August 29, 2016

August 28, 2016 - Luke 14:7-14

Theme: God Will Exalt You in Due Time
1) Whether you are guest or host
2) As you trust in the “resurrection of the just”

Luke 14:7-14 So He (Jesus) told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: 8 "When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; 9 "and he who invited you and him come and say to you, `Give place to this man,' and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 "But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, `Friend, go up higher.' Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. 11 "For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." 12 Then He also said to him who invited Him, "When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. 13 "But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. 14 "And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just."

Football season just around the corner. If you’re interested in a particular team or maybe a fantasy player, you’ve no doubt heard plenty of predictions and analysis of the upcoming season. Both players and teams are scrutinized before the season, probably because there’s not much else to do until the official games begin. The measuring stick for each criticism seems to come down to one mantra, “What have you done for me lately?”

Most areas of life today are all about what’s happening right away. People are measured by their most recent accomplishments or failures. Glory is fleeting. This is most certainly true in an area like sports, where participants are constantly analyzed. It’s all about what you’ve done lately. But that phrase sparks up another thought. Not just doing something lately, but doing something for “me”. It sounds a bit presumptuous to measure someone’s merit based primarily on what they have done for you. Though this phrase is tossed around a lot in sports, most professional athletes could care less about what you and I think. They certainly aren’t out there for us. 

Even though that’s the truth, it’s easy for us to think like everything revolves around us. Some sports fans are so superstitious that they believe their participation by cheering is essential to victory. It’s really quite foolish but every diehard fan has felt that way at one time or another. Bottom line, it’s never good to think too highly of yourself. 

Shift now to the thoughts our text and we see how Jesus teaches that very same thing, in an area of life that is much more important than sports. Jesus speaks a parable that is directed at how we treat one another. Much like the thoughts of our text last weekend, Jesus wants us to think about not only what we’re doing but why. When it comes to helping others, why do you do it? Do you have an attitude that says, “I’ll help, but what you done for me lately?” Do we show kindness with the expectation of getting re-paid at some future date? If you’re honest about it, you know that it’s so easy to think this way. As long as what we’re doing is noble, we have a way of convincing ourselves that our intentions don’t matter so much.

Is it possible that the “what have you done for me lately?” mantra is so commonplace in our minds that we’ve also applied to our faith? Jesus would have us listen to these words as a reminder that He will take care of exalting us. We don’t have to worry or fight for attention from others. Glory seeking doesn’t have to be the priority behind our thoughts and actions. The point of this parable is that God will take care of giving us our due. He knows when we’re doing right and doing it for the right reasons. And He rejoices in that, even when it seems like no one else notices.

Jesus uses the picture of wedding feast or an invitation to a supper, but the meaning of the parable extends much further. Essentially, it comes down to anything someone does for you and anything you do for someone else. In every circumstance, Jesus wants whatever we’re doing to be done for the right reasons. When someone does something for you, or in the parable, invites you to a feast, be humble in your acceptance. Jesus doesn’t say we should shun any semblance of gifts or significance. It’s okay to receive nice things. It’s also okay to receive glory. But, even in the midst of those blessings, don’t make it all about yourself. Look for ways to serve others, even when you’re being served.

When the roles are reversed and you are the host, in other words, when you are doing someone for others, don’t do it just to receive something in return. If your attitude in helping others is first and foremost on what you can gain, then it really isn’t an act of service. It really isn’t helping if you’re only thinking of yourself. In the two pictures of both a guest and a host, Jesus covers just about every circumstance that we might find ourselves in. And it’s a fitting picture for more than the visual that it brings to mind. Whether you are a guest or a host, in every gathering there is an invitation.

In both settings Jesus talks about the invitation. Another way of translating this word is “calling”. It’s the same thought that’s used when the Scriptures speak of the Holy Sprit’s call to faith through the gospel. That same call should be on our hearts in every dealing we have with others. As Christians we have opportunities to both be served and to serve others through the call of the gospel. We are guests when fellow brothers and sisters in the faith hear our confession of sins and respond with forgiveness. We receive blessings upon blessings when fellow Christians put us before themselves. We, in turn, can then be hosts of that same call when we invite others to learn about Jesus or when we share the bounty of forgiveness to someone who is seeking hope.

But, in both cases, just like a dinner party, making it too much about ourselves can have a negative impact. It takes the spotlight off of the selfless acts of service to one another and puts it on us. But, more seriously, it takes away from Jesus, who is the source of power behind it all. Without Jesus, our dealings with others are just hollow transactions. Without Jesus, everything really does become a matter of “what have you done for me lately?” Jesus give us perspective in life to see beyond our own wants and cares, but also power to serve others instead of always trying to find our own piece of the pie. And Jesus gives validity to the call of the gospel because through His atonement on the cross there is indeed a blessing behind the invitation.  

We need to remember Jesus because He offers something that is truly unique. In our context, He calls it the “resurrection of the just.” That’s the reward Jesus promises to those who wait patiently for Him. And that’s precisely how He exalts us. It’s so easy to seek for a lesser reward. Those kind come cheap and easy but aren’t nearly as gratifying as the promise of the resurrection.

At the time of this parable Jesus was in the home of one of the Pharisees, in fact we’re told it was one of the rulers of the Pharisees. To human observation this is where Jesus belonged. If He really was God’s Son He would be present among the religious leaders of God’s people. This seemed fitting. But, in reality, Jesus was out of place. Jesus was not present there to fit in and fell comfortable. He was there to give a message that needed to be heard.

The Pharisees were the “it” crowd back then. To the people, being among the Pharisees was equivalent to being among God. It was where everyone wanted to be spiritually. If you were in that group you were good to go. But the truth was exactly the opposite. From God’s perspective to be among the Pharisees was to be in a dangerous place. They were the ones Jesus spoke to in our text. The ones who wanted to best seats. The ones who invited others only to get something in return. They wanted glory in present because it was cheap and it was easy.

