May 25, 2015

May 24, 2015 - Ezekiel 37:1-14

Theme: Take a Deep Breath from the Holy Spirit

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

“There is a spirit in man, the Spirit of God has made us and the breath of the Almighty gives us life and understanding (Job 32:8, 33:4).

When you’re stressed, emotional, fired up, or worried, the advice you most often hear is to take a deep breath. Taking a deep breath helps both regulate your heart rate and blood flow and gives you a moment to calm down and assess the situation. In difficult moments another piece of advice is to count to 10. This helps take your mind off the situation for a moment but it also helps you breathe. We’ve all used these simple techniques or others like them before and they help.

Taking a deep breath can help calm your nerves but it also helps you appreciate life itself. Breathing is one of those things that we so often take for granted. But it’s really vitally important; none of us would have life if we could not breathe. On average, a person takes over 23,000 breaths each day. How many of those do you typically think about? It’s usually not until we have something distressing or dangerous come our way that we stop to appreciate the breath we have. If you’re underwater, in danger of drowning, you can bet you’re going to think about your breathing. If you’re climbing a mountain and the altitude is getting thinner, you’ll find yourself thinking about breath a lot more. If you’re hiding from an intruder and you need to be quiet in order to stay alive, you’ll think about how heavy you breathe. You can’t deny the importance of a deep breath in situations like these. But, for the most part, breath and breathing is something we rarely think about.

It’s not surprising that when we come across things that God has planned to help us out in our physical lives that we also see a spiritual application. A deep breath can go a long way for your body, both physically and emotionally. The same is true spiritually. We focus this Sunday on the One who gives us breath and life – the Holy Spirit. But how many of you think about the Spirit’s work on a daily basis? Like your physical breathing, how often are conscious of it? Very often we operate as if we’re drifting through life without a care or concern for the Spirit’s work or for God’s plan. It’s not until peril or danger comes our way that we really start to recognize things as they are. In those moments, don’t we ever appreciate the Holy Spirit and His wisdom, guidance, and protection?

The Spirit often works in mysterious ways, in the background of the hustle and bustle of our busy lives. Jesus described it this way: "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit (John 3:8)." It’s not until the wind blows in our face that we feel it. The same is true of the Spirit’s work. He often goes about His business behind the scenes, using what appears to be common and unspectacular in the Word of God; the same passages and verses we hear so often and know so well. But every now and the wind blows and we feel it. Every now and then we are tested and are left gasping for breath. Every now and then the Holy Spirit comes out of the shadows and we get a glimpse at the power of His work. Pentecost Sunday was obviously such a time. Great signs and wonders were given to show that the promise of the Holy Spirit had been fulfilled. The event of our text for today, in the life and ministry of the prophet Ezekiel was another time of a similar occurrence.

We read the Word from Ezekiel 37:1-14:
The hand of the LORD came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. 2 Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. 3 And He said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" So I answered, "O Lord GOD, You know." 4 Again He said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them,`O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 `Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: "Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. 6 "I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD."'" 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them. 9 Also He said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath,`Thus says the Lord GOD: "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live."'" 10 So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army. 11 Then He said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say,`Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!' 12 "Therefore prophesy and say to them,`Thus says the Lord GOD: "Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. 13 "Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. 14 "I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and performed it," says the LORD.'"

As I read the text you no doubt recognized the high frequency of the word “breath.” It occurs 7 times in our translation. We obviously see that the Holy Spirit is connected to this concept of “breath” because God says as much in our text. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit breath enters into your life. But there’s an even deeper connection between the two – they’re the same word! In the Hebrew, the word for “breath” and “Spirit” are the same. Context determines which idea is being conveyed, but the root meaning of the word is the same.

With this thought, God gives us an intimate picture of His work in our lives. When God’s Spirit enters your life He literally becomes the breath by which you live. God demonstrated the power of this gift to Ezekiel by giving life to dry bones and fashioning flesh around them. What a truly astounding miracle indeed, one that certainly rivals the scene of Pentecost! But despite these amazing effects, the bones, sinews, and flesh remained lifeless until God breathed into them.

This takes us back to the creation of man, doesn’t it? Before God breathed into Adam, he was nothing more than a lump of organic materials. There was no life and no spirit. But God breathed into Adam, the breath of life, and he became a living being (Genesis 2:7). This is what we call the soul, or life-force of humans. We all have this breath and life. It’s what gives purpose and function to our material limbs and flesh. It’s what allows us to call ourselves living.

God was certainly pointing to His creative ability by showing Ezekiel this. But the real reason for this sign was for an even greater purpose. Through it we are reminded of God’s creation and His power over life here on earth. But even more importantly, we are given understanding about the forgiveness of our sins, and the gift of life that preserves us for eternity. We have life, we have spirit, we have the breath of God – both physically and spiritually. That was God’s point to Ezekiel. Without spiritual life physical life does not matter; it cannot exist. Without spiritual life we are nothing more than a sack of bones. And without the Holy Spirit, without the breath of the Almighty, we don’t have this life.

Think again about how Jesus described the work of the Holy Spirit, as wind. Think about God’s picture here to Ezekiel, of the power of His breath. All of these thoughts are wrapped up in the way the Holy Spirit uses the Gospel to work forgiveness and life. In our natural state we are dead in our trespasses and sins. Our fleshly mind hates God. Even with a rudimentary understanding of God’s will in Christ we are still unable to accept it. We are utterly helpless, like dry bones in the wilderness. Yet, the Holy Spirit enlivens and enlightens us. Like wind, he moves us in the right direction to accomplish God’s will. Before the LORD showed Ezekiel this truth, described in the previous chapter what Israel suffered from, something we share in a spiritual sense: “Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions. Their conduct was like a woman's monthly uncleanness in my sight. And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, 'These are the LORD's people, and yet they had to leave his land (Ezekiel 36:17,20).”

