August 19, 2018

Pentecost 13 - Deuteronomy 30:11-20

Theme: The Christian’s Struggle With Obedience

Deuteronomy 30:11-20 "For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. 12 "It is not in heaven, that you should say,`Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' 13 "Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say,`Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' 14 "But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it. 15 "See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, 16 "in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. 17 "But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, 18 "I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess. 19 "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; 20 "that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”

These words before us come from Moses’ final address to the people of Israel. Shortly after this he would install Joshua as the new leader of the people and the one to lead them into the Promised Land. Then, after a few more statements and a song by Moses, he would ascend Mt. Nebo and die.

These words also supply the bookend to one of the central themes of Deuteronomy, and more broadly of the entire Bible. Obedience. Next to Jeremiah, Deuteronomy contains the most references to obedience in the entire Bible. Though Jeremiah has slightly more references, most of them are simple statements that the people Jeremiah ministered to did not obey his words. In contrast, almost all of the references to obedience in Deuteronomy are commands from the LORD. Therefore, Deuteronomy contains the most direct commands related to obedience, by a long shot. It’s really what the entire book focuses on – and the very last command of this nature is contained here in our text – “That you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”

This last reference also gives us another insight into obedience. In many of the other commands in Deuteronomy, the LORD connects obeying His Word to obeying His voice. This shows us how God thinks of His Word – it is parallel to His own voice. People resist keeping God’s commands. People fail at it. People struggle with it. But, you’d have to think that if God spoke directly to us we would do better. There’s just something about hearing it directly that makes more of an impact than something written down in a book. Yet, God’s point is that when we read His Word it should register in our hearts and His own voice. When the pastor preaches the Word, you should receive it as if God Himself is speaking it.

Even though we recognize God’s commands as His own voice, we undoubtedly view the commands of God a bit differently than the Old Testament believers. For them, the work of Jesus was a longing expectation. For us, it is an accomplished reality. The time and age in which a person is born in relation to the atonement of Christ has an impact on how they view and understand the laws of God. Most people recognize this difference in the way that God dealt with His people in the Old Testament. Leniency was not a common thing back then. God was strict. God gave narrow laws with harsh consequences. Today, God has allowed for a more expanded way in which in the New Testament believer can live under His law.

Yet, this doesn’t mean keeping the law is any easier. When it comes to obedience for the NT believer, there’s an inherent danger present for those who know the unconditional gospel. When you are able to see the absolute completion of Christ’s grace in action through His death and resurrection; it’s only natural to look at the law as secondary. Yet, by His gospel work Christ perfected the law – that’s how important it was for Him. Why should we then treat the commands of God any lesser, all the while using the very way that Christ accomplished the law as our excuse?   

Think of our first Scripture reading, where Paul quotes from this section of Deuteronomy. Paul’s in the middle of one of his most famous explanations of law and gospel in the Christian’s life. At the beginning of chapter 10 Paul makes the clear statement that Christ has brought an end, or completion to the law of God as a way of salvation. Yet, this by no means abolishes the law for Paul continues by showing the lifelong importance of learning, confessing, and yes, obeying God’s Word. The gospel should motivate us to want to obey the commands of God, not push us further from them.

But for us, Christians who live in the victory of Christ, there is a danger in viewing the commands of God as lesser and thereby diminishing the need to obey those laws. It’s dangerous because how you treat the Law has a direct impact on the Gospel. If you believe in a gospel that puts obedience on the back burner, instead of naturally leading you into obedience, you have believed a sad gospel indeed. 
This is precisely what we face in an age and culture of personal freedom at all costs.

The thing is, we view obedience differently than the people of Israel did, but its importance has never changed. Moses tells us: "See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, 16 "in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments.” The importance of life and death, of good and evil, never changes. Obedience always centers on these things. The difference comes from the nature of that obedience.

When the LORD commanded obedience to His Word in the Old Testament, it usually centered around preservation. Certainly, preservation of the believer’s faith in God but also preservation of the Messianic promise. God was strict with Israel because if they disregarded the truth it would affect all people for all time. In order for God to fulfill His gospel promise Israel needed to retain God’s truth – even if only in a small remnant of people, which is what actually happened.

Today, we are still focused on the preservation of our faith, but for us obedience is more a form of worship to God. We seek to obey His Word, not out of compulsion or threat, or to earn anything, but in simple thanks and praise to honor God and what He has done for us. This week at VBS we learned the simple Bible passage of 1 John 4:19 – We love Him because He first loved us. That sums up obedience in the mind of the NT believer. We seek to love God, and to obey His Word is to love Him, because He first loved us by dying for us and forgiving our sins.

In other words, the OT believer’s obedience pointed toward the gospel, whereas the NT believer’s obedience flows from the gospel. That’s not to say that OT believer’s never obeyed as worship and NT believers never obey to preserve. Both are essential in all times. But, the way that obedience is manifested is different.

More importantly though, is that whenever obedience is on the table, so also is life and morality. Moses says as much in our text. He also had to deal with situations close to our own. Most of the commands to obey in Deuteronomy are straightforward. Moses was speaking to people who knew that this was important. Today, that’s not so much the case, even for Christians. As we said before, mis-guided loyalty to the gospel can cause a Christian to diminish God’s law. 

Consider what Moses wrote in chapter 29. He warns, "and so it may not happen, when he hears the words of this curse, that he blesses himself in his heart, saying,`I shall have peace, even though I follow the dictates of my heart'-- as though the drunkard could be included with the sober. (Deu 29:19). Moses is speaking of the type of person who hears what the law says but doesn’t think it applies to them. They hear the curse, perhaps they even understand it, but they think of it nothing more than a blessing in their own heart. They think they will have peace so long as they do what they want. Moses says that kind of person is like a drunk who thinks they are sober.

Here, Moses has described the typical NT pitfall to obeying God. Even in the OT, though it may not have been as common, it was still a problem. This pitfall substitutes a blessing of peace in place of the law’s righteous curse. The individual is so numb morally that God’s warnings no longer register in their heart. In fact, their heart isn’t even led by God’s Word, it’s led by their own opinions. And so they chant, “Peace, Peace” as the law rightly curses them.  

What a stunning indictment, especially when Christians fall into this trap. When Christians take the finer points of obedience to God’s law and disregard them because of the gospel’s blessing, they are doing this very thing. The law and gospel are different, and lead to different effects, but they were never intended by God to oppose one another. When a Christian follows Christ, the law and gospel work in harmony together. To put it another way, you don’t obey God’s Word because of what you will get for it; rather because of what you’ll lose for not doing it.

