November 28, 2015

Thanksgiving Day - Deuteronomy 8:10-18


The oft-forgotten fruit of faith: Giving Thanks
1) Drowned out by the dressings of “More” and “Me”
2) Produced by Remembering the Covenant

Deuteronomy 8:10-18 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today. (NIV)

Have you ever noticed that the traditional Thanksgiving meal doesn’t have many fruits? Everyone celebrates differently and every family has different foods. But for the most part you don’t see fruits emphasized. You might have apple pie or cranberry sauce, but that’s not fruit by itself. Our banner shows several different kinds of fruits: apples, bananas, pears, and grapes; certainly all part of God’s blessings in our lives. But most Thanksgiving tables won’t have them present. I suppose it doesn’t really matter in the end. Thanksgiving meals aren’t exactly meant to be healthy all the time, so fruit not’s necessary.

But I wonder if it serves as a picture of what has happened with the spiritual fruit of faith of giving thanks to the Lord. In many homes today, that fruit is also absent from tables and conversations. Most people today associate Thanksgiving with eating a ton of food and spending time with family. More recently it’s turned into a football holiday and even a day to go Christmas shopping among the chaotic crowds. The more things you add into a holiday like Thanksgiving the more it takes away from the real meaning. The same thing has happened with Christmas and Easter. When the Pilgrims and Puritans celebrated the first Thanksgiving meal there was no doubt about what they meant. They meant it as time to thank God specifically and to remember His gifts to them.  

We might be quick to say that the problem with today is that people just aren’t thankful anymore. I’m sure that’s certainly possible but I think there’s an even bigger problem. It’s not so much that people are blatantly unthankful, it’s simply that they forget to give thanks. We’re all here today expressly because we are thankful, but outside of church how often do we really show that thankfulness? Is it a fruit that we produce often much like being kind to others and being studious with our time and occupations? One way to gauge our level of bearing the fruit of thankfulness is to think about our mealtime prayers. Do we take time before each meal to give thanks? Have you ever been in that awkward situation of eating with someone who doesn’t give thanks? It’s sad that taking 10-20 seconds to thank God has become something of an awkward thing for most people.

I remember sitting down to eat with Micah and Allie at a fast food place a couple of months ago; and we said our normal prayer; nothing major, not even loud enough for anyone else to hear. A few minutes later and man who noticed came up to us and thanked us for praying before we ate, because in his words, “not enough people do that anymore.” Saying a prayer at mealtime is only one way to give thanks, and a small example at that. But if we’re suffering in consistently saying a 10 second prayer, how much more do we suffer when it comes to giving thanks for the bigger things!

Is the problem that we’re just ungrateful? Perhaps some extent. But there’s more to it. Ultimately, it’s a problem in remembering. We know this because giving thanks has always been the oft-forgotten fruit for all people. We see the very same thing in our text. These words are almost a snap shot of a Thanksgiving afternoon. Eating until you’re satisfied, fine houses, peace, prosperity, and protection are all things that we have on Thanksgiving Day. But at that point, in the midst of all our blessings, do we return thanks? Or do we forget?

That’s one of the things that makes giving thanks the oft-forgotten fruit. The more you have the harder it is to remember to be thankful. And we certainly have a lot. Many times, we confuse want with need and we treat God as if He’s not providing for us. But we have abundantly more than we need in many areas of life. Should we thank God for those blessings, even though we don’t need them? Absolutely, but we should also realize that the riches and prosperity of life can lead us to expect more and more, instead of being content with what we have.

Getting more is also dangerous because it naturally leads us to think about ourselves. If I’m receiving more blessings it’s good for me. Shaping our thoughts and attitudes around “more” and “me” can be like adding pure oxygen to a fire. In an instant, it can get out of control. Without a proper balance of humility and gratitude, our brains can very easily be conditioned to think only of ourselves. It’s like any habit, the more you do it, the easier it gets; and before long you don’t even need to think about it anymore, it just comes naturally. Do we really want our lives to be all about “more” and “me”? We can see it happen in the world, but can we recognize it in our hearts? That’s the question that really matters. 

It’s very much like all the many dressings on our Thanksgiving table. Do we need the stuffing, the pie, and the dinner roles? No, but they’re nice to have and they’re examples of how much the Lord has blessed us. But don’t allow these unnecessary things to drown out the simple, everyday things that God gives too. Things like eyes that still see and ears that still hear, a reserve supply of money in the bank account, and a family that loves you. These things are not small by any stretch, but they are easily forgotten.

When God spoke to His people long ago, they needed to be aware of the same thing. They were blessed beyond their simple needs. They had large flocks and stores of gold and silver. Think of that in modern terms a padded bank account and a healthy retirement package. Yes, the Israelites had come a long way from the days of slavery in Egypt. The LORD led them through the dangerous wilderness. He even took the time here to remind them about those days when He fed them with manna. Nothing special compared to what they had today, but still a gift of providence for their needs. But remember what they did, as they surely would have at these words. They complained about the manna, it was too ordinary, they were sick of it. They became indignant at the LORD much like we do when our electricity goes out or our smart phone breaks. And in this moment of their great prosperity and wealth they were on the verge of letting the same thing happen – forgetting to give thanks.

