Month: August, 2013

The Narrow Door

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our father…

Please pray with me…

I’d be willing to wager that if you were to ask a group of pastors what their favorite and least favorite things  as a part of their calling as pastors would be, most would put doing weddings as their least favorite and funerals as their favorite. It sounds just opposite as to what many people would think. After all, weddings are things of joy and anticipation while funerals are things of mourning and sorrow.

That’s what most people would think but as you look closer, it makes sense. At a wedding, the preparations and expectations are at their peak. Everything has to be just right from the color of the dresses to the decoration of the church. The bride is often beside herself trying to put together the wedding she has always dreamt about while the groom, more often than not, does his best to keep out of the way. The ceremony itself is often seen as the necessary culmination of all the work that has been put into making everything perfect with pastors often serving as no more than a prop in the whole act of matrimony.

Funerals, however, are much more worship focused. The pastor is seen as a person of comfort and wisdom. Funerals involve those closest to the departed wanting to make their final act of love an act filled with hope and anticipation of a better life to come.

Funerals are excellent opportunities to preach the Gospel in all its splendor to many, who have not even heard it before. It’s a time of building up, of providing comfort and of saying ones last goodbyes with the hope of a heavenly reunion one day.

Now, I have been very blessed to have had many positive experiences in both. In fact, if I were to recall my least favorite act so far, it would have to do with a funeral for someone who had denied Christ his whole life and was very blatant about it. His parents were very faithful, life-long members of our church but had never been able to bring their son to Christ, and now it was too late. What do you say to grieving parents who understand just how important it is to enter through the narrow gate?

In our Gospel lesson in Luke, Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem and during His travels He would often find time to teach. During one of these opportunities, a student asks Him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” The student was looking for more than a yes or no response, he wanted an explanation.

 

Jesus was very honest and blunt in His answer and used this occasion to debunk some of the false teachings that had been done before Him.

If you were to ask a thousand people if heaven and hell exist, I bet you would still have a vast majority who believe in both with more of them believing in heaven than in hell. Most people are born with an innate sense that there is something more. Even most of those who deny Christ still have a sense that there is something more to life than our existence here on earth.

I would also be willing to bet that if you asked these same people if they thought they were going to one of these places, all but a very few would think they are getting into heaven. If everyone went to heaven who believed they were going then we would say that most people are going to be saved. Our question this morning is, “Is that true?” This is the question that Jesus was asked, “Are only a few people going to be saved?”

Jesus answers the question by painting a vocal picture of what will happen on judgment day:

“Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’

But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!”

Yes, Jesus could paint a picture. People are outside the door knocking with desperate fists and crying out “Lord, let us IN!”, but the owner of the house will have none of it. He does not offer second chances. They had been given the opportunity earlier in their lives but they neglected to separate themselves from the world. Now their separation from God would be eternal, the definition of hell.

On the great day of judgment there will also be a terrible crescendo of no’s. “No, you cannot enter my kingdom.” And the doors will be shut forever. No appeal. No time to change one’s mind. Those who have rejected Jesus Christ will have forever lost their opportunity for eternal life and there are no pretenders admitted. No favors given.

So, how many will end up in hell? Jesus says “many.” Many will try to enter through the narrow door but they will not be able to. The road to destruction is wide but the door to heaven is narrow. Most people believe they will get to heaven but Jesus is telling us here that this isn’t true. Jesus says in Matthew 7:13-14, “”Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” It isn’t enough to “think” you’re going to heaven.

So let’s get specific. Just who is it that isn’t getting into heaven? We get a hint from our text. First we know that some of them would be of Jewish descent, Jesus say, “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves are thrown out.” The ones who would know of the prophets would be those who were descendants of the prophets, the Jewish nation.

They would be especially shocked by this answer because they thought their place in heaven was secure simply by being a descendant of Abraham. Jesus is telling them that when that final trumpet calls, many of them will be excluded. Jesus is saying that your admittance into heaven has nothing to do with your race or ethnicity. All Jews thought they were saved but that simply was not and is not the truth. That’s why Paul said in Romans 9, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”  This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.”

