August 31, 2015

August 30, 2015 - Deuteronomy 11:18-20

Sermon Podcast:

Theme: Set the Example for Christian Education
1) Prioritize, Connect, and Use God’s Word
2) Focus on the Gospel in both Failure and Success

Deuteronomy 11:18-20 “Imprint these words of mine on your hearts and minds, bind them as a sign on your hands, and let them be a symbol on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

John Wooden is perhaps the most successful basketball coach ever. During his time at the University of California in Los Angeles, Wooden’s teams set numerous records. In one stretch they won 88 consecutive games. Over the course of his career he totaled 4 undefeated seasons and 10 national championships. The next closest collegiate coach has 5 national championships. Wooden went on to write several famous books as well on the topics of coaching and leadership. There’s no doubt that he led a very full life and had a great career, the likes of which may never be seen again.

But when Wooden was asked what the key to his success was, his answer was very simple. He quoted a short poem which reads: "No written word, no spoken plea can teach our youth what they should be. Nor all the books on all the shelves, it’s what the teachers are themselves." This tiny poem encapsulated Wooden’s philosophy and the reason he gave as to why he was so successful in leading and training young men. In short, he strove to lead and teach by example.

The words of Wooden’s poem fit well with our thoughts for today, as we focus on leading our youth in the Word of the Lord. God gives us everything we need to be successful in His Word. Our children can readily pick up on that and learn what God reveals in the Bible. The same was true for all of Wooden’s players. They knew and understood the game of basketball well. The rules were clear, no one was in doubt as to how to win the game. But they needed leadership and direction. They needed someone to bring them all together and help guide them to their goal. The same is true of your children. They need Godly leaders who will help build and strengthen their faith. The best thing you can do when it comes to leading them is to set the example.

This theme is presented immediately as our text begins. As the LORD prescribed His charge to the leaders and parents in Israel, He began by having them look first at their own hearts. Imprint these words of mine on your hearts and minds, bind them as a sign on your hands, and let them be a symbol on your foreheads. Only after you have first taken care of your own heart can you extend God’s truth to others by teaching. This includes your children. You will not be equipped to help them if you have not first reinforced your own faith through studying and learning from God’s Word. There’s a simple progression to this in verse 28. First, you imprint God’s Word in your heart and mind. The idea of “imprinting” carries the thought of prioritizing. When you imprint something, you order it as the most important thing in your life. Whatever you imprint in your heart and mind becomes the standard by which you measure all other things. As parents and leaders, you must imprint God’s Word on your heart and mind. It must be the first in order of all things in your life.

The second thought is that you “bind the Word as a sign on your hands.” This is where we see the thought of leading by example. Once your heart and mind are in the right place, your actions will follow, and others, especially your children, will see this. The word “bind” carries the thought of connection. When you bind something to something else, they are connected and are looked at as one. This is to be your relationship with God’s Word. You are to be so connected to it that it flows through your heart, mind, and hands seamlessly.

The final thought of the verse centers on moving forward and using these gifts. The Holy Spirit uses the unique illustration of letting the Word be on your forehead. It’s often said that your eyes are the windows to your soul. This is essentially what the Spirit is trying to tell us here. What you focus on with your eyes has a major role in determining where you go and what you follow in life. If your eyes are turning toward sinful things, you will follow a sinful path. The command from God is that you use His Word to guide your way. Place it figuratively on your forehead, so that your eyes focus on it at all times. Whenever you look at something, see it and understand it through the lense of God’s Word.

The responsibility that you have as a mature Christian is simple and clear. Prioritize, Connect, and Use. God’s Word must be the first in order in your life. You must bind that Word to your life, and you must be directed by that Word wherever you go and in whatever you do. This is God’s command for you in your personal faith life but also as you share that faith with others. Only after these three steps are in order are you ready and prepared to teach that same Word to others.

Of all the people that we strive to teach God’s Word to, there is one group in particular that the Spirit singles out – our children. Your task as a parent, leader, and Christian begins with your children. But this isn’t solely a command for parents. The concept of children contains the broader thought of a “generation.” Even if you’re childless, unmarried, or removed from all relatives you still have the task of leading the next generation. That’s because all believers are part of God’s family. Even if you have no connection with any family members here on earth, you are never alone, and therefore never exempt from your responsibility of leadership.

This is one of the areas of Christian education that we often overlook. It is not only the responsibility of pastors or teachers to instruct. They are merely helpers along the way. Listen to the Holy Spirit’s description of the role of pastors and teachers: And He (Jesus) personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12). My job is not to be the sole distributor for Christian education to your children. My job is to equip you (the saints) for the work of ministry. Christian education begins in the home and must stay in the home. Anything that pastors and teachers can supplement is indeed beneficial, but is never meant to take the place of Christian instruction and training by parents.