God knows that money and wealth doesn’t lead to happiness and it certainly can’t buy contentment. The Israelites were tempted to get wrapped up in the Thanksgiving dressings; all the great blessings the LORD gave them but that could also so easily lead them astray. His prescription: Remember. Remember the LORD. Remember His decrees, His commands, and His laws. Remember His protection and His providence. And most of all, remember His covenant. That was God’s lasting message to the Israelites. Above all, remember My covenant with you. The deep promise of love; the binding Word of truth that establishes My relationship with you. The unbreakable prophecy that My Son will come and rescue you from your sins. That is the covenant, remember it.

When the Israelites would be tempted to block God out because of all the dressings of “more” and “me” it would be the covenant that would bring them back. That’s why God fought at the greatest lengths to preserve it. The law was good; ordinances and commands could certainly point them in the right direction. Protection and provision was needed too. But only the Gospel Covenant of Jesus builds and reinforces faith. Only the covenant brings the promise of an eternal inheritance of heaven; the very reason why we are content in all adversities and trials. Notice what God adds at the very end of our text too. It was because of His covenant with them that He blessed them with so much. God put abundant food on their tables, gave them peace and security and the ability to produce wealth for the very purpose of keeping the covenant intact. A thankless attitude not only loses sight of the many gifts, but eventually the entire purpose.

We are members of the same covenant, even though we look at it from a different perspective. We’re waiting for the second Advent of Jesus by remembering the first; something we’ll pick up with on Sunday. And so God’s prescription to us is the same. We could say we live in a more affluent nation and culture than Israel, and we might be right. We could say that our modern conveniences greatly trump any rudimentary pleasures they enjoyed, and that’s probably true. But no amount of wealth changes God’s prescription: Remember the Covenant.           

So today, as you enjoy time with families; as you eat and are satisfied with God’s goodness – remember the covenant and be thankful. As you continue this year and move into the next; as you grow in knowledge and skill; as you succeed at your career and gain “silver and gold” – remember the covenant and be thankful. As life moves rapidly forward and you age; as you move closer to that day when God will bring you out of this land of slavery and into your eternal home – remember the covenant and be thankful.  

It’s not just the billionaires of the world who can say honestly today that God has blessed them many times over with much more than they’ll every need. You and I can say that too, in fact all people can no matter what their station in life is; because we are all underserving sinners who entered this world with nothing. There’s a good kind of humility there that comes through God’s laws and commands when we recognize that truth, and we should be thankful for it.

Without God we are nothing; we have nothing. But it’s the Covenant that clothes us, feeds us, and shelters us; as much in our hearts as in our mortal frames. It’s the Covenant that showers us with blessings upon blessings; that make us rich in body and soul. The Covenant protects us from danger and harm, not by taking it away in this world, but by taking us to be with God in mind and body.

Everywhere you turn, there will always be more dressings to get in the way of God’s wholesome Word. There will always be those who say defiantly, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” And we will always be tempted to feel the same. But never forget the fruit of giving thanks. Thanks for the food, the money, the possessions, the good health, the freedom, and the family and friends; yes for all those things are more – gifts that underserving sinners receive from God. But most of all, give thanks for the Covenant. Amen.

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

November 23, 2015

November 22, 2015 - Daniel 7:13-14

Theme: You can Stand before the King
1) Not fleeing by fear
2) Confident and joyful by faith

It’s been said that people display one of two characteristics when facing adversity: fight or flight. If you’re a fighter, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re prone to violence. Rather it shows that you’re willing to face challenges head on and you’re not afraid of problems. On the contrast, if you’re more timid or meek you would take flight in adversity; choosing to re-group and stay out of the fray until another day.

Most people fit into one of those categories. There isn’t one that’s necessarily better than the other, often it depends on the situation. We’re getting a taste of that recently with all the talk of Syrian refugees. Some people are willing and ready to receive them. These people who qualify as having a fighter’s mentality; not because they want to wage battle with the refugees but they’re willing to tackle the problem. Those who have flight opinion in the matter are more cautious and not ready to accept thousands of foreigners into our nation given the risk of unknown intentions. I’m not here to argue one side against the other; only to point it out as an example of these two differing attitudes that we experience on a regular basis.

What I’d like to ask you is this. If you saw God today, what would your reaction be? Fight or Flight? Are you confident enough to face Him or would you shy away in fear? I ask, because soon we will all face Him, so we should think about what our response will be. But I also ask because that’s the place Daniel found himself in our text. Put yourself in his shoes and consider how you would feel if you saw this:

Daniel 7:13-14 I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him. 14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed.

Imagine how Daniel must have felt having not only having heard this prophecy of the Final Day but having seen it. He was given a glimpse of images that are still yet to be revealed. And his reaction tells us how he felt. In verse 15 we’re told that Daniel was grieved in spirit and body and was greatly troubled by this vision. But really, what did Daniel have to fear? He trusted in God. He knew the truth. Shouldn’t he had rather been overjoyed that he could see a vision of the Lord’s victory in the future?

