Month: December, 2017

The New You

Ephesians 4:17-32 / Matthew 5:3-10

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

Please pray with me…

This year I’m going to do it. This year I’m not a quitter. In fact, I’m so confident in my success that I’m going to share with you all my plans so that you might keep me to task. This year I’m going to keep my New Year’s resolutions.

Goal #1 No more soda

Goal #2 a 20 minute walk daily

Goal #3 No cell phone use except for talking on the phone after 7:00 pm.

There you have it. My three goals for the new year. Not overly aggressive but all very important. Now, I have been advised to have a cheat day so I’ll pick Monday’s. I’ll still try and get it done on Mondays but if I need a day just to be indulgent, then Mondays it is.

There you have it. I have no excuses because they’re all very doable. It will take a new attitude, a change in lifestyle. But, with God’s help (and a little bit of yours) I’ll be able to pull it off.

Now, you’re probably wondering what my spiritual goals are. Well, I have those too. They include extended prayer time, better patience and better values. God already knows about these and He’ll keep me to task.

These goals are between me and God and we talk about them every morning and every evening and several times during the day. They’re harder to explain because its all about growth so they’ll change as I grow. Each day I look for a little more transformation into a new self, more motivated for Christ and more dedicated to my calling.

In our New testament lesson for this morning, we are reminded of the steps we must take to achieve this new life in Christ. It calls us to a new way of living, a change of attitude and a replacement of the old self which had walked in the ways of sinners and unbelievers.

If we are to achieve the spiritual goals for the new year that God is calling us to, first it will require a new way of thinking.  Proverbs 23:6-7 says, “Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy; do not desire his delicacies, for he is like one who is inwardly calculating. Eat and drink!” he says to you, but his heart is not with you.”  In other words, A man is whatever is in his heart.

If your heart is cold and bitter so will be your attitude. If your greatest heartfelt desire is to serve your neighbor, then it will be shown in all you do. The first step to a transformed life is in your thinking and your thinking is shaped by the condition of your heart. Paul is saying that we need to let go of the old self with its worldly values and embrace a new set of thoughts and values based on our walk with Christ.

Everywhere you go, people are trying to change your thoughts. If you drink this beer then you’ll be like the most important man in the world. If you wear this cologne, then no woman will be able to resist you. If you eat this chocolate then all your stress will melt away like the chocolate in your mouth. Worldly sources are trying to change you everyday into a more worldly being. They promote worldly beliefs and worldly values so you might be more inline with worldly acceptance. They want to change your train of thought to match more closely whatever their trying to sell you.

Well, so is God. Through Word and Sacrament, he is trying to change you from a person who thinks of himself in worldly terms to one who’s thoughts are based on righteousness and holiness. Unfortunately, most people are fed with much more worldly advice then Godly advice because its everywhere we are. We’ll spend 6 hours a day watching television but were lucky to give God half an hour studying His Word. We come to church for a little more than an hour but live our worldly life the rest of the time.

It’s because our thinking is out of whack. If our thoughts were on godly things then it would be seen by what we say and do. If our mind were on worldly things, then we’d be more apt to take the wider path to destruction.

Keeping your thoughts on Christ and his goals for you isn’t easy. It means you need to battle all the stimulus the world gives you. But if you want to make the transformation God is expecting from you, then you must change your thinking to match His by using the tools He has given you.

The second step to transformation is to turn our thinking into action. I remember as a child trying to literally walk in my father’s shoes. I’d imagine I wasn’t very successful because his shoes were much to big for me.  I remember our own children playing grown up. Emily would try putting on her mom’s makeup, the boys would put on my coat that was many sizes too big. They wanted to be grown up, if only for an instant.

Well, the transformation into a life based on godly values can seem a lot like this. At first, the clothes seem too big for us. We’ve lived so long trying to be accepted by the world that the change to a more godly life seems enormous. Its hard to walk in the shoes of Christ because they are many sizes too large at first. We want to wear the armor of God but we feel like David trying to put on Saul’s armor before his battle with Goliath. The clothes don’t fit because we haven’t yet grown into them.

But with each step with Christ, the clothes seem more comfortable, the armor doesn’t seem so heavy. The shoes are easier to walk in.

Paul tells the Ephesians, “Put off the old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

This is a transformation that takes time, but eventually the clothes will fit. Yet it takes living life in those clothes to make it happen. It takes other people seeing the change in you. It takes discipline and commitment to see it through your initial change into clothes that seem too big to wear to a new self where the clothes are tailored by God Himself.

We are called to exchange the worldly clothes, our habits, our worldliness, our longing for sensual satisfaction and put on love, grace, mercy, and truth. The clothes of Christ. First comes the decision, and then comes the action.