Moses was not teaching righteousness by the law, even given how much he talked about God’s commands. We don’t teach that either when we still declare that obedience to God matters. It’s never been about getting something from God. It’s about not losing what God has given freely to you. When Christians have a skewed vision of the purpose of obedience, namely to earn favor with God, they will gladly blot it out with the freedom of the gospel. But, that’s an equally, if not more dangerous, trap from Satan. Because if he can get you to forsake obedience and the importance of the law, he can get you to lose your anchor of truth in God’s Word – and then not even the gospel will mean anything anymore.

As Moses says, this is not a difficult or mysterious thing. It is written all across God’s Word. Don’t obey to earn, because if you do eventually your salvation won’t mean anything. You don’t need to ascend to heaven to attain salvation – Jesus already did that for you. You don’t need to cross beyond the sea or further to achieve atonement with God – Jesus already did that for you. His Word is near you – on your lips and in your heart.

But, as a good Christian, don’t forsake obedience either just because you are free in Christ. A faithful heart does not do that. That’s not the kind of gospel that Jesus paid for with His own blood. Before you is life and death, blessing and cursing, just as it was for Moses and Israel. Heed God’s own voice to you – in justice and in love, in curse and blessing, in judgment and in peace, in obedience and forgiveness, and in law and gospel. With that, you will always have what He has given you, and you will never lose what He has gained. Amen.  

August 6, 2018

Pac NW Devotions Re-cap - The Life of David

Theme: “A Man After God’s Own Heart”

Last Sunday we looked at the account from God’s Word when His people demanded a king to rule over them. This was a major transition in Israel’s history that would stick with them all the way up to the birth of Christ. Our primary figure last weekend was Samuel, the last of God’s judges, and the one to oversee this transition. Our lesson from last weekend was a nice segue for the devotions we had at Pacific NW camp this past week, in Idaho. These devotions centered on Israel’s second, and most famous King, David, and how God described him as “a man after His own heart.”

David is unique in Scripture for many reasons. First, he is the only person to be characterized this way by God. It’s not that David was the only person who was after God’s own heart. We’ll learn today what that title means and how, through Christ, we too can be described that way. But, nevertheless, within the pages of Scripture it was quite an honor and a testament to David’s life.

David is also unique because he was a picture of Christ Himself. The technical term for this is called a “type.” What that means is that God chose David ahead of time to be a figurative picture of His own Son, Jesus Christ. When God promised that David’s kingdom would last forever, it was fulfilled in the reign of Jesus Christ over death, sin, and Satan.

Finally, for our purposes today, David is unique because we are told a lot about his life in the Bible. There is perhaps no other person who is talked about more, or in greater detail, than David. Sometimes, that’s good for his legacy, like when his famous victory over Goliath is told to generation after generation. Sometimes, it’s not so good, like when the entire world knows about David’s most personal mistakes and sins. Regardless, there is much we can learn from David’s life, because the Lord saw fit to tell us a lot. We are reminded of what Paul told the Romans, that these stories were recorded “for our learning, that by the patience and hope of the Scriptures, we would have hope (Romans 15:4).”   

For our text today, we read from one of Paul’s own sermons, where he says this of David, Acts 13:22-23 "And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, `I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.' 23 "From this man's seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior-- Jesus--.”

In Friendship

The first aspect of David’s life that we studied at camp was his strong friendship with King Saul’s son, Jonathan. What we learn about this friendship really reflects more on the faith of Jonathan than David, but it also reminds us that David certainly learned from Jonathan, who was 25 years his elder. At a time when Saul’s jealousy was threatening David’s life, Jonathan offered calm and protection. He was someone who had direct access to the king and used that influence to help David.

Jonathan risked much for David. Many people are familiar with the time that Saul tried to pin David to the wall with his spear, but few remember that on a different occasion Saul tried to kill Jonathan with his spear because Jonathan defended David. We’re also told that Jonathan conceived of the secret plan to notify David whether it was safe for him to return to normal life. While David was hiding in the field, Jonathan would shoot three arrows at a target. If the arrows were short of the target, David was safe. If they went beyond the target, David needed to flee. Regrettably, Jonathan had to fire past the target. In their final moment together, Jonathan said this to David, "Go in peace, since we have both sworn in the name of the LORD, saying,`May the LORD be between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants, forever.'" (1 Sam. 20:42)

That was the final time David and Jonathan would see each other. While David was on the run, hiding out in Philistia, Jonathan was killed in battle, along with his brothers and his father, Saul. The Bible described their friendship in this way, that Jonathan loved David as his own soul – a true testament to the second part of God’s greatest command, that we love our neighbors as ourselves – what Jesus Himself said was the essence of the entire law of God.

Jonathan and David’s friendship teaches us how David was a man after God’s own heart, not because of some quality in himself, but in how the Lord blessed him. The Lord blessed David and Jonathan with their friendship. The Lord used that friendship to aid and protect David in a trying time, a time that David described as being “one step away from death (1 Samuel 20:3).” Similarly, their friendship teaches us that God does the same in our lives. The first aspect of being a follower of God, one who lives after His heart, is recognizing that we are His own because of His blessings for us. The Lord has given us relationships in life as a gift – for our benefit. This isn’t just about your best friend. It involves: parents, teachers, pastors, mentors, role models, and so on. Don’t despise these people in your life. They are God’s blessings. They help you live as one after His own heart.    

In Trial

Our scripture reading from earlier chronicled the most remembered event in David’s life – his battle against Goliath. It’s tough to think of a bigger trial than battling a nearly ten foot giant to the death. It’s been said in similar circumstances, when someone accomplishes the seemingly impossible, that they just didn’t think of the odds or what would happen if they failed. They never consider it – perhaps as a matter of immaturity – but it can be helpful mentally to block out the negatives.

At this point for David, there’s certainly a likelihood that he just never considered the odds. His faith in the Lord was so strong that he didn’t know any better. Those who operate by logic scoff at that kind of attitude. However, we know it in Scripture by a different name – a childlike faith. Jesus tells us that our trust in Him should be like that of a child; even a child who doesn’t know better. A child doesn’t logically think through a problem and pick the most likely scenario for success. A child can’t even consider the possibilities because they just don’t know them. A child follows the one they trust.

So it was here with David before Goliath. No one logically sprints toward a foe like this, with only a sling and five small stones.

