September 29, 2013

Invisible Quality - Sep 29, 2013

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“White Squall” is a movie that came out in 1996 starring academy award winning actor Jeff Bridges. In the movie Bridges plays the captain of a small sailing ship that takes a crew of young men on an extended voyage. The purpose of the school sailing trip is  to develop experience, discipline, and whatever else the parents pf these young men feel they lack.

It’s been a while since I saw the film, so, if I watched it again I’m sure it would feel like a new movie to me. But one scene I remember clearly. The ship is sailing near Cuba before the “Bay of Pigs” fiasco took place. A Cuban gunship sights the small sailboat and stops it, believing that there may be Cuban refugees on-board.

A tense standoff occurs between the military captain of the gunship, and Bridges’ character. Realizing that he can’t take any of the sailors off the boat without violating international law, the military captain relieves his anger by smashing the sailboat’s compass to bits. He then turns to Bridges and says, “Now you will really have something to teach your students captain.” To which Bridges calmly replies, in fluent Spanish, “A real sailor only needs the stars to navigate with.”

I probably remember the scene because it’s one of those, “In your face” good guy vs. bad guy moments. The military captain thinks he’s really struck a blow by taking away the most crucial tool of navigation that Bridges has. But he really hasn’t done much harm at all, for this captain has real quality. His most important sailing tools are all found in here (point to head).

Outward tools are often important, but inward tools are more important—and they can’t be so easily taken away.
Our sermon reading for today comes from Paul’s letter to a young pastor named Timothy. Here Paul warns Timothy to beware of the love of money, which is merely an outward tool. Paul counsels Timothy to develop invisible tools instead.

1 Timothy 6:6-10 (ESV)

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
Contentment is not something that American culture encourages. Having the latest and greatest phone, car, clothing, or whatever, is what America teaches. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie from Hollywood about a person who was simply content with what they were given. It just doesn’t make for an exciting story line.

The very definition of “contentment” seems to be skewed in the minds of many. We equate contentment with settling for less, or giving up. In reality, contentment isn’t about giving up, it’s about being willing to accept circumstances. Being patient and balanced. Being mentally and emotionally satisfied with what we have, even when we would like something more.

Being content doesn’t mean you’ve lost all desire, that you’re broken or weak. On the contrary, contentment makes one stronger, and more clear minded than a person full of greed and ambition.

Contentment doesn’t mean that a person doesn’t have goals to work toward. It just means that getting more and more isn’t number one on that person’s list of priorities. If the promotion at work comes, great, but if not, that’ll be just fine too. If the investment pays off big, that’ll be a blessing, but if it doesn’t, so what?

The person who is content realizes that money and things don’t equal happiness. They don’t equal fulfillment. They don’t equal satisfaction. There truly are much more important and lasting things to pursue in life than what can be bought and sold.
Paul says that people who want to be rich fall into temptation and a trap. This is pretty easy to see. When we’re obsessed with something our priorities get all out of whack. We find ourselves on that terrible precipice where we can reach what we’re obsessed with, but only if we compromise what we know is right. Just a little sin will get us what we want. That’s textbook temptation by the Devil. Lure with the bait, let the prey fall into the trap.

Paul also says that people who want to be rich get tangled up in  all kinds of stupid and damaging urges. They neglect the people they love, in order to spend more time at the office. They spend time with people they think might be able to further their career, but abandon the ones that make their life valuable. Perhaps they begin to take chances that they wouldn’t otherwise take, because it might pay off big. And when the bottom falls out of that risky investment, everything they’ve worked for is gone. Or if all that hard work actually pays off, they find that there’s no one to share the top of the mountain with anymore, except their new friends, who really aren’t friends at all.

Paul says that the love of money is a craving that can even destroy faith in God. Jesus once noted,

13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13).

When money pushes God off the throne of person’s heart, and then lets them down, what’s left? Paul describes how it feels when this happens, saying that these people “pierce themselves through with many sorrows” (see 1 Timothy 6:10).

Money is a poor substitute for the living God, and the love of money leads ultimately to disappointment and heartache.

After warning pastor Timothy to avoid loving money, the apostle Paul points him to a better path.

1 Timothy 6:11-16 (ESV)

11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
The first thing I’d like to point out in this section are the dramatic words that Paul chooses. He says FLEE from the love of money and all the damaging baggage that accompanies it. PURSUE righteousness and all these other things. In other places in Scripture, the word “Pursue” is translated “Persecute”. It carries the idea of running after, following, hunting down.

