June 24, 2015

June 21, 2014 - 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Giving Spiritual Gifts is All About Receiving
1) What: Faith in Christ
2) How: By the work of “the same Spirit”

In the name of the One whom we receive, dear fellow redeemed:

Do you ever have a hard time giving gifts? I’m not talking about a reluctance to give something, I’m talking about having a hard time finding a gift. Some people are tough to shop for. What makes this even harder at times is that gifts often mean more than what they are. The amount of time and thought put into a gift is a reflection of how important that person is to you. You may want to spend more time and money on some people and less on others. That’s what makes giving difficult. How can you find the right gift for someone who means a lot to you?

What about giving gifts to God? He deserves them more than anyone else. He should be at the top of our giving lists. And He should receive the best and most thought out gift. Talk about someone who’s difficult to shop for! Where do we even begin? What store or shop offers a pleasing gift to the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth? What can we possibly return to the One who has given us so much? In our sermon text for today, the Apostle Paul seeks to offer some advice. The fledgling and immature Corinthian congregation was having a difficult time with this too. They didn’t know how to properly give gifts in service and honor to God’s name. They were getting caught up in the sinful activity of using their time and talents for themselves, not for God. But through Paul’s pen, God Himself spoke to these young Christians and told them exactly what He found pleasing. What Paul told them is like many of the truths of God, what we learn is often different than what we expect. The Lord tells us that giving spiritual gifts is all about receiving. And the answer lies in what we receive: faith in Christ, and how we receive it: through the work of the Holy Spirit. We ask that God would come to us again as we read this portion of Scripture from 1 Corinthians 12:1-11:

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant: You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led.Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.

The beginning of chapter 12 marks a sharp transition point. Paul makes is clear that he is moving to a new discussion. But as he begins talking about spiritual gifts, he seems to deviate for a few verses. Instead of jumping right into the topic of gifts, he speaks briefly about idol worship and confessing Jesus as Lord. To the casual observer, verses 2 and 3 seem misplaced, as if they don’t really fit the context. But to the believer, these verses make complete sense, in fact, they must  be included in this context if one hopes to learn how to give spiritual gifts.   

What a punch Paul packs into these first three verses! Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant: You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led.Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. The Corinthian congregation would have been composed mainly of Gentiles who were more familiar with Roman culture rather than Jewish culture. Whereas the Jews stressed belief in one, universal God, the Romans were polytheists, meaning that they worshipped a variety of gods. At the time of the early church, the flavor of day for Roman gods was emperor worship. This is why persecution was so rampant among the early church. For those living in Roman provinces, which composed much of the Christian world at that time, Christians were not just disobeying the religious customs of Roman culture, they were openly defying the Roman emperor, who had ignorantly exalted himself as a deity.

Paul did not want this congregation to stay in this ignorance, and so he reviews for them what it means to be a Christian and how they got to where they’re at now.  When Paul applies idol worship to the reader’s life, it’s a strong indicator that many of the Corinthians had once practiced idol worship, a tradition that Paul does not want them to fall back into. The first thing that Paul seeks to remind them about their conversion is what they received: faith in Christ. That’s essentially what it means to call Jesus “Lord.” No unbeliever is going to genuinely give Him such a title. Only by faith can someone make this confession. But the opposite holds true as well. Those who reject Jesus as Lord choose to call Him something else: “accursed.” (Matthew 7:21 "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord! ' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven.)

This word “accursed” dates all the way back to the Hebrew language in the Old Testament. What it originally meant was an offering that was delivered up for divine wrath. The accursed one or thing was viewed as receiving God’s punishment for sin. Those who gave the offering gave it with the intent that it would be destroyed. This was a spiritual gift that was pleasing in God’s eyes because it took sin away, but who among us can make such a sacrifice today? What we see here in this verse is quite amazing, and it ties together this entire section. Today we certainly would not want to call Jesus “accursed” just as Paul exhorts the Corinthians. But the ironic twist is that Jesus once became this very thing. He was cursed on the tree of destruction as an offering before His Father. He became the greatest of all gifts, the most worthy of all spiritual sacrifices, in our place for our sins, just as Paul once wrote to the Galatians: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:13-14). 

As Christians, there is a part of us that takes great pride in calling Jesus our “accursed one.” But after His victory, after His resurrection, He is glorified alone, He is no longer cursed. Those who reject what He did continue to call Him this, because they ignore His victory, but they are wrong.
When it comes to offering spiritual gifts to one another and to God, this point is so vital. The key to offering a proper gift is found alone in receiving the merits of Christ by faith. No one can please God and call Jesus “accursed” at the same time. Denying Christ’s victory over the grave is paramount to denying one’s own faith. The two cannot exist together. Hear how Paul explains this to the same readers of our text, just three chapters later: Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:12-17)

Every deviation from the work of Christ is a denial of what He came to do. Therefore as Paul says, worshipping idols is no different in essence than openly cursing Jesus. The two lead to the same path, to hell and destruction. Certainly on such a path there is no way to offer acceptable gifts before God.

