Abundance or Scarcity?

Stewardship Sunday
1 Peter 1:3-9

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, 30 seconds, that’s it, that’s all it is, 30 seconds. As many of you are aware, later today will be the much anticipated 2018 Super Bowl. And yes, many of us are disappointed, because the Vikings are not playing in it. But did you know how much one 30 second, just 30 second, television advertisement during the Super Bowl costs? The estimates are over $5 million. That’s crazy! But even crazier, is the fact that people, companies will pay it! Who could afford such costs? Who would you say is the richest American who has ever lived? You might think it would be Jeff Bezos who has surpassed Bill Gates with a fortune of around 115 Billion dollars from the company Amazon which he apparently began in his garage in the 90s, but it’s not him. Actually, the richest American ever was J.D. Rockefeller. He lived in the 2nd half of the 1800s through the first part of the 1900s and founded the Standard Oil Company right when cars and gasoline and oil were beginning to be needed. In todays dollars his fortune totaled somewhere between 300-400 billion dollars. One day he was asked, “How much money is enough?” And you know what he responded? “Just a little bit more.”

“Just a little bit more.” Does that describe your life? Whether you have hundreds of billions of dollars or a little less than that, doesn’t it always feel like we just need a little bit more? There aren’t enough hours in a day, there’s not enough time to finish projects at work, there’s not enough energy to finish the projects at home, not enough money to get what we want, not enough friendships, we’re just a little short. That’s really our human condition isn’t it? That we’re never really satisfied, never quite have enough, we need “just a little bit more.”

There just isn’t quite enough. And perhaps the word that describes that is “scarcity.” We go through life with a kind of scarcity mentality. If I just had a little more time, just a little more energy, just a little more sleep, just a few more friends, but I’m short. Scarcity.

But here’s the problem: it’s a lie. And here’s why, Because if I don’t have enough, that can only mean one thing: that God hasn’t given me enough. And that’s a lie that Satan’s been using since the very beginning. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden had absolutely everything, they had a perfect relationship with God, perfect relationship with each other, the whole earth to rule, but then the devil came and convinced them that they didn’t have enough. “if we just had that fruit, God hasn’t quite given me enough, I need something more, I need something different.” That’s where scarcity began. And what happens next? Exactly what happened in the Garden of Eden: God begins to seem like he demands more than he gives. “Did God really say you must not eat from ANY tree in the garden?” How unreasonable! How awful!

But here’s what happens when we fall into this scarcity mentality: it hurts to give. Generosity is painful. Giving has lost its joy. Here’s a test to see if you’re living in this scarcity lie: How hard is it to give your money away? If it’s difficult and painful- you’ve bought into the scarcity lie. I just need a little bit more.

But that’s not the mindset God wants us to have. He wants to free us from the lie, free us from this attitude that feels that we’re always short. The first thing he does is takes us to a farmer. “Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” Think of a farmer or a gardener: If you don’t sow seeds, you won’t reap. The farmer has to give to receive. In fact, the more seeds he gives up and the more plants he puts in the ground, the greater his harvest will be. That takes trust doesn’t it? God says that He who gives, receives, and whoever sows generously, reaps generously.

How can you trust God like that? How can you trust God to give generously? Can you count on him? Listen to this: “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” Did you hear that? While the devil wants to fill us with this mindset that says, “Just a little bit more, then I’ll be happy.” What does God do? He says, “all.” “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” God is not a God of “just little bit more” but of “all.” God is a God of abundance, not scarcity.

Where does it all start? It starts with this: “God is able to bless you abundantly.” What is this blessing, this grace? Grace is God’s incredible undeserved love for us in Jesus. It’s like this abounding and overflowing love “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). How do we move past this “I need a little bit more” mindset? It’s the grace of God. You have it all! “You will be enriched in every way.” Not long before this section we are told: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Whoever thinks they don’t have enough in life is missing the big picture. Jesus died for you, Jesus has forgiven you, Jesus saved you, Jesus loves you, you are rich- right now!

Being rich isn’t about how much money or time or power you have. It’s found in what you have in God. You might not have a fraction of what Jeff Bezos has, you may never have enough money to by 30 seconds during the Super Bowl, but what do you have? You have God’s peace. You have infinite worth that is not found in how much money you have, but in Jesus’ precious blood shed for you on the cross. You have a freedom that all the money in the world couldn’t buy, you have the freedom of knowing that every single sin you’ve ever committed is forgiven. You’re not short, you have what you need most in all eternity- the overflowing, abundant grace and love of God!

I want to leave you with two practical thoughts. The first is: God blesses us so that we can be a blessing to others and the second is: Live with an attitude of abundance. But first, God’s blessings are not to end with us, notice what God says, “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.” God blesses us with everything that we need for a purpose. He doesn’t want our blessings to come to stop with us. God’s given each of us an amazing purpose in life: you exist to be a blessing for others. God’s abundance flows through us to others!

Think of it like seed money. Seed money is used to start something bigger. The financial company Thrivent gives its members a $250 gift card for seed money in order to do an event to help in the community, you put seed money in your child’s college investments in the hope that it grows. God’s blessings are like that. The money, the time, the possessions, the talents, God gives us are like seed money to sow generously. He gives us blessings to plant them so that they grow and flourish and spread and bless more people with God’s abundance. So how much should I give? What are told? “God loves a cheerful giver.” Giving to others comes from the heart. It reflects your faith. Nowhere will God tell you and me how much we are to give. Rather, God simply leaves that up to you and me. But ask yourself, “What kind of God do I have? Do I have a God of abundance or a God of scarcity? Do I have a God who gives me a little or who gives me all?”

And the second thing is an attitude: Live with this attitude of abundance. It’s so easy to fall into this mindset of not having enough, of being short, but notice what God says! “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” Whenever scarcity creeps in tell yourself: “God is able, God is able, all, all, all, I am rich, rich in what really matters for all eternity!” God has given you the exact right amount of time to serve him. God has given you exactly the right amount of money to serve him. God has given you exactly the right talents to serve him. Don’t have an attitude of scarcity, but of abundance.

God is able. Though He was rich for your sakes he became poor so that you through His poverty might be rich. Being joyfully generous is our response to the abundant grace of God! Amen.