Paul keeps up this dramatic language by saying FIGHT the good fight of the faith. But the fighting Paul encourages isn’t any outward fighting. It’s an inward struggle. Battling to establish these good qualities in one’s soul.

Paul utilizes one more dramatic word here. He says Timothy should TAKE HOLD of the eternal life to which he was called. In other places in the Bible the word for “Take hold” is translated “grasp”, “catch”, sometimes even with a violent connotation. Timothy is to OWN eternal life by holding onto it tightly. Sinful behavior such as the loving of money loosens our grip on the gift of eternal life. Developing godly traits strengthens our grip on Christ’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life.
Note that all of the things Timothy is to diligently seek are not OUTWARD possessions, but INWARD qualities. Paul doesn’t want Timothy to seek after the temporary, but things which he can carry beyond this world.

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he emphasized the importance of invisible things. If you examine the Lord’s Prayer you’ll find that only ONE of the petitions is about physical things. We say, “Give us this day our daily bread”. But all the other petitions in the Lord’s Prayer are about spiritual things.

Help us to keep your name holy Lord.
Let your reign come to our hearts, and to the hearts of others.
Help us to do your will in this life.
Forgive us our trespasses.
Help us to forgive others.
Keep us away from temptations to sin.
Save us from evil.

Is this the way we pray in our own personal prayers? Mostly about inward, spiritual things? Or do we fill our prayers with request for the temporary and concerns about things which are merely physical? Prayer is powerful because God is involved. But are we failing to use prayer to it’s full potential? Are we asking for the wrong things?

We need the Holy Spirit to help rewire our thinking so that we truly put the invisible before the visible in our list of priorities. We need the Holy Spirit to help us value godly qualities far above earthly possessions.
One way in which we can help rewire our own minds is to look to good examples in Scripture.

The apostle Paul comes to mind. After coming to know the forgiveness of Christ, Paul’s whole life took on new direction. He didn’t seek higher promotion among the Pharisees anymore. He sought to preach the soul saving Gospel of Christ to people who didn’t have it yet.

When Paul finally arrived in Rome, he was under arrest and set to face trial. He had no possessions to speak of. Nothing more than the clothes on his back, and pen and paper. But he was content. And from that jail cell, Paul wrote letters of encouragement to his fellow Christians. Letters we still read today.

Or look to the example of Christ Jesus himself. He left the throne of heaven to become human. He was born into a poor family. He never owned a house. He never had a wife and children. When he stood before Pontius Pilate, he had no earthly prestige, but only the truth, and the determination to carry out the suffering that was needed to erase our sins.

Or think of God the Father himself. Why is he great? Because he owns the universe? No. God was great before anything was created. He is great because he possesses every good spiritual quality that exists. Paul describes God as being so full of quality, that no other being can see him completely . He “dwells in unapproachable light”.
Essentially, Paul encourages Timothy to avoid imitating the people of the world, and to start learning to be like God.

Paul says, “Be righteous.” Avoid sin and situations that lead to sin.

“Be godly.” Actually live your life according to the code of conduct God lays down in the Bible.

“Have faith.” Trust that God has removed your sins through Christ and has a place of astounding glory waiting for you.

Paul says, “Love others.” Give of yourself to spiritually benefit those around you.

“Be steadfast.” Hold your ground under the pressures of life. Fulfill the responsibilities laid on you.

“Be gentle.” Have a patient and caring attitude toward people that you come into contact with.

The fact that Paul says to PURSUE these things implies that this is going to be a work in progress for Timothy. To incorporate these qualities into our inner person takes time, effort, and ultimately the Holy Spirit’s power.
They say that nothing good in life comes easy. And that’s true. If you want to be a good captain of a ship, it takes time to learn how to read the stars. You need a good teacher. You need hands on experience. And then you need more experience.

Even our salvation didn’t come easy. Jesus had to live a perfect life. He had to endure the hell of the cross. Even though he GIVES us the gift of forgiveness and eternal life without charge, even that doesn’t come easy. The Holy Spirit has to convince us it’s true. And he has to hold us in faith all the way to the end. And like Paul said,

“…through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 ESV).

Along the way to heaven the Devil and his forces of evil will try to destroy our trust in Christ. The Devil will try to lead us down the road of sin, to the land of impenitence and unbelief. But if we hold tight to Christ, we will make it through.

Prayer: Dearest Jesus, thank you for giving us the gift of faith. Help us to always trust in your promise that our sins are forgiven through your cross. Teach us to be content in whatever situation we find ourselves, trusting that you know what you’re doing. Help us not to love or trust in money, or anything else in this world, more than you. Help us to accept hardship with patience, knowing that goodness beyond imagining is waiting at your side. Help us to grow in faith and in inward quality as we wait for you to return and collect us. Amen.