And finally, we round out this transformation into a new self with faith. Of course, it takes faith to start the process and to carry it out, but it takes an even greater measure of faith to stay the course because Satan will continue to try and lure you into his web by promoting the false benefits of worldliness.

Like any goal, the starting is easy. The difficulty comes in the consistency. Day one seems like no effort at all but temptations and stinking thinking make each new day harder than the last.

“You know, I was so comfortable in my worldly life I could just discard these godly clothes and I’d be much more comfortable in an instant. There’s always more time to put on the clothes of Christ, I’ll just do it later, when the clothes fit better.”

But then that day never comes because your faith in God to transform you never grows strong enough to see it thru. To make the transformation to a new self you must always keep your eyes on Christ, you must believe in His goals for you. You must look onward toward the promise of a better life then the world could ever give you.

Faith is key in all aspects of life because, especially in your Christian walk, it draws you into relationship. If you put all of your faith in the world, then it will be seen in the relationship you have with the world. But, if you put all of your faith in Christ, then His light will shine because His relationship with you and in you will be strong.

Once you have made the decision to change from the old into the new, you have to make the decision on who will guide you to the right path. Will it be the easier path of faith in the world or the more challenging path of faith in God. More challenging because the devil will fight your every step.

So these are the steps towards a godly transformation, proper thinking, decisive action, and faithful walking. I’m reminding you of something you already know. But now is your chance to start again. Tomorrow, start a new life in Christ. Take off the old clothes and put on the new, even if they do fit a little big at first.

And with every step you take towards righteousness and holiness, the Lord will be with you to help you overcome the world. He has promised you great things if you will only trust in Him. Things like forgiveness, mercy, strength, and everlasting life.

And He is your greatest example. Even knowing His fate, He refused to change the clothes of God for worldly rags. Despite the hardships when all of us would have failed miserably, He was true to His calling as the very Son of God.

He didn’t do this for His own benefit. He did it for yours. Because he was willing to take your place, we now have the great opportunity to walk in His shoes, to wear his righteousness and holiness as our very own.

His invitation will always be open and the sooner you accept it, the sooner the clothes will fit. Don’t wait another day. Let 2018 be the year you decided to wear Christ. Amen.

Bible Study: The New You

 

Ephesians 4:17-32

What is the main idea in this passage?

Would you say that our old self is the source of our greatest conflicts? Explain James 4:1

What does Paul mean when he saws we should no longer walk as the Gentiles do? What does their walk look like? Describe their thinking, action and faith (the old self). 1 Peter 4:3-5

How then are we to walk differently? Colossians 2:6-8, 3:2-17

What are the practical results of the Gentiles’ wrong thinking? Who is responsible for their condition: themselves or God?

Verse 18 says that the Gentiles have become darkened in their understanding. How did they get this way?  Verses 18b-19; Romans 11:8-10

How does one “learn Christ?” Ephesians 1:13. Share how you have “learned” Christ.

What is the process of being “renewed in the spirit of our minds?” Romans 12:1-2

Describe, as best you can, the new self described by Paul.

Why is truth so important in a relationship? Describe a time where the lack of truth hurt a relationship in your life?

How is failing to tell the truth by saying nothing as big a sin as lying is? Why do people so this?

Is verse 26 talking about righteous anger? If so, give an example of righteous anger.

Which is more harmful to a relationship, even a relationship with God, anger or indifference?

What changes righteous anger into unrighteous anger? Exodus 34:6-7; James 1:19

Name some ways we give opportunity to the devil in our thinking, action and faith.

When is it right to meet your neighbor’s needs before your own?

What does Paul mean by “corrupting talk?” Matthew 12:34

How does one “grieve” the Holy Spirit? Isaiah 63:10

According to verse 31, what are the 6 things we must put away from us? How are they the same? How are they different?

Why is forgiveness necessary in a relationship?

It seems our world tends to lean towards anger and not kindness. Why is this?

How can we make a change so that we might honor God in our thinking, action and faith?

What are you prepared to sacrifice to strengthen your relationship with God?

(Please Note:  Bible study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org)

The Coming Christ

Matthew 11:2-15

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

Please pray with me…

For today’s sermon we go back to the very beginning of time. God had created the heavens and the earth. The darkness had been separated from the light, the land had been separated from the water, vegetation had begun to sprout, sea creatures had filled the waters, birds had filled the air and living creatures had inhabited the land. Yet God wasn’t finished. His greatest earthly creation was yet to come.

Now was the time for mankind. A creature created after God’s own image. Both man and woman together to rule all of God’s creation. This last creation was His most treasured and His love for them would have no limits. Everything was perfect.

But pure love is not love if there is no choice. To have no choice would be akin to being mindless. True love has to be given through a conscious decision or it is no love at all. So God gave His most treasured possession a reasoning mind and the ability to have the choice between good and evil.