It’s easy for us to say that having only read the words of our text and not actually having experienced them. Think of other occasions in the Bible where God revealed Himself to mankind or even simply revealed His will. The giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai is near the top of the list; given its importance in the grand masterpiece of history. In Exodus 20 we’re told that when God descended upon the mountain there was thunder and lightning and a thick cloud. Also, there sounded at trumpet so loud that all the people of Israel trembled with fear. As the scene continued Jehovah descended in fire and the entire mountain shook (Exodus 19:16,18). Quite a scene to read about but one that would leave us fearful too.

We could also think of the times that God sent angels to reveal a message to people. In every case, the first thing we’re told is that the people were greatly afraid at the sight of God’s holy messenger. If that was the normal reaction at the sight of angels, how much more so in view of the Almighty God!

The way in which Daniel describes God clues us in to just how Almighty He really is. Daniel uses a title that is unique to this revelation; in fact unique to this very chapter of the Bible. He calls God the “Ancient of Days.” Nowhere else in the entire Scriptures is this name used. We naturally wonder why Daniel would use such a phrase to talk about God. If we called our superiors “Ancient of Days” we might get an odd look or even a scowl. It most likely wouldn’t be deemed as a term of respect. But Daniel wasn’t trying to insult God. Quite the contrary actually. In the simplicity of faith he was trying to put into human terms what he was seeing and the best that could be done was to call God the “Ancient of days.”

This title isn’t used to tell us that God is old and outdated; that He’s outlived His usefulness for mankind. Rather, it’s an indication of His enduring, eternal nature. Throughout the entire Bible, the theme of God’s eternity stands out. Remember how he revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush. When Moses asked God who he should say sent him, God’s reply was, “Tell them I AM has sent you.” God is the I AM God. He’s not the God that was, or simply is now, or the God who will be. He is eternal. He is I AM; always existing and always in control. When Daniel calls Him the “Ancient of Days” it is saying the same thing. God was here long before any humans were. He was in control long before we were. It’s always important for us to remember that and to keep that perspective in humility.

God’s eternal nature doesn’t always leave us with a cherry picture though, which surely played a role in the way Daniel was grieved after this vision. This is because the eternity of God reminds us of the opposite in our lives. It makes us think and wonder about our futures, because we are so clearly mortal. What does the future hold? This is undoubtedly a question that all people face at some point in life, usually when we’re older. Knowing that God is eternal is certainly nice, but what comfort does it really hold? What does that mean for our lives? When you add into that the fact that we also know what God demands from us, we are doubly perplexed because we often don’t measure up.

Many people in life try to run from the answers to these difficult questions. Haven’t we done the same from time to time? Trying to find purpose and meaning in the daily activities and affairs of this life? Always looking for something more to give us fulfillment, rather than facing the hard truth that we have no hope on our own before God, and from the very moment we entered this world our days are counting down to that one day when we will see Him face to face. When that day comes, is it fight or flight? We feel pressure from God because He created us that way in the hope that we would seek Him and find Him. But so often people never find God because they don’t want to. They don’t like listening to the inner conscience so they look for whatever they can find to drown out its noise. 

We know what it feels like, because we’re sinners with a conscience too. And we also see here Daniel’s own reaction. He was right on the edge of flight. He was perplexed and terrified at the sight of the Ancient of Days because he was facing righteousness with his own futility. And he was right to feel that way, just as we are when we get nervous at the thought of God’s almighty and eternal power. We are sinners and rebels who deserve nothing; and what we have been blessed with we so often forsake and despise.

What holds this terror at bay? What keeps it from consuming us? Who is more appropriate for there was another that Daniel saw in this vision. The One who came to the Ancient of Days and received the dominion, glory, and kingdom. The One whom all peoples, nations, and languages will serve. We’re more familiar with His title because He Himself used it many times; the Son of Man, Jesus Christ. Daniel probably didn’t understand the full extent of everything he saw in this vision, and so he was met with fear. But we see clearly through the lense of Scripture.

What Daniel saw is the same as what Paul records in his letter to the Philippians concerning the work of Christ. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11). Daniel was the first and only one, so far, to witness what this scene will be like. But all Christians have always been fully aware that the day is coming where Christ will fully display all of His power. On that day, no one will be able to deny or mock Him as they so blasphemously did on the path to Calvary. On that day, none of us will be able to hide in the shadows of our sins; nor will we want to.

Because the dominion and the victory and the kingdom came at a cost. Jesus will display all of these things because He alone has earned them. Back up in the letter to the Philippians, just prior to the verses we read, and it tells us why: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8).

When Daniel’s vision becomes reality, your reaction will be different than his. You won’t be grieved and perplexed because of sin. Nor will your first inclination be to flee and run and hide. You will stand with confidence because you have Jesus; the Son born as a man for all mankind; the perfect Substitute between eternity and time, between the Ancient of Days and the Mortals. He bore His Father’s righteous wrath on the cross, the greatest form of humility ever witnessed. But even in that setting, the final victory was always in sight. Remember what His final reply was to Caiaphas the High Priest. “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven (Matthew 26:64).” Sounds familiar to our text doesn’t it?

One day we’ll be there with Caiaphas, Daniel, and the rest of the world. There will be no flight, because the Son of Man won the fight over sin. On that day we will have a peace more serene that the warmth of sunlight on a cloudless summer day. We will finally have victory and rest from the nagging ailment of sin. We will stand confident and joyful before our King, and bow in grateful devotion. No longer on the run, no longer grieved and paralyzed by fear; but at peace. Amen.

