November 28, 2016

November 27, 2016 - Advent 1

Theme: Prepare the Royal Highway

Luke 17:20-25 Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 "nor will they say,`See here!' or`See there!' For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you." 22 Then He said to the disciples, "The days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23 "And they will say to you,`Look here!' or`Look there!' Do not go after them or follow them. 24 "For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day. 25 "But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

701:1 Prepare the royal highway; The King of kings is near!
Let ev'ry hill and valley, A level road appear!
Then greet the King of glory, Foretold in sacred story:
Hosanna to the Lord, For He fulfills God's Word!

Whether we’re talking about the first advent of Christ, or the second, both share a very important feature: they are about His kingdom. This morning our sermon text will be framed by verses of hymn 701. The task for believers today is to prepare for God’s kingdom. This is an advent hymn, meaning it is usually sung in connection with Christmas. As we begin that season we remember the people who prepared for Jesus’ birth. We think of who they were and how they worshiped their Lord. We don’t do this just to think fondly of the past, but we do so because it keeps us focused on our own preparation. We’re not waiting around for a child to be born, we’re waiting for a King to return. And yet, the connection between to the two is clearly present. As we remember the first advent it helps us be ready for the second.

God’s kingdom is important to both. When Jesus was born and as He grew on earth and became well-known, people began to think about what this Man was here to do. Clearly, His power and greatness was evident. The question was, to what end and for what purpose? For some, the focus of the kingdom was on the domain, or the location. These believed in what we might call an earthly kingdom. They desired Jesus to rescue Israel from the bonds of servitude under Rome and once again restore them to an autonomous nation. The idea of Jesus’ kingdom was that it would be here on earth. People would see it and experience membership in it in time and space.

We know that this first vision of Christ’s kingdom was a man-made illusion. Jesus clearly stated that His kingdom was not of this world and He constantly implored people to seek spiritual riches, not physical things. We get another saying to that effect in our text when Jesus tells the Pharisees that the “kingdom of God is within you.” Jesus was telling them what was in their heart was most important, for that is where God would establish His presence by faith. Focusing on external things would only serve to get in the way. This is the proper understanding of God’s kingdom. It is not about location per se, but rather about His ruling presence. In this sense it is very much like church. When we think of church we think of a building, a location. But, that is not what makes a church. A church is where Jesus is present and that can be any place where His Word is used. He said, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20).”

The first step for our preparation is to avoid the same mistake that so many made when Jesus first came. Location was not important, but rather what was going on in the individual’s heart. We can learn and teach all we want about the domains of heaven and hell, but that knowledge means nothing without God’s ruling activity in our hearts by faith. Our preparation continues with the next two verses of hymn 701.       

701:2   God's people, see Him coming: Your own eternal king!
Palm branches strew before Him! Spread garments!  Shout and sing!
God's promise will not fail you!  No more shall doubt assail you!:
Hosanna to the Lord, For He fulfills God's Word!

701:3   Then fling the gates wide open, To greet your promised king!
Your king, yet ev'ry nation, Its tribute too may bring.
All lands will bow before Him; Their voices join your singing:
Hosanna to the Lord, For He fulfills God's Word!

We’ve mentioned the first advent when Jesus was born and the second advent when He will return. In these verses, we are pointed to a third advent – His preparation to ascend the cross. Scenes of Palm Sunday are scattered throughout the verses of this hymn. The refrain is the same phrase of praise that the children sang. Verse 2 makes mention of laying down palm branches before the King. And the verse of Psalm 24 is quoted in verse 3: Fling, or lift up the gates, and the King will come in.

This is a reminder to us that although we are removed somewhat from Palm Sunday and the crucifixion as we prepare for Christmas, we undoubtedly must keep the two close in our thoughts. Palm Sunday was a day of triumph for Jesus, but just days after the doubters and mockers came forward. Jesus knew what ridicule was, first-hand. His willingness to suffer on account of our sins and to receive the slaps to the face, the spitting, the thorns, the scourge, and the nails showed that He trusted His Father’s plan. Imagine going through all of that while being innocent; we have a hard enough time suffering even when we are the cause of that suffering! If Jesus could endure under that weight, while being innocent, we can certainly trust Him to help us get through the jeers and the taunts.

We see that come forward in our text when Jesus tells His disciples not to follow those who would spread false rumors about His coming. He tells them that they will say, “Look here or Look there!” Those that detract from Christ surely want His followers to focus on anything but the cross. We hear the same advertisements even today.
·         “You’re such a horrible sinner, God couldn’t forgive that.” 
·         “Don’t believe that old Bible story, you know better than that.”
·         “That person is just the worst, they don’t deserve to be forgiven.”
·         “You’re doing just fine, don’t dwell on your mistakes or sins.”

And the crowd goes on and on, drawing us ever further from Jesus. But He says, don’t listen to them. There is only one path. Don’t get caught up in what’s going on there or there. Stay focused. Prepare your heart. Isaiah said this of staying on the path, A highway shall be there, and a road, And it shall be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean shall not pass over it, But it shall be for others. Whoever walks the road, although a fool, Shall not go astray. 9 No lion shall be there, Nor shall any ravenous beast go up on it; It shall not be found there. But the redeemed shall walk there, 10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, And sorrow and sighing shall flee away (Isaiah 35:8-10).