While David’s victory over Goliath was undoubtedly a sign of the Lord’s power, it also spoke just as clearly about the times that David failed in his life – times when it seemed that he faced much less threatening foes. It was a relatively peaceful time in David’s life when he was entangled with the sins of lust, adultery, dishonesty, and murder. Why did he fail in a situation that didn’t seem dangerous at all? He failed because he didn’t strengthen his defenses. He let his guard down. He stopped trusting in the Lord and chose instead to forge his own way. And because of it David experienced the greatest pain and loss that he would feel in his life.

The story of Goliath is a perpetual reminder of the very thing that David boldly confessed before the giant – “the battle is the Lord’s.” The Lord holds the day in all situations of life. He knows what you’re in right now. He knows what you’re facing. He’s seen it fit to put you in that situation. God doesn’t do this because He delights in His supreme control over you and He enjoys seeing you squirm and suffer. Rather, God is seeking to help you, to protect you, to strengthen you, as He did for David – by leading you to trust Him. As someone after God’s own heart David conquered the unconquerable. But, when he strayed from the Lord, David’s enemies toppled him without even lifting a finger. And yet, in repentance, humility, and reliance on the Lord’s grace and forgiveness David came to realize that even his lowest moments were faith-building lessons from the Lord.

For you, the reminder is the same. A person who follows God is not defined by their accomplishments, as grand as they may be. They are defined by the ability to rise up again after defeat, to lose everything in life and still find the greatest treasure through faith in Jesus.     

In Humility

Our final part deals with how David eventually became king. When you put the pieces of this story together, the way in which David assumed the throne of Israel really shows best how he was a man after God’s own heart. Take a look in your bulletin under our sermon text. I listed several of the most prominent stories about David in the Bible. Their chronological order is randomly printed. I wonder, could you rearrange them accurately? (briefly explain some of the stories).

Perhaps it’s difficult to order them perfectly from memory, but could you remember the first event? (David’s anointing).

Yes, that’s correct, the first story we have about David is when the Lord chose to anoint Him as king of Israel. Many of the rest of those stories describe the uniqueness of this – Saul was still king – chosen and anointed by the Lord as well. David was caught in this difficult conundrum. He knew he would be king. He knew the evils Saul had committed. He was on the run – even from his own nation. He had to ally himself with the very nation that would kill his friend, Jonathan. All this was going on and the Lord gave him two opportunities to take matters into his own hands. (Saul in the cave and Saul in the field).

How could anyone say that David didn’t have the right to kill Saul? David was anointed king. Saul had forsaken the Lord. David had the peoples’ favor. Saul had tried to kill David, retaliation would have just been self-defense. Yet, David himself was perhaps the only one to say no. David refused to take Saul’s life – not because Saul deserved it – but because David respected the Lord. Saul was still the Lord’s anointed king, to act against Saul would be to act against the Lord’s plan. David had to submit to the very one who created so much heartache and danger in his life in order to submit to the Lord. Yet, as painful as the consequences were, David stayed faithful, and this humility and trust were the ultimate indicators that he was a man after God’s own heart.  

As in many of the events of David’s life, it reminds us also of David’s greatest Son – Jesus. Paul writes in Philippians, In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death-- even death on a cross!  (Phi 2:5 NIV)

Jesus, likewise, submitted Himself to someone inferior, in order to submit Himself to His Father’s will. It wasn’t Saul that Jesus honored, it was you. You, who turned away from Him in sin. You, who betrayed His loyal friendship. You, who grew impatient with His Word. Jesus showed you honor and love on the cross, because it was the only way to show the highest honor and love to His Father’s plan of salvation. Jesus humiliated His righteous life in order to win back yours. And because He chose to do this greatest act of love, you like David, are one after God’s own heart. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

July 29, 2018

Pentecost 10 - 1 Samuel 8:1-10

Theme: Beware of Getting Ripped Off
1. By the cheap imitations of sinners
2. From the Lord’s wisdom and grace

Have you ever been ripped off on a big purchase item? If you have, you know the horrible feeling. Chances are, that moment on being ripped off is a constant reminder for you in future purchases. Do your homework. Check reviews. Price things out. But, no matter how prepared you are, it won’t change that sinking feeling in your gut when it comes to making the payment. The uncertainty of not knowing whether it will happen again.

Thankfully, in those moments, believers can submit themselves to the will of God. God is able to overcome any deception, but the pain still lingers. It’s also a good reminder of the fleeting nature of this world. There will always be thieves, deceivers, and con artists – perhaps even more as the years move forward. Our hopes are not in this present age.

Despite the pain and difficulty of getting ripped off, it helps when those who wronged you are brought to justice. Sometimes, in that process, they get a taste of their own medicine. Jesus once said, “All who take the sword will die by the sword.” In that statement Jesus was warning His disciples about trying to accomplish God’s will through their own means. Anyone who does that, whether resorting to combat or not, will wallow away in the futility of the world and its works. A similar thought can be given when it comes to those who rip off others. There usually comes a day when they receive the same treatment in kind.

Consider such a story from a year ago in California. A con artist set up a real estate rental business and posted several properties online. He would lower the prices to the point that desperate buyers couldn’t resist, then he would set up meetings with them to make a security deposit to hold the property. Once the prospective tenants actually looked at the property in person and realized it was a vacant lot or a foreclosed home, it was too late. Those who returned to the place of business would find it empty of everything – no trace of the thieves.

When the mastermind behind the project was finally caught last year, it was estimated that he had conned over 1,000 people. But, once he was finally caught, the rip off artist received what he had coming. Not only did he have to pay restitutions to each of the victims, he was banned from ever working in any real estate field for the rest of his life. He who once ripped others off, now had his career ripped from him. As satisfying as catching and bringing that thief to justice must have been for the victims, it could never fully replace all they had lost.

Similarly, we have lost much in our lives because of our sins. But there are differences in our case. For one, no one stole righteousness from us; rather we willing gave it up. But, second, there is One who can restore all we have lost and even more. God, in His Son, Jesus, has brought us back to even by paying the penalty we incurred over our outstanding debts before God’s law. But, that same Jesus has also supplied the righteousness needed to be in God’s presence in heaven forever. Now, He beckons to us through His Word – don’t be ripped off, because by losing this precious gift of grace you also are stripped of your life with God. We read a lesson that teaches us the same from the Old Testament, an example from the life of Samuel recorded by inspiration of the Holy Spirit for your benefit and blessing today:   

1 Samuel 8:1-10 Now it came to pass when Samuel was old that he made his sons judges over Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice. 4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5 and said to him, "Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations." 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, "Give us a king to judge us." So Samuel prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD said to Samuel, "Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. 8 "According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day-- with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods-- so they are doing to you also. 9 "Now therefore, heed their voice. However, you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them." 10 So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who asked him for a king.

