confidence that when God says he will carry us through this life and bring us to his side in eternal life, he will.
As New Testament Christians, we get to see God’s faithfulness even more fully than Jeremiah did. Jeremiah was looking forward to the coming Savior that God had promised. But he didn’t get the chance to see how those promises from God unfolded. But as New Testament Christians, we get to see how God’s plan of salvation unfolded. Just this Christmas season we got to see how God sent his Son to earth to live as a human. As New Testament Christians, we get to see how the Son of God gave up his life to pay for our sins. And it is right there, on the cross, that we see the greatest display of God’s faithfulness. For thousands of years, God promised his people to send someone who would save them from their sin and he carried that promise to its completion as Christ died and rose again. On the cross, we see the greatest display of God’s faithfulness.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what 2019 holds for you. Maybe it will be a great year. Maybe it will be an especially difficult year. Whatever kind of year it is, God’s mercy and his compassion for you will never fail. It is new every morning. God will always remain faithful to you as his child.
I want to close today with the story of a man who recognized that success and failure are the same imposter. Rather than fix his eyes on his life’s successes or failures, he fixed his eyes on his faithful God. Some of you may have heard this story before… but it’s a good one to hear again—especially as a new year approaches.
The story is about a man named Gates. Gates was a lawyer. His life trials hit him hard and quick. His troubles started when his 4 year old son died from scarlet fever. Not only that, but Gates had invested a sizeable amount of money in some property in Chicago; however, The Great Fire of Chicago wiped out most of his investments. Two years later, Gates decided that he, his wife, and his 4 remaining daughters needed a vacation. They were going to go to Europe. Gates sent his family ahead of him because he had to stay back and finish up a couple of work related things. Gates received a telegram from his wife. While crossing to Europe, their ship had been struck. 226 people died. All four of Gates’s daughters had died. Only his wife was left. Gates left to meet his wife in Europe. As he was sailing over the very waters that claimed the lives of his 4 daughters, Horatio Gates Spafford wrote these words:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought, My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul
May our prayer for 2019 be this: Lord, give us eyes like Jeremiah’s. Give us eyes like Horatio Spafford’s. If the year in front of us holds trials, may our eyes be fixed on the cross where we see your faithfulness. If the year in front of us is full of success and our lifelong dreams come true, may our eyes be fixed on the cross where we see your faithfulness. May we be reminded of your new mercy and compassion for us each and every day. Lord give us hearts that proclaim—in all situations—Great is your faithfulness! Amen? Amen.
This Changes Everything
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!"
14 When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."
Jesus heals 10 lepers. One of them return to give praise and thanks to God. And so my question for you today is this: Are you like the nine? Or the one? I know we would all like to think that we are like the one who returned….We thank God before meals. We thank God for the blessings in his life. I’d assume we’ll all be thanking him this Thanksgiving Day. Are you like the nine? Or the one? If we answer that question too quickly we run the risk of oversimplifying what’s going on in Luke 11. So let’s not answer that question just yet. Let’s first go back and dive in to what happened in this story.
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem when 10 lepers meet him. The passage doesn’t explicitly tell us this, but I’m going to guess that these men must have known who Jesus was. News about Jesus the Messiah and his miracles had spread. I wouldn’t be surprised if these 10 men had, at some point, heard the news that a man named Jesus was healing people. Maybe they discussed amongst themselves how this man named Jesus was their only hope of ever being healed. Maybe as a group they decided to set out and find him. Maybe they asked around to see if anyone knew where Jesus was last seen, or where he was headed. We get the impression they were waiting on him because when he passed by, they went out to meet Jesus.
They had to stand at a distance and call to Jesus because of the disease they had. Leprosy can be spread through contact but it is most contagious when spread through bodily fluid. Here is an excerpt on what leprosy does to a person: "Its symptoms start in the skin and nervous system and then spreads to the hands, feet, face, and earlobes. Patients with leprosy experience disfigurement of the skin and bones, twisting of the limbs, and curling of the fingers. The outer ear may thicken. The nose may collapse. Tumor-like growths may form on the skin and in the respiratory tract, and the optic nerve may deteriorate. The largest number of deformities develop from loss of pain sensation due to extensive nerve damage. For instance, inattentive patients can pick up a cup of boiling water without flinching." Leprosy was nasty business. It’s curable with the modern medicine we have today. But back then it wasn’t.