There’s a reason he called it the “Highway of Holiness.” There is only one path. It is only for the righteous by faith. Jesus was the only One who could walk that path alone, and so now we can walk that path with Him. It started, formally anyway, for Jesus on Palm Sunday. That path of glory and praise was the path of the cross, and the establishment of the Highway of Holiness for all believers. That’s our second preparation reminder, we can only walk with God if we walk with Jesus, and where He has gone before us. We continue with the final verse of hymn 701.

701:4   His is no earthly kingdom; It comes from heav'n above.
His rule is peace and freedom, And justice, truth, and love.
So let your praise be sounding, For kindness so abounding:
Hosanna to the Lord, For He fulfills God's Word!

To think of Jesus’ advent is to think also of Palm Sunday. And to think about Palm Sunday is also to think of Good Friday. That connection really comes through at the end of our text. Jesus said, "For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day. 25 "But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.”

Jesus states that His second coming will be like lighting that flashes in the sky. In other words, it won’t be missed. His coming will be clear, no one will escape it. Paul phrased another way by saying, “For it is written: "As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God." 12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God (Romans 14:11-12).”

Having the night sky break forth with light is unmistakable. That is how the second advent will be. But, it’s also how the first advent was. We remember how the multitude of angels broke open the night sky around Bethlehem, both with their chorus of praise and the inescapable light of their presence. Interesting how each time the Son of God comes to earth, light ushers in is His entrance.

But, here’s the contrast. In order for the Light of the world to shine, darkness had to have its day too. On Good Friday, the culmination of that triumphant Palm Sunday display, the sky became dark at noon. Light was defeated; darkness reigned. God’s power seemed to finally succumb to Satan’s desires. Righteousness had been snuffed out of the world. The Son of God had died. What amazing scenes these must have been, in both contexts. Good vs. evil, sin vs. salvation.

Enter here the final lesson in preparing for God’s kingdom. It comes in ways we would not expect. No human person expected victory to rise out of the ashes of defeat. No rational person would predict that God’s mission would be accomplished by sacrifice. And, yet, that’s exactly what happened. Jesus said as much here, “I must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation before I have My day.” Jesus didn’t suffer and die because He was actually being defeated. He suffered and died because that’s what it took to win the victory over your sin. No one expected it, least of all us, but God fashions His work out of the impossible.

What does this have to do with God’s kingdom? Well, remember, it’s about His ruling activity in our lives. Perhaps God rules in ways that are beyond our understanding. He creates faith in those whom we wouldn’t expect. He forgives sins which mankind deems unforgiveable. He loves people who show little to no love for others. God is continually doing the unexpected, the unexplainable, and sometimes the exact opposite of what we think would make sense. Advent shows us that each time we look at it. Not so much because a Child was born in a unique, miraculous way; but because of what that Child would go on to do. As with many other things concerning God, to understand it the best we can we have to look at the entire picture. The prepare the royal highway for God is to connect His kingdom work in His birth, at His death, and when He returns. Amen.

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

November 26, 2016

November 24, 2016 - Thanksgiving Day

Theme: Learning the Secret to Being Thankful
1) It is related to contentment.
2) It is a product of Christian maturity.
3) It is strengthened by Jesus Christ.

Philippians 4:10-13 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that once again you renewed your care for me. You were, in fact, concerned about me but lacked the opportunity to show it. 11 I don't say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content-- whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. 13 I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. (HCSB)

Philippians 4:13 is one of the most well-known passages of the Bible and one of the most widely used. You often see people use it in public. Athletes and celebrities are not afraid to quote it as a measure of their confidence. Thanksgiving is one of the most widely celebrated holidays in our nation. It’s fitting that it would go well with Philippians 4:13. The idea of finding strength in Christ is just as popular as gathering for Thanksgiving. But, what exactly does Christ empower us to do and how is that connected to being thankful? This is the main thought we’ll focus on today as we think about the secret to being thankful.  

So often we associate power with getting what we want, but is that what Christ is doing for us? The unique aspect of the power of the Christian shows itself when we don’t have what we want and when things aren’t going our way. Paul trusted in Christ’s power because He absolutely needed it. And that power gave him confidence even when he was lacking or was in need. In fact, it was in those very moments that the power of Christ displayed itself most fully. 2 Corinthians 12:9 And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Here we see that being thankful is closely connected to being content. It’s easy to act thankful when things are going your way, but a heart of true gratitude shows itself when the going gets tough. Paul writes that the power of Christ allowed him to master any situation he was in. Whether he was having a good day or a bad day, he was thankful to the Lord, and in large part because he was content. Paul knew what hardship was. He described that in depth in another letter: 2 Corinthians 11:25-28 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness-- 28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.

Paul had physical toils and mental concerns, but in all matters he was content. He learned the secret that His Savior taught when He said, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses (Luke 12:15)." Therein is why contentment is so important to thankfulness. It’s not the perils of the world that will rob you of happiness, rather it’s the riches and prosperity. Many, many people have fallen prey to the allurement of greed, only to be “pierced through with many sorrows (1 Timothy 6:10).”