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

November 17, 2015

November 15, 2015 - Hebrews 9:24-28

Theme: The Christian faith is ONE of a kind
1) ONE Final Day
2) ONE Savior

The church year is designed to help us cover a wide variety of topics while staying connected to the main Christian holy days. Although the church year fits within the calendar year, it doesn’t exactly follow it. For us, the beginning of the church year is rapidly approaching. It starts with Advent, which this year is the last Sunday in November, just two weeks away. Every year, as the church calendar comes to an end, we consider the Final Day when our Lord Jesus will return.

It makes sense that as we end the church year, we would consider the End Times. But this time is also appropriate for us because we are the very Christians living near the end. As we mentioned last weekend, there is only one more prophecy that the Lord has yet to fulfill, and that is His second coming. Interesting that the entire church year, is bookended by an Advent. First, the birth of Jesus, and second, His final coming.

In our portion for study today we see how the Holy Spirit employs a certain concept to give us strength as we wait for that Final Day to arrive. In these verses he emphasizes the totality of God’s judgment by showing how our Christian faith is one of a kind. It’s all about One Savior and One Final Day. We ask for the Spirit’s guidance and blessing to be upon our hearts today as we read our text from Hebrews 9:24-28:

For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another-- 26 He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.

Within Christianity there are several different beliefs about the End Times. Some believe that after you die you have second chance through the prayers of loved ones, even though our very text says that men are judged when they die. Others believe that Christ will return to earth at two different times. But one thing that all agree on is that there will be one, final day. The differences lie in what happens before that day. Jesus Himself was pretty clear about this final day in His ministry. When talking about judgment day He said, “But of that day and hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, but My Father only (Matthew 24:36).” It’s quite easy to see, there is only one day; eventually this present world as we know it will pass away.

That prospect alone presents a sad picture for us because we live in a wicked world and we struggle at avoiding that wickedness. I’ve often wondered in hindsight, what would have happened if Christ returned when I was committed that sin? How foolish and reckless to live so dangerously when my eternal relationship with God hangs in the balance. On our own, those are the kinds of thoughts we’d be left with when contemplating the final day.

But there’s more to the story of our lives than our sin. Just as there is one Final Day, so there is one Savior. Because we have a Savior we can follow Jesus’ instructions for that day. Not living in sin or depression because of our failures, but lifting up our heads with confidence and hope because our redemption has arrived (Luke 21:28).
The reason why Jesus is our One Savior is because of His role as our Sacrifice. To the casual observer it would seem that Christ’s humility and death would be on the lesser side of the spectrum of things He did. This was the Man who walked on water, calmed storms, healed diseases, even raised the dead, and almost subdued and empire. So many amazing things yet the way He suffered stands out as the greatest. Because His suffering and death is what made Jesus the Savior.

And we get a hint of the power behind that sacrifice in our text. In contrast to the multitudes of sacrifices in the Old Testament Jesus only had to shed His blood once. That of course, is because none of those lambs, goats, or bulls from the Jewish ceremonies could really atone for anyone. They were pictures of the coming Messiah; visual reminders that life would need to taken and blood would need to be spilled in order for the debt of sin to be paid in full. The animal sacrifices were valuable because they were pictures, but Christ is much more. Christ’s sacrifice is power.

That’s what the writer means when he says at the beginning that Christ has not entered the holy places that are “copies of the true, but into heaven itself.” Literally, the thought is that Christ’s work is not a picture, it is reality. It’s beneficial to bring in the picture of the Old Testament sacrifices to make the connection that they served but it’s just as important to remember the distinction. There were many pictorial sacrifices; but only one real sacrifice. Both were sacrifices, yes, but they were drastically different in effect.

The writer also tells us exactly what Jesus did through His literal sacrifice. Two interesting phrases show us what atonement means for our lives. The first is in v. 26: “…now, at the end of the ages, Jesus has appeared to put away sin by His sacrifice.” “To put away” was used as a legal phrase in Greek culture. Another way of thinking about it would be an annulment of something. Whatever was put away was considered discarded and once it was put way it no longer had any authority or bearing on the person’s life.

That’s what the sacrifice of Jesus does to sin. Because he put sin away, it no longer has any authority in our lives. But in order for that work to be effective, He also had to carry those sins on His own shoulders. Sin doesn’t just disappear on its own, nor is wickedness magically eliminated from the earth. That’s why the Lord will return on the Final Day and judge the world in righteousness. The very thing He will be judging is sin; for God’s holiness demands that He punish sin, or He would no longer be holy.

This judgment was put into motion when Jesus died on the cross. For that’s what He needed to do to claim true victory over sin. The putting away of sin in verse 26 would have meant nothing if Jesus did not also bear that sin as we’re told in verse 28. He had to carry sin and make it become His own, so that we can say that we are free from it. That’s why Paul told the Corinthians that Jesus literally had to become sin for us, even though He Himself never sinned. This is why Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would “bear our sorrows and carry our griefs.”

On its own, the promise to put away our sin means a lot. But without someone to carry that sin for us, it means nothing. This is what makes Jesus’ sacrifice one of a kind, just as there will be one, final Last Day. Sin is now put away from us. God gives us protection from it through faith in Jesus, His Son. But it is still present. We ultimately await a day when sin will be destroyed forever; a day we’re told, when even death itself is hurled into hell.

