October 26, 2015

October 25, 2015 - Mark 10:35-45

Theme: Service Through “Self”
1) Denial of the sinful “self”
2) Renewal of the faithful “self”

The Struggle of Self; it’s a difficult thing to understand. Two little children are playing on their own; plenty of toys for both. But before long, one toy in particular takes the spotlight. Both kids want it. It’s as if everything else is non-existent. They each must have it, and they begin to whine and fight over it. It’s not that either of them really needs it. But it’s that they can’t stand to see the other have it. The “self” must prevail.

A husband and wife live happily together with three children. They are comfortable and have no need let alone lack of modern convenience. But one day the husband hears about a job promotion for his buddy down the road. It gets him thinking; how could my life be better? What do I want? Why can’t I catch a break? Nothing has really changed to affect his previous contentment. But all of the sudden he’s miserable. He can’t stand the thought of someone out there having it better than he does. He hates the idea that his “self” could lack in any way. And overnight, the seeds of envy and discord are sown.

A teenage girl has a smart phone and tablet. She’s adorned with the latest fashions and has no shortage of friends. She’s popular and well-liked and most importantly she has the rock solid confidence of faith in her Savior, Jesus Christ. Yet, when minor things in life go wrong, she feels like the universe is crumbling. She struggles with an assignment or test and she immediately is overcome with stress. Her significant other of 6 months dumps her and she doesn’t see any way to move forward. Why? She’s still blessed. She has her entire life ahead of her. Yet, her “self” is affected.

There’s no doubt that we all struggle when our cares, ideas, or goals are threatened; because those are the things that define who we are. An attack against them is a direct attack against us. But is there really a reason for alarm? Could it be that in many ways we are a bit too enamored with ourselves? Consider another example, this time from Mark’s Gospel; a time when two brothers struggled with the same thing:    

Mark 10:35-41 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask." 36 And He said to them, "What do you want Me to do for you?" 37 They said to Him, "Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory." 38 But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" 39 They said to Him, "We are able." So Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; 40 "but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared." 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John.

James and John didn’t ask for this honorable distinction because they needed it. Life was more than good enough for them. They, of all people, had no reason to complain or want more because they were able to walk and talk with` the very Son of God! Yet, they wanted more. The “self” inside each of them begged for a little more attention and a little higher status; something to separate them from the rest of the pack. They were like a couple of kids fighting over the same toy, when they had hundreds of others to choose from. But that’s what the inborn human “self” does. It wants to be distinguished from the rest, even if it already has every grace and blessing.

This was nothing new to Jesus. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and certainly He knew James and John well. If you follow the context before these verses, you can see how Jesus was patiently and persistently addressing this problem of “self-centeredness” in His disciples. At the end of Mark 8 Jesus predicted quite frankly that He would have to suffer and die in Jerusalem and rise three days later. When Peter tried to interject himself into the situation and “protect” Jesus, he was met with a sharp rebuke from His Lord: “Get behind Satan, you’re not mindful of God’s plan.” Shortly after that exchange Jesus instructed all of the 12 by saying, “Whoever desires to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me (Mark 8:34).”

In chapter 9, Jesus predicted His death and resurrection a second time and followed it by saying this: “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all (Mark 9:35).” Therefore it shouldn’t surprise us that as we reach the words of our text in chapter 10, Jesus followed the same pattern for a third time. Immediately before these words, Jesus predicted His death and resurrection and then replied to James’ and John’s request. And for a third time, His answer is the same. There is no room for your sinful “self” in the kingdom of God. Discipleship is not a beauty contest about who is wisest or greatest. Discipleship is about survival, plain and simple. And the number one threat to James and John was their own sinful hearts. The inward desire to have more and more, even though they had everything they needed. The competitive nature to be better or to have a leg up on others; to be viewed with the greatest esteem and to receive the loudest praise.

Jesus was right, they had no idea what they asked for; but they would get it. Not what they wanted or what they thought, but they would get what all Christians are in for. The cup of hardship and the baptism of persecution. James and John wanted something to stoke their egos; to inflate their sinful natures. But what they received by faith in Jesus was the opposite and they are eternally grateful for it. Because the path of the sinful “self” leads to destruction. As Christians, we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of heaven, but the kingdom is where we will be. Acts 12 tells us what happened to James. He didn’t receive fanfare and praise as the greatest apostle. He didn’t live in a beautiful mansion and exercise unlimited power over the rest of pitiful humanity. No, one short verse sums up James’ legacy: V.2 “Then Herod killed James, the brother of John, with the sword.” That’s it. That’s what James received for following Jesus.