What shame Israel had brought upon itself and this was a recurring theme in the Old Testament. Their wickedness was so great that even the heathen nations were surprised by it, in complete shock that this people had turned away from the LORD and been driven from their promised land. Their spiritual actions were so grievous that the LORD compared it to a woman’s menstrual impurity. How had Israel reached to this point? They forgot who gave them life and breath, not only at the beginning of their lives but by faith in the heart. When you lose sight where your life came from, you lost sight of how you should continue to live. When you follow sin and wickedness your life will not be filled with happiness and purpose. Israel needed to take a deep breath, a breath from the Holy Spirit, a breath of repentance and forgiveness; and that’s exactly what God led Ezekiel to preach about through the vision of our text.

How would this forgiveness be accomplished? How would Israel come to accept and receive it so that they would have life? Not on their own. God ended chapter 36 by telling Ezekiel: “It is not for your sake that I will act, let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel. On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt.” God acted by His grace alone. There was nothing pure about Israel that they should be saved. There was nothing worthy about their actions that merited God’s love. God acted for Israel, not because of them.

The Holy Spirit works in the same way for us. We are dry, lifeless bones; shadows of the creation we were meant to be; a useless framework which has no being or existence. But God comes and says, “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! Surely I will cause breath to enter into you and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.” God’s Spirit works the same for us because we suffer from the same ailments as Israel. And now that you know that the word “breath” is the same as the word “Spirit” it means something very significant when God promises to put breath in you.

The Holy Spirit uses the Gospel of forgiveness to break the hard exterior of our lifeless hearts and return them to flesh that lives and beats. As God breathed life into Adam, He also breathes spiritual life into us. Regenerated and renewed, the Holy Spirit now continues His behind the scenes work in our lives, gracefully moving and flowing through us as the wind moves and flows through the trees. We see Him not, but we see His work. We live with the results.

And now, when this sinful life threatens, when distresses mount up, when anxiety and fear fill our thoughts, when we are weak and timid, when pressures threaten to cave in upon our faith; no matter what happens, we can take a deep breath. Take a deep breath from God’s live-giving Spirit. Breathe fully and confidently with that gift because it is the Spirit whom you breathe. That’s why Jesus called Him the “Helper.” It’s the Holy Spirit who refreshes and relaxes us. He is the one who talks us down from the edge of life’s perils. He shifts the pressure valve in our hearts, releasing the steam that builds up daily. So breathe deeply. Take a moment each day with God’s Spirit.

Those moments come easier than you think. You don’t have to hear a mighty, rushing wind. You don’t have to have tongues of fire upon your head. You don’t have to speak in other languages. You don’t have to see a skeleton rise to life and take human flesh. You don’t need any of those things to have the Holy Spirit.

Our journey today is much like Elijah’s in 1 Kings 19, when the Spirit came to him. The Spirit wasn’t in the strong wind. He wasn’t in the earthquake, nor in the fire; not in any of the mighty signs. It wasn’t until Elijah heard the “still, small voice” that God spoke to Him. God’s Spirit desires to speak to you through the still, small voice of His Word. Will you listen?

God doesn’t come to you because you deserve it but that doesn’t’ mean you can’t get in the way. Just this week I was helping Micah get outside to play with the kids at recess. He was so excited and eager to get out there that he forgot to watch where he was going. Before he even made it past the front steps, he tripped and skinned his knee. Those of you who were there probably remember the screams. Playing was no longer an option; I took him inside, tried to calm him down and said to him, “Take a deep breathe. Relax, you’re going to be okay.” And he was. Five minutes later he was outside telling everyone about it.

We all know how important life and breath from God is. Without it we have nothing, physically or spiritually. But how often do you face plant trying to achieve it on your own? How often have you been tripped up by the spiritual flavor of the week that is propagated in the world? Do you ever feel cornered by stress, anger, or depression? Don’t make the problem worse. Relax, and take a deep breath. Hear the Word of the Lord and the Holy Spirit will do His work. Amen.

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

May 19, 2015

May 17, 2015 - Matthew 6:19-21

Theme: The Heavenly Treasure of our Ascended Lord

Dear fellow redeemed, “Apply your heart to instruction, and your ears to words of knowledge. Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches (Proverbs 23:12, 24:3-4).” The riches we follow after today are from God’s wisdom as recorded in Matthew 6:19-21:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 "but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

With the coming of Ascension we mark the end of another Easter season in the church year. Obviously, we always keep the thoughts of Easter close to our hearts regardless of what time of year it is. But for a while now, we will focus on other portions of Scripture. Each year around Easter, we take time to study the all-important and timeless truths which God reveals through His risen Son. Certainly, when we think of everything that God tells us about the resurrection, we easily see why we spend several weeks on it.

In his famous chapter of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul tells us everything we gain through Christ’s resurrection and everything we lose without it. Through the resurrection:
  • ·         We have God’s grace and forgiveness
  • ·         We have purpose in life
  • ·         We have God’s promise to bless our work in His name
  • ·         We have victory over sin and death
  • ·         We, too, will be raised to life one day  
  • ·         We bear the image of Christ, instead of the image of Adam

On the contrast, without Christ’s resurrection, or if Christ’s resurrection is not true:
  • ·         Our preaching is in vain
  • ·         Our faith is in vain and empty
  • ·         We are false witnesses
  • ·         We are still dead in our trespasses and sins
  • ·         We will not be raised either
  • ·         And, we are of all men the most pitiable

The implications of the resurrection are clear, both ways. No one can be neutral on this topic. Either you believe it or you don’t. This is why we spend so much time on studying and remembering Christ’s resurrection, because it is the pinnacle of our Christian faith. But even though Christ is risen, and all of the fruits of His resurrection apply to us, He is not here in bodily form today. We might well wonder, what’s the point of the resurrection, of Christ coming back from the dead, if He’s not here today? As important and fundamental the resurrection is to our faith, it would mean very little to us without the rest of God’s Word. This is where other portions of God’s truth, particularly what we are to be doing now that Christ is risen, enter the scene and fill in the rest of the details. And the event that starts it all is the Ascension.

