Month: February, 2018

“From Grace to Peace”

 

Mark 8:27-38 / Romans 5:1-11

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

Please pray with me…

You know, this is a pretty good vocation. I can’t think of another occupation that would be as rewarding as the one I am currently blessed to have. How many jobs encourage you to seek God at every moment and work to help others do the same. What other profession gives you more chances to have one-on-one time with the Father. What other trade gives you the opportunity to work so intimately with others. None that I can think of.

One of my very favorite things to do as the pastor here at Redeemer is to visit our shut-ins. Each and every one of them help in many ways to encourage me and prop me up as I attempt to do the same for them. At every visit we are blessed to share Holy Communion together one on one and it never gets old. We talk, we laugh and we pray together. It’s really a rewarding time for me and I hope for them too.

Every time I visit, we go through a little church service together and recently I noticed something about the service itself. It always begins with grace and forgiveness then ends with peace. In the beginning we are reminded of God’s great gift of grace and at the end, we are reminded of what that grace gives us, a welcome reminder in all our lives.

The Greek word for grace is “charis” as it means, among other things, gift of kindness. Paul uses this word in Romans more than he does in any other book. For the people of Rome who had grown up focused on law, for Rome was an empire with law as its very foundation, he emphasized the free gift of grace that no law abiding citizen could ever earn. To Paul’s followers in Rome, his message would have fallen on eager ears towards the promise that with God, you get His gift of grace, His gift of kindness undeserved.

Our New Testament lesson for this morning is yet another reminder of this grace which we all share.  So what is grace to us? Martin Luther says that grace is the gift of God that “signifies that favor with which God receives us, forgiving our sins and justifying us freely through Christ. This kind of grace is not a quality of man but of God.”

Who but God could see us as blameless even in repentance? Who but God would be willing to forget our sins, even as we repeat them time and time again. Who but God would sacrifice His only Son so that this grace could be given to all who look to the cross. Only God is willing and, therefore, only God can provide the purest form of grace.

You and I, we could never hope to share this kind of love. We were born into sin and because of this curse, we deserve nothing but damnation.

We are not capable of this kind of pure love because the old Adam works so hard to lead us to our own destruction. For every righteous act within us, there are 100 acts of unrighteousness fighting to be heard. For every loving action towards our neighbor, there are 100 loving actions that we turn our back on. For every attempt at purity, there is something that Satan uses to blacken us. For every promise to do better, there is a broken promise that follows. We, by ourselves, have no hope. We are broken, battered and bandaged. Our sin has left us desolate and undeserving of any kind of forgiveness. Our broken promises deserve nothing but deaf ears.

But, thanks be to God, that is not where it ends. Thanks be to God that He showers us with His grace despite our unrighteous behaviors, our lack of respect for our neighbors and our impure thoughts and broken promises. Thanks be to God that He is not like the world but instead chooses to provide us unmerited love and undeserved forgiveness just in the asking. Despite their grumbling, God provided water from a rock when Moses struck it and despite our many blemishes, God has provided us with living water so that we will never thirst, a water that, to us, is like a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

The grace of God has been with us from the very beginning. Adam and Eve deserved nothing, but God gave them life.

Abraham himself lived in grace and we witness it in Genesis 15:6 where it tells us that “Abraham believed God, and God counted it to him as righteousness.” In our Old Testament lesson the people complained but God provided anyway.

And this same righteousness is extended to us, through the same faith that they shared, not because of that faith, rather it is our faith that reaches up and receives the grace that God has promised. Grace, like faith, is a gift from God to us and not from us to God. That is why we Baptize infants, because it’s not about what we can do, it’s about what God can do.

Together, we stand in the grace of God and that means we have found favor with Him because of that grace which He shares. Through this we all can find the peace that is beyond our own understanding. It starts with grace and it ends in peace. Because of this gift of kindness, we have our peace and security not only for today but for all time and we have a quality of life beyond anything we could ever hope for on our own.

Living in grace changes the way we think as Christians. It changes how we see things and interpret things.

Paul says in our New Testament lesson, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith (through grace), 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.”

God Himself provides us with this grace in which we stand and, because of His grace, our hearts have been changed and our response to suffering has been changed. No longer does suffering defeat us because now we have cause to “rejoice in our sufferings knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope which does not put us to shame, because God’s love has poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

If our attitude is different than this it is because of the sin that lives within us. Rather, we should understand that all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) As Christians we no longer have to live in a state of panic and depression, which only serve to destroy our health and ruin our relationships. Because of the grace that God offers us, we can live with the assurance that our sins will be forgiven and our everlasting life has been secured.

God doesn’t wait for us to clean up our lives on our own because we are simply not capable. He doesn’t wait for us to fulfill our promise to be a better person because He knows that this is beyond our capability without Him. He doesn’t wait for your invitation, He waits for you to accept His.

We are rightfully dead in our trespasses and because of this Christ died for us. It is a rare thing for one person to die for another. It takes an incredible love that is hard even to understand. It might be that you would die for someone who is dear to you like your spouse or children but there is a very short list for people who would even do that. Many have stepped up to defend this great nation and preserve our freedom but their desire is never to die.