As for John, he didn’t suffer martyrdom but he did live in exile. He survived longer than the rest of the twelve, but many could argue that the isolationism and loneliness was even worse. Indeed, how very far from the truth James and John were as they dreamt of these lofty goals in this world. It’s a difference temporary, present satisfaction leading to eternal condemnation and temporary pain leading to eternal glory. But they were no different than the rest of the 12, as we see from the their reaction to this peculiar request, from vv. 42-45: But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 "Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. 44 "And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. 45 "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

This was one of the last times that Jesus would have to talk to His disciples about this. Holy week, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Ascension were all on the doorstep. Soon, events would be put into motion that could not be reversed and the 12 would be tasked with bringing the truth of salvation to the ends of the earth. You can sense the seriousness of the times in the fact that Jesus doesn’t mince words. Unbelieving rulers abuse authority and rights in order to keep those under them in subjection. This wasn’t the way God’s Church would be and it started with the disciples and their own self-denial. They needed to be the examples. They needed to set the tone. But they wouldn’t be alone. Up to this point they had failed miserably; so much so that Jesus had to address the exact same point on three separate occasions.

They would fail in the future too. It wouldn’t be long before each of the disciples were running scared as Jesus walked the path to the cross alone. Shortly after that moment of cowardice they would be huddled together behind locked doors; feeling as if everything had fallen apart. But no matter how bad things were, or how bad they would get, they would never be left alone. They fled from Jesus, but He would never flee them. His Church was different. Different in that it was not about the sinful “self” but about the Savior. But also different in that it would never fade away, because it was established by One who came to serve, not to be served. One who came and set the example and established the tone.

What we see in all this for our lives is that Jesus does care for a “self.” Not the self that seeks its own or that struggles to be called “greatest” in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus cares for the “self” that is an individual lost in sin and unbelief who needs renewal. Unlike other religious leaders, Jesus did not come to be served. He came to help; to serve others. But in order to do that, He had to come for you, as a unique individual, as a “self.” Part of the beauty of God’s kingdom is that it’s meant for every single person. It’s not a kingdom where everyone blends in together and has no individual identity. Jesus knows you by name and He daily calls to you through the Gospel. He wants you to be part of His Church, just as you are; with everything that makes you unique and one of a kind.

You, as an individual, were so important to Jesus that He willingly sacrificed himself to pay for your sins. He mentions the great love He has for sinners with one word in our text, from verse 40, the word “prepared.” That’s what Jesus did for you. He prepared salvation for you. Jesus didn’t do this for a random portion of people with whom He has no connection. Neither did He leave anyone out; or forget anyone because they weren’t important enough. The preparation of salvation was accomplished for each individual person. Jesus went to the cross, knowing your very name, who you would be, what you would make of yourself in life; even knowing all of your failures ahead of time. You are that precious to Him, and He values your unique identity, your “self”, so much that He wants you to serve Him through it.    

That’s why Paul, in another area of Scripture, likened the Church to a body. A body has several unique parts; all with their own particular function. But no matter how different they are, they all serve the same purpose, and have the same goal of getting the entire body to function properly. That’s the true image of “self.” We are not part of God’s kingdom to serve ourselves; to see who is the greatest over all. We already know that that title belongs to Jesus alone. That’s the self we need to do away with through contrition and repentance. But Jesus still takes you as you are. He wants you to be His own child, by name; a unique “self,” an individual identity whom He has redeemed by His blood on the cross. Through that faithful self, what we typically call the “new man” you can serve God and you can serve your fellow Christian; for the building up of the Church.

Sometimes we forget how important the “self” that serves Jesus is. Sometimes we get caught up in the politics of the congregation and we wonder how we, as individuals, can possibly make a difference. Not everyone is a pastor or teacher. In fact, the make-up of our congregation relies on relatively few leaders who have the task of representing the entire body. How can the proper “self” exist in that format? What can regular, individual Christians do? The truth is, it’s the regular members who make the difference. If they don’t a congregation won’t work well at all. Just as Jesus was teaching to James and John, it’s the same in a Christian congregation. Those who serve are the ones who change the world. Good leaders act upon what the servants are already doing; they don’t dictate what must be done. In a church, the leaders need be the greatest examples of service. It’s the entire body of members, working as individual people, who determine the work and goals of the congregation. The leaders are simply present to guide the course.     
There are plenty of ways to serve God with your “self.” Not through the sinful actions that come from a selfish heart; from the old Adam as it’s called. But the “self” that has been regenerated and renewed through the Gospel of forgiveness. The “self” that serves in true righteousness and holiness; because that’s what Jesus has given it. Jesus taught you the truth, provided you the example, and paved for you the path of victory. It’s not an easy path; just look at the life of James and John. Nor is it a popular path; just look at what we humans want by nature. But it is the path of Jesus. Therefore, greatness is in serving Him. Amen.