To His great dismay, man decided to go against the will and guidance of God so that he himself could be his own God. Man chose to know that of which he had been strictly warned not to tamper with. He no longer wanted to be ruled by God, he wanted to have the knowledge of God.

So, out of love, God let them make this decision, one they would soon come to regret. Now that they had chosen to know the difference between good and evil, they had no other choice but to experience good and evil. They would have to make this choice, over and over again, for the rest of their time on earth. Sin and evil would be a constant reminder of their mistake. Grief and pain would now be a part of their everyday lives as they learned that which they wished to learn.

God grieved as He watched His most prized possession make the wrong choice over and over again, yet His love for them would never lessen even as He watched them go to other gods for relief. Because He loved His creation so much, from the beginning of time, He had an escape plan. One day, after so many hard lessons had been learned, a Savior would come.

Now, because evil was so powerful in the earth, the people expected this coming Messiah to come with vengeance and with fire. They expected this King of kings to rule with an iron fist to vanquish all of Israel’s evil enemies. After all, this is all they knew, that to overcome you must be the stronger one, the more violent one.

Even the Savior’s own cousin expected this. It was He who introduced the coming Messiah saying He would cut down every tree that did not bear fruit. One mightier was coming with winnowing fork in hand to clear the threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn, but burning the chaff with unquenchable fire.

Yet, the Messiah that came was anything but the angry and vengeful person the people expected. This Messiah was gentle and loving. His message was to love your enemies, not to hate them. His requirement was to think of others before yourself. Where was the vengeful heart? Where was the mighty victor?

This could have been what John was wondering about as he labor in prison. It seemed all that he had expected wasn’t happening. No King David look alike to overcome the enemy. No angry soul whipping up a frenzy of righteous retribution. Just a man preaching love for all mankind. How could evil be overcome if not by force?

So, in his confusion he sends his own disciples to ask Him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” In answering, Jesus stays true to His message. Instead of telling them He had not yet begun to fight he tells them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see; the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have Good News preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

He wanted John to know that he wasn’t overcoming evil with anger but with love because only love can triumph over hate. He was fulfilling prophecy just as expected but in a way that wasn’t. Adoration would win the war, not hatred. New life would be given. A path to heaven would be laid out for all who believe, even to those who were once their enemies.

Jesus wasn’t born to overcome hate with hate. He came to conquer evil with good. This person born so humbly in Bethlehem was here for all mankind, not just a chosen few. He would come to fulfill the law not to rule by it. The Savior had come with only tenderness in His heart.

And even after this apparent doubt from John, Jesus’ love for him stayed true to His nature.  John was to be respected for the calling he had fulfilled. He was indeed the Elijah foretold who would usher in the ministry of the Christ. He was the one who lived for the moment He would fulfill His calling and he would do it with a passion unlike any other man. Through it all John would remain faithful.

Jesus says of John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A Prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ In a way we can forgive John for his confusion, We see that Jesus most certainly did. Because Jesus was unlike anything they could have imagined. He was winning souls with grace and mercy, not like the Pharisees who were burdening the Israelites with the law, much of it made by man and not by God.

Christmas is just around the corner and we are already being reminded of the fulfillment of God’s greatest promise to send a Savior. And as we are reminded we are given the same choice Adam and Eve were given. It’s also the same choice that John was forced to make. Will you live with doubt, or will you be like the shepherds looking to find the Christ child? Will you choose to win your battles like Jesus Christ with love, or will you be convinced that anger and vengeance are your only choices.

Just as our forefathers, we are given a choice to fully trust in God or to try to be our own God’s. Will we live in darkness or in light?

Years ago a little girl was spending the night at her grandmother’s house. Grandma put the 5 year old to bed, but it didn’t take long before Grandma heard her name being called. Investigating, grandma was asked: “will you turn on a light? I’m afraid of the dark.” Turning on the light, grandma replied, “Honey, you don’t sleep with the light on at your house. You sleep in the dark there.” The little girl replied, “but grandma, that’s my darkness.”

Unfortunately, we have become too comfortable in our own darkness. Our choices have been faulty just as all people before us. Yet Christ continues to love us still, His patience never ending. As our Savior He emulated His Father by separating the dark from the light. He wanted us to see clearly that love, and only love, can rule the day.

Because of the choices that have been made, our faith can no longer be a comfortable faith. No more can we all live in harmony with each other because too many are still searching for their own answers just like Adam and Eve.

So, just like John we have been called to usher the Christ into those hearts that only have darkness. Just like John we have been called to lay down our lives to the one who gives light. Because only light can penetrate the darkness. The Holy Spirit brings the light of the Father’s love into every willing heart, the joy which comes from sins forgiven.