We would do well to examine the various idols that we face in our lives. Ask yourselves what things in life have come before God? We all have weaknesses where we are tempted to serve our own wants above all else, even when they are in direct contention to God’s will. With our wealthy and comfortable lives comes the desire to be lazy in our work for the Lord’s kingdom. Add into this the busyness of our society and we scarcely find time to include God on day to day activities. An idol doesn’t have to be a little statue carved out of wood or stone, nor does it have to be an ignorant emperor who exalts himself above all else. The idols we often come into contact with are not the same as those. An idol is anything that we submit time and energy to in such a way that it blocks out God. An idol is anything that sucks up our time so much that there’s no time for God’s Word. In our day, idol worship is not so much about intentions, but about time management and priorities. You can have the greatest intentions and still be an idol worshipper. As Jesus said, Not everyone who calls Him “Lord” (has the right intention) does His will (has the right priority and belief).  
With this short reminder about sin and grace, the Holy Spirit refocuses us on sin and grace. Because grace is fundamental to following up God’s forgiveness with the proper gifts. He tells us that we need to get in the right frame of mind before we can attempt to serve God. In other words, we needed to receive before we could give. Receive what? Faith in Christ, by the working of the Holy Spirit.

Later in the service we will have the opportunity to share in the Lord’s Supper. Thanks to the faithful preaching and study of Martin Luther, we have the benefit of a Godly understanding of this teaching. In one famous debate, Luther fought for the truth against a man named Ulrich Zwingli. Zwingli contended that the Lord’s Supper was merely symbolic and held no power to forgive sins. It was not a sacrament for him. After much vigorous debate, both Luther and Zwingli realized that they were simply going to have to disagree. In the end, Luther famously told Zwingli, “you are simply of a different spirit than I am.” Zwingli was of the spirit that needed to bring God’s Word into captivity to human reason. He believed that God would not command him to do something that he could not understand. Luther, on the other hand, brought every thought into captivity to the Word of God. He believed that God expected him to trust by faith even when he could not understand how. This is not to say that Zwingli was not a Christian, or that he did not have the faith. Luther was simply saying that he was allowing a human spirit to motivate him in this matter.

This is the same danger you encounter when you’re tempted to rely on yourself when it comes to spiritual gifts. Focusing too much on your own human spirit can lead to and result in a denial of the one Holy Spirit. This is precisely what the sacraments are all about. Many look at Baptism and Communion as actions that we perform to return thanks and praise to God. In other words, as gifts to God. This is true, but it’s not the primary emphasis that God intended. The Sacraments are primarily about what we receive from God, namely the forgiveness of sins and promise of eternal life. What you give back to God in thanks, praise, and service through gifts of the Holy Spirit is a result of this mighty work of God. You see how you can only properly give by receiving. And the blessing that we receive is worked by the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit of God that Paul emphasizes in this text is not the selfish and prideful human spirit. It is the Spirit that comes to you through the calm of God’s Word, the third member of the Trinity, the Spirit who is God Himself. The term Paul uses is “the same Spirit.” This simple clause, used 5 times in our section, illustrates the God-head of the Trinity. Just as there are not a variety of gods in the world so there are not a variety of spirits in the world. The only true Spirit who can lead us is the Holy Spirit who is God. This is the Spirit who offers varieties of gifts to the Church. Notice how Paul goes on to write: There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. This same Spirit is connected to these similar phrases: the same God and the same Lord, the One who works all things. This is speaking of the one and only Holy Spirit, the creator and author of faith, the one who establishes what we receive that allows us to offer spiritual gifts.      

When it comes to giving gifts to God, the procedure is not what we would often expect. You must first receive before you can give. Your faith is a receiving faith. Your faith is often weak at times and not strong enough to reach out and grasp salvation for yourself. Instead you simply receive what the Holy Spirit seeks to offer to you again and again through the Word of God. Even though we often try to get in the way of God’s powerful Word, the same Spirit, the one who is God and Lord, patiently works on our hearts. Because of the persistence of God’s Spirit, your faith has received the merits of your Savior.

May we, like the Corinthians, not go beyond what God has written for our learning. We already have everything we need, everything we want. We have become rich in the name of Jesus. What God wants us to give to Him is only found first in what He has given to us and how He has given it. That greatest of all gifts is faith in His Son, the eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-encompassing Savior of the world. But God’s gift also extends into how we receive it. The Holy Spirit takes care of doing the work, of securing the treasure of eternal life on our behalf, without our help. These acts are sure, certain, and complete. And with them in place and with their assurance in our heart by faith, we can offer acceptable gifts to God. Amen.

