October 21, 2019

Mission Festival 2019 - 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

Working with the True Gospel
1. The narrow focus of God’s love
2. The wide reach of God’s reconciliation  

2 Corinthians 5:14-21 For the love of Christ compels us, because we came to this conclusion: One died for all; therefore, all died. 15 And he died for all, so that those who live would no longer live for themselves but for him, who died in their place and was raised again.

16 As a result, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we knew Christ according to the flesh, we no longer know him that way. 17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. The new has come! 18 And all these things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 That is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. And he has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, inasmuch as God is making an appeal through us. We urge you, on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him, who did not know sin, to become sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

Dear friends in Christ and fellow ambassadors of His love and reconciliation.

This past week I was watching a show on television about a team of archaeologists who were exploring some ancient Mayan ruins deep in the jungle. Through some new technology they were able to discover sites that had been previously unknown to explorers and researchers. One of these areas that they came across was a cave. Many of these cave systems are linked through underground tunnels and passages which sometimes flooded by underground rivers. But from the outside as you enter the cave through the jungle, it doesn't seem like a very spectacular thing. In fact, to the outward observer it might appear that there's really nothing of significance there. Many of these cave entrances look like a small crack in the rock or a divot in the landscape. The thing is with many of these cave systems you have to crawl through a very narrow entrance and sometimes a very narrow passageway before it opens up underneath. In the cave that these researchers were exploring there were parts at the very beginning that they could barely fit through there were times where they were uncertain if they would be able to go any farther. But once they made it through it opened up into a giant cavern which no one from the surface would have known existed.

The Christian faith works in a very similar way and out mission work reflects that at times. You've heard the arguments before against the narrowness of the Bible. Jesus makes the claim that He is the way the truth and the life that no one will come to the Father except through Him. The book of Acts tells us that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we can be saved.” One of the biggest criticisms of Christianity today is that it’s too narrow. People don't like to listen to the law of God because it puts restrictions and boundaries on their lives. People look at a church like ours and consider us strict or old fashioned when we use the word of God as it's written. What people want today out of religion seems to be something that they can use to express themselves. Perhaps they want to retain the old framework of some of the things of the past such as the Christian name or the church building, or the practice of using the Bible in some way or another. But sadly, for many people a faith that trusts completely in the Bible is simply too narrow.

What do we do when we come across the parts of the Bible where God restricts us and we're even tempted to look on those things in a negative light? Today we focus on mission work and sharing the gospel with the world and the Bible depicts the gospel as a free and liberating thing. The freedom of the gospel is that it breaks the bondage of sin and the weight of the law that bears down upon our consciences. But the gospel gets narrow too. That's why this message is such a crucial reminder for us today as the Apostle Paul wrote about the ministry of reconciliation in 2 Corinthians chapter 5. In this section Paul brings out the constraining quality of the gospel; that yes although it does free us from sin and the deserved condemnation that we have under the law, the gospel also controls, directs, and compels us to follow Christ in a very specific way. We are liberated from sin so that we can obey and serve God – not so that we can follow our own brand of religion.

Like those cave systems in the jungle, we realize that even though the gospel has a narrow entrance, it opens up a truly endless possibility to all people in Jesus Christ. It’s precisely because we go through the narrow gate of God's deliverance that we have hope for an even bigger reality of what He has done for us, greater than what we can imagine or think of on our own.

The narrowness of the gospel is seen in the opening verse of our text where Paul writes “for the love of Christ compels us because we came to this conclusion:: one died for all therefore all died.” We're not used to hearing that the gospel compels us to a certain direction – that’s usually something we think of in connection with God’s commands. Another way to understand “compel” is that it urges us or moves us on to something by keeping us hemmed in. There’s an element of pressure to it. Usually we think of the law in that way; that the law is the defense around us or the curb that keeps us on the direction that God wants us to go. But here Paul tells us that the gospel works like that too. When somebody truly comes to know and believe the true gospel in Jesus Christ it changes their life it points them in a different direction; it dictates in a good way in a way that which God desires in their life.

The narrowness comes in as well in the way that Paul describes the product or the essence of the gospel, namely that one died for all. Jesus is the only Savior and that is a restricts salvation to one path. Typically, as Christians we don't fight against this sentiment although some are starting to. But you have to recognize also that as Jesus is the Word Incarnate, anytime we take a position contrary God's word – in any teaching – it also stands against Jesus and what he has come to do. Only one died, but he died for all. Similarly, Jesus said in John chapter 10 that He is the only door to the sheepfold, that all who trie to enter by a different way are “thieves and robbers.” There are fewer sections more comforting in the Bible than John chapter 10 where Jesus tells us that he is the Good Shepherd and that He knows His sheep and will protect them, and nothing can snatch them out of His hand. These comforting sentiments are the great cavern of peace that exists when faith is entered by the narrow gate of only one Savior – who delivers us the truth in His Word.

And so, the gospel compels us in the love of Jesus. And that leads us to change the way we treat others. Paul goes on to say Jesus died for all “that those who live would live no longer for themselves but for Him who died in their place and was raised again.” We live in a world where helping others is still a high for many people, even by many non-Christians. From the world’s perspective, this is why they see mission works as an archaic, outdated thing. It’s believed that you don’t have to be a Christian to be a good person or to help others. In fact, many today see religion as a stumbling block to these very things. The Bible makes the case that only through Christ can we serve others in the way that God intends. This doesn't mean you can't be good or virtuous person in some way without Christ, but the Bible says that Christ makes a difference. Christ opens up a greater love that we can't show on our own; a love based on the unconditional grace He has shown us. And God says that kind of love changes the way we look at others and treat, in a way that we can’t do outside of Jesus. So we no longer treat someone according to the flash but according to how Christ sees them as redeemed soul.
This sentiment makes a huge difference in how we approach the gospel and mission work. It’s all too commonplace and easy for us to back away from telling others about the direct gospel and how it compels our lives by the love of Christ, and instead speak more of a generic, non-religious love. You need to look at your heart and see if you trust what God says here, that He offers a gift and blessing that no one else can. Do you believe that Jesus makes the difference and therefore every person in the world needs Jesus? Or have you fallen for the trap of thinking that all faiths can reach the level of love displayed and given by Christ? I don't think I have to dig into how that makes a difference in the way that we work as a church and in the way that we pursue mission work.

Now that Paul is introduced the narrow entrance of the gospel in Jesus Christ the last half of our text opens the wide breadth of what that reconciliation accomplishes. What we essentially have here are 3 parallel verses that say the same thing. Just like the way we use our language today, when God repeats something in the Bible, especially in an immediate context, it's a pretty good indicator of how important it is. 3 times in verses 18,19, and 20 reconciliation comes up; and 3 times it is governed by Jesus Christ. As a reminder, reconciliation is a word that focuses on the salvation; it's a gospel word and specifically it means to be friendly again. reconciliation is really a word that speaks to relationships. And it describes a relationship that was once positive, and fell apart, but now has been brought back together again - that's what Jesus Christ does for us as the Mediator between God and mankind, Jesus restores, reunites, and reconciles that relationship.