And one of the best things you can do is lead by example. I can help your children understand the Bible. They can learn doctrines and passages from me and they can study the Word with me. But they will learn the most from what they see their parents do. All the head knowledge in the world will mean nothing if they do not see that knowledge put into practice as well. Hours upon hours of instruction in the classroom will become useless if that instruction is not reinforced in the home by the example of God-fearing mothers and fathers and in the congregation by their fellow members.

If no one takes the time to show them, they will choose to follow someone else’s example instead. If you don’t talk to your son or daughter about God’s Word or how that Word applies to the difficulties they face in life, they will learn from someone or something else; most likely friends, society, the world, and even other religions. You need to be the most influential voice in your child’s life or someone else will. But you also have to show them the way once they hear you. 

It does no good for your son to learn the first commandment, yet see his parents put money and possessions above God. It will do no good for your daughter to learn the 2nd commandment yet hear her parents curse and swear, through talking, emails, facebook, or even texting. It will be of no value for your child to learn the 3rd commandment, yet see mom and dad, and fellow Christians put the busyness of life above being present in church each Sunday. It will mean nothing if your child learns to love his neighbor as himself, yet sees mom and dad hold on to anger and grudges, or get impatient with a stranger. We could go on and on, down the list of God’s teachings. The task before you as a parent is not easy, that’s why God takes the time to remind you in His Word. But it’s an abundantly important task, and He stands by you ready to help and assist you through His Word, and predominantly through the Gospel of forgiveness.

We celebrate Christian education as our school begins a new academic year tomorrow and that’s fitting. Daily devotions, Bible lessons, and catechism instruction will be part of our regular schedule. Next weekend we will resume Bible Class and Sunday School. These are all parts of Christian education and we’re very thankful for them. But the biggest reminder we need is not about these programs and studies in our congregation. Christian education Sunday is a reminder for you as parents and leaders of the faith to teach God’s Word each day. It’s a call to action to prioritize, connect, and use the Gospel blessings whether in times of success or failure.

The charge from God comes out even stronger as we continue in our text. In v. 19 we are to speak of God’s Word to our children in all the changing scenes of life; when we sit, when we walk, when we lie down, and when we rise. Another illustration is used in v. 20, we are to write the Word on our doorposts and on our gates. To this day many Jews take these commands literally. They bind tiny copies of the words in our text to their foreheads. They also literally write them on their doorposts. There’s nothing wrong with doing these things, but they shouldn’t detract from deeper meaning of these words, as they have with many who practice them. God’s main point is not that we literally bind these words on our bodies and homes and all will be well. God’s point is that these locations, our foreheads, our hearts, our doorposts, and our gates represent the priorities in our lives.

For many of the Jews who practice these things literally, their faith becomes a matter of outward expressions only. The substance of their faith becomes rote memorization and rigid practice instead of a vibrant expression through actions. They start to look at themselves to fulfill God’s requirements instead of Jesus. They forget that these commands are intended to serve, not to sanctify. Because no one can ignore the sole conclusion we all reach when we read and study these words. At the end of it all we see what God commands us to do and we know that it is correct, but we fail. Time after time we are faced with our inability to follow what God wants us to do as leaders. If we are honest about our lives, we must admit that we have fallen short of these requirements, and all others that Gods gives as well.

Therefore we need something more. Keeping a tiny scroll between our eyes or etching the letters in our doorposts won’t help us out. These things only remind us of our unworthiness. Sending your kid to confirmation class or Christian day school only gets them so far. Being an upstanding citizen and a great friend does not cover the problem of sin. In order to be the best example we need God’s help. In order to truly reach His standard of righteousness something more is needed, or more appropriately, someone is needed. And that someone is Jesus. The underlying theme of Christian education is not that we focus only on the Words of God’s Law and our ability to keep some of them but not all of them. It’s that we focus on all of God’s Word. Understanding His commands for us as parents and leaders is only part of the revelation. We must also believe that Christ is our Savior, the only One who truly makes us complete before the Father.

Paul tells us in Ephesians what Christ has done for us: if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:21-24). Faith in Christ is not just saying something in word only. Faith changes your life. And notice how that blessing comes to your life. Paul says that you were “taught by Jesus Himself.” Jesus gives all believers the right and responsibility to teach others because He has taught them. We proclaim not only the commands and requirements of God but also the fulfillment of them through Jesus. And the result is that our once worthless lives are now changed, literally “re-created” and the new man reigns within us. Through that new man of faith in Christ, we are led to follow God’s commands to His glory and praise. That’s where we want to lead our kids in Christian education!  

Leaning on your status as Christian or your membership in church for assurance of Christian education is the same thinking that got the Jews off track. Looking only to pastors and teachers to instruct your children is the same. You must lead by example, but your lead must direct them to Christ, not yourself, and not more ways that they must keep God’s commands.

Christ has died for our sins. Through faith created by the Holy Spirit and built on this Gospel promise, our lives are changed. Part of that change is that we now have the call to be ministers of our own, agents of Christian education for the next generation. Through the newly created faith within us we are able to minister by our actions, or as we have been saying, we can lead by example. But the other part of that change is that we don’t have to keep the Law in order to have God. We have a Savior who has done it for us.