Jesus says that the pathway to heaven is narrow, the gate to heaven is narrow, the door to heaven is narrow. Just because you are Jewish does not mean you have a get in free card. Just because you are a Lutheran doesn’t mean there are any guarantees.

No one goes to heaven simply because they’ve always gone to church, or were active in its ministries. You won’t get into heaven simply because your wife and children have that fate. We all answer to God alone. He doesn’t care what you do for a living, what your political affiliation is, what color your skin is, how much money you have, what your name is, how much hair you have or whether your German or Hispanic. These things do not matter to God. What matters is faith.

Scripture has many examples of what truly matters to God. Take for instance Mary. She was a poor servant girl with a bleak future. She wasn’t a princess or a celebrity of any kind. She didn’t have money or fame, in fact she wasn’t anyone of prominence as the world sees it. Yet God chose her to bear His only Son. Rehab was a Gentile prostitute yet God chose her to be a forerunner of Christ. David was an adulterer and a murderer and the last of Obed’s sons, Paul was an enemy to Christians and spectator to their destruction, yet God chose them both to lead His people. He chose them, not based on who they were but because of what they had become in faith.

All kinds of people will be among the saved. And Jesus describes them in our text. He says, People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

Those saved will come from all ends of the earth and they will be counted among the elect, not by what they have done or who they are, but by the faith that they profess. In Revelation 7 John says, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Yes, the door to heaven is narrow and most will never see the other side of it, but for you and me, this day, we need not dwell on the what if because, through faith and by God’s immeasurable and forgiving grace, we can count ourselves among those who will be in the presence of God for all eternity.

We have no royalty among us in this congregation, no famous movie stars or powerful politicians. There is no one with a special heritage or special bloodline. We are just a conglomerate of American Lutherans. But it doesn’t matter. God doesn’t care. Isn’t that great news?

Because it by faith that we are saved. No one goes to hell because they are anything specific either. It’s simply their lack of faith that will doom them. The kingdom of heaven is not about any qualifications we might think we have except the qualification of faith.

Even with the majority going to hell, there will be many – beyond number – that will end up in heaven. We don’t have to worry where we come from or what we have done in the past. It’s enough to be a repentant believer in Christ.

So let’s speculate on another survey. If we were to continue with our 1000 people and ask those who believed they are going to heaven why they were going there, what do you think they would say? Well, first a shocking amount would probably have no idea. I mean, isn’t this something you would want to know?

Jesus was living among the Jews who thought their salvation was assured simply because of who they were. They were the one’s saying, “But we ate and drank with you and we saw you teaching in our streets, isn’t that enough?” They were among the majority who thinks it’s enough just to be a good guy. “I’ve heard of Jesus and I always tried to be a good person, what more can you expect?” They assume the basic belief in “God” is enough to get them into heaven even though they have no idea, really, who God even is. There is a difference between basic belief and true faith. Faith is something you act upon. It’s not enough to be satisfied with the facts. If you don’t take the time to come to know who your Savior is, then you will be in the company of people who also hear, “I don’t know you or where you are from. Away from me.”

You might wonder why the road to heaven is so difficult and why we must make every effort to enter through the narrow door where many will try and will be unable. Why doesn’t Jesus just say, “The road to heaven includes everybody, ya’ll come on in.” It’s because something this amazing has to worth fighting for.

The word used for “effort” is the same word Paul used when he said, “I have fought, I have finished the race.” One of the most poinient things that Pastor Wolbrecht wrote when he informed us of his wife’s, Cheryl’s, death was when he stated the fact that Cheryl had fought the good fight and in the end, she had won. Cheryl was victorious in her death because she had assured herself admittance through the narrow door because of the faith she professed. Even in her weakened state, her faith was as strong as ever. She realized that the world could take her life but no one could take away her God.

