October 30, 2011

Reformation Sunday, Oct 30, 2011

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Judges 2:10-11 (NIV)

“10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals.”


Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483 into an exciting time in human history. During Luther’s lifetime, Michelangelo would paint his famous ceiling. Copernicus would show the world that the Sun is the center of our solar system instead of the earth. Columbus would discover America.

But Luther’s family knew little about the world beyond their local roads. They were poor peasants living in the rough country and climate of 15th century Germany. Food, clothing and shelter were not always easy to obtain. An unusually wet spring or a dry summer could double the price of grain, or worse.

Hunger wasn’t the only wolf that stalked the people of Luther’s day. The Plague was on the loose as well. In the German city of Strasbourg, the Plague killed 16,000 of the 25,000 inhabitants. That’s a death rate of 64%. When the Plague was finally done with Strasbourg, it left 300 surrounding villages deserted.

Because so few people were educated (less than 10% of Europe could even read) this was also an age of superstition. Dr. James M. Kittelson writes…
“…[it was] an age of pilgrimages, saints and relics. The search for spiritual security colored everything. Christ was often pictured on a throne with a lily (resurrection) coming from one side of his head and a sword (damnation) coming from the other. The burning question was, “How can I avoid the sword and earn the lily?”
Luther was not raised to know Christ as a compassionate Savior, but rather as a terrifying judge. A judge that would only give you eternal life, if you had been good enough to earn it.

Of course, this idea that you can earn your own forgiveness is completely foreign to the Bible. But who could read? And even if you could, the Bible wasn’t available German.

In other words, the common people had to just take the priest’s word for it. And this young Martin did, for many years.

In the book of Judges it says, “After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10 NIV).

Well, that pretty much sums it up for Luther’s day too. Virtually nobody really knew the true God anymore, nor what God’s Son had done for sinners through His death on the cross.

Romans 1:16-17 (NKJV)

“16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”


Whether naturally, or through his parent’s strict discipline, Luther grew up with a sensitive conscience. He was acutely aware of the sins he committed daily against God and man.

So, he did what the church told him to – he confessed his sins to a priest. He did penance for his sins. He prayed to the saints. But nothing helped his troubled heart.

Luther felt that he was sinning even while he was confessing his sins. He knew that at the moment of confession he was at his most selfish. He wasn’t confessing his sins out of love for God, and to give God the glory. He was confessing his sins out of the most selfish desire to save his own skin.

His fear of God’s judgment eventually led Luther to become a monk. Perhaps if he gave up all his possessions and dedicated himself to serving God apart from the world he could find relief. But in the cloister he found that he was just as sinful, if not more. He punished his own body. He prayed for hours on end. He did what his church superiors told him to do. But still, his sins weighed heavy on his mind.

Far from bringing relief, life as a monk made Luther increasingly angry at God. Later in life Luther wrote, “I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners”.

When Luther read, “…in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed…” (Romans 1:17) he thought, God is righteous, what comfort is that? I am still a sinner.

When Luther read on that, “…The righteous will live by faith”, that didn’t help either. He wasn’t righteous, he was a sinner. So, how could he “live by faith” if he wasn’t yet righteous?

But Luther misunderstood what this passage meant. Eventually he realized that this passage didn’t mean one had to become stop sinning in order to then obtain life. While studying this passage, the Holy Spirit finally got through to Luther showing him that the righteousness of God is GIVEN to those who trust in Jesus. Sinners are declared righteous BECAUSE they believe in God’s promised Savior. Faith in Jesus gives a person God's righteousness!

Later Luther wrote, “This immediately made me feel as though I had been born again, and as though I had entered through open gates into paradise itself. From that moment, I saw the whole face of Scripture in a new light. …And now, where I had once hated the phase, ‘the righteousness of God,’ I began to love and extol it as the sweetest of phrases, so that this passage in Paul became the very gate of paradise to me.”

This teaching, Justification by Faith, was the heart of the Lutheran Reformation. It is not our own righteousness that saves us, it is an alien righteousness. The righteousness of God given to us through faith in the Savior who died in our place.

John 2:13-22 (NASB)

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; 16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME.”
18 The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?”
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
20 The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.


By the time Martin Luther arrived on the scene, the church had degraded into a huge money making engine. Writer Paul Thigpen helps us to understand how bad things had gotten with his description of Pope Leo X, the reigning pope at the beginning of the Reformation.

Thigpen writes…
“Extravagant son of a notorious Renaissance family, Giovanni de’ Medici was made a cardinal at the age of 13 and became Pope Leo X at 38. He has been described as “a polished Renaissance prince,” and “a devious and double-tongued politician.” Pleasure-loving and easy-going, Leo went on a wild spending spree as soon as he ascended the papal throne.

Expenses for his coronation festivities alone cost 100,000 ducats—one seventh of the reserve Pope Julius had left in the papal treasury. Leo’s plans for rebuilding St. Peter’s Basilica were estimated to cost over a million ducats. Within two years as pope, Leo had squandered the fortune left by his predecessor and was in serious financial embarrassment.