John Wooden’s poem rings true. We can have the best of teachers, and we certainly do in Jesus Christ. We can have the best of textbooks, and we certainly do in the Bible. But those things, as great and powerful as they are, can be marred and clouded by our sinful actions. Christian education is more than just something said or promised. It’s more than words memorized or doctrines taught. It’s more than Sunday school or K-8 in grace school. Christian Education is a matter of faith in Jesus Christ and the promise of an eternal life without sin with Him. Lead your children there through your example, and they will see and follow.  Amen.

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

August 24, 2015

August 23, 2015 - Ephesians 5:15-20

Theme: Pay attention to what you feed your soul
1) Don’t be ignorant
2) Don’t be foolish
3) Don’t be indifferent

How much do you care about what you eat? The familiar saying tells us that “you are what you eat.” In a sense this is true. Not that you become what you eat, but whatever you put in your body is responsible for giving you life and energy. We all rely on what we take in in order to give us energy. Therefore, what you eat is important.

The problem is that we don’t always eat the best or what we should. If you constantly eat unhealthy food you probably won’t feel very good or perform in life at a high level. There is abundant information in our day about healthy options for food, but there are equally as many temptations for unhealthy choices. In our modern age we’ve found ways to produce artificial flavors and genetically modified foods. Plenty of studies indicate that these things aren’t good for us yet there’s no shortage of people enjoying them.

When we get down to it, not everyone cares about what they put in their body. Not everyone cares about how much they get out of their body. But all dietary considerations aside, there is an important connection between this and our spiritual lives. Like the food you eat, whatever you intake in your spiritual life will motivate you. But not all options are healthy. In our text for today, Paul talks about exercising wisdom in discerning what we put in our souls and what we use to motivate ourselves spiritually. We read from Ephesians 5:15-20:

Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk-- not as unwise people but as wise-- 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So don't be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. 18 And don't get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit: 19 speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music from your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the last decade there’s been a significant push to get back to simple and healthy eating habits. This movement is often associated with the term “organic” which points to the natural makeup of a consumable product. In grocery stores you usually find “organic” sections where natural products are sold without any additives. But despite this growing popularity, the majority of shopping centers offer much more non-organic products, and there are no shortage of people purchasing them.

For some, it’s more affordable to buy non-organic and it’s more convenient. For others, the potential risks of non-organic goods are not as great as the convenience and attachment to well-known products. Still some know the dangers of eating unhealthy or ingesting too many artificial products but don’t really care. No amount of research will stop them from snacking on unhealthy options, whether organic or not. I’m not advocating one position over the other when it comes to your diet. But like Paul in our text, I want you to think about the same principles in your spiritual life.

God has given you His living and abiding Word (Hebrews 4:12). He says that every word of His revelation to you is pure and that He has given it to you by inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Proverbs 30:5, 2 Timothy 3:16). He carefully saw to it that His Word was faithfully recorded by human writers so that you and future generations could trust it (2 Peter 1:21). You have at your fingertips the organic Word of God. You have the only healthy option for your soul. When you heed the Word of God you receive the necessary nutrients from Christ Himself to help your faith grow strong and secure in the message of salvation. But just like healthy options with food, God never forces anyone to take His Word in, He simply offers it freely.

There’s three things that we can avoid in order to stay connected to the pure, life-giving Word. The first is to avoid ignorance. By definition, simple ignorance is not knowing something. You don’t have to be stubbornly rejecting something to be ignorant. Simply being unaware makes you ignorant. When it comes to what God has done for us and the way He changes our lives, He expects us to know it. Certainly we don’t want to reject what God tells us, but it’s equally bad to be unaware.

Paul hints at this in the opening verses when he speaks about being wise. No one is naturally wise. Wisdom is something that must be learned like everything else. Some may pick up on wisdom easier than others but it doesn’t guarantee that they have more wisdom. In our quest for true, Godly wisdom, we must be pointed to the Word of God. What you put in your soul will determine what you think and say and what decisions you make. In short, if you lack God’s Word, you lack wisdom. You’ll never get it or know it, instead you’ll be caught unaware in the ignorance of unbelief.

Paul reinforces this by speaking about an application of wisdom, he says that we are to “pay careful attention to how we walk.” Literally, the idea of “paying attention” means that we “watch accurately.” This teaches us that we are not only to keep our spiritual eyes open, we are to follow after that which is true and certain. Usually when we think of paying attention we only dwell on being aware of what is happening. But God expects Christians to not only be aware, but to know the truth accurately and follow it. We see a clear connection to our church life in this. God wants you to pay attention to His Word and to do it accurately. Our sinful desire to follow our “itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3)” leads to the temptation to turn away from anything that God says which is unpopular or difficult to follow. Not all Christians insist on paying attention accurately as Paul describes here, including ourselves. We need to shake off that bondage of ignorance and realize what we are faced with in our spiritual lives. There are dangers to our faith on every hand, even from those who are supposed to be our allies. Allowing anything but the organic Word in our souls can have drastic effects.