Part 2
However, as we know by experience, contentment is not an easy virtue to have. It takes maturity. Paul doesn’t use the word maturity in our text but it really comes out clearly in the way he writes. You can almost sense the calm and peace with which Paul reflects on the many trials of his life. He had grown and learned throughout the process. We talk about the same thing, too, when it comes to the various tests that God gives us, but it’s a lot harder to go through it.

It’s helpful to remember that God is building our maturity as Christians. We know the same to be true in the much smaller matters of life. As adults, we think of the things we spent our money on when we were younger, the way in which we managed our time, and how we treated others. Sometimes we cringe at those memories don’t we, but that’s okay, because they are a testament to how much we have grown. Younger members here are either in the process of experiencing this very thing or leading up to it. If you can sense the value of maturity in those areas of life, how much more so in your faith in God?

Paul also reflected on this very thing in another letter, 1 Corinthians 13:10-12 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

Notice how he applied his growth as an individual directly to his earthly life as a Christian. As believers, we share in the same struggle. We have a relationship with God by faith today, but interacting with God is like looking at a fuzzy image in the mirror. We sense that God is present in our lives but it’s hard to make out all the details because our sins blur the image. We were created to be pure, crystal-clear, reflections of our God but we have fallen significantly. Sometimes, our wickedness is so prevalent that we can’t even see ourselves as His children, let alone those who witness our actions, thoughts, and words in our lives.

Part 3:

Christian maturity is just how Paul described it, it’s a mystery that must be revealed to us. It’s like finding the answer to a secret. That answer, for us, and for all people, is Jesus. Colossians 2:2-3 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Here we see the importance of v.13 in our text and why it is so treasured and beloved by Christians. Jesus reveals the mystery to us. He tells us the secret to these hidden treasures of contentment, maturity, and thankfulness. He gives us power to do the things that He has called us to do, not the things that we wish or desire for ourselves. Perhaps, it is God’s will that a particular possession be taken out of your life. Perhaps it’s His will that you go without a certain need for a time. These are things that God has every right to do and He calls you in Christ to trust His plan. Remember, contentment and maturity are needed precisely in the hard times, not the easy things.   

We asked at the beginning, what exactly does Christ empower us to do and what does that have to do with being thankful? For many people, the power of Christ is a catchphrase, a popular statement that sounds good, but is often thrown around devoid of the context in which Paul wrote it.   

Can we be thankful even if we don’t have everything we want in life? Do we have strength in Christ even when things aren’t going our way? Absolutely, in fact, that’s the true path to thankfulness. If our gratitude and willingness to give thanks hinged only on how good things were, there would be no need for Christ’s gifts of contentment and maturity. If the measure of our thankfulness is having what we want, then what happens when we don’t get our way? Our thankfulness will suffer.

Think of the story of the ten lepers. All ten got what they wanted. Perhaps we could even say they got what they needed, at least for their bodies. But even then it’s not as if good health is a given here in life. But, even though all ten were healed, only one returned to thank Jesus. They all received what must have been considered a basic life necessity, namely good health, but it still didn’t lead to hearts of gratitude. Perhaps those that didn’t return thanks did so because they were too busy looking for the next thing they wanted, instead of being content with what they had. Maybe they were so concerned about their physical bodies that they lacked the maturity to realize that Jesus could help them with a much bigger disease than leprosy.

Easy to judge from a distance isn’t it, but we know these things to be real possibilities because thy same attitudes have reared their ugly heads in our lives. Contentment and maturity stress to us that Jesus helps us with much greater things than the things of this life only. When we confess that we can do all things through Him who strengthens us, are we thinking about the most important things? Remember, the kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Those blessings can’t be bought by money, only by perfect blood of Jesus shed for sinners.

Solomon called the pursuit of only worldly things “vanity”, when he wrote, Ecclesiastes 6:7-9 All the labor of man is for his mouth, And yet the soul is not satisfied. 8 For what more has the wise man than the fool? What does the poor man have, Who knows how to walk before the living? 9 Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of desire. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind.

Christ empowers us to something greater, something eternal, and along the way He give us contentment and maturity to see the difference. This is why we bless His holy name today, and return our thanks for being healed. Amen.

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

November 23, 2016

November 20, 2016 - 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5

Theme: The Victorious Faith
1) Blessings for us through God’s choice.
2) Stable ground for unstable people.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5 But we must always thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God has chosen you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, so that you might obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught, either by our message or by our letter. 16 May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal encouragement and good hope by grace, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good work and word.
3:1 Finally, brothers, pray for us that the Lord's message may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you, 2 and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not all have faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful; He will strengthen and guard you from the evil one. 4 We have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do what we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts to God's love and Christ's endurance.

Most of you know what an oxymoron is. It’s a figure of speech in which two contradictory things are spoken in conjunction. For example, some famous oxymorons are: random order, big baby, and government intelligence. Sometimes, though, oxymorons actually make sense while still sounding contradictory. For example: virtual reality, jumbo shrimp, and passive aggressive are all oxymorons that are commonly used and understood. 

