December 25, 2011

What Child is This - Dec 25, 2011

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What’d you get for Christmas? Who’s coming to visit? What can I bring to the meal? Where are we going for New Year’s?

There are a lot of questions we might ask this Christmas Day. But one question outweighs them all: “What Child is this?” You know how the song goes…

What child is this who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?

For the answer to this question, we look to God’s Word...

Hebrews 1:1-9 (ESV)

1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
5 For to which of the angels did God ever say,
“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”?
Or again,
“I will be to him a father,
and he shall be to me a son”?
6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God’s angels worship him.”
7 Of the angels he says,
“He makes his angels winds,
and his ministers a flame of fire.”
8 But of the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

It’s not in the Bible, but I would bet that the first communication that came from the Christ Child was a cry of shock as He was born into the cool air of the Judean night. It wasn’t a very complex communication. That little infant cry meant, “I’m here, now feed me and wrap me up, it’s cold out in this place.”

He looked so ordinary, and yet to his parents, he was so special. For Mary and Joseph, the awe and love connected with this Child was more than parental infant infatuation. Joseph knew this Child was not his. Mary knew that she was still a virgin. The little infant who was now exercising His lungs was nothing less than a miracle. This Child was God Himself impressed into human flesh and bone.

The writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus is…
“…the radiance of the glory of God and the exact representation of his nature…” (Hebrews 1:3 ESV).
This Child was sent to communicate to the world. We can tell that God exists from the complex and ordered creation around us. Every house has a builder, right? We can tell that the builder of our universe is powerful and wise, but the creation does not show us what God’s heart is like.

This Child came to express everything about God that the created universe could never say. Jesus once said…
“…Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9 NIV).
With His whole life, Jesus shows us God’s personality. This is why we continue to read about the life of this Child more than 2,000 years after His birth. To truly know God, we must know His Son.

We’re told very little about where this Child was born. It was in Bethlehem of course. But apart from that, we only have the note that He was laid to rest in a feed trough for animals. Yes, His first crib was a dirty manger.

Even more than dust and grit and the smell of animals, this Child was surrounded by the filth of sin. No sin was on HIS soul, but it certainly surrounded Him. His mother Mary was a sinner. His stepfather Joseph too. The shepherds who visited Him that first night, well, back then shepherds were so notorious untrustworthy that they weren’t allowed to testify in court. And the filth of sin doesn’t end there. if you look back in Jesus’ family tree (which you can do by reading Matthew 1) you’ll find a whole parade of sinners guilty of all kinds of wickedness - thievery, prostitution, incest, adultery, murder and flat out hatred of God.

This Child was surrounded by sin when He came into this world. But this was actually the perfect place for Him to be born. For this little Child was not destined to be a mere visual aid to show us the nature of God. Nor was he sent to be a just another moral teacher, pointing out the way to a better life. He was sent to void the record of our sins, to cleanse mankind of guilt and to open the doors of heaven so all could follow Him to the Father’s side.

The writer to the Hebrews wrote…
“After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than their” (Hebrews 1:3b-4 ESV).
Through the Old Testament prophets God had said that the promised Savior would be His own Son. During the ministry of Jesus God actually spoke from the sky on a number of occasions saying, “This is my Son”. But most powerfully, after Jesus was crucified and buried in a tomb, God declared to the whole world that this was indeed His only begotten Son by raising Jesus from the dead. Romans 1, verse 3 says…
“…His Son Jesus Christ our Lord… …was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3-4 NKJV).
This Child came not only to reveal God’s character, but to save Mankind from hell. And through the resurrection, God the Father declared powerfully one more time – THIS IS MY SON! YOUR SINS ARE FORGIVEN!

God made a big set of clues which would help people identify the promised Savior when He finally arrived on Earth. He would be born during the reign of the Roman Empire. He would be born in Bethlehem. He would be a Jew. He would be from the Tribe of Judah. He would be a descendant of King David. His mother would be a virgin.

And on the night of Jesus’ birth, God continued to describe the Child so that He could be identified without a doubt. The angels told that gang of shepherds that they would find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.

All this detail was necessary because this Child would look like any other child. But nothing could be further from the truth. This was the only begotten Son of God.

Angels and people are sometimes called, “Sons of God” but only because they were created by God, or because they are followers of God who resemble Him by imitation. But the Child that the shepherds went to see was one of a kind. He had always been the Son of God in eternity, but now He had become the God-Man, in time.

In verse five, the writer to the Hebrews wrote…
“5 For to which of the angels did God ever say,
“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”?
Or again,
“I will be to him a father,
and he shall be to me a son”?
6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God’s angels worship him.”
What is this Child? Well, He’s certainly no angel! He’s not a mere messenger of God, mighty and powerful though angels are. God doesn’t command that angels be worshipped, nor does God put angels on thrones. This Child is higher than the angels, He is God enthroned by God on an eternal throne.

John wrote the following so we’d know beyond a doubt what this child is…
“1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:1-2 NIV).

But I’d like to zoom you in to one final detail about this Child before we close our mediation for today. Look at verse 8. There it says…
“…of the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions” (Hebrews 1:8-9 ESV)
In Bible times oil was used for different things. It was used to anoint kings and priest to show that they were chosen for their work. It was used to sooth and heal a wound (like ointment). And it was also used to “dress up” your face for a celebration (like lotion or makeup).

It appears that the “oil of gladness” from verse nine is the “celebration oil”. The picture is this: the Son of God is on His way to the victory party. God has anointed Him with the “oil of gladness” so that He will shine with the most glory in Heaven, as He is surrounded by those He has Saved from their sins.

What Child is This? This Child is the one who is our invitation to forgiveness and heavenly glory. He has begun to teach us to know the Father’s heart. He has washed us clean of our guilt and sin. He outshines the angels as the Firstborn who will sits on the throne with His Father. And He invites us to trust in Him, and rejoice.

So, let us celebrate this Christmas Day for He was born to save us from our sins. And this He has done. Trust in Him, for He will not let you down. May the Christ Child live in your hearts today and forever, filling you with peace and joy.


December 18, 2011

Behold - Dec 18, 2011

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Some things are designed to get our attention. There’s that annoyingly high pitched warbling sound that precedes every test of the emergency broadcasting system. There’s those black and yellow striped signs that say things like, “Caution” or “Warning”. Or if you want to keep it simple, you can just write “Attention” in bright red letters above whatever you want people to see.

In our reading for today a different word is used to get our attention. The word is “Behold”. This word is used often in the Bible, and it means, “Look over here”, “Listen up”, “Pay attention”, “Mark my words” because something important is about to be communicated.

Throughout this Advent season we’ve talked about how we are watching, and preparing and rejoicing in connection with the Savior who was born into this world on the first Christmas, and the Savior who will come again with power and glory on Judgment Day. In a sense, the word “Behold” is simply repeating the word, “Watch” with more intensity. Open your eyes, your minds and your hearts. Watch carefully so you may understand what you are seeing.

Luke 1:26-38 (ESV)

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”
38 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

The first character in this story is Gabriel. He is an angel. Powerful. Mysterious. A messenger for God. Five hundred years previous to this he had delivered another message to the Old Testament prophet Daniel. Here we find him once again traveling through the world of men, to a city called Nazareth.

It must be noted that this would have seemed like quite the mix up to anyone who actually lived back then. Gabriel? Going to the backwater hick-ville that was Nazareth? What possible business could one of God’s mighty angels have there?

Our reading tells us that Gabriel was going to deliver a message to a young girl named Mary. Again, a Jew from that time would ask, “What possible business could one of God’s mighty angels have with a little Nazarene girl?