Lepers and healthy people kept their distance from one another. These 10 lepers yell to Jesus" "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" And then, Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. The actual phrasing about how they were healed is interesting. It says, "As they went, they were cleansed." It’s kind of hard to tell exactly how it happened. Did it happen instantaneously while they were on route to see the priests? Suddenly they could stretch out their fingers again? Suddenly they had feeling again? Suddenly their skin cleared up? Or did it happen gradually while in route? Were they little by little able to feel again? Did their skin slowly clear up? Did their fingers gradually return to having full range of motion?
However it happened, they were all healed. But only one of them turned back. Only one of them went back to Jesus and fell at his feet to give thanks. Are you like the nine? Or the one? Let’s analyze the nine for just a moment. At first glance we might get the impression they were just 9 selfish and ungrateful guys. But let’s reframe that just a bit. Let me ask you this: have you ever met a cancer survivor who was ungrateful? Do you think those nine men who had just been cured of a horrible disease were ungrateful? It’s not unreasonable to think that they were grateful. I bet they ran to the temple saying, "THANK GOD! Thanks to this man Jesus, I can go home! I can return to my loved ones! I’ve been given the gift of life again. Praise the Lord, I’m healthy! I can go back to my normal life!"
Then why was the one—the Samaritan—different? I would assume his thoughts lined up with his actions. He probably thought, "Thank God I’m healthy. My life will never be normal again. This changes everything." The Samaritan realized that there was something more important than health. There was something more important than returning to a comfortable and normal life. He recognized that this man who had healed him—Jesus—was more than a prophet. He was more than some great and powerful man. He was more than a healer of diseases. He recognized that Jesus was a healer of souls.
The one went back to Jesus in faith. When he saw that Jesus had healed him, he knew that this man Jesus was indeed the Son of God. He saw that Jesus was his Savior. And we can be certain of that because of how Jesus responded to this man worshiping him. The translation we have in front of us translates Jesus words as, "Your faith has made you well." But when you look at the original language, the words literally say, "Your faith has saved you."
Are you like the nine? Or the one? If we’re going to answer that question honestly, we would have to respond, "We can be both." As sinners who still wrestle with our sinful nature on this side of heaven, we are capable of being the nine. We might be thankful for all God does for us….but unless we’re really in a time of need, we place him on the back burner. We place him in the middle—or even at the bottom—of our priority list. We begin to turn God into a convenience—one we look to for handouts in our time of need.
May God remind us of the forgiveness we have in Christ. In Christ, every sin has been paid for—including those times when we act like the nine, and not like the one. Christ has paid for every time we turn God into our lucky charm. Christ has paid for every time we put God on the back burner.
In Christ we’re not only forgiven, we’re new creations. And as new creations in Christ, we are capable of living like the one. As new creations in Christ, we ARE that one Samaritan whose heart and life were changed by what his Savior did for him. The greatest illness that Samaritan faced was not the leprosy he had, it was his sin. Day in and day out, may we remember that we faced that same illness of sin. And may we leave rejoicing and giving thanks because our Savior is the solution to the problem of sin that we face. In him, we have healing and forgiveness. Treasure it above all else. Run back to it every minute of every day—it changes everything. Amen?download
Be Prepared! Lord, Prepare Our Hearts
1 "I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the Lord Almighty.