Oxymorons pop-up in connection with the Bible too. In fact, our text today speaks about a glaringly obvious one – the victorious faith. From a strictly logical perspective that phrase makes absolutely no sense. Faith is extremely fragile and oftentimes very fleeting. In our culture, faith has become known as the opposite of all things certain and reasonable. Every day, faith is snuffed out or destroyed. How on earth could something like faith be deemed victorious?

This was certainly the way it was for the Thessalonians too. They were fragile Christians in an increasingly hostile world. Just prior to our verses Paul warned them of a coming apostasy from the Antichrist. This “lawless one,” as Paul calls him, would cause many to turn away from Christ. They would have plenty of moments where they felt helpless and where they would wonder what good this faith in Christ was doing for them. They certainly wouldn’t always feel victorious.  

This is the great oxymoron of Christianity. We are called “more than conquerors” through Jesus Christ. We are told that we await a “crown of righteousness” in heaven. But, we struggle so much here in the world. On top of this, the exclusive nature of salvation in Christ alone brings a whole new brand of scorn and disdain from the world. To confess and live as Jesus has taught, namely that life is only found in His name, is not a popular dogma in our world. We are not hailed as victors for being Christians.

And yet, though paradoxical in thought, the victorious faith is entirely accurate. It is because of this faith that Paul begins our section by giving thanks to God, not by bemoaning and complaining the circumstances in which we find ourselves. To give the Thessalonians hope in their victorious faith, and us, Paul describes the important, yet seemingly oxymoronic, aspects of this faith. The first is that it is ours by God’s choice.

Part 1:

If you take a moment to dissect the words Paul uses here, you’ll notice that he touches on some very deep theological concepts. He uses the words: salvation, sanctification, faith, truth, and gospel. It’s almost like Paul is running down the glossary in the back of the Catechism. These terms are not outdated, dusty doctrines, though. Rather, as Paul describes, they are the backbone of what our belief in Christ is all about. They are blessings for the believer. They make the connection between these Scriptural teachings and the individual, Paul gets personal. He says,  
·         “our gospel” v.14
·         “our Lord Jesus Christ.” V.14
·         “our word or epistle” v.15
·         “our God and Father” v.15

Faith attaches us to Christ and therefore He, and everything He has and is, become ours. We have the right before God to claim these blessings as our own, even to claim Himself as our God. This may not seem that important since we are used to having Christ, but consider the state of our nature. It is very much as Joshua described to the children of Israel when he said, Joshua 24:14 "Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! 15 "And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." 16 So the people answered and said: “We also will serve the LORD, for He is our God." 19 But Joshua said to the people, "You cannot serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.

What Joshua said was harsh but absolutely true. We can say whatever we want but on our own we cannot serve God. On our own, by our own power or works, it is oxymoronic to think that we can call God our own. We cannot serve Him and He is a holy God. No sinner can be in His presence, let alone claim Him. But, this is why we don’t approach God on our own. We do it through Jesus. It is through Jesus that God has “called you to our gospel” as Paul wrote. God must first call us before we can even sniff at calling Him our own.

The unique aspect of God’s call through the gospel is found in the word itself. When Paul writes in verse 13 that God “chose” them for salvation and sanctification it means that God lifted them up. The word itself really doesn’t mean a strict choice per say, that is not the primary definition. It literally means to exalt something from a lower status. But, that sense fits with God’s call. The gospel invitation lifts us up, exalts us, from the level of unregenerate sinner to the level of redeemed saint.   

Here again, we see another oxymoron. We claim God’s blessings as our own, but not by our power or authority. God must call us to that truth. He must lift us up to that level before we can say that anything is ours. This paradox puzzles people so much that they end up changing the simple words of the Bible. It doesn’t make any sense we could own something without having to exert any effort or work to attain it, especially something as important as God Himself. You would think that if we can call these things our own, we would also be able to take credit for having attained them. But, that goes beyond the simple words of the Bible in passages like: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and it is not your own doing, but the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Or Romans 3:28, “We come to this conclusion, that a person is saved by faith, without the works of the law.”
Actually, the idea of God’s free salvation isn’t all that complicated. It’s as simple as any gift we get. A gift is given freely, not earned. The best gifts are given out of love, not pressure. The Bible also uses the word “inheritance” to describe salvation, a term which fits the same description. What makes it difficult to understand is when we put our own thoughts above God’s. For something so important, namely eternal salvation, it just seems too easy that it would come by faith alone. We naturally want to lay some claim or credit to it, because it seems like if it’s something worth having, it shouldn’t come for free.

God did not plan salvation by faith and not by works because He wanted to confuse us. He did it that way because it was the only way it could be done. “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).” Without the Holy Spirit working through the gospel call, there simply can be no ownership of God’s blessings. The personal nature of life with God is unattainable because sinners cannot be in the presence of a holy God.     

Part 2:

Another aspect of our victorious faith is that it gives us stability. Paul uses many similar phrases in our text:
·         v.15 Stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught’
·         v. 3 The Lord will strengthen you
·         v. 4 We have confidence in the Lord
·         v. 5 The Lord directs us by the endurance of Christ

These phrases all point to the stability that faith gives us. Yet, again, we see an oxymoron here. Faith is supposed to make us stable and strong in life but what we experience seems to be the opposite. So often, life is out of our control. Things change day after day. It seems like as soon as we find steady ground it immediately falls out from under us because of some catastrophe. Relationships can sour over time. Financial security and wealth can vanish overnight. Good health can become bad health in the blink of an eye. Peace so often seems to lose the battle to strife and contention, between nations, races, communities, churches, and even families. 