Called to Serve the Lord

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3rd Sunday after Epiphany
Acts 13:1-5

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, when I was going to school I had a full time job during the summer and I was often in a truck driving and as you know, your music interests have a way of changing over time and at this time I was really interested in classic rock. So in southeastern Wisconsin there was a station that I listened to almost all the time, well they had this tradition that on Friday evenings at 5 pm and I’d often still be working and driving somewhere in my truck, but they always played the song by the Kings called “Switchin’ to Glide” that has this phrase in it, “Nothing matters but the weekend.” And I’m sure that they played that song because at 5 pm most people were getting off of work for the weekend and “switchin’ to glide.” But if you think about it, there’s actually quite a few songs that talk about getting done with work, isn’t there? “Working for the weekend” “Hard working man” “It’s five o’clock somewhere” “forty-hour week.” And the list could go on. There seems to be a theme for many people in America that work is a necessary evil in our world that you have to put up with in order to make money so that you can do the things that you really want to do anyway. And then finally someday, hopefully, you can retire so that you can live the way that you always wanted to live. It seems that many people “live for the weekend.”

But how does God want us to view our vocations in life? How does God want us to think about the callings that we have in life? How does God want us to view the work that we do as employers or employees, as husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, students, etc? God has some glorious good news for us to shape the way we view working and the way we view serving Him with our lives.

In our text this morning we’re focusing on one aspect of work. In fact, we’re focusing on the work that God calls certain people with certain gifts to do. We’re told here about a certain church in Antioch. Antioch was located way to the north of Israel in Syria. And this church in Antioch in a way became a hub for missionary activity. They sent off missionaries to share the gospel in places where they couldn’t all go. And this is the first time that we see that happen.

In this church, this congregation, we have all kinds of different people, some of them are mentioned here by name: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. This is just a sample list of the Christians at this congregation, but notice something, they’re all different. Saul had been a ruthless persecutor of the church, Manaen had been brought up with Herod- this is the same evil Herod who ended up murdering John the Baptist, there’s Lucius and all we know is that he’s from Cyrene, which is a city in the territory west of Egypt. What brought all these people together? What did all these people from different backgrounds have in common? They had a shared faith in Jesus, they were children of God, heirs together of eternal life.

The same is true today of every congregation of believers. People with widely different talents, interests, backgrounds, but God brings them together through faith to work together for the common good of sharing the gospel with more people that more people may come to know their Savior.

But while they were worshipping and fasting, the Holy Spirit, probably through one of them who was a prophet, said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  So, they placed their hands on Barnabas and Saul and sent them off to do work in another place.

Many of you are well aware that at this time I have 3 calls to serve in different places in God’s kingdom. I have a call to continue to serve the Lord here in Bemidji at St. Mark’s, I also have a call to consider serving the Lord at St. Luke’s in Oakfield, WI, and I have a call to consider serving the Lord at Good Shepherd in Cheyenne, WY. In each case, the Holy Spirit was involved, just like he was here in our text, to work through God’s people to give me these calls and to consider serving Jesus in each of these places. It’s a call from God through His people and He allows me to decide where I can best serve using my gifts at this time. In Acts, God, the Holy Spirit, through His people called Paul and Barnabas to proclaim the Word of God in other places.

But the truth is, we all have callings in this life, we all have different vocations. God has given each of us different talents and abilities that we get to use to God’s glory and for the benefit of people. One of those callings is being a called servant of God in the public ministry. I love being a pastor. The Lord has so given me the talents, abilities, and desire to be a pastor. I love teaching, preaching, administering the sacraments as a called servant in your name and on your behalf. I love the fact that studying God’s Word and sharing it with others is my full time job. It’s a humbling and awesome thing. So, I would say to any young man, if the Lord has so constructed you, and you have a desire to serve as a pastor, seriously consider it – I couldn’t dream of doing anything else. Mr. Bitter and Mrs. Holderbecker also have the talents, abilities, and desire to serve in the public teaching ministry, they get to share God’s Word to all the students in our school. So, I would say, if you have those talents and interests consider being a called servant in the teaching ministry.

But as awesome and rewarding as the called public ministry is, it’s not the only way you can serve the Lord. The truth is, each one of you is in the full-time ministry of the Lord and whatever your calling is at this time in your life it’s not any less pleasing to God than those who are pastors and teachers. In whatever calling or situation you are in, you are serving the Lord. Martin Luther once put it this way, “The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays – not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”

While serving the Lord in the public ministry is incredible, it’s not for everyone and that’s fine! In fact, that’s a good thing. God doesn’t want every person to be a pastor or every person to be a teacher, God doesn’t want every person to be an architect or a carpenter or a custodian. God has given to people different gifts, different interests, different ambitions, different passions -that’s a good thing!

But in each of our unique situations we have a general call from God. If you have a job, you are called by God to be a faithful worker, a faithful employee, to faithfully use the gifts, abilities, talents, skills that God has given to you for His glory and for the good of other people. If you’re a parent, you have a calling from God to be a father or a mother. If you are married, you have a calling to be a faithful husband or wife. If you are friend, you have a calling to be a faithful friend. If you have siblings, you’re to be a faithful sibling. If a leader in the church, to be a faithful leader. The Christian doctor who carefully does a surgery glorifies God because he performs a good surgery, not because he leaves a tract about his church. A mother serves the Lord as she changes her child’s dirty diaper. A cook serves the Lord by making good food.

Many in our world are “working for the weekend,” just waiting to do what they really want to do. But as Christians, that’s not us. Do we find fulfillment in the station or calling in life where we are? Your job, whatever it may be, is an opportunity to serve God as you faithfully do your job. There’s a story about someone who lived in the 2nd Century after Jesus’ earthly ministry and he talks about how the plows made by Joseph and Jesus in the carpenter’s shop were still in use, that would have been well over 100 years. Those must have been very well-made plows. Whatever calling you have, whatever job you have, whatever station in life you are in, serve the Lord in it by doing it to the best of your ability and know that God is pleased with your service to him.

Why so? Because that same Jesus faithfully did every job that he was called to do. He faithfully and perfectly served God in everything, he faithfully and perfectly served God by doing everything that God expected of us, and he faithfully and perfectly completed His calling of dying on the cross to pay for all of your imperfections, all your sins, all your failings. Jesus’ blood so fully covers us that it cleanses all that we do. So that means you are a full-time minister of God. In all you do, work at it as if you were doing it for Jesus, serve others, and know that Jesus is well-pleased with your service done for His glory, no matter what job, occupation, or calling you have. Amen.

Seeking Self or Seeking Service?

