Sermons

Make a Lasting Impact 1) Forgiveness

Make a Lasting Impact 1) Impact of Forgiveness  ●  Luke 15:1-10 ● October 6, 2019 ●  Print Version ●  Audio Version ●  Lasting Impact Series

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Anyone can make an impact. But it’s hard to make a lasting impact. Take the world of music for example. Even if someone has a published song, it’s just one of over 100 million published songs worldwide. And the number is growing fast. Today it is estimated that there are about 1000 published songs uploaded to the various music streaming services each hour. That equals a million newly published songs every six weeks. Do they all make an impact? A song may be popular for today, but who will still be listening to it one-hundred years from now? Even the most popular artist today may be tomorrow’s forgotten song. Not everyone is a musician, but we all have a chance to make a lasting impact on this world. This month we’ll be looking at the lasting impact which God intends for us to make. Today we consider one of most powerful tools for making a lasting impact: forgiveness.

Luke reminds us at the start of chapter 15 how without forgiveness there is separation. There was a group of people meeting with Jesus who were often left outside in the cold. They are labeled in Luke’s time as “tax collectors and sinners.” This group would have included those who by their life were publicly known as immoral. The tax collectors were suspected and most often guilty of cheating people. They were despised in ancient Israel because they worked for the Roman government. The sinners referenced here would have included men and women known for their dealings with the sex trade business, the local drunkards, and suspected thieves or cheats. They were the outsiders on the fringe of society.

But Jesus was breaking the separation between himself and this crowd. He wasn’t joining with them in anything immoral. It doesn’t say that he approved of anything those people had done. Nor was Jesus saying they were upright and good people. But he was eating with them. By this he was showing that he did not desire there to be any separation. This action drew the ire of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They were the religious instructors and spent much of their energy enforcing the law of God. They began to mutter among themselves against Jesus. They couldn’t believe that Jesus wanted to break down the barriers of separation!

So, did the Pharisees and teachers of the law have a valid point? Why should Jesus welcome and eat with such people? Without forgiveness there is indeed separation. When someone falls into any type of sin it will cause harm and create division. Families are divided when one person refuses to talk to a family member because of unforgiven sin. Marriages crumble when one spouse lets a sin that separates them continue to grow into a rift that tears the marriage apart. Even whole churches crumble and divide over sin which separates. Sin does create division!

Scripture reveals just how big an impact our sins have. It causes division in the worst way. That division includes us and our God. Scripture reveals that we have a bigger problem than the guilty consciences, broken families, broken marriages, and broken lives caused by our sins. It has separated us from our God. It brings death and eternal separation in hell. The angels of God ought to look down at every one of us and say, “There’s one who ought to be tossed outside the kingdom and away from our Holy Lord God!” God ought to say, “I never want to see your face again.”

But notice the difference between these two groups of people in Luke 15. Why were the tax collectors and sinners gathering around Jesus? They weren’t just coming near to him because they wanted another drinking buddy, or because Jesus was joining in anything dishonest. They were drawing near because they wanted to hear the gracious and welcoming words which Jesus shared for sinners. The Pharisees and teachers only gathered around Jesus to criticize and critique him. One group yearned for the separation to end, another feared it.

God doesn’t want that separation to exist between us and himself. Jesus teaches us here about forgiveness and its profound impact. He uses a few parables in Luke 15 to teach his point about the impact of forgiveness. The first is about a lost sheep and the second about a lost coin. Both parables present the same basic situation: someone or something precious has been lost. When someone falls into sin and has turned away from God they are not viewed as trash or garbage to him. They remain precious to him and he cares about them. If you have a friend or family member who has abandoned all love for God and lives for themselves, remember that God has not abandoned his love for them. To him that person is still precious even though they have been separated from him. God cares about the lost. And it doesn’t matter how it happened. Whether the person wandered willfully and foolishly away from God like a lost sheep or was foolishly misplaced or overlook the way a church can overlook someone, they are lost but precious still. He cares.

He desires to recover and searches for the lost. The shepherd Jesus mentions leaves behind his flock and risks everything to find his lost sheep. That’s what God desires for those who wander from his flock. He desires decisive action to regain the lost. And just like a woman overturning and cleaning her whole house to find a lost coin, he desires his church make every effort to recover the lost. God cares. And he searches.

And the search continues until the lost is found and recovered. To relate this to the work of Christian it means going after the lost as long as possible in order to bring them back to Christ. It means that you make every effort to reach the lost until that person is brought to repentance and faith in Christ. Repentance occurs. Forgiveness is spoken. The sinner is restored to faith and peace with God. That is the end goal. The business of the church is not to simply proclaim the law. The church is in the business of forgiveness. God cares. God searches. He recovers and forgives.

And the end result of each parable is rejoicing. Can’t you see the picture painted by Jesus when just one person repents and receives forgiveness? The picture is far bigger than what meets the eye. We can see the person who repents being hugged. We see the tears of joy at forgiveness spoken. We see the smile and the friendship restored. But open your eyes to see the bigger impact. God smiles. The angels in heaven rejoice. Can you see the picture of the heavenly armies of the Lord Almighty cheering another victory as one sinner repents and is brought back safely into God’s kingdom? He rejoices!

This is what happens when forgiveness is offered! The impact is profound, and it outlasts all else. There’s a pedestrian bridge in Menasha Wisconsin, about a mile from where I had been serving as pastor in May of 2015. A man there opened fire and shot at a young family, killing a father and his eleven-year-old daughter. His wife said that his dying words to the shooter were reportedly “I forgive you.” A lasting impact stands there today on that bridge with a memorial plaque about forgiveness found in Jesus. You no doubt recall the shooting that took place last May here in Payson. It was just a mile from my home. The shooter escalated an argument, pulled out his pistol, and opened fire. He shot the other man three times. That man was a Christian. His words of forgiveness to the shooter will no doubt have a bigger impact than any of the bullet wounds which he is still recovering from. You probably heard on national news this week about the man, Brandt Jean, who forgave the former police officer, Amber Guyger, the woman who shot and killed his brother. She had walked right into his apartment and shot and killed his brother even though the was totally innocent. Regardless of what your opinions might be on the actions of the judge, jury, or the political commentaries, the brother’s words of forgiveness are regarded by all as the most remarkable thing. The man mentioned the full forgiveness that was found in Christ Jesus. The loss of his brother will impact him for the rest of his life. But his words of forgiveness in Jesus will have a lasting impact for all who heard across our nation for countless years to come. Forgiveness always will outlast all else!

I could also point to the timeless examples of forgiveness in Scripture such as Joseph who forgave his brothers for selling him into slavery, and Hosea who forgave his wife’s adultery along with many others. All such examples of freely given forgiveness flow from the one true God. From him we find the greatest expression of forgiveness. God did this in Christ for us. We were completely rebellious and lost. We willfully turned aside from our God and deserved to remain lost. God had every right to disassociate himself from us. Instead he did the unthinkable and unbelievable. It surprised the teachers of the law and caused them to mummer against him. He tore down the barriers of sin. Jesus cared. Jesus searched us out. Jesus found us and recovered us. He did more than forgive. He won our forgiveness by taking upon himself what we deserved. He was nailed to the tree and cried out, “Father, forgive them.” That was the beginning of every barrier of sin crumbling down. That is what Jesus lived and died for. And because he rose to life, we know that the impact of those words is eternal. His words of forgiveness echo today from heaven and around the world. They echo in my heart and in yours. All barriers of sin have been removed forever between us and our God. Forgiveness has the greatest impact for us!

This forgiveness produces a lasting friendship. There is nothing more powerful you can do to restore and build up a friendship than to forgive. Forgiveness removes all separation and animosity. It destroys all division. It is what allowed the sinners to eat with Jesus and it is what allows us to also eat with him. Forgiveness restores the broken family. It binds up the faltering marriage and restores it. It heals the heart. And it even leads to joy in place of grief and pain.

That’s the impact we now share with this world. We care because Jesus cares. We search because our God longs to look for the lost. We find and recover with words of pardon and peace because our God has given us those words. We rejoice because we know what the angels know: God is pleased, and a sinner is restored to him. We have a lasting friendship. The person who discovers the joy of forgiveness has a joy with us and God which will never end.

