Month: October, 2015

“No Longer Slaves”

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

 

Please pray with me…

 

All the planning. All the hours of work guided by the Holy Spirit to bring about something special. I have to tell you that my excitement for this first evening service was hard to contain. There is no way to properly thank all those who helped to make this night possible.

Most of all I want to thank the amazing congregation here at Redeemer for letting me think outside the box. They have been patient with me and for those of you who know me, that’s not an easy thing to do sometimes. Yet they stuck with me and I truly believe they are as excited to see what comes of all this as I am.

But none of this would have happened had I not been given the freedom to do it. I serve you, not the other way around. Had my congregation put a red light on this it never would have happened. How appropriate then that today we talk about freedom.

In John 8, Jesus is talking to some Jewish believers that are new to the faith. Many of you can relate to this story because you’re also quite new to the faith yourself, so listen closely.

Being new, they weren’t exactly sure of how to proceed. Their faith had been built upon the law all of their lives but, somehow, this new faith that they professed was altogether different.

Jesus says to them, “If you abide in my Word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Sounds great but free from what exactly? Their reply makes evident their ignorance to this point. They ask, “We are Offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

Jesus is essentially saying, “Right now you are new to the faith, but if you continue to hold to my teachings and live by those teachings then you will come to an understanding of the questions that are now in your mind. You will finally know the truth of God and that very truth will separate you from the bondage of sin that now enslaves you. Listen and obey me and you will no longer be slaves to sin.”

At the close of an important speech to Congress on January 6, 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt shared his vision of the kind of world he wanted to see after the war in Europe was over.

He spoke of four basic freedoms which should be enjoyed by all people: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

Of course, World War II exploded far beyond Europe, and the world never achieved Roosevelt’s ideal. Even if it did, however, we would still need another freedom the president didn’t mention: freedom from ourselves and the tyranny of our sinful nature.

Jesus was talking to these new believers about a kind of freedom they had never experienced before. The freedom He was telling them about was much greater than the political freedom they thought they had. No Jesus was talking about their spiritual freedom, that same kind of freedom He offers to us. That same kind of freedom that he has offered every soul since.

But these new Jewish believers didn’t understand. They had no idea what it meant because they were still trying to find their salvation by obeying the law. And here Jesus is telling them, essentially, that it is not the law that will save them, it is the faith they have in the Son of God that will save them.

This still concerns me sometimes because, even today, people still don’t get it.

They try to surrender themselves to Christ and they talk a good game, but yet they still try to make the law do for them what they can’t do themselves instead of surrendering to the one who has overcome the law.

Jesus was offering them, and he is offering us, a freedom much greater than they ever could have imagined. He tells them in verse 36 that it is the Son who will lead them to that freedom and that it will be a complete freedom that brings them all the way to heaven. This is real freedom. This is what it means to be FREE INDEED!

So now many of you are probably thinking to yourselves, “That means I must not be experiencing true freedom because I continue to struggle. I keep letting temptations get the best of me. I am not as loving as I should be or as Christian as I should be or as faithful as I should be and I have nothing but guilt because as hard as I try, I’m not the faithful Christian I want to be.”

If these are your thoughts then I ask you, “What did Jesus really mean when He said, “So if the Son set you free, you will be free indeed?” How does this freedom apply to all of us 21st century Christians?

I believe this is a freedom that goes much farther then we could ever comprehend. It goes much farther than the freedoms of speech, worship, want and fear.

It’s a freedom that goes far beyond our ability to read Scripture or to choose a church or even to speak out in faith. It is a freedom that brings us back to God.

At a farmer’s market in a little village there was a covey of quail chicks walking in circles around a pole.

They had strings attached to their legs, and they continued to walk around and around the pole hour after hour. A man came into the market and asked, “How much will you take for all of them?” He paid the owner the agreed upon price and then began to cut the strings off of their legs. “What are you doing?” the owner asked in unbelief?
“I’m setting them free,” said the new owner.
But in spite of the strings being cut giving the quail their freedom, they continued to walk around the pole in the same old circle. They didn’t even realize that they were free and that they could go in a different direction. Not until the man began shooing them away did they move from this set routine.

So what is this freedom that Jesus is offering us? 1st, it is the freedom from the guilt of sin.

The IRS received a letter from a gentleman with no return address. In it was a note that said, “Enclosed you will find a check for $150.

I cheated on my income tax return last year and have not been able to sleep ever since. If I still have trouble sleeping, I will send the rest. Sincerely, a tax payer.”