2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
Can you point to a time when you were terribly unprepared for something? Maybe we have to think back to our younger years to think of a time. By the time we reach adulthood, we usually understand the importance of preparation. Here’s one of those stories in my life…. In high school we were required to take two years of a foreign language. I took two years of Spanish. And if you think back to your schooling days, you can probably remember how you feel about some of those required courses in high school and college… they’re the worst. It’s hard not to view some of them as a waste of time because you think to yourself, I’m never going to use what I learn in this class. (At that point I had no clue that I would go on to continue my study of Spanish in college and graduate school...) In high school, it was quite difficult for me to muster up the motivation to study for those required Spanish courses. However, after being terribly unprepared and bombing a couple of tests, I figured out very quickly that if I didn’t do a better job preparing, I wasn’t going to pass the course. So from there on out I did a better job preparing. Maybe you can point to a similar instance in your life that taught you that preparation is important. It doesn’t take many bombed tests, or failed courses, or botched presentations for us to realize the importance of preparation.
If we recognize the importance of preparation for earthly matters, why are we so quick to put preparation for spiritual matters on the back burner? As we’ve discussed for a few weeks now, the Israelites were notorious for doing that very thing. Time and time again they let their spiritual preparation take a back seat. Today we’re going to see that play out once again.
What was going on at the time Malachi was written? If you’ll think back to our Sundays in Daniel for just a minute… That second Sunday in Daniel we talked about the the vision that God gave to Daniel in chapter 7. In that vision Daniel saw four fantastical creatures that symbolized the world powers that would rise and fall from the time Daniel lived until the time Christ would walk the earth. The first creature symbolized the Babylonian empire—the empire that was responsible for attacking and crippling Jerusalem and taking many of its inhabitants into exile. The second creature he was shown symbolized the medo-persian empire. And that’s about where we are when Malachi carries out his ministry. Under Cyrus the Great, the Persians become the next world power. Cyrus the Great allows the Israelites to return to their homeland. It’s about 100 years after the exiles return to Jerusalem that Malachi’s ministry takes place.
Right after the Cyrus the Great allows the Israelites to come back to their homeland, there is a bit of a "spiritual resurgence." The temple that had been destroyed is rebuilt. Many people begin to turn back to the Lord. However, just as it had happened many times before, the "spiritual regurgence" doesn’t last very long. By the time Malachi comes on the scene, the "spiritual resurgence" is largely over. Once again, spiritual indifference—or we might say: "spiritual unpreparedness"—has become the norm.
The first two chapters of Malachi show just how bad things had once again gotten. People were bringing sacrifices to the temple half-heartedly. They ignored God’s instructions to bring an unblemished animal to sacrifice. Instead they brought their lame or sick animals. The people no longer valued marriage. Defiled food was being brought to God’s altar. God even reprimands the priests—it would seem they too went about their duties in a half-hearted way. And yet in the midst of all their half-hearted spiritual preparation, the people had the audacity to ask the Lord: "How have you loved us?" They had the audacity to ask the Lord: "Lord, aren’t you the Lord of justice? Well where are you God?" The Lord was finally fed up with their consistent spiritual indifference—with their spiritual unpreparedness.
Have you ever lost communication with somebody that is important to you? The situations I’m thinking of here might be something like this… Maybe you got separated from one of your children when you were in a large crowd or at the mall. Or maybe you were that child once who got separated from your parents. You frantically run around looking for them and calling out their name, but you can't find them. Or maybe you’ve had a friend or relative who lives nearby a place where a natural disaster strikes—earthquake, hurricane, wildfire…. Until you hear from them and they tell you that they’re safe and that everything is okay, you worry for them. You may even have something like that happen while you’re sitting at home. If you’re expecting your spouse or your kids home at a certain time, and they don’t come home, you begin to worry. And the longer you sit there worrying and wondering where they are, the worse your mental picture gets. "Maybe there was an accident." "Maybe they got kidnapped." "Maybe they’re lost."
Alright, with that terrible feeling fresh in your mind, listen to this. God stopped directly communicating with his people through messengers for 400 years. Malachi was the last book written in the Old Testament. Chronologically speaking, it’s in the right place. It comes right before Matthew. For us, it’s a simple turn of the page to go from Malachi to Matthew. For God’s people, it’s about 400 years. God went silent for 400 years from the time of Malachi to the time of Christ. Maybe those who were spiritually indifferent and unprepared hardly even noticed. But I would bet that during that 400 year period of silence, those who were faithful to the Lord began to devoutely look at every page of Scripture they could get their hands on. They would take comfort in his words and promises. And they would have found great comfort in the prophecies he gave his people—prophecies like the one we have in front of us today. Malachi 3:1 — "I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the Lord Almighty."