So we rejoice in the fact that we will see that same door open for us because of the promise God has given us through His Son. Heaven is special enough that Christ would die in our place to make sure we had opportunity to be there for all eternity. Don’t be satisfied with a simple belief, strive for a saving faith. Amen.

 

 

Worth the Risk

August 18, 2013

“Worth The Risk”

Pastor Dan Haugen

Grace mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ… Please join me in prayer…

I would like to tell you this morning about a family, a typical family, a family with a father, mother and several children. They could be your family, they could be my family. This family sat around the dinner table one evening and a discussion was started. Ruth, in high school, began the conversation by telling of a friend at school. Her friend had told her that Jesus was the son of God and that salvation was free to all who would trust in Him. Ruth quoted her friend as saying, ” Jesus is the way the truth and the life”.

Immediately an argument started. Tom, an older bother said, “I don’t want any of that church stuff at supper.” The father agreed. There was a fellow at work who was always trying to “corner someone on religion.” He did not want any of that nonsense in the house.

Mother raised her voice saying, “A little religion would do all of them a lot of good. The least they could do would be to get a Bible and check it out.” She had a Bible that had been given to her as a child. She would help Ruth look it up after supper.

Little Bill, the baby of the family, suggested that they ought to go to church and ask the preacher. He would know. After supper Mother, Ruth and little Bill gathered around the kitchen table with the Bible to look for some answers. After reading for a while, they decided they would go to church the following Sunday and talk with the Pastor.

The father and the older son left the supper table in a “huff’ to watch the football game. The three did attend church the following Sunday. They talked with the Pastor and in time they came to experience the love of Christ in their lives. They eventually realized that it was true, Jesus was the way the truth and the life for them. These three became regular attenders in church. The other two?–Still watching TV.”

Jesus says in our gospel lesson this morning, ” Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

There is risk for a person who has surrendered their lives to Christ. That risk may mean that indeed families will be divided by the faith in which we profess. You take the risk that you might he ridiculed for your faith, or stand apart or even alone by the convictions you hold. Even accepting this risk is risky because it will determine how you will live your life, how you will treat others and how they will treat you.

Jesus is telling us this morning that he demands a loyalty, a commitment that produces a risk in one’s life. Jesus is telling us he demands a commitment that just might cut across family’s ties or cut across how others see us, a commitment that says as a Christian you are different in this world.

Jesus senses in his disciples, as he is now headed for Jerusalem and the cross, the attitude that they were not taking his claims seriously in their lives.

Jesus senses the attitude of curiosity among his followers. He wanted love, loyalty, obedience, a sense of commitment, but they were merely being curious, seeing what this poor country preacher was saying and doing.

So Jesus tells them about the obedience, the commitment, the loyalty, he demands from his followers, a commitment that could and does even cut across families lines. And that same commitment is demanded today in the 21st century by those who would follow Jesus. But many have asked, does he really mean that pastor? Does Jesus really want that kind of commitment from me? Won’t Jesus sell better to society by watering down his demands, by making him cheaper? Does it have to be that radical and decisive?

Yes, it does, Christ over the last 2000 years has not watered down his demands upon our lives nor has he given any sales or easy bargains for those who would want to find an easier and cheaper way.

There are no red hot deals, no easy sales, no close out bargains, no end of the month clearances with Jesus, the cost to follow him is still and will always be full surrender of one’s life. The cost is a high one, but the prize is life–abundant and everlasting. We are called to live for Him who bought and paid for our lives with the surrender of his life on the tree at Calvary.

Now how does one go about living this life full of risk? How does one develop such a loyalty to Jesus? We can see this development in 3 steps, one, conviction, two, courage and three, testing.