Making a lasting impact isn’t something you will always see right away. J.S. Bach wasn’t always regarded as a world-famous composer. At the time of his death his music was already considered old fashioned by many. Some pieces like the Brandenburg concertos, now world-famous pieces, had even failed to land him a job during his lifetime. He died thinking he might have left only a passing impact on the world of music. Yet today he is one of the most highly regarded and influential figures in the history of modern music. There isn’t a single accomplished musician who doesn’t at least recognize his name or have heard music influenced by him. Have you been to a wedding? That’s probably Bach you heard. How about the haunted houses? That might be a piece by Bach you’re hearing. Electric guitar solo? There’s some Bach behind some of those riffs too. He also wrote hundreds of sacred cantatas. He never would have guessed his music would reach the stars! Yet when NASA first sent out items decades ago into far reaches of space, who whose music would you find sent into the far reaches of the galaxy? Bach. His religious music is still causing agnostics to listen to the gospel message and ponder the wonders of Christ Jesus. Bach didn’t see his impact, but he made a lasting impact on the world far beyond his lifetime. So it is with the impact a Christian makes with their life-song. When you share forgiveness you share the most powerful tool for a lasting impact for good. You may not see it, but right away when a sinner repents and receives forgiveness, the angels in heaven are bursting into rejoicing! It will last for years and perhaps even for eternity.

Next week we’ll continue reading on in Luke’s gospel to find more things which leave a lasting impact. Today we’ve seen how forgiveness echoes now far beyond this world and will echo for eternity to those who seek it and receive it in Jesus’ name. It is a song of the gospel and it rings out with the tune of forgiveness. That forgiveness causes the angels in heaven to rejoice. God himself is delighted. And the saints on earth also rejoice. That is the impact of forgiveness for those who know and share Christ.

 

Lost in Pride; Found in Christ

Philippians 3:4-11 ● September 29, 2019 ● Pentecost 16 ●  Audio Version ●  Print Version 

Do you start books by reading the back cover or inside jacket? Often you will find a picture of the author there with a short paragraph or two of praise. I found a book recently with an interesting blurb for its author. I was intrigued and decided to give the book a read. As I read through the first few pages the author introduced himself. He proceeded to list the reasons why he was the most qualified person in the world to write his commentary on the Bible. He had spent several decades teaching the Torah and the Hebrew Bible. He had fielded countless questions from students and was indeed a professor of professors. He listed the number of renowned authors and scholars he knew around the world. And that was all just the introduction. There was more. After his own introduction is a preface by an admirer of the author. That man asserts that he had the privilege of creating a preface for a book written by the smartest and greatest man he had ever known -a Hebrew scholar of Hebrew scholars. And in his book the author wasn’t content to simply list his accolades in academics, profound professional ties, and prolific professorship positions. He had an even greater feat he wanted to boast about. He couldn’t let us overlook his moral qualifications and religious zeal. He even boasts, “After I left home, I called my mother once a week every week until she died.” You see, to him his moral attainments were his greatest achievement. He was not a Christian. But he believed that keeping the Ten Commandments was the highest achievement anyone could ever attain. So, as he wrote his prologue and had many things to boast about, he couldn’t help but boasting about his moral character.

Should I have been impressed? I suppose many of his feats were remarkable. Maybe even his morality was notable. But the apostle Paul wouldn’t have been impressed. The apostle considered every title, moral habit, and academic achievement a man could ever attain in the area of theology as worthless when it came to impressing God. And what good is impressing others if you don’t impress God? One can get lost in pride. It was true for that Hebrew scholar and it is true for us. Today we are warned against falling into the same trap of getting lost in pride and falling away from Christ.

In his letter to the Philippian Christians, Paul warned against boasting about such things as religious observance or moral purity. He refers to all confidence in achievements and adherence to the law as “having confidence in the flesh.” In Paul’s day that often included those who kept the Ten Commandments and all the ceremonial and sacrificial regulations given to the Israelites. Taking pride in religious observance and zeal was a big problem in many of the early Christian churches.

Unless you’re into theological commentaries and books by Hebrew scholars, you probably don’t encounter too many people boasting about their religious fever. But you will still find many who being to “put confidence in the flesh.” Some boast that their baptism was superior to other Christians. Some may boast about how they have kept the Ten Commandments. They may consider themselves better servants of God and with a better standing on the basis of religious days and Sabbath regulations given to ancient Israel. I’ve encountered some who try to knock down other churches based on their style of worship. They boast that their church has the Spirit while others do not. Or they are proud that their church has the historical rites while others do not. They deem their religious activity better because of their music style and its performance. They brag about their religious observation and zeal. Still others will go on and on about how they dedicated their lives to God through some type of decision they made to submit to the Lord. They will point out how they gave themselves to God to serve him. Others will boast about how they or their church body is making a difference in the world by fighting injustice, poverty, sickness or ignorance. All these boasts are what the apostle Paul refers to as “boasting in the flesh.” Anytime anyone (regardless of whether they be Christian or not) begins to think highly of themselves based on something they have done; they are boasting in the flesh. Anytime a Christian or any other person puts down others and builds themselves up based on their own achievements they begin to “have confidence in the flesh.” The actions they take pride in are often good things, but the pride never is.

If anyone could boast about “having confidence in the flesh” it would be the apostle Paul. He writes, “If anyone thinks they have reason to have confidence in the flesh, I have more!” He goes on to list the things that make him stand out above all his peers in the sphere of religious achievements. He was circumcised by believing parents who brought him to be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. This made him a life-long disciple. And as a life-long servant of God he could claim to belong to Israel in ways that others couldn’t. He was not only an Israelite, but of the tribe of Benjamin. All the other tribes, save remnants of Judah and Levi, had been mixed or scattered in centuries past. But not Paul’s tribe. Paul was a true believer from a long line of faithful Israelites. And he wasn’t just a Hebrew professor or student of Hebrew. He called himself a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” At a time when many were no longer even able to speak Hebrew, the native language of Old Testament Scripture, Paul lived on the language of the Torah. He didn’t have to study Hebrew like me or like the world-renowned author I mentioned. He understood the Torah better than anyone. Scripture’s language was his own. And Paul bore the title “Pharisee.” This group was known for holding so carefully to the law of God that they created additional laws just to make sure they had every base covered.

Paul was so zealous in his faith-life that he even became blind to the evil in himself. He took an active role in trying to stamp out the Christians who in his mind were deviating from the law. And all his religious peers regarded him as outwardly faultless in all his religious practices and observance. None could boast of religious zeal like Paul could.

But when he became a Christian, Paul regarded all his former life as garbage. The word he uses here can refer to the rubbish left over in the kitchen or the stuff left in the chamber pot. In other words, all the good religious practices and achievements were like rotten refuse. It wasn’t just worthless. It was a harmful stench. He wouldn’t for a moment consider holding onto any of his religious zeal any more than you would your trash. He gladly let it all go and tossed it.

That because the apostle Paul, boasting in zeal and lost in pride, met Jesus one day. The risen Lord appeared to him. And he had a surprise! Everything he had done met nothing without faith in Christ Jesus as his Lord. And after that revelation Paul was brought to faith in his Lord. Once he gained faith in Christ, he didn’t want to place any confidence in the flesh and boast in it. He knew the danger of putting his eyes only on himself and being blinded in his pride. Paul knew that in the end he could never stand on his own righteousness. He knew that anyone who tried to stand before the judge of all on the basis of their own religious observance would be greatly surprised on the last day. He knew that on the last day the risen Jesus would come as judge and say to them, “away from me you who are cursed into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” All those who in pride relied on their good deeds will say to him, “Lord, when did we not do good things in your name?” The judge in turn will say that even the least fault or failure would leave them condemned and guilty. Sadly in such blindness many have put so much focus on what they have done that they make it their source of confidence. Blinded in pride they have taken their eyes off of Christ Jesus as Lord and made themselves their own Savior.

Could this ever happen to us? Could we ever misplace our confidence and be lost in pride? The apostle Paul warns and writes here to one of the most faithful churches found in all the New Testament letters. The Philippian Christians were generous, supportive, and receptive to the gospel. Paul loves them dearly and is filled with joy because of their faith. Yet he must warn them against the dangers of “putting confidence in the flesh” and becoming lost in pride. In fact, it is often those who are most outwardly zealous and religious who are the first to fall into the trap of boasting in the flesh.

