July 26, 2020

Faithfulness in a Fading World | Psalm 107:1-8 | July 26, 2020

Theme: The LORD is Always Steadfast

1. When everything in life fades

2. When we forget and forsake Him

Psalm 107:1-8 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! 2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble 3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. 4 Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in; 5 hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. 6 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. 7 He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in. 8 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!  (ESV)

Think of a time when you’ve gotten a song stuck in your head and you’ve struggled to get it out. It happens often doesn’t it. And it’s usually a song that we used to enjoy quite a bit not that long before. It doesn’t take long for us to lose interest in a specific piece of music. I’ve come to the point where I mentally remind myself that when I really enjoy a song I need to pace myself in how often I listen to it, because I know eventually (sooner rather than later) its popularity is going to fade.

Music may be one of the most common examples of this, but really everything in life is exactly the same. It fades. It wears out. It becomes common, sometimes even despised by us. Jesus said something similar, “Don't collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don't break in and steal (Matthew 6:19-20).” Part of Jesus’ point was that earthly things wear out. It doesn’t matter how we feel about them in the moment, or how much value we place on them at the time, we know without a doubt it will fade away. So, Jesus says, collect heavenly treasures.

That brings us to the thoughts of our text today. What happens when we place an earthly value on a heavenly treasure? That’s sort of a summary of what God is talking about in this psalm. Psalm 107 forms a thematic collection with Psalms 105 and 106, and in their immediate context they address Israel’s history. Psalm 105 talks about the works of God early on in Israel’s history, many of the stories you know about from the book of Genesis. Psalm 106 connected those events to the current unfaithfulness of God’s people, and the direct consequence of captivity and exile under the Babylonians. Psalm 107 speaks of restoration from that judgment.

The problem that Israel had is that the LORD’s mercy became earthly and ordinary in their minds. It was like a song in their heads that began to annoy them. We might wonder how such a thing could happen given the extraordinary blessing of God’s mercy. Well, you don’t have to think too hard to find the answer. Look at the very first verse of our text: Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! This same phrase is found at the beginning of Psalms 105 and 106 also. It’s also scattered throughout the book of Psalms. If it sounds really familiar to you it’s probably because you’ve used it as a mealtime prayer – many of us do.

If this thought is familiar to you, then you know how easily it can be forgotten or forsaken. That’s what we do with familiar things, because their interest fades. This is especially true with prayers that we use repeatedly. There’s an extra challenge in using something familiar that you keep from allowing it to become hollow recitation. There is a place for repetition in our faith. Many of the prayers you grew up with as children are treasured in your heart throughout your entire life, and you desire the same blessing for your children. But the challenge is always present to keep them from beginning vain repetitions because of the tendency for things to fade in our lives.

We need to remember that the substance of our prayers, and any other truth from God’s Word, never fades from power or relevancy. Only we can create that false idea in our minds. God’s mercy is always abundant and present. It does not become something different or inferior just because we are used to hearing about it. We need to guard against the spiritual resentment that can build in our hearts against those truths that are well-known.

We’ve been talking about the phrase from verse 1, but that’s not the only well-known phrase in our text. Verse 8 reads, Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! Obviously, the thought here is almost identical to verse 1. What makes verse 8 interesting is that it appears exactly the same in vv.15, 21, and 31 of this psalm. Since many of the psalms were set to music, it’s quite probable that this verse was a refrain of some kind.   

But the LORD had another purpose with this repetition. It’s symbolic of the very blessing the verse talks about. Regardless of how much we may tire of hearing about God’s grace – his love is steadfast. It is repetitive and consistent, not to annoy us, but because it’s the very thing we need. As the psalmist depicts many uncertain and trying times throughout the text, every trial is met with this refrain - Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!  

Remember this – the element of life that leads to all earthly things fading, and spiritual things fading in our minds, is a problem on our end, not God’s. And despite the ways in which sin distorts the way we view God’s timeless truths, leading us to think of them more as hindrances than blessings, God will never abandon us to our own desire. Consider that point a bit more for a moment.

Life around us conditions us to strive for what we want at all costs. We are told that it is as oppressive and unfair when we aren’t able to have what we want. But as God tells us in His Word, sometimes the greatest thing He does for us is protect us against what we want. That is such a foreign thought in the world today that we really do need to step back and ponder its significance to fully appreciate it. More than any other generation of mankind, people today are living as if they have it all figured out and that we know exactly the way life needs to be. This attitude stems from the diabolical sin of pride. Even though this sin, the very same ailment that Israel suffered from, causes us to forsake God’s wisdom, truth, and even mercy in our lives, He never abandons us! His love is steadfast, not only in times when He grants our requests, but also in times when He protects us from the desires that would harm us. Isn’t it wonderful to be protected in this way? That’s why this psalm beckons us again and again not to forget or forsake the LORD’s mercy, especially in moments when we’re familiar with it because it’s been ever present in our lives.   

Most evenings before bed I try to read a chapter of a book to the kids. A few months ago, we read Mutiny on the Bounty, a novel that is based on a real story. You may be familiar with the story but essentially it follows the journey of a ship named Bounty, under the command of Captain William Bligh. The story is memorable because in the middle of its voyage, a little under half the crew mutinied against Captain Bligh. The story of survival for those who remained faithful to Captain Bligh is remarkable to say the least. In a tiny wooden lifeboat that could barely hold all the men, they sailed 3,500 nautical miles in open water to safety. What they endured was nothing short of unbelievable.

I’m sure many of those men, as well as modern readers today, wonder – how did it get to that point? The story gives a few details that lead to an answer – Captain Bligh was a particularly harsh commander, the voyage had encountered several unexpected problems, some of the men were disinterested in returning to England, and there were others. As with many situations in life, no single reason was the sole reason, but it was really a combination of many factors, some within Captain Bligh’s’ control, some not.

The reason I think of this story today is that the psalm depicts the LORD’s steadfast love as rescuing His people from being lost and wandering in the wilderness. Israel’s ancestors knew this literally all too well as they wandered the wilderness during the Exodus. But the fading world around us can feel very much like a wasteland as well – especially in terms of spiritual nourishment. Within a situation like that, it’s tempting to look for reasons. Did we do something God didn’t like? Is He trying to punish me? Is it that person’s fault or that institution’s fault? Maybe we feel self-righteous and are always quick to blame others for our problems.