Jesus wants true followers who strive for something much better, the “resurrection of the just”. It’s not an easy road to follow. Just last weekend, from Luke 13, we saw how Jesus called it the path to the narrow gate. It’s a path beset with troubles and difficulties from those opposed to Christ. You can be sure that the more you confess Jesus the more flak you’ll get from the unbelieving world. At the same time, it is also a path that is hard because God is continually testing you along the way. Remember how He said, “The Lord chastens the one He loves” (Proverbs 3:12)? To live in the love of God and to seek His resurrection is not an easy thing. And it’s certainly not a path where we ask along the way, “What have you done for me lately?”

This text should resonate in your heart because you know how it feels. You know what the Pharisees were thinking because you’ve had the same attitudes in your life. Have you ever worried about getting enough of your favorite meal? Have you ever cut in line? Have you ever been angry over missing out on something? Of course, we’ve all done those things! And they all fit into that first image, choosing the best seat for yourself. Have you ever concealed something about yourself because you wanted to fit in? Have you ever felt that someone wasn’t good enough to be around you? Have you ever straight up lied because you weren’t sure how someone would accept the truth? Sure, we’re guilty in those areas too, almost daily. And they fit into that second image, someone who invites others just to get something out of it; a dishonest host.  

We like to think that we’re off on some distant plane from the Pharisees, but really, we’re just like them. These words strike to our hearts because they are meant for us too. We do these things and more because we’re worried about losing out. We’re worried about saving face with others we care about. We’re concerned that no one is paying attention to our gifts, talents, and hard work. All corruption in the human heart centers on self-preservation. Even from the beginning, Adam and Eve were worried about missing out on so they chose something for themselves at God’s expense.

Jesus tells us in this text, relax. Take a deep breath and stop worrying. Stop being concerned about getting attention for yourself or popularity with others. Jesus says, “let Me exalt you.” He says to you, just as He did in the parable, “Friend, go up higher.” You don’t have to be concerned about carving out a niche of glory for yourself. Even if you could it wouldn’t last in the end. Jesus wants you to focus, and also trust, what He has done for you. The resurrection of the just. If that is your hope, then God is your glory.

The pursuit of worldly things can be blinding. They can lead us to spend less time at the foot of the cross. They can lead us to forget why we need to repent of our sins and receive forgiveness. They can keep us from thinking we need to be around church and fellow Christians, where we share that most important invitation with each other. Thinking only of what can be done for me can also lead us to reject our Savior’s Words; to put human opinion and desire above that which the Holy Spirit inspired.

God invites you to real glory. God calls you to the resurrection of life eternal. The invitation is on your heart, day after day. Receive it in humility. Amen.

August 21, 2016 - Luke 13:22-30

Theme: Be Here for Christ

Luke 13:22-30: He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?" And he said to them, 24 "Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us,' then he will answer you, 'I do not know where you come from.' 26 Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.' 27 But he will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!' 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."

Why are you here today? It’s a simple enough question. But how would you answer it? Are you here because it’s Sunday and church is what you do on Sunday? Are you here because you feel an obligation to come to church so that others don’t judge you? Are you here because you feel a sense of community and it’s nice to fit in? Those are all compelling reasons for being here, but they aren’t the one reason why you should be here.

In this portion of God’s Word, Jesus had some pretty startling things to say to the people. The group around Jesus at this time were primarily His followers. People who admired Jesus and hung on His every word. They were people who knew that Jesus was the one to be with, but they weren’t asking themselves why they were with Him? Perhaps they didn’t fully know. Maybe they were looking for answers. But, they surely didn’t anticipate what Jesus was about to teach them.

Sometimes, we find ourselves in the same situation as this crowd of followers. We come to church, we’re present, but not always for the right reasons. So often the church is seeking to find out why people aren’t coming to church. The magnifying glass always seems to be on those who aren’t present. I’m sure you might find it a bit offensive for the pastor to speak of the importance of being in church to those who are actually here. Kind of like preaching to the choir, right? Shouldn’t we be focusing more on those who aren’t here instead of examining the intentions of those present?

We surely don’t ignore those who have strayed from church; nor should we downplay the seriousness of breaking God’s commandment to remember His day of rest each week. But the thing we may not realize is that the attitudes and intentions of those present may be in just as dangerous a situation as those who are absent. Coming to church gives you an opportunity to connect with God’s Word and His grace and it gives you time to be strengthened, but it doesn’t force it upon you.

Like many of the people who followed Jesus, very often the greatest danger is for those who feel comfortable, but are actually complacent. Why were the people there with Jesus that day? Well, we may not know the whole answer, but Jesus’ message reveals a lot. Many were with Him for the wrong reasons. Many thought they were united with God but were really only paying lip service. Many were basing their relationship with God on their lineage as Jews, and not what they actually believed in their hearts. And some seemed to pick up on this to an extent because of what one individual asked Jesus, “Lord, are there few who are saved?” What an interesting question. It’s one that comes up often in our lives too. When God offers such an amazing, unthinkable gift as eternal life, we can’t help but wonder who is going to receive it. It’s an easy question to wonder about but a much more difficult one to answer for ourselves. We don’t like going to that difficult place in our minds where we must be entirely honest about ourselves. Could it be that we think we’re going to be saved, that we live like it on the outside, but we actually don’t believe it?

That’s a serious question. But, taking the time to think about why you’re here today can help you answer it, and give you comfort about real salvation. The answer that Jesus gave them people didn’t sound all that comforting, but it was exactly what they needed to hear. Just as there is little comfort in the thought of separation from God and being on the outside looking in; so also there is no comfort in false hope and security. In order to lead these people to the “once for all” hope of the cross, they needed to first travel through the wasteland of their own sins; and through it have a stark reminder of God’s impending judgment.