September 22, 2013

Suffering - Sep 22, 2013

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Today I would like to correct a misconception about God that many people hold: The idea that God doesn’t cause suffering. The idea that God doesn’t cause suffering  is a false idea. He does.

Maybe in the face of some tragedy you’ve heard a Christian say, “Why did God LET this happen?” The implication is that God certainly didn’t CAUSE this to happen, so why did he LET this happen.

I’m not sure where this idea comes from. Perhaps it’s due to a shallow understanding of what it means that God is good and holy. Perhaps it’s due to a lack of reading what the Bible actually says. I mean, when Adam and Eve sinned, what did God do? He cursed the world. He caused thorns to infest the ground, and he put pain into childbirth. That’s God causing suffering. Yes, he did it because mankind had sinned, but that doesn’t change the fact that God chose to put things into place that cause pain.  
There are countless other examples in the Bible where God is the direct cause of some kind of suffering, be it mental or physical.
Now, I don’t want you to misunderstand me. I AM saying that God causes suffering. I am NOT saying that God is evil in any way. As the Scripture says, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). That is the truth.

When the surgeon uses the scalpel open an incision through which a tumor can be removed, that doctor causes suffering. But you wouldn’t begrudge that doctor one bit if it was you he was hurting. You’d thank him profusely for saving your life. This is the type of suffering that God causes. Suffering that has a purpose.

Every time we experience pain in this world, God is reminding us that this is not our final home. Though amazing and often stunningly beautiful, the world we live in is ultimately a world broken and polluted by human sin.

God intends pain to remind us that the world is wrong. God uses pain to remind us where this wrongness came from—sin. It would be a mistake, however, to say that every time we experience pain God is pointing us to a specific, personal sin that we need to repent of. That also is a false idea.

In the Old Testament, there was a faithful man named Job, whom God tested. Job lost his family. Job lost his health. And when his friends came to comfort him, their advice was that he should repent of whatever secret sin he had committed. They thought this amount of suffering must be a call from God for Job to repent of some specific sin. But that wasn’t the case in Job’s story. God was testing the faith of his servant, not rebuking him.

It comes down to this. Human sin has caused the universe to malfunction. Sometimes the suffering we experience simply serves to remind us of this fact. Sometimes God intends the suffering we experience to test our trust in him. But other times, God sends suffering into our lives so that we will reject some soul damaging behavior that we’ve begun to practice.
Our sermon reading for today is a Psalm that was written by King David. It was apparently written to be used in the Temple, a song to be sung while offerings were being laid on the huge fiery altar that stood in the outer court.

This Psalm contains the following flow of thought: Guilt leads to suffering, suffering leads to repentance, repentance leads to salvation –and all these things come from the LORD.

Psalm 38:1-8 (ESV)

38 A Psalm of David, for the memorial offering.
      O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath!
      For your arrows have sunk into me,
and your hand has come down on me.
      There is no soundness in my flesh
because of your indignation;
       there is no health in my bones
because of my sin.
      For my iniquities have gone over my head;
like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.
      My wounds stink and fester
because of my foolishness,
      I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;
all the day I go about mourning.
      For my sides are filled with burning,
and there is no soundness in my flesh.
      I am feeble and crushed;
I groan because of the tumult of my heart.
In the beginning of this Psalm, David calls out to the LORD for relief from the LORD’s righteous rebuke. David describes the mental and physical anguish that his own guilt has brought upon him. Though his sin is the reason for his anguish, David says that God is the one delivering the pain. “[God’s] arrows have sunk into [him]”, “There is no [health ] in his flesh because of [God’s] indignation”, “[God’s] hand has come down on [him].”

This is essentially David’s description of what his guilt makes him feel like. It’s pretty intense. If you’ve ever experienced debilitating guilt over something you’ve done, you might empathize with some of the things David says here. Guilt has a real effect on a person’s ability to enjoy life. Guilt has a real effect on health, and on our ability to function with other people.

But this isn’t to say that guilt is a bad thing. It’s not. Guilt is actually a good thing. And the suffering that guilt brings is a good thing too. Like the blade that turns the soil up and enables the spring planting, so too, guilt and suffering open the way to new growth.

Or think about it like this. Guilt and suffering are like those little yellow road markers that vibrate and rattle your car when you start to move out of your lane. Yeah they’re not so enjoyable, but they’re good. They wake you up to the danger.