Like the HMS Bounty’s story, most of the time in our lives the trials we go through have a combination of different reasons. Living in hopelessness because of your mistakes or blaming others for everything wrong lead to the same place. It’s the futile, fading struggle in the wilderness of this world. But God tells you today, He can lead you out of the wilderness. He does so with His steadfast love. Consider that. We bring despair and struggle into our lives when we argue about every little detail concerning why – trying to blame others, trying to justify ourselves. Our ideas, hopes, feelings all change – almost daily. But the LORD who bought us with His own life never does. His love is faithful. It’s mercy precisely because He extends it to those who don’t deserve such a gift – whether it’s you or someone who wronged you. Because God is steadfast in His love, there is no place for despair and there is no reason for self-righteousness.       

The gospel of Jesus is really the oldest story in the world, precisely because of it’s truth and faithfulness to sinners like us. Don’t let it fade in your mind or in your heart. No matter what you do wrong, or what someone else does to you, the LORD will be there to deliver. Amen.


July 19, 2020

Cause and Cure of Modern Idolatry | Jeremiah 16:16-21 | July 19, 2020

Theme: Know the True God

1. How He is different than false gods

2. What He seeks with total perfection

Jeremiah 16:16-21 "Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the LORD, and they shall catch them. And afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. 17 For my eyes are on all their ways. They are not hidden from me, nor is their iniquity concealed from my eyes. 18 But first I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations." 19 O LORD, my strength and my stronghold, my refuge in the day of trouble, to you shall the nations come from the ends of the earth and say: "Our fathers have inherited nothing but lies, worthless things in which there is no profit. 20 Can man make for himself gods? Such are not gods!" 21 "Therefore, behold, I will make them know, this once I will make them know my power and my might, and they shall know that my name is the LORD." (ESV)

Owning land is one of the most enduring and rewarding investments. There is both a material and immaterial blessing to owning land. Obviously, land is property. The material blessing is having something of value to claim as your own. Perhaps even more important, though, is the immaterial blessing. Land ownership reflects progress and sense of accomplishment. It can lead to empowerment and opportunity in other areas of life.

The content of God’s message today is largely about land ownership. The basic message is that God’s people – the nation of Judah – would lose their land. There were several reasons why. Jeremiah is descriptive is his treatment of Judah’s sins. But, essentially, it all came back to their idolatry.

The judgment of God that would take away Judah’s land certainly had a material and an immaterial impact. The people would be exiled to a foreign land. They would lose their literal homes, possessions, property, and livelihood. The immaterial impact would be that they would be shamed and disgraced. They would feel the just guilt of having forsaken a faithful God for lifeless idols.

But on top of all of this, the most important thought was that there was a spiritual meaning to all of this. God didn’t strip Judah of its homes and property for that sake alone. Rather, that judgment was indicative of the spiritual situation they had made for themselves. This is really where we seek to learn for our lives today. Faith in God is like owning property as an investment that promises to pay off in the future. Spiritually, it gives us a stake in God’s kingdom. Worshipping and following God is like investing in that inheritance. Judah had claimed to know God and to follow God – essentially to have His blessings – but they were investing in idols. They were sending their spiritual goods – praise, thanks, honor, and faithfulness – away from the true God. The same thing happens today – all too often – when people trust in what Jeremiah calls “things that are not gods” and “worthless things without profit.”

May God the Spirit bless our study today and lead us to invest in the spiritual property that God offers through His Word.  

The people of Judah forgot the most basic rule of life – there is only one God and we are not Him. Much of this text deals with the LORD speaking judgment by taking away Judah’s land and property but all that verbiage is really just a picture that serves a greater message. The real truth was that all things are God’s. He is the only Creator – the first cause as some call it today. Everything in this world – whether we own it or not – belongs to God. Job famously echoed this conviction when he responded to his poverty by saying, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD." (Job 1:21). The Apostle Paul also taught “we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world (1 Timothy 6:7).”

Although so much of the LORD’s message was about what would be taken away, he didn’t want Judah to dwell on this point alone. The main lesson was to get them to remember that all things belong to God. Therefore, when we sacrifice our relationship with God through idolatry, all good and profitable things that God offers in His love will soon follow.

The same problem can easily enter our lives which is why we do well to learn from Judah’s mistakes. The idolatry they committed is really described in two ways, which is where the LORD’s promise of double payment comes from. Here’s what Judah had done.

First, God says they “polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols.” We’re familiar with talk about pollution in our day and the basic idea here is not much different. The literal meaning of the word for pollute in Hebrew means “to wound.” Isn’t that really what pollution does in a material sense to the natural world – it ruins it. It damages the world. Spiritually, God says that’s exactly what Judah did in their idolatry. They wounded the land. Not with rising greenhouse gases or destructive chemicals, but by defiling their relationship with God.

There’s a worship aspect to this too. Ritually, the people of Judah were forbidden to come into contact with dead bodies. This was a law given by God to protect them from spreading disease, but there was also a spiritual picture inherently built in. Faith with God purifies a person. It grants holiness and life. Essentially, it separates one from death in a total sense. God intended Judah to consider this about their faith each time they thought about this law of ritual purity. Therefore, when God condemns them in that very way for their idolatry, it would be have made a point about how serious of an offense they had committed. This idolatry made them unclean before God.

Second, the LORD says that Judah “filled my (His) inheritance with their abominations.” Judah’s idolatry also had a devastating effect on the blessings the LORD sought to give them, what the LORD calls His inheritance to them. Blessings from the LORD, specifically of a spiritual nature, come by faith. They are a wonderful result of trusting in God. When faith is discarded by idolatry, it obviously threatens those blessings. Most immediate to Judah, the inheritance of God was that they would dwell safely in their homeland. Looking beyond that, however, was also the promise of eternal life in heaven. Judah’s abominations threatened both blessings.

How does this relate to our lives? Well, whenever we speak of idolatry in the Bible we need to translate that idea into our age. The false gods of the Bible – Baal, Dagan, Molech, Asherah, and others are hardly around today. Certainly, none of us are bowing down to them. But, sadly, we are still just as guilty as Judah, and what makes that even worse is that we rarely consider it. There’s a clue in our text that helps us make the transition from Bible times to our present age. Jeremiah adds this note in verse 20: Can man make for himself gods? Such are not gods!

Whether Judah’s idol worship was to a statute or not isn’t the point. God makes the declaration – “Such are not gods!” Whatever man fashions in his mind, or with his hands, as a source of spiritual direction and hope is not real when compared to the true God. It can have a name, or it can be something personal – that distinction doesn’t matter. The better question is, what can your god do when called upon? When you are in need, when the rubber meets the road, when you’re caught between a rock and a hard place – what does your god do?

Few people consider those questions because their lives are often comfortable. We live in a time of abundant gods that aren’t really gods – things we fashioned to give us meaning, hope, and consolation when we meet obstacles in life. Things that we trust and put our confidence in. These false gods beckon us to invest our soul care in this earth – to seek the homeland that is right in front of us today. They either deny or block out any thought of life after the here and now. They are suited only the address problems that lie before us in time and in the temporal realm.