As our Savior, Jesus allowed us to see our God who, until His birth, could not be seen. All the fullness of God dwelt in the one who was born to save us from the bad decisions of our past. All the deity of God dwelt within Mary’s child so that, one day, he could bring back all people from darkness. By His death and resurrection, the greatest promise would be realized.

There are many who still look to be their own god, who feel that their decisions will always prevail over evil. Knowing full well that this could never be done, the Son of God was sent to be the Savior that had been pledged since the dawn of sin entering our world. He would come to save even those who, as yet, would deny Him.

This baby born so humbly and killed so cruelly, has come for you too. His invitation to you is the same as it is for all mankind who have been created in His image. Look unto me. Follow me. Trust in me and I will bring you back to where you belong. Savior we come to you now. Amen.

 

Bible Study: The Coming Christ

 

 Matthew 11:2-15

In verse 2, Matthew calls Jesus, ”The Christ” which meant, “The Anointed One.” In the Old Testament prophets, priests and kings were all anointed. How does Jesus fulfill all of these functions?  Hebrews 1:1-3

How does God choose His anointed? Isaiah 44:28, 45:1

What does John mean by asking, “Are you the one who is to come?” Psalm 118:26; Matthew 21:9, 23:39; Mark 11:9; Luke 13:35; 19:38; John 6:14, 11:27, 12:13; Hebrews 10:37

Where is John at this time? Matthew 14:1-5

Why do you believe John doubted? Matthew 3:7-12

Why was Jesus’ response in verses 4-5 the proper response?

*Interesting fact* In verse 5 we see the only place where the verb form of “Good News” (Gospel) is used in all of Scripture.

Explain the significance of Jesus’ statement about people being offended at Him. What does it mean to be offended, and why were many people offended at Him?

Is verse 6 a rebuke of John. Explain

Why do you suppose Matthew decided to include this apparent lack of faith in his writings?

Why do you suppose John’s disciples left after receiving the answer? Why didn’t they hang around to hear Jesus speak?

In verses 7 and 8, notice the threefold parallelism. What is Jesus really asking? Malachi 3:1, Isaiah 40:3; Mark 1:2-3

How was John, “More than a prophet?”

In what sense was Jesus’ affirming the significance of the new age by saying that among women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist? Jeremiah 31:31-34

Why does Jesus then say, “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he?”

Interpret verse 12 in a positive and negative sense. Luke 16:16

Are verse 13-14 implying that the Old Testament covenant has ended with John?

*Interesting Fact* “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” This idiom (present participle and present imperative) refers to the fact that unless the Holy Spirit aids believers’ insight they cannot understand spiritual truth. However, it also implies that the willingness of the individual to hear and respond is also necessary.

Note:  Bible study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org)

ADVENT: Getting Ready For Christmas

 

Text:  Matthew 3:1-12

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

Please pray with me…

For about 11 years I worked in management for a drug store company called Osco Drug. It was a good job and I enjoyed pretty much everything about it at first. It was great to work with the employees and customers and I especially loved training and customer service, even when it seemed the new employees were struggling to learn and the customers were a little bit grumpy. I was in my element and I looked forward to each new day.

But as I made my way up the management ladder, it became more about the inside jobs like scheduling and ordering and hiring. It took me away from the customers more and more. It’s amazing all that goes on behind the scenes.

Ordering new products was challenging because you were ordering so far in advance of things. Christmas was especially challenging because you had to order in April and the first of the merchandise was already coming in, in June. Right next to the Summer wrapping paper was a display of all of Hallmarks new Christmas ornaments….IN JUNE! It seems every year, the Christmas season gets earlier and earlier. Chalk that up to consumerism.

That’s probably one of the reasons I made the rule of no Christmas music or present requests or Christmas decorating or even ho, ho, hoing until after Thanksgiving. I like to take my holidays one at a time.

Lately it seems some parts of society have become addicted to Christmas. Now, I’m not judging anyone who has their Christmas lights up in August or those who’ve already bought their Christmas gifts a month after the last Christmas. I’m not criticizing anyone who has five inflatable lawn decorations up already in November or have fake Christmas trees because real ones don’t last three months. I’m just saying, there is a time for everything and my time for Christmas isn’t until after thanksgiving.

So, after Thanksgiving, our house is full of decorating frenzy. I have been asked to stay away at these times because, apparently, I get little antsy with all the activity. So, I find other things to do while Cheryl and Emily decorate. I have to admit though, I really like the results every year.

For them, much of the excitement of the season is in the preparation. They want to make every Christmas even more special than the last. There is no question that when Christmas comes, we will be ready. At least for the celebration. It’s my job to remind everyone that getting ready for Christmas is more than just the commercialism that goes with it.