11th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 10:25-37

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,

He never took his eye off of it, his only movement was down toward it.  So an eyewitness said.  25 year old Petty officer 2nd class Navy Seal Michael Monsoor or “Mikey,” as they called him, was described by his fellow SEALs as being a fun-loving guy, always having something funny to say, a loyal friend, a quiet and dedicated professional, who derived his strength from his family and his faith.  But on September 29, 2006 he and 3 other SEALs were on a rooftop structure in Iraq.  He was the only one standing close to the only doorway and hence the only one of the four soldiers in the room with the opportunity to escape when an Iraqi insurgent launched a grenade into the room; it hit his chest and landed in a place where it likely would have killed all of them and the eyewitness said, “He never took his eye off of the grenade, his only movement was down toward it.”  The soldier fell on the grenade and died, but his actions didn’t stem from a lack of training, his instant reaction was to protect lives of his fellow comrades.

What would you have done?  What would I have done?  Thankfully, most of us probably won’t have to face such a decision to lay our lives down in order to protect someone else.  Michael Monsoor wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last soldier to demonstrate such a life-giving, self-less act of heroism for someone else.  But every day you and I are presented with opportunities where we have to make the decision or choice to either be self-centered with our actions to other people or empathetic and serving with our actions to other people.

And Jesus presents this struggle for us in the form of a parable.  An expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.  The word in Greek for this “expert in the law” is nomikos.  Nomos is the word for law.  In other words, this man was a religious official who spent a lot of time studying God’s Word and if you had a question about what to do or what was the right course of action to take, he would be the one you would consult.  Well, he asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life.”  Already we can see that although this man knew the OT backwards and forwards he’d missed the point and assumed eternal life was something he could do something in order to get.  So Jesus responded, “What is written in the law (the nomos)?  How do you read it?”  In other words, you’re the expert in the law, what does the law say?  And the man gives an excellent summary of God’s holy law for all people of all time: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.  And what did Jesus reply?  “You have answered correctly.  Do this and you will live.”  So, if you’re relying on doing something in order to be saved then do the law perfectly 100% of the time.  If you really loved God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, then would you ever sin?  Well, no.  But the problem is we can’t do it.  But the expert of the law, quite likely feeling a bit embarrassed that his question was quite easily answered by himself, nonetheless, wanted to justify himself and said essentially that we need to define our terms here: “Who exactly is my neighbor?”  Surely the law doesn’t mean everyone, I need to know exactly who I need to be nice to and who it doesn’t matter.

So, Jesus told him this parable.  A man, quite likely a Jewish person was headed from Jerusalem down to the city of Jericho.  The city of Jerusalem was located on top of a mountain in Israel some 2,500 ft above sea level.  Jericho, on the other hand, located about 17 miles from Jerusalem was located close to the Jordan River at about 800 ft below sea level.  Not only was this road known for its steep decline, it’s rocks, crags, and caves, it was also known for the presence of roadside robbers and thieves.  Perhaps it’d be like you or me driving our car late at night in some parts of the inner city of St. Paul or Minneapolis.  There are simply places you just don’t want to be that are overrun with gangs and crime.  While he’s on his way, sure enough he’s mobbed by some robbers, stripped of his things, beaten and left half dead on the side of the road.  It just so happened that a Priest and a Levite happened to be walking down that same road and saw the man lying half-dead on the side of the road.  Of all people they were the ones who certainly would have known God’s law and known the law to love your neighbor as yourself.  What might they have rationalized?  “Well, this man isn’t a relative, he isn’t a close friend, he isn’t someone whom I owe a favor, so he doesn’t deserve my help.”  And they both walked by on the other side of the road.

But then, low and behold, a Samaritan comes by, he went to him, saw him, had compassion on him.  Now, remember Jews and Samaritans hated each other.  Samaritans were Jews who had intermarried with foreign people.  They didn’t get along.  Perhaps in our day it would be something like a Middle-Eastern ISIS terrorist sympathizer seeing a middle-class American lying half-dead by the side of the road and stopping to help out.  Well, this Samaritan not only stops to help, but gives him first aid bandaging his wounds, probably with strips of his own clothes, pours his own oil on him as a soothing lotion, uses his own wine as an antiseptic, puts him on his own donkey, uses his own time to take him to an inn to take care of him, spends his own money – 2 silver coins which were 2 days wages, so in our day, like $200? – and even promises to reimburse the inn-keeper for any extra cost!

The point of Jesus’ parable?  To the man who thought he was doing all the right things in order to earn his way to God, Jesus shows that he’s not even asking the right question.  The question is not so much “Who is my neighbor?”  But, “Who can I be a neighbor to?”  “Who can I serve?”  “Who can I help?”

How much does self-centeredness crowd out empathy and service in our hearts?  How much does it affect the way we treat others?  Think about what rationalizations could have been made by the Priest and the Levite, ones the expert in the law likely had made himself: “I might put myself in danger if I linger around here to help, what if the robbers are still lying in wait, they might get me too, what has this guy ever done for me that I should take care of him?  If I stop, I might miss an appointment.  If I stop, I might not be able to get home in time to get in a little fishing on the Jordan River.  He probably wouldn’t return the favor if I were in his shoes.  It’s too inconvenient for me to stop and help, someone else can do it.  I’ll help out the next person in trouble.”  Did you notice the pronouns in all of those things?  “I” “Me” “My”  How much do those pronouns affect our thought processes or our decisions and our choices when we come across someone, anyone who needs our help?  Be it our spouse, be it our family member, be it our coworker, be it a customer, be it the disabled person we meet in the store, be it whomever?  How much does “I” or “me” get in the way of service?  How much does my money, my time, my stuff, my hard work, my hobby affect my thoughts and decisions or lead me to ask, “Who really is my neighbor?” Instead of searching “Who in my life can I be a neighbor to?”

Jesus’ words to this expert in the law are chilling to us too, aren’t they?  “Do this and you will live.”  Be the perfect neighbor, loving God at all times with all your heart and perfectly loving others by putting their interests and needs above your own.  Do that and you will live.  Go and do likewise.  That’s what each of needs to hear if we think we can stand before God like this expert in the law and say, “You know, I’m not that bad of a person, I’m pretty good, I’ve done mostly good stuff in my life, I go to church, God will definitely let me into heaven.”  We can’t say that, because each of us has miserably failed, we haven’t been the neighbor God has called us to be, And so, each of us deserves to be squished by God like an annoying fly.