In Lamentations 3, verse 32 it says…

32        Though [God] causes grief,
            Yet He will show compassion
            According to the multitude of His mercies.
33          For He does not afflict willingly,
            Nor grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:32-33 ESV).

God doesn’t cause suffering willingly, but out of necessity. He doesn’t send suffering into our lives for the fun of it, but when it needs to be done to wake us up, then so be it. He does it.  

In 1 Corinthians 7, verse 9 it says…

“…I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.
10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10 ESV).

Guilt leads to suffering, suffering to repentance, repentance to salvation –and all of these things come from the LORD.
Look at verses 9-17. David prays…

Psalm 38:9-17 (ESV)

      O Lord, all my longing is before you;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
10     My heart throbs; my strength fails me,
and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.
11     My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague,
and my nearest kin stand far off.
12     Those who seek my life lay their snares;
those who seek my hurt speak of ruin
and meditate treachery all day long.
13     But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear,
like a mute man who does not open his mouth.
14     I have become like a man who does not hear,
and in whose mouth are no rebukes.
15     But for you, O Lord, do I wait;
it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
16     For I said, “Only let them not rejoice over me,
who boast against me when my foot slips!”
17     For I am ready to fall,
and my pain is ever before me.
Here David says that God knows his situation. God has listened to his prayers. And even though David’s health and strength are failing, even though David’s friends and family have abandoned him, even though his enemies are constantly plotting against him, HE KNOWS that God has heard his prayer for help. And David has confidence that the LORD will answer that prayer eventually. And so, David waits.

It looks like David has been numbed by all the suffering he’s experienced, but that’s not completely the case. He doesn’t hear the words of others, and he doesn’t talk back, not because he’s numbed beyond feeling, but because he’s WAITING for the LORD to come.
Sometimes it takes a while to get through to a person. Texting in the car is dangerous. First common sense tells us this. Then there’s a public ad campaign to make sure we understand that looking downward and using both hands to hold a cellular device may impair our ability to steer a moving vehicle. Then they make a law that says, “We will fine you $124 if we see you texting while driving.” But just stand on a street corner for five minutes and you’ll see plenty of people with phone in hand. Sometimes things don’t sink in until tragedy takes place.  

The sinful human heart is stubborn and slow to learn. This is one of the reasons why God may let suffering rest on a person for a time, as David here describes. Sometimes we think of sin like it’s something that isn’t really that dangerous. We think, “I’m different. I can handle this. This won’t get out of control.” But sin is always out of control when it isn’t rejected and suppressed.

And so God lets suffering rest on us.

David knew this. He describes the weight of God’s hand pressing down on him, because of his sin. But David is moved by his suffering to repent. And even though God’s hand is still pressing down on him, David is confident that God WILL have mercy. God will relent.

If our guilt brings suffering, we shouldn’t try to hide from it. Shouldn’t try to drink it away, or somehow medicate ourselves away from facing God’s rebuke. But instead, following David’s example, we should accept our guilt, and own it. That’s the path to freedom. When we accept personal responsibility for our actions, then we can confess our sins to God and find forgiveness in Christ.

David pictures guilt like arrows that the Lord had shot into his sides (verse 2). He describes these wounds as stinking and festering (verse 5). When you try to ignore guilt, it just begin to fester. The sharp pain of the arrowhead progresses to the fevered, tender pain of spreading infection. Is the answer to just medicate so you can’t feel the pain? NO! The answer is to address the problem!

David does this in verse 18.
Psalm 38:18-22 (ESV)

18     I confess my iniquity;
I am sorry for my sin.
19     But my foes are vigorous, they are mighty,
and many are those who hate me wrongfully.
20     Those who render me evil for good
accuse me because I follow after good.
21     Do not forsake me, O Lord!
O my God, be not far from me!
22     Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation!
Earlier David admitted that his sin was the source of his suffering. The reason why God’s hand was pressing down on him. But that wasn’t the open confession that we find here.

Here David says, “I  confess my iniquity, I am sorry for my sin”. This is a full confession. True confession of sin includes both outward expression, and inward depression. You don’t hide it, but admit it to God. You don’t cherish the sin in your heart, you feel sick to your stomach that you did it. You never want to touch that sin again.

That’s what David expresses here. And it leads to an immediate change of mind for David. He knows that God has promised forgiveness through the coming Messiah. And so his tone changes as soon as his confession takes place. While he was talking about how sinful he was before, now he talks about how his enemies are hating him wrongfully, doing evil to him even though he’s following after good. Now that’s a big shift from what David was saying about himself earlier!