No, what Christ did was remarkable because He knew the fate that was His and He willingly died a most horrible death so that you and I could be free of the sentence that our sins deserve. It’s amazing because Jesus died for His enemies. He died for us when we did not love Him, when we were on the other side.

And, because of the grace of God, we have a future to look forward to with eager anticipation. If the Lord treated us that good while we were enemies, think of how great He will treat us when we claim our inheritance in heaven with Him.

Verse 10 in our Romans passage says that we have been saved through His life. It’s just a little ways past our lesson for this morning but it bears noticing. We make a mistake of we only notice the word, “saved,” because that’s not the climax of the sentence. We have only been saved because Christ was willing to give up His life. Because of this we have been delivered from death to life, from damnation to salvation.

Whatever you have in life that you need to be delivered from, Christ is the answer. Ephesians 3:20 reminds us that,  To Him who is able to do immeasurably more then all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Jesus Christ throughout all generations, forever and ever.” There is nothing too big for God, no problem that cannot be covered by His grace.

The word grace and the word gift can be used interchangeably. In this chapter alone, Paul uses it 20 times. It’s true that every good thing that we enjoy is because of God’s grace. Every victory, every joy, every happiness is a gift from God to us. That is God’s gift of kindness towards His people, even those who turn their back on Him. That is a gift that can only come from a God-sized love.

2 Corinthians 9:8-11 says, And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”

If any season in the church year tells the story of God’s grace, it is most certainly the one we are currently celebrating. Lent reminds us of God’s grace every time we hear of the savior’s sacrifice. Every time we reminded of the new life we have found in Him, God’s grace shines through as the very reason we enjoy such a gift.

You can really do two things with the gift of kindness that can only come from a loving God, you can accept it or you can reject it. One might not take it because of procrastination or neglect, another might reject it because of unbelief, but the reasons don’t matter. To fail to receive this greatest of gifts is to fail to be a child of God and to fail to have life. To accept the gift, one must come to God in repentance and faith in the finished work of Christ.

Will you accept His gift to you? Will you claim the prize? God sent His Son to die on a cross in the hope that you would. How about your neighbors? Could they benefit from this gift of grace that only God can give? If so, are you willing to tell them it’s waiting for them?

Lent is a time we remember God’s grace and what He was prepared to do in the name of grace for all who come to Him but this message was never intended to keep to ourselves. Lent is for all of God’s people, even those who deny Him. Christ died even for His enemies of which we, regretfully have to claim a membership in.

Due to the grace of God, we were blessed with the perfect sacrifice for our sin. So what does the death and resurrection of His son give us?

A love that can never be fathomed
A life that can never die
A righteousness that can never be tarnished
A peace that can never be understood
A rest that can never be disturbed
A joy that can never be diminished
A hope that can never be disappointed
A glory that can never be clouded
A light that can never be darkened
A purity that can never be defiled
A beauty that can never be marred
A wisdom that can never be baffled and
Resources that can never be exhausted.

Share the message of Lent, proclaim the promise of Easter, claim your inheritance and help other’s to claim theirs.  May the grace of God be with you now and always and give you peace. Amen

 

Bible Study: From Grace to Peace

 

Bible Study Question – Romans 5:1-11

Give a definition for the word “grace.” How does your definition fit into 1 Corinthians 15:10?

What does faith do for us? Verses 1,2; Psalm 9:9-10; 1 Chronicles 20:20; Matthew 17:14-20; Hebrew 11:1-3; Ephesians 2:8, 6:16; 1 John 5:13-15

What is the “hope of the glory of God” that Paul refers to in vs. 2? Matthew 16:27;            Romans 8:16-19, 23; 1 Corinthians 15:42-44; Colossians 3:4; 1 John 3:2

 What terms does Paul use to describe our condition prior to salvation? verses. 6,8,10. In your own words, summarize what these terms tell us about man’s condition apart from Christ.

How is God’s love for us so amazingly different than any human love? Verses 6-8 (Expand on this)

What are the benefits that this passage tells us we receive through Christ? Verses 1,2.9,10,11

 Paul speaks of the sufferings Christians encounter in vs 3. Where else do we hear of these tribulations? Matthew 13:21; John 16:33; Acts 14:22; 2 Corinthians 4:17; 6:4; 7:4; 8:2; Colossians 1:24; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; Hebrews 10:33; 2 Timothy 3:12. What, therefore, should we expect?

An end to suffering is NOT one of the things we are promised. How is it possible to rejoice in suffering?

What does it mean to be “reconciled” to God? Verses 10-11; Ephesians 2:14-16; Colossians

1:19-20

 Other versions translate the word weak in verse six as powerless, which is a more common translation. What are we powerless to do?

What does it mean that Christ died “at the right time”? Verse 6; Galatians 4:4-5; Hebrews 9:24-26

 The work of Jesus Christ on Calvary is the basis of all spiritual blessings as mentioned in verse 6-8. What does this do for us? 1 Corinthians 1:30-31; Ephesians 1:15-23, 3:14-19; Colossians 1:17-22, 2:1-3, 3:1-4

 What has the blood of Jesus Justified us from? Romans 1:18 Describe what you think this wrath looks like?