So 3 times as Paul speaks of reconciliation it is governed by the work of Jesus and it naturally moves into our mission work. Verse 18: God reconciled himself to us through Christ - there's the governing aspect, and then He gave us a ministry of reconciliation. Verse 19 - God reconciled the world to himself (in Christ) there's the governing term; and then God entrusts to us the message of reconciliation. Verse 20 is simply flipped around and talks about the ministry first - we are ambassadors for Christ, we represent him because God has reconciled us (on Christ behalf). There's a lot here in this section and a lot of familiar comforting gospel passages but remember they all focus on these same principles - God reconciles us – in, through, on behalf of what Christ has done; and that leads us to proclaim this message to others.

Here's where the gospel now opens up, but we have to walk through that narrow gate first by faith. Once we truly recognize what the gospel is and that it's only through Jesus Christ, it opens up a ministry to the entire world. We can go out and proclaim that anyone we talk to has been forgiven and redeemed by Jesus Christ. We have God’s assurance and certain promise that He has reconciled the whole world to Himself. These are absolute necessities when it comes to mission work.

Too many people go out and make their determination of what Christ has done based on the response they get from the person. Does the person fit what I envision in my mind of how a Christian should act how or how a Christian should talk? Are they worthy of this message of reconciliation? Has the individual done enough good things in their life or is the person socially conscious of how they treat others? Is the person just a stodgy old Christian who's kind of a hypocrite and isn't really developed enough in their wisdom, intellect, or self-awareness to be worthy of the gospel? If people don’t fit our narrow parameters, we often exclude them from the message of reconciliation. Or it becomes personal - we think that someone who has really hurt us personally needs to show something to really earn my forgiveness - they can't just be given for free they need to show themselves that they have learned their lesson that they're not going to do what they did again that they recognize how deeply they hurt me and then I can extend reconciliation to them.

See how easily we play games with what God alone has done for us in Christ? See how easily we make the work of missions more complicated than God does? See how quickly we can detract from the one Savior who brought us all this and focus more on ourselves? True mission work means working with the true gospel – that involves centered around Christ, not us. We have comfort and peace in knowing and believing the one Savior who died for all; the fact that there is one way to heaven is a joy, and we know that one way through Jesus Christ. That will change the way we then recognize the height and the breadth and the width of the gospel namely, that God has reconciled the world to Himself and no matter who we talk to we can bring this message of Jesus to them and it applies to their life just as much as it applies to ours. And by faith in Jesus they too can have peace and joy in their Savior.


October 14, 2019

Speaking Before the King - Proverbs 25:6-13

Speaking Acceptably in the King’s Presence
1. Debate and Disclose Wisely
2. Give the Fit Word that Refreshes Souls

Proverbs 25:6-13 Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence or stand in the place of the great, 7 for it is better to be told, "Come up here," than to be put lower in the presence of a noble. What your eyes have seen 8 do not hastily bring into court, for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame? 9 Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another's secret, 10 lest he who hears you bring shame upon you, and your ill repute have no end. 11 A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. 12 Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear. 13 Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest is a faithful messenger to those who send him; he refreshes the soul of his masters. (ESV).

Recently I've been seeing a lot of ads on the Internet for a software service called Grammarly. Apparently, this program is a way to check your spelling and grammar as you’re working on your computer. The technology itself is really nothing new, I suppose. Microsoft Word and other word processing programs have had various spell checkers and grammar checkers. You’re probably familiar, as I am, with the red squiggly line or the blue squiggly line underneath the text. But as communication becomes more digital there is certainly a great necessity for programs like these that can work well and can be fluid.

Grammar and spelling mistakes have always been a pet peeve of mine. It's difficult for me to read something or to take something seriously if it's filled with errors. It bothers some people more than others, but it certainly can become an issue when you're trying to convey something that is very important.

Today we talk about a portion of the Bible that deals with communication. In these verses that were recorded by King Solomon in the book of Proverbs under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit God is telling us how to speak in the presence of the king. These words applied to Solomon’s experiences, but we’re not before Solomon or any other earthly king today. We’re before the King of heaven and earth – and the ruler of all righteousness. Now wouldn't it be something if God could help our communication out the way that a word processor works. Could you imagine if God would put a template around the false things we say or the times we take something out of context. That's probably the type of communication checker that most people don't want to have in life because we would simply be awestruck at the amount of problems with the way that we talk.

It seems like this wisdom from God in His word today from the book of Proverbs probably applies to our culture more than any other. We're familiar with the old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Now sticks and stones certainly can do a lot of damage to our bodies but very often it is words themselves that hurt more. It's words that cause deep emotional pain. It's words that cause people to feel like they're unloved. It's words that can cast doubt in a person's heart and mind and can grow into a devastating terror from which they feel helpless.

We get the point of that saying but words certainly hurt a lot. And in a day and age when we’re protected from most bodily dangers, we're really not protected all that well from hurtful words. Communication has always been an important thing for God because it's the very process through which He delivers to us the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. Words before the King carry and eternal impact. In Romans chapter 10 Paul talks about how the Gospel message is delivered through one who preaches and if someone doesn't step up and use words and preach Christ no one is going to come to faith. So, God, as both King and Savior, takes our use of words very seriously.

Few people today practice what God talks about here. Just this week in the sports world alone I can think of 3 separate controversies that developed, that became news headlines, revolving around something someone said or the way in which they said it that was either wrong or caused hurt to someone else.

Even outside of mere sports, our culture elevates the freedom of speech to one of the highest freedoms – even portraying it as a moral right. Yet, do we consider whether God gives us the right to say something as much as we consider our national rights. There are consequences that come along with saying whatever we want. And as much as we promote freedom of speech, Christian values and truth are regularly suppressed, and individual Christians are often strongly encouraged to keep quiet about their faith.

Learning how to properly speak before God is a necessary skill – but it’s also life-giving; just as Solomon writes, God’s wisdom is like the cooling effect of snow on a sweltering hot day. And in this way God’s guidance can be summarized from this section of Proverbs in two categories:   
1. Debate and Disclose Wisely
2. Give the Fit Word that Refreshes Souls

Most of the time words hurt when they’re paired with deep emotion, and there are few emotions deeper than anger. Words of anger can be extremely damaging. When words cause great riffs in relationships or when they cause people to feel ways about their lives that God does not feel about them - as if their worthless or insignificant - it's often because those words are accompanied by anger. For this reason our culture has often taken the stance of using our words in a non-judgmental way or a non-criticizing way. There are good reasons for this approach, yet even we selectively choose when to judge and when not to. Some contexts are treated differently than others. Even the most non-judgmental people have times when their language is filled with anger.