Sometimes the answer we need is the same too. Sometimes we need to be reminded, like the people, that perhaps we’re not following Jesus for the right reasons. Perhaps we need to see the decay in our hearts before the restoration of the gospel begins its work. Do we listen to that needed reminder, though? If the pastor brings you a message of correction, do you heed it, or automatically shut it out? There were many present that day with Jesus who wanted nothing to do with this reminder of judgment. There were lukewarm followers of Jesus who withered at the first uncomfortable message. They should have asked themselves why they were there that day. Were they there to really follow Jesus, no matter what, or were they there simply to fit in and to stick around until they heard something they didn’t like.

Jesus even mentioned a striking example of this very attitude. In addition to listing Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, He includes the prophets of the Old Testament. These were men who brought the very same message of judgment to the people because of sin. They were often maligned and persecuted. Often, no one listened to them. Sometimes they were even killed for bearing the Word of God. All because the people weren’t there to listen to God’s truth. They wanted to be called His chosen people, but didn’t want to follow through with what that meant.

How do you feel about church? Are you willing to listen to all of God’s Word, even if it condemns you? Even if it causes you to be maligned by the world? Are you here only because of the relationships, only because of family members? Will you listen to me only when I tell you what you want to hear, and tune me out the minute I must help you see the law? Are you a member at this church because it’s just the easiest thing to do in your current stage of life? Will that change for you even if our teachings don’t change? Do you care about the doctrinal differences between our church and others? Are you aware of them? Do you take the time to learn them? Or are you here for a different reason? Will you change your mind and leave just because you feel like it?

Dear friends, please recognize the important lesson Jesus is trying to teach us! He is on the lookout for true followers. He seeks children who desire to listen to His Word. If that’s not why you’re here, then you should take a close look at your heart. Friends and family can bring us into contact with Jesus, but they’re not the reasons alone for choosing a spiritual home. Jesus wants you to be with Him most of all. Everything else comes after.

The people in this crowd thought that Jesus was theirs because of something in themselves. They were Jewish and He was the long-awaited Messiah to come from the Jewish people. In a sense, they were right about this. Their Jewish heritage has indeed brought them into contact with Jesus. But, they took this too far when they staked their eternity on it. They would not get to heaven on their own, no matter how sincerely they saw Jesus was their fellow countryman. Something much greater went into their salvation and into ours. Jesus had to give His own life. He had to offer a gift that none of them could. Salvation and eternal life was not about what they could offer, but about only what Jesus could freely give. Therefore, there was a limit to the value of their ethnic heritage. It brought them to Jesus, but only He could bring them life.

Jesus reminded them about many others who would be saved. Yes, the path to heaven is narrow, but it is traveled by more than just Jews. The Gentiles, too, have just as much an opportunity to believe in Jesus as the promised Israelites. For many in the crowd that day, this message was too difficult, too offensive. It went against the very reason they began to follow Jesus. He was their Jewish Messiah and that was it. To allow the Gentiles these blessings would be too much. They were with Jesus so long as He fit what they wanted Him to be. Once He taught something different, even if it was truth, they wanted no part. In the next verse after our text ends, the Pharisees tell Jesus to leave their region and Jesus mourns for Jerusalem; the city who waited so long for a Savior only to reject Him when He came.

The same lesson applies to us. Do we treat our membership here the same way that the people treated Jesus? Are we here for the right reasons? Is our strongest loyalty to God’s Word and teaching, or to the things that first brought us into contact with Him? The things like: friends, family, a sense of belonging, good relationships. Are you willing to sacrifice loyalty to God’s Word if those things change? What if the good relationship turns sour? What if the new feeling of community dies down? What do you do when you begin to see the flaws in others, in your own pastor, that you never noticed before? Will church just get too old for you? Will you flee somewhere else because it’s easier? If your ultimate loyalty is to God and His Word, the smaller details that would get in the way become opportunities to show the love of Christ.

When you have a disagreement with a fellow brother or sister, you can display the same forgiveness Christ gave you on the cross. You can be proof that the gospel does indeed work. But, what good is our faith if petty arguments and estrangements consume us more than the love of God? If we’re willing to forsake the truth of His Word because of something minor and fleeting, what was the purpose from the very beginning.

We have structured our membership at Redemption so that we hold ourselves accountable to one another and to the Lord. That starts with listening to His Word in all matters and letting that Word be the lamp that guides our path in life. You must know that on that journey God’s Word is not always going to take you where you would choose to go. There are moments of pain and grief when sin becomes known. There are necessary times of repentance when we have strayed. There are times when Jesus will have to speak as sternly to us as He did to these people, reminding us to wake up from our indifferent ways.

Ask yourself if you are here to listen and to obey your Savior. Have you chosen to become a member of this congregation because you believe Jesus is given to you in truth here, or because of some other factor? Be honest to give a diligent answer. It is a matter between you and the Lord only, but He already knows the thoughts and intentions of your heart. If you can answer that question, you can have hope.

When frustrations arise, when relationships strain, when admonishments are given, when weaknesses and mistakes are revealed, you will have hope if you have Jesus first. If that is why you’re here. If not, those little things will get in the way, and they will grow until they become something bigger which ultimately affects your faith.

I’m not saying you have to be a member of this church to be a Christian or to get to heaven. I’m simply asking you why you are here. If you don’t believe this is the best place to preserve the truth in your life and to strengthen the faith in Jesus that does save, then why are you here? So often when you try to tell people that you attend church because it teaches the truth, you get a blunt response like, “Oh, so you believe you have the truth?” or “That’s sounds a little arrogant to think you know the truth!” When I hear those things, I do often as a pastor, I scratch my head in disbelief.