Having conviction may be called rebirth or conversion or getting to know Jesus, what ever it is called it is God’s action in one’s life. It is God opening the heart and mind of a person to His promises and then letting that faith or conviction grow. Having a conviction about something is a quality that produces a certainty, a self-assurance, and an attitude of confidence in one’s life. Take Paul for example, after the experience on the road to Damascus, Paul was convinced that Jesus was his savior. In his writing Paul uses the terms, “I know,… I am sure” many times. Paul had a conviction.

Or take one of the many Old Testament figures say, Daniel. He was forbidden to pray to God. Violation would result in being thrown into the lion’s den. It was an easy decision for Daniel to make for he had a strong conviction concerning his relationship to God. He kept praying. He was thrown into the lion’s den.

Or take one of many people’s favorite movies “Chariots of Fire” which is about a man who eventually became a missionary and won a gold medal running for the 1924 British Olympic team.

We know the story, but did you know that Eric Liddell almost lost his chance for that Olympic gold because of his conviction in Christ? One of his preliminary heats was to be run on a Sunday morning, when he would be in church. He announced that he would not run. He was brought up before the British Olympic committee, but he still refused to run on a Sunday. So God inspired another runner who voluntarily withdrew from another heat and let Eric run in his place. Eric ran and won and eventually won the gold medal. He had his eyes on a goal, that of Christ, and was willing to loose the medal he had trained for because of his convictions. He was willing to take the risk for His faith.

The next step is that of courage. And by courage I mean the inner strength one draws upon when the going gets tough. And for a Christian living a life full of conviction needs strength which comes from God through his Holy Spirit in our lives. It is God who gives us the strength, the courage, the fortitude, to keep that trust and faith in him strong.

The Bible says, “No one who puts his trust in him will ever be disappointed no, not one.” The inner strength is available for every one who is willing to call upon the resources of God to give them the courage to stand by his or her convictions.

It is like a story told by Lou Little the football coach at Columbia University. He had a guy on his squad who didn’t play very well, but who had a spirit that lifted the morale of the entire squad. Little was proud of the boy and marveled at how he and his father would walk arm and arm around the campus after the football games. The boy’s father died unexpectedly and after he returned from the funeral the boy asked if he could play in the game on Saturday. He said he wanted to play for his father. The coach thought he would let him start the first few minutes, then replace him with a regular player. But to the surprise of every one, the boy played the entire game. He played 60 minutes of inspired football. After the game the coach sought him out. “What got into you out there?” he asked. The boy replied, “Do you remember how my father and I used to go around arm-in-arm? He didn’t want people to know, but he was totally blind. This afternoon was the first time he ever saw me play football!” The inner strength we receive from God is JUST like that. We know as we live, God is watching us, the will, the strength, the inspiration to live for him.

Now that brings us to the third step, First there was conviction, then courage and now the final step, the testing or as Jesus says the division, or the risk taking to one’s life. Accepting this risk is not for the purpose of hurting others, but for the purpose of healing.

Sometimes that calls us to make a stand that cuts across lines that tend to separate us from others, or from what society holds to be dear. If something or someone is destroying your relationship to God, or dimming your vision of righteousness and goodness, if must be stopped. Sometimes we must separate ourselves from situations or people in order to remain true to our convictions, true to our faith.

Take for example, Joseph. Potipher’s wife had carnal plans for this young man and thought it would be beneficial to seduce him. She tried with all of her charm, but Joseph refused. Joseph could have done what is thrown at us in every TV ad, in books and in magazines, he could have fulfilled his “Playboy’’ philosophy, and given in to his desires, but he refused. He said no to this woman and said, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” You remember he had a price to pay for this rejection because she brought false charges against him and he was persecuted for righteousness sake.”

This is the kind of life Jesus is calling us to live. A life worth taking the risk for that chooses the costly price of ultimate loyalties to the cheapness of easy thrills or momentary relationships. It is a life that holds onto abiding joys, instead of reaching for quick kicks, and easy pleasures. It is a life that asks us to think first, and then react and to react in the way that puts God first and our desires, our aims, our pleasure second.