In this first verse God promised two different people that would come. Firstly, his messenger who will prepare the way. The New Testament identifies John the baptist as that first messenger, the one who’s ministry would take place shortly before Jesus. And John’s purpose was…? To prepare the way for Jesus. And we see him doing just that in the gospel reading. John tells the people to repent so that their hearts might be ready for the coming Savior.
Then in that next phrase we have a reference to Jesus. The Lord you are seeking will come to his temple. The Lord himself—the promised Messiah—the one you desire, the one you’ve been waiting for, will come. Promises like these must certainly have been a comfort for those believers who lived during that 400 year period of silence.
Alright, now we get to the verses that will turn our thoughts in the direction of our theme for today—Be Prepared! Lord, Prepare Our Hearts. And let me just say, before we get to these next verses...to pray that prayer (Lord, Prepare Our Hearts)... to pray that prayer and mean it takes guts. It is not a lighthearted prayer. However, today, let us encourage one another to pray this prayer with all our might—Lord, Prepare Our Hearts!
Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire...He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify...and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings...will be acceptable to the Lord, as in former years. God compares the process of preparing us—preparing our hearts—to the process of refining precious metals.
It really is a fascinating process—the refining of precious metals. I’m going to give you homework today. Go home. Get on YouTube. Type "refining gold" into the search bar. One of the first few videos that comes up should be 7 minutes and 39 seconds long. It’s title is, "How Pure Gold Is Refined." Watch that video. Real quickly so you don’t forget… what are you going to type into the YouTube search bar? (Refining Gold) How long is the video you’re going to click on? (7 minutes and 39 seconds). What’s the name of that video? (How Pure Gold Is Refined)
The process for refining gold that you see in that video may look a little different than the process did in biblical times due to all the technology we have in today’s world...but at its core it’s the same. The impure metals are all put into the same container that can withstand high temperatures—a crucible. They’re melted down with a very hot flame. They’re poured out and cooled. And then the process is repeated a number of different times in different ways with different chemical washes and so on and so forth. But then the final result? Gold that is almost entirely pure.
So why do we have to be bold—why do we have to be gutsy—to pray that prayer (Lord, Prepare Our Hearts)? It’s because the Lord is certainly ready to refine us. He is certainly ready to make us more pure. But the question is, are we ready for it? Are we ready to go through the process of being melted in the flames of life’s hardships? Are we ready to go through that process of being melted down time and time again? As many times as the Lord wills it? From now until the end of our days here on this earth?
We are ready. As we go through that refining process, we have two promises of God that keep us steadfast in the midst of it all: (1) God will not abandon us. (2) The trials that we face—those which serve to refine us—make us more and more pure. They enlarge and grow our capacity to look to the Lord and trust in him in any and every situation. They grow our ability to turn back to his Word day after day and take comfort and refuge in the promises he gives us.
Other than Jesus, I find the Apostle Paul to be one of the most fascinating characters in Scripture. The Bible tells us about the refining that Paul went through. He had been beaten, whipped, close to the point of death, in prison, shipwrecked, lost in the open sea… He experienced sleepless nights. He’d gone without food and water. He knew what it was to be cold…. The list goes on. Paul lived a James 1:2-3 kind of life: "2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance."
I have every confidence that those of us is this room can live a James 1:2-3 kind of life. I know we can live this way, not because of how great we are, but because of how great our Lord is. Be bold. Trust in the Lord to use the trials you’re facing right now, or the trials you may face in the future to refine you and make you ever more precious. It’s only a four word prayer, but it takes guts to pray it and mean it—Lord, Prepare Our Hearts. Be bold and say it with me: Lord, Prepare Our Hearts! Amen? Amen.download
W.D.J.D. - What DID Jesus Do? He Taught Us How To Smash Our Idols
Mark 10:17-27 New International Version (NIV)
The Rich and the Kingdom of God
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
18 "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ "
20 "Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"
24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 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 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?"