To keep up with his expenditures, his officials created more than two thousand saleable church offices during his reign. The estimated total profits from such offices have been estimated at three million ducats—but still they were not enough for Leo.

The sale of indulgences provided the pope with yet another source of income. To pay for St. Peter’s, offset the costs of a war, and enable a young noble to pay for three offices to which Leo had appointed him, the pope issued an indulgence for special sale in Germany. A Dominican, Johann Tetzel, was given the task of promotion, Luther reacted with his theses, and the rest, as they say, is history” (Martin Luther’s Early Years: A Gallery of Friends and Enemies by Paul Thigpen).
Luther wasn’t the first to see that there were things that needed fixing in the church. Men like John Wyclif in England, and John Huss in Prague had previously spoken out about abuses in the church.

So, why hadn’t the church been reformed before Luther came along? Perhaps a big part of the reason was that others tried to reform the outward abuses of power, while Luther took aim at the source of these abuses – the false teachings which were accepted and taught by the church.

Starting with the core doctrine of Justification by Faith, Luther went on to call the people back to the simple Word of God as the authority in the church.

It was not Luther, the man, who set the Good News of sins forgiven through Jesus Christ back in it’s proper place in the church. It was Luther, the man of God. It was not Luther’s lone voice that called sinners back to Christ as their Savior, it was the Word of God spoken through Luther that did this.

In typical Luther fashion, “when his Wittenberg congregation admired him for his bold stance against pope and emperor in 1521, he told them that it was while he and Philipp Melanchthon were having a beer that the Word of God reformed the church” (The Unrefined Reformer by Dr. Eric W. Gritsch).

Revelation 14:6-7 (NIV)

6 Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”


God gave the apostle John a vision while he was in exile on the island of Patmos. In this vision John saw an angel flying high in the air, out of the reach of everyone below. Somehow John could see that the angel had the “eternal gospel” to proclaim to the world. When I imagine this, I see the angel holding a lantern whose bright rays shine out to those on the dark earth below.

In this poetic way, our God assures us that the Good News of sins forgiven through Christ will continue to be proclaimed throughout the ages, until that same Jesus returns to collect his followers.

No powers of darkness will be able to extinguish that light of life and salvation. Whether those powers come from within the visible church, or from without.

I am quite certain, that if Martin Luther had never lived, the message of Christ would still have survived and spread throughout the world.

Martin Luther died on February 18, 1546 at the age of 62. Like many before him, Luther was a sinner. His faults were many. Since friends an acquaintances were constantly jotting down the things Luther said in casual conversation, his misspoken words can be read to this day.

But also, like many before him, Luther was blessed by God. Chosen even though he was unworthy. Chosen to be redeemed by the blood of God’s Son. Saved through faith in the Christ. Chosen to be a messenger holding out the gift of God’s forgiveness to the world.

Do you remember what the word “angel” means? It means “messenger”. And that is what Luther was, a messenger sent by God.

And that is what you and I are today as well. By the grace of God, we too have come to know that because of Jesus our sins were paid for. Through faith we are declared righteous in God’s sight. And we hold the light of this message in our hearts, and if we can summon the courage to speak it, it will shine out to others.

Let us be lights of the Reformation shining on today. Saying, God’s grace alone saves us from sin’s punishment, not anything that we do. Saying, faith alone connects us to Christ’s forgiveness. Saying, Scripture alone is what we stand on and bow to.

And may the Holy Spirit work powerfully through His Word spoken by our mouths, so that it will be said, “After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who still knew the LORD and all that he had done for sinners, through Christ Jesus.”


October 23, 2011

God Loves a Paradox - Oct 23, 2011

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Throughout this summer and into the fall we’ve been using our sermon time to study through the book of Romans. Today we’ll be examining chapter thirteen. But to begin with, I’d like to turn back a few chapters and read something from the end of Romans 11. There Paul writes…
“33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out! 34 Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:33-34 NIV).
One of the great mistakes that we human beings make, is to think that God is like us, just more powerful. Somehow we lose sight of the fact that God is SO far above us in every way. We construct an image of God in our minds that barely resembles the truth because it’s based on how WE think and how WE respond to different situations.

And then when God actually speaks to us through the Bible, what He says seems ridiculous. Not because it actually IS ridiculous, but because it doesn’t match up with the little skewed version of God we’ve constructed in our heads.

It seems that God likes to surprise us with His wisdom. He likes to take something that seems silly, and show us how it’s really the truth. God loves a paradox.

For example, when the giant warrior Goliath stood and made fun of God and His people, God used an adolescent shepherd boy to take him out. With a single little rock flung from a sling.

When God’s eternal Son became human to save the world of sinners and set up His eternal Kingdom, He was born to a poor couple that nobody considered important.