This story, in many ways, is about failure. Samuel failed by raising evil sons. As with any matter of parenting the blame here did not rest entirely on Samuel’s shoulders. But, he obviously shared in the fault to some extent. Samuel had a unique situation because he had been able to observe Eli growing up and was able to witness how Eli struggled in the very same way with his sons. Eli was a priest, Samuel was a judge – yet both raised wicked sons that turned away from the Lord. It’s a humble reminder that parents have a tremendous impact on their children, not just in how their children act but how their children will lead as parents.

Samuel, himself, could have learned from a previous Judge who had face a similar situation. Shortly after Gideon defeated the Midianites with his band of 300 warriors the people of Israel implored him saying, "Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian." Gideon had an opportunity to establish a family dynasty in Israel. But, his reply revealed his trust in the LORD’s plan. Gideon said, "I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you." (Judges 8:22-23). It wasn’t wrong for Samuel to want his sons to follow in the office of judgeship. What was wrong was to force it into being without considering the LORD’s will. Now, both Samuel and the people of Israel would suffer because of it.    

Obviously, then, Samuel’s sons failed too. Certainly, there were many virtuous things that Samuel had taught them as a faithful judge of the Lord. Joel and Abijah failed to heed their father’s Godly example. They chose to be wicked. Our theme of getting ripped off comes from what the Scriptures says about Samuel’s sons. They were using their status in the nation to purge the common people – all because of their greed. They knew what the LORD demanded of their high office yet they chose to turn from Him.

And finally, in our text, the people of Israel failed. They rejected the LORD’s plan for their nation and chose to follow the model practiced by foreign nations. As in any matter of faithlessness, the people couldn’t completely reject God’s work in their lives. It is true that He remained with them as He allowed them to be ruled by a king. God would still be active in their nation, by choosing their kings and anointing them. But, a clear message had been sent by the people. They wanted to walk their own path. They wanted to choose how they would be led. They didn’t want to trust God’s office of the Judges. This rejection was a serious thing as the LORD compared it to the lessons learned during the Exodus. Once again, the people were reverting to the same ways of practicing their faith – by only calling on the LORD in trouble and no heeding His Word during good times.

These examples in our text are lessons for our lives. There are many ways, some even the very same as the people in this story, that we can turn from the LORD. It’s easy and logical to think that God isn’t involved in our lives. When bad things heap up, one after another, it’s not hard to doubt that God is working all things for our good. There are simply too many choice opportunities to weaken our trust in God because of the bad things that happen around us. This is especially true when we confront our mistakes head on. What areas of your life might you be like Samuel – where though you had good intentions to follow the Lord you nevertheless strayed from Him? In those moments it’s easy to keep on moving forward without trying to change anything. By convincing yourself that your sins aren’t all that bad or that other people are even worse than you are. Heed the first and most simple lesson of our text, trusting in cheap imitations will only lead to getting ripped off. That’s the situation when it comes to facing down the problem of sin – you can go your own way or you can submit to God’s.

Part 2

While this text does have a lot to say about failure – there is also a glimmer of hope. While we see the ways that Samuel, his sons, and the people made mistakes, we also see why God’s story of salvation did not extinguish here. Likewise, in our lives, it’s important to remember that there’s nothing we can do to undo God’s finished work of salvation. The warning alarm that God sounds throughout His Word is absolutely true enough – life with God can be spurned and rejected. But, despair has no home in a Christian’s heart because the glimmer of hope, born from and won by the merits of Jesus, is always present for each person.   

We see two examples of that hope in our text – both from Samuel. Despite being a sinner, he was still faithful to the LORD. You can follow that same path. You won’t be able to avoid your sin – it’s actually quite dangerous to try so. But, God is gracious and powerful enough to still allow you to be His child, even when you fall into sin. The first way we see that with Samuel was how he displayed his hope moving forward. Even though we read that Samuel was displeased with the peoples’ request for a king, his next move was to consult the LORD in prayer. As a leader, Samuel probably had the power to just ignore the people and stick with his own plan of having his sons succeed him. A great temptation must have been present to do this. By rejecting the office of the judges, the people were rejecting Samuel as well as his family. All he had done for them, all he had patiently endured for them – he was being told that it wasn’t good enough. But, Samuel put himself aside for the moment and listened – first to the LORD and then to the people.

Listening is such a simple thing – it often doesn’t take any effort at all. Yet, because of our own cares, desires, and the distractions of the world, listening has become a monumental task for people. But, what a profound difference we see once Samuel listens, and continues to listen. Instead of compounding the original failure to make it worse, it ends at this point. So, also, the same is true in your life. If you’re confronted with the painful consequences of your sin, and who isn’t, you can also listen to the LORD, and to the people He was put in your life, for help. God designed His Word to you with that express purpose in mind. He speaks life and forgiveness to you through it. He reassures you of a second, third, fourth, and beyond opportunities to be renewed by Jesus. Remember when Peter tested the Lord on this matter – how often should I forgive my brother? Yes, seven was a lot for a sinner to give to a sinner. But, the Lord said even more – 70 times 7. When you listen, the Holy Spirit brings that to your heart so that you may once again hear, know, believe, and trust it.

Once Samuel listened, we see the natural progression to the next glimmer of hope. Samuel spoke. We’re told in the last verse that Samuel told ALL of the LORD’s words to the people. Just like any moment of speaking the truth, this was not an easy thing. Sure, the people got what they wanted. But, it would come with some harsh realities – realities that would play out for generations to come, even up to the birth of the Messiah. Simply put, the people would get ripped off by many wicked kings. They would be taxed. Their lands and their children taken from them. They would have to swallow the bitter pill of total subservience. There would be much pain and suffering for their children and their children’s children because of their choice. And sadly, even more seriously, many would be ripped off from the LORD by being led into the same blasphemies and idolatry as their kings.    

But, Samuel didn’t hesitate and he told them ALL that the LORD had said. Yet another humble reminder that God’s will is done – even by the sinners that He calls to speak. When a person is led by faith they can do this incredible thing.

So, do you enjoy that feeling when justice is served? It’s hard not to appreciate the irony of a rip off getting ripped off. Heed the lesson in your life. When it comes to your faith and your salvation, don’t fall for the cheap imitations offered by mankind. Some are simple. Some are complicated. All are very personal. It can happy as easily as talking big as a Christian yet failing to listen to God’s Word. Heed the warning so you aren’t cut off from God’s wisdom and grace in Christ! But, heed also, and more importantly, because by that same wisdom and grace of Christ God promises that He will always renew and forgive you. Amen.