Martin Luther, someone who was keenly experienced in idolatry, hit the nail on the head with this definition of idolatry. He said in the Large Catechism, “A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress. I say, that whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.” Here we see how easily we can stumble into the fault of Judah. It’s not about the name or image of the god, it’s about the position of your heart. Where are you investing your spiritual property? Who promises you an inheritance? Every object of trust, whether given the title of “idol” or not will answer those two questions in some form.

The most common idols today are: money, power, possessions, popularity, political entities and ideologies, and the self. Stop for a moment and think of how many examples you have seen in the past week or month of people trusting in money, power, or possessions. Humans go to great lengths, even being willing to kill and harm others, to grow their money, power, and possessions. It’s a popular trend in our culture to trust in political philosophies and doctrines to fix the problems of our world. We argue and fight over dogma and ideology, forgetting the littered past of historical figures who thought they had the cure to societies’ ills figured out too. How desperately we all long to be popular. We allow that desire to shape our beliefs and to deny God’s clear teachings. We tell ourselves that the majority must be right, even though there are numerous examples of the past that show the exact opposite. And on top of this all, we each have our own self-image and sinful nature. This is the beast within our hearts that knows no master and that cannot be tamed by effort or goodwill. We are programmed through the fall to answer to no person or deity. We struggle and fight for the final word – to be the sole arbiters of justice and truth and to have no other person tell us differently. When you get down to it, we are a lot like Judah. We have just as much of a tendency, if not more, to make gods out of what are not gods.

One way you can test yourself, to see where your trust is, is to consider what captures your time and attention in life? When you are confronted with a problem, do you consult God’s Word? When you’re angry, do you follow God’s instructions on how to handle that problem? Does the way you speak to, and about others, reflect God’s standards? When you parse out your time each day, how much do you devote to prayer and Bible study? These questions can help you see where you’ve set your heart and what you’ve put your trust in, as Luther described. But they’re not foolproof either.

Our text teaches us to ask, what can your god do for you? As fulfilling as money, power, political thoughts, and self-realization of my own agenda sounds, they will all leave you wanting. Only the true God – the God who is above all others – can do all for you. Our verses speak of that in the omniscience of God – as He depicts His wisdom and sight as the hunter and the fisher. There is nothing you can hide from the true God. That feels daunting and it should because we know He sees our sins and our unfaithfulness.

But, there’s a message of hope behind that image also, because God seeks you, with perfect vision and sight, for more than judgment. He seeks you so that you may know He loves and cares for you in perfection too. The word for “repay” in verse 18, the result of God’s hunting and fishing, is Shalom – peace. God is just so that you may have peace. He enacted that payment for sin in the only way that it could bring forth peace for you – by putting it on His only Son, Jesus. So, yes, knowing the true God will mean dispelling all false idolatry – calling out your iniquities and unfaithfulness in the full light of His Word. But God’s desire is your salvation – that you may know His name once again. He must judge in order to forgive. And through His forgiveness, He gently leads you back to reinvest in His Word and will; to hope for a home and property not of this earth, but in heaven. Amen. 

God So Loved the World - Part 6 | What can we do? - July 12, 2020

God So Loved the World – What can you do?

This is now the sixth week that we’ve been going through our series, “God so Loved the World.” This series has been about God’s love for all people, and how we should reflect that in our lives. We’ve looked at several cultural topics, especially concerning our current society, from the perspective of our Christian faith. We’ve seen how these topics took different forms for other generations of believers. We’ve seen the principles that God calls us to as His followers. We’ve discussed the difference that faith in Christ makes in how we treat others. But, as so often happens with cultural issues, we’re left wondering, where do we go from here?

It’s one thing to diagnose a problem, but it’s another thing to find a solution or to realize actual change. Many people across different political platforms and religious beliefs recognize the need for some type of change. In other words, they see the problems. However, very few can agree on what should be done. Even among our church it’s quite likely that we have differing opinions about what the world around us needs to do.

Sometimes that’s a topic that’s tricky to talk about as Christians, especially Lutherans. We’re so conditioned to be wary about emphasizing works that sometimes we can struggle to do things differently when God calls us to. There’s certainly good reason to be wary about work righteousness. We know the history of the Church. We know the Bible passages. But we shouldn’t be afraid to stand up and act when the time comes. We shouldn’t worry about making changes just because we know that we’re saved by faith alone. The reason we act for God is because our faith does make a change in our hearts. And so, we see in our last lesson in this series that God calls us to action, born out of faith in Jesus as our Savior. We study His Word today from Colossians 3:1-3, 9-11 as we consider what we can do moving forward.

Colossians 3:1-3 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:9-11 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (ESV)

Posing the question, what can we do, naturally implies action. We see this in three ways today, highlighted by the opening words of our text. Paul writes, “If you…” This terminology indicates a result – a spiritual deduction of sorts that is all about action.

We mentioned the first “If then” already – the deduction of faith. If you believe in Jesus Christ, you will show fruits of faith. This is very much along the same lines as James’ epistle where he lays out the case that true faith is not indifferent or lazy, but active. The fruits of faith are not produced by personal effort. If that were the case, they wouldn’t be fruits but works. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he clearly makes a distinction between fruits of faith – produced by the Holy Spirit, and works of the flesh, produced in our fallen natures.

The Word of God is the difference here, because the Holy Spirit uses the Word, as it comes in spoken and sacramental form, to renew hearts and produce fruits. The letter to the Colossians will emphasize this truth further at the end of chapter three as verses 16 & 17 say, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

If you believe, there will be an action that follows. We call those fruits of faith.

The second “If then” isn’t found in our text, but it is connected to it. In chapter 2:20, Paul writes, “If you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations?” Paul also reminds the Colossians again in verse 3 of our text that they have died. What he’s talking about here is the spiritual death of conversion. To come to faith in Jesus – what we see later is coined as rising to life – also means dying to the world. In 2:20 Paul calls that dying to the basic principles of the world. In our text he goes on to list several sins connected with living the world.

The thought of both these verses comes back to the same truth – we have something better in Christ so let’s use it. In chapter 2 Paul directed this truth at the Old Testament ceremonial laws that were held over the heads of Gentile Christians in the New Testament church. We’ve touched on this connection to our culture before as we recognized the great division of Jew and Gentile in the early Church and how Paul helped navigate that cultural, and sometimes racial, issue.

Paul’s point is clear. If you died with Christ, from all earthly hindrances to faith, why are you then running back to Old Testament ceremonies to prove you belong in the kingdom of God? The believer has been freed from the constraints of the law. The moral side of the law is still used to keep us from drifting off into sin and unbelief but never as the final word and never as a way to prove our faith. The gospel enters where the law runs its course. As we studied last weekend, where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.