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

October 19, 2015

October 18, 2015 - Hebrews 3:1-6

Podcast: http://redemption-clc.podomatic.com/entry/2015-10-19T15_10_20-07_00

Theme: Welcome to God’s Home
1) The Inheritance
2) The Son’s Blood

It’s often customary for Christians to take a few moments in prayer to the Lord at night. Evenings are a typical time of prayer because it marks the end of the day’s events. The most logical prayer at the end of a day would be one of thanksgiving. Certainly, we have more than enough reasons to thank God. But the end of the day provides more than just reflection on the blessings of the day. It also provides us some quiet time to think about the needs of others and to seek guidance and help from the Lord for our own struggles. It affords us the opportunity to see a much broader picture of life if you will.

These things are all true about the evening, but there is another important reason for prayer and reflection at night that is often overlooked. The evening is also the time that we lay our heads down to rest. At times of rest, the gift of a home is a true blessing. Without a home, nights are much more restless and sleep is harder to get. I remember back in the Midwest I would think often about the blessing of my home, especially at night, and especially in the winter. When it comes to winter in the Midwest, a good home is not only nice, it’s absolutely necessary. On the coldest winter nights, exposure to the elements for only a few minutes can mean permanent danger or even death. Yet, in our homes we have comfort, food, protection, and warmth. We can sleep peacefully, no matter the temperature outside, because we are safe. What a blessing, especially to consider on a cold evening as you prepare for bed!

But a home is much more than just the walls around you or the roof over your head. In order for a home to be complete, it needs people. Your family is even more vital to your home than a fireplace or bed covers on a cold winter night. In this section of Hebrews, the writer talks about the blessing being in God’s home. Hebrews 3:1-6: Therefore, holy brothers and companions in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession; 2 He was faithful to the One who appointed Him, just as Moses was in all God's household. 3 For Jesus is considered worthy of more glory than Moses, just as the builder has more honor than the house. 4 Now every house is built by someone, but the One who built everything is God. 5 Moses was faithful as a servant in all God's household, as a testimony to what would be said in the future. 6 But Christ was faithful as a Son over His household. And we are that household if we hold on to the courage and the confidence of our hope.

Remember why this is called the book of Hebrews. It has this title because it was written specifically for Christians who were familiar with the Old Testament. Most of these people at the time of the early church were Jews, or those of the Hebrew nation. Who better to use as an example to the Hebrews than Moses, the great leader of the Jewish exiles in Egypt? Many Jews around the time of Jesus considered Moses to be the most significant figure in the entire Old Testament. As the writer says here, Moses indeed was an example of faithfulness to the Lord. But don’t miss the most important point, Moses was a member of God’s household.

But even as faithful as Moses was, he was still a sinner who fell short of God’s holiness. There is one who was even more faithful than Moses – Jesus Christ. Jesus not only was faithful to God’s will, He was the perfect fulfillment and example of that will. He came on behalf of sinful mankind and did what no other person could or has been able to do since – He lived a perfect life as a human who was subjected to temptation just as much as the rest of us. The intent of this section is clear. It’s okay to give Moses honor. But Jesus deserves much more, because He did a lot more. For the Jewish individual who might be led astray to honor Moses but reject Jesus, he or she needed to wake up to reality. And to drive this point home, the Holy Spirit emphasizes the aspect of our home.  

To recognize the main difference between Moses and Jesus, you don’t have to look far. Our text says it plainly in the last two verses: Moses was faithful as a servant in all God's household, as a testimony to what would be said in the future. 6 But Christ was faithful as a Son over His household. The difference between a servant and a son may not seem that great when it comes to the home. In that day, servants were granted the right to live in the home. In many ways, they grew up in the home just as any son or daughter would. But when it came to rights, there was a big difference. Remember that a home is more than just the location where we live or the things we do there. A home is what that dwelling represents and the significance it has in our lives.

Children in the home have a right to the household by blood. They are the ones who inherit the home; who continue the family name and legacy into the future. A servant is there for a time, but then gone. There is no continuity among servants. They provide a need or fulfill a purpose and then they are done; not to remembered. But children are the bearers of the home for the next generation. They are meant to continue and to be in the forefront.

It’s no strange mystery that Jesus is God’s Son. But do we always consider everything that means? As the Son, Jesus has access to God’s home. He is the most important figure. And as the One who came to earth, He is the One who shares that home with others. Not just the promise of eternal life in heaven; that certainly is God’s home and definitely a great enough gift. But a home is not just the location. Jesus shares the blessings of God’s household. Gifts we have today like: peace, joy, happiness, forgiveness, and contentment. Some of the very gifts that should be at the top of our lists every night for thanking and praising God.

As the Son, Jesus alone has the right to distribute these gifts; because as the Son He alone earned them in our stead. Later on in this book, the Spirit would go onto to explain why: Hebrews 9:15 And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. An inheritance is a special thing; something that is largely lost on our modern culture. You can think of the inheritance as the continuation of the family home. Think of everything that your home means to you today. Think of both the material and intangible blessings that come from the home. That is the inheritance, and it is passed on from one generation to the next; and only the legal, blood heirs have access to that right.