As a festival of the church year, Ascension is not often given the attention and fanfare that Easter is. With all the weight and authority of Easter still fresh in our minds, we can imagine why. Any festival or doctrine that follows in its wake is sure to seem lesser. But most of the problem lies with us. Often we don’t think much about the Ascension of Christ and what implications it has for our lives like we do with Easter.   

We know well the effects of denying Easter, but do we think about the effects of denying the Ascension? Are there any effects? Does it matter what we believe about where Christ is now or what He is doing? There’s a reasons that the Bible speaks clearly and definitively about Christ’s ascension, because it matters greatly. Easter deals with what Christ did, Ascension deals with what He is doing now. You really can’t have one without the other. In this sense, Easter and Ascension are very much like Christmas and Epiphany.

Christmas is the other major festival on the church calendar; really the only thing that can rival Easter in anticipation and celebration. And much like Ascension, Epiphany follows behind Christmas and is largely forgotten by many. But what would the birth of Christ really mean if He was not also made known to the world as the Savior of all people? That’s precisely what we celebrate on Epiphany and many are quick to forget it, or at least to take it for granted. But just like Easter and Ascension, you can’t have one without the other. Take one away or lose its meaning and significance and the other becomes useless.

So as we think about Ascension, what exactly is Christ doing now? When we seek an answer to this question in the Bible, we see a resounding theme that is presented. Christ is at the right hand of God the Father. The imagery of being at the right hand of God symbolizes power and authority. With this thought we understand that Christ has resumed His full power and is using it to help us out here on earth today.

David prophesied of this power when He wrote in Psalm 16 of the Messiah: For You will not leave my soul in the grave, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. 11 You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:10-11). There we have the connection again between the resurrection and the ascension. Christ would not stay in the grave, but He would be exalted to the right hand of the Father. David wrote again on this subject in Psalm 110, further describing the work of Christ at the right hand of God: The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool." The Lord is at Your right hand; He shall execute kings in the day of His wrath. 6 He shall judge among the nations (Psalm 110:1,5-6).

Peter continued this theme as he preached about Christ on Pentecost Sunday, even quoting from Psalm 110 and proving that it was speaking of Christ by saying: “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. 33 "Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. 34 "For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: `The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, 35 Till I make Your enemies Your footstool."' 36 "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:32-26).”

And there’s many more portions of Scripture that reinforce the importance of Christ’s ascension, as certainly evidenced by Christ Himself through our two Scripture readings today. All of these thoughts bring us to the verses of our sermon text. In this section from Matthew 6 Jesus was not preaching about His ascension. This sermon came earlier on in His ministry, before the full realization of His death, resurrection, and ascension were impressed upon the people. So why do we focus on these simple thoughts on Ascension Sunday of all days? Why is it important to keep our focus on heavenly treasures? The answer is that it is precisely the ascension of Jesus that shows us why our focus must continually be on heaven.

One of the most profound things that John the Baptist said in witnessing about Jesus being the Messiah was this, “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said,`I am not the Christ,' but,`I have been sent before Him.' 29 "He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. 30 "He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:29-30).” By these statements, John clearly portrayed his razor sharp focus on Jesus. Just as the friend of the groom keeps his focus on the groom during the wedding day, so John kept his focus on Jesus. His faith led him to follow where Jesus was and what Jesus was doing, regardless of what obstacles were in the way. There was nothing that was going to deter John from seeing and focusing on Jesus, even himself, as he confessed so boldly that he would gladly become insignificant for the sake of his Savior.

The same should be true in your life. By faith, you see Jesus with the same intimate friendship that John did. Faith in Christ leads you to forsake all others, even yourself, at the sight of Jesus. Gazing upon Jesus and His glory is a powerful thing. It was so powerful that at the ascension it led the disciples to gaze up into heaven like aimless fools, dumbfounded at what to do next now that Jesus had left. God had to send angels down to tell them to get going and start preaching. The powerful attraction of faith to Jesus is strong in our lives too. And so, with the knowledge of the ascension, namely that Christ is at the right hand of the Father in heaven, we shift our focus to heaven, so that we may continue gazing upon our Savior. When it comes to the things of this world, we follow the advice of our text: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 "but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. 21 "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

The simplest reason why we accumulate our treasure in heaven is because that’s where Jesus is. If Jesus wanted to set up an earthly kingdom He could have. But instead, He taught that His kingdom was not of this world. If Jesus wanted to put a high priority on earthly wealth, He had every right to; but instead He taught that the kingdom of God is in the heart. And if Jesus wanted us to lay up treasures on earth, He would not have ascended into heaven. It is faith in Jesus that leads us to invest our interests into the same place where He now resides and reigns, in heaven. Jesus also said, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 "In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also (John 14:1-3).” That’s another insight into what He is doing now, at the right hand of God. He is preparing heaven by overseeing the work of His Church through the ministry of His Word. He ascended so that He could do this. He is in heaven now because that’s His kingdom. What higher calling could we have than to keep our focus on the same?