Where does this shift come from? Forgiveness. David trusted in God’s promise of forgiveness, and so he is counted as righteous. Counted as good.

When guilt over our own sins brings us to confession and depression, the same promise of forgiveness that lifted David, also lifts us. And we know more details about the Messiah than David did! We know his name is Jesus. We know all that he suffered on the cross to take our sins away. We know, by heart, many of the ways he reassured his followers that they were forgiven. He comes to us personally, each time we come to the Lord’s Supper.
Guilt leads to suffering, suffering to repentance, repentance to salvation—and salvation to strength.

Look at verse 21 again. It’s important to see how David ends this Psalm. He’s still crying out to the LORD. His suffering isn’t over yet. He says,

21            Do not forsake me, O Lord!
O my God, be not far from me!
                22      Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation!” (Psalm 38:21-22 ESV).

He still feels abandoned, though he knows he isn’t.

He still feels like God is far from him, even though he knows that’s not true.

He feels desperate, crying out for the LORD to help him quickly! Be he knows, now or later, the Lord is his salvation.

It’s important for us to remember that our emotions are just tools which help us to navigate and experience life. But they don’t always reflect reality. We can feel abandoned, but know that we aren’t. We can feel lost, but know we are safe in the Lord’s hands. Thank God our reality is not based on our wavering emotions! Thank God our reality and our salvation is founded on the sacrifice that Christ made in our place. Emotions change. History doesn’t.
We started this meditation today by openly stating that God causes suffering. We end by reaffirming that statement, and adding to it the following verse from Hebrews 12.

“All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11 NASB).

Prayer: Father in heaven, help us to learn from whatever suffering finds its way into our lives. Help us not to get comfortable in this world of sin. Help us always to look forward to being with you in heaven. Father, if you send suffering into our lives with the purpose of rescuing us from a sin that is particularly dangerous to us—help us to understand what you’re doing. And lead us to full repentance, and complete peace in Christ Jesus our Savior. Amen.

September 15, 2013

Mercy - Sep 15, 2013

Apparently our server is down again this seek, so all I have is the printed version of this sermon. Sorry for the inconvenience. Email if you really want the mp3 and I'll send it to you. -Pastor Caleb Schaller


Boom! Pow! Ziiiiiiiiiip! Mooooo. Oink oink. Meow.

No, your pastor hasn’t gone crazy. These words are examples of onomatopoeia. In every language there are words that seek to communicate a sound by simply imitating that sound.

In third year Greek we learned about one such word that is used in the New Testament. The Greek word for “grumble”—“gong-guz-oh”.  

It’s kinda fun to say. Repeat after me, “gong-guz-oh”.

Okay, let’s experience this word a little deeper. I want everyone on the right side to say “gong-guz-oh” four times, but not all at the same time. Kinda overlap your grumbles and put a nice low rumble into them. Ready? Go.

Nice. Now let’s have the left side give it a try. Say “gong-guz-oh” four times with a low overlapping rumble.


This was the sound that Jesus heard one day when he was teaching the crowds. The sound of grumbling was coming from the Pharisees and scribes. The “holier than thou” religious people.

You see, among the people who crowded around Jesus to hear him speak, there were tax collectors and prostitutes. People who by their trades were known to be thieves and sexual sinners. But Jesus didn’t seek to separate himself from these people. He didn’t drive them away. Instead, he conversed openly with these open sinners and even ate lunch with them.

And so the Pharisees grumbled. And Jesus heard their “gong-guz-oh”. And in that grumbling Jesus perceived an attitude that was all wrong.

In our reading for today Jesus seeks to teach that the proper attitude toward unbelieving sinners is an attitude of mercy, not an attitude of cold, immovable judgment.

Luke 15:1-10 (ESV)

15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
In another section of Scripture Jesus famously says,

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1 NASB).

This statement gets thoroughly abused. People say that this mean we should never tell people their actions are sinful. That would be judging them, and Jesus says not to do that. This is nonsense. Jesus consistently teaches his followers that no matter what flavor sin comes in, it’s always wrong. Sin is evil. We should always call sin, sin.

The judging that we’re not supposed to do happens when we treat sinning people as if they can’t be regained from their sinful habits. We’re not supposed to pretend like we know that they can never change. That we know God can’t get through to them. That’s the judging that we’re forbidden to do. And that’s the very judging that the Pharisees and scribes were guilty of.
The Pharisees looked at the thieving tax collectors and the fornicating prostitutes and said in their hearts, “These people are lost FOREVER. They’re dirty, sick, and hopeless. They make no effort to change their ways. Let them lie in the bed they’ve made for themselves. They’ve chosen their path, let them go ahead and skip down the road to hell.”