God tells us that through His only begotten Son, the inheritance of His home is passed on to us. What connects us to that gift is faith in Jesus, the one Mediator of God’s forgiveness. Moses was a faithful and a good leader for God’s people. But the highest level he ever reached on his own was that of servant. Yes, a member of the house in some sense, but one with no real claim to any blessings; certainly not to any inheritance. That too, is the highest level you can reach in life in your own. The best you can strive to be is one that serves the almighty God.

That’s where the young man in our Gospel lesson found himself. He was zealous for the Lord, even recognizing something special about Jesus. He obviously strove to keep God’s Word or else he never would have asked the question that he did. And clearly he tried to keep God’s commandments. But he got off the track when he started thinking that he could earn God’s inheritance. Not only is that impossible because of sin, it also runs contrary to sound reason. God’s specifically calls heaven an “inheritance,” something that we know is clearly not earned by works or effort. An inheritance is given freely to children. The man didn’t realize the truth that no matter how hard he tried, he could never be greater than a servant, and a very flawed servant at that.

This prospect obviously leads many into despair. If we can’t be anything greater than servants, then what’s the point? If our works, no matter how good we feel about them, never measure up perfectly, then what can we do? Well, remember what it takes to be a child. A child is an heir by blood. As hopeless as we are on our own, we do have access to God’s home, as children. Not because of our blood, but because of another’s.

When Jesus shed His perfect blood on the cross, as true man (one of us) and true God (the very Son) he paid the price that was needed for us to receive the inheritance. Paul wrote to the Galatians: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” The blessings of God’s home are given to you through Jesus. And later Paul would write this: “Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

As our text says, God builds the house. He sets the rules. He determines the truth. And the truth is this: We are helpless on our own. Like prodigal sons, we sacrificed our original inheritance of righteousness on the altars of self-satisfaction and temptation. We chose other ways to prosperity and protection and we fell from the path of God’s Word. We are thoroughly corrupted and wicked; and on our own we have no inkling to seek God. But the Father had a plan in place. He brought you back from the dead by His own Son, the only rightful Heir that was left once sin entered the scene.

Even with the advent of Jesus we were still lost. Something more needed to be done. The Son also needed to bleed. He needed to bleed so that we could be purified. That blood of Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness. His blood paid the way for us to have the status as sons and daughters again; rightful heirs of the inheritance of God’s kingdom. Where we were faithless; stuck only as servants of the most high God; Jesus came and made us children in the home.

Therefore we have the warmth of His love and the comfort of His forgiveness amidst the cold nights of this sinful life. We have the true treasure of His Word as a means to build and strengthen His will in our lives; so that we take time to pray to Him in thankfulness and humility. We have answers to the lingering doubts and concerns about being a sinful person living in a world full of evidence for a righteous and holy God. That’s what being part of the household means. Yes, ultimately we have hope for heaven; a city that needs no protection from pain and sorrow, because those things have passed away.

But even before we think of heaven, and well before we get there, we are in God’s home today. Because a home is more than we end our days and where we rest our heads. A home is the day-to-day blessings, the joy and peace that need not be explained or reasoned, and the presence of fellow family members. I pray for your courage and confidence through faith in Jesus Christ. You are His child. You are a member of God’s household; a blood-bought heir of eternal life. Amen.

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

October 12, 2015

October 11, 2015 - Matthew 12:33-37

Theme: Don’t Neglect God’s Means of Communication
1) Word to Heart
2) Heart to Mouth

Have you ever tried gardening? If you have, would you say that you have a “green thumb?” Gardening can be a tricky thing. We all understand the basic properties of a plant and what it needs to grow. But practicing it in various settings can be difficult. You need to have knowledge about the plant you’re trying to grow. You need to have knowledge about the climate you live in. And you need to be consistent. Plants require regular care.

In our modern age we don’t have to worry about gardening too much. Most people garden as a hobby, not out of necessity. For most people, especially in America, you can get whatever you want at the grocery store. It only takes a couple of minutes and you can have just about any edible fruit or vegetable, without any trouble. Even in Seattle, you can buy your groceries with the click of a button on your computer or mobile device; you don’t even need to get out of bed. Without a doubt, we could say that we’ve come a long way in our ability to grow plants and provide food. But it wasn’t always like this.

Not that long ago, almost everyone had to garden or farm to survive and provide for their family. In world history, every successful culture has needed a profitable agricultural system, and for a long time that meant that individual families had to grow plants on their own. This was certainly the way it was for the cultures in Biblical times. The Bible is filled with lessons about plant life and gardening. In fact, it was such a central theme to the people of Biblical times that the Holy Spirit employed many spiritual applications through plant life.