But knowing the truth only gets you so far. True wisdom also includes being able to use that truth in your life. That’s where we come to the second thing that Paul tells us to avoid: foolishness. You, know, in the Greek, the difference between the unwise and wise in verse 15 is literally one letter. In the same way, the difference between wisdom and foolishness is often razor thin in life. And this is impressed all the more when we consider the connection of God’s Word. One letter or one word can make a huge difference. One passage or one doctrine can have life-changing effects for our lives. Think of your favorite Bible passage. I’m willing to guess that you could significantly change or alter the meaning of that verse by adding or subtracting only one word. In some passages you can completely distort the meaning by either capitalizing or not capitalizing a certain word. When it comes to your soul-care and to your relationship with God’s Word, little changes have huge effects.

Listen to what Jesus said about changes to His Word: “Don't assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19).”
As you think about your life, if you start to neglect one teaching or passage of God’s Word, it will have far-reaching effects. Paul brings to mind the example of getting drunk. Drunkenness was a part of the secular culture in Paul’s day. Much like our society, drunkenness was viewed as a harmless or playful thing. It was something that people did to have a good time. For many today, drunkenness isn’t even viewed as something sinful, so long as no one else is getting hurt. On the surface it certainly seems like this is the case, and it’s definitely the line we get fed by society.

But Paul reminds you to consider your relationship with God. Even if no one else is hurt by you getting drunk, what is it doing to your faith? Is it wise or is it foolish? Do you ever stop to think about that? And not just when it comes to drunkenness but when it involves any sin, especially the seemingly insignificant ones. Paul’s point is that what fills your heart will direct your actions; and what seems small will have huge effects. In a physical way we know the ill effects of getting drunk. It can certainly lead to immoral actions in many ways. The reverse is true of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul’s encouragement to the Ephesians is that they consume the Holy Spirit through hearing and studying God’s Word, and this will have a positive effect on their lives. Those led and filled by the Spirit produce the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. Those filled alcohol to the point of being drunk often produce the opposite.

Neither Paul nor I are saying that drinking wine, beer, or liquor is sinful. An idea like that would be missing the point. Rather, it’s being controlled by these things that is sinful. But perhaps Paul singles out drunkenness in particular because it easily allows people to do some pretty foolish stuff. All types of sin have a negative effect on our lives and can lead to disastrous consequences. Drunkenness is unique in that it literally takes you out of the correct frame of mind. In a sense, it changes who you are and leads you to do things that you normally wouldn’t. Paul uses this negative example to show the reverse positive effect that the Holy Spirit works in your life. It’s incorrect to say that you could be “drunk” on the Holy Spirit, but what He does is work for positive effects in your life. When you are filled with the Spirit, your life will show it by your thoughts and actions. Although there is a great contrast between drunkenness and the Holy Spirt, both work in a similar way, one for your demise and one for your blessing.                 

The question you need to ask yourself is: Which one feeds your soul? It’s easy for most of us to say that drunkenness has no control in our lives, and we should be thankful for that. But just because Paul singles out this one particular sin, does not exclude the host of others that we often succumb to. Drunkenness serves as an example of the control that any sin can have in your life. The wreckless and sinful actions that we commit do negatively affect our spiritual beliefs. Drunkenness is merely one example in many. Only you know what you suffer from the most and what has the most negative control in your life. Take that one sin, and get rid of it. Be wise, instead of foolish, by consuming the Holy Spirit in your life. And when the Spirit helps you gain control over that sin, move on to the next one, and so on. It’s a continual battle in life, but one that needs to be fought daily.

But we often wonder, what does it mean to be filled by the Spirit? How can I be sure that He is the motivating force in my life? Jesus gave the clear answer to people who had the same questions when He said, “The Spirit is the One who gives life. The flesh doesn't help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life (John 6:63).” The Holy Spirit works through the Words of God and the Words of God come to us through the Bible. And this shouldn’t surprise us because the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit! If He authored the book, doesn’t it make sense that He would use it to accomplish His will and to help you and me out?

Here’s where our final thing to avoid comes in. Don’t allow yourself to become indifferent to the Holy Spirit’s work through the Word of God. It’s so easy for us to look at the Bible as common and ordinary. There’s an even greater temptation for us to despise it because so many others are. The wise way to feed your soul is to appreciate what God has given you and how He works in you. That doesn’t mean that God will always give you what you want, and you should thank Him for that, because what you often want is actually harmful and dangerous to your soul! 