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

June 14, 2015 - Mark 3:31-35

Theme: A Blessing from a Greater Blood

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, our Lord, washed and cleansed in His precious blood.

Many of you saw the graphic I posted on our church Facebook page this past week, showing a survey on happiness. A young member of our church body, who attends a secular university, explained how in a political science class, the students were asked to answer two questions about happiness. The first question asked “What do you think is most important to a person’s happiness?” The second question asked “What do you think is least important to a person’s happiness.” Of the 51 students who responded, only one, the member of our church body, said that religion was most important for happiness. On the flipside, religion was the number one answer, 37% of the replies, to what least important for happiness.

Over a third of the young students in that class believed that religion was essentially useless for their lives. Not only useless, but actually detrimental, as if it provided a false sense of security. Why is that? If you go back 20 or 30 years, I’m sure religion would hold a much greater priority for young people. We could certainly spend all day talking about the influence of a secular education which denies God and the Bible. The current state public universities and popular culture definitely plays a substantial role in shaping how our young people think about religion.

We could also talk about the general decline of religion itself in America. So many churches and other religious institutions have strayed so far from the truth of God’s Word that even unbelievers can recognize the hypocrisy and inconsistency. When we as Christians no longer defend God’s Word and no longer take our role of being the “salt” and “light” of the world seriously, we simply blend into the rest of society and ultimately lose what makes us unique and different as Christians.

But I believe there’s a greater misunderstanding present, across all beliefs, all ages, and all cultures. And this misunderstanding has contributed most significantly to the decline of religion, especially our Christian religion, in the modern world. This misunderstanding is about happiness; both how we define happiness and how we achieve it. What’s happening in America is the same thing that has happened throughout the history of the world. People take happiness and distort it. They turn it into pleasure, into a self-interest. It’s not a surprise that people see this shallow happiness in many religions because only Christianity has a happiness that lasts forever and that isn’t rooted in self-pleasure. Everyone in the world follows some type of religious belief, even if that’s not how they label it. Everyone is using these beliefs to find some type of happiness. But nothing in the world can compare to the Gospel of Christ. No greater happiness can be found.

But what’s happening is that even Christianity itself, at least as far it is practiced and promoted, is losing this unique quality; the quality that sets it apart from everything else. Instead of standing out to the world, too many Christians are conforming and trying to blend in. When this happens, we exchange the eternal happiness found in the forgiveness of Christ for the fleeting version of the world and of all the false religions in it. How do you keep this from happening in your life, because it hits home for every one of us?  Well, it helps to have a good family. And I don’t just mean your biological family; I’m talking about your spiritual family, just as Jesus did in the words of our text, from Mark 3:31-35:       

And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you." 33 And he answered them, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (ESV)

You’ve all heard the familiar saying, “Blood is thicker than water.” This phrase means that your family members are the closest connections you have in life, at least they should be. Family obligations are often the number one priority for people. Sometimes family even takes the place of God for people. It’s what they bring every thought, word, and action in subjection to. Going back to that poll question, the number one response for what brings happiness was family, coming in at just under 40% of the responses.

Family bonds are certainly strong. Family members are those who love you and care about you. They are the first ones you go to for help and when you’re in want or need. That’s actually the way God designed it. He created the family in Genesis so that Adam would have companionship and help. It easy to see how ignoring what God says about family can have devastating effects on life. Kids that come from broken homes or no home at all have a much harder time in life, precisely because they don’t have help, they don’t have anyone to rely on.

But the family bond is also strong because family members watch out for us. Family members are not afraid to tell you how it is when you need to hear it. Ask anyone to describe what makes the important relationships in their lives special and honesty will always be near the top of the list. Think about your closest friends and relatives. I am willing to bet that each relationship that comes to mind involves someone that is not afraid to be honest with you. It’s the people that just tell you what you want to hear that are the fake ones. It’s not always easy to receive some flak every now and then from family members but it is important. Honesty can actually be one of the highest forms on love that you ever have in a relationship.

And that’s what Jesus spoke about when He called His disciples His brothers and sisters and mother. The key phrase that makes that relationship strong is “whoever does the will of God.” If honesty and forthrightness is such a blessing to make a family relationship strong, should we consider it any differently in our spiritual family? It’s true that blood is thicker than water. But there is a blood that creates the strongest bond ever – the blood of Jesus Christ. This is not the blood of the family tree. It’s the blood that comes from the will of God and the blood that unites those who follow the will of God.

Scripture tells you about this blood, shed on the cross for your sins. It is the blood that “cleanses you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7).” The blood that redeems you by taking away your sins (Ephesians 1:7). This blood shows you what true love is (Revelation 1:5). This blood gives lasting peace (Colossians 1:20). It is the most valuable currency in the entire world but at the same time a free gift of God’s love. And the blood of Jesus unites the spiritual family of God’s Church.