God makes clear that the proper way to speak before the King is determined in His word. We see in verse 9 that there is a time to argue your case with your neighbor. But to so by not reveal another person’s secrets. God tells us that there is a proper time to bring emotion into our words - even the emotion of anger when we argue and debate something. There are plenty of checks and balances as well. God says don't go hastily to court. Don't let your words of emotion be given without thinking. Don't trample on somebody else's reputation, or air their dirty laundry out in the public just because you're upset about something.

Being a Christian doesn’t mean you have to concede every matter of importance in your life. The world doesn’t even follow it’s own argument of never making judgments or criticisms. If we follow that we’ll never stand for Christ – we’ll never speak of our heavenly King. There is a time and a place to debate but it is to be done in Christian love and respect for God and for our neighbor. As King Solomon certainly would have heard many complaints from the people that he ruled, of which we have an example with the two women contending that the same child was their own. Solomon exercised wisdom and discernment to figure out who the real mother was. What Solomon warns about in coming to the King with your case is in not having your argument come from the truth. Don’t let emotion rule your heart. If someone simply brings an argument of anger out of emotion they're going to be proven wrong and they're going to be shown to be foolish. No one wants to be in that situation, especially before the King.  
The lesson for us is that in God’s presence, we cannot speak truth without using His Word. This is a welcome piece of advice from God in our day and age when communication can be something as simple as a tapping your phone or clicking on your computer. You tend to lose the element of shame of being wrong when you anonymously offer your opinion to the world. It’s easy to ride emotion when you’re looking at a screen and not a person. These verses remind us that we are always before God, the King, and we should speak appropriately.

Another form of speech that leads to sin is when we feel like we need to win the argument or get the last word. That attitude alone shows that we’re not invested in standing for the truth or building up our neighbor. It even shows a glaring inconsistency of being willing to sacrifice the truth in order to get our argument across in any circumstance. Rather than contend with just our own opinions God offers the advice of seeking the “word fitly spoken.” This word of verse 11 talks about not only the fit context but also the fit approach. The proper word that truly glorifies God and serves our neighbor is going to be spoken at the right time but it's also going to say the right thing.

This word fitly spoken is portrayed as a beautiful thing in the text, as an ornamental apple in settings of silver and as a gold ring that is used for decoration and beauty. Notice how the word fitly spoken is not about just saying things that are positive to our ears. The individual who delivers this beautiful message is called the “wise reprover” in our text. It's concerning a word of rebuke - a message of repentance and a call to discard the evil and vileness of the human heart because of sin. The beauty of a Word to God is not about what the culture has to say about it or what sounds reassuring and positive to our ears but it's a word that builds up and sustains God’s message. This is acceptable to our King and it’s the true path to communication that can refresh the soul. That message can be one of repentance or it can be one of promise.

The message of repentance and forgiveness is focused on the Savior – the Prince of Peace who was sent by the King. There is no better word to share than one that speaks Christ. It doesn't just have to be a recitation of a gospel passage or a part of a confession that speaks the good news of salvation. Speaking Christ can be part of our everyday speech. Christ can be in the various and different topics that we discuss from day to day. Speaking Christ influences the way that you talk to others even when you have a disagreement with them. Speaking Christ is always invested in an individual’s eternal soul care and it's not just about what they want to hear in this world. There is no better word.

It was during that tumultuous time in Jesus ministry when he was tested in this very regard. In John chapter 6 the Holy Spirit tells us that many people, even among His own followers, were offended that Jesus declared Himself to be the only Savior. Because of that message from Jesus which we know today as the gospel, John recorded that many of Jesus’ disciples went back and walked with Him no more. And Jesus said to the 12, “Do you also want to go away?” Simon Peter responded “Lord to whom shall we go, You have the words of eternal life? also we have come to know and believe that you are the Christ the son of the living God.”

Jesus’ 12 disciples were living examples of the power of God's communication in His word. Peter recognized that they were in the presence of the Savior King. Believers are always a testament to the confidence and certainty that a word fitly spoken about Jesus can have. But the disciples who fell away also a reminder to us of how sharp that division is in connection with God’s Word and how we use and receive it.

We face many trials today when it comes to the way that we talk with others. It's hard enough to wrestle with an inborn sinful human nature that wants to tear others apart with the way that we speak in think. As James writes, the tongue is indeed an awful enemy that cannot be tamed by human effort. We also live in a world that distorts communication values under the guise of freedom of speech. It’s a tough ground to navigate as a child of God. What a comfort that God does not abandon us to these fates. He offers us real advice on how to speak to one another. He makes the standards of communication and the difference between right and wrong clear.

And most important of all, He is able to refresh our souls with the most fit word of life and forgiveness in His Son, Jesus. May we recognize that we speak in the presence of the King, and the responsibility and privilege that comes along with that. God grant you faithfulness and grace to use the word fitly spoken about your Savior, to lead your way and to refresh your soul. Amen.  

October 7, 2019

God's Abiding Protection - 2 Kings 6:8-17

Please Lord, Open our Eyes
1. That we may see Your protection and plan
2. That we may trust your grace for our lives

Dear friends in Christ. A couple of weeks ago I was heading out on a visit and traveling south on I5. Traffic was picking up as the trip went along and at a certain point on the Interstate I found myself coming up alongside a semi to pass it. Unbeknownst to me, though, on the other side a car was coming up behind me. When that driver reached essentially the same point as my vehicle she started to pull into my lane. She obviously hadn't checked her blind spot to see if a car was there, but I saw it out of the corner of my eye. Obviously in that moment I was caught in a difficult spot because there was only so far that I could go to the right without hitting the semi, but I certainly didn't want to be impacted on my left side either.

It all happened so fast that it seemed more like a moment of instinct rather than reaction. I swerved as much as I could without hitting the semi and thankfully also avoided a collision with the other car. And thankfully, before I ran out of room, the other drive saw me and corrected. Shortly after that moment as my heartbeat went down a bit I said a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord for watching over me.

We’ve all had those moments in life. Moments where serious injury or even death could have occurred within the blink of an eye – and yet we were protected. As Christians we know in the Bible that God talks about using His divine Angels to protect us from evil. We pray in the Lord’s prayer that He would deliver us from evil. In those moments that we reflect back upon where we see the Lord’s hand at work it really doesn't matter what God's role might have been; we still know that He was there. I know that the Lord was watching over me that day, even if I don't know if he had an actual angel there to protect me. I don't know if it was one of those moments where the Lord directly intervened in some way or if it just happened to play out the way that it did.

But what I do know is that the Lord wants us to take courage that He will protect us and that He is watching over us in every circumstance. And He wants us to believe in His word that Angels are certainly real not imagined and that they do play an important part in our lives. We've seen example of that from the Bible in our lesson from God's word today.