27 Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."
Over the years there have been countless "home project/home remodel" shows on TV. I don’t typically watch them… maybe you do maybe you don’t. But chances are, we’ve all seen them here and there. What are the 2 best parts of shows like that? In my opinion, it’s the demolition, and the unveiling of the brand new finished product.
There’s something fun about watching the demolition part of the show. Especially when the demolition is justified. The house or the interior they’re demolishing is old and has been neglected for decades. And in order for the new to be built, the old has to be town down. And so when you see the people on those shows pick up their sledge hammers, there’s a little part of us that can’t help but think, "alright, here we go, this is going to be good." And it’s fun to watch them take those hammers and just go at it. It’s liberating. Or if they’re starting completely from scratch… it’s great to watch them take the crane and just level that old house.
Today, in the interaction we see with Jesus and the rich man, Jesus brings the sledgehammer to the conversation. Jesus isn’t interested in just slapping a new coat of paint on this man’s heart… He’s going for the whole demolition. He wants to tear it down and start from scratch. But before we get too wrapped up in and slightly entertained by Jesus interaction with this man, I have to warn you… Jesus wants the hammer to be swung here as well today. And we’re going to do just that. And as we swing that hammer, it’s going to be a little painful, and a little uncomfortable. And if it’s not, we’re doing something wrong. So just be ready for that today.
But before we get there, let’s consider Jesus swinging the hammer at the rich man’s heart. You remember the scene, a rich man had come to Jesus. He asked Jesus, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus responds, "You know the commandments: You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother."
A couple interesting things worth noting here. All the commandments Jesus mentioned have to do with loving your neighbor. Remember, the 10 commandments can be broken down into two different sections. The first 3 commandments have to do with loving God. The last 7 commandments have to do with loving our neighbor. All the commandments Jesus mentioned have to do with loving your neighbor. The rich man replies, "Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy."
Jesus looked at him and loved him….And now here we go, you can just mentally picture Jesus picking up the demolition hammer as he hammers him with these words, "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." The man didn’t take the demolition hammer very well… "At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth."
So here’s what Jesus did. Jesus knew what was going on in this guy’s heart. Jesus knew that even if this man had done a half decent job of keeping the commandments he mentioned, which, come on, none of us love our neighbors perfectly… but Jesus let that comment go because he knew there was a bigger problem in this man’s heart. The man’s wealth had become an idol to him. So regardless of how well this guy has loved his neighbor, he’s got a bigger problem. Remember the first commandment, "you shall have no other gods before me." This man’s wealth had become so important to him that it had taken that place in his heart that belongs to God alone. And so with strong words… Jesus tells him to get rid of the thing in his heart that has pushed God out of the way.
So, do you have to sell all your possessions and give it all away if you want a shot at getting into heaven? No that’s not what Jesus is saying. Elsewhere in Scripture we’re told we are to be good stewards. We’re to use the money God has given us to take care of our families. We’re to give back to him. We’re supposed to help those in need. It’s not selling all our stuff that makes us fit for heaven. It’s faith in what Jesus has done for us on the cross. But Jesus’ strong point still stands. If there’s something in your life that is trying to beat God out for that number one place in your heart, get rid of it. Smash that idol.
So… the time has come. It’s time to pick up that sledgehammer and swing away in our own hearts. I’ll tell you right now, because I don’t want you to think I’m just here swinging the hammer at you today... I’m also swinging it at my own heart too.
Today as we swing away at the idols in our hearts, because of time, we’re just going to consider 3 common idols. But before we embark on this hammer swinging, I want to share with you an illustration that has stuck with me. As we go through these idols, there’s a simple little test to see how much we personally struggle with each of these. That test is this, ask the question… Is my relationship with this potential idol one of being "open-handed" or "close-handed." When our relationship with something is "open-handed" it means we place our hands out (so to say) face up, and as God places things in them, we leave those hands open. We recognize that everything placed in our hand is from God, and when he’s ready to have some or all of it back, with an "open-hand" we’re ready and eager to give it back in thanks. When our relationship with something is "close-handed" it means that we have our fists stuffed full of the blessings we’ve been given by God and we’re clenching our hands tight—we’re unwilling to let go. We’re unwilling to give back. The rich man had a close-handed relationship with his wealth—he couldn’t let it go.