Think of how Jesus pictured Himself as the Vine of a plant and His disciples as branches that bear fruit through Him. Another well-known example is the parable of the Sower and the Seed, where the Gospel is presented as a seed that seeks to grow in the hearts of people. Paul followed this same theme by describing the ministry of God’s Word as planting and watering seed of which God brings forth the increase. Near the end of His ministry, as holy week began, Jesus taught a lesson on judgment and repentance through a barren fig tree that He cursed. In the Old Testament Isaiah prophesied about the prosperity of the coming Messiah by describing a thriving oasis in the midst of a parched desert. Even at the very beginning, God told Adam that the curse of difficulty in gardening would be upon him as a result of his sin. All of these examples, and more like them, contain spiritual applications to our lives. It is true that in and of itself, gardening is hard because of sin. That truth is absolute. But more important than the food we grow or eat, is the effect of sin in our hearts.

Our text for today speaks of another application taken from plant life; this time speaking about communication. God’s message is that what we put in our hearts affects what comes out of our mouths; just as the type of plant determines the type of fruit it bears. We focus our hearts and minds on this message today as it comes from the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:33-37:

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. 34 Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. 36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

When we speak of the 2nd commandment, the immediate application is in the way we use God’s name. Following on the heels of the 1st commandment, God expects us to use His name with respect because He is the only God. The best way to start showing our loyalty to God is to use His name to praise and worship Him, not to use His name foolishly to curse or swear. This is the primary emphasis of the 2nd commandment.

But there is a secondary application too. As Luther pointed out in his explanation to the commandment, honoring God includes not only turning away from what is sinful, but pursuing what is God-pleasing. In this sense, we see how the commandment also points to the many ways we should properly use the voices God has given us, even if we aren’t specifically addressing Him. As Christians, everything we do or say reflects back to God. This makes us think about all of the other vulgar ways that sin can lead us to misuse our voices. In many ways, we may not be technically taking God’s name in vain, but any type of vulgar language ultimately points back to Him and still affects our relationship with Him. And when we use that type of language, even if it’s common or acceptable in the eyes of the world, it breaks our command to use our tongues to glorify God.

It’s probably this secondary aspect of the 2nd commandment that trips us up more. I don’t think that most of us blatantly take God’s name in vain or think lightly of it. But do we feel the same about the other ‘lesser’ words and expressions that are commonplace in society yet equally filled with sinful thoughts? Somehow, we often have a way of convincing ourselves that it’s not that bad to use vulgar language, especially since it’s so firmly entrenched in our culture.

The mediums we use to communicate also play a role in this. Do you consider a text or a personal conversation the same as a public speech? Would you feel comfortable using the same words that you do with friends and co-workers with your pastor or your parents? On the surface we look at these situations as different, and they are to some degree. But when it comes to our souls and our witness as Christians, there is no difference. The words and thoughts we put out on facebook or email carry the same weight as saying that very thing in Sunday worship or Bible class; and sometimes even more weight because they reach a much wider audience. And yet, we often don’t think they’re the same. Often we convince ourselves that if we can hide behind the anonymity of a computer or cell-phone, that its’ not the same as a face to face conversation. I think we often feel this way because it’s the way much of the world operates. The web is a breeding ground for hostile and inappropriate language. The accessibility of a cell network or the internet allows you to speak without immediate consequences. You can rip into someone or curse and swear at liberty without being judged or rebuked face to face. You can’t get away with the same thing in a public setting, or when you’re fellow Christians are around.

When we consider these negative effects of digital communication, it’s pretty amazing how direct the words of Jesus from our text strike to the heart of the matter. At a time long before social media, Jesus addressed the very core of the problem – the sinful human heart. That’s where the picture of a plant comes in. Jesus applies it in this context to communication; think of Jesus here as teaching a principle based on the 2nd commandment. The heart, or properties of a plant, determine the fruit it bears. In the same way, the status of the human heart determines the words that come out of the mouth. And to help us out, Jesus teaches that God has a plan for our communication; both when He speaks to us and when we speak to Him or to others.

Part 1: Word to Heart

We start with the blessing of the Word given to us because that’s where our relationship with God starts. Without faith it is impossible to please God and without the Word of God we would have no promise of faith, because faith comes from hearing the Word of God, specifically the words of what Christ our Savior has done for us. Jesus gets to this point when He makes mention of the treasure in the man’s heart. We know that He can’t be speaking about the state of our hearts before faith, or by nature, because the natural human heart is an utterly wicked thing. It is the source of all types of sinful language, both directed at God and directed at others. Jesus said that is was the human heart that produced all manners of sins, including “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, other sexual sins, stealing, lying, and cursing (Matthew 15:19 GWN).” Paul spoke of his own heart when he said, “I know that in me, that is in my flesh, nothing good dwells (Romans 7:18).” David pleaded with the Lord to “Create in me a pure heart…” because by nature what David had was not so pure.