And indeed, there is nothing outwardly impressive about Mary. She was a descendant of King David, but so were a lot of people back then. It was a bit like being obscurely related to some movie star, or some historically important person. Sure, the relation is true, but it doesn’t make you famous.

Mary was betrothed to a carpenter named Joseph. Details from the Bible indicate that they were not a wealthy couple. In fact, Joseph’s job could pretty much tell you that. He was, after all, a carpenter. Just one more member of Nazareth’s blue-collar workforce.

Years later, after Joseph’s death, there would be no inheritance for Jesus to claim. No land. No house. No wealth. During His ministry, Jesus himself said that he had no place to lay His head. As He traveled from place to place preaching and teaching, Jesus was supported, not by funds inherited, but by gifts given by His followers.

No, Mary and Joseph were not an impressive couple when it comes to wealth and influence. In fact, when they arrived in Bethlehem for the great census, they ended up taking shelter wherever they could, laying their newborn Son in a feed trough for animals because nothing else was available.

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. The point I’m trying to make is, Mary wasn’t the type of person you might expect God to send Gabriel to. Mary herself certainly wasn’t expecting this interview when it happened. You can tell that much from her thoughts after Gabriel’s greeting hits her ears. He appears and says…

“Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28 ESV).

Mary’s response was fear. She didn’t understand what this greeting meant. If an angel of God appeared to one of us, might our first response be fear as well? As sinners we know that we deserve death and hell for our sins against God. If an angel suddenly appeared to us, what would prevent us from thinking the worst – that God had finally come to extract payment from us?

But Gabriel quickly tries to set Mary’s mind at ease by repeating himself. He says, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God”.

Now, that phrase “found favor” means that God is extending undeserved kindness to Mary. The Greek word at that point is related to the word “grace”. It isn’t that Mary had somehow earned this blessing from God. Not at all. She’s a sinner just like all of us. But God favored her. He gave her the astounding privilege of carrying His Son and birthing Him into the world.

And that’s just what Gabriel moves on to communicate. What reason is there for Mary to rejoice and have no fear? Gabriel tells her in verse 31…

“31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33 ESV).

Now, the first reason that God had for sending Mary this message is simple. She’s going to be pregnant soon! She needs to know this so she can be ready for all the physical changes that will take place inside her body over the next nine months.

But even more important than that, Mary needs to be prepared so that she can grasp the full spiritual implications of this baby boy she’s going to have. So, Gabriel takes mary through a little summary of Old Testament prophesies concerning this child. That’s really what verses 31-33 are. Gabriel is just gathering up prophecies and handing them to Mary like an armful of gifts.

After Adam and Eve sinned, God promised that a male descendant of Eve would crush the power of the Devil and save them from their sins. (Genesis 3:15)

Centuries later, God promised King David that one of his descendants would rule on an eternal throne. (2 Samuel 7:12-13)

Still centuries later, Isaiah wrote that this same king who would rule on David’s throne forever, would be called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

So, Gabriel wraps up all these prophesies and ties them together with a bow. Oh, yeah, and name Him Jesus, because that name means, “Jehovah Saves”.

Poor Mary. This was a lot to drop on a young girl. Throughout all this exchange she’s always a step behind. Gabriel appears and says, “Rejoice, you’re blessed!” Mary responds with fear. Gabriel repeats himself, “Have no fear, you’re blessed! You’re going to have a baby boy who is the Son of the Highest!” Mary doesn't get it. She says, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (Luke 1:34 ESV).

I can just imagine Luke interviewing Mary for this part of his gospel.

Luke: So, the angel Gabriel appeared to you to announce you were going to have God’s Son. How did you receive that news?

Mary: Well, to be honest, I heard what he said about my child being called the “Son of the Highest” but, I just couldn’t get my mind around the fact that I had never been with a man before. How was this pregnancy going to happen unless that happened first? But Gabriel explained so patiently.

He told me that the Holy Spirit of God would overshadow me and cause that life to grow in my belly. And then Gabriel kindly gave me something to help my mind understand. He said that old barren Elizabeth was already six months pregnant because with God nothing is impossible.

Well, that helped me to see how silly my questions were. God was at work here, and honestly, could I have understand this miracle even if Gabriel had tried to explain it to me? Thankfully, I didn’t have to understand it all to believe it.

I’ll tell you, I thought I had a lot to prepare for with the big wedding celebration that was coming up and moving into our new home. Now I had a few more things to ponder. A baby, but also the eternal Savior King. What an unexpected privilege. It was all so far beyond me.

Gabriel has been sent to us today also. Through the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Gabriel’s voice has been heard here today. He has spoken to remind us what this little Child of Bethlehem is all about. Why this Child is so significant. Imagine that you didn’t know the Gospel of Jesus at all, and you saw a bunch of pictures of Mary and Joseph in the stable, with Jesus in the manger. You wouldn’t have a clue what the big deal was. It’s a little baby, in a weird kind of nursery.

But Gabriel’s Words remind us of all the promises that God had made in connection with this Baby Boy. He is Jesus, “Jehovah Saves”. He is the Son of God so that His sacrifice would be valuable enough to pay for the sins of the whole world. He is Mary’s Son so that He is truly human, and able to take our place on the cross. He will rule on David’s throne forever in heaven, over all who trust in Him.

We’re just like Mary – no worthy of God’s favor. But God has extended His kindness to us through Christ. But we can only see how great the gift of the Christ Child is if we know the promises that were made concerning Him. That He would live without sinning, die willingly for sinners, and that He would rise in triumph on the third day so all would know He had succeeded in taking the punishment for sin away.

May God bless us so that this Christmas, we worship with our hearts. May God bless us through His Word so that we see the Baby of Bethlehem for all that He is…

…the Son of Mary
…the Son of God
…the promised Savior
…the King who will reign eternally on David’s Throne
…Our great God and Savior.


December 11, 2011

Rejoice Always! - Dec 11, 2011

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On Paul’s second missionary journey, he and a man named Silas were arrested. This happened in the city of Philippi. After being arrested they were stripped, severely beaten and thrown in jail.

The jailor who was put in charge of them was told to guard them carefully. So, he put them in the innermost cell of the prison and fastened their feet in stocks. (Stocks were wooden beams which were clamped around the ankles of a prisoner to make escape impossible.)

At this point, the book of Acts records the following…
“25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25 NIV).
What could possibly make Paul and Silas praise God in a situation like this? I mean, they had been wrongfully accused, stripped and beaten, thrown into jail without a trial, and they had no idea what was going to happen to them in the morning. Why in the world would they be singing songs to God?!

I’ll tell you why. They were followers of Jesus. They believed that Jesus is the Son of God, and that because He lived a sinless life and died a sacrificial death in the place of all sinners, their sins had been forgiven. Paul and Silas believed that because of Jesus, they were no longer doomed to hell. When they died heaven would receive them into eternal perfection, peace and happiness.

Ultimately it didn’t matter to Paul and Silas what might happen to them today or tomorrow. They knew their final destination was heavenly glory. They had peace with God through faith in His Son. So, come what may, they would pray, praise and give thanks.

In our sermon reading for today, Paul tells his fellow Christians to rejoice always. Not just when things are going good. Not just when you’re on an emotional high.

Paul says, Christians…

Rejoice ALWAYS, because you are in Christ, your sins are forgiven!

Rejoice ALWAYS, because the Spirit of God lives in you, and is leading you to keep trusting in Jesus all the way through this life and into heaven.

Rejoice ALWAYS, because God the Father is the one who called you to believe, and He finishes what He starts.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I’ve got four daughters, so I know a little something about princesses and beautiful dresses. When you put on a beautiful flowing gown, you twirl. That’s just what you do. You do a little pirouette and you make that dress sparkle and shimmer. Most little girls understand this. Put a sparkly little number on them and they spin.