What does reconciliation with God mean to you? How would you explain this to a non-believer?

 

The word that is translated “grace” in the New Testament comes from the Greek word “charis,” from which we get charity.  Here is how Zondervan’s NIV Bible Software Library describes this word:  “The biblical concept of grace is much greater than is suggested in the common definition of “unmerited favor.” “Grace” is a word that expresses a radical view of life and of relationship with God.  Grace teaches that God’s attitude toward us is one of acceptance and love; knowing God’s heart, we can “approach the throne of grace with confidence” (Heb 4:16) with every sin and need.  Grace is a dramatic statement about the human condition. Each person is helpless, trapped in sin and incapable of pleasing God or winning his favor.  Grace is a proclamation. It is the triumphant announcement that God in Christ has acted and has come to the aid of all who will trust him for their eternal salvation.  Grace is a way of life. Relying totally on Jesus to work within us, we experience God’s own unlimited power, vitalizing us and enabling us to live truly good lives…grace is not simply a basic orientation to relationship with God. It is also a practical approach to living the Christian life. This aspect of grace helps us to understand the warning found in Gal 5:4, that those “who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; [they] have fallen away from grace.” Any attempt by believers to struggle toward a life of goodness by works of the law means a return to the futile way of religion. It involves reliance on ourselves and an abandonment of reliance on Christ, who alone can enable us to live righteous lives. We cannot approach Christian experience from the old perspective, for grace and religion are contradictory. We can only live by full commitment to the way of grace and all that grace involves.”

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

 

“Driven By Love”

Text:  Mark 1:9-15

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

Please pray with me…

As I was reading the Gospel lesson for this morning and contemplating on what I was to write, I couldn’t get past a phrase that I had really never noticed before. I must have read this particular Scripture 100 times but only this week did I notice completely the directness of verse 12, it says, “The Spirit immediately drove Him (Jesus) into the wilderness.” Of course many of us know what happened in that wilderness. Jesus was tempted by the devil for forty days.

The Spirit drove him into the wilderness. It was obviously important to the Father that this episode in Jesus’ life take place. The Spirit of God, sent to be our helper, has driven Jesus into a world of temptation. It really makes you think doesn’t it? It was God the Father’s plan that His Son was to be tempted and He sent His Spirit to make sure it happened. What’s the reason? Was there a chance that Jesus would resist? Why was it important for Jesus to pass the test? Why even test Him at all?

Mark leaves out many of the finer details of this episode in Jesus’ life but these few words in verse 12 are written with greater urgency. In Luke and Matthew it says that Jesus was “led” by the Spirit, still the same plan but without the heightened emphasis. Why does Mark add the dramatics?

To be tempted is to have someone or something convince you to do something or to try something. In this case, God is sending His Son and the Devil himself will be waiting for Him. Is God wondering if Jesus will do all that is required of Him? Is He wondering if maybe the humanness in Him might overcome the Godliness? Is He not sure that the glory found in Him was enough to overcome the world and all its enticements?

What we need to do is look at this part of Scripture in the context of Jesus’ life. He has just been baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan and will soon start His earthly ministry. But before He begins this next phase of His life, He must face temptation in its highest form, from the devil himself.

First we read of the joyous occasion of His Baptism. We hear God speak from heaven, “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” and then immediately He starts the process in the wilderness. This is a major change in the emotion of the story. Jesus is immediately driven by the Holy Spirit from the incredible blessing of Baptism to face the incredible tension of temptation. Mark doesn’t give us the whole story of Christ’s temptation but it’s enough to know that He faced it, just like we do every day. But the question remains, why was Jesus tempted and why was it so very important that He was? Why, as the Son of God, did He have to do this?

As we begin the Lenten season, Jesus is already making His way to the cross. His whole ministry was to culminate on this one self-less act. In His Baptism, Jesus sentences Himself to death. These next three years will be spent with the final sacrifice always on His mind.

So Jesus is driven into the wilderness to begin the process. The Devil will offer Him many things to tempt Him to take a different course. He literally promises Him the world if He will make the choice to live and not to die so tragically on the cross. Satan tries to steer Him away from this course of undeserved suffering and death.

But in the end we see Jesus emerging from this test the victor, with a renewed faith and a greater sense of who He was and what He was sent to do. It is during this temptation that Jesus begins to set His face toward Calvary.

Jesus knew the importance of His Father’s plan for Him. He knew that we would be lost unless He was to see this plan all the way through. In this wilderness experience, Jesus is strengthened and His Godly character is witnessed.

So does this mean that God leads us to temptation in order that we might be strengthened in our faith? Does he put us on temptations path to see if we will pass the test? Does He sometimes leave us in temptation so that we are forced to find our own way out?