That’s why this warning is needed also for us. If anyone can take pride in religious zeal many of you could probably boast more than others you know. As a member of the WELS you could claim to belong to a church that not only teaches the Word of God in truth and purity, but which practices it. You may not study Hebrew and Greek, but all the pastors in your church body do and take great care with the study of the Word. Do we dare to boast or take confidence in that fact? Does God love us more for achieving such academic feats with his Word? If any pastor could boast I could dare to boast that I was baptized around the eighth day. And as a life-long Christian I have studied the Word and would be regarded by everyone outwardly as faultless and blameless in keeping the law. Dare I boast in the flesh? You can look back on all the good you have done, the times you’ve attended worship and Bible class, confirmation class, and the times you’ve shared a Christian meme on social media. Dare you to boast in that? At a time when many are saying God’s Word is not clear and attacking the truth of Scripture you dare to hold to it and read it. Dare you boast in that faithfulness to him? At a time when many are dishonoring marriage some of you are celebrating 30, 40, 50, even 60 years of faithful marriage. Dare you to boast in that? Does any sinner impress God with such things? In regard to salvation it all means nothing.  Stinky trash.

Paul says that to put any confidence or pride in such things is not only foolish, it is dangerous. It causes us to take our eyes off Christ and join the rest of the world in looking at ourselves instead of Jesus. Don’t misunderstand, keeping the law and living according to God’s Word and practicing zeal in religion is a good thing. But it ceases to be good as soon as you put your confidence in it and boast about it before God. We become blind in our pride to our own condition as sinners.

Instead we must daily join with the apostle Paul and all saints saying, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” Christ Jesus is the only one we can ever put our confidence in. He was truly faultless. He kept the law of God outwardly and kept it perfectly from the heart. He was filled with zeal for the house of the Lord and honored every commandment all the time. He lived, taught, and died as the only one who could ever boast in the flesh. But he didn’t take on human flesh to simply boast. The Son of God took on flesh to give it for the world’s benefit. All his righteousness meant he deserved only life. But he traded that life for our death. He was cursed on the cross for us. And he freely gave us his own righteousness.

With Christ we are found righteous in God’s eyes. Instead of being lost in pride we become found in Christ. We join with Paul is saying I want to “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.We will stand on the last day with bodies raised to life and restored. And we will boast in Jesus’ who raised us to life not because of what we have done, but in mercy for those who trusted in him. So, we don’t stand with our own righteousness. “Not my own righteousness” Paul says. But the righteousness of Jesus, who took our place. In him and in his perfect life we place our trust. He is our Lord.

That righteousness comes with the power of his resurrection. Paul was willing to share in whatever sufferings that meant knowing he would share in Jesus’ resurrection in the end. He did not know how or when he might die, but he knew in some way he would attain to that resurrection. Why boast in the flesh when we can boast in the glorified body of Jesus Christ who will transform our lowly bodies to be like his own?

That, believers in Christ, is the highest achievement you could ever attain. And it was attained for you by Jesus Christ your Lord. Found in Christ we have something to boast about. Because there is a book written by him. Open that book and find there is no one who can boast, save Jesus the Christ. Toss all other things aside, not lost in pride, but found in Christ.

You Are Children of the Promise

Romans 9:1-9 ● September 15, 2019 ● Pentecost 14 ● Pastor Tom Barthel ● Print VersionAudio VersionVideo Version

You are children of the promise from Rock of Ages Payson

 

How do you get rich? You might say that you have to be smart, driven towards wealth, and work hard. You’d probably be right. However, sometimes you actually inherit it. In fact, three of the wealthiest people in the world actually obtained their position through an inheritance. They belong to the Walton family that is behind the Walmart company. Just three of Sam Walton’s children have a combined net worth that is greater than the richest person in the world. And they all got it as part of an inheritance. That’s sort of the way it is with spiritual riches and our position in God’s kingdom. We don’t work to acquire it. We actually can’t. We must inherit it. But how can we be sure that the riches of God’s kingdom are really ours and will remain ours? We find that answer to that today in the middle of Paul’s letter to the Romans.

The people of Israel inherited so much but they lost it all. It’s clear that Paul’s heart was aching over their great loss. Regarding his fellow Israelites he says, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” His concern is deeply felt. He even says that he wishes that he could be cut off from Christ and condemned instead of them. The fate of many Israelites was not only to miss out on their inheritance, they would miss out on everything as those who were enemies of God and doomed to suffer under his wrath. They were total outside his family, cut off from Christ and condemned to hell.

This terrible loss is one of history’s most shocking. After all, the people of Israel were born into the wealthiest family in a manner of speaking. They were children of Abraham and held a great promise. Paul outlines their great family history: “Theirs is the adoption as sons.” When God freed the children of Abraham from slavery, he could have chosen any other nation in the world. But he chose them in grace. He told them at their adoption, “The Lord your God has chosen you to be his own possession out of all the peoples on the face of the earth.” (Dt 7:6) Paul adds, “Theirs is the glory.” God revealed himself to the Israelites in a bright cloud of glory and pillar of fire. It was to them that he revealed himself as holy and glorious with signs and wonders. Israel heard, saw, and witnessed the glory of God. “Theirs is the covenant.” God made a special covenant with Israel. Through Abraham, King David, and the prophets God made and repeated more special promises for them. “Theirs is the giving of the law.” God himself spoke and wrote his commands for them. At Sinai they received the Ten Commandments. No other nation had such divine revelation in all of history like Israel did. They had the will of God written down. Israel also had the temple services and priesthood. They alone out of all nations had God’s special direction for offering sacrifice and a family-line of priests. They had access to the very throne of God through this priesthood. God listened and God spoke to them. And through his prophets God repeated promise after promise, warning after warning, encouragement and hope for the future. The people of Israel could claim to have Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as their father. And ultimately, they could claim an intimate role with the greatest promise in all of history. From them came the promised one, the one called Messiah. Jesus, the Christ was born into this world to save them. And he, just as was promised, was born as an Israelite, to an Israelite mother, and lived in Israel, taught in Israel, and accomplished all his work in Israel. All that was given to the family and people of Israel. What people could ever claim to have such an inheritance passed on to them?

Yet, they lost it all. Many of the people of Israel have missed out on all the blessings given to them as a nation. The fact that they were born into a nation adopted by God doesn’t mean they all belong to God. What happened to Israel? They received a great gift and inherited a priceless treasure, but they lost it. They lost it because too many of them assumed it was theirs by right and that their inheritance was something they deserved by right instead of by grace. They assumed it was irrevocably theirs because they were born into the right family.

Consider George. George was an art collector. He didn’t have to work. He spent his days pursuing hobbies, entertaining guests, and finding new pieces of art for his collection. Where did he put his art? George didn’t have any problems with that. He had constructed a 250-room castle-mansion for one of his homes. It was completed in 1895. It sits on a ten square mile estate and it is still the largest privately-owned home in the United States and regarded to be the second largest privately-owned home in the world. How could he do all that? He inherited it. He belonged to the right family. His full name was George Washington Vanderbilt II. He was actually the younger son of William Vanderbilt and a grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. In the mid to late 17th century belonging to the Vanderbilt family meant belonging to one of the wealthiest families in America. Many Vanderbilts lived in wealth and luxury far beyond others. But the Vanderbilt family fortune is mostly a sad story. Many children and grandchildren of Cornelius Vanderbilt seemed to assume they would always be rich. They slowly spent away their fortunes. It’s true that they did good philanthropic things like gifts to charitable organizations and universities, but they also squandered a lot of wealth. They built enormous and expensive mansions, they paid divorce settlements, they gambled, and they hosted lavish social parties that cost millions of dollars each. Despite receiving such an inheritance as members of a wealthy family, within one or two generations most of the wealth was lost. When a family reunion was held in 1973, not one of the 120 attendees was a millionaire. Belonging to a rich family line doesn’t automatically mean you will have lasting riches. Cornelius Vanderbilt even suspected many of his own children and grandchildren weren’t worthy of receiving a full share of his inheritance because he knew they would squander it. He was proved right many times.

That’s the attitude that can take over when people receive God’s grace. Someone can begin to assume that because they inherited a treasure it will always be theirs because of their own self-worth as members of the family. Just belonging to the right family line, or having a strong and rich spiritual heritage, doesn’t mean that you will always automatically possess it. God’s gifts and his grace are a great treasure, but not automatically yours or mine. Nor do we deserve them. God’s gifts are given in grace, and they can be lost by those who let it slip out of their hands.