It is a life that even sometimes calls us to stand apart, to stand alone maybe, even in a family. But know and believe that this life full of loyalty, full of commitment, full of Jesus is an abundant life. It is life that is truly rewarding; it is a life worth living. It is a life that is everlasting.

Jesus calls us to live for Him. He calls us to a life of loyalty, a life of commitment, a life that is lived on the cutting edge of society. He calls us to live with conviction, to a life in faith. He calls us to live with courage, to draw on His strength and he calls us to be tested. He calls us to make a stand, to live by our convictions even when those convictions might bring separation, or pain into our lives.

For we know that Jesus is truly the way, the truth and the life for us. He has prepared all things for our good and he is someone with whom we can place our entire trust and hope. By His death we are saved and by His life we can be assured of everlasting life.

As we celebrate the Lord’s Supper this morning, let’s remember the full commitment that Christ made for us. Let’s remember the risk He took for us that would eventually cost Him His life. And let’s consider what a life in Christ really offers us. It’s worth the risk.

Amen

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Pastor Dan Haugen

August 11, 2013

“Don’t Worry, Be Happy”

 

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Please pray with me…

Many of you know a little about my family history. It’s much like most of the families in America in that it includes a chapter on mental illness. Now before you come to your own conclusions as you figure I must be talking about myself. In this case I am talking about our son Erik. Not to say that I don’t have my own chapter in our book of mental history.

As you are all coming to know, Erik is a fine young man with many things going for him. He’s kind and generous to a fault. He always tries to do his best for his friends and he is extremely intelligent. He, unfortunately, also suffers from a mental disability that is magnified when he is under stress and anxiety to the point that he has difficulty living in society. To him, worrying takes on a whole new level.

Well, as we all know, Erik is not alone. Worry is the number one mental disorder in America. “The Mayo Clinic claims 80-85% of total caseload is due directly to worry and anxiety. Many experts say that coping with stress is the #1 health priority of our day. One leading physician has stated that, in his opinion, 70% of all medical patients could cure themselves if only they got rid of their worries and fears.

We know that medical science has closely tied worry to heart trouble, blood pressure problems, ulcers, thyroid malfunction, migraine headaches, a host of stomach disorders, amongst others. For example 25 million Americans have high blood pressure due to stress/anxiety; 1 million more develop high blood pressure each year. 8 million have stomach ulcers, every week 112 million people take medication for stress related symptoms.”

The world today seems to be filled with more and more stimuli that cause us to worry. Jobs, families, vacations, relationships, and on and on. It seems that as times go on, there is more and more to worry about and less time to cope with the situations that are caused by our constant need to manage our everyday lives. With all that is happening, one might think that we are living in the hardest of times. As much as we think we have had it the hardest, however, we can’t begin to imagine how hard times must have been in biblical Palestine.

Life was indeed hard in biblical Palestine, roughly equivalent to the life of the poor in Third World countries today. In many parts of the world people struggle each day for things we take for granted, such as food and clothing. They live on the fringe of survival.

I found it interesting then that in verse 22, Jesus was talking not to the crowd but to the disciples.  “Then He said to His disciples, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on.”

Since these words are addressed to the disciples the implication is that worry is one of the sins of believers. Even as believers we are not immune to worry, because we live under the same pressures of society that everyone else does. It is even possible to worry about being a worrier. We know that we shouldn’t worry but we just can’t seem to keep from worrying. We need to recognize that the Bible says worry is a sin.

“It is, however, one of the socially acceptable sins in the Christian life. We would never smile at a Christian who staggered into his home night after night drunk. But we often smile at a Christian friend who worries. We would not joke about a fellow Christian who stole someone’s car, but we regularly joke about worrying over some aspect in life.”

In a text I was studying for this sermon I learned that the primary New Testament word for worry is (merimnao) which means “to take thought of” or “to be careful about.”

It is this same word Jesus used when He said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” And Paul used it when he wrote in Philippians 4:6, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God”.