But how often is our focus on heaven? How often do we desire to see the groom like John did? Do we accumulate treasures in this world or treasures in heaven? Sadly our focus on heaven is often like our focus on Christ’s ascension – it’s lacking!  Jesus means it when He says that “where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” He has assured us of the power He now wields through His ascension so that we can have confidence in investing our time in heaven. He wants you to keep your focus on His spiritual kingdom so that your heart stays focused on Him. When we get into this we begin to see how vital the ascension is. The ascension is what keeps us sharp and steady as we use the accomplished blessings of Easter to stay in the faith. The ascension is a continual reminder that our treasure resides in heaven, not in anything of this world. But we also realize that we have greatly discredited and abused this treasure.

When we examine our hearts we find ourselves lacking in many ways. Not only do we forget the importance of Christ’s ascension and what it means for our lives today, we also spend too much time accumulating treasure for this world. It’s become so common in our affluent society to hasten after wealth that we often become immune to the inherent danger. We’ve all been desensitized when it comes to acquiring material possessions that we often don’t think about what problem they pose to our faith. A quick examination of our time and activities reveals a major blind spot.

Examine yourself now when it comes to accumulating treasure. How much time do you spend in worldly things, the temporary things which Jesus says are destroyed by “moth and rust?” Now, compare that to the time you spend hastening after heavenly things; acquiring treasure in the Lord’s Word. If you’re like me, the result is horrendously disproportionate. I’m not only unequal in my use of time between God and material possessions; I’m completely out of balance in the wrong direction. And very often, even when I’m treasuring up the Lord’s Word, my thoughts stray to the things of the world. I’m putting time in for the Lord on the outside, but my heart betrays me when I think of the next thing I’d like to buy, or the next show I’d like to watch, or the next pleasure I’d like to fulfill. Is it the same for you? How much do you treasure the Lord? How focused are you on Him in heaven?

It’s not hard to see the way of the world. Just go down the street to Chick-fil-A. For over a week now, traffic has literally been backed up with people headed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Permanent traffic guards are needed to direct people for orderly flow. People take time to go there; they adjust their busy schedules to make it happen; it’s important. And all for what? A piece of chicken? It’s not wrong in and of itself, and the food is good. But how come no one is clamoring to get to church? How come we have plenty of space in our parking lot and in our pews? Why aren’t cars backed up on our road, or at any other church for that matter? Why don’t people care about laying up treasures in heaven? Since when did chicken become more important?

But you say, “Well, pastor, I’m here on Sunday!” Yes, you are, and for that we all rejoice together; but remember, even the hypocrite was present in the synagogue with everyone else. Is Sunday the only day to invest in heavenly treasures? Can we only view Christ at the right hand of God through the lense of congregation and sanctuary? How have you invested your time this week? How much time was spent watching TV, surfing the internet, posting on facebook, relaxing with friends; or anything else when compared to gaining treasures through the Word of God? Did you spend more time eating physical food this week or spiritual food? How often has your Bible been used when compared to your favorite electronic device? Yes, you’re here today and I’m thankful for it. But are you with the Lord every day for the majority of the day, or are you in life’s drive through lane, adjusting and planning your schedule for things that have an expiration date? When’s the last time you adjusted your busy schedule to accommodate the Lord? Do you plan your work hours, your school classes, your hobbies, and your entertainment around time with God? Have you ever caught yourself saying, I can’t make it to church, or Bible study, or this particular church project or fellowship activity, because of something else that’s going on: a job, a sporting event, a social gathering, or a class? Do you sacrifice your spiritual treasures upon the modern altar of busy schedules?

If we’re honest with ourselves, then we’d have to confess our faults and our misplaced priorities. We’re reminded of how God brought the same indictment to His people through the prophet Jeremiah: “Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit. 9 "Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, 10 "and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say,`We are delivered to do all these abominations '? 11 "Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it," says the LORD (Jeremiah 7:8-11).”

There’s a connection between God’s house and treasure isn’t there? These words remind us of when Jesus Himself had to cleanse the temple of God from the merchants who had turned it into a den of thieves, an action that, as Jeremiah prophesied, was as wicked as: murder, stealing, committing adultery, and idol worship. Why do you think Jesus said a few verses after our text, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and possessions (Matthew 6:24).” Substituting God’s word and will for the things of this world strikes right at the heart of the first commandment. How many in our day and age have taken up the worship of material wealth, bowing down at its altar day after day, eventually letting it take the place of God’s own house? How many of us have fallen victim to the same?  

We should remember that God tells us our own hearts are now His temple and the Holy Spirit dwells there. Does Jesus need to cleanse your heart like He did Jerusalem’s temple? How many merchants have desecrated God’s house in your heart? Is true worship taking place there, even on Sunday’s in this sanctuary?

The answer and the solution rests in Jesus’ ascension. He says it here in our text: Invest in treasures in heaven. Make that a priority. Focus on Him, because that’s where He’s at. The writer to the Hebrews tells us: Let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, 2 keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured the cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God's throne (Hebrews 12:1-2). There’s the same connection. Jesus laid down His life for you, He rose again from the dead to destroy death, and now He sits at God’s right hand. Keep your eyes on Him! Focus on heavenly treasures, the very purpose of His ascension. But in order to do that, you have prioritize. Laying up heavenly treasures means that the job, the hobbies, the classes, even the friends and family will take a back seat to God’s Word. You cannot serve two masters.  

With Jesus in your place you have more than just the ability to accumulate spiritual wealth. You also have grace and forgiveness. But grace and forgiveness are not just an excuse to keep on hastening after whatever you want, much like the Israelites said to Jeremiah when they did whatever they pleased and said, “We are delivered from all these abominations!” No, grace and forgiveness are powerful, remember? They are not an excuse or a hindrance, nor are they a crutch and license to continue in the greed of your sinful flesh. Grace and forgiveness come from Jesus, in heaven, at the Father’s right hand, with power and authority.