Are you ready for Christmas? I’m sure most of you have a start on the decorations and the purchasing of gifts, but have you started your journey with Christ this Christmas? Have you prayed for His coming? Are you prepared to make your main focus, the real reason for this season, the promise of the Christ child?

Normally when one is asked this question, they have to take a step back and admit that getting caught up in the commercialism of it all is too common for us. It’s easy to get caught up in the pageantry. When we’re hanging lights its almost natural to get lost in the competition of Christmas. When we wrap our gifts it’s more likely we’re hoping we got the right gift for someone then we are about carrying the right attitude for Christ. On our checklists for Christmas, how many of us have included special devotion or prayer time related to the miracle of Jesus’ birth?

This Sunday, we hear the familiar story of John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord. It always seems a little odd that we are speaking about this as we prepare for the coming of the Christ child, but a closer look tells us that Christmas is about more than the Christ child, it’s about the coming of the Savior. John was preparing his people for the reason that the Christ child was born, to save us all from sin and death. The person who was born to save the world would now be making his presence known. The Messiah would start the ministry he was born to lead.

So, let’s once again take a look at the man who was to prepare the way for the Lord. In studying this section of Scripture, one finds four key themes present. Included in John’s ministry was his attempt to prepare the people for the Christ. In doing this he urged those listening to repent and confess. And finally he asked them, in his rather direct way, to produce or to “bear fruit” in keeping with that repentance.

We celebrate Advent as we prepare the way for the Lord and His coming. We eagerly anticipate when Christ comes again in glory and with the hail of trumpets. But how does one properly prepare for such an occasion?

When we think about preparing for Christmas it in variably includes Christmas Trees and Gifts under that tree. But, in reality, there should be one thing we prepare for before anything else. You need to prepare the house to be ready for the frenzy. The tree has its spot but it takes some rearrangement of the furniture to make it work. The Thanksgiving decorations need to be put away to make room for the Christmas ones. In order to put in the new you must dispense with the old.

Believe it or not, this was John’s message. In order to be ready to accept the new, we must deal with the old.  John was the one who was prophesied to be the, “Voice of the one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord. Make His paths straight.”

In other words, deal with the baggage you have been carrying, all the worldliness you have held so dear. All those things that have to be rearranged so that you have room for Jesus Christ in your life. Make the distance between you straight and not curved around the things you place between you and Christ so that you might get to enjoy as many of your worldly desires as possible before He gets to you.

Isaiah 26:7 says, “The path of the righteous is level; you make level the way of the righteous. In the path of Your judgments, O Lord, we wait for you; Your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul.” In other words, Trust fully in Christ, and He will make straight the path between you. Allow the Spirit of Jesus Christ to clear the paths of sin and the stumbling blocks of unrighteousness so that His distance to your side is the shortest distance possible.

By telling us to prepare, John is announcing the coming of the King of kings and Lord of lords, so we must be ready and prepared to receive Him. And how do we begin this process?

We use the wonderful gift of confession. And in that confession, we must include the true wish for a changed heart in repentance. Unfortunately, for many of us, confession is one of those things that has almost become too easy. The confession that John calls for is more than just a list of the places you messed up. It includes a sincere desire for change and the calling on the Holy Spirit for guidance to that end.

To confess means to acknowledge that there are parts of your life that don’t allow Christ in. These are the unprepared places in your heart that have locked Him out or kept Him at a distance. Those places we cherish filled with our sinful desires. Confession, by its very definition, means to bear the soul of all those things that we have allowed to get between us and our full faith in Christ.

We don’t confess because God doesn’t already know. We confess so that we might begin the process of transformation, as we also acknowledge those places in our life where change must happen to take full advantage of all the wonderful gifts Christ is offering us by His presence.

1 John 1:8-9 says that, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

If we want to get over our addiction to sin, we must first admit we have a problem. If we yearn for the righteousness that only comes from Jesus Christ, we must be prepared to shed the unrighteousness we have within us.

And with his call to confess, John cries out, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The confession that John calls for has to include a willingness to put sins behind you. Where confession acknowledges the sin, repentance promises a parting from that sin.

Let’s say two brothers are playing with their new toys after Christmas and one takes a liking to something the other brother has been given. He grabs it and is immediately greeted with a right hook from the owner. You hustle over and shout, “How many times have I told you to quite hitting each other.” The owner of the right hook comes up and says, I’m sorry mommy.” What do you do? You forgive him of course. But let’s say the right hook is still working and he hauls off and hits his brother again. Is he getting in trouble? You bet. And this time probably worse.

This shows us the difference between simple confession and absolution. The confession was easy and worked for a while, but the intention was never to change. As soon as a little time had passed, they were back to their unrighteous ways.

To repent means to stop the process of that sin. To stop the move toward temptation. To remove those things from your life that cause you to sin. It means a change of life so that a better life can be yours and the distance between you and Christ might be eliminated.