For those who’ve failed, for those who’ve been self-centered, for those who’ve failed time and again to love your neighbor as yourself, for all sinners, came the one who did, “Go and do likewise.”  Jesus came to do exactly what God demanded.  Jesus came not only to live perfectly loving God above all else and loving others as Himself, but also to lay His life down as the sacrifice for every time we’ve failed to be that good neighbor, that Good Samaritan to others.  Jesus paid the price for your sins on the cross, served you in the best possible way, and because of what Jesus has done for you, you are a king and a queen of God’s kingdom, an heir of eternal life, a member of God’s own family.  And if God was done with us at that point, if as soon as God brought you or me to faith in Jesus as our Savior he was done with us, then we’d already be dead.  But we’re not.  We’re still here.  That means God has a purpose for our lives.  It’s a purpose not to serve ourselves, tire ourselves out in getting what we think is best for us.  Rather, God has re-created us through faith to find more joy, more pleasure, more satisfaction in life in making other people feel better than taking for ourselves what we think will build up our ego and make us feel better.

There’s an important point to remember and it goes something like this: God doesn’t do for you and me things he has enabled us to do for ourselves.  God also doesn’t do for other people what he’s put you and me there to do.  And God doesn’t let you do what he has sent other people to do for you.  God doesn’t treat us like little spoiled kids saying, “Give me more!”  Rather, God delights in, loves making us His partners by working through you and me to help others.  God continually, day after day, places before us people whom He has given us the opportunity to be His face to, His partner to help and serve.  And it’s in service to others where real satisfaction is found.  You can spend all day long looking out for number one, trying to serve yourself, to get ahead in life or, you can spend yourself in service to others.  But here’s the truth, at the end of the day, the most self-centeredness can get you is a moment’s pleasure and more problems and no rest.  But spend yourself in service to others and you might be tired but in it there’s huge satisfaction and great rest.  Try it.

We live in a hurting world racked by sin and its consequences.  You don’t have to look very far to see someone in need.  Instead of asking whether or not someone falls into the category of being my neighbor whom I should help or not, rather God wants us to ask ourselves every day, “Who is it today that I can be a neighbor to?  Who is it in my life that I can serve and assist?  Who has God enabled me to serve?”  Think about how that would change the way you viewed your family.  To see them and look for how you can help your wife, your husband, your child, your parents.  Think about how that would change the way you viewed coworkers and customers at work.  To see them and ask, “How can I be a neighbor to them?  How can I help them?”

Most likely none of us will have to fall on a grenade for someone else.  But each of us has the capacity to turn fro self-centeredness and be a neighbor to those around us, to lift up the lives of those around us.  And it’s in that that real satisfaction in life is found, knowing that in my service to those around me I’m really serving my Lord and Savior, no longer seeking self, but rather seeking to serve.  Amen.

Sufficiently Saved, Satisfied, and Secure to Serve!

3rd Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 12:3-16

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,

Living in a house with young children I see it all the time.  There’s one room in the parsonage where we try to keep most of our children’s toys.  There’s a healthy amount of toys in that room: toy tractors, army men, dolls, stuffed animals, play kitchen stuff, trains, barbies, etc.  And yet, even with such a variety of toys we have a recurring problem.  Leave two children in there to play and at some point, at some time there will be screams, sometimes hitting, and always a flood of tears, screaming and crying.  Why?  Because one toy out of all the toys in that room has suddenly become exalted to the position of being THE most important toy in all the world!  And neither child is about to give in and give up the chance to play with THE most important toy in all the world.  Neither child is ready to miss out on the supposed happiness of playing with THE most important toy in all the world.  So what’s going on?  It’s one of those things that I never had to teach my children: how to be selfish.

And we might smile and shake our heads at blatant selfishness, but the reality is that it lives inside of each and every human being.  It’s something that even complete unbelievers recognize.  You will hear things especially among people who have succumbed to the lie of evolution talk about people and animals and they will refer to something called “the survival of the fittest.”  And, in short, what that refers to is that in an evolutionary model it’s only those who are the fittest and the strongest who end up surviving.  The weak and vulnerable will die off.  It’s simply the means of developing or evolving into greater and more capable species.  Now, there’s all kinds of things wrong with that that we could pick apart and not least of which it would be saying that death is an essential component of life.  But, in a way there’s a point.  Those who have come up with this “survival of the fittest” have simply observed life in this fallen and sinful world in which we live.

Human sin has affected humans and all of creation.  Think back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Everything was right, everything was great, they enjoyed a perfect relationship with each other, they enjoyed a perfect relationship with God.  They would have perfectly and completely unselfishly cared about each other – even more than themselves.  But then it happened.  The devil made the forbidden fruit alluring.  And Adam and Eve purposefully chose to take care of themselves over listening to and obeying God.  Make sense?  God had wonderfully and graciously given them everything they ever could have possibly needed or wanted and then they turned the very means God established to give him honor and thanks with loving service by refusing to eat that forbidden fruit, into a means to selfishly take care of themselves.  And ever since that point human beings have been plagued with sin and particularly this sin called selfishness.  Adam and Eve shattered that perfect trust in God.  And ever since then every human being has been born into this world with a gaping hole that needs to be filled and can only be filled by God alone.  People long for what was lost in the Garden of Eden.  People are longing for security, people are longing for protection, people are longing for significance and love.  And without God we think we need to satisfy these longings on our own.  And to the extent that we think we need to satisfy all our longings on our own we’re inherently selfish.  And so what evolutionists label as the “survival of the fittest” is simply an observation of this world now corrupted with the sin of selfishness.  I long for MY needs to be filled and as long as my needs are left unfulfilled I don’t care about you and your needs, in fact, I will use you or abuse you as much as possible to fulfill what I need.  And the results?  A world full of broken relationships, a world full of hurts, a world full anger, a world full of abuse, death and killing.  In its very crass form selfishness turns life into a competition where everyone is trying desperately to get ahead and win but in the end no one wins and all that is left is a world full of hurt and disaster.

And that’s where it all begins.  As long as my needs are left unmet or as long as I think my needs are left unmet I will be continually plagued by the sin of selfishness.  At the very core of selfishness is a fear, a fear that if I don’t look after my needs, no one else will.  When I think that I’m the only one who’s going to look after me, selfishness, self-centeredness, self-absorption, self-service invades my life.

