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.

A Monumental Act of God - 2 Chronicles 6:17-20

Theme: The Monument-al Way that God Dwells with Humans. 

Dear friends in Christ,

What is the most important place you have ever seen? What parcel of land have you stood upon that is most historically significant? As a student of history, the meaning of certain places resonates with me. I enjoy witnessing historical sites and putting myself in the shoes of those who made those places significant. When I wonder, what is most significant place I have ever seen – I have a hard time answering.

Having just come off Memorial Day weekend I think about the many sacred sites dedicated to the fallen warriors of our nation. Arlington cemetery in Virginia. The various monuments in our nation’s capital. Pearl Harbor. And even many sites in overseas on foreign soil.

Two very significant hallowed-ground sites that I have been to are both in Pennsylvania – Gettysburg and the Flight 93 memorial. There’s a certain aura of respect that comes over a person when you contemplate the monumental events that took place at sites like these. It gives you an appreciation of the people who made them famous and also an importance of remembering the significance of their memory.

Outside of our nation, I’ve haven’t seen much around the world. From a Christian standpoint, I haven’t been to the great cathedrals of Germany, the catacombs or shrines of the early Church in Rome, or the various sacred sites in the holy land. One such monument of the Christian faith is mentioned in our text today –which has since succumbed to the sands of time and is now lost for people today: The Temple of Solomon. Listen to Solomon’s words before us today, as He dedicates the Temple he built to the LORD almighty: 

2 Chronicles 6:17-20 And now, LORD, the God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David come true. 18 "But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 19 Yet, LORD my God, give attention to your servant's prayer and his plea for mercy. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence. 20 May your eyes be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your Name there. May you hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place.

Immediately in these words we are struck with the awesome significance that God would dwell with mankind. For generations this fact has fascinated people and led them to wonder where they could connect with the Divine. Human nature provides multiple answers to those questions and they all seem to make sense. It tells us that God’s dwelling place must be magnificent. It must be awe-inspiring. It must have a supernatural element to it. It must truly feel spiritual. One can hardly argue with these thoughts even when you look at the Biblical testimony. The many ways that God did reveal Himself in times past were often through miraculous ways. We think of the burning bush, the pillar of fire and cloud, and even the Ark of the Covenant which Solomon would mention later in our text. Solomon’s temple itself was a wonder of the world in its time. Adorned with precious cedars and gold plating, it was the envy of other nations. One would certainly feel that God was present when they entered such a magnificent place.

But as Solomon stands before the LORD and the people of Israel he doesn’t emphasize the magnificence of the temple, in fact, he points away from it. Solomon realizes that there’s nothing about the building or location that brings God to dwell with the people. In faith Solomon confesses that not even the beauty of the heavens can contain God. And yet, in full view of his own unworthiness, Solomon has the audacity to call upon God to dwell in their temple and to trust that God would do so.

The question we ask ourselves is what reason God would have for dwelling with sinful men and women. By definition, it literally and figurately is beneath God to do so. In fact, God can’t do that because by His holiness He cannot intermingle with sinfulness. What is it that Solomon knows about God, that not only allows God to be with us but assures that God will be with us?

The answer is not all that elusive for it’s the very thing we continue to know and trust about our own worship. It’s not about where but what. God’s dwelling with men has nothing to do with how magnificent or sacred the ground is. It’s about what God has done for us, wherever we may be, that makes the difference.

Take a pause here from Solomon’s speech, and consider a few things Jesus said about this. During a conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (which was a pretty significant Jewish historical site) the woman was confused about what the believe because she was hung up on location. She told Jesus, John 4:20 "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain (in Samaria), and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship." Jesus explained to her that what was more important than location was worshipping God in “spirit and truth.”

Think also of Matthew 18:20, when Jesus gave His disciples the office of the keys and the steps of church discipline. There Jesus reminded them that His Work, and the location of His presence, is often going to simple and rudimentary from a human perspective. Jesus said that wherever two or three are gathered around His Word, He is with them. The miracle of God’s presence with people is not in where it happens but in what takes place there.

How do we know WHAT is significant then? It seems that even churches today struggled to answer this question. What should we be doing? What does it take to be with God, for Him to come to us? Is it about community impact? Things like helping those in need, collaborating with civil leaders, improving the world in which we live? Is it about lineage? Must our church be traced back to the apostles to have authority in reaching God? Some would say so. Does it matter what we say? Can’t we leave the purpose of church up to each individual, let them find God on their own terms and in their own way?

For us the answer, as with all questions about God, is found in the Word of God. In His Word, God emphasizes repentance and forgiveness of sins. That’s the WHAT that should be taking place. Without that, God does not dwell with us. Those other things are important, but emphasizing them as the way to God at the Word’s expense is like putting more stock in the look of your building and the beauty of your property than in what Jesus has accomplished for us.