So often we confess the sin, a sin in which we are truly sorry to commit, but again and again it shows up because we have not made the final decision for change. Repentance requires a change of heart. An uncluttering so that their might be room for Christ in your life. If we are to properly prepare for the coming of the Lord, we must do so with out the sinful desires we hold so dear.

And finally, we must “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” This is the next logical step of preparation we must make if we truly want our home to be ready. This fruit is the sign of a changed heart. It is the evidence of faith and the confirmation of our commitment towards righteousness.

Instead of bearing fruit that is too rotten to harvest, Christ asks us to bear the good fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are the fruits that come naturally to one who has rooted their lives firmly in Jesus Christ. These are the fruits that produce a harvest of righteousness that will lead us all the way to heaven.

Think about it even in our world. If we have been hired to do something, we are expected to do it to the greatest of our abilities. Well, God expects no less than our best either. In fact, He expects perfection. That’s why He gave us the great gifts of confession and repentance. He knew we would need help and He found the perfect way to do it. He wanted us to be free to produce fruit in keeping with that repentance.

That is why He sent His Son that very first Christmas day, so that we might have a chance to be transformed into the image of that Son free from sinful desire and unrighteousness. So, bear the fruit that comes by way of the Holy Spirit’s work within you. Prepare your home for the arrival of the King.

So, I ask again. Are you ready for Christmas? Are you ready to welcome the Savior into your lives in a close-up and personal way? If so, then let the preparation of your souls begin. Welcome Him with a clean heart. Confess to Him your shortcomings, cast away those places in your heart that block the pathway into it and start bearing the fruit of the Spirit’s work within you. Let us all make our paths straight and our houses in order to welcome the King of kings and Lord of Lords. Amen.

 

 

Bible Study: Matthew 3:1-12

 

When did all of this take place? Luke3:1-2

Why did John the Baptist warn the people? Ezekiel 18:21-24; Amos 5:18-20

Every Gospel mentions that John was in the wilderness, why is this significant? Isaiah 40:3; Hebrews 11:32-38; Revelation 12:5-6

Why couldn’t the Pharisees and Sadducees accommodate John? Why would many churches today have the same problem?

Who did John resemble from the Old Testament? 2 Kings 1:8  Why? Malachi 4:5-6; Matthew 11:11-15, 17:11-13

John was called to live a certain lifestyle, what does that say to us about following God?       Matthew 8:20, 10:9-19; Luke 3:11, 12:33, 14:33

Why was John preaching a message of repentance? 1 Kings 8:46-51

How is John’s message of repentance even more radical? Why did he direct it to the people at the Pharisees and Sadducees expense?

Why does John ask his listeners to bear good fruit? Matthew 7:16-17; 12:33; 13:22-23; 21:33-43

Why did John bring up stones in verse 9? (other examples of the use of stones Exodus 24:4, 28:9-12; Josh 4:20-21)

John said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near,” what did he mean? Matthew 4:17,10:7; Amos 5:8; 2 Peter 3:3-9

In verse 12, John uses the example of the burnt chaff (seed coverings). Where have we seen that before? Psalm 1:4; Isaiah 17:13; Hosea 13:2-3; Matthew 9:38, 13:37-39, 21:33-34

Only God can pour out the gift of the Spirit. Where else in scripture do we find evidence of this? Isaiah 44:3; 59:21; Ezekiel 36:27; 37:14; 39:29; Joel 2:28-29; Zechariah 12:10, what does this mean for all believers?

What does it mean to be a servant of God? What do John’s words in verse 11 that he was unfit even to untie Christ’s sandals do to help you answer this question?

After hearing all this, how are we to prepare for the Savior’s return (Hope you were listening to the sermon)?

John’s hearers were not all good descendants of their ancestors anyway. “Viper” was certainly an insult, and brood of vipers (offspring of vipers) carries the insult further. In the ancient Mediterranean many people thought of vipers as mother killers. In the fifth century B.C. Herodotus declared that newborn Arabian vipers chewed their way out of their mothers’ wombs, killing their mothers in the process. Herodotus believed that they did so to avenge their fathers, who were slain by the mothers during procreation (Herod. Hist. 3.109). Later writers applied his words to serpents everywhere (Aelian On Animals 1.24; Pliny N.H. 10.170; Plut. Divine Vengeance 32, Mor. 567F). Calling John’s hearers vipers would have been an insult, but calling them a brood of vipers accused them of killing their own mothers, indicating the utmost moral depravity. That Matthew applies this phrase to religious leaders may be unfortunately significant.

Note:  Bible study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org)

Advent: The Coming of the King

Text:  Matthew 21:1-9

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

Please pray with me…

I’m sure you’re all quite familiar with the old saying about how a watched pot never boils. It isn’t true, of course. A watched pot does boil. It only seems to us, waiting on it, like it takes an eternity to do so.