First we must understand that Jesus is different from us. For Him to resist temptation is markedly dissimilar. He is the only one ever born without sin so sinful temptations don’t bring with them the same urges that they do for us who were born into sin. I believe this is why He had to be driven into the wilderness, because He was not as easily motivated by the charms of worldly sin. Unlike us, His first choice is always to avoid temptation so He had to be coaxed with authority into it, so that He might experience the same things we experience so willingly.

God does not tempt us but does He sometimes allow the sinfulness of the world to tempt us? To this I say yes. Maybe it’s because I find myself so easily tempted and I want to think I might learn something from it or that my faith will be somehow strengthened in the struggle. I believe that in life we are forced to make choices and that the choices to follow our natural urges into sin are always countered by our urges to follow God’s command.

In Mark 12:28 -31, Jesus is asked a question, It says, And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. ‘The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

This is the choice we are faced with. Are we to follow temptation away from God or are we to follow our Lord with all our heart and with all our soul, and with all our mind and with all our strength. We are not tempted by God to break these commandments but by the devil, so who is going to be the victor in our lives?

One of my favorite shows as a kid was a show called Hee Haw. Well, they had a great character there by the name of Doc Campbell.  Does anyone remember him? In one episode Doc Campbell is confronted by a patient who says he broke his arm in two places. The doc replies, “Well then, stay out of them places!”  He may have something there. We cannot regularly put ourselves in the face of temptation and not be affected. When faced with the problem of temptation, we need to take the good doctor’s advice and “stay out of them places.”

I don’t believe that God brings temptation into our lives but because of sin, temptations are a part of every life because our natural sin continually tries to convince us to be our own Gods. Temptations are part of our world and we must learn to avoid them and resist them.

There is a bumper sticker that reads, “Lead me not into temptation, I can find it myself.” Temptation is so common to us that we sometimes don’t realize were undergoing it. For many Christians temptations are little more than an annoyance because we often miscalculate the danger in them thinking, somehow, that their faith will see us through. Yet we all fail on a regular basis, despite our best efforts. We know deep down what is right and what is wrong. We even know that the right thing is best for us, yet we feel the same urges as every other person on earth, believer and non-believer alike. Too often, we are no better than the people of the world because we ignore God’s signals and we choose to follow our own paths because it’s easier that way. Then when we do succumb to temptation we blame someone else.

Philip Yancey, in his book “Reaching for the Invisible God” describes the way God gets blamed for things in this way.
“When Princess Diana died in an automobile accident, a minister was interviewed and was asked the question “How can God allow such a terrible tragedy?” And I loved his response.

He said, “Could it have had something to do with a drunk driver going ninety miles an hour in a narrow tunnel? Just How, exactly, was God involved.”

Many years ago, boxer, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, killed a Korean opponent with a hard right hand to the head. At the press conference after the Korean’s death, Mancini said, “Sometimes I wonder why God does the things he does.”
In a letter to Dr. James Dobson, a young woman asked this anguished question, “Four years ago, I was dating a man and became pregnant. I was devastated. I asked God, “Why have you allowed this to happen to me?”
Susan Smith, the South Carolina mother a couple years ago who pushed her two sons into a lake to drown and then blamed a fictional car-jacker for the deed, wrote in her confession: “I dropped to the lowest point when I allowed my children to go down that ramp into the water without me. I took off running and screaming, ‘Oh God! Oh God, no! What have I done? Why did you let this happen?”
Now the question remains, exactly what role did God play in a boxer beating his opponent to death, a teenage couple giving into temptation in the back seat of a car, or a mother drowning her children?
Is God responsible for these acts? To the contrary, they are examples of incredible human free will being exercised on a fallen planet.

And yet it’s in our nature as mortal, frail, fallen people to lash out at one who is not mortal, frail or fallen, that being God.” Or it’s like A woman who bought an extravagant dress, and the husband asked why did it have to be so extravagant, She said, “the devil made me buy it,” The husband asked, “Why didn’t you say get behind me Satan?,” The woman said, “I did and he said it looked as good in the back as it did in the front, so I bought it.”…  t’s easy to play the blame game. It’s much harder to resist temptation.

I believe that God the Father wanted to see His Son face the same things we face every day. Our temptations might not be so grandiose or our tempter so obvious, but temptations are always on our doorsteps and Jesus, if He is to deal with humanity, must experience what humanity experiences. He must be given the chance to show us that resistance can be done in the name and power of Christ, to show us how it is to be done and in who’s name it should be done. The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to show us all, that God is stronger than the devil. He loved us enough to send His Son in the wilderness to be tempted so that we might come to understand that His Word can and will deliver us.

Temptations will continue to burden us, it’s what happens in a fallen world, but by God’s grace, He gives you all you need to resist them.

Does He allow it to happen sometimes, yes, if we are to live in a sinful world, we must learn to find victory only in Christ by resisting the devil and all his attempts to drag us off the narrow path.

That is why it’s so very important to be committed to Christ and to protect yourselves in His name by devoting yourself to Bible study, worship, servant-hood, prayers and meditation. By God’s grace we can learn to avoid temptation. We can learn to walk away from those things that separate us from God, we can learn to let God be God.