What does this have to do with happiness? It shows us the true source. Happiness is found in Christ and experienced when one believes in Christ. And the same family that is united by the blood of Christ has the mission to share this happiness. We lose sight of this goal when we exchange the happiness of faith in Christ with the happiness of the world. This happens when we fail to say what we need to say; when we stop being honest with our fellow Christians and with the world. What value is there in a relationship where someone just tells you what you want to hear? You can’t trust someone like that. How can they really care about you when they allow you believe things that aren’t true? We would never stand for such a relationship in our lives. Family doesn’t do that.

Why do we settle for this in our spiritual lives? Why do we put such a high value on what we want to hear and such a low value on the truth of God’s Word? This is the trend in Christianity today. Don’t judge, don’t talk about sin, don’t reveal decay in thoughts and actions. Just promote love, ignore differences, tolerate other’s beliefs. When we allow this to happen to our faith we lose what makes it significant and special; what sets it apart from other religions.

It’s easy to sit back and say, “Well, that’s not my problem, I believe the right things about God’s Word, that hasn’t happened to me.” But what you don’t realize is when you refuse to say anything about it, when you fail to let your light shine, to be bold in your confession of faith, when you shy away from sharing your happiness with others, you’re contributing to the problem just as much as anyone else. We who still have the truth cannot sit idly by and let the world fall apart, and let Christianity in America derail just because we don’t suffer from the same problems. You may not be able to fix it. The problem with America may be too far along for a few confessing Christians to make much of a difference. But let God take care of that. You know what you need to do.

Sometimes the task seems so great that you don’t know where to start. Take advice from Jesus, start where He does in our text, with your family – both at home and in church. Ask yourself if you’re living right now with as great of a love and concern for your spiritual family as you’re earthly? Do you watch out for your father, mother, son, or daughter in their faith life as much as you do in their physical life? Are you ready and willing to tell them how it is? Do you love them enough to have the difficult conversations with them? Will you talk to them about sin? Will you bring the message of God’s law when they need to hear it? Will you talk to them about why they haven’t been in church; or why they aren’t confessing Christ as they should? It’s tough to talk about these things but that’s what family does, especially the church family. But God not only guides and leads you, He not only provides everything you need in His Word, He gives you a message of happiness. Whatever you’re talking about, even if it’s the difficult topics of sin, indifference, complacency, laziness; you can always follow up with true happiness – the good news of forgiveness, life, salvation. Does it get any better than that?

But if we Christians are unwilling to tell it how it us; if we shy away because the world pressures us, because we’re afraid of the reactions, if we aren’t prepared, we’re no better than any other hardened sinner. If we can’t be honest with God and with others about the truth of the Bible, we have no reason to boast of our faith, for that faith loses its special character when the truth is sacrificed. And the effect of this hollow faith is what we see in polls like the one taken in that political science class. Why believe in Christ if He’s no different than any other religious figure? Why follow Christianity if it returns voids on the tough questions of life like all the other religions. Why be a Christian if there’s nothing different about being a Christian? The world sees this and it makes an impression for them, but not in the right direction. It confirms for them what they’ve wanted for ages, to claim that Jesus and His followers are no different than anyone else.  

This infectious philosophy pervades Christianity today, especially in America, and you and I are not immune. You know, at first glance we might think that the Bible doesn’t say much about happiness, but it does. The Bible speaks of happiness all over the place; what it doesn’t talk about, at least in a good light, is the world’s brand of happiness. What the world has done is taken happiness and hollowed it out. They’ve replaced the true meaning of happiness with pleasures, self-interests, lusts, desires and temptations – basically whatever I, the individual, want. And when the trials of life come this happiness caves in because it has no substance and in its hollow shell springs up depression, anxiety, fear, and anger. That’s the world’s brand of happiness and the fuel that fires it is sin.

The Bible’s version of happiness is much different. You might know it as blessedness. We use a different word because we don’t want people to think of the world’s brand, but blessedness is happiness – there is no difference as God defines it. To be blessed by God is to share in His happiness. The happiness that doesn’t include sin, that isn’t hollow, that stands the tests and trials of time. The happiness that is freely given to you from the washing and cleansing of Christ’s holy blood. It’s a Blessing, A happiness, from a Greater Blood. Not the blood of family, but the blood of Christ, who has accomplished God’s will for you.              

Christ has forgiven you of everything and that changes you. It means you are different, that you’re no longer like the world. We call that sanctification. Covered by Christ’s righteousness you are now holy and without blemish. You are God’s own because He has adopted you into His family. What greater bond built on blood could there be? So, now that you’re changed, be different. Not different from God, but different from the world. Turn from sin, repent of your mistakes, stand out from the rest of chaos and confusion; because you are blessed, you are happy in Christ.