At first glance they appear to be simple things. But it actually gives the picture of a divided mind. The worrier has a mind that is torn between the real and the possible, what we know to be true and what has the potential for truth. He is trying to fight the battle of life on two fronts at the same time and he is bound to lose the war. The worrier attempts to live in the future today, but that’s impossible, the future isn’t here and the future isn’t his.

To worry is to be distracted or preoccupied. No matter what else you’re doing, part of your mind is worrying. Worry puts the future in the present. Worry is the obsession of what “might” happen.

Worry is a bad idea for two reasons. First, he tells us that worry is foolish in verses twenty-three – twenty-four. “Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds?”

Worry is especially foolish for Christians. To worry is foolishly to forget who we are – we are children of God. It is like a woman worrying about how her hair looks as she sits in a boat about to go over the Niagara Falls.

Secondly, Worry is not only foolish it is useless. “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!

Worry cannot lengthen life but it can certainly shorten it. In fact worry can rob us of two things in life, we won’t live as long and it will be much more difficult to live a happy and fulfilled life. People get ulcers not so much from what they eat as what is eating them. The alternative is not to be care-less but to be trust –full

If worrying is such a useless activity because it does not work, why are we consuming so much of our time and our energy doing it?

The raven demonstrates God’s gift of food and the lilies of the field of God’s gift of clothing. It seems interesting that the Raven, which is not even considered a clean bird, is still provided for by God

When I think of these lilies of the field I think of the flowers that are called “day lilies.” They are called this because the bloom only seems to last for a day. They are beautiful but they are very short lived and they have no real purpose other than their beauty.
If then two such unimportant and insignificant things as ravens and lilies receive such generous gifts from God, won’t God’s children fare much better?

Someone once said that “Worry is wasting today’s time to clutter up tomorrow’s opportunities with yesterday’s troubles.”

Just telling us not to worry isn’t very helpful, however. People who tell us that usually seem unrealistic, uninformed, or patronizing. A simple “don’t worry be happy,” just won’t cut it. So how can we attempt to overcome worry? In the text we find three great ways for overcoming worry.

First we read verses 29 and 30. “And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. Jesus literally says here that believer’s are to stop seeking and stop doubting or worrying. This is not a suggestion these are necessities, they are commands.

We must choose to trust God for those things that are beyond our control. Whenever we start to feel anxious we can give our burden over to the Lord. (1 Peter 5:7) is the invitation of God to “Cast all your care upon Him for he cares for you.” Scripture says in Psalms 46:1 that God is “a very present help in a time of trouble.” We then see the second way to deal with worry in verse 31, “But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”

We need to get our priorities straight. We speak a lot of priorities.  If we let the wrong thing be “number one” in our lives, it will create an enormous amount of stress and worry as we attempt to deal with it. But when we put God first, when we put our trust in Him, it is amazing what will happen. I didn’t say what could happen. I said what will happen.

Seeking the kingdom of God is the way to achieve our material needs. Now wait a minute that doesn’t make sense! But then the Christian life is often the opposite of what would seem right. We gain our life by loosing it, we lead by serving, and we have our material needs met by not worrying about them, but by seeking the kingdom as a priority.

We see way number three in v. 32 “Do not fear little flock for it is your Fathers’ pleasure to give you the kingdom”

In verse thirty-two Jesus really gets to the bottom line, WORRY IS REALLY FEAR! Jesus tells the believer that they are to stop being afraid, it is this fear that reveals itself in our lives as we worry.

The antidote to fear is faith. Dr. E Stanley Jones explained this a long time ago when he said; “I am inwardly fashioned for faith, not for fear. Fear is not my native land; faith is. I am so made that worry and anxiety are sand in the machinery of life; faith is the oil. I live better by faith and confidence than by fear, doubt and anxiety. In anxiety and worry, my being is gasping for breath—these are not my native air. But in faith and confidence, I breathe freely—these are my native air.