Likewise, we don’t take sin lightly, but we seek to uproot it in our lives when it rears its ugliness. Here’s where the action of this proposition comes in. If we died with Christ, we cast off the works of the flesh. That includes both putting our hope in the ways of the world (politics) and also dealing with sin in our lives. Verses 9 gives us an object lesson, Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices. Faith beckons us to the action of discarding what is not helpful to our faith and what would hold us away from Christ. God calls you to do this when you claim that He is your God and Savior. You can’t be passive in this pursuit.

So how does this relate to our culture and our discussions in the last couple of months? Paul would have us consider the same prospect. If we have died with Christ, are we willingly casting off what Christ tells us to discard? Are we showing the world the gospel or are we pushing works of the law upon their hearts? Are we desiring the same change that God desires for us? Are we willing to put off the things that God calls sinful? If you read further in chapter 3 you’ll see that God compiles quite a list of things He considers evil and harmful to our lives - sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed (v.5), anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language (v.7). It’s easy to hone in on one specific sin, say racism or prejudice, and point the finger at other while justifying ourselves in other areas of sin. Many have even used the filthy language God condemns to do such a thing. But God calls us to the action of considering our hearts first and putting off all forms of sin. It will be especially hard to do this with the sins that our culture accepts – things like gossiping, sexual immorality in its many forms, and hateful attitudes – but that’s what will make a change – the kind of change God wants.

We’ve seen that if we have faith in Jesus – change will result in fruits of faith. We’ve also seen that if we have died with Jesus, we will be willing to cast off harmful works of the flesh. Finally, we see that if we have been raised with Christ, we will seek those things which are above. This is the third action-oriented statement of our text.

It is within this thought that God calls us to live in the full blessings of our faith. Just as the death of Christ paid for sin and the resurrection of Christ achieved total holiness, so also we reflect those blessings by faith. Those who die with Christ die to sin. Those who are raised with Christ are raised to victory and holiness. There are several actions associated with this in our text. Paul writes, “seek” those things with are above, “think about” things above, not things on the earth, and “put on” the new man which is renewed in knowledge according to the image of God.

Each of these actions is associated with trusting in God and having our confidence come from the reality that Jesus is our Savior. This is the true vision of “things above.” But it’s hard to focus on that isn’t it? It’s hard to see the daily tragedy of the news cycle and remain optimistic in God’s power. It’s hard to feel that good change is occurring in a world where so many people live, speak, and act in wickedness. It’s hard to feel emblazoned for Christ in one’s heart when that same heart betrays the Savior every day.

But that’s exactly why God beckons us to look up – where He is. We may not always see the path or the hope with our eyes, but God is still in control. Paul describes this by reminding us that our lives are “hidden” with Christ in God. To be hidden is quite literally not to be seen – at least now. This is where faith in Jesus is tested and proven to be valuable. It’s not in the easy times. It’s not when everyone agrees with us. It’s not on the sunny days or when our plans work out. It’s not when society seems dreamy and perfect. Faith shows its mettle and value in the darkness – when the hope is hidden from these eyes. And despite that reality, faith still gives us confidence, not in our merits or efforts at stemming the tide of evil, but in the only One who can – Jesus.

And faith is a treasure in the deepest sense because it protects us from something much worse than the world, governments, or riots. It protects you from yourself. That’s another element of your life being hidden with Christ in the glory of His resurrection. You can’t see it, but it’s also completely safe and secure – even from the devising schemes of your own fallen heart.

To give someone this gift by sharing the message of Jesus is to extend the invaluable Pearl of Great Price. Faith is a treasure beyond comparison when it finds its foundation in Jesus and that will definitely change the world. So, what can we do? Let us use these times to learn the lesson that God is teaching as our heavenly Father. Struggle, injustice, terror, uncertainty are never pleasant to go through, but they burn off the spiritual fat.

We may not see every plan that God has designed – we can’t because we’re not Him. But faith in Jesus can trust every plan of God. If we have been raised with Him in this faith – let us seek the things of heaven to guide our way – not the things of the world. If we have been raised with Him in this faith, let us look to the wisdom of His Word to enlighten our hearts. In this series we’ve talked about lots of practical wisdom that we can put into action in our lives. We can center our identity on being a child of God, not of whether we’re black, white, male, or female, or some other designation. We can choose our words, even of rebuke and admonishment, with grace and truth – refraining from playing the world’s game of beating others into submission by argument and anger, but emphasizing the tender mercy of Christ. We can dispel fear by refusing the return hatred in kind, and instead living the power of forgiveness. There’s a lot we can work on to make a change – blessings hat come from God.

But the best gift is described here in childlike simplicity. We have died with Christ. We have been raised with Christ. We believe in Christ. Let us live those truths in our hearts, our words, our actions and give the same blessings to the world around us. Amen.

July 8, 2020

God So Loved the World - Part 5 | Obedience - July 5, 2020

God So Loved the World – The Call to Obedience  

Civil disobedience is an idea that is thriving in our nation today. In the last few weeks, we’ve studied and discussed some of the reasons why. People see and experience injustice. This leads to the destruction and spread of fear. Most people realize that our current state of affairs is not ideal, but groups are deeply divided on what to do about it. Within this climate, disobedience, whether prefaced by civility or not, has thrived.

As we continue by looking at these themes today, we stop to address the topic of obedience and how it applies to our world today, as well as to our faith. Somewhere along the spectrum between disobedience and obedience lies civil disobedience. What is it and what should the Christian think about it? Is it always wrong to be disobedient or are there times when God calls us to do that very thing? When and how does He do this?

The term “civil disobedience” was coined by author, Henry David Thoreau in 1848 when he penned an essay which spoke against many of the features of the government at that time. Thoreau’s premise was that there comes a point where, on moral grounds, a citizen must use their actions to speak against the government that they live under. Closely related to civil disobedience is legal protest, the main difference being that civil disobedience involves breaking the law while a protest (when it’s peaceful) does not. Examples of civil disobedience in our nation include: the Boston Tea Party, the Civil Rights movement, and the refusal to comply with military draft orders during the Vietnam War.

Today, we see many similar movements, from the Capitol Hill Organized Protest here in Seattle to the tearing down to monuments across the nation. Civil disobedience today is as divided a topic as it has ever been.