The treasure in the believer’s heart is not his own feelings or attitude, it’s the gift of faith in Jesus. If you follow the context of Matthew after chapter 12, Jesus continues with this thought. In the very next chapter, in a single verse, Jesus taught this parable: the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field (Matthew 13:44). A few verses after that, in a different parable, Jesus said this: "Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old (Matthew 13:52)."

Think of a scribe simply as someone who uses the Bible. In Jesus’ time, there was a specific person called to do that. Bibles weren’t as commonplace as they are today. But each us are now scribes, or Bible users, on our own. You all have the ability to gather from the treasure of God’s inspired Word on your own. And from that treasure God’s kingdom is established in your heart. A kingdom built on forgiveness of your sins in Jesus Christ. When you have that treasure, and it is vibrant in your heart, if will positively affect how you use your voice. You will be led to glorify and praise God’s name in response to such a blessing of life and forgiveness. And you will turn from the many ways you can misuse your tongue. The treasure of the gospel, as Jesus says, brings forth good things in our lives.

Part 2: Heart to Mouth

But to have this treasure, God must first communicate to you through His Word. The best explanation of how this communication works comes from Romans 10, as the Holy Spirit explained it through Paul: The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach): 9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation (Romans 10:8-10).

Faith in Jesus first enters your heart and is then transferred to what you confess with your mouth. Therefore, the picture that Jesus gives holds up. What gives you nutrients as living members of God’s kingdom is also what motivates the words you say. Likewise, if you are breaking the 2nd commandment by cursing, swearing, or any other way to misuse your voice, the problem begins in your heart and that’s where you should look first to fix it.

We see a tragic reminder of this in the example of the Pharisees. In our text, Jesus calls them a bunch of vipers; which isn’t a loose description when we consider how sin was first introduced into the world through the serpent in the Garden. The reason Jesus said this was to get the Pharisees to look at their hearts. They claimed to speak for God and to speak the truth, but they did this without considering their faith. They believed they were in the right because of their physical lineage as Jews, not at all considering that they too were sinners in need of a Savior. It may seem here that Jesus was just unduly critical with the Pharisees and their lack of truth and faith. But in these words Jesus pointed right to the solution. He wasn’t being overly critical or harsh, He was trying to help the Pharisees see their weakness and turn to God in repentance. Jesus, of course, does the same for us in His Word, especially as we consider the 2nd commandment. It may seem unfair at times for the pastor or fellow Christians to rebuke vulgar language or cursing. You may be tempted to think, “what right do they have to judge?” Or you may jump to saying, “Everybody’s doing it, stop being so holier than thou!’

Indeed, the Pharisees reacted to Jesus in a similar way. They chose to accumulate evil treasure in their hearts; treasure from Satan and the world, not treasure from the gospel. And their words and actions were motivated by this treasure. When we react in hostility to the message of God’s word, even if comes through God’s servants, what treasure are we being led by? Consider that, because the treasure that’s in your heart will also be what produces the words you speak. As Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Jesus freely offers you the treasure contained in His Word; a treasure that grants you forgiveness and eternal life, and a treasure that can guide your thoughts and words today, so that you can lead your life for God’s glory and for the benefit of your fellow people. And this treasure is a central theme in God’s Word, exactly parallel with all the many expressions of growth, life, and fruit.

It’s pretty amazing how you have open access to all varieties of fruits and vegetables. You don’t need to be an expert farmer or gardener anymore today. In the same way, you don’t have to work on your own to have the good treasure from God that will produce spiritual fruits in your life. It is freely offered to you in the Word, freely won for you by Jesus, and you have easy access to that Word every day. May your use of God’s Word be as frequent and natural as a plant that bears its regular fruit. And may the spiritual fruit that you produce be ever as healthy and wholesome because it comes from the abundant treasure of God’s Word in your heart. Amen.  

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

October 5, 2015

October 4, 2015 - James 4:7-10

Theme: Satan is a Real Threat, but He has been Neutralized
1) Daily protection comes through humility
2) Eternal Freedom comes through God’s grace

James 4:7-10 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

It’s hard to believe that October is already upon us. This time of year is well known for cooler temperatures, shorter days, and changing of the scenery through cloudiness and tree colors. However, October is best known for its final day, Halloween. Halloween is a beloved holiday in our country for many reasons. It’s a time for trick-or-treating, apple cider, hay rides, and other fall celebrations. But it’s most well-known for dressing up in costumes. Halloween has always had a scary side to it that involves many things that make our hair stand on end. But ultimately, despite how scared we get, we know that it is all make believe. None of the goblins or ghouls of Halloween actually pose a threat to us.

