Month: August, 2016

“Keeping the Faith”

 

Text:  Mark 11:20-26

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

Please pray with me…

As we move on in our “Dealing with Life” series, it’s only natural that we talk about faith. Faith is an essential part of life. Every time you pass an oncoming car in the lane next to you, you have faith that they won’t swerve into you. Every time you take a bite of food, you have faith that no one has poisoned it. When you let your young children play where you can’t see them, you have faith they will be safe, at least a little bit. Without some sort of faith, we’d go crazy with worry. So, today were going to talk about faith, especially that faith we place in God.

The word, “faith” appears 336 times in the King James Bible, 458 times in the NIV, 389 times in the New King James version, 378 times in the American Standard Version and 521 times in the Good News Bible. Why such a wide range in uses? It’s because faith encompasses a lot of situations and describes the basic tenets of Christianity. What one might define as belief in one version, another might use faith. Where one might translate hope, another might translate faith. Truly, faith means everything in our Christian walk. In fact, you can’t have a Christian walk without it.

The Holy Spirit through Paul tells us in Romans five just how important faith really is. He says:

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

What this tells us in truth is that it is faith that begins our transformation. It is faith that gives us hope, that moves us from suffering through endurance to give us character, who we truly are. God’s love is expressed in its greatest form when it is received in faith.

With such importance in our lives, it’s tempting to think of faith as some sort of magic pill we can take to make all our dreams come true. But we must not be deceived so much that our faith is actually put in our faith. Many think (and some even told in some churches) that if we can just rally enough faith, we’ll stay healthy, quit all our bad habits, never run out of money, live a totally contented life and have all the answers to life most complex questions. But, unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way.

Faith is much more complex than simply having a genie in a bottle. Faith is a necessary component in our relationship with God himself. In our first lesson we learned in verse 6 that without faith, it is impossible to please God, “For whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.”

It says also, later in the chapter, that faith is something that must persevere, even when times are tough. While some, in faith, achieved great things, others had to endure the greatest of trials because of it. While some won battles, escaped the sword and even survived the lions, others were martyred simply because they put their faith in Jesus Christ and now they receive their due reward for that faith that carried them through.

Faith cannot be defined so easily, there is no ready formula to fit it into. Sometimes it leads to victory, other times it leads to suffering. Sometimes it is easily had while other times it takes all we have. For such people, “God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city.” A city of the faithful, of disciples of the Most High, of those who are not ashamed of God.

Our faith must rest on the belief that God has everything under His control and that He will keep His promises to us as a reward for that faith whether that happens in this life or the next.

Faith can be fickle. In times that are good, it can be easy for us to have the faith to thank God. We encourage others to keep the faith, especially if we, ourselves, are not being tested. When we’re up, we look for people who are down and we offer them the magic pill to get them through their valley. We say, “keep the faith,” because, in our own world, faith seems to be working for us.

But what of those times that we find ourselves in our own valleys. It’s at these times that others have to remind us of the importance of faith. In times of prolonged suffering or surprise attacks, faith can seem very far away, at least that faith that heals us.

Lately, I’ve had to deal with this issue as I deal with my mother who draws nearer to her own death. For all my life with mom, life has been pretty good. She was always the one to encourage me to greater things, to pick me up when I was down, to show her pride when I had accomplished anything great or small. But now all of that, except for the memories and the lessons learned, are coming to a close. After so long a time of tranquility, I now find myself facing sorrow, challenged to face something I hoped I would never see, even knowing full well it’s something we all must face. My mother’s impending death has drawn me to faith.

I can’t imagine facing this sorrow without the faith I place in God to provide for her even after her earthly life.

Because of faith I can rejoice in the knowledge that Christ has prepared a place for her. Without faith, I would have nothing to hope in. It’s in these times of mourning that I am most grateful for the faith that the Holy Spirit has instilled within me.

Yet there are times when faith is harder to come by, when God seems a million miles away no matter how hard you pray for Him to be at your side. I have also been here in facing my own demons. Sometimes it seems I pray and pray night after night for change but the change never comes. Faith in these times is harder to sustain. Even with all the reading, praying, and faithfulness, I, myself, must strain to maintain the kind of faith that assures me that “God’s got this.” We all struggle with this from time to time and it doesn’t seem to matter if the demons we face are large or small. Our faith isn’t always tested just in the good times, it’s also tested in the valleys of our lives.

Whenever we wonder where God is, it’s in these times in which we must question ourselves and our faith. Will we sustain the belief we have in God, or will our waiting make us falter? Will our faith increase because of waiting or will our own impatience doom us? Will we be content with God working in His own time, or will we start listen to the devil’s whispers trying to convince us that God has deserted us?

It’s in these moments that the trial of temptations sometimes do their most effective work. Sometimes we persist in our faith and at other times we succumb to the temptations. We take one forward step but sometimes our lack of faith brings us two steps back.

And there are also those times that we sometimes think we have to take giant steps in faith to overcome something when mini steps will do. In the meantime, we are crushed in the inability to do what we think we must.