When God wanted the world to hear the precious message that our sins are forgiven because of what Jesus did on the cross, God entrusted that message to a rag-tag bunch of blue collar fishermen, tax-collectors and assorted nobodies.

And when we read through the New Testament, we find even more paradoxes. God says that when Christians are weak, that is when we are strongest. He says that many who are first, will be last, and the last first. He says that the evil things that happen in a Christian’s life, will actually cause good to result.

In Acts 17 we hear about how an anti-Christian mob got hold of some Christ followers and dragged them in front of the local authorities. And when they had done this they said something very interesting. They said…
“These who have turned the world upside down have come here too” (Acts 17:6 NIV).
And that’s exactly what God does. He turns our whole way of thinking upside down. He shows us how our thinking falls SO short of His truth.

Today as we read through Romans 13, we’re going to see a number of things that seem like they don’t make sense. May God open our eyes to see His wisdom. May He teach us to see the world as it truly is.

Romans 13:1-7 (NIV)

1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Honoring God-less secular authorities brings honor our Almighty Creator.

To fully understand the crazy nature of what Paul says here, you have to remember, he’s talking to Christians living in Rome when the Roman empire was a super-power.

The Roman government wasn’t exactly nice, and it wasn’t exactly nice to Christians. At one point, Caesar made all the Christians leave the city of Rome. Another Caesar to come would set fire to the city and then blamed the Christians for it. In the decades to come Christians would endure all sorts of persecution from Rome. They’d be thrown to lions in the arena, they’ve be tortured and burned. There had already been times when Caesar claimed to be a god that the people must worship.

And Paul says that rulers like these were put in power by God? How does that make sense?

But that was the same thing that Jesus had told Pilate wasn’t it? When Jesus was arrested and brought before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, Pilate tried to get Jesus to talk by saying…
“10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:10-11 NIV).
And we find the same truth echoed in the Old Testament. Daniel wrote…
“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
21 He changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others” (Daniel 2:20-21 NIV).
Here’s the solution to this paradox. Just because God puts a person in office, doesn’t mean God approves of the decisions that person makes.

And here’s how this affects followers of Christ. Because we know God is the one who gives authority, we will try to honor God through honoring them. We won’t be able to agree with their policies, but we can respect God by respecting them.

What Paul says here is really practical. It impacts how we drive on our streets, and how we carry out our daily business. By seeking to live as obedient citizens of our government, we have the opportunity to give God the glory in even the littlest of things.

Instead of taking the common approach of, “I’ll obey the little laws I happen to agree with and skip the rest” instead of that we’ll say, “As long as it doesn’t conflict with God’s Word, I’ll do my best to do what the law of the land says.”

Paul moves on into another paradox in verses 8-10.

Romans 13:8-10 (NIV)

8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Here Paul says, Don’t remain in debt and always be in debt.

The Bible has quite a bit to say about being in debt. Proverbs 22:7 says…
“7 The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7 NIV).
Credit card debt are handcuffs. Bank loans, a ball and chain. In Proverbs 6:1-5 Solomon says…
“1 My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, if you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger, 2 you have been trapped by what you said,ensnared by the words of your mouth. 3 So do this, my son, to free yourself, since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands: Go—to the point of exhaustion—
and give your neighbor no rest! 4 Allow no sleep to your eyes, no slumber to your eyelids. 5 Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the snare of the fowler” (Proverbs 6:1-5 NIV).
When it comes to money, God wants us to keep our promises. He want us to pay off our debt. Debt enslaves us and limits what we can do in service to God’s Kingdom.

You can’t go on that mission trip if you’ve got bill collectors waiting at your door. You can’t give your time to serve if your time is already tied up at work.

But then comes the other side of this paradox. God doesn’t want us to remain in debt, but there’s an exception. When it comes to loving each other, we should keep on giving.

Martin Luther put it like this. He said, “A Christian is a free lord, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all” (On the Freedom of a Christian by Martin Luther).

This way of thinking is not natural. The human default when it comes to love is something more like this. I should be nice, to those who are nice to me. But if someone’s a jerk, I’ll repay the favor. I will give, but only when I have first been given to. I will clean up, but only the part of the mess that I have made. I will love, but only when I have been loved first.

But God teaches us that true love is higher than this. True love goes first, and looks for no favor in return. The greatest example of this is what our Savior did. He lived His life, and died His death - for people who had given Him nothing. He gave us full forgiveness out of pure love, and a desire to save us from hell.

We’ve failed to love each other as much as we love ourselves. But Jesus didn’t. And through faith in Christ, our failed attempts at love are swallowed up in forgiveness.

Paul moves on to yet another paradox in verses 11-13.

Romans 13:11–13 (NIV)

11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.

The temptations that faces first century Christians living in Rome, are the same temptations that face twenty-first century Christians.