Scripture makes it clear that God’s blessings aren’t received merely by inheritance because you belong to the right family. His blessings are promised to those who receive them in faith. “Not all who are descended from Israel are really Israel. Not all who are descended from Abraham are really his children.” Jesus often expressed the same sentiment. He warned against ethnic pride and reliance on lineage or heritage for good standing with God. He told those who in pride assumed the inheritance was theirs, “You will weep…when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out” (Matthew 8:10) His forerunner John also warned to the proud who refused to repent and trust in Jesus, “Don’t say to yourself ‘we have Abraham as our Father,’ for out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.”(Matthew 3)

Paul illustrates for us how God considers us his children through faith in his promises alone. Abraham had a son before he gave birth to Isaac. But this child was born by human decision and action. He wasn’t born as promised through Sarah his wife. That child did not inherit the promised blessings. Only the child who was promised to be born through Sarah was the true children of Abraham. What ended up setting him and all who followed after is faith. So too with you. You are part of the family of God through faith in his promise. You, along with those in Israel who have faith, are children of the promise. You receive your inheritance because God considers you his own child through faith in his promise. Like the true children of Israel we are children of Abraham’s promise through faith. We are born, but not into a people, race, or nation. We are born of God. All those who in faith believe in Jesus Christ are born again into God’s family. “To all those who believed him he gave the right to be called ‘children of God.’ Children not born of human decision… but born of God.” (John 1) And as people born into God’s family we stand to inherit all his blessings through faith.

The promise we hold to in faith was given long ago to Abraham. God told Abraham that his offspring would become a great nation and be blessed. He told Abraham that through his offspring all nations would be blessed. That promise was fulfilled when an Israelite woman named Mary gave birth to her son, Jesus. According to his human nature, Jesus is a child of Abraham. He is also the one promised through Abraham to bless all nations. Jesus, who is God over all forever praised, came to fulfill God’s greatest promise for Abraham and all nations. Our faith is in Jesus, the perfect and holy Son of God from eternity and Mary’s son according to his human nature. He came to bring us all eternal and lasting blessing. Earthly inheritance and gifts can and will fade. But what Jesus gives us is everlasting life.

Jesus declared what God’s family table would look like. “Many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 8:11) Through faith in Jesus’ perfect life and death you belong to the family of God. You were born again with the gift and the Spirit by water and the Word. You have the gift of faith and adoption into the family of God. Jesus faced the rejection by the Father that we deserved. He suffered and died outside the family in our place once for all. Then Jesus rose to life. He calls us brother and sister -heirs with him in the riches of heaven. And you can be sure that inheritance is yours. Rising back to life he assured us that we have an inheritance which not even death can take away from us.

Who can say that they were born into a greater inheritance than us? Ours is the promise given to Abraham, ours is the rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, ours is the gift of the Spirit in baptism, ours is the invitation to his table, the body and blood given with the bread and wine in his new covenant, ours is the promise of sins forgiven, ours is the treasure of the holy Word which stands forever, ours is the promise of a new heaven and new earth, ours is the inheritance kept in heaven for us which can never perish, spoil or fade. Through faith we are children of God and heirs of the greatest riches.

Yet we too can lose it all. If we, like Israel, put our focus in our own position, our heritage, our lineage, or the strength of our own blood we too will lose our inheritance. Just as it was easy for Israel to lose faith and lose their greatest treasure, so it is for us. How many Christians have become foolishly complacent because they were born into a Christian family? How many have wandered from the faith because they held a careless disregard for God’s Word have lost their faith and lost their position as children of God? You and I could also be tempted to think that because we belong to a very conservative church and have a rich heritage in our church of holding the gospel promises that we’ll always hold them. Too many Christians have begun down the path that relies on family history instead of God’s salvation history. They have turned aside from faith in God’s promises to faith in their own standing. Like many in Israel they were handed an enormous blessing and gift. Often, they received it because by God’s grace they were born into a Christian home. But they lost the gift as they lost their faith.

Who is God’s child? It is only the one who stand by faith in Jesus. Through faith in him you are children of the promise. Hold to his promises. Don’t rely on merely your church membership, your family history, or anything else. Rely on the promise which gave you rebirth. Rely on that promise which all the children of Abraham hold to in faith. Through Jesus, the offspring of Abraham, you are blessed. And you will sit at the family table with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all of true Israel. You will see the inheritance which is yours as a child of the promise. We are children of the promise.

Uncommon Love 3) Leaning on the Father

Uncommon Love 3) Leaning on the Father ● Luke 11:1-13 ● August 18, 2019 ● Pentecost 10 ●  Print Version ●  Audio Version (pending upload if requested) ● Series: Uncommon Love

 

Smart speakers are great.  At least I think so.  It’s really convenient to just waltz into the living room and then to ask it something.  You can ask it to play music and it will begin playing music on your speakers.  You can ask it a question and it will at any moments notice give you an answer as best it is able. Funny thing is that they don’t always get it right. For one thing they are always listening for their command word.  Sometimes they mistake your speech and think you’ve addressed them with a command.  They’re not so smart when they blurt out something in response when they weren’t even asked.  They can also sometimes give you a little different answer than desired.  Sometimes I’ll ask it to play a certain type of music or song and it will totally miss the mark.  Instead of hearing relaxing evening music it might start to play the soundtrack to the latest mission impossible movie or a loud pop song.  I even wonder if it is really not smart or just being smart and playing some sort of joke.  I tell it that’s not what I meant, and it apologizes and stops the music.  Do you ever feel that way when it comes to trying to make requests to your God? Maybe you make a request in prayer and just think to yourself, “I’m not sure he’s really set to answer that type of a request for me.”  Or maybe it feels like you asked for something relaxing and good from him but found your life turning into a rollercoaster ride instead.  Today we see Jesus teaching us about prayer.  And as we finish our three-part series on the uncommon love, we have from our Triune God we learn what it means to lean on the Father.

Isn’t it interesting to note what we see Jesus doing at the start of today’s gospel account?  Jesus certainly modeled a life of leaning on the Father.  As true man he lived according to his human nature just like we do. He placed himself under God the Father and approached the Father as a true man in prayer.  We read at the start of Luke 11 that Jesus was praying.  He often did this during his time walking on earth as a man. Prayer is important!  Even Jesus who lived as true God didn’t act like prayer was optional for the believer. He regarded it as very much worth his time.  He would even spend hours in prayer it seems. How could we ever think lightly of prayer when we see Jesus himself praying so often?

His example wasn’t without effect on his disciples. If their Lord wanted to pray and valued it, so did they. Some of those disciples following Jesus, upon seeing him return from prayer asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  Yes, they no doubt knew the prayers passed on by their spiritual forefathers in ancient Israel.  No doubt they heard the Psalms read and heard the prayers of the inspired authors.  There were even some prayers of the prophets recorded for them to hear and read.   But with prayer being so important, they asked the Lord himself to teach them more about it. We have the same examples of prayer recorded for us.  We even have much of Jesus’ praying recorded for our learning.  And prayer is something that ever believer will naturally do.  We’ve prayed a few times already this morning.   But our attitude should remain like Jesus’ disciples who ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

“Lord, teach us to pray, ….” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’” Jesus here repeats and summarizes the Lord’s Prayer, which he taught in the Sermon on the Mount.  It’s a familiar prayer to most Christians.  We could spend much time on each part of this prayer.  But today I want us to focus on two particular aspects.  First, we have to notice who Jesus instructs to pray.  Where is the “me, me, me” in the prayer our Lord teaches us?  It includes not only requests for spiritual blessings, but it includes those blessings to be for all.  And please don’t misunderstand me.  I am not saying it is wrong to pray in the first person, saying “Me, my, and I.”  BUT are our prayers primarily focused on OUR needs, our requests, or do we remember to often include needs and requests for others as well?  We hear his prayer, we compare it with ours and we must say “Lord, teach us to pray for not just ourselves, but for all.”

The second aspect we will focus on for today is what Jesus teaches us to pray for.  Is it for spiritual blessings or the lesser blessings?  God’s name, God’s divine reign, forgiveness of sins, protection and strength in the face of temptation are all things that deal with our spiritual life. And when it does mention non-spiritual things, it is nothing more than “give me what I need to survive and be content for the day.”  What do we most often pray for?  The greater blessings or what are really the lesser blessings?  “Lord, teach us to pray for what really matters most.”

But aren’t those requests all really the boldest type of requests?  I have to admit, when I pray that my heavenly Father’s name be revered in this world, I’m feel like I’m asking a lot. His name is tossed around lightly by so many.  And I’m asking such a great request that even the person who curses with God’s name will revere it and worship the Lord? Could that person who now says “Jesus Christ” as an explicative alongside vulgar cussing ever say it in reverence?  That’s asking a lot.  And when I ask my Father to have his kingdom come, I ask that he not only rule  in my heart, but rule in the hearts of all people.  I’m asking that even those who hate, steal, and kill will become members of his kingdom. Can God reign in such hearts?  Will he grant my request?  Then after he tells us to ask that we have our daily bread –a bold request if you consider who we don’t deserve it- we ask our Father to forgive us.  We ask for the greatest spiritual blessing we can have –pardon from God for thoughts and deeds made against his will.  Why should he forgive us?  What have I or others I know done to deserve God’s forgiveness? That is a bold prayer! Then we ask that he give us all strength in temptation that we don’t fall away, that –as the Lord’s Prayer includes from the Sermon on the Mount says “deliver us from the evil one.”  The Lord teaches us to make bold requests!