There’s a thought in our text that describes this instability quite well. It comes in verse 2 under the translation “wicked.” More appropriate to that word would be the translation “out of place.” The Greek word is atopos. Topos means a place or location. It’s where our English word topography comes from, literally the study of places. Atopos means to have no place or location. Think of it as the familiar expression, to “be out of sorts.”

To be out of place is to lack stability in life, whether in a physical or mental sense. When it comes to faith it means to lack confidence or assurance of the work of Christ. It’s interesting that God describes being out of place as the opposite of having faith. Faith in the Biblical sense is so much more than an inward virtue of being human. It is faith in Jesus Christ, someone who did something outside of us to achieve salvation. Biblical faith finds it source outside of the individual. Therefore, the translation of “wicked” is not entirely off-base because anything outside of reliance upon Christ is indeed wicked, for it leads away from salvation, not to it.

Those who do not have faith, do not have stability. They wander throughout life looking for something that makes sense but also something that conforms to what they want. But the thing about Christ is that He’s not here to give what we want but rather what we need. Sometimes what we need is not on our thoughts or hearts and therefore God needs to re-adjust our focus.

The world often discredits Biblical faith because it re-adjusts the sinful heart. It leads an individual to repent, not to follow every inclination of their heart. It impresses the absolute, unchanging, unshifting truth upon our hearts; confronts us directly with the facts from which no one can escape. That’s a difficult thing to honestly come to grips about and even more difficult to fully trust, so many take the much easier way out – by ignoring the truth. They believe the lies that say:

-Faith will make your life better immediately. You will transform into a new person who never does anything wrong and your actions will be the ultimate measure of how strong your faith is.
-Faith will never be judgmental. You can believe what you want and it will work out in the end. Faith does not specifically define what is right and what is wrong.
-Faith is a conscious choice you must make in your life. God will not help unless you help yourself.

If those descriptions are accurate about our victorious faith, then the way the Bible defines faith is indeed an oxymoron. Because Jesus said that faith would lead to persecution, that faith cannot exist apart from the truth, and that faith is not produced by works. Rather, the true model of the victorious faith is the heart of a small child; a heart that doesn’t have it all figured out but trusts someone who does. That someone for the believer is God.

The world may preach that it makes no sense to trust God without having answers first. Our own hearts may scream it at us from time to time. It might feel like the most blatant contradiction in the world. But, remember that your victorious faith in Jesus is not defined by others, or even by yourself. God tells you exactly what you need. You have claim to His gifts. Big things like: salvation, sanctification, trust, and truth. They are yours today through Jesus. It’s not because God hoards these blessings until we are found worthy. It’s because they only become ours when we have a perfect substitute in our place, and that’s Jesus. God isn’t holding out on you, instead He’s leading you to the only hope for heaven. Amen.

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

November 15, 2016

November 13, 2016 - Luke 19:11-27

Theme: Working at the Master’s Business Until He Returns
1. We invest in others through the Gospel.
2. We trust the promise of the Holy Spirit.

As we approach the end of the Church year, which concludes next Sunday, we are often directed to themes involving the Last Day of God’s judgment. Our forefathers who began the practice of preaching according to the Church calendar, carefully fashioned it this way. The Church year begins with the Lord’s first advent and ends with thoughts and reminders of His second advent.

Given the current state of our nation and the lingering effects of the latest election, we might very well consider thoughts of the End Times extremely appropriate. There is certainly a great deal of gloom and doom going on right now, although not particularly because of thoughts of the Lord’s Day. Whenever there is an opportunity to worry about earthly matters, we return to the direction and comfort of our Lord’s Word. He reminds us that “it is better to trust in the LORD, than to put confidence in man.” He allows us to boast, “The Lord is my helper, what can man do to me?” He reassures us, “with man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” And He directs us, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

We can’t help but think about what is going on in our lives right now. But as God so often does, He shifts the attention from this realm to the next. He takes the spotlight off of you and puts it on Himself. And so we remind ourselves to focus on the Lord’s eternal Word. The Word as it comes to us today is from Luke 19:11-27, and is indeed a look at the divine day of judgment. 

Luke 19:11-27 As they were listening to this, He went on to tell a parable because He was near Jerusalem, and they thought the kingdom of God was going to appear right away. 12 Therefore He said: "A nobleman traveled to a far country to receive for himself authority to be king and then return. 13 He called 10 of his slaves, gave them 10 minas, and told them, 'Engage in business until I come back.' 14 "But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, 'We don't want this man to rule over us!' 15 "At his return, having received the authority to be king, he summoned those slaves he had given the money to, so he could find out how much they had made in business. 16 The first came forward and said, 'Master, your mina has earned 10 more minas.' 17 " 'Well done, good slave! ' he told him. 'Because you have been faithful in a very small matter, have authority over 10 towns.' 18 "The second came and said, 'Master, your mina has made five minas.' 19 "So he said to him, 'You will be over five towns.' 20 "And another came and said, 'Master, here is your mina. I have kept it hidden away in a cloth 21 because I was afraid of you, for you're a tough man: you collect what you didn't deposit and reap what you didn't sow.' 22 "He told him, 'I will judge you by what you have said, you evil slave! If you knew I was a tough man, collecting what I didn't deposit and reaping what I didn't sow, 23 why didn't you put my money in the bank? And when I returned, I would have collected it with interest!' 24 So he said to those standing there, 'Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has 10 minas.' 25 "But they said to him, 'Master, he has 10 minas.' 26 " 'I tell you, that to everyone who has, more will be given; and from the one who does not have, even what he does have will be taken away. 27 But bring here these enemies of mine, who did not want me to rule over them, and slaughter them in my presence.'"