2 Kings 6:8-17 When the king of Aram was waging war against Israel, he conferred with his servants, "My camp will be at such and such a place." 9 But the man of God sent word to the king of Israel: "Be careful passing by this place, for the Arameans are going down there." 10 Consequently, the king of Israel sent word to the place the man of God had told him about. The man of God repeatedly warned the king, so the king would be on his guard. 11 The king of Aram was enraged because of this matter, and he called his servants and demanded of them, "Tell me, which one of us is for the king of Israel?" 12 One of his servants said, "No one, my lord the king. Elisha, the prophet in Israel, tells the king of Israel even the words you speak in your bedroom." 13 So the king said, "Go and see where he is, so I can send men to capture him." When he was told, "Elisha is in Dothan," 14 he sent horses, chariots, and a massive army there. They went by night and surrounded the city. 15 When the servant of the man of God got up early and went out, he discovered an army with horses and chariots surrounding the city. So he asked Elisha, "Oh, my master, what are we to do?" 16 Elisha said, "Don't be afraid, for those who are with us outnumber those who are with them." 17 Then Elisha prayed, "LORD, please open his eyes and let him see." So the LORD opened the servant's eyes. He looked and saw that the mountain was covered with horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (CSB)

The Kingdom of Aram was north of Israel in what is known as Syria today. At the time of our story Aram and Israel were at war with one another. During this conflict the Lord allowed Elisha to know the plans of the king of Aram before they were put into motion. When the king of Aram would send his army out to attack Israel, Elisha would give the king of Israel a warning ahead of time and Israel would move to a different spot. They were always one step ahead of Aram.

At first the king of Aram thought there was a trader in his midst that was feeding information to the Israelites. But eventually he came to find out that God was revealing this directly to Elisha. So, the king of Aram sent a war party to the tiny village of Dothan where Elisha was at. His intention was to capture the Prophet of God so that he can no longer feed information to the Israelites. The scene of our text is set as Elisha and servant are in the tiny valley and they see the hosts of Aram all around the hills.

It's no surprise that Elisha’s servant was afraid. From their perspective there appeared to be no help. But Elisha knew better. And frankly the king of Aram should have known better too. If God was giving Elisha information to protect Israel in a miraculous way couldn't God also protect him in the same manner? I for one would not want to go up against somebody whom God is clearly helping.

But it shows just how easily we can have our eyes open without actually seeing. Elisha tells his servant “Do not be afraid for those who are with us outnumber those who are with them.” I'm sure the servant, upon hearing those words, must have thought that Elisha had lost his mind. Even if the Israelite army had been there to help them, they were no match against the chariots and horses of the king of Aram. But they was surely no one there to come to their aid that day and it made no sense to believe that there would be deliverance.

But as we know Elisha was not talking about Israel, or some other band of soldiers from some nation, he was talking about The Lord’s Angels. The Lord had given Elisha the ability to see His divine invisible army all around the city. And Elisha’s simple prayer to the Lord was that He would open his servant’s eyes, that he would also see. What an amazing thing it must have been to see the Lord’s Angel armies surrounding the army of Aram. Must have been quite a magnificent sight to see the great number but, even one angel would have sufficed. It wasn't about weapons, armor, or the numbers of soldiers that day but it was about the power of God. Elisha and his servant certainly would be safe because the king of Aram didn't even possess weapons that could affect God's almighty angels.

In times of danger or trouble, we can take confidence of the very same thing. And we can pray the same prayer as Elisha – that the LORD would open our eyes that we may see. Certainly, it would be nice to see a taste of the supernatural from time to time. It would be nice to witness with our eyes the majesty and power of God here on earth. Sometimes we envy the apostles and early Christians who were able to see Jesus, and His power, directly. We're tempted to think that somehow their faith must have been of greater use than ours because of that experience.

And many Christians today are trying to replicate the same thing. Instead of using the same word of God that we've had from generation to generation many Christians today focus more on what they can experience from God in their senses; how they can feel God or how they can witness God's actions here on earth. There's certainly would be no problem with seeing those types of things sharing those experiences, but we don't have to wait for them to know that God is with us – and they do not have to take precedent over the solid Word we have from God.

Elisha’s prayer was answered that day not just in God allowing his servant to see the angels but also in giving him the faith to trust that God would protect His own no matter what.

And by faith in the same Son of God who came down to earth to pay for our sins we are blessed to be able to see in that same way. We see not with our physical eyes but with eyes of faith. We witness the Lord’s power and control not only when we experience it in our lives but when we trust what He has promised.

The same thing has been true for believers from the beginning of time. The book of Proverbs says that “a man's heart plans his way but the Lord directs his steps.” Psalm 119 tells us that God's “word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.” Paul wrote to the Corinthians and said “we walk by faith not by sight.” Peter declared the timeless truth that we “have the prophetic word of God fulfilled which works as a light that shines in a dark place.” The basis of the believer’s trust in times of danger or uncertainty has been the same from the very beginning - that God would open our eyes by faith so that we would see more clearly the work of our Savior Jesus.

The lesson for the us today from the story of Elisha and his servant is not about victory over an army but about conquering sin, death, and Satan through believing in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Like those two believers in that Valley that day we too are overcome with many situations in our lives when we feel as if there is no help left. In those moments remember that simple prayer “Lord open my eyes that I may see.” It could be that God would open your eyes to the divine, as he did for Elisha’s servant. It’s certainly possible. But more often, God opens your eyes to His Word of promise – the good news that says “Be of good cheer, for your sins are forgiven.”

When you face financial difficulties and it seems like your budget is in a hole from which you cannot escape, pray: Lord open my eyes that I may see what are you asking me to do differently in my life; what should I prioritize better; what kind of decisions are responsible versus immature.

When you face health difficulties that turn life into a miserable experience, pray: Lord open my eyes that I may see what is Your plan by leading me through these trials, help give me humility to better trust in Jesus as my great physician of both body and soul; preserve my life as best as you can but ultimately,, Oh Lord, in Your will and in Your mercy lead me to eternal life in heaven.

When you face relationships that breakdown pray: Lord, open my eyes that I may see. What wrongdoings should I confess and bring to Your throne that You may cast them into the depths of the sea in total forgiveness? How have I wronged and hurt those around me even my most dearly loved ones? Help me to learn from those lessons to repair and renew in the future.

There's no end to the troubles that we face here on this earth and although we live in relative peace and protection as compared to God's people at this point in their history, the devil is always on the prowl and is fighting more violently today against God’s church than ever before in history. We need protection from the Lord. We need mercy and grace for the times when we fall in unbelief. We desperately need help as we’re caught in our pitiful condition of regularly disobeying God's law and His expectations for our lives both in how we respond to Him and also how we treat one another.