Are we confident that he will answer such bold requests?  “Maybe God will just hear me a little.  Maybe when I pray that he strengthen my loved one as a member of his kingdom, give spiritual blessing and strength in faith, Maybe, he might answer.. a little.”  Or sometimes it might be “Why bother praying?  Do I really expect the Lord to give great spiritual blessing in this case?” We treat him like a smart speaker that’s either not listening or not equipped to answer us.

But the Lord is always listening! And he teaches us to pray no matter how bold the request may be! 5 Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6 because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 “Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. It is not that our Father in heaven is sleeping, nor is our request so trivial as some quick bread.  Nor does he hesitate to act to give us anything.  And he is not simply a friend, but our loving Father, who has called us his dear children.  Should we not be all the bolder in making our requests?

On top of all that Jesus adds: 9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” This is a promise!  We are invited by our God to pray boldly!  Does it seem like it is too much to ask for? Asking not only that God give material blessings, but spiritual richness and eternal blessings –does it seem like to much to ask!  Ask.  Ask knowing God promises to answer that prayer.

Sometimes when I talk to my smart speaker I’m still surprised when it answers fast and spot on.  I’m pleasantly surprised when it answers with something better than what I’ve asked.  But should we view our Father’s answers like that? And we don’t just ask hoping for the best, expecting the least. We can ask with a full confidence that he will give only his very best.  He knows what is best and promises to give it. 11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

What sort of things do you find difficult to pray with confidence?  How will remembering your new status before God give you boldness and confidence?  Look at what we read earlier about Abraham.  He knew these things.  His prayer was for others, and for their status before God.  Look at the boldness it gave Abraham as he asked God to spare an entire city of wicked men due to a handful of believers!  He was bold.  He knew God would answer, and answer with the best blessing.  He sent his angels to bring out Lot and his family.

Together we all pray boldly BECAUSE Jesus teaches us to do so, promises to answer, and to answer with good gifts!

We know we can lean on the Father. The Son of God tells us so!  Jesus who loved us so much that he came to this world to make us children of God.  He came not only to teach us to pray, but to give us the right to pray.  Jesus made it possible for us to pray his model prayer in every way. “Forgive us our sins.” “God’s kingdom come.”  “God’s name being regarded as holy.” All these are done because of Jesus.   He has made it possible that we can now boldly pray “forgive us our sins.”  In Jesus Christ God has promised that our sins are forever removed from us.  The great debt we owed to God is gone.  And Jesus sends his Holy Spirit into our hearts, calls us his own.  And this same Jesus who forgives us our sins now says “pray, pray boldly, pray knowing you will receive good gifts.”  Smart speakers coldly listen and automatically respond when you say the command word to active them.  God our Father listens with warm, loving, deep concern for all who approach him through Jesus his Son.

Jesus as our Lord, the Son of God died for our sins.   Jesus invites us to pray, promises to answer lovingly, so pray making the boldest requests for the greatest blessing, not just for self, but “Your kingdom come.”  Will not God also not give us with Jesus and his kingdom all things?  The apostle Paul reminds us that he will give us even more than we could ever ask or imagine. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work with us, to him be glory…” (Ephesians 3:20,21).

We’ve been going through a three-part series on the uncommon love which we find from our Triune God.  We saw in the first week how the Holy Spirit brings us to know the freedom we now have with forgiveness.  Living by the Spirit we then produce fruits of the Spirit with a new life.  Living by the Spirit we find uncommon love. Then we looked together at how a Christian has uncommon love from God as they realize that there is something even more important than serving others.  We recognize the greater need to be served and to feed on the Word of Christ.  Listening to the Son we find uncommon love. Now today we have turned our attention to the God the Father and have learned what uncommon love we find as we lean on him. His is our Father.  We can boldly make request not just as a friend, but as dearly loved children. We have a love that is unlike any other.  It is an uncommon love that comes from leaning on the Father.

Uncommon Love 2) Listening to the Son

Luke 10:38-42 ● August 11, 2019 ● Pentecost 9 ● Pastor Tom Barthel ● WELSPrint Version Listen ●  Watch

Uncommon Love 2) Listening to the Son from Rock of Ages Payson

 

Sometimes it can be hard to determine what is most important. In a few days I’ll be taking my family camping. When we go camping, we usually don’t have a lot of room to spare.  Fitting ten people and a dog into our van doesn’t leave tons of room for non-essential items.  Nonetheless, our children like to bring their toys along.  To make sure we have room we have to tell them, “you can only bring the toys that are most important to you.” Last time we went camping that meant each of them coming up with a backpack stuffed full of things they just had to bring along.  Apparently, determining what is most important isn’t so easy when dealing with toys. What about when it comes to determining what is most important in spiritual matters? Today we will look at time when two sisters had a disagreement about what was most important.  And Jesus makes the answer clear for them and for us.

Recall that Jesus had sent 72 disciples out to preach.  He had instructed them to not worry about what they would carry, would eat, or where they would stay as they went out preaching ahead of him. That’s because one fruit of faith the Spirit works in the heart of God’s people is that they would support full-time gospel workers.  Jesus himself followed this same pattern. He certainly had supported himself as he grew and worked as a carpenter.  But when he began his full-time teaching and preaching, he received support from believers in different towns. Wherever he traveled his long-time and new disciples would provide for his needs. Luke even mentions by name a few women who were disciples of Jesus and helped support him.  Today we get to meet one woman that welcomed Jesus as a guest and provided for him: Martha. This is what a disciple of Jesus does.  They welcome Jesus into their home, welcome his Word, support his teaching.

For Martha this was a big job. We don’t know if Jesus’ twelve disciples were going ahead of him or were also joining him on this occasion.  Either way it seems that Martha had plenty to keep her busy as she hosted Jesus.  And who could blame her?  She has the Lord at her house, and she would have certainly desired to serve him well with food and lodging.

Martha had a sister with other ideas.  It’s not that her sister, Mary, totally avoided helping.  In fact, Martha indicates that Mary left her alone to serve, implying Mary certainly had been involved with serving.  But Mary was also occupied with other tasks. “Mary also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to his words.”  This is what a disciple of a teacher does.  They respectfully sit at the foot of their teacher to listen to instruction.  Mary was a disciple of Jesus too, so, she did what disciples also do, listen and learn.

Martha, however kept busy at serving.  When she saw how Mary had left her to serve alone you can imagine why she felt upset. Martha knew what was up.  That kitchen wasn’t going to clean itself.  The dinner wasn’t going to make itself ready.  Martha continued behind the scenes while everyone else sat. Finally she had to point this out to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve all alone? So, tell her to give me a hand!” She wasn’t upset at her Lord so much as Mary who had abandoned her. “She’s left me to serve alone!”

We might look at Martha’s lot and say she certainly got the short end of the deal.  Yet when Scripture describes her it says Martha was distracted.  When Jesus evaluated her mindset; he says she is, “worried and upset about many things.” Is that a fair evaluation? Martha was helping! She invited Jesus as guest.  She had a responsibility. Wasn’t she nobly carrying out her noble task? If I pulled up to a campsite with my family and it was getting dark out and I asked for someone to help me set up the tent I don’t think it would be fair for my wife to say, “You are worried and upset about too many things.”  If we were trying to serve eight little children a picnic meal out in the woods and my wife asked me to give her a hand and bring the cooler I wouldn’t say, “You are worried and upset about many things.”

So, what was Martha’s problem?  Her problem didn’t lie in her service.  It wasn’t that she had too much on her plate. It wasn’t that her service lacked importance. It was no doubt a lot and it was certainly important.  Her problem was that she didn’t regard what Mary had chosen to do as more important. In short, the problem wasn’t what was on her plate, it was her attitude toward what God wanted to put on her plate. She saw service as more important that being served God’s Word.  God desires more than our service and our hands. Our God desires our ears and our hearts first and foremost.