The one, singular theme of the Bible is that Jesus is the Savior who made this perfect sacrifice for sin. Notice the progression. One theme about One Savior who made One Sacrifice. Our text is perhaps the best example of that theme in the entire Scriptures. Three times in these verses alone, the word “once” is used to talk about Christ’s work. The Greek understanding of this word carries the idea of something so rare that it is the only, single occurrence of it in the entire history of the world. In addition to this, the book of Hebrews uses the phrase “once for all” to describe Jesus’ atonement at three different points, the closest being in verse 12 of chapter 9.

We don’t need anymore evidence to believe that Jesus is the Savior. In fact, there is nothing that could be any clearer that God’s own inspired record; both in the repeated use of the words “once” and “one” and in the singular testimony of the entire Bible.

But these verses leave us with one more thought that’s tacked on to Christ’s victory over sin and death. It’s our theme for today, The Final Day of Judgment. Like that day on the cross, there will be only one day of judgment before God. And all we know about that day is that it could come at any moment, it will come suddenly, and only God knows when it will happen. There’s a natural feeling of fear that comes over us when we think about how sudden and swift the end of this world could be. But with the backdrop of Christ’s sacrifice in view, we should not fear. That’s precisely why the Holy Spirit connects the two thoughts of atonement and judgment together in this section; so that we stay prepared but also that we aren’t overcome with fear. 

Sadly, too many people are living for this world. Too many have an entirely physical focus of life and they think little, if at all, about sin and their Savior’s sacrifice. Truly, if our focus is only about today, we should be terrified on the final day. I encourage you to have the same focus that Paul instructed the Roman Christians to have: And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts (Romans 13:11-14).

Everything is prepared. The table is set if you will. Jesus says as much in His final Biblical quote, “Surely, I am coming quickly.” You don’t have to fear. We are ready and we are prepared. We have faith that is like no other because it attaches us to the One Savior who made the One sacrifice for the many who couldn’t. Keep your focus on Him. Not just in church. Not just with your fellow Christians. But with all and in all things. Amen.

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

November 9, 2015

November 8, 2015 - Luke 4:16-21


Theme: Without Fulfillment there is no Rest

The longer we tend to be involved with something the easier it becomes to forget its purpose. Has this kind of thing ever happened to you in a job, goal, or relationship? I know this doesn’t apply to everyone here but take marriage for example. Life with your spouse is very simple at the beginning, everything is out in front you. But as time goes on, stress and failures begin to weigh on your relationship and you begin act and think differently about things than you used to. Pretty soon you begin to lose sight of how things were in the past, before all the difficulties of life came crashing down.

Same thing can happen with your job. It’s exciting and new to start and to head off into your career. But after a while, things can get monotonous. Each day brings similar challenges, you begin to feel like you’re going nowhere in life; just spinning your wheels and never progressing.  It’s easy lose sight of the simple joy you had at the beginning and the contentment and purpose that you had in your vocation.

Maybe these examples don’t fit for you but I’m sure there’s other things in your life that are similar. It’s strange that there are certain things where the longer you’re involved with it the harder it seems to get. You’d think that everything in life would get better and easier the longer you worked at it. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to never lose sight of the purpose behind the most important things in our lives? I wonder if the key to that question is answered by finding the source of our discontent. What exactly is it that leads us to forget the way things used to be? Could it be that the problem is not in our occupations or relationships but with ourselves?

Hold on to that thought as we read today’s Scripture, from Luke 4:16-21:
So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. 17 And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:

18 "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; 19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD."

20 Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21 And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

These words are important because they were spoken in church. Sure, this event happened in the synagogue building but what was recorded is no different than what happens here every weekend. And when you think about it, doesn’t church fit right into the mold that we were just describing? Our service theme today is on the 3rd Commandment in which God essentially commands that we be consistent in coming to church for spiritual rest. But isn’t that what trips us up so often; the consistency of it all? Every weekend, every year; the same themes, the same texts, the same hymns, the same topics. Consistency.

After a while it begins to wear on you doesn’t it? Just like so many other things in life, the more you dig and the deeper you get the easier it is to lose sight of why you first started. For many of us here, church is the way it’s always been, even before we can remember. Many of you had parents that first brought you to God’s house through baptism, well before you could fully understand or express the precious gift of faith. In time, many of you have also seen the other side of as you have brought your children to the precious Gospel of salvation, seeing it all again from a new perspective. But sometimes the regularity and familiarity of church makes us feel like things have somehow changed. For those who can remember when they first heard the Gospel or came to faith perhaps you can also remember the fresh feeling that came with it. But even for you, in time the newness of the feeling wears off. For some, this not only leads to confusion about where they are in their spiritual life but also to resentment. The blessed promises of God’s Word that were once precious and vital become ordinary objects of skepticism and ridicule. The soft heart of innocent faith can easily turn to hard stone when one loses their way and forgets what church is about.