Because the Pharisees judged these people as hopeless, they wouldn’t have anything to do with them. They ignored and disrespected them at every turn.

It comes as no surprise then, that when the Pharisees saw Jesus talking and eating with these people, they interpreted that to mean that in some way Jesus accepted their sins.

But that wasn’t what Jesus was doing at all. When Jesus talked and ate with tax collectors and prostitutes he wasn’t expressing acceptance of their evils. He was expressing the truth that these people were not necessarily lost forever. They could be regained. Their sins could be forgiven, and their lives could be reformed. Yeah, they were lost, but they could be found.

While the Pharisees and scribes viewed open sinners as having no value, Jesus showed that God valued them. Which shouldn’t surprise us. Everything God creates has value, especially those creatures who were originally made in his image!

When Jesus mingled with thieves and fornicators he was showing them that God still loved them, cared for them, and in mercy was reaching out to SAVE them. He wanted to save them from the final judgment, and hell, and he also wanted to save them from all the pain and heartache that a sinful life heaps on a person.
When a climber is reported missing, the rescue teams around here don’t spend a bunch of time evaluating whether it was the fault of the climber or not. They just get out onto the mountainside and start looking.

Rescue teams do this because they value human life.
This is the same attitude that we should have when it comes to rescuing the souls of lost sinners. We shouldn’t spend a bunch of time evaluating whether a sinner deserves their fate or not. And we certainly shouldn’t abandon the rescue attempt if it was their own choices that got them in trouble.

If we value the people that God has made, we will seek to cultivate an attitude of pity and mercy toward them—even when it’s their own stupid choices that have gotten them in trouble, even when their sins are being committed against US!

After all, that’s the kind of attitude that God had toward us! ALL of us deserve hell because of our sins against each other and against God. We aren’t forgiven because we chose God, but because he chose us. HE CHOSE US. HE used the law to show us our sins. HE used the Gospel to show us our Savior. HE convinced us that through Christ we have complete forgiveness and peace with God. If we EVER look at someone else and dismiss them as worthless and un-savable like the Pharisees did, we aught to be flogged.
Jesus used two parables to show us how to view sinners. One parable has to do with a shepherd searching for a lost sheep. The other has to do with a woman searching for a lost coin. The point of both parables is that when something is LOST, you go and find it.

The details in these parables help us to mold the right attitude. First Jesus teaches us to view sinners as LOST, and in need of rescue.

The foolish sheep that gets away from the safety of the flock needs help! The shepherd is a pretty pathetic shepherd if he says, “Dumb old sheep, it deserves to be taken down by the wolves.” Yeah, the sheep got itself lost, but that just emphasizes the fact that it needs help.

The parable of the lost coin teaches us to view sinners as VALUABLE. God didn’t created them to be lost. He didn’t create them just to watch them wallow around in sin and guilt. He’s not amused by the pain sinners feel as they make one horrible mistake after another. God created us to be in an intimate and loving relationship with HIM, and to experience meaningful relationships with one another. As Christians we aught to see everyone as a valuable soul that God cherishes, wants by his side, and wants us to cherish also.
At the beginning of the sermon we talked about the sound of grumbling that Jesus heard. But there’s also another sound that Jesus mentions here. The sound of the angels rejoicing in heaven.

The prophet Isaiah heard the angels sing around God’s throne when he received a vision of God’s throne room. The shepherds heard ranks of angels praise God with their voices as they announced the birth of Christ. I wonder, what does it sounds like when the angels rejoice with loud voices? It must be pretty amazing. Full of power and glory and joy. 

It’s a shocking contrast that while the Pharisees were grumbling, angels were singing for joy in heaven as more and more sinners were brought to faith in their Savior.

I guess that’s the question that we need to ask ourselves: do we want to be like the grumbling Pharisees, or the rejoicing angels? If we want to be like the rejoicing angels then we need to apply love, honesty, and patience to the sinners we know. That’s what they need! They certainly don’t need our grumbling judgment. They certainly don’t need to be abandoned. They need us to bring them the truth, in love. They need us to patiently call sin, sin. They need us to point out their sins and the consequences of sin until they own their guilt. And then they need us to bring them the Gospel of God’s grace. That’s how the lost get found.
In Greek class we also learned about the word, “Mercy”. In the Greek it’s “eleos”. This word is defined as, “kindness or good will towards the miserable and the afflicted, joined with a desire to help them” (Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon).