Remember that as the Holy Spirit guides and strengthens you, you will see it in your physical life. He will direct how you speak, how you think, what you choose to spend your time on, and how you treat others. Don’t resist His influence on your life by being indifferent to the changes that He brings. You have been given the knowledge of free salvation – you are no longer ignorant. You have been given Godly wisdom to discern right from wrong, and to know the truth from the lie – you are no longer foolish. The only other way that Satan can get you is to coerce you into not caring about these precious gifts from you Savior. Satan wants you to think of them as so common and ordinary that you no longer use them because you think you’ll never lose them. The last great battle to be fought by all Christians is the battle of indifference to your faith – and it’s a battle that we all struggle mightily with.

The Holy Spirit holds the key to victory. You don’t have to become another statistic in the long line of former believers who forsook their faith because something they thought was better came along. Fight against indifference and spiritual laziness by feeding your soul with the Holy Spirit. Practice the art of wisdom in your life that was handed down to you by your father and mother and ultimately by Christ Himself. What you feed your soul will show itself in your life. Use the Word of God. Amen.

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

August 17, 2015

August 16, 2015 - Matthew 18:23-35

Theme: Are you a Sponge or an Octopus?

Matthew 18:23-35 For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began to settle accounts, one who owed 10,000 talents was brought before him. 25 Since he had no way to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt. 26 "At this, the slave fell facedown before him and said, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything!' 27 Then the master of that slave had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan. 28 "But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him 100 denarii. He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, 'Pay what you owe! ' 29 "At this, his fellow slave fell down and began begging him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' 30 But he wasn't willing. On the contrary, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed. 31 When the other slaves saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened. 32 "Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, 'You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Shouldn't you also have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you? ' 34 And his master got angry and handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed. 35 So My heavenly Father will also do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from his heart."

One of the great features of the Pacific Northwest is the diversity in wildlife. This is especially true with the marine biology in the Puget Sound area. You don’t have to go far to see whales or orcas. Just last week, we were at the beach, only 15 minutes from here, and we could see dolphins off the coast. We’ve seen seals a couple of times as well.

To emphasize the Holy Spirit’s lesson from our text this morning, I’d like to highlight two marine animals in particular – the sponge and the octopus. At first you might think, “Okay, pastor, how much coffee have you had this morning?” But bear with me a moment and I think you’ll see something that helps you remember what Jesus is saying in these words. There really isn’t much of a connection between the sponge and the octopus, but that’s the entire point.

When we think of a sponge, we don’t typically think of the animal. What usually comes to mind first is the household cleaning item. Sponges of that variety are commonplace in all homes. We’ve all had to use a sponge before to clean up a mess and we know that it works well to absorb things. The items we use at home share a common name with the marine animal because they both feature this unique characteristic. A living sponge in the ocean survives by allowing water to pass through its body. When this happens, the sponge absorbs tiny organisms as food. In this way it’s kind of an underwater filtration device. The sponges we use in our homes are based on the same properties. In this way, a sponge can’t avoid things, it simply absorbs them when they come.

The octopus is an animal with much different qualities. It is a master of stealth and diversion in the ocean. In contrast to the sponge, the octopus relies on its ability to dodge and escape for survival. Upon seeing a live octopus for the first time at the Seattle Aquarium, I learned a simply fascinated fact that shows these escape qualities, many of you have probably seen this too. An adult octopus, weighing up to 90 pounds, can fit through a 3 inch diameter hole. That means that an octopus can find just about any nook and cranny in the ocean to help conceal itself. It can shrink into areas where predators cannot. And of course, an octopus has another unique escape tactic which it is well known for, the ability to spray ink as it darts away. 

Do you see the contrast? A sponge is built to withstand and absorb. An octopus is built to divert and escape. Now here’s the comparison: Which one are you like when it comes to dealing with the sins of others? Are you willing to withstand and absorb your fellow brother or sister’s shortcomings by offering mercy and forgiveness? Or do you dodge and deflect the issue by holding onto hard feelings and grudges? There’s only one way to truly solve sin, and Jesus gives us the answer in our text, through forgiveness. Forgiveness is the only way to fully absorb sin and be done with it – the only way to truly get rid of it. And forgiveness works because there was One who started it all. There was One who took the first step, who stopped the pattern of deflecting and ignoring sin and of casting blame on others, and simply forgave. That person was Jesus and we learn to forgive from Him.

Jesus taught the true meaning of forgiveness through the simple parable before us today. Sometimes, His parables take great time and study to fully understand. This one, however, is one of the easiest to grasp. Both young and old, new to the Bible and experienced Christian, can readily interpret the underlying meaning of these words. Jesus speaks of a simple scenario, a servant who owes his master money. And the debt is great. A talent was a rudimentary unit of measurement in ancient times. It wasn’t very precise but it was equivalent to about 60 pounds of material. In most cases, a talent was used to measure gold, and this thought fits well in our text as we consider this debt. When you think of one talent being 60 pounds of gold, you see quickly the great debt this servant owed.