July 23, 2018

Pentecost 9 - Matthew 5:33-37

Theme: Words Still Matter

Words still matter. I’ve heard that phrase more and more recently. From hearings before Senate committees to seminars on race relations in America to reports at the CLC convention, people are saying that words still matter. I agree too. However, even though that saying alone is not divisive in our culture, the use of words has probably never been at a more sensitive level before in the world’s history. We’ve arrived at this strange intersection where people talk as much as they can to get attention and gain notoriety but often at the expense of their credibility and often their public image.

As soon as a person becomes famous, there’s someone opposed to them at work trying to dig up something they said in order to discredit their name. It really makes a person wonder if words do still matter when they are stripped of their context, or deliberately misrepresented, or dragged out into the open after 20 years. While we may agree on the importance of words, it’s really how words are used that separates us into different camps of belief.

Words are a powerful tool because they can communicate. Winston Churchill, who was Prime Minister of Great Britain during WWII, never lifted a weapon in combat but swayed the balance of power in what he said and wrote. Former US President John F. Kennedy famously said of Churchill that he mobilized the English language and sent it into battle. But, words are also powerful for destruction as well – which is why they are so often used to tear down a person’s credibility. In his letter, the Apostle James likens the human tongue to a deadly fire, a lethal poison, and an untamable beast. 

Sometimes, however, the weapon is turned inward. A person’s own words often become their worst enemy. I recently saw a documentary on a college football team in which the coach, a supposedly self-proclaimed Christian, would regularly curse out his players and take the Lord’s name in vain in one breath while exhorting them to lock hands in prayer to Jesus in the next breath. Makes me think of another portion of Scripture, again from James, where the Spirit tells us that both blessing and cursing ought not to be present in a Christian’s words. For me, that college coach lost credibility as a Christian because of how he chose to use his words.

We could say the same thing about any action that the Lord has called sinful – and we are all just as guilty at hypocritical attitudes and lifestyles as the next person. For our sins and faults we confess repentance to the Lord. But, it’s words in particular that our attention is directed at today because Jesus addresses that topic in our text, as we read from Matthew 5:33-37:

Matthew 5:33-37 "Again you have heard that it was said to those of old,`You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.' 34 "But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; 35 "nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 "Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 "But let your`Yes' be`Yes,' and your`No,'`No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.

God has done something that many would call: counter-productive, foolish, and even downright stupid. He has entrusted His Word to believers. That means God has given us the opportunity, and even the command, to speak on His behalf. God has staked His reputation, at least how it is portrayed, on the words of sinful people. Think about this for a moment and consider the weight of that responsibility. We have a direct impact on how other people think about God. Each time we use the Scriptures we are taking God’s perfect message and relaying it to people whom God shed His own blood to redeem. This is an awesome undertaking and not to be lightly considered.

Yet, we don’t have to be timid or afraid either. God promises to bless our fallible endeavors. God reassures us that He is working through our words – even for our own blessing. And God shows us the right way in His Word. Our section today from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount is one of those places where God teaches us about how we should use words. 

Jesus spoke these things first of all to a specific audience. It was no strange thing for God to warn His people about careless swearing or lying. There are several instances in the Old Testament when God speaks about that very thing. One of the Ten Commandments specifically addresses the use of God’s name. Another commandment specifically addresses how a person speaks to another person. These were not new things for the people.

However, during that time the Jewish people had developed a custom where if they didn’t swear by God’s name, they didn’t have to take that oath as serious. Hence, Jesus addresses swearing by heaven, earth, Jerusalem, and even the people. In fact, in Jewish culture it was considered highly offensive to even speak the name of God – let alone swear by it. This practice is still in place today among orthodox Jews. Jesus condemns this false practicing by revealing it as the shallow formality that it was. Jesus taught that swearing was swearing. It didn’t matter if you used God’s name or if you used something else – because all things are connected to God.

More importantly, however, God gave us words to use with clarity. Deliberately promising something, even under oath, with the pre-conceived idea to go back on your word, was lying and an act of deception. In fact, as with all sin, it could traced back even to the work of Satan, whom John tells us is the “father of all lies (John 8:44).” Rather than being deceptive with our words, Jesus simply says, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” Be clear, deliberate, and honest with your words, because words still matter.   

In a way, words serve as a gateway to the heart. When the Jewish people were deceptive with their promises – thinking they could go back on them if they swore by some lesser thing – what they really showed was a lack of faith in God. The person or thing that you promise something by is really the person or thing that you trust. The same is true for how we use God’s name today. God warns us about swearing in a casual way or falsely by His name because to make a promise in God’s name is really to confess trust that He can bring it to pass. God says – don’t do that if you haven’t thought it through. If it’s a matter that really doesn’t need God’s promise or blessing – don’t swear by His name. If you don’t intend to keep your word – don’t swear by His name.

People today still care about words. Betrayal and lying are still considered wicked acts. What has changed though is how people use God’s name. The world agrees with Jesus when He says, “let your yes be yes and your no be no.” However, respect and trust in God is often not existent in how a person uses their words. This is especially important for a Christian’s life – for by faith they have literally taken God’s name as their own. To be a believer is to be identified as God’s own and, as we mentioned earlier, to have the burden and privilege to use His name before others. But, sadly, being a Christian doesn’t mean we always use God’s name as we should.

Even Christians have used God’s name is lesser, even derogatory ways. In moments of panic and shock using God’s name as a mere expression. In moments of careless thought and immaturity calling upon God’s name to make a foolish promise. Anyone on social media has surely seen the modern expression OMG so much that it’s meaning barely registers on the conscience, becoming more of an accepted literary saying rather than a blatantly offensive use of God’s name and a complete misrepresentation of true Christian morals. 

How precious is the name of our God? Consider what Peter said, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved." Whenever you use God’s name – either for your own faith or as a witness to others – salvation is at play. If you’re careless with God’s name or use it in a foolish, immature way – you are treating eternal salvation in the same way.

Jesus lesson is extremely important for our lives. Be clear in what you say and be careful. Instead of trying to be externally pure when your heart is corrupt, just let your yes be yes and your no be no. Be a person of reputable character, who doesn’t have to swear constantly to get their point across, but will be trusted by others with a simple yes or no.

But also remember, especially for those moments when your words are poor, that what you say is always connected to God. As a believer God has taken you as His own by faith. You are His representative and the best way to represent what you believe is by what you say. But above all – God is connected to you. It was by His oath, a covenant sealed with Jesus’ own blood, that God promised eternal life to you. It’s the written history of this covenant, recorded over thousands of years, that provides daily hope and renewal for your life and gives you the foundation to share Christ with others.