Einstein’s famous Theory of Relativity suggests that time may not be the constant we think it is. Here on earth a minute, is a minute, is a minute. But Einstein argued that elsewhere in the cosmos a minute may not be a minute, at least not as we perceive a minute. Time may be relative. And there are certainly moments in our own experience where time seems relative. Take for example how time seems to stretch out endlessly when we are children; it feels like an eternity between Christmases. Now consider how time appears to almost exponentially shorten as we get older; the time between Christmases just speeds by.  And consider also the differences in time we feel when we are enjoying an activity and when we are waiting for that proverbial kettle to boil.

And, of course, we must consider the difference between God’s perspective of time and our own perspective—especially now as we enter this Advent season, the time when we as God’s elect look for, hope for, and prepare for the triumphant and glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In every Gospel it records that following the Lord’s resurrection from the dead He appeared to His disciples; He ate with them, taught them, and prepared them for the next task appointed for them, to evangelize all of the known world. In the opening chapter of Acts Jesus appears to His disciples again, commands them to remain in Jerusalem awaiting the gift of the Holy Spirit, and directs them to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the outer parts of the world. Then, suddenly, while the disciples were watching Him, Jesus was taken up into a cloud and out of their sight.

Acts 1:10-11: And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” 

Hallelujah! Jesus Christ is coming again. He Himself said so. But it has been almost two thousand years since He said He would return. Why the delay? Well, there are two reasons for His delay. Peter records them both together in chapter 3 of his second letter.  Peter writes: “Knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 

 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.2 Peter 3:3-4,8-9

The Lord’s delayed return, according to Peter, isn’t actually a delay at all. It only appears to be a delay to us. From our perspective, time-bound as we are, it seems as if there has been an eternity of time passed between when Jesus promised to return and the fulfillment of that promise. From God’s perspective—He the author of time, standing outside of time—it’s only been two days. Moreover, the Lord’s delay—or seeming delay—is grace. When Jesus comes again He will not come as He did the first time as a humble carpenter from Nazareth, an itinerant rabbi proclaiming the Good News of salvation to sinners, and a willing sacrifice for sin. When Jesus comes again He will come gloriously, triumphantly, as God’s instrument of salvation for the saints and as God’s agent of justice and wrath for sinners.

In the Nicene Creed we proclaim our belief in one Lord Jesus Christ, very God of very God, born of the Virgin Mary, suffering under Pontius Pilate, buried, resurrected, ascended into heaven, and coming again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead.

The Apostle John opens his apocalyptic letter, Revelation, with this news,  chapter 1 verse 7: Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.

Why will all the nations of the world wail when Jesus returns? Because the time of grace will be over. Because this humble sacrifice for sin, whom they scorned and rejected, is coming as their judge and they are unprepared. Because the time to repent has passed and all that awaits them is outer darkness, and weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.

Peter’s message is really quite simple. Don’t mistake the Lord’s delayed return as an indication that He is never returning; and don’t test God’s patience by continuing in sin and unbelief—He is waiting on His Son’s return lovingly, mercifully, graciously, so that you will be saved.

In some ways Advent is a schizophrenic time for Christians. It requires us to look two ways at the same time. We look backward in time to the Messiah’s first coming as a lowly Baby in a backwater town, even as we look forward in time to this same Messiah’s second public coming in the clouds with great glory to take possession of the kingship that is His alone by right.

At first glance it may appear as if the two Scripture texts appointed for this First Sunday in Advent, Romans 13:8-14, and Matthew 21:1-9, are strange lessons for this day and completely unrelated to the second coming of Christ and the call upon the believer in light of that coming.

If we look closer, however, we can see the connection of these two passages and how they both relate perfectly to the message of Advent and the responsibilities believers have to live as strangers and pilgrims in this world until Jesus comes.

The Gospel, Matthew 21:1-9, is the record of Jesus’ triumphant return to Jerusalem. Please don’t miss the point of this passage: Jesus Christ returning triumphantly in judgment.

The New Testament lesson, Romans 13:8-14, contains two warnings —in fact, the two most important warnings for how Christians must live in this world in anticipation of the return of the Lord in glory. The first is to love everyone. The Second is to live righteously. Notice, there’s a “don’t” and a “do.” Don’t have any outstanding, unpaid, delinquent debts, Paul says, except the continuous debt to love one another.. Do, considering how much closer Jesus’ return is today than it was the day you believed, cast off every opportunity to sin and put on—that is, make it a habit of lifestyle—those things that are of God.