If I didn’t believe that my church was true and correct, why would I be there? Why would I give offerings, time, and effort to a cause that I didn’t believe was correct? Why would I be a pastor of a church that I knew and believed was teaching error? It’s the most blatant paradox to support that which you don’t actually believe. It’s the worst of paradoxes, it’s hypocrisy. But, it happened back in Jesus’ time and it happens today too, sometimes even to us.

If you have found yourself indifferent or apathetic toward what you believe and your membership here, heed the words of Jesus. He doesn’t want fake followers. He promises a strict judgment for those who are claiming to believe but really don’t. He tells us that we put our faith at risk when we do such things. Many shy away as soon as they see that strictness, even in the Savior. But, see more than that. He says it because He loves you. He wants what is best for you. He pleads with you to recognize the dangers, even if He must chastise you for you to see it. If there was no hope, there would be no warning; no need for a judgment.

Jesus is severe because there is promise, hope, and life. He does not want you to squander these free gifts of salvation. He worked hard to earn them for you. Our mission here is to share these blessings as they come to us in Word and Sacrament, and to preserve them for future generations by teaching and practicing the truth. And I want each of you here today and in the future because you believe the same thing. If we can come together on this goal, we can accomplish much for our Savior and we can grow strong in that eternal faith. Be here today, and always, for Jesus. Amen.

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

August 14, 2016 - Jeremiah 23:23-29

Theme: To Speak Faithfully is Better Than Any Dream

Today we focus on Christian education, particularly as it applies to our children. This past week we conducted VBS at Redemption, which is one of the biggest undertakings this congregation pursues in the realm of education. No one doubts the importance of education. It is always one of hottest political issues. It is on the minds of parents. It is a goal that is worthy to be pursued. But, when we talk about Christian education, the level of importance ratchets up even higher. Now, no one here doubts that. But, let us ask ourselves the tougher question. What kind of Christian education are we giving our children?

Our final lesson at VBS was about the Good Shepherd Psalm, Psalm 23. In that psalm, as many of you know, David depicts God as His Shepherd, who provides for both his physical and spiritual needs. David ended that psalm with a closing note that I hope is always on your minds and hearts too: “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” David’s hope for Christian education, began and concluded in the LORD’s house; both the temple on earth and the halls of heaven in eternity.

Our text for today is given in a much different circumstance. The beginning verses of Jeremiah 23 are really the anti-shepherd psalm. In these verse God chastises the prophets for being false shepherds. They led the people astray. They gave them false hope and lies. They did not provide for the people’s spiritual needs as the Good Shepherd does. Notice the stark contrast from David’s psalm to Jeremiah’s chastisement in these verses:  Jeremiah 23:1 "Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!" says the LORD. 2 Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: "You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings," says the LORD.

What a difference from the Shepherd who leads His flock to green pastures and quiet waters so that no need is left unfulfilled and unfaithful shepherds who lead to destruction. Our text for today picks up later in chapter 23, where God shows the reasons why these prophets failed in their duties:

Jeremiah 23:23-29 "Am I a God near at hand," says the LORD, "And not a God afar off? 24 Can anyone hide himself in secret places, So I shall not see him?" says the LORD; "Do I not fill heaven and earth?" says the LORD. 25 "I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in My name, saying, `I have dreamed, I have dreamed!' 26 "How long will this be in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies? Indeed they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart, 27 "who try to make My people forget My name by their dreams which everyone tells his neighbor, as their fathers forgot My name for Baal. 28 "The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream; And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat?" says the LORD. 29 "Is not My word like a fire?" says the LORD, "And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?

In these verse the LORD reminds us: To be faithful is better than any dream. Do we teach this to our children? Dreaming in America is almost a national right. I’m not talking about the dreams of the night, when your mind escapes to a different reality. I speak of the dreams of the day; the intentions we have in life which direct our decisions and our goals. To pursue a dream is to set your sights high, to work for something that is currently beyond your grasp. Is this not one of the chief reasons for educating our children? We want them to aspire to something in life. This is Christian education too. God desires us to use our talents and abilities to serve one  another and through that, serve Him. It is good to dream for this.                            
I believe this was the way the American dream starting in our nation and that idea of an American dream has spurred on the need for quality education for our children ever since. But in recent times, this dreaming has taken on a different meaning. Instead of dreaming for something this intrinsic, truth-based quality; the American dream often turns into a hot pursuit for personal glory and self-esteem. This doesn’t mean that everyone who dreams or encourages others to pursue their dreams, has the wrong intention. What it does, though, is reveal the inherent danger is relying so much on our dreams. If not motivated by God’s love and truth, even our dreams can separate us from Him.

This is where the nation of Judah found themselves in this chapter, or more appropriately where God found them through His prophet. Listen to the way God described their situation. He had to rebuke them by reminding them first of His eternal presence because they were living like He didn’t exist. So He asks them, “Am I a God near at hand, and not a God afar off?” If you’re trying to resist the Lord’s will and supplant it with your own dream, then the first step is finding a way to ignore His presence. On the surface, it’s pretty easy to do this. So many things in life are driven by what we can sense on our own. Since we can’t see God or hear His direct audible voice, it’s pretty easy to act like He’s distant. But deep inside all people know better. Our sense can lie to us all they want, but God created us with an inner knowledge of His presence and of His will.

God breaks away this false sense of sinful security. As Jeremiah recorded, no one can hide themselves. God is present everywhere. He fills heaven and earth. Lesson learned; don’t try to hide from Him just because He is beyond your physical senses at times. Don’t let your dream lie to you.

But here’s where the danger heightens. It comes to a completely different level when prophets begin teaching the lie. It’s one thing to feel it in your heart, but to hear it proclaimed by someone else, especially a member of the clergy, really gives it credibility. This is ultimately why God was so furious in His anger against these false shepherds. To those whom He has given His Word, He expects a much stricter attention to conduct and truth of the message. A prophet, pastor, teacher, or any public spokesperson for God is expected to put in the extra time and go the extra lengths to ensure the faithfulness of their preaching. It’s not just their faith and life on the line, but those whom God has entrusted to their care.