Each word you speak as a Christian, and even each breath you take, are reminders of your connection with God – based on His Word to you; God’s yes and God’s no. God says no, I will not overlook sin. God says no, you cannot earn your own salvation. God says no, other so-called paths to heaven are false. God has many no’s in His Word – they too are promises that are backed by action. But God also says yes, you are forgiven in Jesus. God says yes, you can have hope that you are sinless and spotless by faith. God says yes, believe you will live eternally after you die.

God promise is not a hyperbolic oath. He’s not just saying something to look good on the outside without intending to fulfill what He promises. God was not careless in what He chose to promise to you. His yes is yes and His no is no – His Words still matter.

Likewise, it is to that very end that Jesus calls us by faith for our Christian lives. There is much at stake. The healthiness of our individual trust in Christ. The faith of others as we speak on God’s behalf. The direction and state of the congregation that God has entrusted to us in our corner of the world. Many things are at stake – but most important of all the certainty of Christ as our Lord and Savior. The words of salvation still matter most important of all. May we be proper servants of that Word as we seek to let God’s yes and no be our yes and no – through the clarity that only the Holy Spirit can give. To His glory, Amen.

July 16, 2018

Pentecost 8 - Mark 7:14-23

Cleanliness Matters
1. We are defiled from within
2. We are cleansed from the Lord

Mark 7:14-23 When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, "Hear Me, everyone, and understand: 15 "There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. 16 "If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!" 17 When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. 18 So He said to them, "Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, 19 "because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?" 20 And He said, "What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. 21 "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 "thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 "All these evil things come from within and defile a man."

What is your “second rule”? I’m speaking about food consumption here. How long, once something hits the floor or some other surface, until your food is contaminated? We all have different standards. For some, it’s a two-second rule, or three-second. For those with high functioning immune systems, maybe it’s a ten-second rule. For others, the only rule is that the food can’t touch anything.

Location makes a difference too. There’s a big difference between a freshly wiped kitchen table and a public restroom floor. There’s a big difference between the napkin resting on your lap and a living room rug. We could hardly make any surface 100% clean – everything has germs. But, location is still important. Since Lukas has started eating solid food, we’ve had to be quite careful in this regard – because he has no rules. He will eat just about anything off of any surface. Any when you’re taking a trip, locations change. Over the course of our trip Lukas took a liking to stuffing food items in his car seat for snacking on later. That’s pretty disgusting but not nearly as bad as crawling under the kitchen table at Gretchen’s parents, the very stomping place of everyone’s feet as well as the family dog, and cleaning up the remnants of supper – another favorite activity of our dear Lukas.

Now that our culture knows a lot about contamination and germs, cleanliness in eating habits matters. It’s strange in a way to hear what Jesus says in our text because we know for a fact that what you put into your body will affect it. Yet, Jesus is not talking about germs or food-related illnesses. He’s talking about spiritual defilement. That was the theme of this conversation because the Pharisees who were claiming that Jesus’ disciples were ceremonially unclean. There’s much to worry about when it comes to physical hygiene in your diet, but much more concerning your soul!

In the Old Testament God laid down very strict laws governing the dietary habits of His people. One of the central components to those laws was washing both themselves, and their food, with clean water. Logically, we understand the reason for this and God was thinking about this too. He wanted to preserve the health of His people. He issued these laws as safeguards against disease and illness. Yet, just like Jesus’ statement, there was more going on than just the physical. We know that no matter how much you wash something, you can’t make it perfectly clean. There’s always a certain amount of risk involved in eating because whatever it is could make you sick.

More importantly, God looks at how we treat our souls. The food requirements in the Old Testament were also reminders of cleanliness from sin. Forgiveness, too, is a washing; a washing, as Peter describes, that is “not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1Pe 3:21).” Peter was speaking specifically of baptism – one of the sin-cleansing tools that God has given us through His Word. Jesus, though He doesn’t mention baptism in our text, is looking at the same thing because He’s answering an accusation from the Pharisees about the same thing. How is my soul cleansed? The lesson is – not from something within me, but from something given by God.

Before Jesus could get to this point, He had to start at the beginning – by addressing what makes a person spiritually unclean in the first place. The Pharisees were bold enough to assert that not washing one’s hands before a meal would make them spiritually unclean, and they thought they were on solid footing with this theory because it went back to God’s laws in the Old Testament. There were two problems with their thinking however. First, they divorced God’s law from the intended purpose, namely to lead God’s people to Christ. And second, they added elements to God’s law that were never really there.    

Christ’s message in our text helps us see the intended purpose of those Old Testament laws. Logically, there was a need, but there was even more than that – for nothing that enters a person can defile them, as Jesus teaches. Much more dangerous is what comes out of the sinful heart, things in the list at the end of our text: evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 "thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.”

The Pharisees were ignoring these ailments of the heart and focusing only on externals. With the use of a modern colloquialism we could say they were making “mountains out of molehills.” While there certainly was value in washing one’s hands before a meal, as there is today, it makes no sense to focus only on that at the expense of recognizing sinful pride, wickedness, evil thoughts, and the like. But, this is the very tactic that is employed by people who seek to justify themselves. They can only succeed in the lesser externals of life, like hand washing rules, so that is what they focus on. The Pharisees knew that they weren’t perfect people. They were aware of the deep secrets of their own hearts, as all people are. They knew they suffered from the things mentioned by Jesus. But, they ignored it because they deemed that if they were good enough at following their own rules, none of their other problems would matter in the end. How wrong they were and how many people they led astray. As Jesus admonished them earlier in the chapter, they were leading others away from God by “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men (Mark 7:7).” By doing this, the Pharisees missed the entire purpose of the Old Testament law – to lead sinners to Christ. The Old Testament washing laws were meant first and foremost as symbols of the need that sinners have to be cleansed by Jesus. Anytime a person forgets or misplaces this greater spiritual purpose of the law, in place of the lesser physical purpose, they set themselves up for self-righteousness.

But, the Pharisees also had another problem, they added elements to God’s law that were never there. If you read the actual laws from Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers about ceremonial washing, almost all references are directed at the priests. The priests, as God’s holy representatives, were required to wash regularly. There were times when God directed the people to wash themselves, but only in specific circumstances where they had done something else to become unclean in His eyes. The Pharisees stretched these very specific circumstances to include things like washing your hands before mealtime. What they did was a complete mishandling of God’s Word.