There is no shortage of enemies on our doorsteps and sometimes we feel greatly outnumbered. So this pray becomes the refrain of our faith, Lord open my eyes that I may see. Open my eyes that I may see Your mercy and grace; not just for moments in life, but to trust it in every circumstance. Open my eyes that I may see not more of the burdens that I must bear but the perfect work of my Savior. Open my eyes that I may live and rejoice in the love that you show me. Open my eyes that I may be led to confess the thoughts, words, and actions that do not align with Your Word.

Being with Jesus does not mean that every evil and disaster will magically evaporate from your life. Experience teaches us otherwise and we know that walking by faith will come with its trials and tribulations. But what it does mean is that no matter what happens God is always with you and because of that you can trust that He will protect you and that He has a plan for your life. And it also means exactly what Elisha himself said, you don’t have to be afraid, because “those who are with us are greater for those who are with them.” So we read from our lesson today and so we believe; that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Oh Lord keep our eyes open that we may continue to see you in your word Amen  

Pentecost 16 - 1 Kings 17:17-24

September 23, 2019

The Christian's True Confidence - Psalm 49:5-15

A Legacy of Confidence and Courage

Psalm 49:5-15 Why should I fear in times of trouble? The iniquity of my foes surrounds me. 6 They trust in their wealth and boast of their abundant riches. 7 Yet these cannot redeem a person or pay his ransom to God-- 8 since the price of redeeming him is too costly, one should forever stop trying-- 9 so that he may live forever and not see the Pit.

10 For one can see that wise men die; foolish and stupid men also pass away. Then they leave their wealth to others. 11 Their graves are their eternal homes, their homes from generation to generation, though they have named estates after themselves. 12 But despite his assets, man will not last; he is like the animals that perish. 13 This is the way of those who are arrogant, and of their followers, who approve of their words. Selah 14 Like sheep they are headed for Sheol; Death will shepherd them.

The upright will rule over them in the morning, and their form will waste away in Sheol, far from their lofty abode. 15 But God will redeem my life from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me. Selah (CSB)

When it comes to teaching about God's word in catechism class there's certainly many teachings that are controversial to the world. The Bible is very clear and upfront right away that, at times, it's going to offend the sinful flesh within all of us. The Bible is going to present truths about God that are challenging and difficult to accept. The Bible tells us things that only God can do that are beyond the realm of our control or power. And the entire essence of Christianity – faith, is something that is not based on our works or ability.

So, in many respects it shouldn't surprise us that the Bible tells people things that they don't want to hear; or in the very least things that they don't want to believe. What I find interesting is that one of the most controversial things about the Bible, and something that comes up often in Bible instruction, is that God would deliver people by bringing them to heaven. In catechism class we talk about the different ways that God delivers us from evil. God can use His power and might to miraculously take evil way. God can use some earthly agent to protect us from evil. But God can also use evil to bring a Christian home to heaven. According to the world, that doesn't seem like God is delivering us from evil. When somebody dies, especially somebody who's been a faithful follower of God, it's hard for us to reconcile in our minds that that was good for them that God used that to deliver them.

But in terms of our faith there is no greater deliverance then eternal life in heaven. God may use a miracle to protect us from evil or he may use an earthly agent to deliver us from evil but while we're here on earth we still are under the same threat. Until we get to heaven, we have not reached the final goal that God has accomplished for us and what he intends for our lives. The reason this is controversial in the world around us is because it's not really what many people are looking for. And it’s tempting for Christians to do the same – to place their hopes in this life and not the next. How often do you long for heaven? How much time do you spend investing for eternity through the Word of God, rather than investing for life today? The old saying “what have you done for me lately?” comes to mind when people talk about their faith or perhaps the reason why they don't have faith. For so many people God hasn't done enough for them lately so why trust in Him for the future?

Just like that, something so simple and basic to the Bible; so fundamental to our Christian faith - that God delivers people by bringing them home to heaven - becomes a controversial statement in and of itself. It’s offensive sometimes to even say that. Many people would rather trust in themselves or in politicians to find purpose in life. Many would rather pursue money and possessions rather than the peace that surpasses everything in Christ Jesus.

In our portion of God’s Word today, the sons of Korah express similar thoughts as they begin with that very first question “why should I fear in times of trouble?” If we wanted to look for a modern-day answer to that question it wouldn't take us very long. People fear and tremble over so many things nowadays. Financial crisis, climate change, racism, political influence and control, protection for our children, gun control - there's so many topics today that people have fears about. And it's easy to let our lives turn into a tailspin when we don't have the kind of control that we want to have in these issues. If we feel like the world is going down the wrong path, or the wrong kind of influences are gaining control, it's so easy to let fear control our lives.

But the sons of Korah asked this question in almost a defiant way. They speculate with confidence why should I fear with knowledge already about the answer. The question merely sets the stage for the one answer that is already apparent for the believer. They don't have to fear because God is in control. From their perspective they also list a multitude of reasons why, reasonably or logically, they could fear. These reasons apply also to us as Christians today.

  • ·       Wicked foes that surround us.
  • ·       Threats to our faith on a daily basis.
  • ·       Vanity and futility seemingly everywhere around us.
  • ·       The hopelessness of looking out into to a world that seems to have given up every aspect of following God.

All Christians who have ever lived recognize the imminent threat of dangers like these particularly to our faith.

And even if you're not a religious person you can still find a multitude of reasons to fear. The biggest one, that we all face, is stated in this psalm as Sheol. Sheol was the Hebrew understanding for the grave, for the place of the dead. When somebody stopped living they would go to Sheol. It is the place that was beyond human control, it is the realm of death. Sheol is the great equalizer for all mankind. No matter how powerful you are; no matter how much money you have; or how much land you have; no matter how much influence you have - no one can escape Sheol. The poor and the rich are equal in the realm of the dead.

As Christians we recognize that there are greater dangers to us, especially to our faith, than the prospect of death. But the reality of death is a common bond that we share with all people. The underlying question here is when we look at the reality of the world around us what hope do we have?

When contemplating wisdom and instruction, Solomon once remarked in the book of Ecclesiastes “all is vanity and there is nothing new under the sun.” We certainly see that to be the case as the sons of Korah describe the hope that many people have in the world when facing death. Their hope is in their possessions, and their money, and their influence. People have hope in these things for the present time but also that they would leave a legacy for themselves and for the generations to come because of these things. And some things never change. It's the very same approach by many people today. For them life becomes a matter of getting the most and of having the most fulfillment and pleasure today. We hear terms like “following our own dreams” and “finding our happiness” and “living our best lives.”

The point of this psalm is to confront those hopes in view of the reality of Sheol. The Psalm states: Yet these cannot redeem a person or pay his ransom to God-- 8 since the price of redeeming him is too costly, one should forever stop trying-- 9 so that he may live forever and not see the Pit.   