The Spirit immediately drove Him out into the wilderness. Even at the very beginning of His ministry He paid the price for our sins. May God keep temptation from our doorsteps and may we all come to learn what He has done for us by His grace to overcome the sin of the world. From the beginning to the very end, Christ’s thoughts were with us. In His life we find example of how to live ours in the confidence that can only be found in Him.

Just like Jesus, we must also set our face on the cross, not because of what we must sacrifice, but because of what has already been sacrificed for us. Just like Christ, we must put all our faith in God so that when temptations do arrive, we have the weapons to destroy them. Just like Christ, we must find our strength in God’s word so that His Spirit might lead us onto the narrow path to heaven.

Don’t forget who you are and to whom you belong. As Children of God we can be assured of the victory won for us by Jesus Christ. Now let us go on with our lives in His confidence. Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bible Study: Driven By Love

 

Bible Study Questions – Mark 1:9-15

Mark starts out this section of Scripture with the words, “In those days.” Why? Mark 8:1

The verb used to describe the heavens being “torn open” is the same verb used in Mark 15:38? Could there be a connection? Isaiah 64:1

In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Baptism, he recalls that John said to Jesus, who had come to him to be Baptized, “I need to be baptized by you, and why should you come to me? Why did he say this? Matthew 3:13-14; John 1:22-34

Why did Jesus come to be baptized? Matthew 3:14-15

If Jesus was already filled with the Holy Spirit, what is the purpose of the Holy Spirit descending on Him now? Isaiah 42:1, 61:1; Luke 4:18-19

Do not think of this as something remote from us? Acts 1:7-8

How is the dove a symbol of power? Genesis 8:8-12

In Matthew when God speaks He says, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased” But Mark and Luke’s versions say, “You are my Son, with whom I am well pleased? Why the difference?

Voeltz translated this verse “This is my Son, with whom I have become well pleased.” How does this change the narrative?

Why do you think that part of Jesus’ preparation for ministry included temptation in the wilderness?

What does it mean that immediately the Spirit “drove” (Veltz in his new commentary translates it as, “throws”) Him into the wilderness to be tempted? Why the urgency?

What similarities do you see in the Israelites being sent to the wilderness for 40 years and Jesus being sent to the wilderness for 40 days?

Does God sometimes let our temptations happen? For what reason?

Why are wild beasts included in the story? Hosea 2:18; Isaiah 11:6-9, 35:7-10, 43:19-20;    Ezekiel 34:23-31

What does it mean that the angels attended to Him? Psalm 91:11-12(13)14-16

What does it say about Jesus that He begins His ministry in the same area and jurisdiction that John was beheaded in?

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

Practice What You Preach

Text:  Matthew 23:1-12

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

Please pray with me…

When I was much younger one of my favorite shows was 60 minutes. I especially liked when they would catch someone in the act of being less than honest. I remember the disability scam they undressed when they would record people who were getting payments from their insurance company for total disability doing things that no fully disabled people should be able to do like building houses and waterskiing. One of my favorites was when they would make a minor change to a car engine so that it wouldn’t work properly, and they would record through hidden cameras the mechanic finding the problem and fixing it in seconds but charging exorbitant prices for work they didn’t even do. That’s why I only get my car fixed at Willand’s, because I know he’ll always treat me more than fair.

In thinking about this, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of story they might uncover if they put those hidden cameras in the cars of many people who claim to be Christian. What would that tape show when they were in their cars or at their jobs or talking with their friends or even in their homes. Would they record the Christian they claim to be? Or would the scam be on? What if those hidden cameras were to record your lives?

If we were to record the lives of many Christians, that would be must see TV I think. I can see it now. Morley Safer starts with the headline, “Pretend Christians, The Real Lives They Lead.”

I’m afraid it would confirm what most non-Christians already believe. That our churches are full of hypocrites. It’s difficult to believe in Christianity when so many of our heavenly followers choose to live worldly lives.

God is talking to the church in Laodicea in Revelation chapter 3 about their hypocrisy, “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.” Revelation 3:15-17

He is scorching them because they are neither believers nor unbelievers. They are like the Pharisees that Jesus is speaking about in our Gospel lesson. They speak correctly but their lives show another line. They claim to love God but, by their actions, they show that they despise Him. They have neither surrendered their full lives to Christ nor have they abandoned Him completely. They simply stay in the middle where its safe, neither hot nor cold. They do as little as they think they have to do to retain the Christian family name.

According to the dictionary, a hypocrite is, “A person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.” The term itself comes from the theater in ancient Greece when an actor would play two parts. When playing something funny, he would use one side of a mask that showed a smiling face and when he played something tragic he would switch the mask around to show a sad face. That’s where we get the comedy/tragedy faces we sometimes see when someone is promoting a play. A good actor could make it seem as if he were in a comedic scene or a tragic scene by having the voice, mannerisms and conduct of whichever character he was playing much like the Christian who acts one part but lives another.