You can’t describe it better than the words of Psalm 1. Listen to God, your Father, tell you about true happiness:

How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! 2 Instead, his delight is in the LORD's instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. 4 The wicked are not like this; instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not survive the judgment, and sinners will not be in the community of the righteous. 6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin (HCSB).

See the difference? Do you see how you can and how you should stand out? Do you see where true happiness comes from? God is honest and upfront with you in His Word. You can see it clearly. He is not afraid to tell you how it is, because He loves you and He has the strongest bond possible with you in your faith. And because of this, you are happy, you are blessed.


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

June 8, 2015

June 7, 2015 - Exodus 14:13-14

Theme: God, please give me _____________.
What is your request?

Let us focus our meditation with words from Psalm 89: “O LORD God of hosts, who it mighty like You? The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours. The north and the south You have created them. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Mercy and truth go before Your face. Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound! They walk, O LORD, in the light of Your countenance.”

If you could have anything, what would you ask for? If you could play “genie” with God, what would you request? God opens up His entire power to you and says, “What would you like? Ask anything at all, and it’s yours.” What a dilemma, huh? There are so many things that would be nice to have, things that would make life easier. Probably the first thing that comes to mind is money. Think of how many problems would go away with an endless supply of money. But, think of how many new problems would come your way.

How about fame? Wouldn’t it be great to command and captivate people’s attention? Wouldn’t it be awesome to have influence and to be someone that people admire? Not even money can buy that. But, after a while the attention might get annoying. Sometimes being ordinary is a good thing. What about being attractive or wise, two attributes that are highly sought after in the world? Certainly, those gifts would be worth it right? For a time, maybe, but even beauty and knowledge pass away.

What a blessing it would be to receive anything from the Lord, even if it’s hard to choose just one thing. Go back to our theme, “God, please give me ____________. “ What is the first thing that popped into your head? Although there are endless options, your answer ultimately fits into one of three categories. 1) Something for  yourself 2) Something of the world or 3) Something about your salvation.

None of these categories is wrong in and of itself. But, they’re not all equal either. What first comes to your mind when you think about the inexhaustible riches of God reveals where your heart and head are at. It’s not wrong to desire things for yourself or things of the world, but they don’t compare to matters of your salvation. So, what is your focus? Which category did you fall into? It’s something worth thinking about. Now as you think about your own life, compare it to the children of Israel at the time of this account from the Word of our God:

Exodus 14:13-14: And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. 14 The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.”

The words of our text come as the children of Israel are on the banks of the Red Sea. On one side is a vast body of water, no bridge, no boats. On the other side is Pharaoh’s army with all the chariots of Egypt. Pharaoh is obviously set on disaster. He wants the children of Israel back as his slaves and he’s beyond upset after 10 plagues from God, including the death of his first-born son.

If you’re among the 2 million men, women, and children in the camp of Israel, what are you thinking at this point? You have no weapons, you’re not an army, you’re encumbered with children and the elderly. You are stuck. If you’re Moses, what are thinking? You’ve patiently borne the word of the Lord before Pharaoh. Finally, you are allowed to take the people and leave and now you’re cornered. Certainly, in this situation, we would feel like everything was about to end. How could any of us say that we’d respond differently than the Israelites did? They said to Moses, "Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: 'Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness (Exodus 14:11-12)."

Take yourself to that moment. Put yourself in that situation. What would you ask of God? What would your one request be? God, please give me ____________. Priorities shift a little bit when it comes to matters of life and death. I can talk all we want about the self-interests of my sinful heart. I can drool over all the treasures of the world. But in that moment, nothing is more important than salvation. And that’s exactly why God brought the children of Israel to that point. He wanted them to remember this significant event. He wanted something to happen that they would never forget, that they would tell their children for generations to come. What He showed them in that moment of desperation, was that even after everything in this life passed away, when they literally had nothing, not even hope, they still had salvation.

What more could they ask of God? He gave them the one thing they needed – Salvation from their enemies. And therefore Moses said, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. 14 The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.”

Ahh, there we have it. When it comes to the most important treasure in the entire world, salvation itself, we need only stand still. Literally, the text reads to “be silent.” It’s almost so foolish that it seems ridiculous. You’re caught in a perilous situation of life and death so you do what? Stand still? Be silent? What a logical contradiction, at least according to our thinking. Take anything else in life, except salvation, and this process makes no sense. You want a good education, a high-paying job, a nice house? You can’t stand still and do nothing. You need to get out in life and earn it. You want a nice family, a comfortable lifestyle, a high-standard of living? You can’t sit back and do nothing, you have to earn it. We’re programmed to think this way about everything in life, because life works like that; except, when it comes to salvation.