That’s why we remember the ascension, because Christ now works on your behalf with that power and authority. And that’s the only thing that can change your life. That’s why faith in Jesus is called a “transformation (Romans 12:2)” and a “regeneration and renewing (Titus 3:5).” Faith is not stagnant or dead. It is living and powerful just as our ascended Lord is, and it always looks to Him in heaven. This is your Ascension treasure. Keep  your eyes focused on that. Amen.  

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

May 10, 2015

May 10, 2015 - 1 John 4:1-11

Theme: Refuting the “Spirit of Error” in the World
Error #1: Trust and Truth are based on appearances and feelings
Our response: Trust and Truth are defined by God and found in Jesus
Error #2: Love is generic and based on desire
Our response: Love is defined by God and found in Jesus

Brothers and sisters, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy-- meditate on these things. Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. (Philippians 4:8,5). We meditate on the truth as found in 1 John 4:1-11:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. 4 You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. 6 We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. 7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

How do you know whom to trust and who not to trust? How do you differentiate between fact and fiction? John says clearly in our text that in this present world there is a “spirit of truth” and a “spirit of error.” Literally, the idea of a spirit is what motivates or moves you. The Greek word is pneuma, which is where our English word, “pneumatic,” comes from. Something that is pneumatic is motivated or moved by air. A good way to think about it is a sail boat. A sail boat moves by the power of wind or air. Likewise, your spirit, or pneuma, is what moves you in life. It’s what motivates you toward the particular direction you’re travelling, whether physically or spiritually. The source of one’s spirit determines the direction that one travels.

So, what John tells us is that there is a source that motivates toward error and one that motivates toward truth. How do we know which one moves us? That’s where we come to our opening verse: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God…” This gives us part of the answer. We need to “test” or examine the different motivations that come our way. Every system of belief wants to push you in a certain direction, like the wind. We must analyze what leads us to believe what we do to see if it is actually of the truth and not of error. But here’s where the next question comes in: What do we test spirits with? What do we use?

It is this very question that John seeks to answer as these verses begin and it is at this very point that we will take up our study today. We ask God’s Holy Spirit to guide, motivate, and lead us today.

While we’re asking these difficult questions, we may as well get a little personal too. As the one that preaches to you on a regular basis, I ask you, how do you know that you can trust me? Well, you really don’t know until you hear what I have to say. You have certain keys to help you along the way. You know that I believe the same as you, that I hold to the same confession. You know that I was trained in a school that agrees with what you believe. You know that I have been a long-time member of your church body at large. You know that the congregation I formerly served was in your fellowship. There’s a lot that you know about me before really getting to know me and all that can help.

But in the end, you can only go based on what I actually preach. All of those keys and safeguards don’t prevent the possibility of error in my preaching or theology. You can use them to point you in the right direction but ultimately you need to be Christians with hearing ears and seeing eyes. This is how John instructs you to “test the spirits.” You do this by first and foremost examining what they say about who Jesus is and what He has done, but also by what the rest of their preaching consists of. John writes: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. We could say that confessing that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh includes more than just confessing His humanity and incarnation. It also includes everything that Jesus did while He was in the flesh, namely, fulfilling God’s Word, suffering, dying, and rising again on the world’s behalf.

But John also writes: They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. 6 We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. The greatest test has to do directly with what one says about Jesus. But what one says about the rest of God’s Word is important too. By listening and hearing we are able to detect truth when we hear it and fiction when we hear it. This is why we often use one’s confession of faith or list of teachings to define what he or she believes. The way a person applies and practices what they believe varies, but statements of faith should be consistent, just as John says, it is by what one says that we establish what one believes.

Sadly, this really isn’t the way many in the world operate, at least when it comes to religion, and this leads us to the first spirit of error in the world: Trust and Truth are based on appearances and feelings. In almost every area of society, people give concrete statements to define who they are and what they stand for. For example, in the business world, every major company has a definitive mission statement that clearly explains their purpose. The direction of the company is not up for debate. If one wants to be an employee, they must accept the pre-determined mission that the company has. 

But the spirit of error in the world denies that trust and truth can be pinned down, let alone found in God’s Word. For the world, trust and truth are often decided by the individual, based on appearances and feelings. For example, I hope that there are several things about me that lead you to trust what I say. I hope that my attitude is right. I hope that my appearance and demeanor are welcoming. I hope that I can relate to you and get you to think about things in ways that make sense. But although all of those things are important to the ministry, none of them matter when it comes to the truth. You can be the most endearing, sincere, friendly person you want, but it doesn’t mean you are trustworthy or that you speak the truth. Ultimately, there is very little, if anything, about my personality that separates me from any other teacher of any other religion. In fact, in many ways I am much lesser in those things than other teachers and preachers.

This spirit of error in the world, that tells us we get to decide for ourselves who is trustworthy and what is truth, is very dangerous. Jesus said plainly, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves (Matthew 7:15).” Detecting fact from fiction is often a very difficult process, primarily because we like to add appearances and feelings to the matter. Jesus went on to say, “By their fruits you will know them.” We don’t know trust and truth because we feel it deep inside or because it appears that way. If that was the case, we would be led astray by every wolf posing as an innocent sheep on the outside. We know trust and truth by what is done and what is said. The greatest example of a fruit in someone’s life is what they tell others. The substance of the words they use to convince you of the truth and to earn your trust, is what you should use to test their spirit.
Sadly, when it comes to whom we trust, we often like to paint people into corners. As soon as we meet someone we are instantly analyzing and testing who they are. What do they look like? How do they act? How do they make me feel? We often use the answers to these questions to determine trust and truth. But what we do by this is simply turn this person into what we think they are or why we think they should be. We paint them into a pre-determined corner in our mind and convince ourselves that that’s who they are.

