Lenten Heart Cleaning

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3rd Sunday in Lent
John 2:13-22

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus, who has cleansed you and me from our sin, dear friends in Christ,

Do you like to have a clean house? In my house we’re in the midst of trying to pack to get ready for our move and no matter how hard we work, it always feels like we’re half done. Our house is a continual mess. If you’ve ever been through the moving process, you know what I mean. Now, add six kids in the mix. We have boxes here and there, piles of things here and there, trying to keep our house clean is a nightmare. What about your house? How much time do you spend cleaning? We spend a lot of time cleaning, don’t we?

Think about it, we have to clean our dishes, clean our clothes, wash the table, dust the house, pick up after children, vacuum the carpets, sweep, take out the trash, wash the bathroom, mop the floors, wash the car, shower, we even have to clean up our computers from time to time, the list could go on and on, right? And we have a plethora of tools at our disposal to do our cleaning: vacuums and brooms, brushes and cloths, soap and buckets, dishwashers and power washers.

But there’s a far more important cleaning that God wants us to be doing on a regular basis. It’s an internal cleaning. It’s a cleaning that can’t be done with brushes or soap. It’s a heart cleaning. What does Jesus want to clean out of you? What does Jesus want to clean out of me? Well, today we see what He wanted to clean out of the temple.

This event happened fairly soon in Jesus’ public ministry. This is likely April, and Jesus went to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem- a requirement for all Jewish males. And remember the point of the Passover festival. The Passover was meant to focus people’s attention on God, the Savior-God who delivered them out of slavery in Egypt, it was also to picture for them the sacrifice of sins that God was going to make for them not with a lamb animal, but with the Lamb of God.  And it was required that every male attend the Passover celebration in Jerusalem so that the images of God’s salvation might be drilled into them. So, some estimate around 4 million people would come to Jerusalem for the Passover from many different nations. So, it was a time that was meant to focus a person even more on God, but it became a time for the chief priests, the religious rulers, and even the Romans to make even more money on the all traveling out-of-towners who came to Jerusalem. Apparently, the Temple had some massive vaults where money was stored. They used this money to loan out to people at exorbitant interest rates and also used it for political intrigues in their dealings with the Roman rulers.

And it all became such a perversion. Imagine being someone who had to travel some distance to get to Jerusalem. You could have brought your own 1 year old lamb along to slaughter, but not only would it have been difficult to make the long journey to Jerusalem with an animal, you didn’t know for sure that your lamb was going to pass the inspection. Every lamb had to be inspected by certain people to make sure it was “without blemish.” No doubt, there were times when an animal was rejected and you had the further expense then of having to purchase another at an inflated price. And so, this is big business in Jerusalem –especially around Passover time. The wheelers and dealers rented spots not in the city, but right inside the temple courts in order to sell their cattle, sheep, and doves.

Why right inside the temple? Well, it would have been most convenient: A. everyone had to go to the temple and B. It wasn’t that far away from the place where you could offer the animal as a sacrifice. Add to this also that you could only use one kind of currency for paying the temple tax for the upkeep of the temple. So, if you came from far away – and there were plenty of people who came from different places around the world – you would need to trade your currency in for the currency that the rulers of the temple wanted. There were many money changers, shulhanim, available to provide this service and for some rent conveniently situated themselves also right inside the temple courts. Add to this that they were known for out of balance scales and scheming and cheating people out of a fair exchange.

Now, try to picture this situation: You’ve come from a long distance to celebrate the Passover. Now you have to enter the temple in order to first stand in line to exchange your foreign currency for the currency that the temple wanted. You listen as people are arguing and bickering with the money changers about dishonest deals or crooked balances awaiting your turn to do the same. Then after that ordeal, you have to stand in line and buy whatever it is you need for the offerings and sacrifices and also look forward to paying exorbitant prices. When the lines go down there are likely some money changers soliciting people as the walk by to stop at their booth much like someone might do at a carnival game at a county fair. In the midst of all this commotion the sun is beating down in this open air courtyard, cows are bellowing, sheep are bleating, there’s a raunchy smell of manure filling the air and wafting further into the temple complex, there’s the bartering and clinking of coins, and all of this happening right inside the court of the Gentiles –right where Gentiles could go to worship God! You get the picture.