But that’s why we come back to our verses for today. As a human, Jesus was raised very much like we are, in the Scriptures and in church. When He was but 8 days old, Mary and Joseph already brought Him to the Temple to be with His real Father. Another important event of the Christ child’s adolescence shows us how important the Word was to Him as He considered it precious enough to study and discuss with the scribes in the temple. And here today we see that the Sabbath was yet another essential activity for Jesus. Luke relates that it was Jesus’ “custom,” literally habit, to enter the synagogue on the Sabbath. If regular attendance in church was important enough for the very Son of God, how much more for us?

Yet, we should be ashamed when we think of our track record of keeping the 3rd commandment, and how far we drift from that standard. How many of us place a higher value on work, physical rest, or even things like football when it comes to church? Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness as Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, stopping at nothing to be in God’s sanctuary every Sunday? Would you boast as the sons of Korah did, that you’d rather be a simple “doorkeeper” in God’s house than a comfortable member of the unrighteous? Have you lost the foresight to rejoice in the beauty of this temple, or to use your temple, your body, to glorify your Savior? 

Don’t be so quick to think you have kept this command simply because your sitting here today either. It’s easy to stand in judgment of those who have blatantly been absent while ignoring the plank in our eyes. Think of what Luther wrote in our excerpt from the Large Catechism. Trespasses of the Sabbath happen just as much when we sit here listen but don’t really hear as when we skip church completely. Likewise, refusing to be admonished by the Word or to take it seriously leads to the same separation from God.

When you look at the 3rd commandment it was consistently one of the most mis-applied commandments in the entire Bible. A large portion of Jesus’ ministry was devoted to restoring a true, spiritual understanding of the Sabbath day. The righteous offenses that this caused to many Jews were one of the biggest reasons they hated Jesus so much. The same trend continues today, even after 2,000 years people are still mis-understood about the Sabbath. And when I say this I mean a lot more than just worshipping on Saturday. It’s also about how you worship and how often you worship. You tell me, what’s a more serious offense: Forcing people to worship on a particular day or despising worship altogether; whether that be through one’s absence in body or in mind.  

Yeah, we’ve got a plank in our eyes. It’s called our sinful flesh. It’s the old man within us that would keep us from our Sabbath. Too busy, too stressed, too tired, too used to it all. To full of our sinful flesh is really the problem. And the most ironic thing is that the very gift God freely offers in church can cure all the problems we face. If we would just focus on that more, we would have rest for our souls.

But we are what Jesus says: poor, brokenhearted, captive, blind, and oppressed.
·         We are rich in material wealth but poor in heavenly treasure.
·         We are confident in our lives but broken in our hearts.
·         We are free in our thinking, in our words, and in our liberties, but captive to curse of the law.
·         We see what we desire and love but we are blind to true righteousness.
·         We are independent in attitude, but oppressed in reality. There’s no rest in ourselves or in the world, just a greater clamoring for things that will not last.

There’s no lack of agitation in this sinful world either, no shortage of things that keep us stressed and unsure about our lives. But there’s only one thing that brings the clarity of faith in Jesus Christ; one thing that can keep up focused on the pure and innocent joy of being a Christian, that exceptional feeling that the world threatens to destroy in so many ways. Jesus tells us, it’s all about His fulfillment.

Fulfillment is a strange word to many of us, but its meaning is easy to understand. Literally it means to fill something up completely. When something is filled completely it is perfected or not lacking anymore. I like to think of Psalm 23 where David says that “his cup runs over.” He’s describing fulfillment there; God had blessed him to the point of having no need and even beyond. That helps us understand what the word itself means, but we must also think about how the Bible uses the word.

Fulfillment was an especially important term to Old Testament Christians. Their relationship with God was based on lots of different promises from God that needed to happen sometime in the future. At many times God had to remind them to be patient because they had a tendency to want everything immediately, as we would too if we were in the same situation. Each of those promises was like an individual cup that needed to be filled. Without the fulfillment, the promise would not come true.

One of those big promises came from the portion of Scripture that Jesus read in the synagogue that day. Isaiah was foretelling a day when things would change from the way they were. A day when the people didn’t need to wait to see God’s salvation anymore, but a day in which they would live in it because their long-awaited Savior had finally come. The Holy Spirit would usher that day into existence through the power of His Word, which would bring fulfillment on the lips of the Messiah. This was a day of great anticipation for God’s people. It was a time when all their ailments would be healed. Think of it as everything they needed being provided for them. Lives that once were hollow because of the void of sin, were filled to the brim; were fulfilled. The poor, the brokenhearted, the captive, the blind, the oppressed would all be made complete.

When you understand what fulfillment means, you get a taste of what that day meant for the Old Testament believers. The final statement says it well, it would be the “acceptable year of our Lord.” Think of it for your life now, even though you’re not an Old Testament Christian. Because it means the same thing for you. It’s what the Gospel of forgiveness does for helpless sinners. God takes all your needs, comes to you in all the places you lack, and gives you His fulfillment. He can because He earned it. He went through everything in life and even more, just so that He could bless you with His unblemished record. He did it so that you would have a promise of grace, and that that promise would not fall short; so it could be something that you trust; something that is fulfilled. And there’s one promise left that has yet to be filled up.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed. 2 I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. 3 Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look! God's dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away. 5 Then the One seated on the throne said, "Look! I am making everything new." He also said, "Write, because these words are faithful and true."