In our text, Solomon pleads with God to dwell among the people – but not because of the magnificence of the Temple. The rest of the chapter shows us exactly WHAT Solomon was concerned about. He went on to say,

2 Chronicles 6:24 "Or if Your people Israel are defeated before an enemy because they have sinned against You, and return and confess Your name, and pray and make supplication before You in this temple, 25 "then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of Your people Israel, and bring them back to the land which You gave to them and their fathers.

2 Chronicles 6:26 "When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against You, when they pray toward this place and confess Your name, and turn from their sin because You afflict them, 27 "then hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of Your servants, Your people Israel, that You may teach them the good way in which they should walk; and send rain on Your land which You have given to Your people as an inheritance.

2 Chronicles 6:36 "When they sin against You (for there is no one who does not sin), and You become angry with them and deliver them to the enemy, and they take them captive to a land far or near; 37 "yet when they come to themselves in the land where they were carried captive, and repent, and make supplication to You in the land of their captivity, saying,`We have sinned, we have done wrong, and have committed wickedness'; 38 "and when they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their captivity, where they have been carried captive, and pray toward their land which You gave to their fathers, the city which You have chosen, and toward the temple which I have built for Your name: 39 "then hear from heaven Your dwelling place their prayer and their supplications, and maintain their cause, and forgive Your people who have sinned against You.

Notice the theme? Solomon’s hope was that when the people sinned, they would be ready to repent and God would be ready to forgive. That was what gave Solomon confidence that God would dwell with His people. It was, and still is today, all about God’s mercy for people. And it’s no different in the rest of the Bible, either. We saw what Jesus said on the matter. He came to us, as the literally Immanuel (God with us) to help us in our sin. He is with those who repent no matter how many they are or how ornate their dwelling is.

Isaiah said also, For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, With him who has a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.

The apostle Paul stated, Acts 17:24 "God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 "Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 17:30 "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,  

Throughout the Bible, this stunning miracle that the Triune God would dwell with mankind is not so stunning after all. It’s readily accepted by believers because of WHAT our God says and WHAT He has done. Repent of sin and receive forgiveness in Christ. That is the effect of God’s work for us. That is what it means to unite with God through faith and to have Him in your life. 

Let us never discount the sacredness of God’s Word – wherever it is used. It could be here in our beautiful, yet humble sanctuary. It could be in the Sunday School room. It could be at your dinner table. It could be in a park by yourself. It could be at the hospital bed, or the death bed. It could be anywhere. It’s not the location that makes something beautiful to God, or sacred to us. It’s what happens there. Each place where the Holy Spirit is working through Christians using the Word, a monument to Christ’s grace and mercy is in place.

That God would dwell with sinful mankind is a miracle, solely because God in His mercy through Christ, has forgiven us and established a way to be with us. This is truly unbelievable from a human sense perceptive but it’s what takes place here each day.

May 30, 2018

More than a Game - 2 Timothy 1:7-14

When Things are out of Your Control…
1. Do no fear or be ashamed.
2. Entrust it to God by faith

2 Timothy 1:7-14 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. 8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, 10 but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. 12 For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day. 13 Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 14 That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.

Lately in our house the board game Life has been a big hit. We’ve had several family games. Most of you probably are familiar with the game. There’s a bit of good Lutheran guilt in the overall goal of the game – making the most money. But, it’s also been interesting because the game involves insurance, stocks, and even a lottery of sorts. It’s been a good learning experience for Micah and Allie as they weigh the choices to go to college or start working immediately or whether they should invest in auto or life insurance.

If you’ve ever played Life I’m sure you’ve also had a moment where you wished real life was just as easy and simple. Sure, there’s adversity in the game of Life. Just last time we played I got hit by a tornado, had to bail an uncle out of jail, and lost my homeowner’s insurance due to negligence. But, if only real-life problems were as easy to fix. In the game, one can just borrow some money from the “bank” until you hit enough pay days to get back even or go back 10 or 15 spaces and try again. Likewise, investments are a sure thing in the game of Life. At the end, you cash in on your stocks and insurance – even getting money for each kid you have. Real-life investments are much more tumultuous, as are our family relationships at times.

The end of the game of Life is about counting up all your money and seeing who has the most. Some people approach real life the same way but the Apostle Paul’s situation was vastly different. Paul’s second letter to Timothy was almost certainly his final letter. He was imprisoned in Rome. Later in the letter he would speak of giving his life as an offering to God, of finishing his fight of faith, and even pleading with Timothy to come and see him one last time.