A blatant example of this selfishness is in this text.  King Solomon was great King David’s son and had started out his ruling right.  He offered sacrifices to God and God came to him and told him to ask from him whatever he wanted.  Solomon responded not for riches, fame, and honor, but unselfishly asked for wisdom to rule God’s people.  God granted that request and gave him even more.  Solomon lived in grandeur, built an awesome temple for God, built a royal palace, lived in luxury, but then he also abandoned that wisdom.  He married many women and then turned his heart after false gods and idols.  It got so bad that God determined to rip 10 of the tribes away from his family and give them to someone else.  So, after Solomon died, his son Rehoboam took over.  But the northern tribes of Israel weren’t totally on board.  Rehoboam went up there and they asked for relief from the heavy taxes and harsh labor that Solomon’s grandeur demanded.  And we can already tell where Rehoboam’s heart is when he asks for 3 days to think it over.  He doesn’t really want to grant that request but he’s got to weigh his options.  So he asks the elders, the wise and experience leaders who worked with his father, and they responded, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.”  But Rehoboam rejected their advice and listened to his peers who told him to tell them, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist.  My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier.  My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.” He’s not about to serve, he’d much rather be served. And what happened?  The northern 10 tribes, the majority of the land of Israel essentially said, ‘Forget you!  We don’t need you!  We’ll be on our own!’  And Rehoboam lost well over ¾ of the kingdom.

Wow!  We look at that and think, “How could you be so foolish?  So dumb?  How could he be so blind?”  Well, the truth is, that’s exactly what selfishness does, it blinds.  Getting his needs, his wants, his goals, his significance in life was more important to him than anyone else.  And the same is true for us.  The more needy I feel that I am, the more concerned about myself I become.  Think about it this way.  If I’m $15,000 in debt and I am selling my car to you how concerned do you think I will be that you get a good deal?  I will probably be more concerned that I get the very highest price possible, regardless of whether or not my car is worth that much.  But, on the other hand, if I’ve got plenty of money, actually more than I need, then there is a better chance that I won’t be so concerned about getting more for my car than its worth from you.  The difference is based on how needy I am and it affects the way that I deal with you.

So much of our lives are so influenced by selfishness that we probably don’t even realize how much.  Each of us tends to be motivated primarily by our own personal needs.  We can see it in how easily we become annoyed or bugged or irratiated by other people.  Perhaps we even begin to justify selfishness by saying things like: I’ve worked hard for this, I need time for myself, I deserve this.  And it can even come in even more subtle ways, it affects the way we act towards others.  We’re often nice to others so they will be nice to us.  We try to please others so they will like us and we will feel good about ourselves.  We work hard so that we can feel we did something important, so we can meet our needs, feel significant, etc.  Selfishness can so infiltrate our lives that we don’t even realize to what extent.  That’s why God can tell us in Isaiah that even our righteous acts are like filthy rags.  Even the best things we do are likely still corrupted with selfish intentions and motivations!

So what do we do?  How can we become unselfish?  How can we be selfless?  The truth is we can’t.  The truth is: we can’t.  Why?  Because the more we try to become unselfish the more selfish we actually become.  Because in trying to be unselfish we are still trying to meet our own need of being worthwhile or approved or favorable in God’s eyes!

So what can we do?  All we can do is despair of ourselves and say with the apostle Paul, “What a wretched man I am!  Who will save me from this body of death?”  There is only one that can rescue us from the sin of selfishness.  Since we can’t control the future we can’t guarantee that we will always have those basic needs of security, protection, significance, and love.  That is, unless we know and trust in the One who does control the future.

Freedom from selfishness comes when we know and trust in our God who has and always will meet all our needs for security, protection, significance, and love.  And He has in Christ!  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  Because of Christ God looks at you and me no longer as sinful, selfish people.  He sees us as what He has made us through the sacrifice of His own Son.  Not only did Jesus bleed on the cross to wipe away every selfish act and every selfish motivation and intention that hoards our hearts, on that cross God exchanged our sinful selfishness for perfect selflessness.  Since Jesus’ entire life was one of perfect selflessness and since God has transferred Jesus’ perfect life to you, He sees you like He sees Jesus.  That means we can see ourselves not as self-centered, self-absorbed or self-serving people, but as redeemed children of God.  We can live not to be served, but to serve others.  We already have all that we need, we don’t need to prove anything to anyone, there’s nothing more we need for time and eternity.

God’s saved you from selfishness, He’s satisfied you by giving you the significance of being a son or daughter of the ruler of the universe, and He’s made you secure promising to supply all your needs, promising you His all-encompassing protection, and making you an heir of eternal life!

And it’s knowing that in Christ you already have all you need: significance, protection, security, and love, that you are released from selfishness and released to serve.  And as we get to know God better we realize more and more how God has satisfied all our needs and we gain more confidence in who we are in Christ.  And God opens our hearts to love others unconditionally as God has loved us unconditionally.  God opens our hearts to see how we’ve been selflessly served by our Savior and we can selflessly serve other putting their needs before our own.  You see, God opens our hearts to see that we’re sufficiently satisfied by our Savior and in need of nothing so we can give all that we have and are in service to God by serving those he puts in our lives.  Amen.

What is true greatness?

4th Sunday in Lent
Matthew 20:17-28

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, friends in Christ,

What does it mean to be “great”?  Who do you consider in life to be “great”?  What is it that makes someone “great”?  Do you want to be considered “great”?  People want to be considered “great” in this world.  I think it is safe to say that no one sets out to live his or her life with the goal of being the most lowsy and good-for-nothing person who’s ever lived, am I right?  People want to be great and that greatness can take on many different definitions or descriptions.

To some greatness is being able to accumulate a great amount of wealth and possessions.  To some being great is to rise to a high position in the business world with a lot of influence and responsibility.  To some being great is found in achieving notoriety and rising to a position of power in the government.  To some being great is found in being popular, having lots of friends who will do anything for you, having a great name, doing something profound and dignified.  But finally, what many if not most feel is great is when you achieve a position of being able to give orders to other people or be listened to by others or to be sought after for advice and instruction.  Many even feel that being a great friend means that since you were there for many people in the past that they’ll be there for you when you need them to do things for you.  That would be greatness.

And it was this idea of greatness that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and their mother also were looking for.  They had been with Jesus for about 3 years, they were part of Jesus’ “inner 3” disciples, they had stuck close to His side.  They wanted Jesus to give them the seats on the right and left of his throne, positions of power and honor and control.  In those days if you were a powerful person and you really wanted to honor someone, you would put a chair next to your seat and that person who sat next to you would be able to exercise great authority and power, in other words would be your right hand man.  In America if you are part of the Presidential cabinet that means you are one of the President’s right hand men, you have power derived from the President, when you speak people better listen and obey.