So, how can we keep the faith right now? First, it is wise to go to Scripture for our answers, because everything we need to know about keeping the faith is already there. First we turn to 1st Timothy 4:16 where the Holy Spirit tells us to, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by doing so you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Now here, Paul is advising a new pastor but really his words are for us all.

When Paul went on His travels, his goal was to strengthen the faith of those in the churches he visited. He knew, that a solid faith would both strengthen and encourage all of those who had surrendered their lives to Christ, even in times of extreme trial. And the Bible gives us advice on how to do this.

First, keeping the faith requires remembering why we have that faith in the first place. We need to be intentional in our walk, remembering that it is only by God’s incredible grace that we are allowed to hope in something greater than ourselves.

The beginning of Hebrews 12 says:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”

This means that we should always keep in remembrance the example Christ gave us of what true faith looks like. It is He who had to endure great struggle with only faith to sustain Him. It is He who was the great example of following the will of His heavenly Father, even when He knew it would bring Him torture. It was Christ Jesus who endured the cross and its shame so that we could endure our own struggle with the same faith he modeled so devotedly.

Keeping the faith requires a love for the truth that can only be found in Holy Scripture. It requires a commitment to the Word even as the world tries to change it meaning. 1st Timothy four says that, in the latter days, those who abandon the faith will, “Follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” Esentially, the world is trying to write its own Gospel and it will cause many to fall.

Keeping the faith also involves growing in your relationship with Christ, the author of the faith which we hold dear, the perfector of true faith that can only come by way of the Holy Spirit who He, Himself, sent to guide us to that truth. Christ Jesus is the source of our faith and without the relationship He calls us to have with Him, our faith would always be in vain. There can be no shortcuts to faith. It requires commitment to the one who sustains us in faith, even when the world tries to overwhelm us. From beginning to end, Jesus is our way to faith. By His example and guidance, we look forward, not behind towards greater things to come. And this involves having an active prayer life, a desire to study Scripture and the ongoing search for truth.

 And if one is to keep the faith it is best done in community with fellow Christians fighting the same battles in life that you are. Our relationships in faith are not only between God and us but also between each other we hold up as brothers and sisters in Christ. That common faith we share can bind us together, building strength among us and courage to endure the trials we all face. Hebrews 10:23-25 says:

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.

We need to be there for each other, to encourage and support each other in the fight. That’s why it’s vital one doesn’t get into the habit of skipping church services. It’s at these times we lean on each other. If someone misses, we all suffer. We need each other to join both in our gladness and our suffering. To keep the faith we need each other to keep us on the path to salvation. That is why God puts such a great value on relationship.

All of us will endure trials and temptations in life. They are result of the sinful world we have inherited. But even in this the grace of God abounds. John 16:33 says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

By the grace of God we have also been granted victory over death and sin and it is by His grace that we will endure to the end.

But it is not only in difficult times that we should look to Christ. Because, even when we rejoice, we are preparing for our days to come. We must contend for faith always, preparing ourselves through Word and Sacrament to be able to overcome those times when faith is harder to come by.

2 Peter 1 says this:

 “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.  For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It all starts with faith.

I read a quote that said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” I kind of like that. faith is not seeing the whole staircase but it is knowing who the carpenter is. Going by faith, or really living by faith, is about the free-will God has given us to choose Him.

It’s all about where we place our trust. And it’s about keeping that faith, not just in times of rejoicing but in times when life throws you curves. Stay strong in the Word. Pray faithfully. Encourage each other. Grow in your knowledge of Christ and your relationship with Him. Faith is the beginning of all things. May God grant you the kind of faith that will see you through your mortal life to life everlasting. Amen

 

 

 

 

Bible Study: Keeping the Faith

 

What is faith? Mark 16:14-17; John 1:9-13, 3:16,18,36, 6:35, 7:37-39; Romans 1:16-17, 10:5-13; Galatians 2:17-20, 3:21-22; Hebrews 11:1; James 1:5-8; 1 John 5:1-5

What does it mean to walk by faith and not by sight?

Is our faith in God based on a rational foundation? Romans 1:18-20; 1 Thessalonians 5:21

Who is the source of faith? Ephesians 2:8

What can we do if we don’t have enough faith? Matthew 7:7

How do we grow in faith? Romans 10:17 Explain how this helps

Is believing in God enough? Hebrews 11:6; James 2:14-20

What is dead faith? Matthew 7:21

What is the difference between human faith and Bible faith? Why does the world have such a hard time with Biblical faith?

What is the difference between faith and hope? Mark 11:24

What is the difference between faith and faithfulness? What are some examples? In what ways is man unfaithful?

Explain the quote, “Faith is active.” In what ways can you “activate” your faith? What are the benefits for you in having an active faith?

What is the Holy Spirit’s role in faith? What is our role in faith?

What does it mean to “believe with your heart?”

Why is repentance such an important element of faith?

How are our difficulties linked up to our opportunities to grow in faith?

Explain Genesis 15:6.

How does prayer affect faith?

How does God show His faithfulness? Why is Christ the perfect example of faith?

What effects have the lack of faith in Christ had on this world? Why?

Is there a difference between faith and truth?

How can a believer use faith? What power does it have in mission?

What are you prepared to do to make your faith an active benefit of Christ?