The Bible compares saving faith to a garment. Isaiah says…
“10 I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,” (Isaiah 61:10 NIV).
Sinners who trust that Jesus is their savior, are wrapped with the robe of Christ’s sinless perfection. And when you’re wearing sinless perfection, you rejoice. That’s just what you do. All the dark blotchy sins which embarrass you are covered. Forgiven. All the sins which would bar you from heaven eternally, are covered. Forgiven.

And in the pocket of this “robe of righteousness” is a cell phone. The battery never runs out, and the line goes straight to God’s throne room. Paul says, “pray continually”. Through Christ Jesus you and I have an open line to communicate with our God. And He never ignores our calls. God doesn’t take the calls of the wicked, but in Christ, we’re not considered wicked anymore. We’re sinless to God because Jesus absorbed our punishment on the cross.

When you have an open line to God, you pray. That’s just what you do.

And one of the things that you say to God when he picks up, is thank you. Paul says, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”.

Imagine that you woke up one morning to find a brand new car in the driveway. On top of the car was a big red bow and a huge tag with your name on it. In the cup holder inside was a phone and a note that said, “From God. Just thought you’d like this car. By the way, my number is on speed dial.”

What would you do? You’d call God up and thank him right? Well, God’s given us way more than a new car. In Christ we have a vehicle that brings us to heaven. When you’re given a gift like that, you say thanks. That’s just what you do.

Let me read those three verses one more time…

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

“16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Note that Paul isn’t just saying, “Don’t worry, be happy”. He’s telling us why we can rejoice, and pray and give thanks in all circumstances – God has connected us to Jesus Christ through faith.

In verses 19-22. Paul moves on to give more reasons for Christians to rejoice.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 (NIV)

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

At first, this section seems a little negative. Paul is telling us what not to do. Don’t quench the Spirit. Don’t do things that get in the way of the changes that the Holy Spirits is trying to make in our hearts and lives.

But the positive side to this is the fact that we can do things that sadden the Spirit of God and hinder His remodeling our hearts and minds. That may not seem like a positive thing, but look at it this way: even when we do get in the Spirit’s way, He refuses to leave us. He is determined to guide Christ followers through their lives all the way to heaven.

In Ephesians 4 it says…
“…do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:30-32 NIV).
When we stumble around in sinful behavior, the Holy Spirit shows us our sin through His Word and through the correction that our fellow Christians give us. He leads us away from our sinful habits, and back to Christ to be reminded of the forgiveness we have in Him.

In the Bible, the Holy Spirit also teaches us how to avoid sins in the future. Paul says…
“20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22 NIV).
The Holy Spirit teaches us how to avoid sins because sins war against our faith. The Apostle Peter wrote…
“11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:11-12 NIV).
The Holy Spirit leads us to reject sin and embrace our Savior. The Devil tempts us to reject our Savior and embrace our sins. That’s why the Spirit is so determined to lead us into good Christian living. Not because we have to somehow be “good enough” to get into heaven. Christ was already perfect for us. The reason the Spirit is so determined to lead us into godly living is because sinful living damages and endangers our faith in Jesus, and so puts our souls in danger.

If there ever was a reason to rejoice, it’s this – that God’s Spirit lives in our hearts, and is determined to keep us trusting in Christ.

In our last few verses, Paul gives Christians one more reason to rejoice always.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (NIV)

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

Paul calls God, “the God of peace”. He is the God of peace because He made peace between Himself and sinners through Jesus’ sinless suffering and death. Remember what the angels said to the shepherds when Jesus was born?
“’Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” (Luke 2:10-14 NKJV).
God wasn’t just wishing the earth “peace”, like some hippy. He was saying, “This is my Son! The Savior I promised! Through Him you sinners will be forgiven, and find peace with Me once more”.

Through Jesus, we are saved completely – spirit, soul and body. In Him we are considered blameless.

This is going to be the most frustrating thing ever for the devil to take. On the last day he’ll want to rail against us sinners because he knows we sin each and every day. But Christ will calmly reply, “Well yes they’re sinners, but I’m not. I’m blameless and holy, and through faith they are in Me – blameless and holy.”

Just like Jesus said in John 5
“24 ‘Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life’” (John 5:24 NIV).

You see, the Father finishes what He starts. He keeps the promises that He makes.

In the beginning when Adam and Eve plunged the world into pain and sorrow and death through their sin, God promised that one day a descendant of Eve would crush the Devil’s power over us. On the first Christmas, that promise began to be unwrapped. Later, the cross and the empty tomb of Jesus revealed completely how God kept that promise.

At the end of our reading Paul points to the faithfulness of God. He says, “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” This reminds us that no matter how much time stretches between God’s promise and His keeping of it, it always gets kept. He has called us to believe through the Good News of Jesus. He’s not about to let us fall through the cracks. He’s not like that.

You know, being “faithful” has two meanings. Being “faithful” can mean that you have faith. You trust in something. But it can also mean you are worthy of being trusted. That’s God all the way. He’s worthy of being trusted. He calls us to Christ, keeps us in the faith by the Holy Spirit and His Word, and He will bring us all the way home on the last day.

Like Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1
8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:7-9 NIV).
Christians, rejoice!

By faith, you are connected to Christ.

Christians, rejoice!

The Spirit of God lives within you, and guides you to stronger faith through His Word in the Bible.

Christians, rejoice!

God the Father is the one who called you to faith, and the Father always finishes what He started.


December 4, 2011

Company is Coming - Dec 4, 2011

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This sermon was written by Pastor Michael M. Eichstadt and provided through ”Ministry by Mail”. For the text of this sermon, click here. For more “Ministry by Mail” sermons, go to

November 27, 2011

Stay Alert to Face Judgment Day - Nov 27, 2011

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Advent is about waiting and watching. For thousands of years God’s people waited for the Messiah to be born. Today, God’s people are waiting for Him to return with justice for the wicked and salvation for all who trust in Him. Advent is about waiting and watching.


Grace and peace be to you from God our Father, and from the Christ Child, our Lord and Savior.

Our reading for today comes from…

Mark 13:32-37 (NIV)

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ”

Jesus is talking to His disciples here. He is telling them to watch out for Judgment Day, and His return.

Of course, nobody on earth can know when Jesus will return with glory to judge the world. Every once in a while some nut-bag preacher will predict the end of the world (usually more than once since they’re inevitably wrong the first time). The Bible says that predicting the end of the world is not possible. It is the Father’s secret. During His ministry on earth even God’s Son didn’t know when the last day would be. Jesus says the Last Day will arrive like a thief in the night. It will be a surprise.

Jesus uses a little story to help his listeners take His warning to heart and remember it. Here, He says, it’s like a master who leaves his estate on a journey. He gives tasks to his servants, and says to the doorman, WATCH for my return. He doesn’t say when he’ll be back, so they need to be ready at any time.

That’s the kind of attitude you and I need to have when it comes to waiting for the return of Christ. When it comes to getting right with God, we need to have a sense of urgency.

In Matthew chapter 24, Jesus adds some shocking details to His story. He says…
“48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:48-51 NIV).
Hell awaits those who are not ready when Christ returns.

The Son of Man will return to judge the world of sinners. Those who have pushed the Lord away in life, will receive what they have chosen - eternity apart from the LORD and all His goodness.

Our natural sinful instinct is to focus on things that don’t have eternal significance. To choose TV instead of the Word of God. To skip worship in favor of sleep, or something else. Our sinful instinct leads us to give spiritual things only the time which is left over once we’ve done everything else.