Maybe that’s why we would choose so many self-interest things and treasures of the world if God gave us a free gift, because we’re so used to having to earn them. But when you’re caught between an impassible body of water and a fierce army, what do you really want? One thing and one thing only, salvation from the LORD, because as Moses said, “The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.”

What a display the LORD put on too. We’re told how he sheltered His people by blocking Pharaoh’s army as a pillar of cloud at day and a pillar of fire at night. Waking or sleeping, the LORD had their back. He was the buffer they needed for protection so that nothing could harm them. They only needed to be still. But they couldn’t stay there forever could they? When it was time to go, the LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. 16 Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground (Exodus 14:15-16).”

That’s the part of the story we remember isn’t it? The miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. We don’t often remember how the Israelites complained, or how the LORD provided a shield while the approximately 2 million member mob made their way slowly across. We like to forget what Israel asked for in that moment. They were the people of Jehovah, the true God! They had all His power at their request. There was nothing He couldn’t accomplish for them. And what did they ask for? To be sent back to Egypt as slaves. They would rather doubt God and forsake the Messianic heritage of their forefathers in order to preserve what little semblance of life they had left. They were self-preservationists to the greatest extent, thinking only of how to keep on living and breathing for the day. What narrow-minded cowards they were. They had anything at their request, and they chose something so worthless.

We probably like to forget that part of the story because we do the same thing, day by day. Ever stop to think about why God allows hard times to come upon you? Could it be for the same purpose as Moses and the Israelites, to show His power and to lead to you to trust Him? We certainly don’t like to apply the same lesson to our lives. Calling yourself out on your cowardliness, rebellion, narrow-mindedness and sin doesn’t come naturally. But Jesus beckons you and me with the same free gift, “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you find, knock and the door will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7).” “Truly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you (John 16:23).” We have at our fingertips, “grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).” There is nothing too great for our God, to Him belongs all glory and power in heaven and earth.

If that’s true why do we short-change Him so much? Why is our focus so worldly and self-centered? Why is it such a struggle to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33)?” Well, what are you focused on, the body of water in front of you? The enemy behind you? Or are you captivated by the Lord’s power? Are you thinking about preserving your own skin, or do you think of your neighbor first ? Do you have your sights on the things of this world, or are you mindful of the Lord’s spiritual perspective? When you think of all that your Savior offers you, what is that comes to mind first? What is your priority and your focus?

Hear the words of King David, who like you, had many enemies, but none greater than his own sin:

The LORD is my light and my salvation-- whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life-- of whom shall I be afraid? 2 When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. 3 Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. 4 One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. 5 For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock (Psalm 27:1-5).

The sons of Korah also wrote,
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Come and see what the LORD has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. 10 He says, "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." 11 The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress (Psalm 46:1-3, 8-11).

Instead of thinking about what God could give you, think about what you would like Him to take away. You can do that with our text by replacing the word “Egyptians” with whatever it is you want gone. What would you like to have erased from the earth forever? Poverty? Depression? Hunger? Pollution? Mosquitoes? ISIS? Whatever it is God, can take it away. But these things are all symptoms of much greater problem, just like earthly goals and pleasures are symptoms of much greater gift. The LORD rescued the Israelites from Egypt that day on the banks of the Red Sea, but that wasn’t their salvation.

The real hope is that the LORD doesn’t just take away the symptoms, but the problem itself. The real hope is that the LORD doesn’t just give blessings, but the one thing needed. That’s why there’s no greater gift from God than salvation, because salvation takes away sin. God’s purpose and plan was not that the Israelites could live to see another day, or month, or year; but that they could live for eternity. And that you and I could live for eternity.

If Israel had been destroyed that day, or subjected to captivity for the rest of time, there would no Messiah. No child born in the town Bethlehem to a young virgin woman and her betrothed husband. There would have been no temple and no adolescent within it to be about His Father’s business. There would have been no Prophet that ignited the hearts of the people as He spoke with authority and power. There would have been no blessings for little children nor would they have heard the soft voice saying, “Let them come to Me…” There would have been no revelation to the Samaritan woman of the long-awaited Chosen One of God who “told her everything she ever did.” There would have been no fishermen turned apostles, no inquisitive Zacchaeus, no perplexed Nicodemus. And if the LORD had not saved Israel that day, there would have been no sweat like blood, no crown of thorns, no lonely walk to Golgotha, no cross, no pierced side, and no broken tomb. And you and I would still be dead in our trespasses and sins.    

But on that day, in that moment, despite what they asked for; Israel saw the salvation of their God, the true God, Jehovah. We, too, in our lives, despite what we ask for; have that salvation at our fingertips every day. The greatest, most powerful gift, better than any self-interest or worldly pleasure. We have the salvation of Jesus that is greater than anything. And to have it, you need only be still. You need only be silent, and listen to your God. Hear His Word, and see His salvation. Amen.