“Dealing With Sin”

By Rex Watt

Text:  Matthew 5:43-48

“Chief of Sinners Though I Be”… now there’s a concept you don’t hear about much these days!  Nobody really wants to talk about sin, let alone think of themselves as a ‘sinner’.  People talk about ‘mistakes’ they make, ‘errors in judgement’ or ‘shortcomings’.  You rarely hear the word “sin” mentioned, either in the public square or even in many churches!  Nobody likes to see themselves as sinners.  They like to think of themselves as basically pretty good folk, who occasionally miss the mark.  It’s as if “close enough” is good enough.  You know the old saying, “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades”?  The way I like to say that is, “close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and atomic bombs!”

In the Gospel lesson for our topic today (Dealing with Sin), Jesus says “close is not good enough.”  He says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

There is not a lot of wiggle room in that statement.  The term “perfect” conjures up images in our mind.  Images we know we don’t measure up to.  Jesus is finishing up a series of “You have heard it was said, but I say to you…” statements.  Statements about anger, which He equates with murder; lust, which He equates with adultery; statements about divorce, oaths, retaliation and love; each one showing us how we fail to measure up to God’s standard.  Then He goes and tops it off with that statement: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

We’re not talking about that elusive perfect score that Olympic gymnasts strive for.  You know, the one that has the flawless acrobatic cartwheels combined with somersaults, tumbling passes, aerial moves and stuck landings, all done without a missed step, wiggle or jiggle.  We’re talking about that flawless routine performed each and every time we take to the floor, every day; every time; year in and year out.  All 10’s, all the time.  That’s what it means to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

You and I, my friends, are in trouble!  We don’t measure up.  We’re not even close.  We’ve done far worse than “miss the mark”.  We haven’t even hit the target.  Our problem is not our mistakes, errors in judgement, or shortcomings.  Our problem is Sin.

Many people, even Christian people, have a misconception about Sin.  People seem to think that sins are simply the things that they do which are

not in line with what God wants them to do.  And while that may be true…it goes much deeper than that.  People seem to think that they are for the most part, basically pretty good, and if they do mess up once in a while, God will weigh the good versus the bad, and as long as the good outweighs the bad; they’re OK.  They think God grades on a curve.  I don’t know about you, but when Jesus says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” , it does not sound to me like God grades on a curve.  Sin is not just what we do, think or say.  I am not a sinner because I sin.  Scripture says, I sin because I am a sinner.

Our problem, my friends, are not the actual sins that we think, say or do; although they are the things that make life rough for us in our relationships with others.  Our problem is “Capital S-sin”; that which in theological terminology we call Original Sin.  Actual sins, those things we think, say and do relate to our actions, what we do.  Original Sin relates to what we are.

Just what is this Original Sin, and what can we do about it?  We Lutherans define Original Sin the same way that the Bible describes man’s natural condition.  We read in Article II of the Augsburg Confession:

Our churches teach that since the fall of Adam, all who are naturally born are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with the inclination to sin, called        concupiscence.  Concupiscence is a disease and original vice that is truly sin.  It damns and brings eternal death on those who are not born anew through Baptism and the Holy Spirit.

In Genesis 3, we read the account of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin.  Adam and Eve sinned, by disobeying God (which actually was a consequence of their disbelief in what God has said), and they were kicked out of the Garden of Eden.  If we back up to Genesis 2, we read about God’s provision for man, as well as His prohibition about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The promise attached to that tree was that in the day that its fruit were eaten, death would surly follow.  Adam and Eve eventually died. Promise fulfilled.  The Apostle Paul picks up on this in Romans 5:12 where he writes, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned….”  He continues in vs 14, “…death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam….”  Not only did Adam and Eve eventually die, their children eventually died.  Promise fulfilled.  Their grandchildren eventually died.  Promise fulfilled.  You and I will eventually die.  Promise fulfilled.

In Genesis 5:3 we read, “Adam fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image…”  A far cry from how God described His creation of Adam and Eve, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Gn 1:27)  Every human being born since Adam and Eve fell into sin, is born in the image and likeness of Adam.  King David even acknowledged this when he wrote in Psalm 51, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”  Scripture teaches, and our Lutheran Confessions agree, that every human being naturally born, from the moment of conception, is born with sin; that which we call Original Sin.  That, my friends, is why you sin.  You are not a sinner because you sin; you sin because you are a sinner.

Now that we know what Original Sin is, what can we do about it?  How can we deal with it?  Well, I’ve got some bad news for you.  There is nothing you can do about it!  It is what you are!  The Bible says, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh” (Jn 3:6); “I know that in me (that is in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing” (Rom 7:18); “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gn 8:21); “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14); “You were dead in your trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1); “The fleshly mind hates God” (Rom 8:7); “We were by nature children of wrath like the rest on mankind” (Eph 2:3); and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).  From all this we learn that man is born into the world without any spiritual good in his heart; his whole inclination is toward evil; he is spiritually blind and dead; he is an enemy of God; and on account of this condition he is by nature under God’s wrath and condemnation; he will die and go to hell.  That’s the bad news.