As we consider these thoughts, I direct your attention to the portion of God’s Word before us today, Romans 5:19-20:    

For just as through the disobedience of one man the many became sinners, so also through the obedience of one man the many will become righteous. 20 The law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace overflowed much more. (EHV)

We take up this study today because God emphasizes the quality of obedience, as best exemplified in Christ, and He warns against disobedience, as demonstrated by Adam’s fall into sin. The Holy Spirit led Paul to essentially summarize the entire purpose of God’s Word here, in this specific way. Of all the words used through the Scriptures for evil – sin, iniquity, trespass, transgression, wickedness, unrighteousness, filthiness, and so on – the Holy Spirit chose to use disobedience in this instance. Likewise, of all the words used throughout Scripture to describe what is good – righteousness, holiness, perfection, love, virtue, goodness, and so on – the Holy Spirit chose to use obedience here.

As we discuss the practice of civil disobedience, and the bearing that these topics have in the Christian’s life today, we would do well to heed the message here. God values obedience. God warns against disobedience. That’s about as straightforward as we can put it.

But, obviously, there’s a lot more to the discussion than just that. The knee-jerk reaction to the Christian emphasis on obedience is that it causes people to become mindless followers of wicked leaders. While there are examples throughout history where Christians have failed to act or have conformed to wicked movements, it’s not the fault of obedience as a moral and good position. Rather, those failures are due more to indifference and laziness than anything else. Christians, too, have a sinful flesh wrestling for control in their life and can easily make mistakes and support the wrong things. Anyone who wouldn’t apply such a humbling thought to their life would do well to speak softly and consider their actions and inactions.

The point is, the failure of Christians – past or present – to do the right thing does not negate the value that God places on obedience. Likewise, when the wickedness of institutions and governments causes Christians to civilly disobey the authorities, it must always be done to honor God’s truth. Far too often, civil disobedience is conducted today as a form of self-idolatry. Honoring God is often the furthest thing from peoples’ minds as they seek anarchy, rioting, and looting. These things are never acceptable for Christians to participate in or to support – either directly or indirectly.

God does not say you need to be a mindless person who follows authorities at every turn. There is wisdom and discernment to obedience by faith. But, even in the face of wrongdoing and evil, the one who is obedient by faith will still:

·       Speak with kindness and compassion

·       Point others to Jesus

·       Be honest even in disagreement

·       Do everything possible not to offend others – especially other Christians.

·       Give no indication of following or supporting false teaching.

·       Put the best construction on what others say – even one’s opponents

·       Be willing to sacrifice one’s right in order to exemplify obedience

These are hardly the attitudes we see associated with disobedience today, even civil disobedience, and Christians are called to lead the way in practicing these things.

There are never any good excuses for letting anger dominate and control a person’s ideology. Many of the violent activities conducted by protestors and mobs in the last few weeks have been apologized away as inevitable consequences for authorities failing to lead. From God’s perspective, that is an unacceptable excuse for any Christian – no matter how shamefully or wrongfully they are treated. The value of obedience, even in the face of wickedness, is always upheld by God.

Where is this truth found? Well, the passage before us today is a great example of how this topic can affect our faith. Disobedience, without a good reason as defined by God – is sinful. The basic meaning of the word in the Greek shows us even more. The idea behind the thought of disobedience is an unwillingness to listen. It’s an attitude that is associated with teaching or guidance. When it comes to sin, the refusal to listen is directed at God’s Word. This is how God characterized the sin of Adam in the very beginning and it fits. God warned Adam about the truth. God gave His righteous, unchangeable law, and Adam did not listen.

Likewise, you can look at any lesson of sin or warning in God’s Word, and there’s a connection to an unwillingness to listen. From Adam, to Cain, to Sodom and Gomorrah, to the people of Israel during the Exodus, to the people of Israel at the time of the kings, to the people of Israel under the prophets, to Choraizin, Bethsaida and Jerusalem during Jesus’ life, to the Jews and the Romans in the NT Church – every trespass has been directly connected to a refusal to listen to God’s Word.

As it pertains to our civil lives, God’s Word is also clear. Romans 13 states, “Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. 2 So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God's command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves.” Rest assured, just because a leader is put in that position by God does not mean he or she is perfect at their job. There are numerous examples of horrible and Godless authority figures. God is not telling us that He supports or condones every action these individuals commit – nor do we have to. Rather, God is telling us that respect for that position of authority, which extends to the individual in that capacity to some extent, is His will in our lives.

However, God also tells us that there are times when we “must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).” These are situations where obedience to a law, a command, or even a leader must be withheld. This is the only exception for disobedience in God’s Word, when an earthly authority figure, be they a parent, a teacher, a pastor, or a civil leader, commands us to go against God. In these cases, it’s really the authority figure that is being disobedient, because they are abusing their power. 

As Christians, we must be very careful at this point. There are usually very few situations where God calls us to civil disobedience in this way, but what we see in our culture is an infatuation with disobedience. Remember, the call to disobey authorities must always be done based on truth from God’s Word. Just because you don’t like the policy of a leader, or you didn’t vote for them, is not a God-given right to disobey them. Likewise, if you think you know better than your mom or dad, or you don’t like a pastor’s preaching style, God still expects you to respect their office as given from Him. And God says that your treatment of those in authority is parallel to how you treat Him.  

I know these are not easy things to hear. Some of you may disagree. I simply ask that you study the topic in God’s Word. It helps to think of obedience in terms of a relationship. When it comes to making decisions in our lives, from the words we speak, to the movements we promote, to the actions we commit, God wants it to be based on truth and to be done in faithfulness to His Word. From a relationship standpoint, that’s very similar to a marriage of sorts – a relationship based on commitment. What we see today is that fewer and fewer people value faithfulness, good reasoning based on truth, and commitment to God, especially as it concerns obedience. Rather than seeking to stand for what is faithful and true, people increasingly exhibit a love affair with acting out, with promoting the individual above the community, and with resisting all forms of authority. Like all relationships based on temporary infatuation, the clamor and substance of such a movement will quickly evaporate. But the enduring consequences can be deadly in more ways than one. 

We ask at this point, why does God do it this way? Why does He place so much value on obedience?  Why must Christians act in love and respect even if they are mistreated? Well, first and foremost – it’s the way of Jesus. God calls to mind the obedience of our Savior in undoing the wretchedness and wickedness that Adam’s disobedience brought into the world. It is through obedience to God’s law that Jesus fulfilled your requirement before the almighty God. It was by the humblest act of submission – death on the cross – that Jesus paid for your sins. Day by day, even now, Jesus continues to serve you in countless ways. If God incarnate was not about political revolution or civil disobedience to effect the change, are those really the avenues we should run to first when we see injustice? Scripture is clear that there is always a time and a place for Godly disobedience, but it is rare and often not needed when we are standing with Jesus.