Through repentance, God offers you a true freedom, the freedom from guilt.”

Just a few honest words of repentance to your Savior offers you freedom from the guilt your sins have caused you. 1 John 1:9 assures us that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

He takes away both the guilt of true sin and of perceived sin. Perceived sin is when we beat ourselves down because we think we’ll never be good enough. We let guilt overtake us because no matter how hard we try, we can never become the kind of faithful Christians we want to be.

This is one of the devil’s most successful tools. He tells the faithful that they just aren’t good enough, that they will never amount to anything in the Christian realm, that they are worthless wanna-be’s who will never be saved because they’ll never be strong enough, or faithful enough, or committed enough. This is the perceived sin that the devil uses to bring us down.

What Jesus Christ wants you to know, however, is that the ransom He paid on the cross erased all of that.

He wants you to know that when the Father sees the blood on the cross, He sees the victory over sin provided by the perfect sacrifice. Now God the Father sees you through the prism of His Son. Through repentance our forgiveness is complete. Our sins are no longer held against us.

Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

For those who don’t trust in God’s holy Word, they have nothing to cling to but a cloud of condemnation hanging over them. They continue to try and live up to what they THINK God requires just like some of the new believers in our Gospel lesson were doing. They are making their own rules and requiring of themselves things of which God has no need and it results in CONDEMNATION because we still have that old Adam within us that stops us from achieving the goals.

That is why Christ died for us, because we could never do what He was able to do by His sacrifice. All Glory and honor to God for breaking the chains of guilt we once had.

As Christians we are not our own, we have been bought with a price, the death of God’s one and only Son Jesus Christ. Today is the day to cut the strings from off your feet and declare your freedom by surrendering the fight you have with God for your life.

 

Even greater than that freedom, however, is the freedom we have in Christ from the consequences of our sin. Every sin has consequences and too often we have to suffer those consequences in order to understand the level of our sin. We might try to erase what has been done but we can’t.

Yet we still keep on trying to beat the system. One little sin here and another little sin there and we’ll be all the more satisfied in the end. But sin has a way of getting back at you. It can’t be fooled and no matter how someone might want to legislate it out of our lives or ignore it so it might go away, it’s still sin and it sticks to its victims until it’s satisfied it has done enough damage. It’s never an easy fix when sin has reared its ugly head because sin always has consequences.

Romans 6:23 reminds us that, “The wages of sin is death.” God can never condone sin and even if we somehow get away with it here on earth we will never get away with it with a God who sees all and knows all. Every sin is a death sentence. Every sin is counted against us.

God our Judge must be fair and the only way to do that is to punish the guilty and the only right sentence is our everlasting demise.

There is only one way we can be free from this crime of sin which we all share guilt and its given to us in that same verse that sentenced us to death, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I went white water rafting on the Gunnison river between Bozeman Montana and Yellowstone park about 5 years ago. At first the river was calm. I was in the very front of the boat so I was very happy with that. Eventually, however, the river began to take control of our boat as the rapids became stronger. I did all I could to stay in that boat but I had no control of the river. It was only by the grace of God I was able to make it to the end without having to swim.

In the same way it is sin – not man himself- that is control. No matter how hard we try and avoid it, it sticks with us. No matter how hard we try, sin and evil continue to push us over rocky terrain towards the abyss of ruin and destruction.

But when we surrender our lives to Christ and make the honest decision to follow Him and Him alone, we are no longer under sin’s curse. Will we continue to struggle? Yes, but through Christ, we receive freedom through repentance and forgiveness from the consequences of that sin.

Now we can have freedom from sins complete control, and eventually, we will start being unresponsive to sin because we will have become FREE INDEED! No longer slaves to sin.

Finally, we also receive the freedom to begin a new life, one that guides us into being all God wants us to be. He is our salvation. He is our source of truth. In Galatians 5:16 it is God’s Word through Paul:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

We no longer have to live angry, jealous, hateful, selfish lives under guilt and condemnation. Now you can choose to begin a new life in Christ so that we no longer have to live in bondage obeying other Gods who only lead you to destruction. Titus 2:11-14:

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,

training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

So I ask you to ask yourselves…Are you free today? Or is guilt and shame still hanging over you like a cloud that never seems to go away.

If so, Jesus is the answer and he is the only way to lift that burden of sin. Come to Him fully expecting Him to do what He has promised. If you do then you will be no longer slaves. You will be FREE INDEED!! Amen.

Bible Study Question – John 8:31-38

Bible Study Question – John 8:31-38

Mention a few areas in your life where you were/are a disciple.