There are certainly many exciting things about Halloween and a lot of fun can be had at this time of year. But with that comes a warning. Sometimes, the playful side of Halloween can cheapen real dangers that do exist in life. One way this often happens is in our perception of Satan, the greatest enemy to our faith. It’s not uncommon to see Satan depicted in various ways throughout the Halloween season. In fact, he’s probably one of the most popular characters to dress up as. We often see Satan as a little horned figure with a tail and pitchfork. Sometimes he’s also depicted as a dirty angel on your shoulder, always trying to get you to relax and have fun.

These pictures are harmless in and of themselves, but if they cause us to loosen the reality of the danger that Satan poses they can be harmful. Pretty soon we begin to think that Satan is just a fictitious being, like so many others do. God is clear in a number of places in His Word that Satan, and all demons, are indeed real and dangerous. Satan is called a raging lion who seeks to devour you (1 Peter 5:8). We’re told at the very beginning how it was Satan who first tempted Adam and Eve to bring sin into the world. That’s certainly a reality that we have to deal with today, sin is not make believe. Jesus called Satan the “father of lies.” Paul instructed the Ephesians to use God’s Armor to withstand the attacks of Satan. There was no point to this if Satan doesn’t exist. Even Jesus was tempted directly by Satan, which means that our great foe is just as real as our one and only Savior.

And here in our verses for today James reminds us that the devil, Satan, is the one who is in direct opposition to God. The first thing we need to realize about Satan is that he is real and is a great threat to our lives, but we also know that he has been neutralized by Jesus. The last chapter of Romans records the victory that Christ achieved for us over Satan, by hearkening back to the very first promise of a Savior given directly to Satan: The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you (Romans 16:20).

We await complete and total victory over Satan while here on this earth. And though no one can take this promise from us, we can lose it on our own. This is the threat that remains. Not that God can somehow be overpowered by Satan but that we could be deceived and lose the precious inheritance that Jesus has won for us. Think of it this way. The battle for our souls is complete. Jesus won the war when He declared from the cross, “It is finished.” Satan can do no more with Christ in the picture. Satan is condemned to hell. The threat today for us is that we would lose our way on the path to God’s kingdom in heaven. Though Satan is conquered, he still works through the lies and trickery of sin to distort the only way to eternal life through Jesus. Satan can no longer fight, but he can cloud and conceal the truth.

This is the new battle we find ourselves in as we near the end of this world, and it’s the same battle that Christians from the time of Christ have been entrenched in. We see the forceful message that James gave to his fellow Christians who were engaged in this conflict. The seriousness and reality of this threat from the devil is emphasized by the Holy Spirit’s employment of 10 commands in these 4 verses. At first glance these commands make it feel as if we need to do these things on our own in order to conquer the devil in our lives. But that would contradict what Christ has already freely done in our stead.

Rather than shovel more responsibility on our plate, these imperatives stress the urgency of taking this threat seriously. Whenever the danger of Satan is minimized, and it is greatly minimized in our modern world, the great need we have for deliverance from God is made shallow as well. To help in understanding this, James points out two important things we can focus on. The first is the daily protection that God offers to the humble.

Part 1

Discrediting the seriousness of Satan’s ploys is a result of spiritual arrogance. Therefore, James implores his fellow Christians to stay humble in their faith. He begins by exhorting them to submit to God. Submitting to God means that we acknowledge Him as the authority in our lives. It’s a concept that involves both self-denial and hope. Self-denial because we yield all things to God and confess that we are not the end all, be all of life. But hope because a humble and repentant heart trusts in God’s saving merits and grace. No matter which side of it you look at, humility is a good thing for your life.

But how many of you enjoy being made humble? I know I don’t. It’s not easy to be told you’re wrong or you’ve failed. It’s equally frustrating to know that you haven’t measured up to God’s expectations, and even that you can’t on your own. Because of these reasons, and others like them, humility is becoming rarer and rarer in our world. Yet, when it comes to your life with God, you can’t be with Him without humility. And furthermore, to submit to God means learning the painful lessons of humility day after day.

Another aspect of humility and submission comes forth when James speaks of being sorrowful. Sorrow seems like a strange thing to look at as a quality, especially since we have hope in Christ. But James is not pointing to the end of our faith, but rather combating sinful pride that we encounter along the way. At times, there are so many things going on in life that we forget why we are here. This is especially true for us as Americans, since we are told daily that we have a God-given right to happiness. God certainly created the world for our benefit and He wants us to have a happy and fulfilling life. The problem is not with happiness or with God, it’s that we often change the meaning of happiness. God does not give us the right to pursue whatever we want under the context of happiness. There are indeed many things present in the world that are attached to a worldly view of happiness but only involve sin. James makes the point that submission to God means showing sorrow over things that are sinful, even though they may bring happiness to our sinful flesh.