Do we rightly identify what is most important? A Christian mother can get so occupied with serving her family that she fails to see what God sets before her.  She can be so occupied with making sure her children are fed and nourished that she can fail to feed herself the Bread of Life and take time for the Word.  It’s not bad or wrong for her to concern herself with her family. Their needs are important and necessary. But the greatest need lies with her own soul first.  A Christian father could spend so much time trying to give his family all that he can.  But if he is so busy with serving his family that he fails to make time for sitting at the feet of Jesus he fails in everything.  It doesn’t matter how great a life he gives his children if he himself is not a man fed by Jesus’ Word.  He fails to give them an example of listening to God’s Word and fails to feed his own soul so that he can be the father God has called him to be.  A man or woman serving at church can get so occupied on the meeting, the report, the giving, the counting, the serving, the setting up or taking down, the cleaning or the fixing that they lose sight of what is most important.  It is sometimes said, “I can’t make it to this week’s worship or Bible class, pastor, because I have company.” How would Jesus evaluate that attitude? Even if God himself were your guest he’d say forget about serving for one hour and be served.

Don’t misunderstand.  Jesus isn’t saying service is unimportant. But it is a problem when that becomes the most important to us and we turn the Christian life upside down. Martha was doing a good thing too serving God and others.  If anyone could have claimed they were serving their God, it was Martha who was preparing a meal for the Son of God himself in human flesh.  She rightly calls him Lord because he is the Lord of all, and he does deserve all our service. But we learn here that what is most important is not serving.  What is most important is being served by God. When the life of service overtakes the life of being served by God, the Christian life has been turned upside down.  Above all else the Christian is not merely a servant.  The Christian is a disciple of Jesus.  That takes feeding on his Word.

We know our discipleship and listening is more important than serving. But do we act like it? If you’re like me, you are easily worried and upset about many things too.  You are tired when serving gets hard. But are you ever worried and upset that you missed time with Jesus?  When is the last time it bothered you that you missed out on personal or group Bible study? If anything is going to make you worried or upset ought it not be missing out on that?

Is there anything that you could occupy your time with that is better than listening to, hearing, reading, taking to heart the Word of God? Is there any task so noble and so mighty that you could claim it is of greater importance than sitting at the feet of the Lord to hear his Word?  Jesus says none is better. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things. But only one thing is needful.  Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.”

What Jesus is teaching Martha and all of us here is essentially the same thing he had been teaching the people of Israel for 1500 years.  When he gave the third commandment, he not only gave them permission to stop working, he commanded it.  He forbade them from any type of work.  He stressed that it was not only okay to stop being busy with necessary things, they were to forgo necessary things.  They were to simply stop all else.  The Sabbath rest was given as a day for rest and for sacred assembly. It was a day to cease from the busyness of life and to mediate on the Word of God. There was nothing regarded as so important that it could not be set aside for that day. It was used as a day for teaching and preaching and listening to the word of Jesus.  We don’t know if Jesus was teaching here on a Sabbath or not, but the same principle behind that Sabbath is emphasized:  God’s Word is the most important thing in life. It is even more important than work and service to God and others.

This is an uncommon love! We are served by God! Every religion, it would seem, puts a lot of focus on what you say, think, or do.  And please don’t misunderstand.  They aren’t entirely wrong about making service to God and others important tenants. True religion will involve a change in your life that includes love and service to God and others.  Last week we began a series on what makes a Christian’s love so uncommon.  It is unlike any other because a Christian has Spirit-led life. They produce fruits of faith by the working of the Holy Spirit. This fruit of the Spirit brings an uncommon type of love to the Christian. It is one that simply cannot be found in the works of the flesh.  It is only found in the heart of those who trust in Christ as they produce fruits out of freedom from the gospel. A Christian has uncommon love as the Spirit changes their hearts to trust in the Lord and to work out fruits of faith that flow from that trust.  It is uncommon love because it comes from freedom, from faith, and from the Spirit’s working. Today we see that although our service to God and to others is indeed important, it is not what is most important. There’s something greater which makes a Christian so extraordinarily different and gives us uncommon love. In fact, we see today that what makes a Christian’s love so extraordinary is the just the opposite of service.  Our love is uncommon because our faith is not based on our doing something for God or others.  It is based on our receiving service from our God. God himself serves us!

This is what Jesus once said about his own life and mission. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus came to serve us.  He came in order that we might have words of comfort, hope, and life.  What makes a Christian so uncommon is not their extraordinary service, but God’s service.  Doubtless by the Spirit’s working God people will display lives of service.  But what makes them truly uncommon is that they love the Word of Christ.  They are those who recognize and thirst for the Word of Jesus.  Uncommon love comes from listening to the uncommon truths found in the word of our Lord.  In his Word we hear how he came to serve us all. In his Word we see how his top priority had always been to rescue us from sin, death, and hell.  In his Word we find the uncommon love of a God who would lay down his life to rescue the lost.  We hear of the one who could have demanded our service, but instead gives service to us. We hear of how he conquered death and now lives to prepare a place for us, to bring us to live in his kingdom, so that we can sit at his table as guest! His words bring life, peace, joy, and sustain us for eternity! The words he spoke at the house of Martha were no doubt powerful words. They were worth more than anything!

That same God now feeds us with his Word.  With word and sacrament he feeds our souls with the gospel, the one thing needful! Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen what is best, namely, to listen to the word of the Lord.  Jesus said that will never be taken away from her. Brothers and sisters in Jesus.  Thank God that he has given you opportunity to serve him and one another.  Thank God that you get to support gospel ministry together and you get to show love to one another and to your neighbor.  But thank God most of all that he has given you the one thing needful.  Take time to sit at his feet and be fed.  Take time to open the Word of Jesus and listen to it.  Stop whatever you are doing each day -as important as it may be- and just be still and be a disciple.  What he gives you will never be taken away.  It is an uncommon love.  And it is yours as you listen to the Son.

 

Uncommon Love 1) Living By the Spirit

Galatians 5:13-25 ● August 4, 2019 ● Pentecost 8 ● Pastor Tom Barthel ●  WELS Sermon ● Watch Sermon  ●  Print Sermon ● Listen to Sermon ●  View Full Series “Uncommon Love”

 

Uncommon Love 1) Living by the Spirit

Earlonne Woods began his 31 years to life sentence in a medium security prison. After two decades of prison life his sentence was commuted by the governor and he re-entered society. When he was released just about a year ago, he noted how much the outside world had changed over two decades. For one thing people everywhere were walking around with their heads bowed down. He saw the odd phenomenon and realized they were all staring at their smartphones, something which didn’t exist when he was first sentenced to prison. But the outside world wasn’t the only thing that had changed. Earlonne Woods had a whole new perspective on life. In fact, one of the reasons the governor cited for Woods’ early release was his podcast, Ear Hustle. In the podcast which he co-hosts and produces he gives insight to an often hidden and forgotten part of society. The podcast lets listeners peer into the life of those who go through the prison system. The episode that I heard this past week dealt with the struggles which two different men had right after getting out of prison. What would they do with their newfound freedom? Had they changed? One it turned out didn’t have a plan and was struggling greatly to live in his new freedom. The other had a plan and was excelling in a new direction in life. Adjusting to a new life can be hard even when you’re given total freedom.

Even if you haven’t ever been to prison, you should be able to identify a little with the struggle faced by those two newly freed men. The apostle Paul speaks to us as those who have a newfound freedom. He tells us, “it is for freedom that Christ has set you free!” We were once enslaved by sin and imprisoned by the law. But through Jesus Christ we have all been released from our bondage. The prison cell of sin and its curse was left behind. A whole new world of freedom lies before us. What are you going to do with your freedom in Christ? Today we’ll begin a three-part series: “Uncommon Love.” We’ll be looking at what a Spirit-led life looks like for us who have been set free.

In God’s court we would all stand guilty and deserve far more than a life-sentence for all our thoughts, words, and deeds. For all the selfish things we have done and all the good things we have failed to do we should stand condemned. But God set us free. He did more than commute a prison sentence for us. He has called us to be free. By his Holy Spirit he brought us to faith in Jesus and removed all the guilt, the curse, and the weight of sin. A Christian is very much a free person.

So what do we do with our freedom? Paul warns, “Do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh.” The word flesh here which Paul uses is what stands in contrast to the Holy Spirit. It is that part of us that we are born with which rebels against God. Some Bibles rightly then translate this Word when it is used in contrast with the Spirit as “sinful flesh.” You and I know what it is like to have a sinful heart of flesh working within us. It is the reason we do so much of what we do. It is the reason why one three-year-old will say to another in heated rage, “get off my bed!” And the sinful flesh is the reason a thirty-year-old will coldly say to his brother, “That’s not my concern. That’s your problem.” And it is the reason so many when they get a taste of freedom end up right back in prison again.