We need to break ourselves of these habits. We need to reprioritize our lives. We need to plan our days with a different attitude.

What if we planned our day with Jesus in mind, as if He was coming for dinner? Then we’d put getting our souls ready for Him at first priority. Then we’d put getting our families ready for His return as priority number one. When it comes ot getting right with God, we need to have a sense of urgency.

One of the things that pro football players do to get ready for a game is watch film. They get tape of their opponent’s previous games and they watch that film over and over. They study what the quarterback does, what the receivers do, what the defense does - until they feel like they’ll be able to recognize what play is coming up in the real game. Then, they’ll to recognize and defend against it to it.

As Christians, that’s what we need to do too. Christ isn’t our opponent, not at all. But we need to watch film of Him if we’re going to be ready for His return. We need to go over the Gospel message over and over until we know the Good News backward and forward. Until we can respond to every one of the Devil’s lies with God’s truth.

If we’re filled with Christ’s message of sins forgiven through His cross, we’ll be ready to stand against the Devil in life, and before our Divine Judge on the Last Day.

Here’s the problem though, the world around us doesn’t think much of Christ and the forgiveness He offers. The world directs us to all sorts of OTHER things that are supposed to give us enjoyment and relief in this life.

In Ephesians chapter 5, Paul wrote…
“15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:15-20 NIV).
Excessive alcohol use is just one thing that the world offers in place of the grace of Christ. We could write a thousand books about all the other things that are supposed to make our lives easier.

But God says, don’t be filled with these things, be filled with the Holy Spirit. Come back to the message of Jesus, that your sins are forgiven. That your place in God’s house is secure. Find your peace and rest HERE.

Watchfulness means keeping our eyes non only on the Christ who is to come, but on the Christ who already came. The Christ Child who was born in Bethlehem, a human baby. To the Christ who went voluntarily to the cross of Calvary in our place. To the Christ who rose from the dead and left the tomb empty forever as a guarantee that our sin and guilt is no more in God’s sight. This is where our rest and relief and peace is found – in Christ alone.

When we’re watching for something, it’s often easy to get distracted. This is easy to see at a Little League baseball game. In the first few innings, the outfielders are focused. They’re “baseball ready” waiting for the ball to come their way. They know which base they’re going to throw the ball to.

But when the game stretches on, their concentration begins to break. You look up and the left fielder is sticking his face in his glove, doing who knows what, maybe smelling the leather. The center fielder has sat down and begun to pull out grass. The right fielder isn’t even facing the right way, he’s watching the game that’s happening on the next field over.

For Christians waiting for Christ, this happens too. Except, we don’t just get bored, we get distracted by the worries of life. In Luke chapter 21 Jesus warned His followers…
“34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man”” (Luke 21:34-36 NIV).
The next few weeks are going to be full of anxieties that come with a holiday flavor: buying gifts, wrapping gifts, getting time off of work, getting ready for church services, planning trips, sending cards, etc., etc.

If we want to be watchful, then we need to consider all other preparations secondary to the preparation of our souls.

We prepare our souls to celebrate Christmas when we despise our own sinful behavior, when we confess our sins to God and when we put our hope in His promise. Because of all that the Christ did for us, the Bible says…
“9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. …if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 1:9, 2:1-2 NIV).
Confessing our sins, and being reassured of the forgiveness that came through Christ – that’s how we remain ready for Christmas Worship and Final Day judgment.

Jesus once said…
“36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36 NIV).
For Advent we could rephrase this verse to say…
“What good is it for us if our holiday preparations are perfect, but our souls remain unprepared?

In our sermon reading Jesus warned us to WATCH. So let’s watch.

Let’s watch by keeping a sense of urgency when it comes to getting right with God. If we trust in Christ, we are right with God.

Let’s keep our eyes open by continuing to look to the Gospel, letting the message of free forgiveness from Christ fill us up with peace and hope.

Let’s be watchful, not letting anything distract us from what is most important this Advent season – coming before God in confession, turning away from our sins, and trusting in Christ’s promise of forgiveness and eternal life.

Faith in Christ isn’t just the simplest way to be ready to celebrate Christ’s birth, it’s the only way. It’s also the only was to be ready for His return. Amen.

November 24, 2011

The Path to a Thankful Heart - Nov 24, 2011

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The other day I got an email from my mother-in-law that made me stop and think. The email contained this simple question: If you woke up this morning and had only what you thanked God for yesterday, what would you have?

I’m glad God doesn’t operate like this. He doesn’t withdraw His blessing from our lives when we neglect to thank Him. Nor does He withhold our daily needs when we fail to ask for them. As Martin Luther wrote,

“God gives daily bread without our asking, even to unbelievers, but we pray …that He would teach us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving” (Martin Luther’s Explanation of what “Give us this day our daily bread” means in the Lord’s Prayer).

On Thanksgiving Day we pause to take stock of all we have been given, and to give thanks. We don’t want to be ungrateful people. We want to give credit where credit is due.

But, that convicting email question makes us wonder, “Why don’t I thank God more often?”

This morning God’s Word is going to show us some of the barriers that get in the way of having a grateful heart. May God bless our study, so that we see, and overcome these barriers. May God bless us through His Word and by the Holy Spirit, so that today we give thanks with a grateful heart.

Our first reading comes from Genesis chapter 32. Here a man named Jacob is praying to God. He says…
“O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, LORD, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps” (Genesis 32:9-10 NIV).

One barrier to a grateful heart, is entitlement. Feeling that you deserve good things.

At this point in his life, Jacob wasn’t having any trouble with the barrier of entitlement. He had a big family, huge herds of animals and plenty of servants to tend those herds. But Jacob knew that he didn’t deserve to be as blessed as he was. God hadn’t given him these things as some kind of a reward for a job well done. God had given him these things simply because God is kind and thoughtful.

Entitlement can make a mess a Christian’s life. God doesn’t always give us the things we expect Him to. And when that happens the Christian who feels entitled to what God is withholding can grow bitter. And it’s pretty hard to be both bitter towards God and grateful to Him at the same time.

Instead of feeling like we deserve good things, we need to think like Jacob. God doesn’t owe us anything. He created us. He created all we have. He keeps us alive each and every day. We don’t have a single good thing that doesn’t have it’s origin in Him. So really, everything that we have, is a gift from God.

King David put it like this,
“Everything comes from you [God], and we have given you only what comes from your hand” (1 Chronicles 29:14 NIV).

The foolishness of entitlement is most obvious when we look at all the sinful things we’ve done with our lives. Who can really look at their thoughts, and words and actions and honestly say, “Hey God, You owe me”?

Humility removes the barrier of entitlement, and sets us on the path to a grateful heart.

The second barrier to a grateful heart that I’d speak about today is greed. Sinfully wanting more than God wills us to have.

God speaks to us about this barrier in one of the civic laws that He gave to the nation of Israel. Leviticus 19 says…
“9 When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:9-10 NIV).

God used this Old Testament law to provide for people who didn’t have their own fields. The poor person and the foreigner were suppose to be able to pick up what was left from the harvest that they were not able to plant or gather.

Part of having a grateful heart is recognizing that God gives both TOO us and THROUGH us. Part of a grateful heart is being able to give. Martin Luther once said…
“God divided the hand into fingers so that money would slip through” (Martin Luther).
Greed blocks the way to a grateful heart by convincing the Christian that if God gave it to me, He meant it for me only. And when our grip on our time and money and possessions is made tight by greed, we react to God’s tender tugging with anger. It’s pretty hard to be both greedy and grateful to God at the same time.