But I also have some good news for you.  Even though there is nothing you can do about your sinful condition, there is someone who has done something about it for you.  As we read in Isaiah 59:1, “the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save…”.  God sent His Son, Jesus, into human flesh to live up to that perfect demand for you.  Jesus took upon Himself that very human flesh, in which for us “dwelleth no good thing” and lived the perfect, sinless life (Heb 4:15) for us.  God then made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21).  Isaiah (53) says He was wounded for our transgressions.  He was bruised for our iniquities.  Jesus Christ took all of your sins, and your whole dirty, rotten sinful nature (your Original Sin) and nailed all of it to the Cross.  When He died, the penalty for Sin itself, your sin, my sin, was paid.

My friends, you are forgiven!  Jesus Christ was put to death for our sins, and raised for our justification.  Paul writes in 1 Cor 15:17 “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins.”  But Jesus Christ has been raised.  Therefore your faith is not futile, and you are no longer in your sins.

But you say, “Rex, I still sin!”  Yes you do.  So do I.  So did the Apostle Paul…just read Romans 7.  This is where Confession comes in.  To “confess” is to “say the same thing”.   When we, as Christians, confess our sins, whether in the general confession at the beginning of our worship service or in private with a fellow Christian or before the pastor, what we are really doing is saying, “God, you are right…and I am wrong.”  We are agreeing with God.  We are “saying the same thing” as God says about whatever it is we are seeking forgiveness for.  And God will forgive.  1 Jn 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”   That’s a promise.  And that promise was actually fulfilled nearly 2,000 years ago.

My friends, believe what God’s Word tells you.  Believe in Jesus.  Trust in His forgiveness.  He has died for you; He was raised for your justification; He is coming back for you, to take you to the place He has prepared for you.  Promise fulfilled.

  • In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen +

The peace of God, which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

“Dealing With Stress”

 

Text:  Matthew 11:25-30

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

Please pray with me…

Today we’re going to talk about something that all of us experience at one level or another. Some have learned to deal with it, others struggle. Some use it to their advantage, some let it destroy them. Some have ways they use to reduce it, others feel they have no hope. Today, in our continuing series, “Dealing With Life,” we’re going to talk about stress.

Stress has forever been both a help and a hindrance. On the one hand it gets you to strive to be better and on the other it slowly chips away at you. In a recent national poll, the biggest sources of stress that were cited were money (69%), work (65%), the economy (61%), family responsibilities (57%), relationships (56%), family health problems (52%) and personal health concerns (51%). Notice that the percentages tell us that over half of the respondents said they felt stress from each one of these. That means several have more than one area of stress in their lives.

Stress is a symptom of a modern culture obsessed with performance and perfection. Their god has become production and financial independence. Their security comes from keeping up with the joneses. Their trust is put in worldly things to reduce their stress but they come to find more often than not that they do nothing but add more stress to our lives.

So, how do you handle stress in your lives? It’s easy to see why we have it. We look at the world and it seems to be ripping apart before our very eyes. Today we have to worry about radical Islam, gun violence, race relations, the watering down of morality, the shrinking of the church, the secularization of our children and on and on in a way we haven’t had to before. Have I increased your stress level a bit?

We live in a very complicated world with many complex problems and there are many trying to find the answers in all the wrong places, many of which give earthly answers to a spiritual problem, falsely teaching the worldly gospel of self-esteem, self-realization and self-effort.

We see our nation becoming more and more secularized, propped up with repackaged mantra resold as the newest and best answer to all your stress problems. We have self-proclaimed gurus, some even wrongly using holy Scripture, selling to the public a mixture of Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity trying to bring their readers some sort of enlightenment that the world has never seen before.

In the name of stress reduction, the devil has cleverly tried to steal you away from what God has to offer towards a more self-fulfilling method that ultimately leads to destruction. Try this money making idea that can make you financially independent. Use this drug to mellow you and help you to think more clearly. Drink this to forget the world for a while. Watch this to take all your relationship troubles away.

You want to reduce your stress? The world has millions of ways for you to do it. Some work for a time but, ultimately, only one source can be found to deal with your stress permanently, and that’s what I am here to share with you today.

We see that the apostle Paul offers us through Scripture, real answers to the stresses of life. In our New Testament lesson this morning in Philippians 4, Paul has some encouraging news for those of us who seem to be filled to the brim with all the stresses of the world. In his letter to the church in Philippi, he urges us on toward the goal of living the life God intended for us to live. And as we do this, for inspiration all we need do is look at the example that Jesus Christ set for us. I guess you could say that the answer to stress is to be more Christlike.

Beginning in verses 8&9, Paul gives this advice to the church in Philippi, saying:

“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. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Paul asks us to think about these things. Appropriate considering it’s usually the thinking faze that starts all the trouble.

In telling us to think of these things, he is giving them spiritual weight. It’s not simply a case of the power of positive thinking, he is telling us here to think of honorable, pure, even heavenly things. He wants us to spend time reflecting on these things, pondering them, examining them. He wants us to see the value in them and the power they provide to set us on the right course in life, away from the stresses that tend to pull us off the path to salvation. Here he is asking us to discipline ourselves and our thoughts so that we might develop fit minds and better judgements. So, let’s study these different areas that Paul advises us to think about.