What kind of thoughts were going through Paul’s mind as he sat in solitude and captivity – knowing that any day could be his last? He gives a look into how he would have answered that question in the verses of our text. Despite the many things that were out of Paul’s control, he speaks with confidence and hope. And so also, when things seem out of control in your life, you can look to the same thing Paul did. First, he did not need to be afraid or ashamed. Second, he could entrust all things, even his own life, to His Triune God, by faith. May the Holy Spirit help us prepare for the unknown and trying situations of our lives through our Savior’s name – because this is much more than just a game. 

Part 1

In some ways our culture is becoming more vulnerable when it comes to control. What I mean by that is that we’re getting better at asking for help. In many areas that are out of our control, there can be a certain stigma attached to those who struggle. So much of life is built on the perception of control and the idea of having everything figured out. But, reality smacks us in the face and repeatedly teaches us that that idea is a misconception. No one has complete control. Everyone has their demons as the popular saying goes. For so many, the sooner you can be honest about that and seek help, the sooner you can actually move forward with some control.

However, this notion of seeking help can be a mirage at times too. The problem is that not all areas of help are actually helpful. Sometimes the prescription offered is based on something we must do. In certain areas of life this is helpful – personal responsibility is the key. But, in areas involving God or our faith, pointing inward is not going to be helpful. Being honest about something that I struggle with should point to a real solution. If sin is at play in the struggle, we need to look to God, not ourselves. Honesty means admitting that we are powerless against Satan – the chief demon that we all wrestle with.

Paul reiterates that there is no need to be ashamed or to fear when things are out of your control – but for a much different reason than your own self-awareness or power. He says of Jesus, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, 10 but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

The believer’s hope, even when life is spinning out of control, is that God is in control. It’s about being honest about our need, being vulnerable like the world promotes, but with Christ in view – not ourselves as saviors of our own destiny. No matter who the expert is. No matter what their level of experience education, there are just some things that are beyond the capability of mere mortals to answer. Paul lists one such thing as a positive through Jesus – death. There will never be a medication, psychological treatment, meditation technique, or anything else that can help us with death. But, Jesus can, and has. He has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.

What help our Savior can offer! But, instead of pushing for Him, the world often makes the believer feel shame and fear for trusting in Jesus. Paul was experiencing that too. He was in prison for his confession of Christ. He knew he would even die for this. Paul could have felt shame and fear at this prospect, but it didn’t bother him because, once again, his focus was on Christ.

Part 2

Instead of allowing intimidation and persecution to rob him of faith in Christ, Paul found confidence and hope in His Savior. For this reason (believing in Christ) I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day. Paul speaks in financial terms – which is common when it comes to faith. Christ has redeemed (bought back) us. Paul’s faith was a deposit to God. Paul was trusting that even though matters were beyond his control, God was guarding his life.

Talk about an investment that is solid! There’s nothing that can damage or steal what we have entrusted to God by faith. This investment is safe. This terminology was common in Paul’s writings, after all, he lived and worked with believers who often on the lowest rungs of society. They didn’t have much as far as worldly money or investments went. Faith was their most precious treasure. Yet they were despised and maligned for their faith. Every insult and attack was hurled at them to instigate shame and fear. But they knew they were protected in Christ.

To the Colossians: Colossians 3:3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

To the Corinthians:  20 For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. 21 Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, 22 who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. 

To the Ephesians: Ephesians 1:14 who (the Holy Spirit) is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

It’s the work of Jesus, acted upon today by the Holy Spirit through the Word and Sacraments, that instills hope in the believer’s life. It assures us that our investment of faith is protected by God. Our lives our hidden with God. Jesus is our yes and amen. The Spirit is our guarantee. These are terms of absolute certainty. It’s an investment that can’t miss.

But, when is it that we most often invest with God? When are the times that we entrust matters to Him? When they’re out of our control. Of course, it doesn’t have to be only in dire circumstances that we look to God, it’s just that it’s when we most often do. Think of the hope and confidence of faith we would have if we went straight to God in all matters! Think of the return on that investment by Christ!

Satan and the world would rather you be too afraid, too shamed, or too confident in yourself to entrust your life to God by faith. It’s an attractive proposition. You’ll make friends in the world who believe the same thing – that faith in Christ is worthless. It’s also a lifestyle that fits into the world. You’ll save yourself some heartache and persecution. But, as we know in life – it’s not a game. At the end of it all, you can’t up the board game – win or lose, and move on. Your eternity is on the line. Entrust it to someone who has control.

Jesus Christ has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. He’s been to the point of total loss, and reclaimed it all and more for the entire world. The Holy Spirit is at work today through the Word to lead and strengthen you to invest in Jesus. The Spirit is your guarantee while here on earth until you take possession of eternal life in heaven.

Notice that through each step of life, and your Christian walk by faith, God is leading you. His investment cannot be beat. Let’s be honest about the help your need; but let’s also be honest about the help we have through faith in Jesus - To God’s glory and in Christ’s name. Amen.      