That, my friends, is why we go to church. That’s why it’s important. That’s why it’s called our “Sabbath.” And that’s why God commands it. The antidote to our failures is the same: read and hear about Christ’s fulfillment. The 3rd Commandment reminds us to do this regularly, just as Jesus did. The basis of church has always been preaching and hearing. But often, this is also the most despised part of church. That’s what we get used to and what we tired of; the same preaching again and again. And sometimes we lose the love that we first had.  

Has that happened to you? Has it happened to us as a congregation? Are we so tired of the Word, have we been around it for so long, that we’ve forgotten our purpose? Tough questions, but ones worth asking on a regular basis. The fact is this: In this book we have the words of fulfillment of the greatest work ever in the history of the world. A work so powerful that only God could do it. We have the words of eternal life. If that doesn’t compel you to be around it each week, what’s the problem?

Don’t let the little things where we lack distort the purpose behind your life in Christ. Your faith is a beautiful, precious treasure; the most important thing in your life. Regardless of where you’re at in life now, there was a time when you felt that way, all Christians have. You can get back that. To the innocent, childlike faith in Christ and the blessed peace that covers you through it. We are just like those Jews long ago in that synagogue. Today, the Scripture is fulfilled in our hearing. Amen.

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

November 2, 2015

November 1, 2015 - Revelation 14:6-7

Theme: The Right Way to “Fear and Love” God
1) Love the same as Luther
2) Empowered by the Eternal Gospel

Revelation 14:6-7 Then I saw another angel flying high overhead, having the eternal gospel to announce to the inhabitants of the earth-- to every nation, tribe, language, and people. 7 He spoke with a loud voice: "Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come. Worship the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water."

Have you ever been in love? Do you remember what it feels like? People use the word “love” in a lot of different ways. Sometimes it’s hard to narrow it down to one thing in particular. But most of the time when we talk about “being in love” we mean a very special feeling that is hard to find and hard to keep. You may “love” something but that doesn’t necessary mean that you feel like you’re in love.

The feeling of love is special and rare. It’s a feeling unique unto itself, unlike any other. When you’re in love time seems to stop, problems fade away, and you feel like you can do anything. But feeling like you’re in love is just that, it’s a feeling. It doesn’t last. It’s impossible to duplicate. Many people spend an entire lifetime searching for that feeling of being in love, and some never find it. For those that do, the feeling doesn’t last long. There always comes a point when whatever we’ve fallen in love with eventually becomes ordinary. The special, “new” feeling of love wears off.

It’s usually at this point that relationships that once started in love begin to fall apart. But it doesn’t have to end that way becasue true love is much more than just a feeling. Love is certainly a vital part of your relationship with God. Without love you wouldn’t know God; at least not the full picture of who He is. But that begs the question: What kind of love do you share with God? Many people liken the beginning of faith to falling in love; to that great feeling that can never be duplicated. But is your relationship with God just a mere feeling and nothing more? Certainly not! There’s much more to the love that God has for you and we hope much more to the love we have for God.

Part 1: Restored through the Reformation

We speak of love today, because although it may not seem like it, love was extremely important to the Reformation. In fact, the life of Martin Luther, in particular, is really a love story. Luther was plagued early on in life in the way he viewed God. He knew that he needed to fear God, as the verses of our text read, and he certainly did. But it wasn’t a healthy fear, not the type of fear that is born from respect and admiration. Luther was scared of God. Scared because he was a sinner in the sight of a righteous God. When he thought of judgment from the Lord, the images that filled his mind were ones of condemnation and failure.

Just as he feared God, so Luther also knew that he needed God. That’s what kept driving him back to the leaders and teachers of the church for answers. That’s what led him to the walls of the monastery and the cell of penance. He couldn’t just ignore the truth. Two facts stood out abundantly clear in his mind: God exists and I need to stand before Him one day. Two facts indeed, but ones that led only to wrong kind of fear. This same scene played out over and over again, year after year for Luther, who lived in absolute torment. It wasn’t until something new entered his life, that everything changed.

That something new was the very thing that the angel flew with and proclaimed in John’s vision – the eternal Gospel. It wasn’t until Luther actually read and studied the Bible for himself, instead of taking the Roman church’s word on everything, that the love of God came to him through the Gospel. Luther would write later on about the very moment this happened. The passages he read were from Romans 1:16-17: For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."

These were the words that sparked love in Luther’s heart. The only way he could describe that feeling was by saying that it was “if the gates of heaven had been opened to him.” For the first time in his life, he understood the simple Gospel message, that “the just shall live by faith.” And for the first time Luther understood the right way to fear God. The Gospel shows us that fear and love for God go hand in hand. They are not two opposing ideas. True, Biblical fear of God comes from the Gospel. It is not about being afraid or scared. It is about respect and admiration. It is the type of fear that transforms us from stubborn and arrogant people to those who approach God in humility and reverent joy.

How important was this truth to Luther? Think no less of it than the greatest feeling of love you’ve ever had. Luther was willing to do anything for the sake of the Gospel. He was willing to die to protect it and he would have; but the Lord had different plans. The eternal Gospel changed Luther forever, just as it has changed us. To see a glimpse of its importance both for him and for us, look no further than what is perhaps Luther’s greatest achievement – the Small Catechism. From early on, one phrase in particular is engrained in our minds and hearts – “fear and love God.”