But the importance here is not the exact value of the debt, but what it represents. Essentially, a 10,000 talent debt represents something that can never be paid back. One scholar commented that this value is symbolic, simply meaning in our terms, “millions of dollars.” In contrast to this is the second servant’s debt of 100 denarii. One denarius was equivalent to a single day’s wage, regardless of occupation or amount. This debt was about 3 months of wages, not insignificant by any means, but also not even comparable to the 10,000 talents. One pastor I recently spoke to put it this way. The second servant would need 3 months of wages to pay back his debt. The first servant would need about 80,000 months. With this insurmountable figure in mind, Jesus emphasizes two things. First, the servant’s unworthiness. The first servant had no ground to stand on to defend himself. He deserved nothing. The implication of this insane debt points to the likely fact that he had foolishly squandered his resources and could thank only himself for being in that situation.

But closely behind this thought is the second point of emphasis, the master’s mercy. In a state of such unworthiness, the servant was at the mercy of his master. He would never be able to pay back his debt on his own.  The remainder of his life would in large effect be controlled solely by the master’s decision. He was at risk of losing his freedom, his family, and all of his possessions. There was nothing the servant could do or say to prove himself worthy of anything.

The spiritual connection of this parable, both to those who first heard Jesus say it and for us today, is abundantly clear. We owe God a massive debt, much larger than any amount of gold. We owe Him absolute holiness, and now that we’ve fallen short of that goal we also owe Him the payment of our sins. Not only does God require us to be righteous like He is, He also demands that something be done to get rid of all the sins we’ve committed. Faced with this debt on our own there is nothing we can do. We can’t even begin to promise as the servant did that we will pay it all if God just gives us time. Given all of eternity, we would never find an adequate way to pay for our sins and achieve God’s perfect standard on our own. We are at His mercy.

But thank the Lord that we are at His mercy because it’s out only hope! God comes to each of us and says, as He did to the paralyzed man, “Be cheerful, your sins are forgiven!” Isaiah pictured this forgiveness under the context of a purchase being made, much like the thoughts of the parable. “Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the waters; and you without money, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost! 2 Why do you spend money on what is not food, and your wages on what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and you will enjoy the choicest of foods. 3 Pay attention and come to Me; listen, so that you will live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, the promises assured to David (Isaiah 55:1-3).”

God allows us to receive the gifts and blessings of faith that we could not attain by our own works. It is solely an act of His mercy. Without that mercy in our lives we would have no hope, instead our debt of sin would continually hang over our heads. The transformative power of God’s mercy is the theme of this parable. But it applies to more than just your relationship with God. There’s also a part of the message that points to your relationship with others. God’s mercy is not only the controlling authority in your heart of faith, but also in your interactions with other people.

As Jesus said in another parable (and one that happened to be about servants also), “To whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48).” We have been given the life-changing gift of God’s mercy; something that transforms our lives from gloom to hope. But that gift is not reserved only for us, all people have access to it. Therefore, those who have received it, the ones whose light of faith has been turned on, have the task of bringing that came mercy to others.

Here’s where we get back to our question for today. Are you a sponge or are you an octopus? Are you able to absorb your fellow Christian’s shortcomings and respond with mercy and forgiveness? Or do you dodge and run away from what you know you should do so that you can hang on to your anger? When it comes to life’s troubles and mistakes, we’re all skilled at the escape methods of our sinful flesh. Resisting forgiveness is easy because it comes naturally to us and it often makes us feel better in the moment. But when sin is not absorbed, it simply moves on to someone else. We may convince ourselves that we can isolate sin and keep it contained but that’s impossible. Sin grows by being practiced. When you give into it and allow it in your life, it doesn’t stay contained, it spreads.

Only when you resist the urge to hang on to sin and respond instead with mercy and forgiveness, does that sin die. The power goes back to the unique gift of God’s mercy. Not only has Christ absorbed all of your sins, He’s done the same for the entire world. He didn’t react with hostility. He didn’t hold grudges. He didn’t perpetuate the atrocity. He didn’t hide from the problem that existed. He absorbed it. He took it away. Sin is now defeated. Part of the gift is that you can follow His lead. Like our Scripture reading from Ephesians says: And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.

God’s mercy can be used by you to get past the indiscretions of others. But, sometimes those sins are so big and so bad that we could never forgive. Isn’t that what we typically hear? Isn’t that what we typically think? That debt that they owe me is too big. Instead of forgiving them, I’m going to hold them hostage and make them feel my pain for life. Who are we to say mercy wouldn’t work, or that others don’t deserve it? Mercy if the very thing Christ used to get past your sins against Him. Truly, what unfaithful servants we are if we refuse to exercise this same mercy for others; when some minor debt clouds our hearts and minds so that we forget the enormous wage Christ freely paid for us. This is why we emphasize the Gospel in everything we do and say. It’s the Gospel alone that absorbs and disposes of sin. The Law of God show us where that sin is at but it doesn’t help us get rid of it. The Law doesn’t help me get past the hard feelings and grudges that I hold against others. The Law doesn’t pay the debt that I owe or the debt that others owe me. Sometimes I like to use the Law too much because it makes me feel better. It makes me feel like I’m a more worthy or more deserving Christian than others when I follow it better than others. But that doesn’t absorb sin, it tries to hide from the truth. Only the free, flowing from God’s mercy to us, Gospel can absorb sin.