This is the attitude that we should have toward sinners. May God give us a heart full of mercy.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you didn’t abandon us because we were guilty. Though we made choice after horrible choice and committed sin after stupid sin, you sought us out and found us. You placed us on your shoulders and brought us home. Help us to have the same heart of mercy and love toward the sinners around us, the same heart of mercy that you had for us. Thank you. Amen.

September 8, 2013

All In - Sep 8, 2013

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Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez landed his ships on the Yucatan peninsula in 1519. Cortez had come to explore and prepare this area of Mexico for colonization. He had also come to find  the legendary gold that the Aztecs were said to hoard in massive quantities.

Cortez gave his 500 troops a rousing pep talk before they left the beach. Legend has it that he finished his pep talk with three startling words, “Burn the ships”. When the men protested he told them, “If  we’re going home, we’re going home in their ships.”

Legend or not, this would have been a very effective way of ensuring that your soldiers were fully invested. When your back is against a wall, and retreat is not an option, new depths of will can be found in the human heart.
Jesus also wanted those who followed him to be fully invested. In fact, when large crowds began to follow him around the countryside, he stopped to make sure they understood what they were getting into. He told them that if they were going to follow him, they had better be “All In.”

Luke 14:25-33 (ESV)

25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
The first thing we need to talk about here is the word “hate”. In this context, this word does not mean “hate” in the strong sense that we think of. “But Pastor, it says ‘hate.’ How can you tell us that it doesn’t mean ‘hate’ in this verse?”

Well, first of all, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught people to love others, even their enemies. At the Last Supper he commanded his disciples to love one another just like he had loved them. Throughout his ministry Jesus encouraged people to keep the Ten Commandments. At one point he summarizing commandments 4-10 with the phrase, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

In the New Testament letters, the apostles teach that spouses are to love one another, people in families are to take care of each other, mothers and fathers are to raise their children with gentleness. It’s pretty clear from the rest of the Bible that in Jesus can’t be using the word “hate” to mean “extreme dislike” in this section.

So, what is Jesus trying to say?

There’s a verse in Luke 16 that will help us out. If you turn to Luke 16, verse 13 it says,

13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13 ESV).

The main idea here is the general truth that you can’t serve two masters. Some of you are probably thinking, “Yes, you can.” And it’s true, in a certain sense you can serve two masters, just like you can work two jobs. But Jesus’ point is that you can only fully give yourself to one. When things get tight you’re going to have to put one above the other by what you say and do.

When it comes to following Jesus, it’s not like being a fan. It’s more like enlisting in the army. There is no “half-way” in following Christ.

If you turn to Matthew 10, verse 34 you’ll find Christ speaking in a similar way, and again, saying some pretty shocking things. He says,

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:34-39 ESV).

Jesus warns that following him will change the relationships that we have. It’s not hard to figure out. If a couple has diverging obsessions, two different things that they’re dedicated too, they’re almost definitely going to have problems because of that fact.
But Jesus goes further. In verse 26 of our sermon reading, Jesus says that we should even “hate” our “own life”. In the Greek it’s actually our “own SOUL”, or “SELF”. Those who follow Jesus must be ready to “hate” themselves.

Again, in this context, the word “hate” doesn’t mean to severely dislike. Jesus isn’t commanding us to dislike everyone and ourselves too. He’s expressing the fact that the human heart has ONE pinnacle. ONE highest place. ONE high throne. And only ONE person or thing can sit on the throne of your heart. If you’re going to follow Jesus, then mom can’t sit on that throne. Dad can’t either. You love your spouse, but they can’t sit there either. Neither can your children. Following Christ means even dethroning your self.

If you’re going to follow Jesus, you need to be “All in”. He gets the throne of your heart.
If that wasn’t a strong enough wake-up call, what Jesus told the crowds next was. He said,

“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27 ESV).

Now let’s just back up a second and remember where all this is being said. Jesus is walking across the countryside with huge crowds gathering to follow him. He turns and tells them in a shocking way that following him is not a hobby. If they’re going to follow him that’s going to mean putting him above their loved ones. That’s going to mean putting him above their very selves. And they’ll need to bear their own crosses.

I’m going to venture to guess that “bearing your own cross” was not a common phrase at the time. Especially among the Jews. Crucifixion was a horrible thing used on them by the Romans. Christ hadn’t yet transformed the cross into a symbol of hope and forgiveness. When he said they had to bear their own crosses he was saying that they would have to suffer pain and shame because of following him. Many of the apostles would literally find a cross at the end of their lives.