It’s easy to pinpoint these problems with the Pharisees. What we really need to recognize, however, is that it’s just as easy for us to treat God’s commands in these ways. It’s easy to make the law of God our own thing, by divorcing it from the greatest meaning of leading people to repentance in Christ. We, much like the Pharisees, will never fully understand God’s law if we don’t see it in its relationship to the work of our Savior. Many people today tempt us to cut corners on the more unpopular, or some might say less culturally relevant laws from God. If we walk down that path we might fit in better in our world, but the Word of God will become our own malleable tool. God’s direction for our lives is to follow and listen to the unchanging standard of His Word – whether that’s easy or hard. The Word is not ours to bend or change as we see fit – that attitude will only bring pain for our lives and hurt for others who use our Christians example and teaching as a model to follow.

The whole reason why we don’t have to treat God’s commands like this is because they are connected to Christ. All the commandments have found their completion in His work on the cross. Whatever requirement we come face to face with we know that Christ has redeemed us from the well-deserved curse that we bring upon ourselves. We don’t have to hide from the law. We don’t have to make it easier to digest to our society. We don’t have to shamefully curtail its full force and effect. Because we have Jesus. To do any of those former things to God’s holy Word is also to dishonor our Lord and Savior who obeyed the law, even to His own death, for us. 

Let us also be aware, too, of the second pit of the Pharisees – making the commands of God broader than they are. There’s really only one reason to do this – it’s about control. It’s easier to control people when you can bind them down with extra laws. It’s easier to keep them in line with your thinking. It’s easier to keep them from practicing their faith in a way that you might not. Control over one another gives a false sense of unity when really it debilitates a person’s trust in Jesus.  

How does this manifest itself in our lives? Well, key in on the same word that Jesus uses in His rebuke – tradition. In verse 9 He said, "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. (Mar 7:9 NKJ). Tradition. It’s tradition that can make a person defiled in their heart without even knowing it. Tradition itself isn’t bad. Customs in the church and in our faith-lives have their proper place. But, when they become equal to or more important to God’s Word, tradition defiles the heart. Do you like worshipping on Sunday? Do you like to come with family and because of the fellowship of brothers and sisters in the faith? Do you like to dress up in respect to the Lord? Do you appreciate the rich heritage of our hymnody and liturgy? These are all excellent traditions – but still traditions. If they ever become the main reason we come to God’s house, or our primary identity as a Christian – you have a problem; making the traditions of men more important than the Word of God. It’s a trap of broadening your scope of God’s law in order to make yourself feel more confident in your faith or in limiting the faith of others to converge with your own opinions. Traditions can be tools that help people understand and learn God’s Word. If traditions end up blocking the Word, they should be jettisoned.

There are several factors that determine cleanliness in life – especially dietary cleanliness. What you’re comfortable with may be different from someone else. But, our diets are a lot like our souls – no matter how thorough or good we are, we can’t be perfect. There will always be contamination –both of germs and of sin. Help is not found in making new rules or in changing God’s rules. Help is found in Jesus – the only one who can offer complete 100% cleansing from sin. Anything that gets in the way of faith in Jesus can defile a person’s heart, even if it appears to be helpful on the surface. Likewise, with Jesus as our strengthen and support, nothing can defile us before God. No danger is too great, no sin devastating enough to destroy forgiveness in Christ for a repentant sinner. Thanks be to our great God and Savior, who came to us in our defiled condition, and washed our lives clean in His righteous blood. Amen.

June 16, 2018

Confirmation 2018 - Psalm 130

Theme: Confirmation is a realistic vision of Faith
1. Faced with questions, we need realistic answers. 
2. Faced with fears, we need realistic hope.

Psalm 130:1-8 Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD; 2 Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive To the voice of my supplications. 3 If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But there is forgiveness with You, That You may be feared. 5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, And in His word I do hope. 6 My soul waits for the Lord More than those who watch for the morning-- Yes, more than those who watch for the morning. 7 O Israel, hope in the LORD; For with the LORD there is mercy, And with Him is abundant redemption. 8 And He shall redeem Israel From all his iniquities.

It's been my custom to take the catechism students (from school) out for lunch during the last week of school. This past week as we sat down to enjoy our food we got to playing the game 20 questions. I’m sure you’ve played it or heard of it before. Someone thinks of something – for our game we limited it to a person, place, or thing and the rest of the group gets 20 yes or no questions to try and find out what the person is thinking about.

As we were playing, one question that was often asked, once it became clear that the mystery involved a “thing,” was if the thing was a “concrete” thing. What was meant by this question was essentially whether the thing was real or if it was just imaginary. Could it be seen? Could it be touched. Some might ask if it was tangible. Or was it an idea? Just a thought? Or something abstract?

That kind of question is common in more than just the 20 questions game. It actually comes up a lot in matters of religion and faith, too. I’m sure you’ve heard its variations before. They are posed like this: “Is belief in Jesus actually a real thing or is it just a nice idea?” It applies to the source of our faith as well, “Is the Bible accurate or is it a myth?” And, it applies to the effect of our faith too, “Does faith in Jesus actually change my life or does it just convince me in my own head about something I want to believe?” Each of these questions focuses on the real vs. the merely perceived to be real; between something that is actually true vs. something that is just an idea.

Today, as we consider the Confirmation vows that Ben and Ellie have just publicly declared, we see how vital Confirmation is to our faith. While this particular church custom is just that – a custom, the practice of confessing God’s truth, both publicly and personally, is a requirement from God. Jesus Himself taught, Matthew 10:32-33 "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 "But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.

Confirmation is necessary in this way because we are confessing realities. Reality is important because we are faced with questions that need answers and we need hope in place of the many fears of life. But, another reality that governs this whole thing is that standing for the truth – making that confession is not easy. Being realistic about our faith means coming to grips with our greatest need. Being realistic means fighting against the temptations and persuasions of the world and also the leanings of our own sinful natures.

The psalm before us mirrors life because it doesn’t curtail these realities. There’s something unique about this Psalm that shows its transparent treatment of reality as well. It is the only Psalm in the Bible to be in two special categories – the Songs of Ascent and the Penitential Psalms. The songs of ascent were Old Testament hymns that traveling pilgrims sang on their way to the Temple in the Jerusalem. They were considered rising, or ascending songs, both because of the geographical proximity of Jerusalem and also because of the anticipation of worshipping God. However, this is also a Penitential Psalm, meaning it looks at the stark and harsh reality of sin. The penitential psalms are unique, often considered somber, because they don’t hold back on describing the nature of sin and its effect in our lives.