But you and I have more than the sinful flesh. We have the Spirit of God working in our hearts. This creates a life of conflict. “the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” Paul is talking about believers. Christian are different from the rest of the world because they have a dual nature. To be a Christian is to have an old-self that still works out sin and a new-self led by the Spirit that only desires what is good. Don’t be mistaken. If you struggle with sin or if you see someone struggling with sin, you can’t label that person an unbeliever. Christians still sin. The difference is that they have been freed from its curse and no longer face the sentence they deserve for their sins. But they still struggle against sin.

That’s why Paul has to tell us “walk by the Spirit and do not gratify the sinful flesh’s desires.” He lists for us some of the things that the flesh wants to work out. They should be obvious to all: “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” Even though these things are obviously wrong you will see them in the life of those who struggle against the flesh. You’ve experienced for yourself or have no doubt known Christians who foolishly let the flesh take hold when they open the door of their hearts and lust at images and movies or listen to immoral music. Some treat marriage with contempt and dishonor God’s gift of marriage. This is an obvious indulging in the sinful flesh. Related sins of impurity let the heart wander into dark places and the hand and foot follows. Debauchery is unrestrained sensuality with no regard for what is good or godly. Idolatry and witchcraft are both sins of turning away from God and giving your hearts desires to anyone or anything above or in place of God. Works of the flesh listed after that can all be identified as sins which show disregard for the second table of God’s Ten commandments: “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy.” You’ve witnessed these things I’m sure. It’s a sad reality of our world. When I first started student teaching 6th grade students I tried to humorously illustrate what an awful life it would be if a husband came home, turned on the tv, ignored his family, and rudely demanded his wife bring him a beer. To my surprise I had about 25 inner-city children laughing. They weren’t laughing because this was too extreme an example. They were laughing because for many of them I had just described a typical evening at home. This is not just seen in inner-city life. The strife of works of the flesh is seen from the trailer park to the million-dollar high rise apartments. I have pastored families from all walks of life. In doing so I’ve learned not to ask little children about their family life because a little girl will just end up piping up in front of the whole class, “My dad yells at me and my mom a lot. He gets angry. I don’t like it.” The works of the flesh are obvious. Even a child knows what they are like and how they cause pain.

How does Paul deal with this struggle in the lives of God’s people? First of all, notice this wasn’t anything new! He says, “I warn you again as I did warn you before.” He had spoken against living according to the flesh before. He knew he would have to speak against it again and again. Still today it must be repeated again and again in our church and every Christian home. The struggle against the flesh is ongoing. Our freedom is won. But our lives are in conflict day by day.

And the struggle is for something real! When someone gets out of prison, they are truly free. They have the ability to live a whole new life. But if they persist in their old ways, they can lose that freedom and forfeit it. Paul does not say that we earned our freedom. Nor does he say that we must live up to expectations to maintain it. We have been set free. Christ has paid the full price for us. We are not on parole. We are truly and absolutely free. That’s why our position is described as being adopted into his family. And as members of his family we stand to receive the inheritance of a glorious and eternal kingdom. But Paul warns of rejecting God and loving sin more. “I warned you before and will again that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Live according to the sinful desires of the flesh and you lose out on the gift of the Spirit. To let sin reign in your life is to disqualify yourself from the gift of freedom. To love sin and live in it is to reject God’s gift and place yourself back under the sentence you deserve.

So what are we to do? Paul doesn’t tell us what to do. He doesn’t say, “make sure you are doing the opposite of what the flesh wants.” No. He instead begins by reminding us what we are. First of all we are free. There’s no work to be done to regain our freedom. We have it for Jesus’ sake. He then goes on to describe the fruit of the Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” I could go on to expound on this list, but they are all basically the opposite of what we heard worked out by the sinful flesh. This is not just a list by the apostle of what is good and what is bad. That much should be obvious to all. Rather what he intends to highlight for us are the two different sources of these things. All the bad is worked out by the flesh. It is what we are able to do on our own. Everything good that stands in contrast is not of us. It is from the Spirit.

Imagine a life where you see these things! This is a most uncommon type of life! A man gets home from a long day at work and he considers how his children need him and how he has opportunity now to work at showing love to his family. He is patient. Imagine a man who sees the opportunity to lust at something before his eyes but remains faithful to his spouse! Imagine a wife who fills her home with joy and peace because that is what she has from the Spirit! Imagine a two-year-old filled with self-control and gentleness who shares not only his favorite toy but his desert with his brother. Now imagine all this not being the result of fear or trying to earn a reward or to prove anything to the judge. Imagine it all done by someone set free from punishment and given all good things already. Imagine them all doing that simply like a tree which gives fruit because it is a tree. They do it set free by the Spirit and through the Spirit’s working new life.

You don’t have to imagine it. That is the life that is led by the Spirit and the fruit that is worked by the Spirit in the lives of those who belong to Christ through faith. Through faith in Jesus the Spirit has given us a whole new mindset for life. “Those who belong to Christ have crucified the sinful flesh with its passions and desires.” When Jesus died on the cross he died for the sins of the world. We know that for every evil desire and every evil action our flesh ought to perish. It is counted as crucified with Jesus. For every guilty work we have done or will do we are free. Christ, the Son of God, came to carry the weight and the punishment we all deserved. Our sentence was commuted in full. We pay nothing while he paid it all for us with his own suffering. Though his flesh was sinless, it bore our sins once for all.

Now we belong to him. Through faith in Jesus God considers us adopted into his family and belonging to himself. We know that we have an inheritance with him who rose to life. We will live from this day on and forever with Jesus free from our sins. Imagine the man who is brought before the governor’s office and told the news that his sentence has been removed. Imagine receiving word that today is the first day of your life of freedom. You could go back to the way of life you once knew that made you guilty. Or by the Spirit you could plan to live a new life in your freedom. Paul tells us “since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” All Christians need this encouragement. We have a new self and a new heart of faith that desires to be Spirit-led instead of led by the flesh with its evil passions and desires. When Earlonne Woods was released a letter declared the observation, “He is clearly no longer the man he was when he committed his crime.” Sadly, about two-thirds of those released from prison end up committing a new crime in less than five years.  Woods doesn’t want that life anymore. He affirmed it and said he no longer sees life the same. He is done with the crime, done with the gangs, done with everything from the past. The change for those who have been set free by the working of the Spirit is even greater. It is a new heart of faith with a new life of thanksgiving and fruits of the Spirit.

What is it that you want with your freedom; to fall back into common sin or to live in uncommon love? Remember the Ear Hustle episode I mentioned earlier about two different men adjusting to freedom? The one man who had success in his new freedom found he had his friends and family to thank for his new life. He couldn’t have done it without them. We have the Holy Spirit to thank for our new life. We cannot do anything without him. The Spirit-led Christian, you see, is out of the ordinary. For the rest of our series we’ll look at how the God directs, empowers, and sustains us in this new life. It starts with the Holy Spirit giving us God’s extraordinary love. Our life is then filled with that same love. It is uncommon love. And it is living by the Spirit.

Perilous Fields; Precious Harvest

Luke 11:1-20 ● July 28, 2019 ● Pentecost 7 ● WELS Sermon ● Pastor Tom Barthel ●  Print Version ●  Audio Version

My first summer job was great. I worked for what was essentially a raspberry farm. Some customers came to pick the berries for themselves. But it seemed no matter how many people came to pick berries, there were always many left on the plants each day. So each day my coworkers and I would set to work harvesting all that we could to bring to the local food markets. Perhaps you can imagine the different feelings that came with such work. There was excitement when the picking was easy. There was some frustration when customers only picked the easy to find berries. There was that feeling of being overwhelmed when we realized we couldn’t pick every berry that needed to be harvested. Then there was the resentment of having to go after the hard to find berries which the self-pick customers didn’t always find. There were nice fresh mornings with cool breezes and easy pickings. Then there were the days when the rail poured or when the hot sun come out. Often the pesky flies found your face and the persistent mosquitos made the work less than pleasant. In the end it was one of my favorite summer jobs.