True, Godly sorrow over sin is absolutely necessary to guard against Satan’s deceptions, because he will try to deceive you into thinking that sin is harmless happiness. The fact that many people believe that pursuit of worldly happiness is a God-given right is further proof of how devious Satan’s temptations can be. Even as he did before Jesus in the wilderness, Satan will stop at nothing, even twisting our understanding of God and His Word, to lead us into sin. And the first step on that path is keeping us from submitting to God in humility, and all too often Satan accomplishes this by making it look as if sin is simply happiness.  

Part 2

Humility is certainly needed to help in the everyday struggle against Satan’s ploys. But something even greater was needed to ultimately destroy his works and to promise us future glory with God. That something is the grace of Jesus Christ. This grace comes in view through the commands to “cleanse” and “purify.” Again, these actions do not point at our works, but that we would cleanse and purify ourselves through Christ’s atonement on the cross. This cleansing and purification is the forgiveness that takes away our sins. It is the same hope that was expressed by David concerning his sins of lust, adultery, and murder, as we read in Psalm 51: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Wash me from my sin and cleanse me from my iniquity.”

In his first letter John wrote at length about this connection. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he (God) is pure. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he (God) is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother (1 John 3:1,3,7,10)

Cleansing and purification of sins come only through Jesus because only Jesus has destroyed the devil’s works. Yes, Satan is real. His hold on your life was real. The need to destroy him was real. So real, in fact, that God’s own Son had to come down to earth and do it for all of us. Our desire to pursue this cleansing and purification is only evidence of what Christ has already done. We draw near to God by staying as close to Him as we can, not by working to achieve His favor. Many ask, well, where is God that I may stay close to Him? “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” God is in His Word. God is the Word. When you stay close to the Word, you are close to God, the conqueror and victor over Satan. In the Word, Satan can’t get close to you. In the Word, you are safe.

Doesn’t sound like a dangerous threat from that perspective, does it? But the problem is, Satan can reach you in everything else. His deceptions and ploys are abundant in all areas of this sinful world. Hi twisted fingers can grab you through money, possessions, education, politics, your occupation and hobbies, and even your own heart. We forget this all too often. We are so quick to think of Satan only in the evil things of the world, only in those things that we can clearly see as sins. But he can get through to you with his lies and deceit in every area of life, because every area of life has been corrupted by sin. Satan often will reach out to you in something that seems innocent. He will often use those things that God created to be blessings but have been corrupted by sin. Things like: your family and friends, your marriage, your food and drink, your time, your bank account, and your freedom. We already mentioned one big one in happiness. These are all blessings from God, yet corrupted by sin and able to be used by Satan to deceive you.  

The devil can even use your most precious resource and your only safe-haven, the Word of God, when it’s meaning and contents are twisted. Think of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness. What did Satan use to tempt Him? Fame, wealth, and kingdoms. But also the very words of God when he deceptively misquoted Psalm 91. Satan can do all these things because his objective is simple. He only has to get you to forsake Christ. There are plenty of ways to do that. Satan has no strict dogma or well-defined theology that he needs to abide by. He is loyal to all religions except Christianity, and even in many cases he finds a way to distort that. There is nothing specific that Satan has to get you to believe. It doesn’t matter to him, just as long as whatever you believe denies salvation through Jesus Christ.

And therefore, Satan can use just about anything, even the many blessings in God’s creation. The message for you today is to use what God has given you as a defense. The threat is absolutely real, Satan is no fairy tale. An attitude of humility will keep you close to God by repenting of your sins and looking alone to forgiveness in Christ. Christian humility will also keep you where you belong, as God’s obedient servant, instead of falling into the fatal sin of denial through arrogance and pride.

But, in the end, even humility has its limit. Even Satan has a found ways to turn well-intentioned humility into a human service that forgets about Jesus. That’s where the gift of grace comes in. Even though Satan can just about throw anything at you to lead you astray, God only needs one thing to keep you with Him – His love for you even though you’re an underserving sinner.

Don’t be a double-minded Christian who tries to look good on the outside but is happy to follow Satan’s schemes in every other area of life. Be aware. The danger is real. The threat has eternal implications. But you have victory today! The only thing that can keep you from God is yourself and how much of a foothold you allow Satan to gain in your life. There is only one way to God and one way to be with God for eternity. Humility helps us for a while, but grace alone is what unlocks heaven to us. Grace in Jesus is what makes us untouchable to Satan. It’s what protects us at all times, because grace is also what chained Satan to hell. The victory message is that we are cleansed and purified in the blood of Jesus Christ, shed for us on the cross. The very thing that proved to be Satan’s demise, is our promise of eternal life. No one can take God’s grace from you. You always have it in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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