What got in the way of these shepherds’ messages? What led them and the people off the track? It was their dreams. God Himself said, "I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in My name, saying, `I have dreamed, I have dreamed!' 26 "How long will this be in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies? Every prophet issues some type of claim for the people to listen to them. For these prophets, their claim was based on their title. They said, “We are prophets and we have dreamed, so listen to us!” Their request to the people had nothing to do with the truth or the validity of their message. They had to encourage the people this way because all they had to go on was their own dream.

We should understand that these prophets’ dreams were different than our dreams. They were speaking of divine visions; of something revealed to them from God. This is what they claimed, even though it was a false revelation. When we speak of our dreams, we don’t often mean that something has been supernaturally revealed to us by God. Our dreams in life are more of a hope or goal that we have. But, even though these prophets claimed to have a higher type of dream, a vision or revelation if you will, they were really no different than our dreams.

God tells us the source of these dreams. They were not from Him, but rather from the prophets’ own hearts. The intention of these supposed divine revelations revealed their hollowness as well. God went on to say that the prophets intended to have the people forget His name. Earlier in the chapter God gave an example of this. In verse 17 He says, The prophets continually say, You shall have peace, and to everyone who walks according to the dictates of his own heart, they say, “No evil shall come upon you.” That is what it looks like and sounds like when people are led to follow their own dreams instead of God. When God levels the accusation that these prophets led the people away from His name, that was a serious problem. Remember what God’s name is. It reveals not only His title but who He is and what He does. God said in time past to His people, “I am Yahweh, that is My name, and my glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to carved images (Isaiah 42:8).” God’s name is power, not just a title. It is a status that equals holiness. To use His name in a false way or to lead others away from it is to mess directly with the person of God.

The importance of God’s name is found best in Jesus. Listen to how Paul described the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. He explains this monumental achievement in terms relating to the name of God. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth. To have God’s name in our lives is the goal that all believers have. That’s what it is to have faith; it’s to have God’s name in the same way that Jesus earned it for us on the cross. The opposite is to lead people away from that name; away from the standing that faith in Jesus gives us before the Almighty God.

Now, that sounds like a pretty bad place to be in, but why then wouldn’t the people quickly reject these false prophets? It seems like these lies were pretty popular. The people jumped on them right away without thinking twice. They were eager to share this pseudo good news, so much so that everyone told his neighbor. How could it be that such a dangerous belief, one that would lead people in the opposite direction from God, would be so popular? The answer was that it was the delusion of the dream. The dream that came first from the false prophets and then directly to the peoples’ hearts.

Think about your own dreams for a moment. They are strong in your heart because you desire them. They are personal. They are on your mind regularly. That doesn’t mean they’re bad. But, it doesn’t guarantee that they are good either. The feeling that our dreams attach to us only indicates their hold on our lives, it doesn’t indicate their quality. And it certainly doesn’t mean they have any effectiveness to get us through life’s problems.

God gives us the proper balance for our dreams. He says, The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream; And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. It’s okay to dream. In fact, it’s necessary. If you don’t have dreams, you drift through life without purpose. If you don’t dream you miss out on opportunities to serve God. But, don’t let those dreams interrupt your faithfulness to God’s Word. He will not desire an expectation from you that contradicts His will. In other words, something that would lead you away from His name. To be faithful in our goals and activities is to be sufficient in Jesus, the true Good Shepherd who does not lead us astray but rather leads us to the water of life and the bread of life in the forgiveness of our sins.

Let us return to our original question. What kind education do we desire for our children? To adequately answer that you must first ask, what kind of education does God desire for my children? He is clear in His answer. Let them dream. Given them a goal. Help them grow. But, show them and teach them what faithfulness means too. No dream is worth sacrificing faithfulness. Your children see that example in your lives; as they learn from you and as they witness your sanctified walk in life. But, they see it best in their Savior. Don’t let dreams over shadow Him. Dreams to be popular. Dreams to fit in. Dreams to make a comfortable living in life. There are many dreams, but there is only one who is faithful. 

When a dream gets in the way, are we content enough in God’s grace to look the other way? Are we okay sacrificing the popularity and the feeling of desire in order to stay closer to God’s name? What would we rather have for our children and where are we leading them? Do we teach them to think and act like God’s present, or do we care more about what others around us think? Have activities like sports practices or social clubs become more important than learning and sharing God’s Word. Is your primary objective rest for your body or for your soul? Which is the first you lay aside, pursuit of the dream or time around God’s name?

The message of these false prophets spread like fire. Jeremiah had a difficult ministry to say the least. He was constantly under attack and under pressure to conform to the popularity of the time. I’m sure it often felt like he had no help. And yet, none of these pressures really made things any different. The truth was the same as it had ever been and as it is today. And despite the seemingly out of control lies of the false prophets, God’s Word endured, the gospel promise survived, Jesus came and destroyed sin, death, and Satan, and we live in that victory today. Error and deception do spread like fire under the right settings, when people are starved for truth and righteousness. But, God’s power remains as strong as ever. His Word is the true fire which ignites hearts with hope. His name crushes the false intentions of the human heart like a hammer on stone.

May God break down the sinful exteriors to our hearts and keep the bright flame of faith in Jesus constant and the faithfulness to teach our children the same. Amen.