Today we read about Jesus referring to some very important work as harvesting. He refers to the spiritual harvest of the kingdom of God. This work can bring many different feelings with it. It can bring excitement at the great harvest potential. It can bring resentment at the other workers who only do the easiest work and leave the hard work for everyone else. Or it can bring an overwhelming despair at the harvest that is left to slowly rot because there is so much to do. Which feeling do you identify with when you consider the spiritual harvest? Do you identify with those who would rather just avoid participating in the harvest work and see what the grocer has on sale? Maybe sometimes you identify more with the pickers who only go after the easy harvest and ignore the harder work. Perhaps you are the one who at times feels frustrated because he or she has to go and do the hard work of the harvest. Or do you feel, as many do, despair and overwhelmed when you compare the number of workers to the overwhelming harvest size? Today we consider how Jesus wants us to approach his harvest field of souls. As we look at Luke 10 we see just how we participate in that harvest.

Recall what we read last Sunday. Jesus is headed south to Jerusalem. As he travels, he seems to be recruiting people for an urgent mission. “Follow me” he invites, “proclaim the good news of the kingdom.” We saw last week how this is work which demands total commitment. Yet we see that the Lord didn’t have any problem recruiting 72 new harvesters.

They were to go out and spread the good news of the kingdom of God. They proclaimed that God’s harvest was approaching. For those who trust in Jesus that meant being gathered from this world of sin, suffering, and death into his eternal kingdom. It’s good news that God’s kingdom is near! By spreading this message they were gathering God’s harvest in. As that message was proclaimed, people would be brought to turn from sin with repentance. They would come to faith in Jesus and through faith in him brought to peace with God.

Jesus first outlines the situation for his disciples. The work is already cut out for them! “The harvest is plentiful…” It can seem overwhelming because there is a need for workers. But take note that the task Jesus is sending these 72 on is not to do groundwork. It is not to lay out the plans and dig the dirt. There already is a full and ready harvest. I was blessed at my first summer job to be able to focus on the harvesting. Years later when I moved to a new home, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a row of raspberry plants in the yard. I had done nothing to create the harvest in either situation. I only had to go and gather it. That’s what Jesus asks his workers to do. They only go to gather his harvest. It is the same today. God has a spiritual harvest. He died to save the whole world. His harvest is plentiful! It includes all those whom he will call into his kingdom. And the number is immense.

But what about the number of workers in this harvest? “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” So what comes to mind when we look at the harvest and the workers? It’s easy to look at ourselves and our limited resources and abilities. Ten years ago that was the case in our church body. Like many other churches in our country we had workers willing to serve, but they were not able to be supported due to financial challenges. We had mission fields around the world that were forced to bring back missionaries from the fields. This wasn’t because of a lack of need in the mission fields. It was because support wasn’t there for them to all stay doing full-time ministry. Our home missions and Christian schools faced the same challenges. As a church body we operate over 300 Christian elementary schools and 25 high schools in the United States. But just like many other Christian school systems the numbers have decreased over the past decade in our elementary and secondary level schools. It’s not because there are less children in our nation (there are in fact more today than a decade ago). The support from parents and churches has continually and gradually dwindled.

In recent years there has been another concerning trend. It is also one which faces most other Christian church bodies in our nation. There are less people willing to do full-time ministry. There are a number of schools in our church body which cannot find workers who are qualified and willing to serve. Many congregations are unable to obtain a full-time pastor to serve because the workers are fewer and fewer in recent years. Enrollment at our worker training college, Martin Luther College, where our student teacher for the summer is studying, is trending lower than previous decades. Our seminary enrollment is at a low point. Though the population of the earth has only grown, there are less people studying there to prepare for full-time gospel ministry. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers fewer and fewer.

How long can these two trends go on?

What happens when the workers, those willing to take their hand off the plow and not look back, aren’t supported by God’s kingdom? The peace they proclaim isn’t shared because they are not supported or sent. Whether it be for our own children, grandchildren, or friends and neighbors, the gospel isn’t available because the support has disappeared. Whether it be for mission fields in our backyards in the USA, or in places around the world the harvest just falls to the ground. And whose fault is it if we have a lack of workers when so many who hear God’s call won’t respond? The harvest purchased by the blood of the Son of God is sitting on the vine, ready to wilt and rot to waste because too few answer the call to the harvest. Most concerning should be what is left if God’s kingdom work is neglected. What kingdom is coming to take hold of hearts in this world if the Lord’s harvest work is neglected? I know of only one other kingdom that fills the void: the prince of darkness. He will snatch away the harvest to devour and destroy.

But rather than getting discouraged or feeling overwhelmed, we need to look at what our God says regarding this situation. The fields are perilous, but the harvest is precious! Everything recorded here in Luke 10 reminds us to take our eyes off of self, off of our own limitations, our own smallness, and look to the Lord of the harvest! The harvest is big? “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” God’s kingdom and the work of his kingdom is certainly done even without our asking. But we pray that it is done. And in doing so we participate in the Lord’s kingdom work. And we show that we rely on him for the harvest.

Jesus, the Lord of the harvest, sent out those 72. “Go. I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” What could be more vulnerable than a little defenseless lamb in the midst of wolves? They are going out into hostile territory. God’s kingdom workers are up against strong enemies with strong opposition. The work is perilous. Those participating in the Lord’s harvest work shouldn’t think they will go about in friendly territory. The devil opposes all harvesting of God’s fields. But this only highlights one more important truth as one participates in the Lord’s kingdom work: you cannot rely on yourself for strength or protection from enemy, you must rely on the Lord.

As if hostile enemies weren’t enough, notice how Jesus sends them out. “Don’t take a purse, bag, or sandals.” What!? They have to face hostile enemies and be poor?! Is Jesus saying that we should expect workers in his kingdom to be poor beggars? No. This is not what he wants for them. He only further impresses reliance on the Lord of the harvest. He will provide the workers, and he will provide for his workers’ needs. He always has done so. Recall in our Old Testament reading from 1 Kings 17 how the worker Elijah was to rely on the Lord of the harvest? God provided for him as ravens fed him. And God continued to provide for Elijah by having a poor widow participate in the Lords kingdom work as she gave him food and shelter. She used the food which the Lord had provided for her to use in this work! God wanted the same for these 72 workers as they went out into God’s harvest fields. “Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages.”

He wants the same today! Fellow members of the Lord’s kingdom: You don’t have to be a pastor or teacher or missionary to support kingdom work. Notice what Jesus says to these workers. They are to go about proclaiming the Lord’s peace.  And who else participates in the Lord’s kingdom work? Those who would pray for them and welcome them and provide for their basic needs as they did kingdom work. It doesn’t matter whether you are the harvester or another member of the Lord’s kingdom, you participate.  Not only does the Lord invite us all to pray that he sends out workers, but he wants his people to support full-time gospel ministry.

Finally, we rely on the Lord of the harvest as he has done all that is needed for his kingdom.  The 72 were sent out to proclaim “peace” and “the kingdom of God is near.” And they were proclaiming this like no other ever had or will! The very king himself was about to come through their towns! Jesus was on his way. The workers still go ahead of Jesus today. Only the next time he comes it will be to bring his kingdom’s eternal reign.

Those 72 discovered an awesome truth as they participated in the Lord’s kingdom harvest. The Lord did have a great harvest for them. And they could rely on the Lord as they did their work. They marveled at how with God on their side even the demons had to submit to them. But Jesus has to point them once again to the true marvel: Don’t rejoice that you’re doing that. Rejoice in the full defeat of Satan and the fact that you belong to my kingdom. Rejoice that your names are written in heaven. Rejoice that you can rely on what the LORD has done for you!

“I saw Satan, fall like lightning from heaven” Jesus says. Satan was defeated. When this king came to the earth it was to destroy the devil’s work. Satan has led the whole world into sin when he ruined the fields by tempting Adam and Eve. But he could not stop one man who came to plant a new harvest. When this worker came for the harvest Satan could not deter him. Satan’s temptations fell flat and did not lead Jesus into sin. Because Jesus came as true man and true God to live the sinless life we could not. He took our place and did it all for us so we could be members of his kingdom and taken out of Satan’s grasp. He came to triumph over Satan on the cross. By the marvelous sacrificial death he did the work necessary to create a kingdom of his own people, holy and without sin, because he took that sin away.

The 72 had an awesome privilege. They were going ahead of the Lord himself saying “the kingdom of God is near you.” Jesus is coming! This was good news for God’s harvest! We proclaim the same message of peace today. Peace between us and our God. Peace regained through Jesus. Whether as supporter by your prayer, your pockets, or your preaching and teaching, you participate in the harvest work. And we never despair though the harvest is great, though the fields are filled with perils and the wolves who would devour the sheep. Because we carry out and support the work of peace proclaimed through Christ. And we rely on the Lord of the harvest. It’s a perilous field, but a precious harvest.