The great irony of greed is that if God’s Son had been greedy, we would have no hope. If Christ had said, “Why should I give everything up to save sinners? It’s mine” then the cross wouldn’t have happened, and we’d still be in our sins, and on the way to hell. But He wasn’t greedy. He was completely selfless. He became a servant, and died in our place.

In one of his letters, the apostle Paul instructed Timothy…
“17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:17-18 NIV).
Contentment removes the barrier of greed, and enables us BOTH to have a grateful heart, AND to lead others to thank God as well.

The last barrier to a grateful heart that I’d speak of today is a little different than the first two. Entitlement and greed are easy to put into words. The third barrier is harder to tack down. I suppose you could say this final barrier is taking things for granted. But it’s a little more than that. It’s also failing to see how valuable our blessings really are.

In Psalm 36 King David wrote…
“…You, LORD, preserve both people and animals.
7 How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light” (Psalm 36:6-9 NIV).

David describes the blessings of food and drink as “the abundance of God’s house” and “the river of delights”. Yet how often don’t we get sick of God’s blessings. Just try making the same supper three nights in a row. That’s usually enough to make someone grumble. We’re so used to having a variety of good things to eat.

Or think about all the little gadgets that we enjoy. Imagine instead of an mp3 player in your pocket you had that many musicians following you around. And you could pause them at will. Wait, wait, wait, my wife is talking to me. Okay, go ahead and play.

One of the reasons Thanksgiving Day helps us to be grateful at heart, is that on Thanksgiving we try to slow down and savor our blessings. We stop and look around and see them for once instead of just dabbling in the goodness and moving on to the next thing.

Slowing down and looking closer removes the barrier of taking things for granted. And if we look close enough at our blessings, we just might see what they all mean, and where they come from.

When the apostle Paul and Barnabas were preaching in the city of Lystra, Paul noticed a paralyzed man in the crowd. Paul could see that this man believed what Paul was saying about Jesus. So, through Paul, God healed the man, and he jumped up and began to walk.

When the pagan citizens of Lystra saw this they ran off to get bulls to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas. They figured they must be gods in human form. Then the book of Acts tells us…
“…when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:8-17 NIV).

Life giving rain, overflowing harvests, plenty of food, friends and family – these all testify to the same thing – God is kind. He loves the people He has created.

If we slow down and look closer, we can see this. Even in a world that sometimes hits us with pain and suffering and loss, we can see that God is a God of love. For in Christ Jesus we have a gift which surpasses all the gifts we thank God for on Thanksgiving. In Christ we have a Savior who washes our sins away, even the sins of a thankless heart. His death and resurrection give forgiveness and peace to all who believe.

And really, aren’t all the little gifts that God gives just arrows meant to point us to the big gift? Each gift says, “God’s a giver. He loves you.” And when we hear that through Christ all our sins are forgiven and heaven is now our destination, then we see how much we really have to be thankful for.

Prayer: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thank You for the Bible. Thank You for bringing us into Your family through Jesus. Give us a spirit of humility. Help us truly see we do not deserve the love you shower on us. And let that fill us with joy as we see that you still shower us with loving care. Thank you God. Help us to be content, and willing to give to others. Help us to see that we are acting as your hands when we give. What a privilege. Help us never to lose sight of how amazing even the simplest of your gifts is. As science unlocks more and more of the details of Your universe, help us to see each and every marvel as part of Your little gift to us us. And keep in the very center of our grateful hearts, the cross of Christ. Drive us back to the foot of that cross often Lord, to see our sins and our Savior. For there we cannot help but be grateful. Amen.

November 20, 2011

The Deliberate Paul - Nov 20, 2011

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Throughout the summer and into the fall, we’ve been using our sermon time to examine the book of Romans. We’ve got two Sundays left in this series. Today we’re going to take a look at some verses found in the second to last chapter of Romans.

The book of Romans is actually a letter that Paul wrote to the Christian congregation worshipping at Rome during the first century AD. Judging from information contained in letters of Paul, it appears that he was on the tail end of his third missionary journey when he wrote his letter. He was probably staying in the city of Corinth at the time.

If you look at a map of Paul’s missionary journeys, you’ll notice that they grow. He was constantly widening the circle of his preaching. Carrying the message of sins forgiven through Jesus to more and more new cities.

When Paul wrote the letter to the Romans, he wasn’t even finished with his third missionary journey, and yet he was already planning another big trip. He wanted to push West with the Gospel, all the way to Spain. But, first he had an obligation to take care of ( see Romans 1:1-17).

The congregation at Jerusalem was stricken with poverty. The other believers scattered throughout Asia Minor had heard about the problems their brothers and sisters were facing at Jerusalem. They had responded with compassion, starting to gather a money-gift to help them out. Paul had volunteered to collect and deliver this gift on behalf of the congregations. So, Paul would have to tend to this responsibility before he could head out to Spain.

While in Corinth it occurred to Paul that he could get a head start on preparations for the Spain mission by writing a letter to the congregation at Rome.

Paul wasn’t independently wealthy. He had to pay his own way most of the time when he carried the Gospel to new places. So, it made good practical sense to stop in at Rome on his way to Spain. In Rome Paul could get his bearings. Make a little money. Get information about which roads to take, etc.

At Rome Paul could meet with fellow Christians. They could worship together, read the Bible, Paul could preach, and all could be strengthened before he left for Spain.

The Roman congregation was well known as a mature group of Christians. When Paul wrote to them, it wasn’t to correct or rebuke. Basically, Paul wrote his letter to the Romans to say, “Hey, I’m coming your way soon, God willing. Here’ are some things to chew on concerning our great Savior and our lives as His people. Be encouraged. Be at peace. Be strong in the faith. We’ll talk more when I get there.”

I’m not making this stuff up. This historical context for the book of Romans comes Romans chapter 1, 15 and other Scriptures.

One more thing about congregation at Rome. Paul had never been there. He knew a lot of the people in the congregation there, but he wasn’t the one who planted this church.

So, there’s the historical context of Paul’s letter to the Romans. As I prepared for this devotion, one of the things that stuck out to me was how deliberate Paul was. So, as we read, look for how deliberate Paul is.

Romans 15:14-22 (NIV)

14 I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. 15 Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
17 Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. 18 I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—19 by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. 20 It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. 21 Rather, as it is written:
“Those who were not told about him will see,
and those who have not heard will understand.”
22 This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.

Now, I said I wanted you to concentrate on how deliberate Paul is in this section. Paul seems very experienced here in the things that he says, and does. He has a purpose in each one. He’s not just flying by the seat of his pants in what he says here. He’s got a reason for each thing.

First of all, Paul knows his calling.

Look at verses 14-16 again. Paul says…
“14 I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. 15 Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:14-16 NIV).
Paul had just spent fourteen chapters preaching to a congregation that he’d never visited. How would we feel if a pastor from one of our sister congregations were to write us a fourteen page letter? We’d probably think, “Apparently you think you need to teach us a few things?” We might be a little offended, right? We might think, who does this guy think he is? We’ve been a congregation for many years now, and he thinks he needs to educate us in the faith?

Paul takes care to express that he didn’t write this letter because he felt the Roman Christians weren’t competent. He wrote to remind them of these things that they already knew, and he wrote to carry out his role as God’s preacher to the Gentiles (This congregation was made up of both Jewish born Christians, and Gentile born Christians).

You and I have God given roles as well. I’m a pastor, a husband, a father, a Christian brother, an employee, part of the Church Council, a Voter for our congregation.

Paul’s deliberate attention to his role as God’s preacher to the Gentiles moves us to ask ourselves, what are our God given roles? Are we fulfilling those roles deliberately, or in a haphazard and unplanned way?

Whatever our individual God-given roles are, we’re should do what Paul does here. We should take care to strengthen each other in the Christian faith by continually reminding each other of the things we have already been taught by God’s Word.