What does the phrase mean “abide in My word”? How can we live in Jesus’ Word?

Jesus said this long before the texts of the New Testament were written, so how do we remain in the Word apart from the Bible?

Does verse 31 advocate works-based salvation? Why or why not?

What is the truth? How will we know the truth? By studying? Verse 31; John 5:19-23; 14:5-6

What 3 things will God’s Word provide? Verse 31-32

Why is that the people (who had believed in Him) seem hostile (even to the point of killing Jesus) to what Jesus says in verses 31-32?

How have people slandered what Jesus says in verses 31-32?

Were they truly believers? John 8:44-47

What is freedom? Can it be found apart from God?

What were the people that Jesus was talking to, captives of?

What was the church of Luther’s time captive of?

In what way does the truth set a person free?

Describe the spiritual bondage of which Jesus speaks in verses 34-35. Acts 8:22-24; Romans 6:17-18, 7:24-25; 1 Timothy 3:7; 2 Timothy 2:22-26; Hebrews 2:14; 2 Peter 2:17-19

What does it mean to be a slave of sin (under its control, no freedom)?

Everyone who is a slave has a master, if we are slaves to sin, who then is our master?

Are people who practice care-free lifestyles doing whatever they want whenever they want without taking responsibility for their actions really free? Why or why not? 2 Corinthians 3:17

How does the Spirit of the Lord give us freedom? Freedom from what?

Do you think that we, as American’s, take freedom for granted? What is the consequence?

Why do we seem to embrace bondage?

Step One

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

Please pray with me…

While praying about what God wanted me to speak to you about this morning, my meditations brought me back to just before we came here. There were boxes all over the place and many of our friends were helping us load the truck that would bring us to Bellingham and ultimately to Redeemer. As you can imagine, there were a lot of thoughts going through my head. I had talked to Rex and Tim and they both seemed excited for me to get here but were they really that excited? And even if they were, was everybody else? What problems would I face and could I handle them? What if our personalities don’t mesh and they quickly grew weary of my “energy?” Is this really where God wants me or am I going to have to go through this all over again in a year? Will Cheryl and Emily like it?

Questions always surround any kind of change, especially when the change involves so many uncertainties.

What a relief it has been over the few years that we have been here, to know that we have truly come to the place where God has called us to be and praise be to Him for bringing us here. In case you are wondering, we don’t want to be any place else. This has become home.

The verses that brought me to this time of contemplation are found in our Gospel lesson in verses 28 and 29. Let me read them again for you. “Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” It occurred to me, this has already started for us because he has given us you.

So today, I want to expand on these two verses especially and I want to talk to you about what a blessing it is to follow the Lord.

Now, following the Lord does not promise to be easy. It may cause you to leave what is familiar and comfortable. It might challenge you in very unique ways that draw you to places you never dreamed you’d be. But, as Christ has promised us, following Him will always mean that our journey will be accompanied by His care and blessings straight to the ultimate blessing of eternal life.

Peter said, “We have left everything to follow you.” A life of following God is always going to be filled with uncertainties because we’re not the one’s making the decisions. This in itself can be a point of great stress because we humans like to know what we’re getting ourselves into.

Peter must have been thinking back to when his life had a certain order of his own making. He was a fisherman. He knew the sights and smells of it and he knew where the best spots on the sea were. In this he had comfort. But now, there was uncertainty. What was in store for him? Where would Christ take him? What did all of this mean? When Peter left his nets behind, he stepped into the world of faith.

He could have stayed with what he knew, but there was something about this man that made him follow. Thinking of the possible questions in Peter’s mind reminds me of an episode recorded in John 21: 1-7,

“After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”

So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish.

That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea.”

When Peter was filled with uncertainty and even doubt after Christ died on the cross, he went to where his comfort lie, he went fishing and he took his buddies with him. There will always be times in all of our lives when we long for the familiar, to be near what we know. When he felt his faith had betrayed him, he went back to where he felt in the most control. What he ultimately learned, however, was that Christ was always in control.

But, as Peter would learn, God doesn’t always call us to a place of comfort. In our passage Christ starts out by saying, “no one who has left their home.

 

Robert Frost said that home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in

 

But no matter how pleasant or unpleasant your home experience is, there will be a time that you have to leave and that most often takes a leap of faith. It might not be until your final breath is taken, but you will have to leave. Peter’s statement that they had left everything was, somewhat a product of uncertainty, but Christ follows this by telling him that his actions will be met with a blessed certainty. Jesus knows that by following Him, it alters our direction. You see, the call of Jesus on your life and mine means He is in control, not us, and we must be willing to go where he calls us to go, even if it means we leave our own homes.