And that’s the way that it works in this world.  But that’s not the way that it works in God’s kingdom.   To be in such a position of power that you can give orders to other people and they must obey means that you have that power or “greatness” at the expense of other people.  If you want to be the ruler you necessarily are in a position of telling other people what they should do.  So, other people become less or small so that you can look great.

And how did the other disciples feel about this?  They were indignant.  They were angry.  They were furious.  “Who do they think they are?  Do they think they’re better than us?  Why didn’t we think of asking Jesus that question first?”  They, too, wanted positions of power and influence in Jesus’ kingdom.

So what did Jesus say?  “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  This whole business of positions, or titles, of places of honor, of power, that’s how it works in this world, but not so with you, not so in God’s world, in His kingdom, in what matters before God.

Twice in this text before us Jesus called himself the “Son of Man.”  When Jesus used that phrase to refer to himself he was referring to an OT prophecy about the Messiah from the book of Daniel where it says, “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven…He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).

Jesus is greatest ruler of all.  He is the king who rules the entire earth.  He has all authority, His kingdom has no end, He has all sovereign power and glory and might.  But what did Jesus, this Son of Man, with all glory and power, just get done telling the disciples?  That he was going to Jerusalem to be betrayed, condemned, mocked, flogged, and crucified!  Jesus knew it, Jesus was headed to Jerusalem to face it.  And all those things are not what we would call “great” we’d call them “humiliating” or “degrading.”  We don’t think of someone being placed on death row or sentenced to lethal injection as being “great”!

But the fact is, all those things are exactly what makes Jesus so great.  Sure we praise Jesus for being great because he made this world, because of his wisdom in forming everything, because of how it shows his divine glory and power.  But if that’s all we knew about Jesus, if Jesus hadn’t been beaten and mocked and put to death, there’s no way that we could praise him from our hearts or out of love.  For if Jesus hadn’t done what he did on the cross then we’d have no reason but to think of God as the high and holy judge who will give us what our sins deserve, give us what all our selfish ambitions in life to get ahead deserve, give us what all our stepping on others to get ahead deserves, hell, eternally.

But this is exactly why we praise Jesus with our lives.  Not so much because of his power and glory, but for being punished and no so much just because he was punished but why he was punished.  He was beaten, mocked, spit on, crucified…for us!  He came to give his life as a ransom for many!  To rescue you!  To save you from eternal death and punishment for eternal life and glory!  And that’s what makes Him so great!

Jesus paid the price that you and I could not pay.  His payment set us free from sin and selfishness.  What Jesus did lays the foundation for how we live with other people as members of His kingdom.  You see, greatness isn’t found in titles or positions of honor or power.  True greatness is found in service to God and to our fellow human beings.

The mere fact that you are a father doesn’t make you a great father.  The mere fact that when you fill out your taxes and you can claim dependents doesn’t make you a great father.  Position doesn’t mean greatness.  Rather, what makes a great father is a father who sets aside his own interests in order to SERVE his family- not just providing for them physically, but spending time with them, listening to them, talking with them, doing things with them, leading them to God’s Word.  The mere fact of being a mother doesn’t make a great mother.  A mother having a child and being waited on at the hospital doesn’t make someone a great mother.  Rather true greatness is found in her loving service to her children, as she gets up in the middle of the night to feed the baby or does the other unpleasant things of being a mother.

The fact that you stood before God’s altar and committed yourself to being a husband to one woman for the rest of your life doesn’t make you a great husband.  A great husband isn’t one who just wears that title, but one who serves his wife, who loves her, who does things for her, who talks with her, who cancels the bowling trip with the buddies to take his wife out for dinner, those things make a great husband.  Similarly, the fact that you professed a lifelong commitment to one man doesn’t make you a great wife.  A great wife is found in loving service to her husband, who helps her husband, who supports him with words and actions as he leads for the good of the family.

The fact that you’re a student doesn’t make you a great student, or an employee doesn’t make you a great employee, it is how you serve others.  The fact that you are friend doesn’t make you a great friend.  What makes you a great friend to someone is when you put their interests ahead of your own, when you serve your friends, when you do things for them.

The only reason we know true greatness is because we have the greatest friend.  Our Lord Jesus became truly great by suffering for us and serving us in the greatest possible way.  So as His people our greatness isn’t found in being served by others, but serving others selflessly.  May Jesus empower each of us to be truly great like that!  Amen.

Live Life Purely!

6th Sunday after Epiphany
Matthew 5:21-37

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,  What I have here is the employee handbook that I received for the part-time job that I had while I was at the Seminary studying to be a pastor.  Why I still have it, I’m not sure.  But this handbook details in 24 pages all of the dos and don’ts and policies that employees of this company must follow.  It has all kinds of rules in it: pre-employment policies, in-service meetings, training, substance abuse, personal phone calls, rest and meal breaks, performance reviews, dress and appearance, use of company vehicles, etc.  Then there’s even a separate list of 27 work rules including things like: failing to begin work promptly, no illegal drugs, alcohol, or firearms, falsifying time cards, theft of work property, sleeping on the job, spreading malicious gossip and rumors, even using profane or abusive language while on duty.  And I’m pretty sure that I had to sign some sort of document saying that I agree and will abide by these rules set up by the company.  Perhaps your work place has a similar handbook.

Now, even if there are things in here that I think are rather silly or ridiculous, I, as an employee, had no right to change them or to choose to disobey.  If I did, the company had every right to lay me off or fire me.  And over the course of about 4 years working at the company I saw plenty of people who were “let go.”  Such standards or requirements are part and parcel of our society.  Not only companies have set standards by which they follow, but also the government.  There are cleanliness and health standards that every food service company is required to abide by.  There are tax requirements, conduct requirements, the list could go on, and typically for every infraction of a standard there is a corresponding consequence.  We might not like them, but if we choose to disobey them, we can expect the consequences.

Well, ought not God have expectations for the creatures whom He created, who belong to Him?  He does and they are the highest of expectations.  In fact, we get a sampling in Jesus’ sermon on the mount.  Unfortunately, however, humans at Jesus day’ and even humans today have taken God’s laws and twisted them to mean something that God didn’t mean.