Dear friends, remember the lesson of this parable and apply it in your life. You can be a spiritual sponge. You can let go of the hard feelings. You can let the hurt and the anger flow through your soul like water. You don’t have to try to hide and escape from sin like Adam and Eve first did. Be an agent of mercy, not of deception. You can absorb sin and let it end there. Christ gives you that power, that responsibility, and that command. It’s always easier to seek escape than to face reality. It’s always feels better in earthly ways to hold on to grudges and ignore the wrongdoer, rather than seek restoration. But that’s not the way you have learned Christ. He paid your debt. You are a faithful servant, be faithful in the task of helping others come to the same mercy. Amen.

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

August 10, 2015

August 9, 2015 - Psalm 145

Theme: When find yourself in the depths of sin…
1) Are you cowering in fear or bowing in respect?
2) Are you down for good or are you getting up?

Many people, especially Christians, don’t always remember or understand what it means to be a Christian. They think that what makes a Christian is being better than others. Better at knowing God. Better at following God’s Word. And even better at succeeding in life. They think that being a Christian means that I do things that separate me from everyone else.

The truth is that everyone is sinful, and that sin keeps us down. No matter where you are in life at the moment or what your relationship with God is right now, you still have sin. That sin has various levels of effect in your life. Sometimes you feel really good and you’re not concerned with sin at all. Other times you can’t seem to think about anything but sin. Perhaps you’ve had a good week and you’re not really down about much. But others here are struggling with problems because of sin, some of you may have concern and anxiety at this very moment. Does this make some greater than others? Are some marginal Christians and others true, strong Christians?

Sin is a reality even if it doesn’t feel like it on the inside or if it doesn’t look like it on the outside. Even those who have everything in life still have a gaping need because of sin. Many put on a tough exterior of happiness and fulfillment but really are hollow on the inside. You can’t out run sin and you can’t buy relief from it. No matter who you are, it will catch up to you and it will wear you down. I’m sure many of you have felt this way before, perhaps you’re feeling it right now too. When sin tightens its grip on your life, I want you to ask yourself two questions: Why are you at that point? And where are you going from there? When sin brings you low, why is it? Is it because you’re terrified of God and you’re trying to hide from him? Or are you humbly bowing to Him in respect and faith? When sin brings you low, are you staying put or are you getting relief?

In our sermon text for today we explore the answers to both questions. In this Psalm, David spoke quite cheerfully, not the way you might expect from someone caught in the depths of sin. Through a careful study of these words we see why he had such great hope, the same hope you and I have today: 

A Song of Praise. Of David. I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. 2 Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. 3 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. 4 One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. 5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. 6 They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness. 7 They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. 8 The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made. 10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your saints shall bless you! 11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, 12 to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. 13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The LORD is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works. 14 The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. 15 The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. 16 You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. 17 The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. 18 The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. 19 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. 20 The LORD preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. 21 My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.

One thing that can be said about young people is that they live like they’re invincible. They do what they want, they eat what they want, they stay up as late as they want. They’re still young enough that they can get away with these things for a while, but usually bad habits develop that stick with them for the rest of their lives. In a way, it’s good to know and be reminded of your own mortality. A reality check is a healthy thing in life.

Spiritually, many of us often live like we think we’re invincible. We think how we want to. We do what we want to. We ingest harmful things through television and the internet. We laugh at the dirty jokes. We speak the vulgar words. We indulge in sinful activities. When life is going well, we hardly take the time to think of others in need or to return thanks to God for all His blessings to us. When things go wrong we often complain against God for not treating us well enough or we dig deeper into our addictions to satisfy our longings for fulfillment. We do all these things because we’re all sinners. But we also do them because we like to avoid our mortality.

But no matter who you, sin will eventually catch up to you, and when it does it will take you down to the depths. As we read David’s words in this psalm it doesn’t seem like he suffered from anything. He sounds so happy and positive. But David wasn’t any different than you and me. He had his demons too. In another psalm, he wrote: Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy! 2 Attend to me, and answer me; I am restless in my complaint and I moan, my heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. 5 Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me (Psalm 55:1-2,4-5).

It was also David who said, I am poor and needy, and my heart is stricken within me. 23 I am gone like a shadow at evening; I am shaken off like a locust. 24 My knees are weak through fasting; my body has become gaunt, with no fat. 25 I am an object of scorn to my accusers; when they see me, they wag their heads (Psalm 109:22-25). David was a sinner and he knew the depths of sin well. He was an adulterer and murderer among many other things. When you look at his life he was no saint according to the world’s definition.