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

August 12, 2016

August 7, 2016 - Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Theme: Faith is Christ, not Control

A young man enters that phase of life where it is time to choose a career. He gravitates toward something in the medical realm, but can’t stomach the work. His father persuades him to pursue the ministry, but not because he believes in it. He’s an atheist. But the young man likes the idea and at least his mother is a Christian who supports him. This young believes the words of the Bible, he trusts in God, yet he is still apprehensive about declaring allegiance to a particular Christian Church. He is unsure. He gains some new friends, more liberal thinking friends, those who are more fast and loose with the Scriptures. The young man begins to be particularly fascinated with God’s creation, as he still understands and confesses it. He studies it more and more; he gains notoriety and popularity for his work.

The ministry fades to the background, no need to be concerned with that anymore; he has made a career for himself. God is still in his life, at least for the moment, barely hanging on. Finally, the man gets married, and begins a family. When his first-born becomes ill at age 10, her life is seriously threatened. The young man waits upon her patiently; gives her the best care he can. But in the end it is no help, his young daughter Annie dies a painful and unfair death. That was the end of God for that young man, who at that time was an old man. He would later write about his faith in God, “It never struck me how illogical it was to say that I believed in what I could not understand and what is in fact unintelligible.”

Who is this man you ask? None other than Charles Darwin, the father of the modern idea of evolution and strong proponent of naturalism and atheism. Few have had greater impact on our current culture than Charles Darwin, yet few know of his prior faith in God, his desire to be a minister, and his very personal struggle with evil and wickedness in the world. Darwin was no different than us. His experiences in life had a profound impact in shaping what he would do in life and who he would become. His biographers would later remark, “Annie’s cruel death destroyed Charles’s tatters of beliefs in a moral, just universe. Later he would say that this period chimed the final death-knell for his Christianity . . . . Charles now took his stand as an unbeliever (Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist. Adrian Desmond and James Moore).” For Darwin, his faith in God was about control. He believed so long as things in life lined up with his thinking and what he felt about truth. Throughout his life he continually doubted God’s Word and it softened his faith little by little until Annie’s death, according to his own admission, extinguished his faith entirely. Consider this sad account as we read our text for today, where God gives us his definition of faith:

Hebrews 11:1-3 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.

Hebrews 11:8-16 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; 10 for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude-- innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore. 13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. 15 And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

The point of our lesson this morning, and any discussion of faith and its effect in our lives, is not to diminish to sorrows we go through in life. Our hearts ache with Darwin’s when we think about what he, his daughter, and his family endured. Some of us may have experienced very similar circumstances. For others, we know our own share of pain and struggle in life, no one is immune.

Our point is not to diminish anyone’s personal experience. It is simply this, the foundation of our faith determines the reliability of that faith in times of testing and trouble. That’s precisely what God says as He defines faith in our text. Christian faith, which finds its center and source in Jesus Christ alone, is not flimsy. It is not blind. Faith is substance, Faith is evidence. But substance that we may not always recognize and evidence that we may not always see, at least with these eyes. Faith in one’s own ability to control and handle life is much different, and a lot less powerful.

Take another example, like Darwin’s, but one with a very different result:

Author, Marshall Shelley, who suffered the deaths of two of his children, wrote about it in this way:

Even as a child, I loved to read, and I quickly learned that I would most likely be confused during the opening chapters of a novel. New characters were introduced. Disparate, seemingly random events took place. Subplots were complicated and didn’t seem to make any sense in relation to the main plot. But I learned to keep reading. Why? Because you know that the author, if he or she is good, will weave them all together by the end of the book. Eventually, each element will be meaningful.

Faith in God is the same way. Even when I can’t explain why a chromosomal abnormality develops in my son, which prevents him from living on earth more than two minutes…..
Even when I can’t fathom why our daughter has to endure two years of severe and profound retardation and continual seizures…. I trust that before the book closes, the Author will make things clear.

Two similar circumstances, but two very different results. It’s the same difference between faith that is about Christ and faith that is about control.

The writer to Hebrews gives us another Biblical example of the same. Just as we had in our Scripture reading, we see how Abraham was called to leave his homeland and travel to a foreign area. The only reason God gave him was that this was His plan for Abraham. Abraham had to trust that God was in control of all the other details; essentially he had to believe or have faith.

Abraham and Sarah also had to trust God’s promise that they would have a child. We spoke about this a few weeks ago. Abraham was 99 and Sarah was 90 when this promise came true. Talk about a situation that is beyond human control! If their faith was only in what they could imagine or handle on their own, it would have dropped out underneath them because it would have had nothing left to stand on. So many things in life are similar in this regard; they are beyond our control. If faith is worth anything, it must be able to go beyond our own power. It must be able to help us in the most difficult of circumstances. Without that quality it really isn’t much help and furthermore it really isn’t faith as God defines it.
This doesn’t mean we’ll always pass God’s tests with flying colors. Both Abraham and Sarah doubted God’s promise. Isaac was the name given to the child because it means “laughter,” thereby reminding Sarah of her moment of doubt behind the tent curtains when she smirked at God’s promise. And yet, even this situation, one which Abraham and Sarah stumbled through in life, it is listed in the chapter of the heroes of faith and held up as a Godly example for you and me.

This leads us to our final and most important point about faith. It helps us with more than what we go through right now. It has eternal blessings. Ultimately, faith in Jesus is the attachment of forgiveness through the gracious words of life in the Scriptures. This is why the writer goes on to say that all heroes of faith, that is, all believers, ultimately hope for a home in heaven; what he calls the “better, heavenly country” which God prepares for them. Even in Genesis, this truth was known about Abraham’s life. The Spirit recorded this, “Abraham believed in the LORD, and the LORD accounted it to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6).” This is a simple, yet profound statement, especially for an Old Testament believer. Abraham believed, literally, had faith, and God credited righteousness to him. This was not sentimental hope in some abstract promise from God. This was not blind trust that was contingent on how much Abraham felt it. This was not just a feel good moment that lasted as long as Abraham could control what was happening in his life. This was complete reliance upon God’s promise of a Savior from sin, a Savior that would freely give Abraham forgiveness by wiping his record clean and inserting His own holy life in its place. This was faith that was power in Christ, and because it was it was stronger than even the direst moments of Abraham’s life that were out of his control. And it is only through this faith that Abraham was given the title of a “father of many nations.” He is father of much more than a single race of people. He is the father of that group of “heavenly country” dwellers. He is the model and example for all believers, those who desire a better home, one with God in heaven.  