The way of Jesus in the gospel works because God’s grace is always more abundant than the law’s demands or curse. Both elements are just. God calls out sin and evil through His law. God condemns false moral virtues and teachings with His law. But God goes beyond the law to recuse fallen and lost people with the good news of salvation. This is the best form of justice, even for those who are perpetually mistreated while on earth.

And the way of Jesus in the gospel has an unparalleled track record. Consider Jonah’s story. Who would have thought that wicked Nineveh, the capitol city of the vile Assyrian empire, would ever change its ways? Yet God’s single prophet, preaching repentance and divine justice, turned the hearts of the people and caused the king to sit in sack cloth and ashes.

Our world does not need more violence, more protests, more anarchy, more mobs, or more civil disobedience. There are more than enough peaceful platforms for people to lovingly speak their mind, but far too often disobedience is romanticized, and further destruction ensues – simply because people are have the right.

Our world needs more Jesus through His Word. Our world needs more obedience by faith. Let us be on guard, not to fall for the world’s infatuation with disobedience, but to be wise in discerning times and seasons in light of God’s truth. May the Holy Spirit help us to reflect Jesus, even in the face of injustice and especially at times when we’re wronged. Let us cling firmly by faith to God’s simple promise – where sin abounded, grace abounded much more. Amen.

God So Loved the World - Part 4 | The Two Kingdoms

God So Loved the World – The Two Kingdoms

John 17:14-19 I have given them your word. The world hated them, because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I am not asking that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the Evil One. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 “Sanctify them by the truth. Your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I also sent them into the world. 19 I sanctify myself for them, so they also may be sanctified by the truth. (EHV)

These words were spoken by Jesus the evening before His crucifixion. They are part of a prayer that Jesus spoke to God the Father. These words are directed to God on behalf of the disciples of Jesus. We think first of the 11 apostles, who were closest to the Lord. But they also apply to us – as Jesus would go on in verse 20 to speak all those who would believe through the message preached by the apostles.

We point this out at the beginning because these two facts are fundamental to how we use these words today. We must remember: these are Jesus’ words – they are perfect in every way. And, these words are directed at our lives. Therefore, the result of those two facts is that we should be able to take these words, learn from them, and apply them to our current lives.

To do that, we first establish what Jesus was talking about. There is a division in His words – a contrast between two things. The division is between the world and the followers (disciples) of Jesus. The followers of Jesus are not of the world and the world hates them. Yet, all followers of Jesus are in the world – just as Jesus was.

We know enough by basic experience to find a connection to Jesus’ thoughts. The world, despite its many treasures, is not a permanent home. When Jesus mentions the world here, He’s not just referring to the evil part of the world – but to the entire world. Good and bad, pleasure and pain – the whole world is limited. Everyone, deep down inside their hearts, longs for something better – something more fulfilling and something more lasting. The world, no matter how much pomp comes along with it – cannot satisfy this longing.

That’s not to say people won’t try. Many and vast are the ways that people try to mask the longing for something better. They try to fill it in with money, possessions, knowledge, self-fulfillment, the freedom to live as one would like, and many other things. Just about any and every option known to mankind has been offered as a substitute to fulfill the longing for something better – and nothing works.

This is one reason why Jesus offered this prayer. He wanted His followers to keep the things of the world separate from the things of God. Yet that division is not a means to an end, because followers of Jesus still live in the world and operate in the world. There is a connection between the things of God (which satisfy the longing for something better) and the things of the world (which cannot satisfy). That connection is found in the word “sanctify,” which Jesus used to describe His work on earth.

Sanctification means to set apart, or to make holy, and it’s the crossover between the world and God. In the words of our theme, sanctification is how the two kingdoms interact. One kingdom is the world, and it concerns the believer’s life on earth. Within the kingdom of the world a Christian lives as a citizen, employee, friend, and neighbor. It is the part of the Christian’s life that is “of the world.” Each of the vocations within the kingdom of the world serves a purpose and is ordained by God – as the creator and designer of all things. Yet, the kingdom of the world is limited, especially in offering the “something more” that human hearts long for.

This is where the kingdom of faith comes in – the domain where the Christian operates as a redeemed child of God by faith in Jesus. The kingdom of faith takes a physical manifestation through the church, but on its own, the kingdom of faith is an entirely spiritual thing, just as the Church itself it. It is within the kingdom of faith that the believer is “not of the world.” It is through the kingdom of faith that we find the answer for “something more.” We find that in Jesus, who can only be received and trusted by faith.

Jesus prayed about this distinction so that His followers would be led to keep it straight. Because Jesus knew the trouble that ensues when these two kingdoms are mixed. This mixture of the two kingdoms is increasingly common in our culture, and among Christians today, and it plays a major part in the societal discord we see today.

Another way to think about this is that one kingdom is secular, one is sacred. The Christian has a place in both, but in different ways. Sanctification by Jesus, which comes through His Word, is what helps us understand the connection between these two realms in our lives. The idea of two locations is already inherent within the concept of sanctification, since it literally means to be set apart from something unrighteous. There is spatial aspect to this in our minds, as the Lord describes His work as moving us from unbelief to faith, from impurity to holiness, and from death to life. This is sanctification and it must be understood properly to understand one’s role in the two kingdoms.

Another key thought in all of this is the idea of the hiddenness of God. The hiddenness of God refers to what we know, don’t know, about God. The truth is that God does not come out openly and reveal everything about Himself to us. One reason He doesn’t do this is that we couldn’t survive the experience. Holiness destroys sin. The unrighteous cannot stand in the presence of God. We could not survive with the full expression of God before us. Throughout Scripture, God never directly reveals Himself to sinners. Even the most miraculous occasions are always through means, visions, or messengers. When God came to earth, He had to house His glory in a human body, and even that was too much for some to handle. Because of this reality, God needs to “hide” Himself in certain things that we can handle.

We see His glory in creation. He embeds His law in our hearts. He communicates His love and forgiveness in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He speaks through the Bible. God also masks Himself in the people around us. Parents, leaders, teachers, and pastors are all people God uses in our lives. He is hidden in them, not in some mystical sense of inhabiting them but by using them the stand for His Word and to deliver His will. In these ways, God is hidden within both kingdoms, and that’s why He expects us to respect those who stand in His place.  

Ultimately, however, the hiddenness of God is something that we must learn to live with. Despite the many “masks” that God uses, He does not share everything about Himself with us. Even earthly authorities who stand in for God are flawed in many ways. There is much that lies in the category of the unknown. Herein is the second reason for the hiddenness of God, that the believer’s relationship with Him would be by faith and not by sight. Many people have tried to reason their way into life with God, but that’s impossible because we cannot comprehend the complexity of God – in part because of our sin, but also because God simply hasn’t told us everything about Himself. He is hidden in this sense.        