Your response might mean distancing yourself from those who have no passion for Christ, familiar faces who see your faith as something of fantasy and wishful thinking. It could also mean a drastic change in your own life that calls you to leave family and friends.

Or even, as Christ says in our lesson, to places of persecution. There is no promise that your journey with Christ will always be pleasant. We are called to be different than the world, even if we have to suffer in ways to achieve it.

Christ says, “There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the Gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time.” This is a promise but it takes an element of faith on our part. Following the Lord always involves His care and blessings, but it takes faith to see it happen. Faith that God will take us to the places He has already planned for us, faith that the sacrifice of His Son was more than a meaningless event, faith that only comes through Word and Sacrament by way of the Holy Spirit working in our lives to take us to the places that we have been called to long ago.

Peter must have been surprised at such a response to his statement.

Jesus is assuring Peter and all of us who put faith in Him that when a life is invested in the Lord, that life then becomes His concern and with His concern comes His provision.

 

I think the heart of the matter is the absolute fulfillment that Jesus brings to a life. When a person becomes a Christian they become part of a family. A family that reaches into vast regions of untapped mission fields, and even some in our own back yards. We have become family because of our adoption as sons and daughters of the Most High. Membership in this family affords us the greatest of resources, more than we could ever hope for on our own. Those of you who couldn’t wait to get rid of your brother or sister now have billions more. Imagine what we could do together to make this family even greater.

Christ has promised us a hundredfold of blessings for following Him. Would you like to know how wealthy you are? Just add up all those things that money can’t buy and that death can’t take away. It comes down to your relationship with God! This is the only thing that endures.

But we will continue to be persecuted because we will no longer be of this world. Our adoption takes us to a greater place. But that will not stop the devil from trying to take you away and we can never overemphasize the power of temptation.

He will continue to work through others to break you down, he will continue to make little problems into big ones because he knows that once we are committed to God’s family, his strength over us is gone. If you face persecutions, remember the riches you have been given through the faith that was instilled deep within you. Remember the goodness of God so that it might become an encouragement to trust in Him through both good times and bad.

Once again, following the Lord may cause you to leave what is familiar and comfortable but it always involves His care and blessings. Cheryl and I have learned that by stepping out in faith…. and many of you have your own stories of faith to share. Because of what we have been given in God’s forgiveness and mercy, we know that our ultimate prize is eternal life with Him.

Titus 3:3-7, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

Together in God’s church at Redeemer, we can share in this promise and it’s exciting to think about where He will have us go. But this all begins with a step of faith. Amen.

Bible Study – Mark 10: 23-31

Bible Study – Mark 10: 23-31

In Verse 23 it is said, “And Jesus, looking around.” What was He looking for?

What kind of burdens can wealth give someone?

Why, precisely, is it difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom? How can it separate us from God? Verses 24-25

We may contrast the dependence of a child with the independence of a rich man – which does Jesus say is more likely to inherit the kingdom of God?

Does this then make wealth sinful in and of itself? Why or why not? 1 Timothy 6:9-10

Why were the disciples amazed at Jesus’ words? The OT traditional view, based on Deut. 27-28, was that wealth and health were related to one’s covenant performance and God’s blessing.

How did Jesus answer their questions?

Why did He use the camel in his illustration?

Why must we trust Jesus and have pure hearts?

How does verse 27 speak to God’s grace? Genesis 18:14, Jeremiah 32:17

How does Peter’s statement in verse 28 have a sense of uncertainty to it? (once for all)

What did Jesus promise Peter and all believers?

Why didn’t Jesus include Fathers in his second listing in verse 30? Why aren’t wives and husbands mentioned?

Why does He include persecutions in the list? Matthew 5:10-12, Romans 8:17, 2 Corinthians 1:5-7, Philippians 3:8-11, 2 Timothy 2: 9-12, 1 Peter 4:12-19.

How do these verses speak to the truth that we are not of this world?

When I explained a hundredfold reward as those things money can’t buy and death cannot take away in my sermon, what do you think I meant? What does it have to do with family?

Is there any room for grace in a reward-for-service arrangement?

How does his promise strengthen us to have pure hearts and trust in Jesus?