A prominent Lutheran pastor has authored a book called, 7 “Christian” rules every Christian ought to break as often as possible. Kind of a compelling title, don’t you think? I haven’t read the book, but if it isn’t included, our discussion on faith should really be added as rule number 8. So many Christians are under the impression that their faith must measure up to a certain level before it is effective. But, the sad irony is that this level is a man-made construct, usually centering around our own control of situations. What a sad burden for so many to carry. Faith is not only as effective as it is strong in the person’s heart and in their convictions. Faith is powerful no matter how strong or weak it may be in our hearts. Faith is about Christ, not about our control.

This does not allow us the right to neglect the nurturing and strengthening of faith. Certainly, the stronger we are the more we can withstand in the moment without succumbing to doubt. But, as it pertains strictly to faith’s worth and its attachment to Christ’s righteousness; it is entirely dependent on God and not ourselves. To preach or believe anything more or less than Christ alone in the place of sinners, is a tragedy and a falsehood.

Life is full of uncontrollable moments. Faith gets us through those moments; strong or weak. Sometimes it takes longer than it should. Sometimes we drag along the way. Sometimes we resist God’s power and influence. But faith is Jesus is the same from beginning to end, from weak to strong, from the first day of conversion to the last day of confession. Anything other than that is a product of man-made efforts at control.   

Thinking about Charles Darwin again, one researcher concluded his study of his life with this thought: “Charles Darwin is honored by the world because he thought like the world. The tragedy was that this godless search for truth left him unable to understand the world in which he lived. What a lesson for our culture today (“Darwin’s Sad Legacy” Dr. Tommy Mitchell).” Such is the path of all who replace Christ with their own control. They seek for answers. They desire truth. But they fall further from it. A desire for more control and understanding of our world with a result of total loss of meaning and truth. You have gone through similar trials and be aware that you will continue so long as you serve God in this life. Keep your faith in Christ and remember what that means. It’s not a flimsy, sentimental thought without any substance. It’s doesn’t mean you’ll have all the answers right when you want them. It certainly doesn’t mean you’ll have a carefree life without pain or struggle. It means this one thing: You have a better home waiting for you: heaven. To gain this was beyond your control. It was out of your reach. You couldn’t grasp this on your own. But Jesus came for you and controlled what you could not. He is with you forevermore now, today and into eternity. Amen.

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

August 1, 2016

July 31, 2016 - Galatians 5:22-23

Theme: Fruits of the Spirit: Re-cap from Pac NW Camp 2016

Day 1: Love, Joy, Peace

Galatians 5:22-23 reads: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

This passage was the basis for our theme at the Pacific NW Camp this past week. Many of us are familiar with the fruits of the Spirit and some of us probably even have them memorized. But it’s helpful to dig deeper and learn more. In the busy pace of life it can become easy to forget about how these fruits are produced and the things we might do that can get in the way.

So that you might share in the things we studied and learned at camp, we’ll focus our sermon study this morning as a three-part re-cap of these fruits. There are nine fruits listed in all in these passages, each day we looked at three and therefore we’ll break-down our message for this morning into the same three parts.

The first three fruits listed are love, joy, and peace. These three virtues are so expansive and important that we could hardly do them justice in a short study. But there are some neat things we can pick up from God’s Word as we summarize. In our first devotion we were reminded that love is really the hub of the wheel when it comes to the fruits of the Spirit. If you have love, you will have the rest. Each fruit flows from love like spokes.

This is why the Scriptures emphasize love in many places. When the young scribe came to Jesus and asked Him to teach the way to heaven Jesus responded by saying, “The most important commandment is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31 The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:29-31). At this most pivotal moment, Jesus stressed the fruit of love.

Paul would later write the same thing, telling the Romans that “love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10).” Literally, the love is the ‘end all, be all’ of the Christian life. To the Colossians Paul wrote the “love is the bond of perfection,” and through this love the peace of Christ would rule in their hearts (Colossians 3:14-15). This peace is the kind that “surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7),” as we say at the end of our sermons each Sunday. Finally, in the most viewed section of Scripture on the topic of love, Paul ended by reminding the Corinthians that of love, faith, and hope; love was the most important.

Our first devotion looked at another area of Scripture to reinforce the importance of love, joy, and peace; one that we might not normally think of. In John 14 and 15 the context centers around Jesus’ impending death on the cross. He is moments from being betrayed, mocked, wrongfully sentenced, and executed. Yet, in this very section we see Jesus teaching the disciples about love, joy, and peace. At the very beginning of chapter 14 Jesus tells them the way to these fruits, even before He lists them. After Thomas asks how they will know which way to follow when Jesus is gone, the Savior replied: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).” With that belief firmly in the heart, there will be no lack of fruits of the Spirit in our lives, even lofty ones like love, joy, and peace. 

Jesus continued by telling them that "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. 24 "He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me (John 14:23-24).”

A few verse later, peace comes into view: "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. 27 "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid (John 14:26-27).”

And finally, we have joy mentioned: "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full (John 15:11).”

In one small context of Jesus’ ministry, these three giant fruits are spoken of and explained. Without Jesus, we have no growth. Galatians 5 tells us what we would do by nature. Before listing the 9 fruits of the Spirit in vv. 22-23, it speaks of twice as many works of the flesh. This is not by coincidence. Although we all recognize the value of the fruits of the Spirit, they operate just like they are called. A plant does not command or work out fruits in its life. It simply produces them by design. In the same way, we cannot work out our own salvation or the fruits that accompany it. It is God who works in us through His Word, through the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Without that three-fold distinction, no one has God and no one can produce fruits worthy of God’s glory.