When we study the Bible we often have to overcome gaps. We have to over come the language gap. The things we’ve been reading today were originally written in Koine Greek, a two-thousand year old language that is no longer spoken. Sometimes our English translations sound odd and unnatural to our way of speaking.

We have to overcome cultural gaps too. The ways that Paul thought are not always easy for us to get a handle on. He was a Jewish born rabbi living in a first century culture that was heavily influenced by Greek ways of thinking and doing.

When we study the Bible we also have to overcome geographical gaps. These things were written to people living in a very different place than we live.

And yet, when it comes down to the daily spiritual struggles that these Christians were facing, we find the gap isn’t so huge. We too are tempted to view the return of Christ Jesus as something coming off in the distant future. Nothing to be concerned about right now.

When it comes to the daily temptations these Christians were facing, we find they’re exactly the same temptations we face today.

That word “carousing”? That just means excessive partying. Drunkeness, we know what that is. Sexual immorality? The word there is literally, “beds”. We get the picture. Debauchery? That just means unrestrained sexuality. We can’t even drive down the road without seeing examples of that can we? Let alone turning on the TV, the radio, or the computer. Dissension? That’s just quarrelling and fighting. Jealousy? No definition needed there either.

We get these things! As crazy as it sounds, the same sins tempt us today that have always tempted followers of God.

In Luke 21:24 Jesus warns…
“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).
Sinful desires wage war against the soul. They try to lull us to sleep. They try to draw us away from our God and Savior, and into replacing following Him with embracing sin as our on-going way of life.

That’s always been the devil’s way of getting to Christians. If he can get us to stop struggling against our sinful nature. If he can get us to stop turning away from our sins in repentance, and going to Jesus for forgiveness. If the devil can do that, then he’s got us, and the day of Jesus return will become a day of horror instead of a day of salvation.

God help us to continue to hate sin. To continue to bring our sins to Jesus in humble confession. God help us to cling to Christ Jesus as our only hope and life.

That leads us to our last paradox.

Romans 13:14 (NIV)

14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

This chapter of Romans has a lot of directions for Christians. A lot of “law” teachings. Do this. Don’t do that. And when we hear these things we can’t help but see that we haven’t done what’s right. And our natural instinct is to think, I better get it right tomorrow, before Jesus gets here! I’ve got to clean up my life or He won’t accept me on the last day!

But here is the greatest paradox God presents to us. He says that in Christ Jesus, through simple trust in Him as our great Savior, we are CLOTHED in Him. Our every sin, covered. In Christ we are not naked. In Christ we are not guilty.

Our actions don’t produce a connection to Christ, our faith connection to Christ produces a new way action.

In Galatians 3, Paul told his fellow Christians…
“…in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27 NIV).
As forgiven sinners in Christ, we now continue to put Him on every day with an attitude of humble repentance to God. As sinners forgiven through His gift, we begin to learn to see the world from a different perspective.

How crazy is this! God gives us the victory in Christ, and then we put on the armor for a battle that has already been won!

God loves a paradox.

Prayer: Father in heaven, thank you for reaching into my life, and making unworthy me, into your child through all that Your Son has done for me. Help me to approach Your Word with an open mind, always remembering that You ways are not my ways. Your mind is beyond me. In my daily life, help me to more closely walk in step with your will, so that everything I do sings honor to Your Name. And when I fail to live up to Your standards, which I often fail to do, turn my eyes once again to You Son’s cross, and His empty tomb. I pray this in my Savior’s name, Amen.

October 19, 2011

Share the Good News - Oct 16, 2011

This sermon was written by Dave Reim, pastor of our sister congregation in Vernon, BC. He preached it at Redemption Church for Mission Festival on October 16, 2011. This sermon is only available in audio.

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Finding Meaning in the Passage of Time - Oct 11, 2011

This sermon was written by Steve Karp, pastor of our sister church in Hayward, CA (San Francisco bay area). He preached it at Redemption Church for the Pacific Coast Pastoral Conference Communion Service which was held on Tuesday, October 11. This sermon is only available in audio.

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October 9, 2011

Good Form Leads to Success - Oct 9, 2011

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In our sermon mediation last Sunday we examined the first few verses of Romans chapter 12. There the apostle Paul wrote…

Romans 12:1-2a (NIV)

12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

“Renewal of mind” is becoming conscious of God’s ways. This renewal begins when we learn God’s way of saving sinners from hell. We were all born into this world sinners. Year after year we have added sin after sin to our record. This disqualifies us for citizenship in heaven.

But God wants us to live with Him forever, so He sent His eternal Son to become human. Jesus lived a sinless life in our place. Jesus suffered the full punishment for our sins when He suffered and died on the cross. And then God raised Him from the dead so that we know for sure that His sacrifice was accepted, and our sins now stand forgiven.

First and foremost, renewal of mind means that when Christians sin, we bring our sins to Jesus, trusting that we have forgiveness in Him.

The second part of having our minds renewed is what Paul is going to talk about in our reading for today. Renewal of mind also means training in good Christian form.