That no matter how much we’ve failed in our callings, our Savior still loves us dearly. And His sacrifice still stands valid over all our failures. We stand forgiven in Christ. Share this with a fellow Christian this week. Someone who knows it already. Remind them of the grace they stand in because of Jesus.

By this point in Paul’s life, he had started quite a few churches in quite a few different towns. He had brought many Gentiles to know and trust in the Savior that God had promised. Yet, Paul never lost sight of the fact that it was not his power that had accomplished this.

In his letter to the Corinthian congregation, Paul wrote…
“…I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect …I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed” (1 Corinthians 15:9-11 NIV).
Paul echoes these same thoughts in verses 17-19 of our reading from Romans.

Romans 15:17-19a NIV

17 Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. 18 I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—19 by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God.

Paul was very aware of the fact that everything that he had accomplished, had been done by God working through him. Paul wasn’t an eloquent speaker. In his letter to the Corinthians Paul writes…
“3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:3-5 NIV).
At the beginning of his letter to the Romans he says…
“…I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16 NIV).
Paul knew that without the message of Christ all he would have to offer would be rules and regulations that wouldn’t set anyone free from guilt and sin. Paul knew that without the Holy Spirit working in the hearts of his hearers, all his words couldn’t do a thing.

And because Paul knew this, he deliberately came back to the Gospel over and over, throughout all his preaching and throughout all his letters.

This is the same thing that you and I have to do in our ministry to the sinners around us. Whether it’s our families, or our friends. Whether it’s the stranger on the bus, or the co-worker at lunch, we have to deliberately come back to law and Gospel, our sin and God’s grace given through Christ Jesus’ suffering and death.

Our lives and our interaction with others will not bring freedom to other sinners if those lives and actions aren’t accompanied with the specific message of the Gospel. We have to communicate that message that Christ died for sinners, and that life was given so that our sins stand forgiven.

The best way to make sure this message does get into our conversations is to continually come back to the Word of God to hear the Gospel for ourselves. When we are filled with the peace and joy that the cross of Christ gives, then that peace and joy will spill into our speech.

The last way that Paul was deliberate in his ministry comes out in the final verses of our reading for today. Look again at verses 19-22. Paul writes…

Romans 15:19b-22 (NIV)

So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. 20 It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. 21 Rather, as it is written:
“Those who were not told about him will see,
and those who have not heard will understand.”
22 This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you

When the resurrected Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, He told Paul that he would be a messenger for God. Paul’s primary mission would be to bring the Gospel to non-Jews. So, when Paul went out to preach the Gospel, he deliberately went where people didn’t know about the Savior God had promised. He deliberately went where people didn’t know that Jesus was that Savior.

Now, the job of every Christian congregation is two-fold. We exist to proclaim the grace and forgiveness given through Christ Jesus. We are to build up the people who know and believe this message, and we are also to reach out into the world of hopeless sinners to give them the sure hope of forgiveness through Christ.

One preacher has said, “The Gospel of Christ is to penetrate down and deep, and also grow up and out.” Like the yeast that spreads through the batch of dough, God’s message of forgiveness is to spread throughout every part of our being. Like the little mustard seed that springs into a many branched tree, God’s message of forgiveness is to reach up and out into the world.

Part of our role as God’s people is to teach, correct and encourage one another. Part of our role is to reach, instruct and bring others to know Christ’s love.

Let us do these things together with deliberation and thought, not in a haphazard and unplanned way.

I guess what I’m saying is, let’s be like Paul. Let’s meet with each other like he desired to meet with the Roman Christians. To talk about the glorious Gospel message. To encourage each other and lift each other up in prayer and in many other ways.

And when we leave our worship on Sunday, refreshed in Christ, let’s be like Paul traveling out to Spain. Let’s deliberately take the message of sins forgiven through God’s Son, to people who don’t know it. To people who struggle against it. To people who misunderstand it. To people who, though they don’t know it yet, need this message more than they need the air they breath.

This may sound like a tall order to fill. But Paul reminds us here, that it isn’t our efforts that will accomplish miracles in the hearts of sinners. The Gospel of Christ will do the real miracle of bringing people peace and joy when it brings them to believe their sins truly are forgiven through Christ’s cross.

Let’s pray. Father in heaven, thank you for sending men like Paul out with your message. Men who had no eloquence, but who had your powerful message of free forgiveness. Build us up in faith, so we are filled with the same peace and joy that he was. Set us squarely on the Gospel of Jesus, so that we feel its power in our hearts, and speak of that power with our mouths. Amen.

November 13, 2011

One in Christ - Nov 13, 2011

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Today’s reading from Romans is all about Christian Unity.

Maybe you’re not familiar with our church, so, let me say this: we’re not a church that wants to teach you how to earn heaven. The Bible says we can’t do that. The Bible says you and I are guilty of sinning against God in endless ways, and we simply can’t undo what we’ve done.

Our church is about telling people what God has done for hopeless sinners like us. He has given us a Savior. Our sins were placed on Jesus when He hung on the cross. God’s Son suffered hell in our place, and when He died, our sins were swallowed up in His sacrifice. Because of Jesus, your sins stand forgiven.

To prove that He accepted Jesus’ sacrifice, God the Father raised His Son from the dead. Because Jesus lives, so shall we.

The section from Romans we’re going to study today doesn’t focus on this message of sins forgiven through Jesus. It focuses on Christian Unity.

Through simple turst in Jesus, we are united to Him. Made one with Him. We are also united to our fellow Christians. We are “one in Christ”.

Let’s read what Paul has to say about how Christians should function in this unity.

Romans 15:1-2 “1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.”

When I was a teenager, one of my favorite things to do was go to “open gym”. Once a week in the little town of Lemmon, SD, they would open the gym up to anybody who wanted to play some basketball.

All sorts of players would come. Young and old. Clumsy and skilled. We’d shoot from the free throw line to pick teams, and then we’d play a few games.

What you really wanted at open gym was to get into a game with the better players. Ones that were just about at your skill level, but a little better. That way you got to challenge yourself and hopefully grow as a basketball player.

Of course, sometimes you got in a game with people who were good basketball players, but who weren’t really good team players. Sure, they could drive the lane and score. They could sink three-pointers. But, they’d take the jump-shot when you were open for a lay-up. They’d take the long shot when you were in position for the easy basket. These players probably got better from playing at open gym, but they certainly didn’t help their teammates grow.

And then there was Brett Odenbach. Brett wasn’t the best player out there, but he was the best team player. He could have hogged the ball and won a lot of games. He was good enough to do that, but he didn’t. Brett had a way of including everyone on the team, even if they weren’t the best players out there.

I remember seeing Brett lead his team to victory against others teams that obviously had better players. Our high school coach even took notice of Brett’s talent. He told us, “That’s the type of player you want to be, one that brings everyone else’s game up a notch.”

That’s the type of Christians we want to be too. Team players. People includers. Self-less servers who not only tolerate the weaknesses of our fellow Christians, but who support and strengthen them, bringing their game up to the next level.

In Romans 15, verses 1-2, Paul says…
“1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up” (Romans 15:1-2 NIV).

As followers of Christ Jesus our Savior, we are “one in Christ”. We are united to Him through faith, forgiven sinners, reborn Children of God. We are on Christ’s team, under his leadership.

Being one with Christ, we are also joined to our fellow Christians. We are teammates under Christ. And as such, putting up with our teammate’s failings isn’t optional. Being one in Christ means that we are called to work together.

What this means is that we have to learn to forgive our fellow Christians. We have to continually correct and encourage. We have to voluntarily give up control at times, and give others the opportunity to grow. We have to see that in Christ, our lives are not “all about me”. In Christ we are called to selflessly serve our fellow Christians.