Hymn 352: “O Savior, Precious Savior”

Day 2: Long-suffering, Kindness, Goodness

The next three fruits are simpler in the fact that they are more specific than love, joy, and peace, but sometimes longsuffering, kindness, and goodness are harder for us to understand and practice because they are so similar to each other. In our devotion on day 2, we began by looking at the relationship between kindness and goodness. Although almost exactly the same, goodness is more of an attitude of the heart while kindness is the manifestation of that attitude in action.

Another word we often use to describe goodness is morality. To be a moral person is to be someone who has goodness in your heart. Immorality is the opposite. What we need to remember about this fruit is that we can only claim to be moral or good if we follow what God has deemed moral and good. Much like love, joy, and peace, the world offers us its own version of goodness; one which is often dictated by personal choice. In contrast, God reveals, in His Word, a goodness that is true even without our personal choices. True morality rests in what Jesus has done for us; not in what we feel is right or wrong. If we aren’t led by what God defines as good, we will suffer in producing the true fruits of kindness and goodness.

At this point in our devotion we were led to a very important passage on this topic. In Titus 3 Paul tells us what true kindness looks like and where it came from: “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:3-6).” There we have it, kindness and goodness that exists and is produced outside of our own feelings and effort. It comes only through Jesus Christ. He is the source and example of true morality.

Longsuffering is a unique fruit. We often use the word patience as a synonym but that connection falls short of fully emphasizing the full effect of longsuffering. Patience is the ability to endure something that is unpleasant without reacting in anger. But it doesn’t necessary imply that you are actively suffering. The thought of longsuffering dates back to the Israelites and the Hebrew language. Their word for longsuffering literally means, to be long-nosed. You see, like many Hebrew words, the action is expressed with a physical example. To the Israelites, anger was expressed by one who flares their nostrils. Certainly, we can understand how this illustration fits. The opposite illustration of revealing this kind of anger is having a long nose; it takes a lot to flare the nostrils.

We remember that longsuffering is one of the first ways that God described Himself (Exodus 34), and this quality played out again and again in His peoples’ history. Almost every story in the Bible contains some element of God’s longsuffering with sinful people. Foremost of all is the example of Christ’s endurance in coming as one born under God’s law to live and die for mankind. What longsuffering it took to descend from perfection in heaven to be among the dregs of this sinful world! This longsuffering paid off as it helped fulfill God’s righteous law in our stead. Therefore, we have hope to practice the same fruits in our lives.  

Hymn: 296 “Speak, O Lord, They Servant Heareth”

Day 3: Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-Control

Our final devotion centered on the remaining three fruits: Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-control. We were directed to Lamentations 3:22-23: Through the LORD'S mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. Jeremiah wrote those words. Prior to these comforting thoughts, he expressed great sorrow (Laments) at what had happened to his fellow countrymen. In their wickedness, rebellion, and idolatry, the LORD allowed the Babylonians to conquer Jerusalem. They destroyed the city, killed many people and carried the rest away as slaves, and perhaps most atrocious of all, they sacked Solomon’s temple. The devastation was so immense that Jeremiah began the book by writing: How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave (Lamentations 1:1).

Who would speak of fruits in such a setting? The believer does! As Jeremiah confessed so we remind ourselves that in the most trying of times, it is the Lord’s faithfulness that gives us hope. Yes, our lives can often feel as distressed as Jerusalem was at that time. But, God is always faithful. To be faithful is to be someone who can be relied upon. We all have faithful ones in our lives. They are the first ones we go to when we have any need. They are the ones who seek advice and counsel from. They are the ones we trust because they are faithful to us. That’s why it hurts so much when they let us down. No matter who we call faithful, they will eventually let us down. But the LORD does not. He is faithful like the morning sun and the dew. Always there, the same, day after day.

The fruit of gentleness may not seem so significant to us. Another word for it is meekness. We may think of someone who is lowly; someone whom others take no notice of. But you need not be unnoticeable in order to be gentle. Jesus was as meek and gentle as they come, yet He was also powerful and took a stand for the truth. To be gentle is to be able to fight for the right thing, with fierceness, but to do it in a loving and gentle way. How difficult that is! Put another way, to be gentle is to have the truth; to live it and confess it; but to never use it as a way to exalt yourself over others.

Paul described gentleness like this: Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 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. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:3-8).

If you’re doing the right thing, you don’t have to fight for attention just so people take notice. Give glory to God through your meek and gentle spirit and He will exalt you in due time.

The final fruit was expressed as the one which was most elusive to those at camp. Self-control. To practice self-control is really to think always of others first. It’s only when we’re dominated by our own cares that we lose control. The opposite of self-control is self-centeredness. Jesus displayed self-control in His suffering and death: He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:22-23).

So many of these fruits overlap. Many give birth to others. When you practice one it will be easier to practice others. Likewise, when you resist one, the others will suffer. But above all, we should remember how these fruits grow. As our responsive Psalm told us, Christians are like strong trees planted in good soil and nourished with life-giving water. Just as God created that growth, so He will create growth in your life. You don’t decide or choose to produce fruit. You can’t will it into existence. It doesn’t form by working or thinking hard. The process is already in place. The design is there. It’s simple: If you are fed by the water of life, you will produce fruits. May God grant it

Love is the hub of all other fruits. To close, we go back again to John 15. Jesus summarized what needed to happen for the disciples to have these fruits. He told them, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).” We should pay attention because it’s the same in our lives. Without Jesus’ righteous life in our place, there is no love, joy, or peace.   


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