But, then, suddenly, Jesus comes in, grasping a whip in his hand, suddenly he cracks the whip, driving the cattle and the sheep out of the temple, he turns on the money changers flipping their tables over, coins scattering and clinking all over the ground, the greedy eyed and scheming money changers and merchants are appalled and upset, but helpless to stop Jesus. And with righteous anger Jesus tells the people selling doves, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!

Wow! Can you imagine being there? Seeing that? It was bad enough that they were cheating people out of their money and doing it right inside the temple! But what was even worse was their hearts – they just didn’t care. They didn’t care that the temple – the visible symbol that was meant to remind them of God’s presence with His people – they didn’t care that the temple was a mess! And since they didn’t care, they totally missed the fact that the very one who fulfilled the whole purpose of the temple, in fact, God Himself, was standing right with them! So, Jesus picked up a whip and cleaned the temple and when asked for a sign to prove His authority to do this, Jesus told them a statement that they were going to remember: Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days. They missed the point, but Jesus was speaking about the real temple, Himself, His body, which would be put to death, but raised on the third day.

The temple was a mess because the hearts of the people were a mess. Greed, covetousness, selfishness ruled in their hearts and it showed in their lives by their lack of respect for God and His house. When our hearts aren’t right, our head and our hands won’t be right either. Perhaps it’s easy for us to look at this account and think, “Well, at least we would never do something as shameful, disrespectful, and sinful as that!” Right? We wouldn’t bring cows and sheep in here and try to barter them off for a profit, right?

Maybe not, but what are we willing to do? God’s Word actually calls our bodies the temples of God. Yet, what are we willing to do to God’s temple? Abuse our bodies with harmful substances? Fill our heads with thoughts of anger, revenge, bitterness? Pollute our minds with lust, greed, and selfishness? Use our hands to hurt or harm? Use our mouths to lie or tear others down? And why would we do such things right inside God’s temple? Is it not often just the same reason as to why they were abusing God’s temple in our text? That we begin to just not care anymore.  Where our hearts aren’t right, our head and our hands won’t be right either. But Jesus cared about God’s temple so much so that he did something about it. And He wants us to care about God’s temple too. What needs to be cleaned out of me? What needs to be cleaned out of you?

Jesus didn’t just clean out the temple once, he did this same thing once again during holy week. But that’s not all the cleaning that Jesus did either. Jesus kept the temple of His body 100% clean 100% of the time and then He ended Holy Week doing the greatest and most important cleaning that this sinful world desperately needed. It was the ugliest mess this world has ever seen as the dirt, grime, and filth of every single person who’s ever lived was swept up and located in one spot: on a cross. And yet, this was also the most beautiful and best cleaning thing this world has ever seen because by taking our sins upon Himself, allowing His temple to be destroyed, by bleeding and dying on the cross, He buried our sins in that tomb once and for all! Jesus’ blood purifies you and me from all our sins! And when Jesus rose from the dead as He promised all our sins were gone. Because of Jesus, you’re clean, spotless, without stain or wrinkle or any kind of blemish.

It is sin that makes us feel dirty inside, it’s sin that makes a mess out of our lives, it’s sin that makes us, God’s temple, stink, but that’s not who we are. In Christ’s blood you were washed, cleansed, sanctified, made clean and pure.  In your baptism God clothed you with Christ’s perfect life, in the Supper God gives you Jesus to sweep away all doubts about God’s love and wash away of all your sins, through the Word God fills you with the Holy Spirit making you His temple!

So, this week, when you find yourself doing some kind of cleaning, pause, picture Jesus cleaning the temple out, and be reminded how Jesus has cleansed you with His blood, and empowered by His grace, examine your heart, what sin am I clinging to? What bad attitude is residing in my heart? What indecent thoughts am I entertaining? Clean out whatever sin or filth or mess is there, leave it with Jesus on the cross and live as the clean temple of God Jesus has made you to be! Amen.