First, Thru Paul, The Holy Spirit urges us to think of truth. Something that it seems the world thinks far too little about.

As I have said before, truth is foundational. If there is no truth, there is nothing to stand on. Without truth, there is chaos because without one definition, everyone relies on their own definition of truth and thereby, nothing is true.

Truth should be our ally. Even when it seems the truth might get us in trouble. Part of that is recognizing what we call truth in our own lives. Does the truth rest with Christ, or do we define a portion of our own truth? Do we recognize the truth we see in each other or can’t we see past the masks we wear?

 

The Holy Spirit wants us to focus on real truth, genuine truth, the kind of truth that saves. He asks us to trust Jesus when He says that the truth will set us free. When the creator of lies whispers in our ears something contrary to what Christ has taught us, he wishes us to have a spirit of discernment to see past the devil’s ploys.

Because, you see, Scripture itself tells us that the devil has no truth about Him. As the father of lies, he will try to corrupt your minds to the false promises of the world. That is why Paul first urges us to think about truth. That truth that can only be found in God’s holy Word.

Next, the Holy Spirit desires us to think of honorable things, those things of dignity that are a by-product of one who lives for Christ.

In 1994 golfer Davis Love III called a one-stroke penalty on himself during the second round of the Western Open. He had moved his marker on a green to get it out of another player’s putting line. One or two holes later, he couldn’t remember if he had moved his ball back to its original spot. Unsure, Love gave himself an extra stroke.
As it turned out, that one stroke caused him to miss the cut and get knocked out of the tournament. If he had made the cut and then finished dead last, he would have earned $2000 for the week. When the year was over, Love was $590 short of automatically qualifying for the following year’s Masters. Love began 1995 needing to win a tournament to get into the event.
When someone asked how much it would bother him if he missed the Masters for calling a penalty on himself, Love’s answer was simple: “How would I feel if I won the Masters and wondered for the rest of my life if I cheated to get in?”
The story has a happy ending. The week before the 1995 Masters, Love qualified by winning a tournament in New Orleans. Then in the Masters he finished second, earning $237,600.

That’s what it means to be honorable. It was more important for Davis to do the right thing, even if it cost him riches. The stress he would feel, wondering if he was living a lie was greater to him then the stress of not winning.

Paul asks us to be like minded because honor is another thing that is becoming rarer by the day. There is a right and there is a wrong. The Spirit wishes to guide us to honor by standing for what is right.

The third quality we are to focus on in our thoughts is just that, things that are just. In other words, we are to be in harmony with God and His guidance.

When thinking of just things, we have only to look at them under the microscope of Scripture. If we stand for what is just, we stand for the truth of the Gospel. We stand for Biblical truth, unerring and unchanging. We honor the only righteous judge Jesus Christ by thinking of the things that are righteous.

Next he presses us to think of things that are pure, those things that separate us from sin.

In the early churches, Paul saw many opportunities for purity to be challenged. Within each city, other followers of other gods were reaching out for converts and Paul, warned them several times to be on alert to this danger.

Even today, we see people steering others away from those things in Scripture that are pure and good. They twist and turn meanings to fit their own agenda and the purity of the Gospel is tainted. Our sex-charged, power-hungry culture has drawn itself away towards things that support their wishes. Purity is exchanged for corruption and proper understanding has been replaced with lies.

Our impurities have made us weak much like the clay with imperfections is useless in the potter’s hands. Though anything outside Gods design is an abomination, we turn a deaf ear to his pleas for repentance and all we are left with is the impurities we have inherited.

The fifth quality to think on as we relieve our stressful nature are those things that are lovely. These are the things that people can see in us that show the love of God and the condition of our hearts.

Even as everything around us seems tainted, he wishes for us to think of things that have a certain beauty to them, and God’s creation is full of lovely things.

We see loveliness in a warm summer day looking at Mount Baker without a cloud in the sky. We hear loveliness in the cooing of an innocent child. We think of loveliness when we focus on those things that draw us closer to Christ. We think of loveliness as we witness the charity of another, when we thank God for His blessings and when we look into the eyes of the ones God has given us. Loveliness is easy to think about, if we can push all the stinking thinking aside.

Next he says we should think about those things that are Commendable. These are the things in life in which everyone admires. There are things that are worth thinking about because they invite smiles and feelings of contentment. They are universal things that God has instilled in all of us that represent the gold standard of what a person could be. With all the negative talk bombarding us every day, those things that are admirable stick out even more, so think of such things.

Finally, The Holy Spirit through Paul asks us to think about those things that are excellent and praiseworthy. In this he is asking us to strive for something greater in our thinking. He wants out attention drawn, not to the problems and short-comings of the world but to the beautiful and praiseworthy things of the world. Focus on thinking about the good you see, those things that are commendable and exemplary. Paul says we do well when we embrace the good that God has for us.

This list comprises all those things that we have been blessed with. They reinforce the love God has for us. They strengthen the case of the sacrifice He had to endure to bring us to this place. They are given to us to counter all the worldly mess we see every day.