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

June 2, 2015

May 31, 2015 - Ephesians 3:14-23

Theme: Keeping Familiarity from Getting the Best of Us
1) With God
2) With Church

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:3-7).

We speak and study God’s Word today as found in Ephesians 3:14-21:

For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God. 20 Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Everyone likes something new don’t they? New clothes, new cars, new electronics, new movies, and on and on. New restaurants provide a fresh dining experience. New hobbies turn into lifelong enjoyment. Things that are new are shinier, cleaner, cooler, and pretty much better in every way. Sometimes we get new things because old things wear out. We need to replace something. But, more often than not, we get new things because old things are just old.

The longer we have something, the more familiar it gets. The excitement we had when it was new fades away and in our eyes it becomes common. Things that are familiar generally lose their special status in our eyes. But not all familiar things are like that. Some things stand the test of time. Some possessions or activities survive the “new” craze and they become lasting treasures. When this happens, whatever it is that is familiar is forever galvanized in our minds as precious. It takes on sentimental value for us. It becomes greater than any “new” thing we could ever get.

That’s the way familiarity works; it’s a two sided coin. On one side is the contempt and dissatisfaction that comes along with something common and well known. On the other side is the joy and true gain from having something that is near and dear to your heart. The difference is substantial, but it’s also razor thin. Today we look at two important areas of our lives: God and Church; and how familiarity affects them both. May the Holy Spirit teach and guide us as we study His Word.

Part 1: With God

Though none of us want to admit it, we have all allowed God to become familiar and common in our lives. This is an especially pertinent danger in a church like ours, one that takes the time to instruct from early on about God’s Word. Teaching young people and raising them in the correct faith is something that the Lord Himself commands so we know how important it is. And we can see for ourselves what life becomes without God. There’s a reason that the Christian morals that kids learn from early on influence their thoughts and actions in the future. These things are all part of getting to know God and we can clearly recognize how important it is.

But important as it may be, it doesn’t keep us from letting our relationship with God become familiar. This familiarity can have a drastic effect on our soul care. The Bible stories about God that once fascinated us as children become common and boring after a while. As we grow older and hear them again and again we forget how special they really are. Time goes by, we learn more about other subjects, our knowledge and experience increase, but when it comes to religion we often feel stagnant; as if we’ve reached a point where we’ve exhausted everything we can learn from the Bible.  

For many, this point hits after confirmation instruction. For years, as a young child, you have a regular and steady dose of the Bible from lessons in school, devotions at home, and consistent confirmation classes. After confirmation vows are made, you now take responsibility of your faith for the first time in your life. You are now in charge of when you read your Bible and how often you study. It shouldn’t surprise us that when this freedom arrives, we lack the proper discipline to stay focused on the truth.

We hit the same point in other areas of life, whenever we experience new freedom. I remember when I first moved out of my parent’s home into my own rental. I basked in the new freedom I had. I could come and go as I wanted. I could eat whatever I wanted. I could do whatever I wanted. I didn’t have any higher authority to answer to, I was my own boss. It didn’t take long for life to catch up with me. Soon, I missed having the company of my family. Soon I missed having good, nutritious meals to eat. Soon, I realized how my lack of discipline was destroying the joy of my new found freedom.

How is it that we allow the same thing to happen in our relationship with God? He becomes so familiar that we forget how special He really is. We are so used to hearing about everything that He’s done for us; how He provides for our daily needs, how He is always in control, how He has saved us from the eternal condemnation of our sins. We’re so used to it that it no longer feels new and fresh. And when this happens, we start to drift away from God. We start to look for something new, something better, something that feels more exciting.

It’s good to be reminded that God is anything but common. It’s helpful to be snapped out of our familiarity and recognize once again, how majestic and almighty God really is. That’s why Paul wrote in our opening verse that he had reason to “bow his knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul knew a lot about God, but he had barely scratched the surface of his understanding. A few verses earlier he wrote: To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:8-9).

It’s good for us, like Paul, to recognize that in Christ Jesus we are faced with a great “mystery.” Through our Savior we have a limitless supply of “unsearchable riches.” Paul wrote elsewhere to the Romans: Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? 35 Or who has ever first given to Him, and has to be repaid? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things (Romans 11:33-36). God is so far above our ability to reason and think that we should never categorize Him as common or boring.

Is God familiar to you? I sure hope so, but take a moment to think about what that means. We certainly want Him in our lives. We want to know Him well. We want Him to be personal for us. But we don’t want the familiarity that breeds contempt. We don’t want to turn God into something ordinary, because He most certainly is not ordinary.

There’s no better time to consider God’s power than on Trinity Sunday. If there’s one thing that speaks to God’s limitless power, it would have to be the fact that He reveals Himself in three persons, yet is only one God. How can we ever call our Triune God “familiar” in a condescending way? How dare we ever act as if we have Him figured out, as if we’ve exhausted our ability to learn more from Him? What a disrespectful attitude that is!