It’s amazing that some preachers today try to tell people that following Jesus will lead to financial security and all sorts of riches. It’s like they haven’t even read what Jesus says here.
Now, it’s not that Jesus wanted these crowds to leave. He didn’t! But he wanted them to understand that he wasn’t just another Jewish radical promising a glorious earthly kingdom full of pleasures and wealth. The Son of God didn’t become human to get people out of debt and secure them a nice retirement home. The Son of God came to settle our debt to God by taking our sins away through his sacrifice on the cross. He came to make sure that when we leave this world, we’ll have an eternal home in God’s house.

Following Jesus would mean these blessings in the end, but perhaps some very unsavory conditions in this life. Jesus was directing them to count the cost. To fully consider the consequences of following him.
To help the crowds get it, Jesus brings up two examples from daily life. Two examples of how important it is to weight costs and consequences before committing to an undertaking.

The first example is a big building project. You don’t just start adding a wing onto your house without making sure you’ve got the time and money to finish it. If you do, you may end up being extremely embarrassed when your project comes to a screeching halt.

The second example is war. A king shouldn’t rush into battle without weighing the lives that will be lost, the money that will be spent, and the time that it will take. If he does, he may end up losing it all, including his life.

Rashly jumping on the bandwagon leads embarrassment and serious consequences.

Jesus closes off his speech to the crowds by saying,

“So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33 ESV).

In other words, you better be “All In” if you’re serious about following me through this life.
So, what does this mean for us today? I mean, we’re not part of that crowd that followed Jesus around Palestine. They had all sorts of motives? We’re Christians who know what Jesus says. We know his promise of forgiveness. We know how he won this forgiveness for us. We trust in him! So, what good is it for established followers of Christ to revisit these words?

First of all, these words lead us to reevaluate our own faith. How strong is it? Where are we weak? Where do we waver? These are good things for Christians to ask themselves. If you open your Bible up to 2 Corinthians 13, verse 5 you’ll see that it says,

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test” (2 Corinthians 13:5-6 ESV).

Examining our own faith in Christ is like testing bridges BEFORE they fall. If we find weak faith, we know where to go to strengthen it. To the cross of Christ. To the promise he makes to sinners who trust in him—you stand forgiven because of the unchangeable event that is the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ your Savior.
Secondly, these words of Jesus redefine for us the requirements he lays on his followers. That ending phrase,

“…any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33 ESV).

That phrase helps to erase our American sense of entitlement. In our rich country we are taught to think that we have the right to all sorts of good things. Jesus reminds us today that the pursuit of happiness isn’t king in the heart of his followers, HE is. Our jobs, and families, and friends, even ourselves come second to Christ if we are his people.
Thirdly, Christ would encourage us by these words, as harsh as they sound. For when we reach inside to evaluate our faith and find that, yes, even though we’ve failed in the past, we wish to put Christ above all, we have the reassurance that Christ does still reign on the throne of our hearts.

At a certain point of his ministry, many people started to leave Jesus. He had said some things that the crowds found hard to accept. At this point Jesus turned to his twelve apostles and said,

Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:67-69 ESV).

It’s not that we want to face hard decision in life. It’s not that we want turmoil in our relationships. It’s not that we want to endure pain and suffering because of our faith in Christ. But like Peter said, “…to whom shall we go?” We too have come to believe that Jesus has the words of eternal life. He is the Holy One of God sent to wash our sins away forever by the blood of his cross. We will follow him.

Jesus wants to elicit the same good confession of faith from us, that he did from Peter. That’s why it’s good for us to revisit these words. 
And furthermore, when we think about how we’ve failed to always put Christ first in our lives, how could we not remember how he NEVER FAILED to put us first in his? He gave up heaven to walk the earth as a man. He gave up justice to be condemned for our crimes. He gave up dignity to suffer in our place. He gave up his LIFE to give us everlasting life.

That’s what puts him on the throne of our hearts. The Gospel is what moves us to be “All In” when it comes to following Jesus as our king.
When Hernando Cortez made retreat impossible for his soldiers, he did so to force them to put everything into winning. Jesus is a very different sort of leader than Cortez, who was by all accounts a piece of garbage. When Jesus paused to address the crowds on that day in Palestine, he wasn’t just trying to back them against a wall in order to get their full effort. He was leading them to put their full trust in him.

And today, Jesus is leading us to do the same. To order our hearts with HIM first. Jesus is leading us to go “All In” with him leading the way because “In Christ” is the only safe place to be—in this life, and beyond.