Two or three times a week I get to take the school kids out for recess. One of the things I like to do is expose them to different games.

Recently we’ve been having some baseball practice. As in all sports, in baseball you have to have good form in order to be successful.

It’s a lot of fun to teach kids how to hit. You get to show them where to stand, how to hold the bat, where to watch for the ball. You get all the structure in place, and then you throw them a ball and POW! They hit a nice hard line drive for the first time. That’s fun.

In baseball, good form leads to success. And that principle holds true in living the Christian life. Good form leads to success.

As we read from Romans today, I want you think about it in this way. The apostle Paul is the coach. He’s teaching us what to do in order to successfully live our lives to God’s glory.

Romans 12:9-12 (NIV)

9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

A kid who’s never played baseball will sometimes walk up and stand facing the pitcher, right on top of the plate. So, when you teach hitting, you have to start with where you stand. Since the pitcher in going to throw the ball over the plate, you have to stand on either side of the plate with your shoulders parallel to the pitcher.

In verses 9-12, Paul starts his coaching with where the Christian stands. We stand on the grace of the Lord Jesus. It is Jesus our Savior whom we are serving. Because He loved us, we now love Him. And one of the ways we express our love to Christ is by loving others. The apostle John wrote…
“19 We love, because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” (1 John 4:19-21 NASB).
Knowing that God has forgiven our sins through Jesus, enables us to forget about ourselves and pour everything into loving others. Because we know that GOD will continue to watch over us, we can be joyful even when we don’t have what we’d like. We can be patient when we’re under a heavy burden, knowing that God won’t let it crush us. We can keep on praying, knowing that God hears our prayers because of what Jesus did for us, and He will send the perfect answer to our prayers at just the right time.

Standing on the forgiveness of Christ, we are ready for any pitch the world throws.

Standing beside the plate is pretty crucial to good hitting in baseball. But there’s more. After you get the kid standing next to the plate you have to tell them: put your feet about shoulder width apart and parallel with the plate. Bend your knees a little bit. Keep your hands together on the bat, front hand on the bottom. Hold the bat back, with your back elbow up, and twist your body a little so you get some power into your swing.

When you have good hitting form, the whole body is enabled to work in harmony to produce a powerful, level swing. Eventually your muscles will remember all these points of form and you’ll just do it instinctively. But until then, you need a coach to remind you what good form looks like.

Through faith in Jesus, our sins are forgiven and our place in heaven secure. But the Christian life doesn’t end there. And in order to succeed in living the kind of life God wants for us, we also have to learn good form. Paul describes some of the elements of good Christian form in verses 13-16.

Romans 12:13-16a (NIV)

13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another.

I’m going to step away from the baseball analogy for a second here. Paul says, “live in harmony with one another”.

In music, harmony is all about playing the right notes and chords together. If you play the right ones together, the sound is pleasant. If you play the wrong ones, everyone knows, and cringes.

In life, people play different notes and chords to us by their words and actions. Then we have the opportunity to respond, adding our own notes. We can either play notes that clash and ruin, or notes that blend and send a song of praise up to God.

When the note of NEED is played, Paul says, add a note of sharing and the chord of hospitality.

When PERSCUTION is played, Paul says, save the sound of that ugly chord with a few notes of blessing.

When those high and strong notes of REJOICING are heard, add your own and make the rejoicing swell.

When the low chords of MOURNING are played, don’t play the chipper notes of “it’s-not-so-bad”. Instead play the gentle chord of “I know, I know” and support the mourning one with compassion and empathy.

Living in harmony with one another isn’t about what others say and do to us, it’s about what notes we play in response.

Back to baseball.

One of the most important things in hitting well is your mindset. Young hitters sometimes gets all wrapped up in head games. This can paralyze a young batter at the plate. Am I supposed to swing at this one, or not? What if I swing and miss? What if I hit a fly ball? Maybe I should watch the pitch go by and hope for a walk. All this doubting, worrying and questioning isn’t a good way to approach hitting.

I like to tell young hitters, “You want to hit EVERY pitch, but just let the bad ones go by”. This aggressive, but smart way of thinking makes for good hitting.

The Christian also has to have the right mindset when approaching other people in life. In verses 16-18, Paul talks about what kind of mindset a Christian should have.

Romans 12:16b-18 (NIV)

…Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Arrogant pride has no place in the Christian mindset. Pride leads us to make exceptions for ourselves, and to excuse our bad treatment of others.

You can divide the world up into a million different groups. Christians. Non-Christians. People without a Lutheran background. People with different pet sins than our own. Rich people. Poor people. Jocks. Nerds. Smart people. Slow people. People of a different ethnic background than your own. People with big families. People with small families. Married people. Single people.

From within these groups we can look down at the other groups and say, I’m better than them. Paul says, BAD FORM! I think I remember Jesus associating with every group because they’re all sinners. I think I remember Jesus going to the cross for every group, because they all need salvation.