Our text begins with Jesus addressing the 5th commandment.  Some, however, took the 5th commandment and thought, “Well, as long as I don’t actually murder someone, I’m keeping the 5th commandment.”  What Jesus tells us here is that you can actually “murder” someone in your heart or with your words.  Holding a grudge or insulting someone or calling someone a name or anger or hate or bitterness all stem from the same poisonous root as murder.  And what does Jesus say?  “Anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”  If I mock someone or insult someone with my words or even in my thoughts, I put myself on the fast track to hell.

Jesus goes on about someone going to worship and realizing someone has something against him and first going to be reconciled with that person.  What Jesus is teaching us here is that we cannot pretend that our horizontal relationships with other people have no bearing on our vertical relationship with our God.  If we have a broken horizontal relationship with another person, that can damage our vertical relationship with God.  Likewise having a vertical relationship with God must affect our horizontal relationships with others.  If I refuse to seek to be reconciled with someone (whether or not the other person is willing) or if I refuse to forgive someone who’s sinned against me from my heart, then there must be a major issue between me and God.  Having a good relationship with God necessitates me wanting good relationships (at least on my part) with other people.

Jesus goes on.  The thought of the day was that as long as you don’t actually go and sleep with someone who is not your spouse, you haven’t committed adultery.  And that thought is very much alive today.  I’ve actually had married people tell me, “It’s ok to look, just don’t touch.”  What does Jesus say?  If you so as much as look at another person (man or a woman) with impure thoughts or lustful thoughts, you put yourself in the danger of being thrown into hell!  A person can commit a terrible, damnable sin without actually doing anything, just inside the heart.  Then Jesus addresses divorce.  In fact, God hates all divorce.  Why?  Because no matter what there’s sin involved.  A man may in essence divorce his wife without realizing he is doing it by simply having an affair or committing adultery and thereby breaking the marriage bond.

And in the last part of our text Jesus addresses how we use words.  The thought at the time was that some oaths were more “weightier” than others, as if what we say in one place or the words we use carries more weight in one context than in another.  Jesus scraps that whole thought and simply points out that we shouldn’t use any of our words carelessly.  The tendency to use words carelessly, to break promises, to mislead comes straight from Satan, the father of empty, misleading, and broken promises.

So how do you measure up?  How do I measure up?  Have we used our words or thoughts to “murder” someone?  Have we allowed broken relationships with others affect our relationship with God?  Have we committed adultery in our hearts?  Have we used our words carelessly or frivolously?  If we’re honest with ourselves, each of us must come to the conclusion that we have.  And since we have, we’ve broken God’s most basic law and failed to meet his expectations and should be fully ready to meet the consequences: to be thrown in the fires of hell.  That’s what any employer would do; that’s what any judge would do.

But that’s not what God did.  Instead of casting us into hell, God sent the very one who spoke these words.  It was Jesus who never committed a sin and never held an impure thought, even once.  He remained completely pure in his thoughts and words and actions.  So he could be the perfect Lamb of God and sacrifice his life for your life, his death for your death, his suffering hell for your suffering hell.  You see, after convicting us of our sin and seeing how much we deserve hell, we cling to our Savior who’s righteous life and innocent death paid for our sins.  Then we have a whole new attitude when it comes to God’s commands.  We don’t see them as some sort of checklist or point system to follow to “get in good with God,” no, rather, in thankfulness we now look to God’s will as our opportunity to give him thanks.  These words take on a new meaning for the Christian.  What is Jesus telling me about how to live to say thank you to him?  Our attitude is, “How can I do what you want, O Lord?”  “How can I follow you?”  “How can I serve you?”

Yes God doesn’t want us to murder, but there’s more than that.  God doesn’t want us to even harbor anger or bitterness in our hearts toward someone else.  Yes, there is such thing as righteous anger, but that’s only when God’s honor is at stake, if someone is trying to discredit God.  Otherwise there is no reason for anger or insults, they aren’t found on the lips or in the heart of those who want to follow Christ.

Yes God doesn’t want you or me to commit adultery.  But there’s more!  He doesn’t even want lustful thoughts to enter our hearts!  Any sin leads away from God and when sin gets a foothold in our lives and we repeat that sin again and again and again we put ourselves in danger of losing our faith and going to hell!  So, Jesus directs: cut if off!  If something is causing me to sin, cut it off.  If watching a movie causes me to sin or lust, cut it off!  It would be better to never what a movie again, than to go to hell.  If a friend is leading me to sin or leading me to lust, cut it off!  It is better to not have any friends, than to go to hell.  If looking at something causes me to sin, move your neck so you don’t even look!

In a world so full of divorce where the question is way too often how to divorce amicably rather than whether to divorce or not.  God’s simple direction is: don’t divorce at all!  Rather, as God’s people, be faithful to your marriage vows and reflect the beauty of a Godly marriage to the world.  Live purely.  Don’t break the marriage by committing adultery, don’t be unfaithful, don’t break the marriage for any flippant reason.

Yes our words are powerful.  Instead of trying to “reinforce” our words with frivolous oaths because no one will believe that we are telling the truth unless we bolster them, God wants us to be faithful with our words.  He wants us to be honest, to use our words in order to say what we mean and only what we mean.  He wants our yes to be yes and our no to be no and people know us to be so faithful and honest that’s all that’s needed.

The psalmist says, “Blessed is the person…whose delight is in the law of the Lord.”  Yes, washed clean in the blood of Jesus, we WANT to follow God’s will and His ways and what He wants.  Amen.

The Joy of Serving God!

19th Sunday after Pentecost
Philippians 4:6-20

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Nobody really enjoyed working with Jeff.  Now, don’t get me wrong, Jeff was a very hard worker, very knowledgeable, and certainly made the company quite a bit of money.  But nobody really enjoyed working with him.  Although he might have been a good worker, but he wasn’t an easy worker to get along with.  And there was a reason for this.  If you were trying to help him out with a job, he didn’t always tell you what he wanted you to do, he’d assume you knew what you were supposed to be doing when you didn’t really know, sometimes he would give commands like, “go get aobiaodsaodf and bring it here” and then walk away, he had a short temper and would easily get upset if you weren’t doing what he wanted you to be doing, working with Jeff was a frustrating endeavor!

Maybe you’ve had that before too.  Perhaps you’ve tried working with someone who was very difficult if not impossible to work with- didn’t know what they were talking about, what they wanted to do, who got upset easily, and so on.  It’s frustrating!  Right?

But maybe what’s even worse than that is that sometimes perhaps we feel that same kind of frustration when we consider serving God.  Is God difficult to serve, to “work for”?  What are we supposed to do?  How can we serve him?  Are we doing the right thing?  Are we actually doing things that are pleasing to him?  Does He get fed up with us?  Is he clear in giving us directions?  How do we serve him?