Among those things that are to be blessed are our minds themselves. God has given us a great ability for intellect, so we are to use our minds in positive and helpful ways. We are to exercise them with positive worship and optimistic praise. We are to set our minds on the course set by Christ Himself. We are to strive to achieve the deliberate transformation of our minds from those cluttered with worldly darkness to that of Godly light and pure thought. God has given us all the ability to choose what to think about. So, we can choose to focus on the things of God or the things that are devoid of God. We can essentially choose the kind of Christian life we want to lead. It all starts with our thoughts.

Stress and anxiety in the Christian in many shapes and sizes, yet in general, for most Christians, stress boils down to one thing, unproductive thinking because of our lack of trust in God. Because we lack trust, we search for ungodly things to relieve us when God has provided all we need already.

A stress-free life is not easy to obtain as all of us already know. But God has surely provided us with all the things we need to accomplish it.

Life is much too complicated, and we are much too vulnerable in our human condition to ever escape all of stress entirely. But for Christians, stress doesn’t have to be all negative. It can be a reminder that our lives tend to drift away from God at times. It can be an indicator that we have stopped depending on Him daily for our strength.

So, He advises us to think of godly things and to discipline ourselves against those things that cause us stress. These things that help can include things like getting enough rest, eating properly, exercising regularly and keeping a balance between work, family and ministry. These are practical ways that God has prepared our body to cope with the effects of stress. But true relief comes from three disciplines beyond these.

First, we need to be disciplined in prayer. It’s in prayer that we can remind ourselves to be thankful for all the positive things God has given us to think about. As we take to God our burdens, it frees us to be able to think of our blessings as well.

Second we are asked to meditate on His Holy Word. Through devotion and Bible study our minds become transformed as we learn that, as it says in 1 Peter 1:3, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.

In His Word we find peace and a regeneration of the soul. In His Word we come to understand the Savior better.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

In John 14 He told His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

And finally in Psalm 4:8, the Psalmist says, “I will lie down in peace and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.

Finally, in our thinking should be shouts of praise. Someone on a blog I was visiting once said, “I find it to be almost impossible to be stressed and praise God at the same time. When I’m stressing I just start praising and the stress just seems to go away.”

So, in your walk with God, think of such things. Exchange stress for praise. Unplug your connection to the world and unite with Jesus Christ. His love for us is never-ending and there is nothing Satan could ever do to stop that. He wants us to bring Him our burdens so that He might give us rest.

Finally, 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. These are the things of God. Come to Him for peace. Amen

Bible Study: Dealing With Stress

 

What are some stressful situations we have to face in the world?

How do you deal with this stress?

Read 2 Corinthians 1:8-10, 4:16-18. How did Paul handle pressure? Read Luke 22:39-46. How did Jesus prepare Himself for a stressful situation?

Is stress a good thing or a bad thing in your life? Romans 5:3-4

What is the world’s solution to stress? Ephesians 5:15

How do you think Christian stress management is unique from the way that the world manages stress? Do you ever fall into managing stress like they do?

What is the core problem with worry and stress? Jeremiah 17:5-8; Proverbs 3:5-6

Why do we have to put up with so much stress in our lives? Why doesn’t God just take it away when we ask Him? 1 Peter 4:12-13; James 1:2-4

What is the ultimate purpose of our stressful trials? 1 Timothy 2:3-4; 1 Peter 5:10

Can we have confidence that God understands our stress? Romans 8: 35,38-39; Hebrews 4:15

How does God use stress to draw us to himself? 2 Chronicles 15:4; Jonah 2:2; Psalm 18:6, 120:1

When do you usually take an issue to God. Right away, or once you have exhausted all other possible answers?

Two possible factors in dealing with stress are fear and faith? Explain Psalm 127:1-2; Matthew 6:33, 13:22; Luke 10:41-42; John 14:27; Romans 8:31; 1 John 4:18

God offers us the peace that passes all understanding. Explain what that means. Philippians 4:7; 1 Peter 5:7

Of what importance is prayer in dealing with stress? Philippians 4:6

We have all had those emotional experiences where we realize God will take care of us. Suddenly, we feel His peace and security, and all is well with the world. But, how do you keep that feeling? Philippians 4:8

 

Read 2 Corinthians 10:5. Discuss what it means to take a thought “captive”

Studying the promises of God can be very helpful when you are facing worries and fears. Which of God’s promises might bring comfort to you during stressful times?

 

What special stress do the elderly experience? How about teens?

 

How has this Bible study possibly helped you deal with stress in your life?

“The Head vs. The Heart”

Text:  John 3:1-21

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

Please pray with me…

I’ve told many of you the story of one of my experiences at seminary which was rather unpleasant. For the benefit of this sermon and for those who might not have heard it, I’ll tell it again.

Cheryl and I were very fortunate to have the two most important student-worker positions during our time at seminary. I was the supervisor over the student workers in general labor. Basically the guys who take care of things like sanitation, furniture moving (by the way, it seemed whenever a professor moved an office it was always upstairs and never down), the grounds and other general things around the seminary.

Cheryl was put in charge of the student food-bank. This is where the students could supplement their food needs with donated food. It ran much the same as any food-bank and it was lots of busy work, which Cheryl thrives in as many of you know.