When we hold an I’m-better-than-you attitude, we’re basically saying, Jesus, that’s fine if you want to hang out with THOSE kind of people, but I’m a little better than you.


Even if we steer clear looking down on others who aren’t like us, we still have pitfalls of pride that we can fall into. Sometimes we let the BAD ACTIONS of others push us into a prideful attitude. We know that it’s wrong to hit, but if someone hits us, we somehow feel it’s a little more okay to hit back. We know it’s wrong to gossip, but if someone gossips about us, our mouths become a little more loose in saying things that we shouldn’t.

Paul says, NO, NO, NO! Don’t repay ANYONE evil for evil.

My dad once told me that when we repay evil for evil, we are letting other people determine our actions. Why let the sins of others make us sin too? Why let the devil control us in such an easy way? Instead of going with our knee-jerk response, we need to flip our natural response upside down and respond God’s way instead. In Proverbs 15 it says…
“A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1 NIV).
Through faith in Jesus, we have PEACE WITH GOD. In Christ we are called to live a life of peace with each other. An I’m-better-than-you attitude stirs up anger and makes things worse than they were! Humble, forgiving thoughtfulness leads to peace with others instead. This is the type of attitude God would have us learn.

In baseball, a hitter can have perfect form, but still miss the ball. This happens when the hitter is focusing on something other than the ball when the pitch comes.

Coaches call this “pulling your head”. You can see it when a big slugger swings extra hard and misses the ball. He’s looking for the fence while the ball is thumping the catcher’s mitt. “Keep your head down and your eyes on the ball!” the coach yells from the dugout.

In verses 19-21 Paul coaches Christians to keep their head UP, and their eyes looking to GOD in trusting faith.

Romans 12:19-21 (NIV)

19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Revenge is a way of saying, “I don’t trust you to set things right God, so I’ll have to do it myself”. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the “little” revenges we take with rude remarks, or if we’re talking about the “big” revenges we take by keying someone’s car, taking a swing at someone or retelling some long-past story that makes someone look bad.

Paul says, instead trying to take things out of God’s hands, let’s exercise some TRUST that He knows what He’s doing and will take the necessary action in His own time.

Not taking revenge when someone hurts us is a way of expressing our faith in God.

In Exodus 23 it says…
“4 “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. 5 If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it” (Exodus 23:4-5 NIV).
Whatever pitch life throws our way, let’s keep our eyes on God. When God repays someone for evil, it’s called justice. When we do it, it’s called revenge.

I saw a bumper sticker once that said, “Love your enemies, it messes with their heads”. When we respond with good Christian form, repaying evil with good, we ARE messing with people’s heads – but in a good way.

When Jesus was crucified, men pounded long, sharp nails through His hands and into the wood of His cross. His response to this injustice was to PRAY for the people who were doing it. Jesus’ GOOD response to an EVIL act made an impact on those around Him. One of the robbers crucified beside Jesus came to faith that day, and left this a forgiven sinner bound for the shores of heaven.

When we respond to people’s sins against us in the same way, we give the Holy Spirit some room to work on one more sinner’s heart.

Whatever pitch people throw our way, let’s take care not to respond in whatever way our emotions tell us to. Instead let’s respond in the way the Word of God teaches us to, overcoming evil with good.

When I first read through this part of Romans, I thought, Man how am I going to preach about all these things? I fail at each one of them sooo much. In other words, I saw my own sins, and was reminded how much I need the forgiveness that Jesus won for me.

In baseball, hitting well is hard to do. The three greatest hitters of all time (Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby and Joe Jackson) all had lifetime batting averages well under .400. That means the three greatest hitters of all time failed seven times out of ten. Yet, they’re considered great because they hit the ball better than anyone else in the game.

When it comes to living the Christian life, we succeed for a completely different reason.

With the game on the line, God the Father sent Jesus in to bat for us. At every opportunity, Jesus hit the ball out of the park. Each time Jesus had the chance to do the right thing, He did. Each time Jesus was tempted to do the wrong thing, Jesus let that pitch go by. And in the bottom of the ninth, when it all came down to Jesus, He won us salvation with a solo shot that went out of the park. He suffered our full punishment and died in our place.

When our little game of our life is over, we’ll walk off this field the champions. Not because of how good we hit the ball in our Christian lives, but because Jesus was our designated hitter.

When the game is over, and the lights dim down, we’ll look to the bleachers and see our heavenly Father sitting there with a smile on His face. A smiles that says, C’mon son, let’s go home.

Having good form matters for living a successful Christian life that brings glory to God. But it’s the PERFECT form of Christ Jesus that has clinched our forgiveness and eternal life.

With this in mind, let’s go out there and put Paul’s coaching into practice. And with good form let’s step, and drive it.