What does this have to do with Christian life in the two kingdoms? Well, Jesus prayed to keep this distinction intact, because it keeps the hiddenness of God intact. We might wonder, well why would we want this – doesn’t everyone want to know more about God? Surely that is true, but there’s no point in learning about God if it isn’t true. Consider all false teachings, what they really are within the context of our lesson are ways that people have tried to reveal more about God than He has revealed. False teachings are the manifestation of rebellion against the hiddenness of God. All believers have had to wrestle with remaining faithful to what God has revealed and not going beyond it; but trusting the means and the ways God delivers truth to us. The believer’s life in the two kingdoms is about navigating the hiddenness of God and leaving the unknown – both in earthly and spiritual matters – in God’s hands.   

Jesus is the perfect example for us in this regard, because this is exactly what He did to redeem us. Consider the prophecy from Isaiah about the suffering of Jesus when He paid for your sin:

Isaiah 53:2-3 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (ESV)

Jesus did not come with a majesty and beauty to attract the culture of His age. He was despised and rejected. As Jesus declares in our text, He underwent a personal sanctification to sanctify you in the truth. He offered up His body – which was stricken, smitten, and afflicted so that He could carry the unpaid debt of your transgressions before God’s just law. He was set apart – all by Himself – in a way that no other person could be – so that you and I might be saved eternally and have a place in heaven. Jesus didn’t need to be changed like we need to be changed, but He chose to be so that we could be saved. And it caused the world to reject Jesus, to kill on the cross the one perfect person who ever lived. If the world did such a thing to the holy Son of God, should be surprised when Jesus says our deepest longings exist outside of the world?

Yet the desire by so many today is to meld the church and the world into one. This is done most often by encouraging the Church to become more like the culture. So, instead of God’s revelation that the secular kingdom is limited in its ability to offer us hope because of the existence of sin, many people today try to use the church to correct all social wrongs, to set up utopian societies, and to teach that we can all become the real visions of morality by being better at loving one another. For those who believe such teachings, the secular becomes mixed with the sacred; the church becomes little more than a cultural institution to enforce socially acceptable behavior. This is often accomplished by shouted and preaching people down with the moral standards of the day; in essence by becoming modern day Pharisees who use intimidation and force to establish the religion of their choosing.

These methods steer away from God’s truth and discard the sacred hiddenness of God and the only way of receiving Him – by faith. God says sin is a problem we cannot overcome on our own or through the works of the law. God says that heaven is our home, not a utopian dream on earth. God says salvation comes only through Jesus Christ, not by a culturally-adjusted religion. God says that people are saved by faith alone, and that faith comes through the Word of God. Our preaching therefore, ought not to be done for the purpose of turning the church into an earthly kingdom by shouting others into social submission, but in a way that points to the works and merits of Jesus. These are all clear truths in God’s Word, and they can only be understood within the kingdom of faith. Because God has hidden truth in His Word, we can only ascertain that through the Word.   

To use the Word is to rely on God, and that will be a path beset with trials and tests. Martin Luther paraphrased this thought by saying that God only allows the most severe trials, the very kind that cause us to sit on the edge of despair, to the greatest of saints. Because through such trials, all sense of self-reliance, all hope in worldly institutions, and all attempts to re-write God’s revelation - vanish. When one is faced with such hard difficulty that he wonders where God is, only the Holy Spirit, working through the Gospel Word and Sacrament, can offer any hope. Only God can supply the “longing for something better.”

This is life in the kingdom of faith. It is difficult. There are temptations to use the world to solve our biggest problems, to live only be secular means, and especially to change the systemic problem of the sinner’s fallen heart. But only Jesus can overcome those things – and He has. And so, it was Jesus who prayed that His followers – including you – would believe and apply the distinction between the two kingdoms in their lives – to be in the world, but not of the world, and to bring change through sanctification in the Word.   

There’s always a hiddenness to God. This is why salvation is of faith and not of sight. Every “mask” of God’s authority will have its deficiencies – be it a parent, a pastor, or a president – yet our duty to them is still owed in the right way. But only God can sanctify – and He has only done that by faith in Jesus. This must be the Church we build and defend. We cannot let the kingdom of faith become a cultural institution that sways with the majority opinion. There is a deeper hope than social change. Only God can set us apart from sin and wickedness to becoming living heirs of heaven. This is the crossover from the secular to the sacred, and every redeemed soul in Jesus Christ is changed in that very way.

As we seek social, spiritual, and personal change in our nation, let us fix our eyes on Jesus and His kingdom of faith. Amen.

God So Loved the World - Part 3 - Fear | June 21, 2020

God So Loved the World - The Right Side of Fear

I saw an interesting interview a couple of weeks ago that was conducted by a church. They had an informal sit down with three of their members who are Black and talked about the events in our nation. It was eye-opening to hear their perspective, both as Black people and as Christians. One of the key thoughts all three mentioned was the pressing impact of fear on the racial tension in our nation.

I’m going to paraphrase what was said. There is fear as a Black person about being mistreated, whether it’s by another person, someone in authority such as the police, or an institution. Cutting down on that type of fear is something we’re all realizing is necessary for healing in our land. But they also spoke of how that fear spreads. We see racism grow when fears about people who are different from one another grow. We see fear as a defense mechanism when certain people and groups are targeted as “part of the problem” just because they were born with privilege or they question opinions that are different from the mainstream media. We see fear in police officers being hesitant in their duty because of repercussion in the public eye or in the media. We see protests turn into riots because fear grows like wildfire among the mob. We see government leaders striking fear into the masses with riot gear, tear gas, and force and protestors returning in like manner by hurling curses and insults, destroying property, and looting.

The Black individuals’ thought was that fear grows and spreads so easily and causes all of this destruction. It takes someone to break the cycle of fear. Of course, that means that someone has to be unjustly wronged by someone else without returning in kind. That is indeed rare today.

There is a parallel to this theme of fear when it comes to life with God. The Bible speaks of both a positive and negative fear, and both can grow when tended to in our lives. This morning, we take a look at a section that shows the clear division between both – not just to learn about our faith in God but because His teaching on fear is exactly what we need to consider to overcome the destructive fear we are witnessing today.

First, consider how God describes negative fear:

Proverbs 1:28-33 – Negative Fear

28 Then they will call to me, but I will not answer. They will look for me, but they will not find me, 29 because they hated knowledge, and they did not choose the fear of the Lord. 30 They would not accept my advice, and they despised all my warnings. 31 So they will eat the fruit of their own way,

and they will be stuffed with their own schemes. 32 Therefore the wandering ways of the gullible kill them, and the complacency of fools destroys them. 33 But whoever listens to me will live in safety.