This is God’s Word, the Creator of heaven and earth and the Redeemer of lost mankind. By faith we understand these truths and through the Word our faith is increased. We pray, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!”
In Luke’s Gospel this parable comes right before Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. This is near the end of His time on earth. Just prior to this Jesus visited the house of Zacchaeus and ended His talk there by saying, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost,” Zacchaeus, no doubt, was an example of that very thing. The reason for this parable in our text is to remind people, especially those sitting on the fence between faith and unbelief, that there are consequences for denying Jesus.

For those of us who believe, it’s a no-brainer. Of course we know this. We don’t need to be concerned about this, we’re covered. True indeed, but we who believe also have the great responsibility of building the Lord’s Church until He comes. It’s not time to relax and take it easy just because we already have faith. The fact that we believe adds an even greater importance that we get that message out to as many as possible.

This is pictured in our parable as investing for the Lord. We know this as evangelism in its proper sense, or what we often call mission work. We take our authority, strength, and example for this task from Jesus. Certainly He had nothing to worry about while here on earth. He was perfect and holy in every way. All forces of nature were under His control. Truly, what could man do to Him? But, Jesus still made the work of spreading the Word His utmost priority; not for Himself, of course, but for others. We follow the same example.

As we think about God’s work as business, it brings us back to a much earlier time in Jesus’ life. Remember the one story we have from Jesus’ childhood outside His birth. The time He stayed in the temple at Jerusalem to address the religious scholars. When His earthly parents questioned His motives, Jesus directed them to the attention that His Heavenly Father’s business demanded. Here we see the same thing, now at the end of Jesus’ life, directed at our lives.

There are many challenges involved with conducting the Father’s business. For the timid servant who concealed his mina, it was fear. He knew His master to be a strict man who demanded much. And so he was afraid. We understand. This is the natural response to the pounding of God’s law in our hearts. The Greek word for “tough” in verse 21 is where our English word “austere” comes from, meaning strict, hard, or serious. The law reminds us that God takes His business seriously. Therefore, we shouldn’t take it lightly either.

But, the law also reminds us of the toughness in God’s own nature. He demands holiness in much more than just sharing His Word. All people will give an account of their works on the last Day, just as these servants had to reveal the investments they made. Paul wrote in this manner to the Corinthians saying, For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw-- 13 each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done (1 Corinthians 3:11-13).

Peter mentioned the same thing, reminding the Christians that on the final Day, all things, included our works, will be laid bare, open for all to see. Nothing secret, nothing hidden. The importance here is not that the works we do save us. This wasn’t any different than the servants in the parable. They were not found worthy for their works alone, but rather because the investment they made with the Master’s gift revealed their love and trust in the Master’s work. In the same way, the works we do are evidence of that we have saving faith in our hearts, including the work of sharing the Gospel with others.
Fear enters in because the gift of faith seems so fragile in such a hostile world. This comes through in the parable too. In verse 17 the Master describes the investment as a “very small matter.” How could this be if He judges so strictly according to this gift? It seems like it’s a pretty big deal. The key is found in that which the investment is compared with. In comparison to the kingdom of heaven, the work we do here on earth is indeed a much smaller matter. But, this is also the way the world looks at the Gospel.

The Greek word for “very small” also describes something that is insignificant. It’s indicative of something that appears to be far less important than something else. To the many things happening in the world, few people actually take notice of the gospel. They certainly wouldn’t notice it, or appreciate its power, on their own. Again, Paul writes to the Corinthians, For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:18, 21, 24).

There is fear in sharing the Word of God with others, both in exposing sin through the Law and giving hope through the Gospel, because the world sees it as foolishness. Truly, to the unbeliever, it is a “very small matter” compared to everything else going on in the world. There is then, also fear for the believer, because we know very clearly what God demands. He takes His business seriously. It seems like the mission-minded Christian is continually caught between two extremes. God’s justice on the one side and the world’s hostility on the other. As Isaiah despaired, so we do often, “Lord, who will believe us?” 

Fear is among us naturally. But, it doesn’t have to be. God promises the gift of the Holy Spirit. He can change hearts. He can remove the fear of terror and install the fear of respect and reverence for God.  Every element of this business of our Master is built on Jesus. Consider this description of Jesus’ work for a fallen world:

1 John 4:17-20 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

It may make sense to us to refrain from sharing God’s Word, especially the message of repentance. Who will believe? It won’t make a difference. We tell ourselves these things time and time again. But, you should ask yourself in those moments. Do I believe it? Does it make a difference for me? Fear exists when we block God out of view. The Holy Spirit is able to accomplish anything. The Bible contains the records of the conversions of the most unlikely of people: the city of Nineveh in the book of Jonah, the Syrian commander Naaman, the thief on the cross, and the Apostle Paul. Who are we to doubt God? Fear exists when we try to overthink things. God tells us the solution: Preach and believe the Word.  