Today is our last Sunday focusing on the book of Philippians and the joy of being a Christian.  And we are looking at the whole picture of the last words that Paul gave to the Philippian Christians.  And there is specifically 4 things that Paul gives them to focus on as they seek to serve their Lord.

First, he encourages them: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God.”  He first encourages them to communicate with God.  How?  Through prayer.  God has given Christians the awesome privilege of coming to him at any time and at any place with anything that is on their hearts or minds.  God wants His people to pray to Him.  He wants prayers not just full of our wants, needs, and desires, certainly he wants to hear those too, but prayers “with thanksgiving.”  God wants prayers full of gratitude for what He’s done.

Second, God encourages His people to pursue godly thoughts.  “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.”  He wants His people to fill their minds with good things.  Things that are true as opposed to false things, lies, deceptions, error.  How does one know what is truth?  God’s Word is truth.  If something doesn’t measure up to God’s word – don’t think about it.  Whatever is noble- honorable, reverent, whatever is right – just, whatever is pure – chaste, whatever is lovely and admirable, friendly.  Finally, consider only those things you’d consider if you were in the presence of God as if God Himself could see your thoughts.

Third, practice godly contentment.  Paul said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”  Everything finally comes from God –whether he gives us something or he allows things to come into our lives, yet He remains in control of all.  God uses circumstances and situations in order to grow the faith of His children.  It is service to God to be content and satisfied with the blessings of God.  If a person is constantly longing after more things or other things than what God has given him, what is he saying to God?  “God, I’m not pleased with what you’ve given me.”  Here God tells His children to be content.  Recognize what God has done for His people: Redeemed them, released them from sin, rescued them, refreshed them with grace upon grace.  God’s people can serve Him by being content in every situation.

Fourth, provide for God’s kingdom.  Paul said, “I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent.  They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”  In their service to God the Philippians sent a monetary gift to support Paul in his ministry of sharing the gospel.  God was pleased with it because it flowed from a heart of faith, a heart of thanks to God.  It’s serving God when God’s people provide for his kingdom.  And it’s not just through treasures.  It’s through time spent helping and serving so the church can continue to function, it’s through using your talents and abilities for the good of others, it’s through prayers that help expand God’s kingdom.

All those things are pleasing service in God’s sight.   And we kind of know all of that, right?  So perhaps the question is not so much, “How do we serve Him”  But, “How don’t we serve him?”

But, do we do that?  Do we serve God by doing these things that Paul encourages us to?  Do we pray perfectly, have perfect thoughts, perfectly practice contentment, and gladly provide for God’s kingdom?  Do we do that?  Do we find ourselves praying all the time with constant thanksgiving to God?  Do we always have thoughts God would approve of?  But remember, God can see all of our thoughts: impure thoughts, thoughts of greed, anger, revenge, thoughts of lust and selfishness.  Are we content with what God has given us and the situation in which God has placed us?  Do we have a continual longing for more of this or more of that?  Do we always joyously provide for God’s kingdom with our time or offerings?  No.  None of us can say that we do.  But why?  Hasn’t God done far more for us that those 10 lepers in the gospel text?  Hasn’t God not just provided amply for our physical lives- with shelter, food, clothes, health?  Hasn’t God even more than that provided for our spiritual lives?  Why don’t we serve him?  Why don’t we jump up and down with excitement to do whatever he asks of us?  Is it not because there exists inside of us an attitude of complacency or entitlement?  As if God should have done all that he did for us?  As if we deserved it?

Have we lost our respect for God?  Do we consider God simply not worth our whole-hearted service?  As if God doesn’t deserve our whole-hearted commitment.  Or is it simply, “I just don’t really want to.  I don’t want to do what God wants me to, I don’t care what God says.  I don’t have time to serve God.”  Why should God even want us?  Why would God even want our service?  God doesn’t need anything from us, ought he not just fire us, get rid of us?

But perhaps the even better question is: How did HE serve us??  God knew us even before we were born, God knew our failures and shortcomings even before we committed them, He knew our lack of love for Him, He knew our selfishness and our self-serving ways, and yet what did He do?  He served us in the most amazing way possible!  He sent His Son to pray perfectly and teach us how to pray, He sent His Son who had perfect thoughts all the time, He sent His Son who had perfect contentment in life, He sent His Son to provide everything for His kingdom.  How did God serve us?  Jesus died not in order that we can now finish the job on our own, not to make us nice people, but to declare us innocent of our sins and clothe us with His perfection!   Through His service to us He gifted us with the life that never ends in paradise!  All this he did that we should be his own, and live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.

So as you go about your life this week, try this: Each day this week take 5 minutes, just 5 minutes alone, and simply thank God for the blessings He’s given you in your life.  Pray to God with thanksgiving.

Try this.  As soon as you find yourself thinking about something, mulling something over in your head, wondering something, ask yourself: Is this true?  Is this noble, is this right, is this pure, is this lovely, is this admirable, is this excellent or praiseworthy?  If not, don’t think about it!  If yes, good!

Try this.  Sometime this week, sit down and make a list of all the things you can think of that God has done for you.  List not just physical blessings, but spiritual ones, list things like Jesus going to the cross for you, God bringing you into his family through baptism, writing your name in His book of life.  Then when you find your heart longing after something or are tempted toward discontentment take that list out, learn again the secret of contentment.

Try this.  Set aside time to pray that God’s kingdom would grow here in Bemidji and throughout the world.  Find ways to be more actively involved in the work of this congregation.  Find ways in your own personal life that you can reach out to people with the hope that you have.

And the real cool part is that when we serve God, WE actually get blessed.  Why?  Because when we serve God we are doing what God created us to do.  It is enjoyable for us as Christians!  It’s something we WANT to do!  Our God has served us in the most magnificent way – He served us by laying down his life to win us for Him.  Our lives of service, our entire lives, are an opportunity to say, “Thank you” to God.  And in the process, we get blessed!  Think about it: Would your life be more enjoyable if you lived more thankfully?  Would your life be more enjoyable if you entertained only pure, noble, excellent thoughts?  Would your life be more enjoyable if you lived contentedly?  Would your life be more enjoyable if you realized you helped make eternal differences in the lives of people by helping to build God’s kingdom?  Absolutely!  What joy is ours as we GET to serve God with our lives!  Amen.