The reality of death rips to shreds any hope that we have in money or possessions. They can be a type of temporary balm to the difficulties and adversity's that we face on earth, but it's more like a form of lying to ourselves about the reality of the future. We know that there's a lot more to human fulfillment and existence than having the most and finding the greatest pleasure. Deep inside we all long for true meaning and purpose in our lives that cannot be purchased with money or gained by possessions. We live this way because God created us to recognize who He is; and He wants us to seek after Him and find in His Word. The psalm describes that as redemption.

No amount of human effort or influence can get us the redemption that we need; that fills our hearts from the void that sin and iniquity have created. Only God can redeem a human soul. The psalm goes on to tell us why – because of what Sheol does to money and possessions: But despite his assets, man will not last; he is like the animals that perish. 13 This is the way of those who are arrogant, and of their followers, who approve of their words. Selah 14 Like sheep they are headed for Sheol; Death will shepherd them.

Here we get a taste of the brutal side of true equality. True equality means that no matter how good you paint yourself out to be in life you're still a sinner who needs redemption from God. True equality means that whether you're rich or poor you're in the same boat - outside of the realm of eternal life with God. Equality recognizes that both the wise and the fool must confront death at some point. It's sad that so many people live their lives not only in denial of this truth, but in ways that continue to suppress it. It's almost as if we go out of our way to do anything we can to avoid the reality that's coming down the road – even though we know deep in our hearts.  

This is quite a problem that is described here by the sons of Korah. These are not light topics. And yet, remember the beginning defiantly asks “why should I fear in times of trouble?” When there’s so much of life that is ultimately beyond my control, and I can’t escape the reality of the grave – what gives me courage?

Well, this is not arrogance, and it's not foolish thinking, it's the reality of having confidence in God's redemption through Christ. Your courage as a believer stems from the riches of God in Christ Jesus, not in the riches of your bank account or any other element of human legacy. You can be honest about the reality of facing death at some point in your life, but you don't have to shutter in fear because you have something that is greater and more powerful. More pointedly, you have someone who is greater and more powerful. The only thing you can carry with you that won't get ripped to shreds by Sheol are the merits and accomplishments of Jesus. He has redeemed your life from sin, death, and hell. His victory of life is yours by faith.

A Legacy in the Gospel is worth building today and leaving to the next generation in the future. Let us not bind ourselves to the world around us – in futility and fear. Now that you are redeemed by Christ, when God looks at you He sees someone who has conquered the grave. You have every right to boast that you will get to heaven and that you have nothing to fear; not because you earned it; not because you accumulated enough wealth on your own; not because you found the secret to success in this life. You have full confidence and assurance of eternal life and victory over the grave because God is received you as His own by faith – faith that is guaranteed by the blood of God’s own Son. Amen. 

September 17, 2019

The Good Samaritan and the Meaning of Parables - Luke 10:25-37

See the Meaning of This Parable
1. By looking at your needs, because of sin
2. By looking at Jesus, with a healing faith

Luke 10:25-37 Just then, an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the law?” he asked him. “What do you read there?” 27 He replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself.” 28 He said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He fell among robbers who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 It just so happened that a priest was going down that way. But when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 In the same way, a Levite also happened to go there, but when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 33 A Samaritan, as he traveled, came to where the man was. When he saw him, he felt sorry for the man. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. He put him on his own animal, took him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day, when he left, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. Whatever extra you spend, I will repay you when I return.’ 36 Which of these three do you think acted like a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?” 37 “The one who showed mercy to him,” he replied. Then Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

This is one of the most well-known parables in the entire Bible. Unfortunately, because of that it's also one of the most misused parts of the Bible. Sadly, when you Google the parable of the Good Samaritan, you're likely to find upwards of 10 different interpretations of these words. God is quite clear that in the Bible He delivers His Word with one purpose and that each account has one primary meaning. This is not to say that there can't be many lessons learned from one section of Scripture. But when we're talking about interpretation, we should refer to the way that the Holy Spirit intended the words to be read.

All the parables of Jesus ultimately get down to a meaning. The point of the parables is not to dissect the story per se but to get to the effect of the story. Most of us grew up learning the familiar definition of a parable as “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” You can have all those things right in your mind but if you don't have the correct meaning, the correct purpose, the parable doesn't help you.

So, what is the meaning of the parable of the Good Samaritan? What is the effect that this section of Scripture should have in our lives? Like I said, there's a lot of ideas out there. One Bible scholar says this in a magazine article about the parable the Good Samaritan: “The story has proven a popular one for sermons over the years, and it has been interpreted in many different ways—ranging from a tale about ritual purity to lessons about personal safety and even freedom fighters or universal healthcare.”

Most people say that we should read this parable as a call to action to be better to people – whether that’s in the realms of fighting for freedom or striving for healthcare. While that lesson may be there, and it's certainly something that God wants us to be doing, it is not the meaning of the parable of the Good Samaritan. And more importantly, it’s extremely foolish of us to take something that Jesus spoke with the broader purpose of helping others .and push our own, modern, cultural interpretation on it.
This parable is all about focusing on what Jesus does for us that we couldn’t do for ourselves – whether that be healing alongside life’s road, or learning how to help others. This story is all about bringing people closer to God. Sometimes we approach that topic by looking at what we do or what others do; in essence, by looking at each other; but not because we see God in ourselves. It's helpful to look at ourselves and to look at others because it reminds us of our need for God. It sheds light on the awesome contrast between His works and ours. Looking intently at our actions, whether good or bad, is a constant reminder of why we need God in our lives.

So, although God points at our lives in this lesson let us see Him most in the meaning.

Most interpretations of this parable will have you believe that you are the Good Samaritan, at least that you ought to be. In fact, Jesus himself says “Go and do likewise” at the conclusion when considering the Good Samaritan’s actions. But in the meaning of the parable you are not the Good Samaritan - Jesus is. It's true that we are to show mercy as Jesus has shown mercy, but we know that we don't. It's a valuable lesson for us to see that this is the right way to treat people, but we know we can't. Only Jesus can show the type of mercy that God is describing in this story. If we want to see ourselves, we should see it in the wounded one. It's also true that at times in our lives we could be the priest and we can be the Levite. Those individuals in the parable stood for the religious elite who used the Word of God to make their own commands about righteousness and eternal life, and in that way turned their backs on true charity for others.