One day when they had guests for dinner, a mother asked her four-year old boy named Johnny to say the blessing before the meal. Johnny didn’t really want to and complained, “Mom, I don’t know what to say.” His mother sweetly replied, in front of her guests, “Oh, just say what you hear me say.” Obediently, Johnny bowed his head and mumbled, “Oh Lord, why did I invite these people over on such a hot day?”

Acting the part of a grateful host doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a grateful host, especially if your actions outside the realm of your guests tells another story.

Neither does coming to church for worship make you a Christian if outside the church your life shows another side of you. I read somewhere, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going into a garage makes you a car.” Some people are no more Christians than I am Chinese, just because I love to eat Chinese food. They just look like Christians when they go to church on Sundays.

Our Gospel lesson for today paints this same picture. “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to His disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”

You see, they were piling requirements on their people they were neither willing or able to do themselves. They required a heavy burden to be put on people for promised salvation but were often unwilling to carry the load themselves, worried more about appearance than action.

I believe this is why so many live a hypocritical life. They find the talk easy but they imagine the actions to be too extreme.

They have good intentions but think they unable to deliver so they don’t even attempt to live a godly life outside the church. They want to stay true to their beliefs but they fear the repercussions of acting out in the world what they proclaim to be in the company of other Christians.

People want to be real Christians but they let life in the world get between their faith and their good intentions so much that they no longer find themselves worthy to live the Christian life so they don’t even give a good effort in their attempts.

What all wannabe Christians need to understand is that real Christians are forgiven sinners. I read a bumper sticker that I wish I had in my collection on the back of my old pickup. It read, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” The Bible makes it quite clear that none of us are perfect but it does say that if you surrender your lives to Jesus Christ that you will be perfectly forgiven.

God understands that many of our attempts to lead the perfect Christian life will ring hollow, but He smiles all the same when we’re using every effort to lead the perfect Christian life. He understands that all of us have a long way to go to be the people He created us to be but He’s willing to help us get over the bumps in the road along the way to finding our true selves.

We no longer have to be hypocrites and there is a big difference between a sinner and a hypocrite. People perceive that Christians never sin but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

1 John 1:8 -10 puts it very clearly, “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 our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us.”

The sinner knows His shortcomings but the hypocrite hides from them. The sinner, in humility, sees himself broken and in need of God’s grace and mercy, while the hypocrite thinks as long as they act the part of a Christian now and then they’ll be all right. A sinner enters their relationship with God as a willing servant. The hypocrite waits to see what’s in it for them. The sinner confesses their battle with sin but the hypocrite believes they can win the battle without acknowledging their sin.

Our church is not a place for perfect Christians, it’s a hospital for sick sinners. We shouldn’t come to put band-aids on only those sins we admit. We should come ready to do surgery on our very souls using the only perfect surgeon who could possibly make us well again.

God is not asking us to do the impossible by being the perfect Christian in the world. That would be a burden to heavy to bear, just ask the people who bared that burden under the guidance of the scribes and Pharisees. He simply asks that we acknowledge who we truly are, sick but saved none-the-less through faith.

We all mess up. We all are in need of things that only God can provide. The first step in living your life as a Christian full-time is to understand your shortcomings. Paul showed this kind of character as he spoke to his student Timothy. In Timothy 1:15 Paul writes, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” First he acknowledges his sinfulness but then he admits to something greater in the next verse. It reads, “But I have received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life.”

Isn’t that glorious? To be the person that Christ asks us to be in the world, we simply have to trust in His patience. It’s not about screaming from the rooftops, it’s about living a humble life with the full knowledge that you need Christ in every breath. He’s not expecting everyone to be pastors or apostles or evangelisits, He simply wants you to admit your need for something greater than yourself that only He can give.

We play the part of the hypocrite when we say we need God in one setting but act as if we have no need of Him in others. We act the part of the hypocrite when we put on our nice clothes, come to church, listen to the sermon, put our tithe in the plate and have a little fellowship on Sunday morning but forget about God the rest of the week.

My challenge to you is that you stop playing the hypocrite if, in fact, that is what you’re doing. Make everything you do a ministry. Live your life in humble service to the one who promises you everlasting life. Don’t be afraid to mess up now and then in your attempts to live the perfect Christian life because the perfect Christian life will never be yours. God simply wants you to try, and you can only find success if you surrender to His will for your life and trust Him to lead you to be the perfect example of you.

God has so many great plans for all of us, but we’ll never get there if we continue to live our lives wearing masks. Be proud of who you are in Christ and resist the urge to be something you were never created to be. Let God be a part of your life in every moment so that one day he might proclaim, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Don’t give the unbelievers more reason to resist the one true faith by your actions. Show them how awesome their lives could be in surrender. Amen.

Bible Study: “Practice What You Preach”

 

Text:  Matthew 23:1-12

What were Jesus’ biggest issues with the teachers of the law and the Pharisees? Matthew 16: 5-12

Why will legalism never work in the church?

Conversely, what would happen if there were no rules within the church? Name some of those rules that are important for us to abide by.

If Jesus was upset with them, why were the people instructed to obey the ‘Teachers of the law and the Pharisees’?