What did Jesus mean when He said the first will be last and the last first? Matthew 19:30 – 20:16, Luke 13: 23-30

 

“The Sickness of the Soul”

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

Please pray with me…

Growing up Lutheran, in a liturgical environment, I was witness to several churchy words that would often confuse me. Sometimes I heard them in sermons, sometimes in Bible studies, even sometimes during youth group, and when they would come up I’d just shake my head with confidence trying to show the actions of a learned man while all the while wondering just what some word really meant.

I had trouble for a long while with the word sanctification. It’s meaning is “to be made holy” so why didn’t they just say “made holy.” Well, since then I have learned that the word sanctified means much more in the realm of the church. I know now it is the work of the Holy Spirit bringing one’s whole nature more and more under God’s grace to provide a complete regeneration. In other words, sanctification is carrying on to perfection the work done in regeneration, and it extends to the whole person.

 

Romans 6:13 explains it saying, Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.

We can also find a good definition in Colossians 3:9-10 when it says, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”

Well, today we deal with another word that has sometimes given me a hard time, the word apostasy. Apostasy is defined as, “a total desertion of or departure from one’s religion, principles, party or cause. ”The polar opposite of sanctification.

This word, apostasy, is a very important word to know because it is a danger we all face, especially if we’re simply casual Christians playing the game but not really embracing the faith. It is a sickness of the soul that can spread quickly and it’s end result is not a worldly death but an eternal one.

Just like any disease, it gives symptoms that show one is suffering from it. With a disease like cancer you might find a lump or a sore that doesn’t seem to heal or a wart or other skin blemish that changes colors or conditions.

So, if apostasy is also a kind of disease, does it also show outward signs of infecting someone? Well, yes it does and that’s what we’re going to talk about today. Now, many people might hear the signs and even see them in themselves, but, like a stubborn man who hates doctors, they might ignore them thinking these signs in them are the exception.

So, what are the signs that you are infected with the soul disease of apostasy. It’s important to know them so we can catch them early and have a better chance of recovery. Just like cancer, when apostasy is left too long unchecked, it can bring someone to the point that, when they come to their earthly death, it becomes too late to be saved.

The first sign that someone might be infected with apostasy can be found in their lack of appetite, not for food, but for the Word of God. It is no secret that our sanctification, our Spiritual growth, our healthy Christian life is connected to studying the Word of God. It’s in God’s Word that we learn in Romans 10:17 that, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” 1 Peter 2:1-2 says to, “ put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” In other words, just as an infant cannot live and grow without food, neither can we live our spiritual lives and grow in them if we are not fed with God’s Word often.

You might see this symptom in yourself if you choose to skip a Bible study, even when you have the time or if you rarely read and study your Bible at home, choosing instead to spend your time in other less beneficial ways. You might find this symptom in yourself even if you do one of these things but find no enjoyment or interest in it.

If this Sunday service is the only time you open yourself up to the Word of God, then you are infected and you need to be willing to make a change. The symptom is treatable, but you have to be willing to take the medicine.

Let me read to you probably the best explaination given in the Bible concerning Apostasy. It’s found in the same book as our Epistle lesson this morning, starting in Hebrews chapter 5. (5:11-6:3)

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

 

 

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Our second outward sign that you might be infected with a bit of apostasy is in how much you come to God in prayer. A healthy Christian life building up to sanctification involves prayer, lots and lots of prayer.

Prayer is one of the basic needs to have a healthy Spiritual life in Christ. Scripture makes this exceedingly clear. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to, “Pray without ceasing.” You do this in part by being a faithful witness to the faith you confess. You do this, in part, in how you choose to live your life or rather, its seen in how the Holy Spirit has changed sanctified you and the change this has made for others to see.

Prayer is not only commanded of us but it is vital in your relationship with Jesus Christ. The type of prayer you pray also shows how healthy you really are.

People are found weak in their faith because they rarely go to prayer. They have no time for it so the benefits are never received. They allow their non-prayer time to overwhelm any time they might take out of their day to talk with the Creator.

As a result, the devil finds it easy to manipulate your time so much so that he ends up taking prayer away from you. Don’t allow times of non-prayer to develop in your life. Make a concerted effort to pray unceasingly both in your time with God and during your time in the world. Effective prayer, like regular Bible study, requires discipline.

Symptoms are also shown in the effort people take to get to church activities including worship. Are you like many who come to church, put a few dollars in the collection plate and then forget about God until the next service? Are you one who has to struggle even to get to church?

If so, then the infection of apostasy is setting in. Coming to church should be something that inspires you. It should be something you look forward to, not in the entertainment it gives but because of how much you depend upon it in your walk of faith.