The tragedy in this whole process is that we often never actually get to know the person because we already think we have. This especially hits home for us as a close knit group of confessional Lutherans. We categorize people by church body: WELS, Missouri Synod, ELCA, Reformed, Roman Catholic, and so on; often without ever really getting to know the person; without ever actually talking to them about what they believe. It affects us in the opposite direction too. We hear CLC, and we are tempted to automatically trust what we hear. This leads us to casually listen and be present, without hanging on every word to search the Scriptures diligently as the Bereans did, to find out whether those things are true. Very quickly, our basis of truth can be found in our church body, not in what is actually taught and preached from God’s Word.

We do this with our families too, don’t we? We stay in a church or we leave a church simply because our family either likes it or doesn’t like it. We’re raised in a particular belief system so we just stay and drift in that belief system without thinking about what actually believe. Like a job that we hate, church becomes just a chore in which we punch the time clock so that all remains cheery between husband and wife or parent and child. Before you know it, we have no ownership of our faith at all; we have allowed physical lineage to become more important than our heavenly Father. We trust what our loved ones say, whether good or bad, just because they say it, without thinking about what God has to say. Jesus has a wakeup call for those who limp along with family for the truth: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me (Matthew 10:37-38).”  Just because we are not of the world, does not mean we are not in danger of twisting the truth. As with all forms of sin, we need to test and analyze how we most often suffer and succumb to it. Your church body and your family are blessings, no doubt, but don’t allow them to become a crutch that hinders you in your spiritual life. Know what God’s Word says, believe it, and follow it; no matter who else comes with you.   

The second great spirit of error that is present in this world is the redefining of true, Biblical love. The world turns the love of Christ as witnessed upon the cross into a vague, generic love that has no substance. This error directly stems from the first. In the absence of truth and trust, a vacuum is created which can be filled by any man-made desire. Love now turns into the pursuit of personal pleasure at the expense of others. Love is chained as a slave to follow the selfish desires of my sinful heart. Just like truth, the world can never absolutely pin down what love is because it changes from person to person.

And yet, the rallying cry that we hear from the world is love. Don’t judge, don’t tell others right from wrong, don’t distinguish beliefs, just love. As Jesus said to the Pharisees, so we could say to the world, “they are blind leading the blind, and they will both fall into the pit (Matthew 15:14).” The world purposely makes love generic so that it can avoid the awful confrontation with God’s Word. If every man and woman decides for themselves what true love is, then certainly God doesn’t get to speak, or at least He’s tuned out enough that no one listens.

Is there never a place for correction or rebuke in love? What about when your child wanders toward the busy road and you scold him and he cries because you stopped him? Was that love? What about your daughter who is blatantly rude and disrespectful in public? Is it unloving to tell her that she can’t act however she wants? What about the drug addict who wants to shoot up and get high? Are you being judgmental and unloving if you tell him that’s not a good idea? Living with sin means that if we want the true path to righteousness, we need loving correction, just as the writer to the Hebrews tells us that: “The Lord disciplines the one He loves and punishes every son He receives (Hebrews 12:6).”

The same principles apply to spiritual things. We’re often accused of unloving action by practicing closed communion, often by those who don’t know what the Bible actually teaches. No one seems to care that God warns about judgment for those who don’t come to His supper in true faith and confession. We’re branded as bigots and judgmental because we hold to God’s definition of marriage – of one man and one woman for life. No divorce, no homosexuality, no fornication, and no living together before marriage. We’re labeled like this because God’s decree rubs against the sinful desires of human nature. Like a child kicking and screaming in the grocery checkout, the world often throws tantrums against God’s Word of repentance over sin and those who defend it. It all comes down to this: If love is based on whatever the individual or whatever the majority of society wants then there’s no room for God’s Word. And the truth is, you can’t love if you don’t first have a handle on what love is. 

Jesus tells us plainly: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. 24 The one who doesn't love Me will not keep My words. The word that you hear is not Mine but is from the Father who sent Me (John 14:23-24).” There it is as clear as day, but who will listen? Will you follow Jesus, as He defines truth and love in His Word, even if it goes against the majority, friends, family? How important is testing the spirits to you?

And so the Holy Spirit leads us, through His Word, to the proper responses to the two great spirits of error in the world. Trust, Truth, and Love are defined by God and found in Jesus. In many settings it’s no longer good enough to just say we believe in God, because even the concept of God has been thrown to the wayside by the world. God now becomes whatever I want. That’s why we say, “defined by God and found in Jesus.” As Peter confessed so do we, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” As Thomas exclaimed “My Lord and My God!” when he witnessed His Savior’s wounds, so do we when we witness truth and love in His Word. Trust, Truth, and Love are not arbitrary and generic. They don’t ebb and flow according to our desires and feelings, nor are they not defined by the deity of self.

No, trust, truth, and love are pillars upon which we stand, upon which our faith rests. They are the rock solid foundation laid down for us by our Lord and Savior Jesus, founded when He laid down His perfect life as a global substitution for humanity’s sin. The truth and love of our Savior stands the test of time: In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. This is the only hope we, fallen, sinful people who are destined for death have.

We can try to grasp for trust, truth, and love with the spirit of error as our motivation, but we’ll only grope in the darkness. We need to be aware that this vain grasping hits home closer than we often think. Protection from Satan, the evil forces of this world, and your own sinful flesh is not found in pious hearts or the guise of Christian living. There is only one source – Jesus Christ. Whenever and wherever we have Him, we have someone we can trust. We have lasting and real examples of truth and love as God defines it. I pray that you may always find safety in these walls, not because of loved ones present with you, nor because of a pastor’s charisma or gifts, but because Jesus is taught here is truth and love. As Paul said to the Ephesians so we are reminded of our goal and the basis of our trust: And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head-- Christ—(Ephesians 4:11-15).