May 7, 2018

Prayer's Effectiveness - Matthew 7:7-12

Theme: Prayer Keeps us From Overreacting
1. By acknowledging our limitations
2. By trusting God’s will in Christ

Matthew 7:7-12 "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9 "Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 "Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! 12 "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

When’s the last time someone overreacted in front of you? We all know it happens, right? People get bent out of shape over things – often things that don’t matter all that much. No one likes when this happens either, whether you’re the person who does it or the one who experiences it. Think of the little kid who doesn’t get exactly what he wanted for his birthday or who doesn’t get picked first for the kickball game. Overreaction. Let’s not just focus on little kids either. Consider the teen who gets their phone taken away as a discipline or isn’t allowed to stay out as late as they’d like to with their friends. Overreaction. And surely, grown adults are not immune either. The weather turns ugly and ruins the long-awaited and planned vacation. People take a little too long in the grocery check out line. Grandma so and so can’t decide what to order in the take-out lane. Overreaction. And the list goes on and on.

Sometimes, we’re so foolish in our reactions that it spills into our faith. We think of such a reaction here in our text during a lesson about prayer. The statement primed for the outburst of reaction comes in verse 11: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”

Think about what Jesus says here. There’s a positive message about the Father’s gifts to His children – no one has an issue with that. However, that positivity is contrasted with the gifts we offer as sinful humans – even the good ones. Jesus is highlighting the Father’s grace by showing the insufficiency of our own gifts. Sure, we know how to be nice to one another, but not even near the level of what God does for us. When Jesus says, “how much more…” He is expressing a greatness of both quantity and quality. God the Father is able to give more than us and give better than us.

The key difference is holiness. No matter how good our own actions are, they are not done in righteousness. We are still evil people because of our sin. We are still limited people because of our sin. The truly amazing aspect of Christ’s work of salvation on our behalf, is that His actions become ours. Therefore, faith offers a way to serve as God serves – to give on His level, in righteousness. But, only through Jesus. Here’s where the overaction comes in. The unbelieving world doesn’t like this distinction because it excludes them. They don’t like the passages of Scripture that tell us, “without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6)” and “There is none who does righteous, no not even one (Romans 3:10).” The world doesn’t like this because it shows that even the best of our actions cannot measure up the treasures given by Christ.   

You’ve heard this overreaction before. You have probably even felt it in your own heart. It goes something like this: “How dare a Christian insinuate that my works aren’t as good as theirs!” Notice, from the start, the focus on the person and not the Savior. What the Word of God tells us about this truth is that it’s all about God. The Christian is simply the vessel through which God works. It’s not about comparing one person to another. It’s about comparing Christ to sinners. And in Christ, we can do His will. Think about it from the other perspective. Who would want to believe in a God whose works are no different from those whom He is supposed to save? All unbelief seeks to lower God down to our level. To fashion Him in our image, instead of being conformed to His.

You don’t have to feel minimized by standing for Christ above yourself. You don’t have to be angry or ashamed at the prospect of not being good enough on your own. Perhaps Jesus puts this statement in here, which is so prone to overreaction, at the topic of prayer for the express purpose of pointing us to our needs. Isn’t that what prayer is for? Jesus says earlier: "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Jesus wants us to come to Him and receive, but those who have no needs won’t do that.

Here, Jesus was speaking to the common people – during His sermon on the Mount. This was no judgment upon the hypocritical Jewish leaders, just ordinary people like you. However, Jesus did say something similar to the Pharisees: Jesus answered and said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance (Luke 5:31-32)."

The truly hypocritical Christian is the one who spends time making themselves look good but is dishonest about needing Jesus. The world despises hypocritical Christians. Yet, at the very same time, they despise the truth that protects us from hypocrisy, that our works and not as good as God’s. You see, the height of unbelief is playing the comparison game with other people. Without God in your life, it’s a constant rat race to try to be the best. Therefore, the world overreacts when Christians speak about serving in righteousness by faith as the higher call. Yet, by the same token, they despise Christians, who do the opposite, who talk good but don’t practice their faith. The world does both because it is fueled by comparison.

Jesus, in contrast, wants us to look to Him. Look to Him to compare, not to others. Look to Him for help, not to yourself. Jesus is above the struggle and toil of this world. Jesus is not caught up in the never-ending quest to prove Himself better than others. Don’t be misled, Jesus is better than others. But unlike sinful humans, He doesn’t spend His time trying to constantly prove it and show it to the detriment of other peoples’ lives. He proved it once for all, in complete love, when He offered up His life for everyone in the world.