So what is your native air? Do you find yourself gasping for breath at times because anxiety rules your life? If so, remember where the true power lies. Remember to place your faith in the one who loved you enough to send his only Son to die for you so that you might have a reason to live a life of faith, hope and trust. When you come up to partake in the Lord’s Supper, remember why that blood was shed, so that that same faith, hope and trust might be renewed and forgiveness given.

Place your concerns at the feet of Christ. Every morning, visualize yourself taking that load of fear and anxiety and giving it up to the one who brings you courage to face the day.

Worry is one of the devil’s greatest tools to run our lives, but we have one who is greater than the devil to fight for us. I invite you to give your cares and worries to God. Trust in Him to lead your life. Rely on His promises to care and protect you in this life all the way to the next. And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen

“Look Up!”

Pastor Dan Haugen

August 4, 2013

“Looking Up!”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

In an old Candid Camera episode, an actor is on a busy sidewalk and begins looking at the ground. He walks around a bit and continues to look down. People are passing by him and a few give him strange looks. After a couple minutes, he decides to get down on his hands and knees and begins feeling around with his hands. People begin to slow down and watch what he is doing. Finally, one person stops and starts looking on the ground, then another, then another until many people have joined in the search, not sure of what they are looking for.

In a few minutes, the camera shows about a dozen people looking down, intent on finding something, anything that this man might be looking for. Some even use their hands and knees! At one point, the actor, who has not said a word to this point, quietly gets up and walks away. No one else even notices that he has left as they continue to look for something that might solve the puzzle. In fact, they are so intent on being the one who finds the prize for themselves that no one bothers to ask another for help or guidance.

This paints a true to life picture of what many in our world do on a daily basis. They know there is something that must be found but they are too intent on the search to take the time to ask the questions.

They continue to look down but they fail to look up to where the answers lie. They know there has to be more to life but they never find it because they have no idea what they are looking for.

In our New Testament lesson for this morning, Paul is dealing with this very problem. The church in Colossae was struggling because of mistakes in the past. Paul challenged them to end the struggle by placing their eyes, not on worldly answers but on answers already given from above. His message for them was not to look down, but to look up.

We find ourselves in the part in Colossians where Paul has switched his focus from doctrine to how they have been called to conduct themselves as a body in Christ, a move from principle to practice.

This gives good reason as to why we should be paying close attention to what Paul is telling them because, we too, have a past littered with the waste of unfortunate mistakes. Just like the people of Colossae, we have to humble ourselves when we hear the words in Titus 1:16, “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny them.”

Paul’s answer to us is, “Look up!” He reminds us that we have been raised with Christ and have died to this world, hidden with Christ in God.

We should have no reason to find our answers in earthly things because we have been called to put away such things and trust in God to provide the answers we seek. Since we died with Christ, we no longer need to rely on deceptive advice from worldly counselors whose advice is hollow.

Since we have been raised with Christ, our status has changed from condemned to saved. Our outlook, therefore, is glorious because we have been blessed with the ability to look to God for our direction. We now have the supreme source of wisdom and strength to count on. Believers, who with their old lives have died with Christ, have also been buried with Him and have been raised with Him to a new life. Ephesians 2:2-7 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

Most people today are so earthly minded that they are no heavenly good. But we need not be part of that group who looks for freedom but finds only slavery. If we truly set our hearts on things above, we will experience both power and freedom while on earth.

When we set our eyes on things above that means we have the desire to possess it. If we daily search for the truth from above out of desire for the right answers we will find that we have no use for earthly answers because the things we have been searching for have been found. If we seek out Christ and allow Him to become our ultimate treasure, our hearts will follow. Matthew 6:21 says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

We are called to set our hearts and minds on things above to such an extent that what we do becomes habit. Our feet have to remain on earth but our hearts and minds can be with Christ as He sits with authority in heaven.