Who can you trust? How do you know who is true teacher and who is a false prophet? There’s only one way. Be led by the Word, the Word that is defined by God and found in Jesus. Amen.

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

May 4, 2015

May 3, 2015 - Acts 8:25-36

Theme: How to Capitalize When Opportunity Knocks
1) Arise (v.26)
2) Go (v.29)
3) Preach (v.35)

Are you ready? The natural response is: “for what?” Usually, if we’re eagerly anticipating something, we’re ready for it. But, if we’re waiting for something less desirable, we usually find ways of not being ready. One of the problems I often got into as a younger kid was lacking the ability to patiently wait for something that I really wanted, that I was really ready for. And usually when whatever I was waiting for finally happened, I was usually let down because I had built it up so much in my head. The same thing still happens to me often today. Does it happen to you too?

Regardless of how impatient we may get for something that we really want or how much we build it up in our minds, at least we can say that we’re ready. If it’s something less desirable, who cares about being ready for it? In fact, why even try to get ready for it? Instead, you can spend time trying to prevent it from happening. Sometimes we do that too.

How do you treat the Gospel? What is your view when it comes to sharing and spreading God’s Word? Is it something you can’t wait to do? Do you seek out opportunities to talk about it? Are you ready for the opportunities when they come your way? Or, do you shy away from speaking about God? Are you ashamed to bring it up or do you start to get quiet when the topic arises?

The good thing about sharing the Gospel is that we don’t have to manufacture opportunities, God takes care of that. But, we can ignore then when they come up. It’s very easy to casually look the other way when the Holy Spirit opens a door. As Christians who love their Savior and what He’s done for them, none of us want to deny Christ or fail to stand up and speak for Him when the time comes. But, so often we do. Why? Well, we think too much of ourselves when we’re in the moment. Perhaps we don’t know God’s Word like we should or we have trust issues when times for speaking that Word arrive. The reasons “why” can go on and on. But a better question is “how do we capitalize?” How do we make the most of the opportunities that God puts in front of us, because like it or not, He’s going to.

If you’re like me, and a lot of other Christians out there, it helps to take the focus off yourself and put it squarely on Christ. Don’t dwell on what you haven’t done or what you think you’re so good at doing; but rather simply listen to what Your Savior’s Word says.

In our text for today, we see the basic prescription for capitalizing on opportunities to share God’s Word: Arise, Go, & Preach. May God the Holy Spirit bless us through our study and lead us to do what we’re supposed to do as we read our text from Acts 8:25-36:

Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, "Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is desert. 27 So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go near and overtake this chariot." 30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" 31 And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 The place in the Scripture which he read was this: "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. 33 In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth." 34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?" 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.

For all intents and purposes we could say that the Lord’s call to “arise” and to “go” are one and the same. For the purpose of our thoughts today we’ll treat them the same. When it comes to speaking the Gospel, the message and the work is already pre-packaged and ready to go. It doesn’t demand anything of us. So, why must God command us to “arise” and “go?”

These commands speak to our preparation. When God, through His messenger, commanded Philip to “Arise and go” in verse 26 and when He commanded him to “Go” to the Ethiopian’s chariot in verse 29, He was preparing Philip for the task at hand. Part of preparation is being in the right place at the right time. You wouldn’t show up late or go to the wrong location for something important. In the same way, God prepares us for opportunities to share His name by ever so gently leading us in life.

For us, God’s guiding hand is often more subtle than it was for Philip. There weren't many unknowns about the task at hand for Philip, God was quite blunt in what He wanted. But Philip didn’t know everything, just like we rarely know the ways in which God is going to work. God simply told Philip to Arise and Go, but He didn’t tell him what was going to happen or what he was about to experience.

Each time that God calls us and each time we’re presenting with an opportunity from Him, it requires a level of trust. Ultimately we need to reserve ourselves to the fact that God has a plan and He’s using us to accomplish it. Sometimes it’s easy to trust, and sometimes it’s not. But whatever the case, you can be sure that God has a plan and He knows the best way to use you in that plan. And you need to trust that. So, you know well that God calls you the same way and He called Philip. He tells you to Arise and Go in His name, and wherever that call takes you He will have opportunities waiting along the way.
God will also make the moment clear. He even promises that He is able to give you the words you need speak at the right time. The question you need to ask yourself is if you trust God. Do you trust that He will lead you? Do you trust that He will give you opportunities to share the Gospel? Do you trust that He will make that moment clear? And do you trust that He will help you to speak the truth? Don’t be mistaken, it’s not just pastors and teachers that God calls to Arise and Go. He calls all Christians. No matter what your occupation is in life, opportunity will come knocking. The stronger your faith and conviction is in what God, your Savior, has done, the more you’ll recognize those opportunities and bolder you’ll be to speak of Jesus.   

And yes, when those opportunities come along, there will be times when you have to speak. As a pastor it’s not uncommon to have most people expect you to be the one who speaks. This makes sense, because the pastor is called by the congregation to speak publicly for the congregation. When opportunities arise to preach, the pastor is usually the one who takes up the task, with the congregation’s support. But this can abused as well. Sadly, it’s also not uncommon for people to view the pastor as the only one who is supposed to speak and preach. Whenever the topic of mission work and evangelism come up, there’s always a large contingent of members who point to me and say, “Well, that’s your job.” Closely connected to this are the members who say that they don’t have the skills or abilities for mission work or speaking about Jesus; that’s it’s just not what they’re inclined to do.