It should never be a duty you feel you have to do to be right with God. It should never be done to simply let other members know how faithful you are. When we assemble together, it should be done to build each other up for the upcoming warfare we will faith in the world in the coming week. It should recharge your batteries, bring you peace and strengthen your faith. If these aren’t the reasons you come to church, then apostasy is having its way with you. Don’t be a lukewarm Christian. If there is anything I need to do to help you, please bend my ear.

 

Hebrew 10:23-25:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Another sign you may find in yourself of apostasy is in your willingness to do ministry beyond the walls of this building. It seems every church I have ever attended has had troubles getting everyone involved somehow, in the ministry of the church. This church is probably better than most but all of us could be doing much better than we are.

So, I invite you to always do the right thing working toward your salvation, not letting apostasy have its way with you. What can you do to make your Christian mark in the world? How can you serve God by being His hands and feet in the world? Who can you change with your testimony, who can you teach, who can you comfort, who can you pray for.

The world is waiting for you to make your mark as you become Christ to the world and there are literally thousands of ways you can do it.

Being involved with the church also involves a couple other things. We again find this in Scripture. First we go to Romans again, this time chapter 12:6-8 where it says:

 

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

You don’t have to serve on some religious board or head up a ministry, but if the Lord leads you that way, do it.

Our Christian outreach can be simply being there for someone. Jesus Himself tells us in Matthew 25: For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Your walking testimony can be your greatest weapon. Get involved.

Another symptom of apostasy might be in one’s lack of an urgent heart. I believe we all need help here. We look at the world and we see what is happening. Christian lives being taken in the name of religion. Christian doctrine coming under scrutiny in gay and lesbian activism. Christian churches being threatened to become more worldly or else. We should all see the urgency of the task before us and we should all want to do our part in change. But frankly, it’s just too easy to ignore. We talk a good game but we neglect to do anything about it. From Galatians 5:

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

As Ross would say, “freedom is not free.” We are called to love one another and sometimes love causes us to defend our faith and defend our brothers in faith. Our freedom is being taken away from us and something has to change before the disease of apostasy becomes even more of an epidemic.

 

A symptom of apostasy is also shown when we have a lack of regard for the truth. Are we willing to believe in all of God’s Word or do we just pick and choose the easy parts? Are we willing to live by God’s law or do we make our own interpretation of it, stretching its truth to more easily fit into the life we choose to lead.?

It’s painful to admit that we have been out of step with our faith, so, to make it more palatable we change the rules and convince ourselves that God meant something when its plain to see in His Word that He didn’t or we form God into something that makes Him more worldly and easier to obey, Fallible like we are, taking on our image more then we take on His.

 

2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 warns us:

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.

As with physical cancer, apostasy is cancer of the spirit and it has warning signs. It’s important that we know what they are so we might more easily overcome them. It’s important that we detect them early so that they have no time to grow into something that will cause everlasting death. We all have one or more of these symptoms and its time we see them for what they are so that we might have the courage to do something about them.

The cure for all of this is found only in Christ. Through His death and resurrection, he provided for us the remedy. Through His death and resurrection, He made it possible to win the battle over apostasy. It’s a medicine He freely gives and a treatment that lasts a lifetime. Our security is secure because we have found favor with God who sees us through the prism that is Christ. Through repentance, we find relief and through the sacrament we gain our strength.

But we have to be willing to accept the gift. We have to be willing to take the medicine. We do this by separating ourselves from the world and its false claims of a cure for all that ails us.

If you see any of these symptoms in yourself, what are you willing to do about it? God has greater plans for you then the world can offer you. So I urge you to free yourself from the sickness of apostasy and begin again to live a new life in the truth that is Jesus Christ. Unlike Physical cancer, Christ offers us a cure that has a 100% success rate. May God work in us a cure and may we, together, find ourselves in a healthy walk with the Father.

Amen

 

 

Bible Study Questions – Hebrews 3:12-19

Bible Study Questions – Hebrews 3:12-19

How do verses 12-14 connect to verses 7-11?

What defines an unbelieving heart? 1 Corinthians 14:23-25; 2 Corinthians 4:3-5; 6:14; 1 Timothy 5:8; Titus 1:13-15 (aposthnai = Fallen away – from where we get apostasy)

Why is it right to say that an unbelieving heart is evil?

Other than what was mentioned in our sermon, what are some other symptoms of apostasy? In what ways might an unbelieving heart manifest itself?