We’re going to talk about 3 common idols today. Idol number 1—the one the rich man struggles with—money. Is your relationship with your money open or close-handed? Every dollar in our hands has been placed there by God. And as we use and manage that money, do we leave our hand open, or do we clench it tight? Do we happily and joyfully give back to God a portion of what is his? Do we happily and joyfully look for opportunities to help those who have legitimate need? Or do we clench our fists tight and despise the offering plate as it comes around every week? Do we trick ourselves into thinking that every dollar to our name is ours and ours alone?
Idol number 2: our time. What’s your relationship with your time open or close-handed? Do we, with an open hand, recognize that each minute of our life is a gift of God? Do we, with a heart of joy and thankfulness give back to God as much of that time as we can? As we come to church? As we have devotions at home? As we look for opportunities to study God’s Word with other Christians? As we look for opportunities to volunteer at church? As we look for opportunities to give our time to those who are going through trial and hardship? Or do you have a close-handed relationship with the time God gives you? Do we take the time that God places into your hands and clench your fists tight around it as we take the attitude that each minute is ours and ours alone. Do we tell ourselves that the couple hours a month we give to God and to one another is good enough? Do we tell ourselves that God better be happy with those hours because they’re the leftover hours we have to give him…. And that He’s lucky he’s even getting those?!
Idol number 3 is Christian specific. It’s one that we at times forget to think about and so we’re definitely at risk of stumbling when it comes to this one. Idol number 4: MY CHURCH. When it comes to the church we belong to, do we have our hands open, or tightly closed? Do we leave them open by recognizing that really, this is not MY CHURCH...this is God’s church. Do we accept that congregations change? Do we accept that each child of God has different preferences when it comes to worship style? Do we accept that the church will grow or shrink as God sees fit? Or do we clench our fists tight and defend the concept of MY CHURCH to the death? Or do we clench our fists tight as we turn our noses up at someone who may act differently than we do? Do we turn our noses up as someone who doesn’t seem to have their life as together as we do? Do we gossip about those in our midst who don’t fit our mental paradigm of someone who should belong to MY CHURCH?
And what about those idols we didn’t specifically focus on today because we don’t have time for every single one? Power, position, fame, success, image, our "to-do" list, independence, popularity, health, acceptance, identity, love, family, children… Is our relationship with those things open or close handed?
How often we find ourselves clinging to the things of this life with our fists shut tight rather than clinging to Jesus. It’s a struggle we all face. Alright, we’re done swinging the hammer today. Let’s set it down and think about what we have in Christ.
Christ lived with open hands on your behalf. He was the king of heaven and earth. But he didn’t cling to his throne, he let it go for you. While walking here on this earth, the king of the universe could have had anything he wanted. Money. Fame. Power. Status. Reputation. You name it… But he let it all go. He didn’t just let it all go, he ran from those things. He left no question in our minds where his priorities were.
I’ll tell you right now what held spots number one and two in Jesus’s heart. Spot number one, God the Father. Everything Jesus did he did to please God. Everything he did was in line with the will of God the Father. As he prayed to the Father before his death on the cross he said, Lord, if possible, let this cup be taken from me—let me not have to go through with the most immense suffering that anyone on the face of this earth will ever have to endure… but then he said, "not my will, but yours be done." And can you guess who holds the number two spot in his heart? You do. Out of love for you, he didn’t even idolize his own life. Rather he gave it up for you. He gave up his life to pay for every single time you have clung to the things of this life rather than clinging to him.