My response to both is, “Really!?” God has given each of you a mouth and a tongue and the ability to speak but someone you’re not able to do that for Him? It’s usually at this point in the study of preaching, mission work, and evangelism that the Sword of the Spirit cuts deep and the Law penetrates our hearts and reveals worthless and petty excuses. The truth is that we can all speak for God. Not only do we have the blessed privilege and right, God commands it.

Now, that doesn’t always mean you’ll have every answer or every memory verse on the tip of your tongue. Nor does it mean that you can never refer someone to the pastor or seek help. And it’s also true that God uses all types of gifts and talents for service in His kingdom, of which speaking is only one. Perhaps it’s not your best skill or the first thing you’re inclined to do, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. The ministry of the Gospel is not only supposed to come from the mouths of pastors and teachers. Quite the opposite. It is message that should operate in your life as it did for Peter and John when they said, “we cannot but speak the things which we have heard and seen (Acts 4:20).”

Beware of making excuses and beware of turning a blind eye to opportunities that God puts in front of you.  One scholar famously said, “Reluctance to speak the Gospel is the fig leaf that covers unbelief.” Ever since Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, fig leaves have represented coverings for things that are shameful or embarrassing. This isn’t’ only reserved to Biblical terminology either, even Wikipedia cites it as a truth used in our culture. Truly, the only shame is cases like these is not in the Gospel, but in our selfish attitudes. What an embarrassment for us, that even after everything Christ went through for us; after everything He freely gave for us; we would still look for ways to get us out of saying anything about Him!

If you’re not convicted by this thought, then you need wake up. We have all had times when we didn’t say anything. We have all let opportunities that the Holy Spirit presented slip through our fingers. We have all turned away in shame, just as Peter in the courtyard of the high priest. It happens to us all. Pastors aren’t exempt from this conviction. In fact, we’re often the guiltiest ones. Just in preparing this sermon my mind was flooded with memories of opportunities wasted. Times when the Holy Spirit dumbed His work down enough for a fool like me to see it and I still caved to my self-imposed pressure.       

How precious is the Gospel to you? How seriously do you take it and your task to proclaim it? Are you afraid of the answers to those questions? If I’m the only one speaking it, as a pastor, we can pack it in, we’re done as a congregation. In fact, if that’s the case, then we’re really not a church, but rather just a hollow group of hypocrites. If this is the case, then what’s the point?

One thing we know without a doubt is that we’ll always make mistakes. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Yeah, pastor, you’ve hammered down that point.” But there’s another reason we examine ourselves and ask these questions. How precious is the Gospel? Are you prepared and willing? What do you do when opportunity is knocking? Because although the answers will at times reveal our failings, they also reveal our hope.

One of the most famous “calls” into the ministry was when God called Isaiah. We know the passage well, “And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me.’” That’s what we want, isn’t it? To see the opportunity that the Lord presents and to respond with boldness, ready and eager for the task. But Isaiah wasn’t any different than you or me. He had his sins and insecurities too. Right before this famous verse, Isaiah responded to the Lord’s call with much less conviction. “Woe it me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts (Isaiah 6:5-6).” Does that sound like a man who is ready to say, “Here am I, send me”?

But in between this moment doubt and the grand display of boldness, comes the reason for our hope. Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth with it, and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged." This is why I speak with conviction. This is why I tell you that you have the right and the command to Arise, to Go, and to Speak. This is why I tell you that your worthless excuses fall by the wayside. Because there’s one requirement to speak for God, and its forgiveness. How much you treasure that gift determines how much you say, no matter if you help sick people, if you punch the clock in a factory, if you design airplanes, if you speak publicly on Sundays, if you’re a CEO or if you’re a grunt; it doesn’t matter. If you’re forgiven, you’re ready to speak.

We see this in our text too. No matter where you come from or who you are, we all have the same question that eunuch had: “How can I understand unless someone teaches me?” What was Philip’s reply? Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Philip spoke, he opened his mouth. He didn’t turn away. He didn’t say, “I don’t know.” He wasn’t ashamed, because someone had already answered that question for him. The only reason you’re here today is because God created an opportunity for you to hear the Gospel message, and someone spoke. How many people out there are waiting for an answer? How many ask, What am I here for? What is life all about? Who is God? How can they understand unless someone teaches them? Will you speak?

I’m here to help to you. I may be the “face” of the congregation in that sense. I have been called to proclaim this truth publicly on your behalf. But I can’t be the only one. I need you more than you need me. I can’t speak for you if I don’t have you there with me, as unified congregation. We have lots of needs of other needs too. But they are only fulfilled by One – Jesus Christ our Savior; Who forgives our sins and cleanses our lips to proclaim His name. That’s why Philip didn’t just “preach” to the Ethiopian. Oh no, it was much more. Literally, he “evangelized” him, which in our English is simply to proclaim the good news of forgiveness. It’s not my opinion; the text says it without reservation. The exact word used for Philip’s message means precisely to speak the Gospel.   

Whenever opportunity to share the Gospel knocks, we should not only be aware of it, but we also think about who it is that’s knocking. Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says (Revelation 3:20,22).”

The same advice Paul gave to the Romans applies even more to us: It’s time to wake up, for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed (Romans 13:11). Sometimes, you’ll tell people the bare essentials, just who Jesus is. Sometimes, you’ll say more, like what it means to be a Christian or what a particular passage teaches. Sometimes, you’ll get advanced, like how God works in our lives and how His Word applies to the various situations of life. And sometimes, you’ll be unsure and scared, and you’ll just do the best you can or just refer them a fellow Christian or to a pastor. Whatever opportunity comes your way, you can be ready, because you’re forgiven by Jesus.

So, who will go for the Lord? Who will He send? Here am I, to arise, to go, and to preach, send me! Amen.

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