Where do first we learn this phrase and what it means? When we study the first of the six chief parts of the Catechism – the Ten Commandments. In each of the Luther’s explanations to the Commandments, he begins with the phrase, “We should fear and love God…” Do you see why now? This is Luther’s lasting gift of love to you. With this simple phrase he intends every reader and student to feel the same energy and connection to God as he did, when he first read “The just shall live by faith.” He wants you to be in love with God through the eternal gospel.

In each moment that we view God’s law, we are met with the same depressing picture that held Luther captive for so many years. We, too, are sinners in the eyes of a God who demands holiness; and who promises a future judgment. How can we not shake with terror at such a thought? Anyone who doesn’t needs to wake up to reality. But it’s at that very point, when we view ourselves in the mirror of God’s moral law, that Luther wants us to bask in the glory of the eternal gospel. He knew what it was like to feel worthless and inadequate and to live in the wrong fear every day. He didn’t want that same feeling to be with anyone; but rather that all would know the right fear of respect and worship to God who abundantly pardons and forgives. That’s the love story that Luther had, and you and I share in that today.  

Part 2: Powered by the Eternal Gospel

Let’s not forget the important detail that our text tells us; that the Lord’s gospel is eternal. That means it’s meant for all generations of all people and it will never disappear from the earth. True it is that people can obscure and cloud the gospel. They can devise wicked schemes to keep its glory and splendor hidden. That was the case of Luther’s time. The gospel had taken a back seat in the church as a cheap trick of mysticism and chance. The hope of the majority was in their own substantive deeds, not in faith in God that so simple a child could have it.

Sounds a lot like our day doesn’t it? How many people today are living with the same torments about God that Luther had? How many people have the same kind of fear because they see clear evidences of God’s power but not of His love? Churches are doing a good job of filling people with empirical proof for Christianity. We know more today about defending the archaeology and history of the Bible than we ever have. We have scores of secular sources that aid in verifying the validity of God’s Word and His presence among men. On top of all these benefits we have the age old proofs of creation and conscience. No one can deny the implicit design, function, and beauty that God gave the world through His creation. The laws of nature, the principles of physics, the mountains, the seas, and the valleys all speak to the wise and infinite Creator. But perhaps the greatest evidence of all is in your own heart. The silent, small voice that tells you right from wrong. The ever consistent law of God programmed in your mind that beckons you day after day to seek Him and follow His will.

We have so many clear evidences of God’s existence and power; that’s why the Bible calls denial of God “foolishness.” We don’t need more examples of His power; nor do we need more reasons to fear Him in terror. His power is abundantly present; around us all the time. But there’s only one source of His love. While many people today may need a reminder now and then about God’s power; there’s no question that we all need His love daily. And that love only comes in that eternal gospel message. The gospel is the only thing that tells you how God uses His power not to destroy you, but to care for you.  

The gospel is unique because it’s the purest source of God’s love. Yes, we share that love together. Through faith we practice that love in our lives and others can see it. But the only source is the gospel. That’s where you get the strength the love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. It’s through the gospel that you’re led to love your neighbor as yourself. It’s through the gospel that you have the ability to glorify God in your own body. All love from God and for God flows from the eternal gospel. It’s not the love that’s just a feeling, but it will cause you to act in boldness and confidence. It’s not the love that fades away but it can be misused and abandoned. It’s not the love that I get to define based on my own experiences, but it does apply to every problem I will ever face. This is the love of the Reformation – the eternal gospel of Christ crucified.   

God’s opponents have always tried to cover up the full glory of the Gospel. That should never surprise us. What’s even sadder, though, is when Christians themselves fire upon the Gospel. The Gospel’s glory is shrouded when Christians deemphasize it’s important in favor of other Biblical doctrines. When Christians place a higher priority on their own personal works of service instead of Christ’s ultimate work of service, the Gospel is obscured. Leading one another to place our confidence of faith in feelings, intuition, or physical proof, does damage to the Gospel’s core of free, underserved love in Jesus. The Reformation is a reminder of how far Christians can drift from the glory of the Gospel, but also how powerful that love message really is. And the lesson we must learn is this: When the Gospel is clouded, shrouded, or obscured; so too will be our ability to “fear and love” God.

The Christian’s love story is one of complete unity with God based on salvation through Jesus Christ. It’s a love built on the truth of God’s inspired Word. All Christians have felt this powerful love; and have been led through it to their own proper fear and love of God. Luther felt it when he read Romans 1:16-17. The apostle John expressed it when he wrote: There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love (1 John 4:18). Paul described it when he said, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).”

Every Christian throughout the ages has had a part in this love story. I wonder, what’s your part? Why do you “fear and love” God? What does the eternal gospel mean to you? What is your love story? What will it lead you to do? Only time will tell. But what an exciting feeling! More exciting for sure than the feelings of being in love with another person. Your Maker and your Lord loves you! He willingly went to the very brink of death and hell and stepped through it all so you wouldn’t have to. He kept His record of promises intact through faithful Christians before you so that you can sit at His feet and receive the words of life. That’s true love; the kind of love that changes you. Your love story is being written right now; today, and everyday. But the change, the feeling, lasts for eternity. That’s true “fear and love” in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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