Romans 15:3-4 “3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”

When Moses went to Pharaoh in the name of the LORD and told him to let the Israelite people go, Pharaoh replied,
“Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go?” (Exodus 5:2 NIV).
Then Pharaoh increased the burden on his Israelite slaves. He commanded them to manufacture the same number of bricks that they had before, but he no longer provided straw for them to use.

When David went to fight Goliath in the name of the LORD, Goliath said…
“’Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 ‘Come here,’ he said, ‘and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!’” (1 Samuel 17:43-44 NIV).

When the armies of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, surrounded Jerusalem this message was sent to King Hezekiah:
“‘…Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, “Jerusalem will not be given into the hands of the king of Assyria.” 11 Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? 12 Did the gods of the nations that were destroyed by my predecessors deliver them…” (2 Kings 19:10-12 NIV).

Throughout history people and governments opposed to the true God have insulted and threatened God’s people. Even God’s own Son had to endured ridicule and threats because He was faithful to His Heavenly Father.

It’s just like Jesus told his followers,
“‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you...” (John 15:20 NKJV).
If they hate the God of heaven, they are also going to hate His followers.

Through faith in Christ Jesus, we have been made His people. Forgiven sinners. Part of the family of the true God. Being one with Christ means that we have to endure abuse from people who hate the LORD.

But here in Romans, Paul’s main point isn’t that we have to put up with anti-Christian people and governments. In this section Paul is mainly talking about how Christians have to put up with each other.

He mentions the insults of the un-godly as an argument from the greater to the lesser. If we can endure the attacks of the wicked and the insults of the godless, certainly we can put up with the failings of our fellow Christians.

Paul says that everything in the past was written to teach us. Eventually, the Israelite slaves were freed from the heavy hand of Pharaoh. God freed them from slavery and gave them their own land.

After Goliath’s taunts, David brought the arrogant giant down with a single stone flung from his sling.

One morning not long after Sennacherib warned Israel not to trust the LORD’s promise of protection, Sennacherib’s army woke up to find 185,000 men dead in their camp. For the angel of the LORD had visited them in the night.

Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

Our hope is built on this: The LORD is trustworthy. He keeps His promises. He promised to send us a Savior from sin, and He did. Christ Jesus is died in our place, setting us free from sin, guilt and hell.

With Christ’s sacrifice in mind, forgiving the sins of our fellow Christians shouldn’t be too difficult.

Romans 15:5-6 “5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Here Paul prays that his fellow Christians in Rome would have the same attitude of mind toward each other than Christ Jesus had. Jesus’ attitude is described in 1 John 3, verse 16. There it says…
“16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18 NIV).
Here we have both the example of Christ, and the power source to become like Christ. Our sins have been forgiven because Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. He put sinners, like us, first. Now, as forgiven sinners, we ought to lay down our lives for each other.

So, we’re back to where we started. Self-less serving in Christ’s name. But Paul adds a final thought in verse 6. He says…
“…so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:6 NIV).
A Christian attitude means putting others first. But a Christian attitude also means putting our Master and Savior above all things and people.

God wants us to have the same mind, but that doesn’t just mean agreeing with each other. God wants us to have Christ’s mind. So that with “one mind and one voice” we can glorify God.

True unity in Christ exists where people believe and teach what CHRIST taught. If all the Christian churches of the world joined up as one church, that wouldn’t be pleasing to God. Churches today teach different things. They don’t have a unity of mind and voice. False teachings and strange interpretations have crept in and are taught as God’s truth.

You can have the same roof and the same name, but if your unity isn’t based on a genuine, common confession of what the Bible says, you’ve got a problem.

How can you have one mind and one voice as a church, if you believe and teach different things? How can you have one mind and one voice if that mind and voice is not molded by the mind and voice of Christ?

This isn’t a popular thing in our time. Many Christian churches have joined together with others because they believe Christ is their Savior. Great! But Jesus has many other things to say beyond the cross of forgiveness. If we’re going to follow the Savior, we can’t pick and choose which of His teachings we’ll keep.

This isn’t the only place in the Bible where God talks about true Christian unity.
“10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Corinthians 1:10 NIV).

“11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11 NIV).

“…make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2 NIV).
In the book of Acts, Luke describes the first Christian fellowship in Jerusalem as being devoted to holding on to the teaching they received from Christ’s apostles. It says…
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42 NIV).

Now, don’t get me wrong, and don’t misunderstand Paul either. He’s not saying we all have to have the same favorite color. He’s talking about having the same doctrine. When God says it, we teach it.

That is how God gets praised. When we say, “What you said God. That’s the truth. We’re going to teach your Word, and your Word alone.” That’s when God gets the glory.

True unity in Christ is about self-less serving, learning from the example of past Christians and uniting under the Words of Christ.

To close our devotion today, I’d like to pray that God would help us in these area.

Prayer: Father in heaven, help us to forgive our fellow Christians when they sin against us. Move them to forgive us also. Help us to see ourselves as part of Your team Jesus, so that we support and strengthen each other. Help us not to feel awkward praying with one another. Help us not to feel strange encouraging each other with your Word. Help us to continue to study your Word at home, in Bible Classes, in Worship and countless other places so that we are encouraged by the examples of Christians who came before. Lord, keep us teaching what your Word says, and what Your Word says only. Guard our hearts and minds from false teachings, and false teachers. We believe that we are ONE IN CHRIST, forgiven in Him and united to each other in Him. United to you, Father, through Him. Help our unity to grow more complete and stronger this week. Amen.

November 6, 2011

The Freedom of a Christian - Nov 6, 2011

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Grace and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

We start most of our sermons with those words, “Grace and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ”. Ever wonder why? Is it something they teach pastors in school, that every sermon has to start with those words? Those words are from the Bible of course, but, just where are they found?

This week I searched for the words “Grace and peace” and what I found surprised me. Those words occur at the start of almost EVERY letter found in the New Testament. Paul used those words to greet EVERY SINGLE group of Christians that he wrote to. Peter used those words to start both of his letters. So did John and Jude.

Grace and peace be to you.

Pastors often use these words to start their sermons because the congregations that we’re speaking too are groups of Christians. Christ followers. People who have come to believe that in Jesus, we have the gift of forgiveness.

Before Jesus came into our lives, the mass of our sins hung above our heads like a black, guilty, writhing weight. And WITH those sins, God’s just anger and punishment hung also, tenuously suspended, waiting to come crashing down on us.

But then came the sweet sound of Christ’s Gospel. And we learned that the punishment for our sins (past, present and future) fell on Jesus, instead of us. He suffered for the sins of our lives. And because He did, we are no longer under the threat of being punished eternally for those sins.

Paul expressed this amazing thought in Romans 6, verse 13. He wrote…
“…sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14 NIV).
In Hebrews it says…
“27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” (Hebrews 7:27 NIV).
This is why Paul started his letters with “Grace and peace be to you”; he wanted to remind his fellow Christians right off the bat that we are not people SEEKING to have a relationship with God. We are not people WORKING on having our sins forgiven. Through the Message of sins forgiven through Jesus Christ, God has taken our sins away, and made us a people who rest under the mighty wing of His forgiving grace.

In one of his early pamphlets, church reformer Martin Luther wrote...
“A Christian is a free lord, subject to none.”
He was talking about the freedom from sin, guilt and punishment that we have in Christ Jesus. But Martin followed his statement another which at first seems contradictory. He wrote…
“A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all.”
This is what Paul is going to talk about in our letter reading for today. In Christ we are FREE FROM SIN AND PUNISHMENT, but we are NOT FREE to impose our own extra-biblical judgments on our fellow Christians.