All people need God’s Word. Not just because it’s a tough time for our nation, or because we are divided on issues in our country. We all need it because we’re all sinners and sin is at the root of every problem. You’ve been entrusted with a precious gift that can help people with any problem. But, what good is it if you don’t use it? How helpful will it be if it is considered to be a “very small thing” to you as well? Love your neighbor by being kind, speaking well of them, and helping them. Do that. But, don’t be afraid to love them with the perfect love of Jesus of Gospel. If we truly believe that faith is greater than the fruits of that faith, we need to act like it. When the day of judgment comes, our good works will count for nothing if they are not also accompanied by faith in Jesus.

We hardly have time to consider the very end of this parable; the very tough description of God’s judgment. It’s worth noting though, that the same word for “enemies” in the last verse is used in Romans 5:10: For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

Judgment Day is a serious matter. No amount of heartfelt intentions or good works will make the difference before God. Because of sin we all are enemies. But, God does not desire anyone’s destruction. He shed His own blood so that we could have a way of deliverance. We believe; let us show that light to others. Amen.

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

November 7, 2016

November 6, 2016 - Psalm 51

Theme: Moments of Memorization from Psalm 51
1) What David did to God (vv.2, 5)
2) What God did for David (vv.10-12)
3) The Fruits of Being Forgiven (v. 15)

Apologies are cheap these days. It’s almost unheard of to see a public figure genuinely apologize for something they did wrong, even if they are caught red-handed. Usually they offer a press release or have an aide or public relations person issue a statement. It doesn’t often feel like it’s coming from the heart. More common today we see people using social media like Twitter to issue apologies. Again, there is lack of sincerity. Word length is capped on Twitter. Grammar is often bad or misplaced. And, it’s too easy. Just type and click without thinking much. 

It is indeed rare to see the side of public figures that we see in this psalm. David wrote this at the height of his power as king over Israel. And Israel was no little nation at this time. They were powerful. David pours the content of his heart onto the paper. We get an honest look at how he felt about himself. The importance of this psalm cannot be explained fully in one sermon. As we do with many sections of Scripture, we focus on the most important passages and we work on committing them to memory. Memorization of Scripture is a good thing for all Christians to do and it’s never too late to start. Usually we think of memorization as something for children to do because it comes easier for them. But, it’s a valuable practice for us all.

When we read Psalm 51, there are several memory verses that come to mind, and we use those verses as the substance of our message today. The first moment of memorization involves sin as we read from verse 2 and verse 5: “According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin my mother conceived me.”   

Part 1: vv. 2, 5

It’s significant that David starts this Psalm on a positive note. This psalm is listed in a group that we call the penitential psalms, because they express great sorrow and repentance over sin. In this way they are examples of lamentation but the very first thoughts express positive things. David can be positive in the midst of his sin because he focuses on God. “Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness, According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.

As David describes his sins, he gets quite specific, but he never despairs because he has God. It is God’s mercy, God’s lovingkindness, and God’s multitude of tender mercies which sustain David. These qualities remind David that the Lord will wash away his sins, however dark and personal they may be. Let’s remember what these sins were. The preface of the psalm tells us that David wrote these words after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba and after God’s prophet, Nathan, came and exposed that sin to David. As we know, adultery was not the only sin David was guilty of in this situation. It started with lust in his heart, from which the adultery was produced. He then lied about what happened and tried to deceitfully cover it up. He suppressed his guilty conscience and tried to run from the truth, which led him to issue commands to the head of the army to abandon Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, in battle, thereby essentially signing his death sentence.

The hearer gets a real look at the guilt in David’s heart as phrases in this psalm remind us of these sins. Verse 14 states, “Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God.” Verses 7-8 take hope and comfort in the Lord’s cleansing forgiveness, which wipes clean the ugly record of our sins. But, of all things, it is David’s relationship with the Lord that he is most concerned about. He writes, “Against, You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight.” It’s take an honest heart to recognize two things here. First, that all sin is against God and ultimately that is what makes it most dangerous. David is not denying that he sinned against Bathsheba, Uriah, Joab, and anyone else. But, of all those affected, it struck first and foremost against God, and that is what bothered David most.

Most people today don’t think about God when they sin. Common attitudes are that as long as an action doesn’t hurt anyone else, it’s okay. Within that kind of thinking, people often refuse to curb sinful desires and thoughts, choosing to believe that it only becomes sinful when it affects someone else. What about one’s relationship to God? No matter how secret we try to keep something, God always knows. David properly recognizes that if one’s relationship with God is not right, no other relationship matters. Very often, when sin finally manifests itself publicly in a person’s life, it’s primarily because they have neglected, abused, or even destroyed their relationship with God long before.