In fact, it was a scribe of the law who asked Jesus the initial question that led to this parable. In the very first verse of our text a lawyer, meaning one of the scribes, stood up and asked Jesus: “Teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This man was someone who had been raised to think that he had to accomplish his own salvation. His religious leaders, his spiritual mentors, had drilled into him an insistence that he had to achieve righteousness before God. And so, it seemed like a completely natural question to ask, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Sometimes we forget that the overarching context of this parable is about eternal life. So many people turn it into a basic lesson about doing good here on earth; and true it is enough that it is, but it is even more. And to get to the meaning behind the parable you have to remember that it’s about eternal life. You cannot broach the topic of eternal life without considering what God has done. That wasn't the philosophy of this lawyer who asked Jesus the question, but it is the truth of the matter. And at the end of the parable it's what the man would have went away with having learned from Jesus that day. Getting to the bottom of eternal life, and answering our questions about it, can only come through the mercy of Jesus.

If this is a message about eternal life, we ask ourselves why so much focus on our lives? Why is the parable talking about helping somebody out with their earthly needs? Why do we so naturally see ourselves in this parable? And perhaps most clear of all why does Jesus himself command go and do likewise? The purpose behind all of these close connections with our lives is to show us why we need God. Each of these lessons from God is like looking into the law. When we hear the law of God, we may think that we've kept it well enough; we may think that it's a positive message for our lives; we may think that it can produce the right kind of living in our lives. But the entire purpose of God's commands in the law is to show us where we've fallen short – and more importantly, why we need God.

The law of God never gives us a positive message about our lives because we can't keep that law as God demands. If we come away with a positive message from the law, it means we’ve changed the meaning of what God demands – we’ve lightened the load to make it more bearable in our lives. The harsh truths from this parable are that we haven't measured up as good people. We haven't loved our neighbors as ourselves. We haven't put God above all else. We haven't shown unconditional mercy and kindness to everyone in need, regardless of who they are. In each of those points we learn valuable lessons for our lives things that we should be doing things that are moral and right and good, and things that we often think have a positive effect in our spiritual lives.

But when it comes to our faith, and our standing with God, the singular effect of all of those things is failure on our part. Whenever we honestly look at God’s laws we see and feel that effect. In this sense we might say that the story of the Good Samaritan is somewhat discouraging one; it's a constant reminder of what we're not. [We assume we can read this parable as the Good Samaritan because we’re Christians, and not as the priest or Levite]. But it’s only discouraging if we don't see Jesus as well.

One of the reasons people like this parable is because it brings a little humanity to the Bible. It expresses themes that we all struggle with and that we all think about. It describes emotions that we all desire and that we all seek to perform. In that sense many people today see this parable as an ecumenical bridge to all different religions. To them it doesn't really matter so much who your god is, or what he has done, but whether you're doing what is you should.

That may sound good in our culture and in our society but what a depressing picture it is. What a deliberate attempt to purposely leave Jesus out. Only through Jesus do we get an answer to the question that this story is all about. What must I do to inherit eternal life? Obviously before we can get to eternal life we have to talk about the life that we have now. That's where we see all of the examples of this parable. The selfishness to overlook someone in need. The love and compassion to care for somebody who is vulnerable. Kindness to extend mercy to anyone regardless of who they are. These are all things that deal with the here and now, not eternity. But to really grasp our need to, really recognize the longing that we have to be with God in heaven, we must first come to grips with the reality that we are in.

And so, thank God that this parable has much more meaning then just a story about humanity. Ultimately, it's a story about exactly what Jesus did for us. It’s a beautiful picture of the gospel itself. What He did when you are beaten up by the world and distressed because of the perils around you. What He did when you act selfishly and condescending to others. What He did when you were a foolish example of what it means to be a follower of Christ. What Jesus did for us in our greatest needs, and what Jesus does for us when we fall so deeply away from His Holiness.

Jesus gently stoops to your life, binds up your wounds and extends perfect healing, and covers you in the safety of His grace and mercy – until you can stand again and walk the path of your faith; and He sticks with you. Just as the Good Samaritan told the innkeeper to charge everything to his account, so also Jesus continues to pay your spiritual expenses until you reach heaven.

That's the answer to the question of eternal life; to see and trust in Jesus as your only source of hope; that He is the way the truth and the life as he promised. Why do we try to take Him out of this story? Why would we fall for the temptation to make this parable only about ourselves? Only Jesus can take away the sins that haunt you from day to day. Only Jesus can grant the type of forgiveness and renewal that we need to stand before God and fulfill his will. The type of love that we so desperately seek from God and that we can bring to others when they’re broken up and hurt. No matter who the individual is or what they've gone through only Jesus can grant the balm and healing that can truly bring the peace of God to lift us out of the gutter of our sins and justly deserved condemnation.

This story is about eternity more than it is today. We may have lessons for both, but God’s meaning – His singular interpretation - points to our Savior.

It's sadly ironic that the very purpose of this parable, dispelling the notion that you can gain eternal life by what you do and how you treat others, is the very meaning that so many believe and teach today. This well-known story is not a victory march for human morality. It's a lens through which we more accurately see ourselves, and then more accurately see our God. There's enough lessons here to be learned for an entire sermon series but let it suffice to understand that eternal life is yours in Jesus Christ. Equipped with that simple and singular truth delivered to you through the unadulterated word of God you can be the kind of neighbor that God demands and more importantly – you have a home in heaven with God. Amen.  

The Triune God at Work - 2 Corinthians 3:4-11

Theme: The Most Glorious Triune God
1. The Son gives life over death
2. The Holy Spirit gives true meaning to words
3. The Father gives competence under His covenant

2 Corinthians 3:4-11 Such is the confidence we have through Christ before God. 5 Not that we are competent by ourselves to claim that anything comes from us; rather, our competence is from God. 6 He also made us competent as ministers of a new covenant (not of letter, but of Spirit). For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

7 If the ministry that brought death (which was engraved in letters on stone) came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look directly at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face (though it was fading), 8 how will the ministry of the Spirit not be much more glorious? 9 For if the ministry that brought condemnation has glory, the ministry that brought righteousness has even more glory. 10 In fact, in this case, what was glorious is no longer very glorious, because of the greater glory of that which surpasses it. 11 Indeed, if what is fading away was glorious, how much more glorious is that which is permanent!  

It's common thing in athletics that when your team is losing you keep your mouth shut. I've been in plenty of different athletic contests before and there's no shortage of individuals who want to get the last say on something even if they can't win the contest. There's a variety of reasons why people do this. Sometimes people do it because of an insecurity in their attitude. Sometimes they do it to try to deflect from their inability to beat the competition. Sometimes people do it just because they have no self-awareness of what it looks like.

It's not just sports where this happens either. It could take place in just about any area of life. The lesson is: if you're not superior at something, and you're in the presence of someone who is, it's probably a good idea to listen. I wouldn't go around telling a race car driver what to look for on the track. I wouldn't go to a movie premiere and criticize the special effects department about deficiencies in one area or another. I wouldn't go to operating room and whisper over the shoulder of the surgeon. It’s not my place to do so. Each of those realms is beyond my qualification.