The things of this life will come and go as God wills. But there is one thing that cannot be taken from you—your Savior Jesus and the forgiveness you have in him. So how do we daily demolish our idols? Jesus said it in the gospel, "Follow me." As blessings and hardships come and go from our lives, may we follow Jesus first and foremost through them all. When we follow him, and keep our eyes on him, we begin to see the futility of clinging to the things of this life because we begin to realize that when we cling to things in this life, we’re trading in true riches for dust. Money, time, power, fame, preference—it’s all dust. It’s here today and gone tomorrow. Our true riches are in Christ.
I looked for estimates on what is the total sum of money in the world. The lower estimates were 90 Trillion. The high estimates were 1.2 Quadrillion (That’s what comes after trillion). If you were to put the riches you have in Christ on one side of the scale and all the money in the world on the other side of the scale… the riches you have in Christ are more valuable by far. Forgiven and strengthened by Christ himself, may we daily smash our idols and cling to him. Amen? Amen.
W.D.J.D. - What DID Jesus Do? He Defended the Mirror of His Love
2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied.
4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
What are the earthly topics that you are most passionate about? What’s that topic, that when the conversation turns in that direction, your eyes light up a little bit? We all have them. For some of us it may be a field of study that we have spent time in and become knowledgeable about. For others maybe it’s a hobby of ours… hunting, fishing, sports, video games, music, or politics… For others, maybe it’s something that’s become a significant part of our lives like our children. Go ahead and take a few seconds and bring to the forefront of your mind those earthly topics that you are passionate about.
Now, with those things in mind, I want to ask you a question: How do you feel when people attack those things that you are most passionate about? It doesn’t feel good, does it? In fact, if you’re passionate enough—if you care deeply enough—about the topic being attacked, our natural inclination is going to be to defend that topic. In a way, when someone attacks something we care about, it’s almost like they’re attacking a little piece of us. And we don’t have to feel bad about that, there’s a proper way to go about defending the topics we care about.
Today we see Jesus defend something that he is very passionate about. He defends marriage. The question that we’re going to ask and answer today is this: Why is marriage so important to God? Why is Jesus so passionate about marriage that he is eager to stand up and defend it when it’s being attacked? By way of preparing ourselves to answer those questions, we have to first take a few minutes to figure out what is going on in the scene we have before us in Mark chapter 10.
So some Pharisees come to Jesus and ask him if it’s okay for a man to divorce his wife. And if you know anything about the Pharisees coming to Jesus, they often come to Jesus with the intention of trapping him and finding something they can use against him. So here’s what the Pharisees are bringing to the table as they try to trap Jesus. They’re referring to a passage in Deuteronomy 24 where Moses told the Israelites it was okay to for a man to write a letter of divorce and send his wife away if it was found that she had something shameful—and the word used for shameful has sexual and adulterous connotations to it.
So because of this verse, there had become a division amongst the Pharisees. Some followed the line of thinking that the only reason a man could divorce his wife was because of moral indecency. Others believed that a man could rightfully divorce his wife based on anything that was displeasing to him. So the Pharisees come to Jesus, assuming that he would side with one side or the other, and in doing so, they would have an opportunity to criticize him.
But little did they know… they were getting into a topic that Jesus was very passionate about. And so we see him defend the topic. He starts off by telling them they’re all wrong. Their entire attitude about marriage and divorce is misplaced. Their hearts are in the wrong place as they ask this question. He tells them that the only reason Moses had given this law is the first place was because their hearts were hard. Then he points back to creation where God instituted marriage. Then later, still fired up about the same topic, he tells the disciples that anyone who divorces and remarries is guilty of committing adultery.
We need to pause here, and talk about this whole interaction for just a minute because divorce is a sensitive topic. Even some of us in this room may have been through a divorce at some point so it’s worthwhile to understand what Jesus is and isn’t saying here. We’re not here today to heap guilt on and point the finger at those who have been through a divorce or those going through a divorce. Divorce is a complicated and messy thing. And while we know that God upholds and values marriage, we also know that in Scripture he gives us some legitimate situations in which divorce is an option. When it comes to things like infidelity, or abandonment, or abuse, then there may be a legitimate reason for divorce….Those are things that have to be thought through when the time comes and it’s never easy.