This unique status of Psalm 130 comes out in the very first verse, the very first word actually. “Out of the depths…” sets the tone for the rest of the Psalm. Here is where we plunge into reality. And like so many realities in this sinful world, it begins with the unpleasant. You see the Psalm’s nature here too. There is both an ascent, for we can go no lower than sin, but also a humble reminder of how serious our sin is and how helpless we are against it. Faced with the reality of sin from the start, the psalmist, and we readers, need something more than what we can offer. Like being trapped in an actual pit, we can’t dig ourselves out on our own. Sadly, that’s the relief most often given by many people, even Christians, today.  

Some think in this way. They reason that if sin is a real, think concrete, problem; it must require a real solution. So, they turn to what they do for help. Be a good person, they say, and God will be good to you. This thinking doesn’t help us get out of the pit of sin. Others look more to the spiritual side of things. They reason that even though sin manifest itself in physical ways it is ultimately a spiritual problem, and therefore requires a spiritual solution. So, the method proposed to get out of the pit is to overcome it mentally. Associate with things that make you feel better. Value the Christian faith only in so far as it makes you feel better about yourself. This thinking doesn’t help us either.

While there are certain truths to each way that the world sees this problem, neither method offers real hope. Sin is both a physical and spiritual problem, but not one we can overcome on our own. When faced with uncertainties, questions, and even our own feelings that would betray Christ, we need realistic answers. Here is where Confirmation and confession of faith comes in. They are tools designed to base us in reality. There was a time for you, and for Ben and Ellie, when spiritual dangers were overcome by simple answers. Think of the little child who answers “Jesus” to every question. How can you argue with that? Even the Bible says that Jesus is the “yes” to every question we face. However, God also teaches that we should grow in our faith. We should strive for spiritual maturity.

Even Jesus taught that those who truly follow Him heed His Word and seek to grow in it. God gives us this path because He knows what we will face as we grow older. Life gets more complicated. You take on greater responsibilities – even being put in charge of other peoples’ lives when you start a family. The dangers to your faith grow too. As you increase in knowledge in other fields of study, the arguments and criticisms of God and His Word will increase as well. You need protection and God offers that in His Word. Catechism instruction through that Word is about living in reality. You need more than your feelings in life. Even the best of feelings are often very shallow and they often leave just as quickly as they came. For Ben and Ellie today, I’m sure you feel pretty good about your faith. As you finish you Catechism instruction and move forward into mature faith by taking their Confirmation vows, we certainly hope you don’t feel like you are in the pit. But, feelings can change quite quickly. If your faith in based in feelings, it will change too.

God offers you a realistic vision of faith that is based on truth from His Word. It’s not easy to learn that truth – it is a lifetime work – but it is priceless in its value for your life because it will offer you steady ground – and a way out when you are caught in the pit of sin.
Notice how the Psalmist speaks to the Lord. He speaks with action words – cry, stand, fear, wait, hope, and watch. His faith is about more than just how he feels. It’s about action before the Lord – we might say, concrete activities. These are things based in reality, not just abstract thought. Notice, also, how the Lord responds – hear, mark, and redeem. The Lord takes realistic action as well when we are in need. He will mark our sins and not let us off the hook for the dangers we create for our lives. But, He’s constantly present to redeem us from sin also. He offers real hope for deliverance no matter what kind of pit we find ourselves in.

These action words could be considered the “verbs of faith.” They describe how a believer and God interact. And each verb is connected with something definite and real. We cry to God. He marks sin. We wait and hope in God’s Word. The Lord redeems us from our iniquities. Dear friends, this is reality. The world wants to say our faith is just wishful thinking – cultural and familial conditioning at its best and nothing more. In essence, they claim that God’s Word and promises in Christ are not real. Sometimes, we feel the same way too. We don’t feel like God loves us. We don’t feel like its possible that His Word could be trusted. We don’t feel like we can be certain about anything involving God.

Yet, today is Confirmation Sunday. Literally, the confirming Sunday. At some point we have to come to grips with whether this is real or not. We are dealing with God. We are dealing with the divine. We are working with things that are unknown to humans. Yet, we are claiming to be firm in our beliefs. We are making a confession. Is this real or is this just a wish? One’s answer to that question has a lot to say about their faith. Sadly, ours is a world where many followers of Jesus have capitulated on this division. Under the guise of uplifting feelings and social acceptance they have deteriorated their solid foundation on God’s Word. That’s not living in reality. 

This is a message to you all, not just to Ellie and Ben. No matter how “confirmed” you are in your faith, the struggles that accompany it will always be present. Until you get to heaven, you will never escape the fact that you have to approach God as a sinful human – and that’s tough. Just because it’s tough or miraculous doesn’t mean it’s unrealistic. Reality means what is actually happening. In reality, you are communing with an almighty, righteous, and divine God as a mortal, unrighteous, and fallible person. That’s tough, but not impossible. You can be with God and you can be confident in God.

The confidence of your faith is expressed in this psalm with the word “hope.” Having started in the pit, the Psalmist describes hope as the place of refuge that he seeks. He wants to be able to hope in the LORD, because with the LORD he has mercy and abundant redemption. Hope is the place of confidence but it’s also the process. You may not see it from the English, but the Hebrew words for hope and wait (another theme in this psalm) essentially mean the same thing.

Waiting or hoping by faith – this place of security for the Psalmist – is what it means to follow and trust Christ. It is the very same thing each Christian commits to when they are confirmed. Waiting and hoping contain both elements of expectancy but also the unknown. How apt a description of our dealing with God. We trust in Him. We publicly confess His truth. We rely completely on His will and grace – all as realities. Yet, these very blessings seem so far away because of our sin. Each step forward in confidence in Christ is also a step into the unknown as far as we are concerned. But, hope is waiting and waiting is hope.

This thought is best captured in verse 5, the centerpiece of the Psalm. This one verse encapsulates what confirmation and faith in Jesus is all about: I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, And in His word I do hope. To wait is to hope. But, to hope and wait in the LORD is to hope and wait in His Word. More than a feeling. More than fears. More powerful than temptations or persecutions. Yet, entirely dependent on Jesus Christ. This is the reality. This is why we commit and confess – because we know these truths to be real through Jesus. We are confident in Him even though by doing so we are also in the unknown from our own understanding.  

At times, there are more inspiring messages than God’s Word. People will tell you things in life that will make you feel better, or that will be more attractive or attention grabbing. As you grow and mature in your faith, you will receive greater tests. The pressure of conforming with the world will grow as well. But no matter where you are in life, your faith in Jesus is the same, because it’s faith in Him – the unchangeable one. It will come by hopeful waiting – a great struggle in and of itself. But, your assurance that Jesus is with you comes from His Word – that very reality that you continue to confess.