*Interesting note* Moses seat: Synagogues had a stone seat at the front where the authoritative teacher sat. The Jews spoke of the teacher’s seat as we speak of a professor’s chair.

Do you believe that Christian’s hypocritical actions constitute the greatest threat to the church? Why or why not? Why is it so dangerous?

Why is it more important for some to have the acceptance of man then it is to have the acceptance of God?

How does the burden of the religious leaders compare to the burden we bear for Christ? Matthew 11:30; Acts 15:10

Why do you believe that the religious leaders just did not get it?

Seeing that the teachers of the law and the Pharisees loved to be looked up to and considered great and be given highest respect, how do you think they would have taken these instructions from Jesus?

Name some examples of how verses 5-7 might be acted out today?

Why is it better that some things, like prayer, be done in private? Matthew 6:1-6

*Interesting note* Both the phylacteries (small leather boxes with tiny scrolls with scriptures on them, tied to the arm and head with leather straps) and the borders of their garments were worn in the attempt to conform to the Mosaic Law, Deuteronomy 11:8; Numbers 15:38-40.

Does verse 8 insinuate that we should not use titles such as pastor and deacon in the church? Why or why not? John 1:38; 1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11

How can the use of titles get into the way of serving others? How can it help?

Explain the statement, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

What must we do in our church for people to see us as people of God and not people of the world? Are you prepared to do it?

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

Let the Children Come

 

Text:  Matthew 19:13-15

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

Please pray with me…

One day a little girl was sitting and watching her mother do the dishes in the kitchen sink. She suddenly noticed that her mother had several strands of white hair sticking out in contrast to her brunette head. She looked at her mother and inquisitively asked, “Why are some of your hairs white, mom?”

Her mother replied, “Well, every time that you do something wrong and make me cry or become unhappy, one of my hairs turns white.” The little girl thought about this revelation for awhile and then said, “Momma, how came ALL of grandma’s hairs are white?”

Ouch! O’ the honesty of children. It might be a young girl thing because I can remember the honesty of Emily often creeping into our conversations when she was still very young. It was sometimes embarrassing but, she was usually right. Now I can look back and see how it benefitted me even if it made me want to find refuge from awkwardness at the time.

Today, we speak of children. Now, we can all count ourselves among members to hold this title because we are all children of the living God. Today, we welcome all our new members and each one of them can be assured they are loved by both their Father in heaven and all us fellow children in His church at Redeemer.

But, it’s not only the old among us that can claim this title, of which I will speak, but also the young among us, not yet tarnished by the world. Today we speak of possibly the greatest humanly gift of all, our children.

If you’re a parent I’m sure you’re like me when you look back at the life that God has blessed you with and you can’t imagine it without your kids. For a moment every now and then you can fantasize about it when they’ve been especially bad, but none of us would look back and wish we never would have had them.

In our young children we see hope and untainted faith. In them we see so much optimism and joy, at least if we have raised them properly. It’s a kind of faith and hope and joy mixed with optimism we wish we all had.

Yet, those of us who have passed from childhood to adulthood have seen too much of the shortfalls of the world. We’ve all had the experience of suffering because of the limitations of mankind. Our childlike faith has been corrupted by worldly skepticism, our hope has been strained by man’s attempts to override God and our joy has been sullied by the constant complaints we hear throughout our day. We have been marked by sin and we long for the days of our childhood when we could just believe for Christ’s sake.

In our Gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus is resting from His travels and the large crowd following do the same.

Some of the parents took the opportunity to bring their children to Jesus so He might bless them and pray over them. This was a common practice for Rabbi’s to do in Jesus time. It was a common thing that parents would bring their children to the temple to be blessed.

To Jesus, this wasn’t a disturbance He wanted to squash, this was a great opportunity to do what He came to earth to do. His presence among us wasn’t just for those who could properly understand the lessons he was teaching. It was for all people, especially the children who would be growing into their faith. This was a grand opportunity for Jesus to individually bless the children who would one day grow to be leaders in His church.

Jesus saw little children as he would like us to see them. He knew that they inherited the same image of God, the same opportunity for redemption and the same promise of everlasting life that all believers have been given. He knew that one day, they would grow up with the same weaknesses and shortfalls as all of humanity grows into.

So, He wanted to bless them for their journey ahead into adulthood and faithfulness. Faithfull warriors would be needed in the decades and centuries to come and they would be among the rank of the young who found themselves in His arms this day.

Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Do you hear these words? Jesus Himself is welcoming them, longing for them. He didn’t shoo them away because they weren’t living the perfect life. He knew that children suffer with the same plague of sin like the rest of us. Yet he welcomes them, touches them, blesses them, prays over them…..loves them.

Compare His response to that of His disciples. Again, they are proving that they simply didn’t get it. Where there was opportunity they saw disruption. They were like us in many ways when we have to deal with children. Instead of seeing them for what they are, God’s precious creations, we see them as better seen than heard. Like the disciples we too often write them off as a nuisance when we should be learning from them. Like the disciples, we don’t see the beauty, we see them as inconveniences.

Jesus attitude was consistent as God.  Psalm 127:3 states, “Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from Him.” 