Prayer is the gift that Jesus now gives to keep us attached to Him. Look at the certainty with which Jesus speaks. He wants His children to have confidence that He will hear their prayers and bless them. But the nature of a Christian’s prayer is like its blessings – both are unique in Christ. Both the nature of prayer and what God gives us through prayer are built around Jesus. This tells us that a devoted faith and prayer life, which trusts Jesus above all things, will be different than the things we do on our own. To say that we trust in Jesus and we desire to communicate with Him through prayer, yet defiantly hang onto the justifying our own actions against His makes no sense – and God’s point here is that it impedes our prayer life and faith. The very confidence we have in faith stems from the fact that it is Jesus alone whom we trust – even over ourselves.

Therefore, in faith and in prayer, there is no need to overreact. When we overreact because of the glaring contrast between God’s holiness and our sinfulness, it hampers the gospel’s effect in our hearts. The apostle James writes in his letter about prayer, saying, “You do not have because you do not ask (James 4:2).” Think of how many Christians limp along weakly in their faith simply because they do not communicate with God – they fail to even ask. Too many of these situations are borne from an overreaction to the Word of God, when it tells us about the honest, but unpleasant truth about my sin.

When we get upset at God for telling us that our works are less than His, it implants a death trap in our minds that is directed at our faith. It’s one thing to believe a lie – that’s dangerous enough. But, some lies we feel justified in believing. If we are self-righteous in our actions, even to the point of thinking we are as good as God or that we don’t need God, we are committing idolatry. And why pray to another God when you control and dictate the matters of your life?

Jesus is focusing on something greater than mere human morality – what we might call civil goodness. Jesus is talking about the “Law and Prophets” morality – the type of goodness that only comes from through the Holy Spirit working through the Word. Jesus says at the end of our text: "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Jesus paired this thought with loving God above all things as the summary of God’s will. This is the higher morality. What God deems as righteous comes down to not only what is done but how it is done. Basic human nature simply looks at what is done and deems it right or wrong, but it never considers the source. Therefore, human morality changes and is often dictated by the majority in the culture. Jesus, here, when showing the difference between our works and God’s, points to the source as well – the Law and Prophets. The difference between works done in faith and those done without faith – comes down to both the nature of Christ and the source through which He reveals and shares Himself with us. On our own, we have neither the nature of Christ or the source of His Word, whether we call our actions good or not.

Prayer gives us confidence in God’s blessings through Christ, and dispels the insecure fear of losing our own power in the situation. The uniqueness of faith and prayer is that to have them we have to lose something first. Most people never get past this because they overreact about what they lose. Confessing sins. Getting rid of anger and pride. Trusting in God’s will. Leaving all control to Him. These are things we give up from our own hands.     

But, if our God is the only one. If He is better than anyone else. If He can bless in ways no one else can even imagine, is it worth hanging onto our control at the expense of our faith? Should we not strive to serve a God that is higher than us, and that can grant blessings in greater supply and quality than us? There’s no need to fear in our faith about what we might miss out on – for all the treasures of heaven are found in Christ Jesus.

Be confident in your Savior. Don’t go without simply because you didn’t ask. Don’t limp along in faith because you’re wrestling with God for control. There is security and confidence in trusting Jesus – trusting Him over the threats and temptations of the world, but even more so, trusting Him over the fears of your heart. Your heavenly Father knows you. He knows your needs. He knows your desires. He knows your mistakes. He knows your fears. And He’s given you His Son in place of them all. Faith in Jesus and operating by prayer is about living in reality – the good and the bad. It’s about being open and honest with God in all matters. And through faith, those blessings of our Lord and Savior are unrivaled. Amen.

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

April 30, 2018

The Flood - 1 Peter 3:15-22

Theme: Prepare Yourself for the Flood
  1.   The flood of unrighteousness
  2.   The flood of forgiveness
1 Peter 3:15-22:

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

In the name of Jesus, who has washed away our sins, dear fellow redeemed:

The story of Noah’s flood is one the most well-known and recognized portions of the Bible. Both Christians and non-Christians know it and it’s one of the first stories that little kids learn and understand. Throughout history, there have been hundreds of flood legends in other cultures and areas of the world. These legends are all connected in some way to the Biblical account of Noah. This tells us that ever since the flood happened, it has resonated with all peoples and cultures in some way.

However, the purpose behind the global flood is often lost on most people. Sadly, many simply are fascinated at the mere thought of an event like it even happening. Many more believe it to be just a myth instead of an actual historical occurrence. Most people understand correctly that the reason for the flood was man’s wickedness. But even at this, many still fail to apply it to their lives. Fewer people actually see the flood story as a positive thing, by focusing on God’s gracious deliverance to Noah and the preservation of the human race.