Because this was kind of a unique situation on campus, the seminary magazine decided to interview us. This was a great honor and we were happy to do it. It was after this magazine article was sent out that the unpleasantness began.

There is a blog-sight I don’t recommend called John the Steadfast. It’s a blog for ultra-conservative Lutheran pastors who usually find fault with this or that. They have never liked Concordia-St. Louis because they feel it is not rigid enough on teaching all things Lutheran. Because of this, they love to look through the magazine for things to attack. Now, I know there are many who don’t do this and still participate in the blog-sight, but many of them do, unfortunately.

Well, during the course of my interview I happened to mention that I liked Concordia-St. Louis because they understood that the heart knowledge was more important than the head knowledge. The reporter assumed everyone would know what I meant so he neglected to put in the explanation. What I meant was that knowing about something can only get you so far unless you truly believe in it and are willing to apply it.

Well, you would think I had told everyone to throw away their Bibles. Soon after the magazine was released, the attacks began. They called me names, they called my professors names. They said that my statement was proof that Concordia- St. Louis was nothing more than a touchy feely seminary. Many of the professors, including Dr. Meyer, the President of the seminary, came to my defense because, unlike John the steadfast bloggers, they actually took the time to know me. Not once did any of the pastors who attacked me or the seminary, call to find out the truth.

The truth is, there is something different about knowing something in your head and knowing something in your heart. I often bring up the example of knowing who Jesus was and knowing who He is. It’s one thing to know about the historical Jesus, it’s entirely another thing to understand His importance in your life as the risen Christ today.

There are too many people today who will attend church services all over the world who will claim to know Jesus but really have no relationship with Him. There are many who, when asked if they are certain they will go to heaven might say “yes” with their heads but are not yet sure in their hearts. We might know the right answers, but that doesn’t mean we all believe in them.

Today we start a new series entitled, “Dealing with Life.” During these next few weeks, we will attempt to study life issues as they have to do with people who claim Christianity. We look at the world around us and we see that claiming Christianity is a much different thing then it has been in the past. No more is the Christian looked up to in certain circumstances. At one time, not too long ago, being a Christian, and especially a Christian pastor, was looked on with a great deal of reverence and respect. Now we find ourselves facing criticism for our beliefs, and our way of life is seen as hypocritical and judgmental. We are called haters and homophobes and, more and more, society is shielding itself from the Christian church and its teachings.

That’s why it’s critical that we speak of some of the things we must face in life, and our faith is chief among those topics. That’s why I started with this topic of the Head verse the Heart. It’s really a statement I wish to make on faith itself.

Probably my favorite story on this topic has to do with the Pharisee named Nicodemus. He is a great example of the head not matching the heart. His knowledge was vast. He knew Jewish law enough to teach it. He was required to memorize the first 5 books of the Bible. He was wise and respected for his knowledge. He had plenty of head knowledge, but didn’t yet have the heart knowledge that would serve to save him. Today there are lots of Nicodemus’. They have just enough knowledge to vaccinate them from the things that are most important. What sets Nicodemus apart from others like him is that he yearned to learn more.

When you hear about Jesus, what immediately comes to your mind? Is it the historical facts, or is it the knowledge of the heart? Who is Jesus to you? Does the word relationship come to mind? Do you want more than just to know about Him?

Pastor Jonathan Edwards has a great illustration to help me make my point. He uses the example of honey. He says, “Your mind can know that honey is sweet, people can tell you that it tastes yummy, you’ve read books on honey, etc. but you haven’t actually tasted it.

You know about honey in your head, but not in your heart. When you actually taste it, you experience it for yourself, you know it in a deeper way, and you can know it in your heart.

Now, I want you to be sure. I am not talking about being led by emotions. We have far too much of that in this world. Here at Redeemer we take great care to teach the Gospel message. We value proper Biblical knowledge and this kind of head knowledge is essential if you plan to take the next step with your heart. If you are not taking advantages to grow in this way, then you are missing much more than you know.

When we teach the Gospel message, however, we need to do more than to learn with our heads. More importantly, we need to apply it to our lives. It needs to become more than just facts to us. It needs to become real to us, personally. When you are told that Jesus died for you, it should reach you somewhere deep inside because you not only have the knowledge of the head, but of the heart.

One way to think of this is in the attitude you take when you read your Scriptures or attend church. Are you doing these things because you feel obligated to do so? Do you feel you have to pay Jesus back by being more studious? Are you trying to get on God’s good side by showing the appearance of devotion? Is it simply a place to meet with friends?

Or are you doing these things because something inside you draws you to it? Are you here this morning because you overflow with gratitude for what Christ has done for you in your life? Are you loving Jesus only with your head, or is the heart involved also?

I am counseling someone in St. Louis from time to time because, as it turns out, I’m the only one who is willing to help her. Her problem is with her self-esteem. She says she knows Jesus loves her, but she really doesn’t like herself. Much of our time in discussion has to do with how much her Savior loves her, how she’s a miracle of God’s grace like the rest of us, how God will never give up on her even if it seems everyone else has. Yet, she can’t get past the things in her head so that she might focus on the things of the heart. Sometimes the journey from the head to the heart can be the longest journey of all. She doesn’t yet know what 1 John 4:19 means when it says, “We love because He first loved us.” She can’t love herself because something is blocking her from understanding just how much she is loved by God.”