How could he speak with such joy? What reason did he have to return so much thanks and praise to God? One reason is that David understood the depths of sin in the light of his own mortality. He knew he had no right to complain or resist God because his own heart was filled with sin. He had no righteousness of his own to stand on. He knew he was the one responsible for his actions, it was not God’s fault. But David knew even more than that. As he dwelt on his own failures and limitations, he understood them in his own mortality but also in the light of what God had done for him. He knew that God loved him and promised to send a Savior that would redeem him from sin. He knew that anything he could call “good” in life was that way because it came from God alone. He knew that the reason God allowed sin to affect his life was to make him stronger in his faith and to lead him closer to God. David lived life just as you do. Will you see the same thing he did? Sometimes, you have to be in the depths in order to see the light.

As we read David’s words, his praise of God means nothing without the additional understanding of his sufferings. And so, after praising the Lord, David wrote: The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. David doesn’t need to give every detail about what he went through. We know what sin is like. We know how it feels and what it can do to our lives. He simply says that the Lord lifts up those who are down. For the Christian, being down doesn’t have to be a bad thing. When you’re cast down, it can be a moment of humility. When you’re limited, it can be a reminder of God’s power. When you’re low, it can be moment of worship. That’s one thing that makes us Christians different – how we respond in the depths of adversity. When you’re down, is it because you’re cowering I fear, or because you’re bowing in respect?

It’s the work of God that makes the difference. In every sentence of joy, David expresses something directly to God alone. I will bless You. I will praise You. I will meditate on Your glorious splendor. I will declare Your greatness. All activities that make the Christian stand out, and it’s so simple: Praise and Bless God. Meditate on His Word. And declare His greatness. How do you do at those activities? Is it possible that sin gets a greater grip on your life because you’re resisting one or all of them? These are the actions of the soul who humbly bows to God. They are the natural response of faith. If we resist them, we resist God.

Are your actions a continual song of praise to God? Does He receive praise and thanks by how you treat others, how you handle His name, and how you use your time and talents? Praise and thanks doesn’t just come from the mouth on Sunday mornings. Praise and thanks also come from the decisions you make and the way in which you live your life. How are you at meditating on His glory? Do you find yourself attracted to His Word? Does it fill your heart and mind? Does it captivate your attention or do you have better things to dwell on? How are you at declaring His greatness? Do you seek opportunities to do so or do you look for ways to avoid it? When was the last time you invited someone to come to church or encouraged them to study the Scriptures with you? How bold are you in your confession of faith? Is it something you’re willing to stake your life on or something you’re too ashamed of to admit?

David gives his answers. He will praise. He will give thanks. He will meditate. He will declare. Because he’s not cowering in fear, he’s bowing in respect, even when he’s in the depths. And finally, David knew where he was headed. 18 The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. 19 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. 20 The LORD preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. 21 My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.

When you’re in the depths of sin you can either rise up or you can stay down. One thing you can’t do is ignore the options. There is no ground in between sin and salvation. Either the Lord preserves you or He destroys you. Sounds harsh, but that’s the reality of sin in a world created to be holy. In order for sin to be gone forever, it needs to be destroyed. Christ has taken care of that problem by dying on the cross. Sin is destroyed, but that also includes all the effects and lifestyles of sin too. Sin is a sinking ship, why would anyone want to be on board? We take joy and hope in Christ’s death on the cross because it promises salvation. But we need to remember it also equally seals the destruction of sin and all who choose it. You can’t say that God’s judgment of sin is too harsh and in the next breath take comfort in His promise of life, because the two come from the same source. Christ judged sin when He died and rose again.

So when you’re caught in the depths, there’s only two options. You can stay in that sin, sometimes even getting deeper and uglier. You can try to be neutral and stay out of it and pretend everything will work in the end, but that’s no different than continuing in sin because no one can escape it. Or you can cling to Christ by faith, trusting in the very promise of life that He freely offers you. His hand is present with you, trying to lift you up and pull you out of sin every day. You can hold to Him or you can push Him away. There’s only one way out. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to Father but by me (John 14:6).” Peter said, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).”

God does expect a lot from Christians. He expects them to act and speak a certain way. He expects them to give thanks and praise for what He’s done. He expects them to meditate upon His Word. And He expects them to declare His name to others. That is all part of humble worship and bowing down to God in the light of our mortality and in the light of His grace. But those things are not what make the Christian. God alone does that, all by Himself. God made Christians when He was on the cross and when He gave up that final righteous breath. That alone, having nothing to do with your own feelings, works, or failures is what makes you different. And because of that truth alone, we have hope and peace that we’re headed up, out of the pit of sin. Amen.

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

August 4, 2015

August 2, 2015 - Ephesians 2:13-22

Pastor Caleb Schaller, of Eau Claire, WI, shares the Word of God from Ephesians 2:13-22: 

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. 18 For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.

19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Theme: "Gentiles Brought Near by the Blood of Christ"
                      1. To Be God's People
                      2. To Be God's Temple