Today, in our text, we see another way to understand Noah’s flood, as the Holy Spirit reveals to us that it serves as a picture of deliverance through Jesus Christ. Not only was the promise of the Messiah preserved by the flood, but the actual event pre-figured the spiritual condition of all people. And through that picture we see that we need to prepare today for another flood. As Christians, we must prepare for the flood of unrighteousness in our day but also be ready preparing ourselves and others for the flood of Christ’s forgiveness. For guidance, let us return to the Word, and the Spirit who inspired it, as we mediate on this amazing truth today.

Part 1: The flood of unrighteousness (End Times)

The first point worth mentioning in this section is how Peter understands the Genesis account of Noah’s flood. Peter takes Genesis as history upon which he can base his teaching. If you remember, Jesus did the same thing in the Gospels several times – going back to the Old Testament to understand something about today. We should take this lesson to heart in our lives and as we spread God’s Word to others. If we want to be trustworthy and reliable in what we say we need to use God’s Word as it is meant to be used.

The first connection that Peter makes to the Old Testament flood is the wickedness of sin. Peter compares the evil of Noah’s day to what is happening in the present time for Christians and the imagery still fits for our day. Peter mentions those who slander Christians, those who are doing evil, and those cause others to suffer for doing good. The very fact that he compares this with what happened in Noah’s day helps us to understand the serious nature of what is going on. It also makes you wonder how bad things could still get. How long will God continue to endure with the present generation?

Paul warned Timothy about the increasing wickedness of these final days in his second letter: But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

In many ways this seems like a fitting description of the world we live in today. The wicked have the appearance of being good and righteous people, but inwardly they are lovers of themselves, not God. This echoes the same sentiment that the Spirit inspired in the book of Hebrews, that “without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).” The flood of unrighteousness that is among us today is the same as in Noah’s day –  outright denial of God and the many attitudes and lifestyles that manifest that. Don’t be fooled by what Satan peddles in our modern world, there is no morality before God outside of faith in Jesus. It is impossible to be found acceptable in His eyes without Christ’s satisfactory atonement in our place.  

Just as many Christians past and present have suffered tribulation and persecution, so also many have been martyred for their faith – yet they overcame through the resurrection of Christ. This is Peter’s focus as He urges his readers to prepare for the end just as Noah prepared for God’s judgment. Those who are faithful unto death, especially under extreme persecution and tribulation, will receive the crown of life in place of eternal damnation. This is ultimately the Christian’s hope despite the flood of wickedness we experience on a daily basis, even from our own hearts and actions. God offers us relief and hope through the Word.

Part 2: The flood of forgiveness

The only way to prepare ourselves for the sin that surrounds us is to focus on the Lord’s forgiveness. Again, Peter goes back to Noah as a picture of how God has paid for sins. Peter likens the waters of the flood to the waters of baptism, but in so doing he makes an important distinction. The waters of baptism don’t wash like ordinary water, it’s not intended to clean our bodies. The waters of baptism remove the stains and stench of our old sinful flesh and renew our spirits to receive God’s blessings daily in faith. Just as the flood waters served the purpose of eradicating wickedness from the earth, so baptism’s purpose is the removal of sin.   

Notice with what power and authority Peter speaks with when describing baptism. He doesn’t speak of it as just a symbol or a dedication that someone makes after coming to faith. No, baptism is powerful; Peter says that baptism saves. From our training in the Word we know that baptism isn’t some type of mystical act of magic. There is no transformation of ordinary water into holy water. Rather, baptism is simply receiving God’s blessing, and just as Peter states, the power behind it comes v.21 “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

And through this resurrection of His Son, God introduces the flood of forgiveness. Sin itself and the wickedness it gives birth to is a global problem, no one can escape any more than someone could escape global flood. But in the very same way, God now forgives the entire world because of Christ’s death and resurrection. This forgiveness is given freely to all people. We can preach with confidence and authority to anyone because we know they are covered by the flood of forgiveness. God tells us as much here when He compares it to Noah’s flood. If you are a member of this world, you have been forgiven, nothing can reverse that fact.

However, the connection to Noah’s flood doesn’t end there. Only those who believe in Jesus, who are aboard the ark of faith if you will, will avoid eternal destruction. Just because the gift of forgiveness is available to all doesn’t necessarily mean that all will accept it. Rejection of faith is a rejection of Christ Himself and the very gift of forgiveness that He offers. The shortcoming is not with faith or with Christ, the shortcoming is with the person who rejects in unbelief. This is part of what makes the torment of hell so agonizing. All who go there will go with the knowledge that they are forgiven. Peter explains how after his death Christ descended into hell to proclaim this very message, that He indeed had conquered sin and death. And this is the note on which Peter ends this section. Christ has all authority in heaven and earth because He accomplished His mission. All people, even those who rejected Him, eventually must submit to Him; a fact which will become readily apparent on the final day.    