In Christ we are FREE FROM SIN, but we are NOT FREE to live thoughtless and reckless lives which lead other Christians away from Christ.

Romans 14:1-13 (NIV)

1 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. 6 Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:
“ ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’ ”
12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.

In this section Paul is talking about “Christian Liberty”. Now, when people talk about “Christian Liberty” they’re usually not talking about the greatest liberty that we have in Christ, the freedom from sin’s eternal punishment. Usually, when people talk about “Christian Liberty” they’re talking about the fact that when the Bible doesn’t tack something down as right or wrong, Christians have the liberty to do what they judge is best.

Sometimes we call these areas, “adiaphora”. Adiaphora is just a Greek word that means, “something neither commanded nor forbidden”.

It’s important to realize that, in this section of Romans, Paul is talking about things neither commanded nor forbidden by God. If God’s word says something is right or wrong, that settles the matter. You can’t do something that is clearly forbidden in the Bible and claim, “That’s okay because I’m doing it for God’s glory”. You can’t do something God forbids, to His glory.

The whole topic of adiaphora is a bit of a tricky subject because it defies our desire to tack everything down as right or wrong. I don’t know how many times I’ve had someone come to me as a pastor, wanting me to tell them what is right or wrong in an area that God simply doesn’t tack down as right or wrong.

In situations like that I can give my opinion as an individual Christian, but I NEVER want to give my opinion as if it is WHAT GOD COMMANDS. That would be wrong. In Jeremiah 23:31 God says…
“…I am against the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, ‘The LORD declares.’” (Jeremiah 23:31 NIV).
That’s not a position I want to find myself in.

Adiaphora questions are also sticky because sometimes Christians come to completely different conclusions on the basis of Scripture. That’s sounds like a bad statement, I know. But I’m not saying Scripture contradicts itself. Not at all. Let me explain how Christians come to different conclusions.

We’ll take a relatively harmless topic, dress code for worship.

One Christian thinks, when I come to worship at church, I’m approaching my ALMIGHTY and POWERFUL Creator. THEREFORE, I’m going to dress up. Suit and tie, skirt and blouse, whatever is dressy.

Another Christian thinks, when I come to worship at church, God’s interested in SPEAKING TO MY HEART. THEREFORE, it doesn’t much matter what I wear. On my heart I’m wearing Jesus.

Did you see what happened? Both Christians started with Scriptural truths. Then they both made a logical jump and landed on two different opinions about dress code for worship.

Remember that sequence: Scriptural foundation, logical jump, individual Christian opinion.

So far, so good. Where the problem comes in, is when the dressed-up Christian judges the plain-clothes Christian as “not very respectful of God”. And when the plain-clothes Christian judges the dressed-up Christian as being “shallow and all about outward appearances”.

When this happens, a perfectly good opinion becomes a tool of the Devil to cultivate bad feelings, useless arguments and endless distractions from what is of greater importance – those things which God’s Word speaks DIRECTLY about.

In our reading, Paul brings up two examples of adiaphora situations that may have come up in first century Rome. In his first example, one Christian feels free to eat anything. Another feels he should only eat vegetables.

In the second, one Christian feels that certain days are more spiritually significant than others. Another feels every day is of equal significance.

I’m not going to go into great detail about these examples. It’s enough to note that these issues were somehow spiritually significant to the Christians of Paul’s day.

Perhaps the vegetarian Christian was uneasy about eating meat that came from animal sacrifices made in the pagan temples of Rome. Perhaps the Christian who felt some days were more important was a Jewish Christian who had grown up observing the Sabbath day on every Saturday.

Whatever the case, these were issues of adiaphora. God didn’t command or forbid them. They were issues that each Christian had to take and judge for themselves. And then, Paul says, they should take care not to raise their judgment to the level of “thus says the Lord”.

Maybe you don’t think YOU do this. But it’s easy to do. The apostle Peter grew up never eating things that God’s Old Testament designated as ‘unclean’. But after Christ came, God gave Peter a vision of a bunch of ‘unclean’ animals being lowered down to earth in a sheet. A voice from heaven said to Peter, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat” (Acts 10:13 NIV). Peter replied,
“14 ‘Surely not, Lord!’… …‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’
15 The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean’” (Acts 10:14-15 NIV).
We too find it hard to let our own logical conclusions be what they are, OUR OWN logical conclusions. We want others to have our same view. But God insists, If I didn’t say it, let it remain in the area of Christian liberty.

There’s a opposite side to this whole matter of judging things that is equally important. And that’s doing whatever you want to in the areas of Christian liberty, without considering how it will affect others. Paul says that’s not right either. We dare not use our freedom in Christ to live reckless lives that damage the faith of our fellow Christians.

1 Peter 2, verse 16 says…
“16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.” (1 Peter 2:16 NIV).
And in Romans 14, verse 15 it says…
“15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died” (Romans 14:15 NIV).
This is why Luther wrote…
“A Christian is a free lord, subject to none.”
But then added…
“A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all.”

In 2 Corinthians 5, verse 15 it says…
“…he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:15 NIV).
Therefore, this is the proper attitude of a Christ follower when it comes to matters neither commanded nor forbidden: No matter what I do, I have forgiveness through my gracious, all giving Savior, Jesus Christ. NOW, what action will best bring Him praise? What action will help other Christians to be strengthened in faith, AND encouraged to live their lives to God’s glory?

Now, there’s one more thing to throw into this whole discussion. In Romans 14, verse 16 Paul says…
“16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil” (Romans 14:16 NIV).
Some people think that whenever a fellow Christian thinks something isn’t good, we should just stop, not matter whether they’re right or not. This is the “be-a-carpet-for-other-people-to-walk-on” approach to adiaphora. But this isn’t right either. Sometimes we need to stand up and say, “Hey, this is perfectly alright. You can’t demand people do what you do. Inventing laws that God doesn’t is just plain legalism.”

There’s an old story about a two pastor friends who weren’t part of the same fellowship, but would get together to talk about things from time to time. One insisted that any and all smoking was forbidden by God. The other knew this wasn’t something God says in the Bible, so whenever his friend would come over to talk, he’d dust off his old pipe and have a smoke. He called it his “confessional pipe”.

Sometimes we need to do just that, take a stand against piling up human laws alongside God’s, as if our ideas are just as important as God’s.

So, is that all clear? Nope? Well, that’s because it’s not going to always be cut and dried when it comes to adiaphora.

But what is clear is what Paul says to his fellow Christians here in Romans. We live to the Lord, and we die to the Lord. He is our hope and salvation. He is able to make us stand cleansed on Judgment Day. The mistakes we make in the area of adiaphora do not erase His precious sacrifice. And that is comfort indeed.

So, here’s what I take away from Paul’s words in Romans 14. Don’t be judgmental of your fellow Christians when it comes to matters God hasn’t tacked down. Don’t be reckless when it comes to how you use your Christian liberty. Make your decisions with Christ in mind. Be fully convinced in your own mind, and know that on that Last Day when you stand before your true Judge, He and He alone will make you stand, a forgiven child of God, through the sacrifice He made in your place.

Let’s pray. Father in heaven, thank you for sending Christ to give us freedom from sin’s guilt and punishment. When it comes to our decisions in life, the ones that fall in the area of Christian liberty, help us to properly consider our fellow Christians so that we never lead others to sin, or most tragically, to fall away from the faith. Forgive our sins in the area of Christian liberty, whether those be sins of a judgmental attitude, or sins of a reckless one. And lead us to walk a better life, one that truly gives glory to our great Savior, and one that builds up the Christ followers around us.


Again, grace and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

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