Paul brings the thought of God’s power home as He applies it to Christ. He says, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God. Even when God came in human form, just like you and me, He was still far above us. We search the Scriptures so that we may measure out the width, length, depth, and height of God. This is not to say that God can be measured. Rather we seek to bring Him into our limited understanding. We seek to know Him better so that we may have a greater assurance of what He has done for us. And in Christ, we have the full picture. As Paul said to the Colossians, “in Christ is the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9).” Everything that God is, that God stands for, that God has done, is seen in the greatest possible way through Christ Jesus our Savior. He is the connective link that helps us comprehend what little we can about the Triune God. But He is also the one who keeps God’s Word fresh in our hearts. He does this by daily taking our sins away through repentance and forgiveness. He equips us to run the race of life with confidence, so that we may serve and fear God in everything we do. And so Paul tells us that we comprehend (v.18) Christ by faith. Literally, we take hold of Him, we make Him our own, by believing what He has done for us. If this seems common and too familiar to you, you need to take a deep look at yourself.  

Part 2: With Church

Here we see how important church is, for in church we have a great opportunity to grow closer to God. But church is often despised even more than God is. We barely need any time in church before we get tired of bored of it. There is obviously a blessing in being comfortable and familiar in church. We want to know what is going on and why. There’s great comfort in worshipping with those who believe and confess the same things I do. But how quickly those things fall to the wayside. If there’s one area of our spiritual lives in particular that we seek something better and newer, it would have to be church.

The structure of the service is usually the same; at least it contains the same parts. The hymns, Scripture readings, sermons, prayers, are all good and nice but they become so familiar. Do you ever get tired of the same format? Do you ever wish that things were more exciting or entertaining? It’s not wrong to think those ways, I have before. But in the course of your questions do you ever stop to think about why you feel those ways? There’s nothing wrong with changing up the way we worship. We should always be examining ways that we can better share the Word of God together. But have you ever stopped to think about why we do things the way we do? When you desire something different, what makes you desire it? Why do you need it?

Now, I’ll be the first to admit it, our worship is not very entertaining. Some would call it solemn. Some would call it unenthusiastic. Some would call it boring. But ask yourself this: Why do you worship God? Do you do it to be entertained? Do you come to worship because you a need a way to stay awake on Sundays? The next question is this – what do you need in order to worship God? A hymnal? A bulletin? An organ? A video screen? An Ipad? A potluck? A coffee shop? A full orchestra? A rock band? A more charismatic pastor? Sure, any of those things can help, depending on what you like. But you don’t need them. You need one thing only, the Word of God.

If you have a church that teaches God’s Word truthfully, and I hope you have one here, ask yourself; What’s holding you back? What more do you really need? Why is it that church becomes familiar in a bad way? Different things are nice. Paul talks about encouraging one another through hymns and spiritual songs. But if the Word is present, what makes church so cumbersome? It’s easy to blame other things, like entertainment value, ambiance, and the people around you. It’s easy to blame tradition and the way things have always beem. It’s not so easy to look into your own heart. Is it possible that you’ve allowed church to become too familiar? Is it possible that you resent it because of that familiarity? Is it possible that you need to change your attitude too? Of course it is, it happens to us all. But how do you get out of that rut?

Return to the limitless power, authority and love of you Triune God. If you feel too familiar with church, maybe it’s because you haven’t approached it as you should. Maybe you haven’t taken the time to learn and appreciate why church should be reverent and respectful instead of hip and entertaining. Church should be approached as God instructed Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place you stand is holy ground (Exodus 3:5).” You should think of church the same way in which God spoke to Peter when He said, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common (Acts 10:15).”

Church is just like the God would worship there. It’s not common. Something special takes place at church. When we’re here and God’s Word is present, God Himself is with us. We are standing on holy ground and should act accordingly. God isn’t my college buddy whom I treat however I want. Church isn’t playtime where I do whatever I want. Church shouldn’t have to entertain me in order to make it worth my time.

When we come before the Triune God, we come with respect and awe. We come understanding that He is a mystery to us. Without His powerful Word we wouldn’t know anything about Him. We come to learn more every Sunday, never thinking that we have it all figured out. And most importantly, we come for cleansing. We come to have our sins washed away in the blood of our Savior. We come to know that God the Father sustains us, that God the Son redeems us, and that God the Spirit equips us. Can we ever call something so significant and special “common?” Can we ever be too familiar with our God?

I pray that if you have such thoughts, you examine your heart in the light of God’s Word to find answers. I pray that if there are things we can do better to communicate the truth, we are bold enough to try them. I pray that we always hunger and thirst for righteousness, as if our very lives depended on it, because they do. To God alone be the glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

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