If we take the time, we can learn so much about faith and hope and joy from our children. They teach us so much about God, His kingdom and His love for the vulnerable, weak, and frail among us. His acceptance of them, speaks a loud and clear message of the kind of welcome we can all expect as His children, and the personal touch He has on each life.

Jesus longed to bless the weak. These little children so trusting and eager were a great joy to Him. Again, Jesus is beings consistent in love. His devotion to His people young and old made the blind to see and the deaf to hear. His passion for the weak made the lame to walk the dead to rise. And now, the greatest gift of them all is being given to the children He loves, His blessing.

And this great love and responsibility is to be handed down to parents to teach and to bless.  From Deuteronomy 6: 4-9, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

God has given us the great gift of children with a purpose, to bring them up in the fear of the Lord. To teach them the ways of God and to encourage them in their path of faith. It is now our responsibility to raise our kids to become the people God has created them to be.

It’s a great responsibility to be sure because their eternal life, in many ways, depends upon it.

And the greatest lessons they learn don’t come from books. They don’t come from seminar’s, or Catechism or even from worship. The greatest lessons are learned in the actions of their teachers, their parents.

If your devotion to God is great, they will stand a much better chance of having great faith themselves. If you create a Godly home, then their homes will probably be blessed for it. If you live your life always shining the light of Christ, that same light will most likely shine in them. Our children are watching us to see if we mean what we say. They are constantly learning as they watch us live our lives in faith.

The emphasis from God to teach the commandment to love God and each other shows how much God wants for all His children no matter their age. He wants both to come to Him in worship and praise. He wants us never to forget Him even though the world might try to block Him from our memory. And these lessons all start in our youth.

From Matthew 18:1-6: At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 

Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 

But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”  This responsibility to teach and to learn from our children is taken very seriously by God.

Do you hear in these words also, how God desires people to be blessed by learning humility from their children. It warms the heart of God when we come bumbling and stumbling to Him like children who are just learning to walk. He knows our weaknesses and, like He did for the children in our Gospel lesson, He wishes to bless us. When we come to Him weak, frail and afraid, His greatest wish is to provide us with strength, endurance and courage.

And all of these blessings he so willingly gives us, came because of the steep price he had to pay so that we might be free to receive them. When Christ died, He died for all children both great and small.    1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” The only one who could ever claim righteousness died for all of the unrighteous. Because, in reality, we never stop the learning we began as children. Perfection will never be ours so the lessons remain.

1 Corinthians 5:21, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” You see, the lessons that began with our parents as teachers in our youth, continue on because Christ wants to bless all of us.

Our children are such a blessing to us and Jesus wants you to see in them what the disciples could not see. These same children that He was blessing would one day grow up and give Christ’s blessing to their own children. Together they would learn from each other the life of righteousness. The church would continue and it all would all start from a simple blessing and a timely prayer from the Messiah.

Now it’s up to us to continue these same traditions. Bless your children by being a blessing to them. Teach them Godliness by living a Godly life. Show them the passion of Christ by being passionate for Christ.

Our children are our greatest blessing. Bless them in return by living Christ. Be the example to all children, whether yours or not, of the faithful servant.  Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” May we be so blessed. Amen.

 

Bible Study: Let the Children Come

 

Text:  Matthew 19:13-15

What kind of blessing do you think the parents were wishing for by having Jesus prayerfully lay His hands on them? Would that same blessing be asked for by most people in today’s society? Why or why not?

Why do you think the disciples tried to keep the children away from Jesus? How did they see their actions as serving Jesus’ interests? 

Jesus’ command to “let the little children come to me” reveals several truths, what are they?

How is reaching out to children like reaching out to the socially outcast, ostracized and/or underprivileged, the common people, slaves, the poor, and women?

What point is Jesus making by inviting the children to come freely?

*Interesting note* The word βρεφη Is best translated very young infants, or babies. This was a typical rabbinical practice for babies that had nothing to do with salvation.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,” What did He mean? Matthew 18:3-4; Luke 10:21; Galatians 4:18-20; 1 John 4:4

Matthew’s account does not include the comments about “receiving” the kingdom of God like a little child. Why do you think its missing? In what way does it add to the message?

What childlike attributes would be most beneficial in our walk with Christ?  

Where have we seen this kind of attitude in an adult in Scripture? Luke 18:11-14

How do these verses add to the conversation regarding children in Jesus’ day? 1 Corinthians 3:1, 13:11, 14:20; Galatians 4:1, 3; Ephesians 4:14; Hebrews 5:13; 1 Peter 2:1-2  

Is this a different attitude then the Old Testament view? Proverbs 22:15, 29:15 If so, How?

 Do you think Jesus had other goals in mind by letting the children come to Him, other than blessing them? What might they be?

Jesus is giving us an important clue as how we are to enter the kingdom. What must we rid ourselves of in our journey towards the kingdom?

How do we become selfless and humble, like a child? How do we become powerless?

What are we to learn from this incident?

How can we begin to make sure that the naïve innocence of our children doesn’t get lost in their relationship with Christ?

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