Is it our will or our intelligence that is involved in unbelief?

Is unbelief weakness of faith?

What is the warning in verse 12 relating to, salvation or faithfulness or both? Explain

What are they falling away from, faith or faithfulness?

What is both the warning and the promise in the phrase, “As long as it is today?”

What will keep you from becoming hardened through the deceitfulness of sin? 1 Thessalonians 5:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

Have you heard someone say, “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” What is your reaction to that statement? Can you be a good Christian without going to church?

 

Compare verses 12-14 to 10:24,25. How do our assemblies relate to our exhorting one another? What can we learn about the importance of attendance?

 

Is rejecting the Gospel of Jesus Christ the same as rejecting God? 1 John 5: 9-12

How can we encourage each other? Why is it important to do it every day?

How does one share in Christ? What is required in order for us to be partakers with Christ? Explain.

In verse 14, the writer to the Hebrews puts a sense of urgency in his words asking his readers to hold their original confidence firm to the end (persistency). Where else in Scripture does God tell us to persevere? Mark 13:13; Rom. 11:22; I Corinthians 15:2; Galatians 6:7-9; Philippians 1:6; I John 2:19; Revelations 2:7,26; 3:5,12,21; 21:7

Explain how verse 15 relates to the discussion and to the problem of the Hebrews.

How can we be faithfully focusing on Christ?

What does it mean to enter into God’s rest? Verses 11,18

“God’s Word on Divorce”

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

Please pray with me…

I have to admit to you something. I tried to ignore the first part of today’s Gospel lesson. It’s so much easier to write on the second part, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of heaven.” I know it’s easier because I’ve already written two sermons on it. It’s even easier to hide in our epistle lesson for today in Hebrews, “What is man, that You are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him?”

I really wanted to pass on writing on divorce because it’s such a joyless topic. It’s much easier to ignore it in favor of something a little less volatile like children or God’s love for mankind. But I felt I couldn’t today because people need to hear it, especially those who might be thinking about it.

A group of Pharisees come to Jesus to trap him. They were looking for excuses to drag him down, so they ask Jesus a question, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

They are hoping to put Jesus in a difficult spot, hopeful that He’ll either fail to give an answer, or better yet, give a wrong one. On the one hand there is Herod the Tetrarch, the one who married his half sister-in-law, Herodias.

Marriage to your brother’s wife while your brother is still living was a big “no no” in Mosaic law. You might remember John the Baptist lost his head while in jail for calling Herod on this very thing. So if Jesus denounces support he might have to deal with the wrath of Herod.

On the other hand, if Jesus condones divorce, it would take away His credibility to many of His followers. I imagine this discussion was a hot topic in the day and, as we all know, it’s still a hot topic today because, even those who don’t follow Christ know that divorce was never in the design of marriage.

To begin, let’s see what that Mosaic law was. We find it in Deuteronomy 24:1, “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house,

This is not what we have been taught, that you can simply write a certificate of divorce because of some vague indecency. But, indeed, before Moses, women had no rights what-so-ever.

No matter how bad it was with her husband, she could not divorce him. Basically she was a possession of the husbands. A certificate of divorce changed this somewhat because now the woman would be given a hearing. Again, though, this charge of indecency was very open for debate and divorce was relatively easy to do. By Jesus time, this debate was still going on.

By His time Shammai law taught that indecency meant adultery and nothing less. Another school, the Hillel law, taught that a man could divorce his wife because something displeased him, anything at all. So the debate raged then as it does today

But instead of taking a certain stance on these laws, Jesus reminds the Pharisees about what marriage was created to be. When writing of this occasion in His Gospel, Matthew writes that Jesus said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

I think this verse has been in every wedding I have ever done. It’s what we as Christians believe in, even if our divorce rate seems to be as high as the general public. No longer are there two but one.

In this case 1+1=1. Two pieces stuck together by the glue of matrimony. That’s why when you try to pull them apart, it’s usually a long and messy project.

Jesus is reminding them that marriage is more than one man and one women, it is a holy union ordained by God Himself, something our nation has apparently forgot.

 

Marriage is a holy union of mind, body and spirit. A permanent bond with God as the overseer. It was never created as a temporary alliance and anything less than a lifelong commitment is foreign to its design. What God has joined together let not man separate. Jesus was telling them and is telling us that the discussion on divorce must be founded in the understanding of God’s intention for marriage.