Yes, our desires will continue to let us down and we will stray off the path time and again because we have let earthly desires ruled by our sinful nature trump our heavenly ones. But if we fix our eyes on things above, God will slowly change our evil desires to heavenly desires. If we change our minds, God will change our hearts.

Paul gives excellent advice to us in Philippians 4:8 when he says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

We have to remember who we are and to what family we belong. Together, we have committed to doing what is right in the sight of God and we need to be committed to this if we are to find the answers we are all looking for. Our outlook will determine our outcome. Keeping our hearts and minds in the right place will often determine where we end up.

Not only must we look up but we must look out for all those things that the devil will place along our paths in life to direct us from reaching our goals in Christ. We see some of these in verse 5-9 of our text, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices.”

In a speech made in 1863, Abraham Lincoln said, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”

In our many blind attempts to satisfy our searching souls we have too often resorted to the answer of least resistance, the sinful heart. We have forgotten, at times, the bounty that God has provided and have ignored his attempts to call us to Him so that we may find the answers we search for. Instead many engage in all those things which Paul here reminds us to avoid, hoping for temporary relief for our seeking hearts instead of trusting in God and stamping out these sins as we should.

I admire the moral fiber and tenacity of Phinehas in Numbers 25. He was not afraid to deal with sin. Israel was just about to enter the Promised Land after 40 years of hanging out in the desert. Now you would expect to find them really pumped up and excited about being so close. Instead of thanking God, the men of Israel are sleeping with foreign women and worshiping false gods. Needless to say God’s anger burned against the Israelites and so he sent a plague among the people.

In the midst of God’s judgment, one guy was so brash that he didn’t even try to hide his sin. He marched right in front of the people with a Midianite maiden and took her into his tent to sleep with her. Picture the scene. The people of God are weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting because of their sin and the plague that is wiping them out, and this bonehead walks right by them flaunting his sin.

Well, this is where Phinehas enters the scene. When he saw what was going on, he jumped up, grabbed his spear, ran to the man’s tent and drove the spear through both the man and the woman as they lay together. The plague immediately stopped, but not before 24,000 people were killed. I love what God says in Numbers 25:11: “Phinehas …has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was as zealous as I am for my honor…” Because Phinehas was looking up, he was also looking out.

Paul wants us to look out so he lists some sensual sins. We must slay these and all sin with the passion of a Phinehas. Anytime we see these desires begin to awaken in our lives we need to grab our spear and thrust it right through them. We need to be zealous for God’s honor by putting them to death. Notice that we’re not just to put them aside. We’re not to wound them or even ask them to leave. We’re not to experiment or play around with them, rationalize them or even explain them away. Instead, we’re to kill them. We’re to thrust our spears right through them.

The kind of behavior that Paul warns us about is that that belongs to the old life that has been buried with Christ and it should no longer be what defines us today

We need to take the advice that Paul gave the church in Colossae and put the past of our mistakes and missteps away, learning from them but not repeating them. We must come to terms with what it truly means to be a Christian, faulty people who put their faith and trust in Christ to save them. People who, as it says in verses 9 and 10 who have “taken off the old self with its practices and have put on a new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of the Creator.” This is not so much a command to keep as it is a truth to claim. All that we needed to do to be saved has already been done. We are a new creation under Christ so we no longer have to live as we did before Christ or in the absence of Christ. We are different now so we are called to act differently.

Christ came so that, through His death, we could be restored to His image and be seen sinless through His unselfish act of love. We are called to be like Christ because we now have that opportunity to do it. These are exciting times and there has never been a greater need to find our direction from God.

But there is much to do and so many people to reach with this good news. Everyday, people are dying without being saved. Their eternal life with the Savior will never be realized, and many because no one ever took their time to share the promise God has given to those who put their faith and trust in Him.

 

So, let’s get busy. Let’s stop looking down and find the faith to look up to where the answers can be found. Stop searching for that thing that in the end will never satisfy. Instead, seek Christ. Amen