If I were the devil…

Devil sermon19th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 16:19-31

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,

If I were the devil, if I were the Prince of Darkness I would want to engulf the whole earth in darkness. I’d have a third of its real estate and four-fifths of its population, but I would not be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree. So I should set about however necessary, to take over the United States. I would begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve, “Do as you please.” To the young I would whisper “The Bible is a myth.” I would convince them that “men created God,” instead of the other way around. I would confide that “what is bad is good and what is good is square.” In the ears of the young I would whisper that work is debasing, that cocktail parties are good for you. I would caution them not to be “extreme” in religion, in patriotism, in moral conduct. And the old I would teach to pray – to say after me – “Our father which art in Washington.” Then I’d get organized. I’d education authors in how to make lurid literature exciting so that anything else would appear dull, uninteresting. With flattery and promises of power I would get the courts to vote against God and in favor of pornography. Thus I would evict God from the courthouse, then from the schoolhouse, then from the Houses of Congress. Then in his own churches I’d substitute psychology for religion and deify science. If I were Satan I’d make the symbol of Easter an egg. And the symbol of Christmas a bottle. If I were the Devil I’d take from those who have and give to those who wanted until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. If I were the devil I’d just keep doing what I’m doing.” Have you heard it? That’s an adaptation of a speech by radio commentator Paul Harvey which first aired in the 1960s. If I were the devil. What would you do if you were the devil?

If I were the devil I would stop at nothing, I would do anything, I would try everything in order to get you and your loved ones to spend an eternity in hell with me. If I were the devil I’d do specifically 3 things to accomplish my goal. If I were the devil I would do whatever I could to get you confused about what true wealth really is. If I were the devil I would do what I could to get you to underestimate the reality and permanence of hell. And I were the devil I would do what I could to get you to doubt the power of God’s Word.

If I were the devil, I would get you to look at this man and say, “He’s living the dream! He has it all! Who said money can’t buy happiness! Think again!” “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.” Now that’s the life! If I were the devil, I’d make you look at this guy, stare at this guy, and get you to want to trade places with this guy. He wears better clothes than you, He eats nicer food than you, he’s got a nicer home than you, he’s got a better car than you. If I were the devil, I would make you think that this guy is everything that you ever would want to be. And notice, he’s left nameless, he isn’t given a name like the other guy, in fact, you could just insert your name in there!

And this other guy, Lazarus, really? He’s just about the most pitiful thing you could imagine: “At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.” What a miserable, awful life! If I were the devil, I would get you to avoid suffering at all costs and get you to lose sight of those who suffer so that you no longer even notice Lazarus sitting at your gate. If I were the devil I would get you to focus all your concentration, all your energy, all your determination on having a good life here, putting all your eggs in the basket of this 100, 90, 80, 70 year life and forget about the eternity hereafter. If I were the devil I would convince you that work, fun, entertainment, pleasure, sports, TV, traveling whatever you want is more important and more valuable than God and His Word.

That slithering, conniving, deceptive serpent is doing a good job in our lives, isn’t he? I need Jesus’ words of warnings here. How often haven’t you and I become focused on the here and now, temporary thrills and treasures, to the detriment of our immortal souls? I need Jesus to refocus me on what is important, to direct me to heavenly and eternal treasure.  And make no mistake, the problem with the rich man is not that he was rich- that’s not the problem. God’s Word has many examples of people who were very wealthy and yet godly. The problem wasn’t his wealth, the problem was what we heard in one of our lessons last week: the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And that’s something that infects poor and rich alike. If I were the devil, I’d try to get you to be confused about what true wealth is.

The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side.” Now, if I were the devil, I wouldn’t try to convince you that you’re going to die, rich, poor, you’re all going to die. No, rather, if I were the devil, I’d try to convince you that hell really isn’t as bad as it is made out to be. I’d try to convince you that in the end everyone’s going to heaven so it doesn’t matter what you believe or how you live. In fact, if I were the devil, I’d try to get you to go to a church that didn’t really talk much about hell, or, even better, to go to a church that talked about having a second chance after you die. Or, maybe, just maybe, I could get you to think that I didn’t really exist, that I wasn’t really real, that I was just a cute Halloween costume and nothing more.

But what does Jesus say? “In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” One thing is very clear from what Jesus says here: hell is horrible. There’s a lot about hell that I don’t know about and everything about hell I don’t want to know about. But some have concluded that the unquenchable fire that is used in Scripture to describe hell is a metaphorical picture because how can a soul burn in a physical fire. But far from that being comforting is that it’s a metaphorical picture of something far worse than we could ever conceive with our minds. And it’s permanent. “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” Hell is final, hell is permanent, hell is forever. If I were the devil, I’d do all I could to get you to underestimate the reality and permanence of hell. For if I can do that, I can distract you from what’s really important.