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

October 2, 2011

In View of God's Mercy - Oct 2, 2011

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Since the end of June we’ve been using our sermon time on Sunday morning to examine the book of Romans. Romans was a letter written by the apostle Paul in the first century AD. He wrote this letter to his fellow Christians who lived and worshipped in the city of Rome.

To this point we’ve worked our way through eleven chapters. The main point in these eleven chapters has been pretty simple. The central message has been sin and grace.

Paul has talked about how each and every one of us is born into this world with a big problem. We’re sinners. Our words, thoughts and actions are not what God wants them to be. We lie, steal, cheat, lust, covet, judge others unfairly, make excuses for our own bad behavior, and generally make a horrific mess of our lives when judged by God’s standards.

What we deserve for all this sin is punishment, death and eternal separation from God in hell. But in Romans, Paul reminds his friends that because of Jesus, we will not get what we deserve.

The eternal Son of God became human for us. He lived a brilliant perfectly sinless life in our place. He voluntarily suffered our hell on the cross. He died so that we will never have to experience the wrath of God over our sins. God then raised Him from the dead to show the whole world that the sacrifice for our sins was accepted in full. Because Jesus now lives, we can know that our sins have been completely forgiven. All who trust in Jesus, and what He did on the cross, are declared “not guilty” by the eternal God. Like it says in Romans 6:23
“…the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NIV).
God didn’t have to do this. We’ve chosen to sin. It’s on us. The Father didn’t have to send His one and only Son into the world. The Son didn’t have to go. The Holy Spirit didn’t have to search us out and tell us about it. But God had mercy. He did all this so that sinners like you and me have forgiveness, peace and eternal life through our connection to Jesus.

Today we read from Romans 12. There Paul tells his friends in Christ what comes AFTER God’s mercy.

Romans 12:1-2 (NIV)

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

In view of God’s mercy. That’s where Paul starts. He’s going to talk about how a follower of Christ should live, but in order to have a Christian life, first you have to have a Christian.

So, when does a person become a Christian? Some say it happens with a special inner feeling. Others say that it comes with a giving-yourself-to-Jesus. But Paul, and the rest of the Bible, say that it comes at the point of faith. When a sinner hears the Good News about Jesus dying in their place, and believes it to be true – that person becomes a Christian.

It doesn’t come after a person has cleaned up a certain amount of their life. It doesn’t come after a person has changed enough of their sinful habits. During Jesus’ ministry, the religious elite of Jerusalem made a big deal about the fact Jesus actually hung out with sinners. With prostitutes and tax collectors. Jesus responded by saying…“
It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17 NIV).
When Jesus suffered on the cross, He did all the work for us. That’s mercy. We couldn’t save ourselves, so God did it for us. That’s the mercy Paul is talking about in our text today..

Let me read that first verse again…
“1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1 NIV).
Paul says that after God’s mercy has come to us, we should offer God an on-going life of joyful and thanksgiving. That’s what it means to offer a “living sacrifice”.

There are two ways a person can offer their life to someone else. One is the one-time, solitary, self-less act. Throwing yourself on a grenade. Jumping in front of someone to take a bullet. Pushing someone out of the way of a speeding car.

The second way of giving your life for someone is through daily, on-going acts of love, service, care and forgiveness. This is the type of relationship that God has always wanted with human beings. An on-going relationship of total devotion, communication, love and worship.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said the following…
“…if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matthew 5:23-24).
God loves it when we come here to this place to this place of worship. But this isn’t the only place He lives. And this isn’t the only place He wants us to worship Him. He wants us to be praying to Him constantly. He wants us to constantly be depending on Him. Asking Him for help. Thanking Him for the good things we experience. Putting His words into practice in our daily interactions with each other. He wants us to worship Him full time, not just on Sunday and in this building.

Paul calls this kind of life, a “living sacrifice” kind of life. Where everything is lived to God. In Colossians Paul says it like this…
“…whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17 NIV).

Now, living a Christian life doesn’t all just happen. We have to learn it. Our old habits have to be broken. Our sinful nature denied. That takes time. In verse 2 of our text, Paul says…
“2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2 NIV).
When I was in high school, a friend of mine gave me a mixed tape of some of his favorite music. I still remember listening to that tape before going to sleep one night. The song was by R. Kelly. The chorus went, “I don’t see nothin’ wrong with a little bump and grind”.

I remember being shocked. This song wasn’t okay. It was about getting all sexual on the dance floor, and there being nothing wrong with that. But I didn’t stop listening to the tape. And before long, that lyric didn’t seem so bad. And I started listening to all kinds of music that carried messages that were simply dead wrong.

The world conditions us to accept things as “okay” that really aren’t. With every commercial, every new comedy, every blockbuster movie, every new hit song, the world is molding us. Impressing its morals, or lack of morals onto us.

Paul says, don’t let this happen. Don’t let the world shape and form you. You belong to God now. Instead of being poked and prodded, bent and formed to what the world accepts, we want instead to be transformed from the inside out. This happens through hearing what the Word of God says. When we are in contact with the Word of God, the Holy Spirit who lives in that Word begins to restructure our hearts.