Many today fight and rage against this truth, just as many must have fought against God and their impending destruction during Noah’s day. But fight as they did the day of the flood did eventually come and nothing they did could stop it. But even if we could change God’s declaration of a final day, why would we want to? Judgment day will usher in the end of sin and wickedness. It’s built on another unchangeable event – Christ’s forgiveness of all sins. No one could stop the flood of His own blood descending the cross to wash us clean of sin. God’s righteous judgment will erase evil forever, in a more perfect and complete way than Noah’s flood. And there will be more on that day than just judgment, there will also be deliverance because of the flood of forgiveness in Christ.

The impending judgment of the Lord is not lead us to get discouraged or further rebel from His Word. Rather, it should lead us work even more fervently at spreading the gospel to all people. There’s no need for anyone to suffer for their sins, Christ has already done that in their place. The flood of forgiveness is a reality for us; let us continually prepare ourselves to tell others in meekness and fear. 

So, how do we prepare ourselves for the flood? Well, when it comes to the flood of unrighteousness around us each day and getting worse as the end approaches, we prepare by daily strengthening and renewing ourselves in the Word of God. If we try another approach, we will only be left frustrated and uncertain because of the increasing evil around us. Preparing ourselves for the flood of forgiveness is very much the same. We must stay active in the Word so that we can provide answers of truth for those who are looking for the truth. We should not only be concerned with preparing our own hearts for the final day but we should also be actively involved in helping others in the same regard. Noah’s flood teaches us these important spiritual lessons. All need forgiveness, for all have sinned. The global judgment is rapidly approaching. But all have free access to forgiveness in Christ Jesus. May the Holy Spirit prepare us to receive that gospel and prepare us to spread it to others. Amen.

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

April 23, 2018

Good Shepherd Sunday - Micah 7:14-20

Theme: The Good Shepherd is Better
1. In the gift He offered to the Father
2. In the mercy He shows to sinners

Micah 7:14-20 Shepherd Your people with Your staff, The flock of Your heritage, Who dwell solitarily in a woodland, In the midst of Carmel; Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead, As in days of old. 15 "As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, I will show them wonders." 16 The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might; They shall put their hand over their mouth; Their ears shall be deaf. 17 They shall lick the dust like a serpent; They shall crawl from their holes like snakes of the earth. They shall be afraid of the LORD our God, And shall fear because of You. 18 Who is a God like You, Pardoning iniquity And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in mercy. 19 He will again have compassion on us, And will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins Into the depths of the sea. 20 You will give truth to Jacob And mercy to Abraham, Which You have sworn to our fathers From days of old.

On January 28, 1986 the Challenger space shuttle exploded over Florida in front of millions of viewers on television. Naturally, shock ensued as the nation questioned, how could something like this happen? As complicated as rocket science can be, the answer was stunningly simple. The night before had reached temperatures as low as 18 degrees fahrenheit and those cold temperatures compromised the O-ring seals that prevented the rocket fuel from leaking to other chambers in the missile.

The most shocking thing of all was that this problem was known before the launch. Five of the engineers who designed the rocket tried to get the launch cancelled over concern of the O-rings. Initially, the message was received and a delay was in order, but top-ranking executives didn’t want to wait the many months it would take to fix the problem. As one engineer put it, the facts were clear, it was politics and pressure that got in the way.

This story represents the astounding tragedy that can occur when experts are ignored. On a smaller scale I’m sure we’ve all had moments where we’ve talked big like we knew something, only to find out we were wrong or someone more knowledgeable was in the room to correct us. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to be a closet expert on just about any topic. Human nature stokes the inner pride that wants to think our way is best and our knowledge is superior. But, when pride goes toe to toe with knowledge, knowledge wins. And for the one proven wrong, shame and fear are the result.

Sometimes, it’s good to have a certain amount of healthy shame and fear. It can humble us and bring us back to level. At other times, though, it can be dangerous – like the Challenger situation.

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. We focus on Jesus, a shepherd and leader like no other. As we have witnessed today, the theme of Jesus as our Good Shepherd is given consistently in Scripture, in both Testaments. Our text today from Micah opens by speaking of how the LORD shepherds His people. One of the lessons that sticks out is that the LORD knows what He is doing. He knows how to lead us. He knows how to protect us. He knows how to provide for us. But, amazing as it may be, so many people, even us, doubt the LORD. We have a message today from God – listen to Him for He is the expert. May the Spirit bless the Word before us today.