So, you ask, why did He allow the Mosaic law to be written? This is part of Scripture after all and it is therefore God’s law. Well, Jesus was ready for this argument. To hear His response, we go again to Matthew 19 where He said, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

This description of hard hearts was often used when God was describing the rebellion of His people in Israel.

It means to be stubborn, short-sited and sinful. Sounds a lot like someone who wants a divorce doesn’t it. This was God’s reluctant provision to a hard-hearted nation.

But Jesus knew that this was never what marriage was intended to include. He also knew that, just like today, people were looking for a loophole when it came to the love they have for their own sin and he would not allow for that.

Jesus makes matters very clear when He says, Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” No matter how much we try to sugarcoat it, these words mean just what they say.

Let’s look at it from a different prospective. Earlier, Jesus was preaching on the mount on a number of different topics. Here is where we learn that even speaking in anger towards another or being overwhelmed by anger was equal to murder because they have committed murder in their heart and the penalty in that day for murder was death. He had much the same advice for lust saying that lust was equal to adultery because it is adultery in the heart. The penalty for adultery was also death. I wonder how many of us would still be living if this was truly the rule today. I’m guessing this would be a pretty quiet building.

Jesus was not recommending death to all people but He was speaking to the urgency of the problem we all share and its ugly potential to draw people away from God. How many times have we seen these shortfalls aid in the killing of faith, which, if not addressed would lead to everlasting death.

Today, too many see divorce as a gateway to greener pastures. A temporary reprieve from a difficult situation. A way to gain freedom to do everything one wants to do no matter how sinful it might be.

Divorce has become quick and easy. It’s much harder to uphold God’s high standards of love. Every time someone decides to separate themselves from their wedding vows of “till death do us part,” we fall short of God’s command and His vision of Holy Matrimony.

Romans 12:18 tells us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Even in our darkest hours we are called to live peaceably. Even when your spouse has given you the proverbial straw that has broken the camel’s back, we are to live peaceably.

This is far from what we see during a divorce. At no other time is someone so focused on their rights then during a divorce. We write laments about her getting the gold mine and us getting the shaft. We have actual couples getting divorced on reality shows and the more ugly the higher the ratings.

We have become so casual about divorce today that half of all marriages end in it. It’s a sad reflection of how far we have separated ourselves from God.

Yet, after all of this, our God sheds His grace on us. Out of God’s grace He makes provision. Out of His mercy He forgives the sinner. Out of His love he gives us His Holy Spirit. He gives us a chance to recover after a separation and His forgiveness extends without limit if we but repent.

Be that as it may, however, He still hates all sin and, aside from Christ’s provision concerning adultery, He considers divorce a sinful act.

In 1st Corinthians 7, Paul tells the people of Corinth, “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

What this tells us is that marriage is much more than a simple arrangement made legal in your state by a signed certificate.

It is a most holy union of one man with one women appointed by God Himself. It is a holy gift from a loving God to His people.

Certainly, God does not will you to stay in an abusive marriage because then it is really no marriage at all. It is never God’s will to suffer such treatment. It is not a marriage that includes degradation or physical battering, or verbal for that matter. That would be a violation of everything God created marriage to be. But God still hates divorce.

 

Now I know some of you have had to deal with divorce in your own lives. Maybe you have gone through a divorce yourself or have been a child of divorce (who, incidentally suffer the most during a divorce). And for you I have a promise. Despite what you have been through, and I want you to hear this loud and clear, God loves you.

He hates marriage to end in divorce – but then again God hates all things that separate us from His command. Divorce should always be something done as the very last resort. It is never good, it is never right, but sometimes it happens in a sinful world. Our God is a God of healing and if you weren’t able to do it during your marriage, he is offering it to you right now. Whatever your past, through repentance all sin is forgiven. Our God is the God of both the joyful and the broken-hearted.

 

To those who might be thinking of divorce, I cannot be strong enough in my plea to work through your problems with God’s guidance. Just because you might one day be forgiven does not give you license to betray God’s plan for you, just as it is not an excuse to rob someone, or kill someone, or cheat someone. It is human weakness that leads to most divorces but through God you can find your strength.

This is a difficult subject but I’m glad I didn’t ignore it again. I know that we haven’t really had the time to give this subject the time it deserves.

The idea of divorce though should challenge us to work harder and understand more willingly the person we have promised to God that we would defend and honor until our last breath. There is a solution to a troubled marriage, but it takes three. May we seriously consider what a holy union marriage is before we decide to unload our spouse. God has great plans for all of us, but nowhere will it ever be found that His plan includes divorce. May God strengthen us in all our unions. Amen.