When our hearts begin to change, then our thoughts, words and actions will begin to follow.

We see examples of this good transformation happening in the Bible.

In the Old Testament Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. He eventually found himself serving as a slave in the house of a man named Potiphar. Potiphar’s wife approached Joseph to have an affair with him. But because Joseph’s heart was restructured by God’s word his response was to say, “How could I do such a wicked thing, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9 NIV).

In the New Testament, Stephen was stoned to death for telling a crowd of people the truth about Jesus. But before he died, he said a few last words. He didn’t curse the people that were stoning him even though what they were doing was murder. No, Stephen’s last words were a prayer for his murderers. He said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60 NIV).

When hearts are changed by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, actions follow.

After God’s mercy comes a “living sacrifice” kind of life. Let’s embrace that kind of life. After God’s mercy comes true worship. Worship from the heart, in every-day life. After God’s mercy comes change.

Let’s read some more of our text from Romans. In verses 3-8 Paul goes on to talk about what else follows God’s mercy.

Romans 12:3-8 (NIV)

3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

In the verses before this section, Paul focused on the individual change that is to happen to the Christ follower. Here, he talks about how Christians are not independent entities. We are joined together in Christ. Paul even calls us the “body of Christ’.

The comparison is brilliant, and easy to grasp. We’re each very different from each other. We could easily begin to rank each other. She’s better than me, I’m better than him, etc. But Paul says, Beware of this kind of attitude. Christ Jesus calls us to humility. To recognize that our fellow Christians aren’t more or less than we are. In Christ we are on the same level: we are forgiven sinners. We aren’t more or less than each other, we are just different. And our differences are there for a reason.

Paul says that because we belong to Christ, we now also belong to our fellow Christians. We are part of a system just like the parts in the human body.

The Bible was written by many different people over hundreds of years. But the Holy Spirit was the author who gave them the exact words He wanted them to write. The technical term for this is “verbal inspiration”. When we think about this, we maybe think of a guy who goes into a trance and then just writes what the Spirit wants him to. But it wasn’t like this.

The Holy Spirit used the different abilities of each writer. He used their vocabulary, their style, their grammar, their phrases and ways of speaking. Each writer was like a different kind of pen in the hand of the Spirit. Isaiah was an educated and skilled writer. The words he wrote were lofty, exquisite poetry in the Hebrew language. Amos was as common shepherd from a little city called Tekoa. He wrote what the Spirit wanted, but in his own way. Each man wrote what the Spirit wanted written, using a skill set and a character that was his own.

The Holy Spirit does the same thing with the church today. We each have our own skill set and our own personality. Sure the Holy Spirit is molding and changing us from within, but He also uses the people that we are to build each other up in faith.

In verse 6 Paul says…
“6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully” (Romans 12:6-8 NIV).
Which gift is yours? Which gift did the Holy Spirit give you to use for the benefit of others? Don’t even start to think that you don’t have a gift, or that your gift isn’t all that special. The HOLY SPIRIT gave it to you! He doesn’t give gifts that need to be returned! Whatever you’ve been given, it’s for a needed purpose in our fellowship.

We need to start seeing our individual gifts, whatever they might be, as coming from the Holy Spirit. That’s a big deal. Let’s use these gifts with PRIDE. Obviously I don’t mean SINFUL pride. What I’m talking about is saying, Hey, this is an area where I have some talent or skill. This comes from the Holy Spirit. So, I’m going to USE this gift!

If your gift is a simple one, than use it in quantity.

If your gift is more complex, than use it with attention to detail and quality.

If your gift is something like showing mercy, a gift that will remind people of God’s mercy in Christ, than surround that gift with a cheerful attitude. That way people will know that your gift isn’t given because you have to, but because you want to.

There are plenty of things that we shouldn’t take pride in. But using the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given us one of them. We should take humble pride in being the body of Christ. We should take humble pride in using our own gifts to build that body up.

Our Lord Jesus has given us free forgiveness. Let’s rejoice in that, truly take it to heart, and share it.

The Spirit of God has given us gifts to use in serving our fellow Christians. Let’s use those gifts in a way that brings God glory and praise. Like Paul wrote in Ephesians
“…I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1 NIV).
I’d like to close our meditation today with prayer.

Prayer: Father in heaven, you have shown us your mercy and love by sending Jesus to be our great Savior. Help us to never believe anyone who says we have to earn your love. You have given it to us in Christ, and you testify to that truth throughout the Bible. As we see your mercy in Christ, help us to live lives worthy of the grace we’ve been given. Help us to be transformed by Your Word, never molded to this world’s standards. When we stumble in our service to fellow Christians and to You, continually remind us of the forgiveness we have in Jesus. Help us to identify our own gifts, given by your Holy Spirit. Help us to use them with joy, with energy, and with pride that points the glory to You. Amen.