Part 1: In things hidden and found

Micah tells of a time when the nations would be ashamed and fear God. Why? Because of God’s mercy. He pardons iniquity and passes over transgression. What is there to fear in that? There’s nothing intimidated about it; except when you reject it. The fear and shame come in because Jesus is the only way. As John wrote in the Gospel, Jesus is not only the Shepherd, but also the only door to the sheepfold – all others are robbers and thieves (John 10:1). There’s nothing scary about God’s grace, but those who reject it – those who try to find another way – will face fear and shame. During Micah’s time and even today, those who refuse to believe in Jesus numb this fear and guilt, but they will feel it one day. Hide as they may from the truth, it will catch up to them. There will come a day when they will have to answer before God. Paul wrote that on that day, all nations will bow the knee to Christ and confess His name (Philippians 2:11). The question is if it is done by faith or force.

Micah touches on one of the most troubling things about faith in Christ – that He is the only way. This offends people. This rubs our natures the wrong way. We don’t want to own up to true holiness; none of us ever have. We desire, we long for a different way. But there is only one. Here we think of the shame and fear that was felt during the tragedy of the Challenger. Imagine being those who made the final call to go ahead with the launch even though they had been warned by the experts. Rejection of Christ is similar and leads to an even deadlier result. Jesus knows the way – He traveled it. He is the Good Shepherd. He can handle what needs to be done. But so often we treat Him like the hireling. We treat Christ like the novice who doesn’t know any better. And we put ourselves in His place.

Isaiah, a contemporary of Micah, wrote about this attitude. He said of those who rejected God’s will: Isaiah 29:15-16 Woe to those who seek deep to hide their counsel far from the LORD, And their works are in the dark; They say, "Who sees us?" and, "Who knows us?" Surely you have things turned around! Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay; For shall the thing made say of him who made it, "He did not make me"? Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, "He has no understanding "?

Micah himself ran into this same problem, with his own life. In chapter 6 he pleaded to the LORD saying, With what shall I come before the LORD, And bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, With calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, Ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  (Mic 6:6-7)

Micah, like all people who fully understand their sins, pondered in his heart how he could repay the LORD. Could he offer an abundance of riches? Would it take giving up his own child? Many cultures have tried to do those very things – even resorting to child sacrifice to please the gods. Micah would have been well aware of such things happening in his day – even Israel succumbed to such wickedness. That’s the natural feeling of being a sinner and knowing God exists. You think you have to do something to please Him. And what higher gift could there be than our own children?  

But God says only shame and fear come with that attitude. Why try to do for ourselves what only God can? Who can improve on the satisfaction delivered through the Good Shepherd. Who can do what He has? It is utter foolishness to try to do what only God can. It’s not a popular message in a pluralistic society but it is the truth, and when denied it can have devastating consequences. 

Part 2:

It was only when Micah considered a different question that he found an answer that meant something. Instead of asking what he had to do, He asked who was like the LORD. 18 Who is a God like You, Pardoning iniquity And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in mercy. Micah boasted that there was no other like God because God, while having the right to be angry over sins, did not hold on to that anger.

How different than the typical human response. We often hold to grudges for years. Anger has destroyed family relationships and changed the entire course of peoples’ lives. And anger without good reason. No sinner has the right to hold anger over another sinner. When we fight against others and compare our goodness with theirs, we might feel better for a time, but it will never offer healing over sin. Only Jesus can do that, because only He had a righteous reason to hang onto anger, but chose instead to let it go. The mercy of Jesus is better than our attempts at self-righteousness (far better in fact). Micah didn’t see this eternal truth until he looked to the LORD. Likewise, we will never find it by looking to ourselves.  
Because the LORD forgave us, there is hope that sin will not hold power over us. Micah goes on to say, He will again have compassion on us, And will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins Into the depths of the sea. 20 You will give truth to Jacob And mercy to Abraham, Which You have sworn to our fathers From days of old. This holds true for our lives in view of God, but also in view of other. Because of Christ, we can forgive others. We can let go of anger and hate even though others are not deserving – because He did it for us when we weren’t deserving. Only then, is sin buried away, never to be seen again.

Who is like the LORD? Easy answer – no one. No one is better at salvation than the Good Shepherd. Therefore, don’t try to be better than Him. Don’t try to do what He did perfectly. You don’t have to. Listen to Him. What He says about life is the truth – don’t try to play armchair expert with God. Because, this isn’t some trivial game. Lives are at stake – many more than the Challenger. When Christ’s mercy is in your life, the pain, stress, and heartache of this sinful live has a purpose. When you are overcome by limitations and mistakes – you have a living hope.

Some may not like the fact that only Jesus can give this mercy. Some want to believe that it can be found in good intentions, clean living, or just generally being a good person. Wishful thinking doesn’t equal truth though. There’s too much on the line for you to take someone else’s word for it. The Good Shepherd is the Better Shepherd. Follow Him. His greatness is only painful to the dying part of who you are – that sinful flesh which knows its days are limited. There is joy, comfort, and peace in trusting Jesus above all else – for His mercy becomes your strength. Amen.