If you’re in a similar frame of mind, there is no need to feel guilty. Romans 8:1 assures us, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We all struggle with heart knowledge from time to time. It’s something we are continually striving towards and disciplining ourselves for. That’s why proper study is important.

It’s relatively easy to begin the process because head knowledge is essential for heart knowledge. You can’t believe in something you know nothing about. You can’t apply it to your life if you don’t know what to apply. But don’t let it stop there. What you may need is not more data.

Many people approach the Bible this way. They strive to learn facts and figures in the Bible. They want to know the history behind it and the context of the stories but it stops there. These facts are all well and good and I stress the importance of learning these things. But don’t be satisfied with simple details, strive to take the next step.

The heart includes the things you can’t really describe but that you know. It is a special knowledge that can only be applied to us by the Holy Spirit Himself. It can be built up with head knowledge but it involves a deeper understanding of Christ and Him crucified.

Have you ever read a section of scripture a bigillion times and then when you read it again, it suddenly takes on a life of its own? Suddenly there is new insight within you that you had never seen before. It might be because of something you just experienced or something that you were just struggling with. It can happen in your reading or in its telling or even in its melody. But suddenly this part of Scripture has become more meaningful. When the Scripture comes alive in this way, you have experienced the heart knowledge I have been speaking of.

Hebrews 4:12 says, For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Scripture is one way God speaks to you. There is a reason they call it the Living Word. This passage in Hebrews can not only reveal things to our natural minds but also to our very soul.

It’s not until Scripture actually becomes alive to us personally that it really has the power to change our lives. I used to be like this. I would read my Scripture every night but, in reality, I was only reading words. They had little meaning to me past the entertainment they might provide or the good feeling I might have experienced playing the part of a devoted follower of Christ.

Once I started to slow down and apply these stories to myself, Scripture reading became much more to me. I found out that these words meant more than I was giving them credit for. Now they are alive to me and I can see myself growing spiritually because of them. It’s now more of a conversation between my Savior and I as He guides and directs me through His Words, yes, HIS WORDS! This new found gift had served to bring me into a closer relationship with Christ. It has built in me a strong desire to learn more just as Nicodemus strove to learn more. It has broken me and built me up all at the same time. Now it has been laid on my heart as well as my head.

When I speak of heart knowledge, I speak of God reaching deep within you to give you a deeper knowledge than you could ever receive from any book. It’s the kind of knowledge that protects and directs us from all the devil’s attempts to pull us off the narrow path. It’s a God of relationship doing as he has promised by rewarding our bond of faith with His affection. It’s that light that Christ invites you to follow.

It’s a knowledge not based on emotion but on a certain connection to something greater. It’s not puppy love or even love in general, rather, it’s an understanding, a knowledge far beyond an earthly phenomenon. It’s a knowledge based on a bond of love that only God can provide.

So, study. Learn all you can about your creator. Come to understand the dynamics of your relationship with Jesus Christ. Study the work of the Holy Spirit. Read your Bible. Attend Bible studies. Read as many books on Christianity as you can. But don’t limit yourself to facts and figures.

Through prayer and petition come to see your God in a new way, a more personal way. As you read His Words to you, listen with the ears of your heart. Become more aware of how he is leading you and shaping you to become the person He created you to be. Our God is a God of relationship and He messages the heart of your soul to get it beating again. Invite Him in and find out what a God sized love can be, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) Amen.

Bible Study: Head vs. Heart

 

When people hear about Jesus, what do you think that most of them think of first? Why?

What does it mean to “follow your heart?” Does that always work? Explain

What is the difference between knowing something in your head and knowing something in your heart? Proverbs 3:5-6; Romans 12:2

How is the heart defined in the Bible? Matthew 5:28; Mark 2:6; Luke 1:51, 24:32; John 14:1; Acts 2:37; Romans 1:21, 10:10; 2 Corinthians 9:7; Ephesians 4:18; Colossians 3:15; Hebrews 4:12

What damage has head knowledge done to Christianity? How has it strengthened it? What about heart knowledge?

How is heart knowledge based faith different than emotion based faith?

Is your heart knowledge the real you? Psalm 139:23-24

Which knowledge governs our thoughts? Explain Philippians 4:8

Is Paul talking about the power of positive thinking?

From where does sin come, the head or the heart? What’s the difference? Mark 7:20-23

As I said in my interview, is heart knowledge more important than head knowledge? Why or why not

How does attitude affect knowledge both head and heart?

Why can the distance from head knowledge to heart knowledge be such a long journey?

What’s involved in the process?

What does heart knowledge have to do with trust? Psalm 56:3-4

How can Bible study and Scripture affect heart knowledge? What must happen first?     Matthew 4:4

What does all of this have to do with faith? Mark 11:22-24; Hebrews 11:1

Can one have faith without head knowledge?

Can one have understanding without heart knowledge?

Where does Christian heart knowledge come from? 1 Corinthians 2:14

What do these different knowledges have to do with truth?