He will be secure, without fear of evil.”

The summary of this first section is found in the final verse, “whoever listens to me will live in safety, He will be secure, without fear of evil.” God shows us the way to live without the fear that can so easily spread destruction in our lives. We see more about what He calls us to do in our second section of Proverbs. In these verses, God zeroes in on what we should not be doing. And what we see is that our safety, protection from fear, is built upon our fear of the LORD.

These verses tell us what those who disrespect the LORD do. Notice the verbs.

·       “They hated knowledge.”

·       “They did not choose the fear of the LORD.”

·       “They would not accept His advice.”

·       “They despised His warnings.”

We recognize the trend that leads to the growth of negative fear in our lives – not trusting God. To respect (fear) God and to listen to His Word are synonymous activities. They are the source and blessing of true faith. The division between negative fear and positive fear is the same division of unbeliever and believer. This doesn’t mean that as Christians we are never afraid of anything. Rather it means we are never overcome by fear. It does not dominate our lives to the point of blocking out Christ.

Through this, the LORD warns us about two specific habits that foster negative fear. The first is to be gullible. This idea is connected to foolishness and immaturity, but it’s not relegated to a certain age. A young child may show great faith by relying upon God and trusting Him, while a seasoned adult may show ignorance by forsaking God. It’s not about your age, it’s about your heart. The Hebrew thought for this immaturity is described as an open space, where a person allows any thought or belief to take up residence in his or her heart.

Our world today lauds such an attitude. Open-mindedness, tolerance, multi-culturalism. On the surface these are not bad attitudes, but applied to our faith they can be catastrophic. God’s point is that if you open your heart up to any teaching or belief, any and every moral way, something will fill it and it may not be from Him. God actually describes your heart as a battleground between Satan and Christ. There is no perfectly unbiased way – something will fill the power vacuum created in the pursuit of being open to all thoughts. And opening up one’s heart in this way invites fear to dominate one’s thinking.

The second attitude that God warns against is complacency. This is the trap of reaching a level of contentedness and comfort that you no longer heed the warnings around you. Other similar thoughts are indifference and apathy. This can happen to Christians like us who typically lead very comfortable lives. Our trust and focus and easily be directed at lifestyle, popularity, or material possessions. Our priority can easily shift from taking up our cross to honor and follow Christ to following the path of least resistance. Again, God warns that negative fear dominates this way.

With these warnings in place God now reminds us of the power of Godly Fear. Listen to His Word as we see this transition:    

Proverbs 2:1-9 – Good Fear

My son, if you accept my words, if you store up my commands within you, 2 by paying attention to wisdom with your ear, by reaching out for understanding with your heart, 3 if indeed you call out for intelligence, if you raise your voice for understanding, 4 if you search for it like silver, if you hunt for it like hidden treasure, 5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord, then you will find the knowledge of God, 6 because the Lord gives wisdom. Knowledge and understanding come from his mouth.

7 He stores up sound judgment for upright people. He is a shield for those who walk in integrity.

8 He protects those who walk on paths of justice. He guards the way of his favored ones. 9 Then you will understand righteousness, justice, and fairness—every good path.

We saw the actions associated with negative fear in the first section – things like hating God, not accepting His Word, and despising His warnings. See the contrast here. On the heels of our first section, the Holy Spirit now tells us –

·       “Accept My words.”

·       “Store up My commands.”

·       “Pay attention to wisdom.”

·       “Reach out for understanding.”

·       “Call out for intelligence.”

·       “Raise your voice for understanding.”

·       “Search and hunt for it.” “Then, you will understand the fear of the LORD.”

This is not complicated stuff. You don’t need to be a theological genius to grasp what God is teaching you about fear. And the thing about Godly fear is that it protects, but it also can grow and spread just as much as negative fear. It’s the perfect antidote to what we face today.

Another issue that has caused great fear recently is the COVID 19 pandemic. With everything going on lately, it’s easy to forget about that major threat, but it’s still here. The onset of the pandemic provided a breeding ground for negative fear, and it was the perfect situation to incubate the anger and hostility we see around us today. Imagine if an antidote or a vaccine was available tomorrow, and it was tested as completely safe and accurate. Now, that’s not realistic yet, but just imagine if that was the context of our situation. Would you get it? I think most of us would as soon as we could. Overall, it would be an amazing blessing for our world, and we pray that God will deliver such a thing in His time.

We may not have an antidote for COVID 19 right now, but we know what we would do if we did. What we have now, is the perfect antidote for fear. Fear of a virus. Fear of others who are different from us. Fear that breeds hate and an unwillingness to be compassionate to others. Fear that divides and spreads like wildfire. We have the cure right now – so why aren’t we using it?

It’s not because it’s hard – God’s advice is crystal clear and straightforward. It’s hard because although we know the way, we are imperfect at walking it. There are too many other options given to us by Satan and the world that are attractive to our fallen natures. There are too many times when we need to unduly judge that other person, or we feel compelled to get the last word of hate in an argument. It’s all too easy to blame everyone else for the problems we see, rather than taking responsibility for our contributions and bringing those mistakes before God in repentance. As simple and straightforward as the way of righteousness is – the perfect way of Godly fear – it’s even easier to our flesh to take the shortcuts that sin allows.

But even at this prospect, the fear of the LORD does not leave us helpless. Because on top of what the LORD tells us about the way of Godly fear and how we can do that, He covers us with the actions of His grace – what He has done in mercy. Consider the end of our text.

·       “The LORD gives wisdom.”

·       “From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.”

·       “He stores us proper judgment.”

·       “He is a shield.”

·       “He protects.”

·       “He guards.”

These statements and simple too, but what makes them effective and powerful is that they are from the LORD. The almighty, Triune, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, eternal God promises to be with you, to help you, and to save you from all sins. He does this through Jesus, our Redeemer.   

Proverbs 18:10 summarizes well: “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” God tells you what goes into His name and what composes His will. It’s important to pay attention to these things and listen to His Word, not only to follow Him but for your protection and for your neighbor’s protection against this destructive, negative fear. But, even when you fail – which is not an excuse of responsibility – the LORD is there with never-changing and never-ending protection. He covers you with this tower of His grace in Jesus by the fear of God – the respect of trusting faith that leans on God for every need of body and soul. 

As that Black Christian man pointed out, there is great fear in our nation today, and it’s the driving force behind the division that we see. We have the antidote in Jesus Christ – a cure far better than any man-made hope against a deadly virus or a cultural hatred and prejudice. Let us run to Jesus and find safety. Let us go to Him in repentance and be covered by His grace Let us share Jesus and dispel fear. His perfect love casts out our imperfect fear. Amen.