What are we, then, as believers living in this time between Jesus’ first coming and second coming, to do until He returns for us? First, we are to watch. In the Gospels Jesus tells several parables comparing Himself to a landowner who goes away on a long trip and leaves the responsibility of his land and goods to servants until he returns. The point of these parables is the same: it is the foolish servant who misuses his master’s things, believing he will never return; and it is the wise servant who is a good steward of his master’s things, looking always for his master’s return.

Jesus Himself said that His return will come swiftly, and without warning.  Listen to Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 24: “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 

Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

Christ’s point is this, verses 43-44: But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. 

Watching here means looking in the Scriptures for the signs of His coming. Watching here means watching the news, reading the paper, looking to world events, all with the hopeful eye to maybe seeing Jesus come today. Watching means looking forward to the Lord’s return with anticipation and excitement, convinced that His return will mean the judgment and end of evil, sin, and death, and the justification of the righteous and the establishment of righteousness. We pray for this every Sunday, by the way. Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. And watching means being prepared for Christ’s return. It means living with your spiritual bags packed, dressed in Christ’s righteousness. Secondly, we are to work. You and I are supposed to be about the kingdom’s business, not our business, until the king comes. Jesus said that the fields where ripe for harvest, the work was plenteous but the laborers few. “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only,” James tells us. Blessed is the laborer, Jesus said, who is busy about his master’s business when the master returns.

At the great day of reckoning, those who sat on their backsides and did nothing will, unfortunately for them, (Slide) hear the judge say,  ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. 

Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. 

But to those quietly doing the kingdom’s work, they will hear: Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 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. Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you? And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. 

My fear is that we have heard those words so often they’ve lost their warning, and we are no longer concerned with working to please our Savior. We aren’t saved by good works. But we are saved to and for good works. We are saved by faith alone, as Luther said, but by a faith that is not alone.

Finally, we are to witness. “You will be my witnesses, in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth,” Jesus told the disciples. The Greek word the New Testament uses which is translated into our English bibles with the word “witness” is the word marturon. It is the same word from which we get our English word “martyr.” A marturon is one who testifies, or bears witness, to something. Sometimes that witness is with words. Sometimes it is with deeds. Sometimes it is by death. We’ve got this Christian life thing wrong if our belief is our best kept secret. If we are ashamed to testify about Him before the world, Jesus said that He will be ashamed to testify about us before the Father.

Being a witness for Jesus means ordering your life around His commandments. If you sing like an angel on Sunday morning and live like the devil the rest of the week, you’ve misunderstood what all this is about.

Being a witness for Jesus means clearing your throat, opening your mouth, and risking a little public ridicule to share the love of Jesus with someone. The truth is, if you are striving to live righteously, the lost will notice and ask you what accounts for the change in your life. When they ask, tell them. You know what you are waiting for? We are waiting for that sky to part, and Jesus Christ to make his promised appearance. Until then, even as Advents come and go, we are to be watching, working and witnessing. Keep watching that pot. I assure you without hesitation, doubt, or fear, it is going to boil. “Behold, I come quickly.” Come quickly, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Note:  Sermon adapted from an Advent sermon by Quinton Morrow.

Bible Study: Matthew 21:1-9

 

Bible Study – Matthew 21:1-9

What is the event in verses two and three? Do you believe it was supernatural or was it pre-arranged? Does it matter? Zech. 9:9, 2 Samuel 18:9.

In the other accounts of this event, only one donkey is mentioned Mark 11:2-7, Luke 19:30-35, John 12: 12-15. Is this a contradiction? Is it a contradiction of the Zechariah verse?

Was this a humble entry into Jerusalem for Jesus?

In other versions of this story the religious leaders protested this event. Why?

Will we see Jesus ride into Jerusalem again? If so, on what? How is this second entry different? Revelation 19:11-13

What message might Jesus have been trying to communicate by entering on a donkey and not on a white horse?

Why was the triumphal entry of Jesus significant?

What kind of king were the people looking for and how was Christ different?

How would things be different for everyone in the world if the leaders at that time had chosen to honor Him and declare Him King?

How is Christ’s kingdom different than Herod’s?

What does the last “them” stand for in verse 7?

What was the reason they “spread their cloaks on the road?” 2Kings 9:13

In ancient times, palm branches symbolized goodness and victory. They were often depicted on coins and important buildings. Solomon had palm branches carved into the walls and doors of the temple (1 Kings 6:29). Again at the end of the Bible, people from every nation raise palm branches to honor Jesus (Revelation 7:9).

Some questions as you prepare for Holy Week:

Has Holy Week lost some of its power for modern day Christians?  If so, why? What might Holy Week have to teach you about your relationships with family and friends?

The term “Passion” Sunday comes from a Latin word that means “to suffer.” What do you believe Jesus was most passionate about?  How did he demonstrate this deepest passion? How do you?

(Note:  Bible Study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org)