But Jesus doesn’t mention those things here today. The reason he doesn’t is because he is responding to the cultural sentiment of the day that marriage is a disposable thing. Take it or leave it—stay married or get divorced… not a big deal. And in responding to that sentiment, Jesus comes down hard. Marriage IS important. And when we begin to treat marriage and divorce like they’re bargaining chips we can exercise whenever we want, then there’s a problem.
So there’s the background for our text. Now that we understand what’s going on with the Pharisees, and why Jesus responds the way he does… I want to shift our attention back to that question we’re asking today. Why is marriage so important to God? Why do we see Jesus get so passionate about the topic of marriage in this exchange with the Pharisees? There’s a good chance we’ve heard a couple of the more common answers. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with them… they’re all true and important. It’s important to remember that God instituted marriage at the creation of the world. That’s a part of why marriage is valuable to him. It’s important to remember that God tells us in Scripture that marriage is to be lifelong union between a man and a woman. It’s important to remember that God tells us he hates divorce—especially when it takes place outside the permissible circumstances he has laid out for us.
None of those reasons are unimportant. But there’s a reason why marriage is a passionate topic for God and for Jesus that we don’t do a great job of speaking about. And when we don’t do a good job of speaking about it, we really are only hurting ourselves because it is a beautiful and gospel-centered truth. And since it’s a gospel-centered truth, rather than simply tell us to uphold marriage because God says that’s what we should do, it inspires us to uphold and value marriage. So here it is, the reason God the Father and God the Son are so passionate about the topic of marriage is because marriage is a concrete example that God has given us of Christ’s love for us.
God had Paul put it all together for us in Ephesians 5: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.”
How difficult it is for us to truly understand and comprehend Christ’s love for us—his church. Sure we believe the truths, and we confess them… Christ loved us so much that he was willing to die on the cross for us. Christ loved his church so deeply that—innocent though he was—he was willing undergo immense physical and spiritual torture for the church. But when we really stop and ponder those truths—who among us can really understand the depth of Christ’s love for us? A love like that is foreign to us. Who in their right mind would give everything for nothing? Who in their right mind would give up everything for someone who hates them? Who in their right mind would give up what they rightly deserve so that someone who in no way deserves it might have it?
In marriage, God gave us a place to practice and mirror that self-sacrificial love of Christ. When it comes to earthly examples of Christ’s love for us, a loving, Christ-centered marriage is as close as it can get. When spouses love one another and put one another’s needs before their own we get a glimpse of the depth of Christ’s love for us. When spouses are eager to sacrifice and yield to one another in love, we get a picture of Christ’s love for the church.
Gentlemen, what would it look like if you were to love your wives like Christ loved the church? Everything Christ did, he did for the church. Every thought. Every word. Every action of Christ. He did it all with the church in mind. He went so far as to carry his cross and die, on behalf of the church. He put himself last, and you, the church, first.
Ladies, what would it look like if you were to love your husbands as the church loves Christ? Indeed, unlike Christ, your husbands are not perfect. But, they have been clothed in Christ’s perfection. And with your gentle support and love and humility, you inspire them to be more like Christ every day.
And for those of us who aren’t married… I wouldn’t want us to think there’s no application here for us… should we not strive to live this way in all of our interactions? Of course we should. May we seek to treat one another as we ourselves have been treated by Christ.
Why was Jesus so passionate about the topic of marriage here in Mark 10? Because wrapped up in marriage, is a picture of his love for us.
What DID Jesús do? He defended the mirror of his love… that is to say, he defended marriage. And one of the most significant reasons he feels so strongly about marriage is because, wrapped up in marriage, is a picture of his love for us, his church. May he strengthen us to also defend marriage, for when we do so, it’s not just some abstract concept that we’re defending… rather it’s Christ’s love itself. Amen? Amen.
What DID Jesus Do? He showed us the purpose of suffering
Sermon Text - New International Version (NIV)
Blind Bartimaeus Receives His Sight
46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
How to Sleep Even in the Storms of Life? Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me
Mark 4:35-41 35That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." 36Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" 39He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. 40He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" 41They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"