The second important thing that David confesses about his sin is that it is completely his fault. This, too, is uncommon. Most people will try to find an excuse to offer or someone else to blame. But, notice how personal David gets, going all the way back to his own conception: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin my mother conceived me.” If ever there was a moment when David could blame someone else, this would be it. But, he accepts full responsibility. He doesn’t try to pass off blame on his parents by saying it wasn’t his fault because he was born this way. He doesn’t complain against God for unfairly judging his sin because there’s nothing he could have done about it. David is honest about his futility from birth and that, as a helpless sinner, he needs God’s mercy. It was David’s sin that caused him to act against God. It was sin he had from birth. It was sin that caused bloodshed and filth. It was sin that affected every part of his being. And sin that only God could take away.

Part 2 – vv.10-12

Enter, now, the beautiful memory verses of God’s grace and mercy. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from Your presence, and take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and uphold by Your generous Spirit.

Here we see what Christ’s atonement does for sinners. God takes everything that David did against Him and blots it out, wipes it away. He answered David’s plea in verses 2-3 with a resounding “YES!” But, salvation is more than just what God takes away. It’s also about what He freely gives in His grace. He wipes David’s record of wrongdoings away and then creates something new in their place. A clean heart. A steadfast spirit. An abode for the Holy Spirit to dwell. These promises are all contingent on Jesus Christ’s fulfilment in the sinner’s place as the one Savior and Mediator. To have these gifts we need righteousness. Sin’s dominion in our hearts is exactly why we fall short to begin with. Jesus wipes that sin away, but also creates righteousness in its place. Therefore, we move forward from forgiveness renewed and also with hope for the future.

Paul describes this re-creation in Christ in this way, 2 Corinthians 1:20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

Do you feel guilty because of your sin? Are you concerned about facing God one day? Do you have questions in life? Of course, we all do, that’s part of being human. God reassures us, all of His promises are “yes” in His Son, Jesus. There’s no need to worry or doubt with Christ in your heart, for He takes care of the unknown. Sometimes people get fed up with the Christian faith because they still have struggles even after coming to faith. When actions and works are over-emphasized, people begin to make those things the measure of what it means to believe in Jesus. Therefore, it is assumed that if you truly have the Holy Spirit in your heart, you won’t have questions, doubts, struggles, or problems. But, this is hardly the case. When people have this brand of Christianity in their minds, they get upset when life doesn’t seem to instantly change for the good.

The Christian life is far from easy. Very often, declaring and confessing Christ in life will bring more hardships. The key to being a Christian, and the great gift of faith, is not that sin’s problems magically disappear and life becomes easy. The key is that we have the Holy Spirit. David’s measure of hope in believing God was not about the absence of trouble. It was that God was with him despite the trouble, trouble that he caused. He prays that God would keep the Holy Spirit in his heart. He boasts that the Holy Spirit upholds his faith. There is no hope in becoming an instantly perfect person. 

Part 3 – The fruits of being forgiven (v.15)

The last memory verse of this psalm deals with the natural response to being forgiven of sin. It is the simple joy expressed by a Christian. David writes, O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise. What a clear proclamation of true worship! The Lord must first open our lips to sing His praises. As Hebrews says, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).” Only those who have Christ in their hearts by faith can offer true praise of God, because God is the one who must first open their hearts and lips.

That praise is likened by David to offering a sacrifice. Sacrifice worship was so important to the life of the Old Testament believer. Every act of public worship was built around sacrifices. Those sacrifices would indeed be symbolic of an offering to God, namely, something that sinners return to the Lord as a thanks and praise for His blessing. But, more importantly, sacrifices foreshadowed Jesus on the cross, the ultimate sacrifice. They were to be reminders of what God would do for the people, just as He did for David, by taking sin away. The book of Hebrews also states that “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22).” To save our lives, God had to offer up His Son’s life. Life for life. Blood for blood. That is true sacrifice.

So, although we offer sacrifices to God as thanks and praise, they are always flowing from and mirroring the one sacrifice of Jesus. It’s easy to forget this. David reminds us that the sacrifices we offer are not to be hollow rituals done out of compulsion. As he says, the Lord does not desire these kinds of sacrifices. Rather, “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart.” True sacrifice is just like Jesus’, it means something. It comes from the heart of someone who truly believes that they are sinful and that they have been forgiven by Jesus.

As our memory verse states, faith leads us to come to God again and again in repentance. He convicts us with the Law of condemnation and restores us with the Gospel. He opens our lips to make these confessions. And where the Holy Spirit is present in these ways, there will also be words of worship for what God has done. These fruits come naturally. They need not be threatened out of the person by works or emotion. They are produced just as fruits are in the natural world, by connection to the Vine (John 15:5).

One word of praise that David mentions is spreading God’s Word. What better way to honor His work and name than sharing it with someone else who has the same needs we do? After God renews his heart, David writes, “Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You.”      

Psalm 51 is a deeply personal look into David’s soul at a time when he was feeling a lot of regret and guilt. Remember that these verses apply to your heart as well. When you are plagued by your own sins, or maybe before then when you hardly think of them, remember these three memory sections. Commit them to your heart and mind. Use them again and again, for the same reasons David recorded them.

Remember what you have done to God: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Remember what God has done for you: 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

And remember the fruits of being forgiven: 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. 14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.


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