It’s OK to recognize when we're not the experts or when someone else who knows better. But human nature doesn't want to expose things that we don't know and it doesn't like to admit when others know better than we do. And so sometimes even we end up playing the fool.

In our text for today the Apostle Paul is defending his ministry, his call from God to proclaim the word of God to the Corinthians. He had to do this because certain individuals came into their congregation and started boasting about how great they were as minsters. They appealed to the Corinthians to listen to their messages because of how well they could speak, or how influential they seemed, rather than focusing on the actual content of their words.

Paul had to remind the Corinthians that the glory of a message is about God, not man. And Paul's message to them was that although there's a lot of personal glory in an earthly ministry when people are listening, that glory pales in comparison to the glory of what God has done for us.

So, when Paul talks about the competency that he had, it wasn’t about looking at what he did but instead about trusting in what God had done. That's where our competency comes from as Christians. That's where our courage to witness of Christ comes from and that's where our sufficiency in our faith comes from. What we see here in this section is an example of how our Triune God works on our behalf and through it we witness His unmatched glory.

The Son gives life over death. The Holy Spirit gives true meaning to our words. The Father gives competence under His covenant.

The name of Christ is mentioned at the very beginning of our text and His fingerprints are throughout the rest of the section. The main message is that God gives life to those who believe in His Son – the one who is the only way, truth, and life. To believe in Jesus is to have the victory of life over death.

Look also at all the various synonyms that Paul uses to express the same thing. He mentions the new covenant vs. the old covenant. That's a connection that goes all the way back to the Old Testament. He mentions a ministry of condemnation vs. a ministry of righteousness that again is a product of what Christ has done for us. He mentions the glory that is fading away with the glory that is much greater. He mentions the ministry of men vs. the ministry of the Holy Spirit. All of these contrasts get to the same effect, and that is the blessing of what we have been given through Christ.

We could summarize all these thoughts and condense them into two terms: law and gospel. When we use the terms law and gospel in our ministry, we understand them to be encapsulating all of these thoughts that Paul expresses. On the one hand is what we have because of our sins and the state that we're in because of our situation. On the other hand, is what Christ has accomplished for us what only He could give. The difference between law and gospel is the difference between death and life. That's the result of each of those images that Paul uses. And Jesus is the one who makes all the difference.

Of course, that doesn't mean that the other two members of the Trinity, the Father and the Holy Spirit aren't also integral in our faith life – and in our spiritual competency. Paul teaches us that the Holy Spirit is the one who gives meaning to our words. Again, this section is about ministry. The ministry is always a difficult thing to understand and explain because God gives us the responsibility of speaking on His behalf. That thought alone doesn't make a lot of sense in our minds. If the eternal, almighty God has everything in heaven and earth at His fingertips, why would He use sinful, mistake prone, fallible humans to proclaim the Word of Salvation?

Naturally we see why we have a hard time understanding the ministry of the Holy Spirit. In the text Paul uses the contrast between the letter and the spirit. In Paul's words the “letter” is a negative concept. It's not where we want to be as Christians. It's not what we want to be proclaiming. We want to have full assurance and we want our hearers to know that when we speak on God's behalf the Holy Spirit is working through us. But how can we give that assurance when we have to use letters -words themselves - to transmit the gospel to others? It seems impossible for us not to fail through the letter.

What is meant by the “letter” is when we use words apart from their intended meaning. You see in whatever context you’re in, you can hone in on the letters or the words themselves without paying attention to the broader context or the meaning of those words. For example, take this phrase:

“I saw a man on a hill with a telescope.” – We see the words clearly – but what is their meaning.

In this phrase, there could be up to five different meanings:
·       There’s a man on a hill, and I’m watching him with my telescope.
·       There’s a man on a hill, who I’m seeing, and he has a telescope.
·       There’s a man, and he’s on a hill that also has a telescope on it.
·       I’m on a hill, and I saw a man using a telescope.
·       There’s a man on a hill, and I’m sawing him with a telescope.

Each of those meanings could technically be derived from those words. But I’m sure you know which ones are most likely. Usually through the context it's easy to determine what the clear words mean but people can always strip the words of their context. People can take the letter literally and they can miss the meaning. This is what Paul was condemning in this section. He was specifically speaking of people of the Jewish nation who took the Old Testament laws by the letter in their literal meaning but stripped them of their context and their purpose. That's why Paul says the letter kills but the Spirit gives life. When you do this with the word of God, and you make commands that God doesn't make, it leads a person down the wrong path. It leads them further away from life in Christ, the life that only the Holy Spirit can give, and it leads them to trust in themselves which is going to result in spiritual or eternal death.

God has given us His word and He's also given us the meaning of those words through the work of the Holy Spirit. When it comes to our ministries, it's the Holy Spirit who's going to bless the efforts on giving meaning to the words that we speak. Let us be careful not to get in His way by presenting the words outside of their context even if the letters themselves could technically work.

Finally, we come to God the Father in our text. The Father builds upon the accomplishments of Jesus and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit and blesses us with competence under is new covenant. The Old covenant in the Old Testament served a purpose but it was not to bring life. God ushered in a better covenant - a newer covenant through the gospel of Jesus in order to give us life.

The word “competency” means that we are sufficient and able to do what is necessary. We began by asking how sinful human beings could transmit the message of salvation from a perfect God. This is the answer to that question. We can do that because God makes us competent. God makes us sufficient. The purpose of this text, again, is not to overemphasize Paul’s authority or how important humans are in the ministry but to show us how the Triune God does allows us to effectively use His word.

This competency comes from the blessing of the New Covenant. And it leads to the highest form of glory. Here's where Paul uses an object lesson from the Old Testament for people who were relying on the old covenant to be saved. He uses a story about Moses; when Moses received the law on the mountain and his face shone brightly because he was in the presence of God. As amazing as that glory was to show how important Moses was, it pales in comparison to the glory that God receives as our Lord and Savior – the glory of the New Covenant.

Trying to boast in our efforts and in the glory of our own works as Christians or in our own ministries is like trying to brag to God when He's in control of everything. It's embarrassing and it's foolish to do so. God’s taken care of everything – that’s the whole point of the gospel. Why should we try to one up Him? What good does it do to brag about ourselves when He’s already conquered death and hell?  Oftentimes, just like athletic contests it's a product of our own lack of self-awareness and our own insecurities because of our sins. This is not how God wants us to feel as Christians. This is not how He wants us to look like to the rest of the world. He wants us to trust and to know that He has made us competent. In place of the rightfully earned condemnation that we deserved because of our sins, He gives us life through Jesus. In place of our own futility and struggles to understand His word and transmit it to others, He blesses us with wisdom and understanding from the very Author of the Bible - the Holy Spirit. And in place of the old letter that kills, He has given us a new covenant that forgives and renews.

These are the blessings of our most glorious Triune God, and it's why we are privileged to stand for His word and to minister in His name. Amen