So finally, if I were the devil I’d what I could to get you to doubt the power of God’s Word. “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” If I were the devil, I’d get you to think the Bible wasn’t all true and if I couldn’t do that, I’d get you to think that it’s not relevant to your day-to-day life that it can sit on a shelf far disconnected from your daily routine. I’d get you to think it was just words on a page, too difficult to understand, too much work to try to understand, too burdensome, too time-consuming.

You notice the implication of what the rich man says here, right? He’s in essence saying, do it right with my brothers, make sure that my brothers have more information, because if I had more information I wouldn’t have ended up here. But what does Abraham say? “Moses and the Prophets.” That’s all they need. Moses and the Prophets is another name for God’s Word. They have God’s Word, if they don’t listen to that, nothing is going to help them.

But if I were the devil, I’d have to leave here this morning utterly defeated. Why? Because the very same Jesus who told us these things, the very same Jesus who directs us to true treasure, heavenly treasure, the same Jesus who warns us of the reality and the horridness of hell, the same Jesus who directs our attention to the Word and Sacraments, the only life giving and faith-sustaining instruments in the world, that very same Jesus experienced the curse of hell for you and me.

What does Moses and the Prophets say? For a world full of failures, full of people who treasure earthly stuff to the neglect of the eternal, who toy with Satan and hell, God promised to send the woman’s offspring who would crush Satan’s head. We’re told that he was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed. This Jesus who told us of the torment and agony of hell, experienced it in all its horridness as he hung on a cross forsaken by God in our place, to rescue us from our sins and save us eternally, to assure us that we have a home forever in heaven. Because of Jesus, you, like Lazarus will be carried to Abraham’s side in joy everlasting.

But if I were the devil, I’d come back this week with new temptations, new assaults on your soul, new ways to try to lead you away from God. So cling to your Savior, cling to His Word of salvation, put on the full armor of God every day. Amen.

Be Careful That You Don’t Fall!

3rd Sunday in Lent
1 Corinthians 10:1-13

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: Have you ever fallen off a ladder? Did you know that falling is a leading cause of unintentional injury mortality nationwide, that 43 % of fatal falls involve a ladder? In 2011 falling off a ladder at work (not falling off a ladder at home) led to 113 deaths, 15,500 nonfatal injuries where the worker missed at least one day of work, and 34,000 injuries treated in an emergency room. Someone has even figured out the odds of dying from a fall are 1 in 269 and the odds of dying from falling off a ladder are 1 in 8,689.

I’ve never known someone to climb a ladder expecting to fall and do nothing about it. If you think you might fall off a ladder, what do you do? You see, one of the best ways to prevent a fall from a ladder is to have someone stationed at the base of the ladder holding the ladder in place. We can all picture the movie or TV scene or maybe this even happened to you where the husband is climbing the ladder and the wife yells, “Honey, do you need me to hold the ladder for you?” And the response is, “No, dear, I I’ll be fiiiiiiiiiiiine…” Crash! If you think you’re standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.

The same is true about sin. One of the surest ways to fall into temptation and sin is to be overconfident. You are at your worst point, worst point in life when you think you’re invincible. When we read a portion of Scripture like this, we dare not think, “This applies to everyone else, but surely it doesn’t apply to me, this could never happen to me, I have so much Christian heritage, I’ve attended church so much, I’m so close to God, I’ll never fall off the Christian ladder. I could never fall into this sin or that sin, I could never do this, I could never do that.” If you think you’re standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.

That’s what the Corinthians were thinking. You see, the Corinthian Christians knew Jesus, knew what Jesus had done, were baptized, celebrated the Lord’s Supper, understood that their sins were forgiven, but they began to think they were invincible. “We’re free! We can do what we want!” They thought it was perfectly permissible to attend an idol worship feast on Saturday (and keep in mind idol worship at this time also involved a lot of sexual immorality), they thought it was perfectly fine to attend an idol worship feast on Saturday and attend worship on Sunday. “We won’t be led to sin, we won’t fall into temptation.”

So what does God say? “I don’t want you to be ignorant, brothers,” which means, “I really want you all to know this.” “Our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.” He’s talking about our spiritual forefathers, the Israelites after they were led out of slavery in Egypt. What did they have? They ALL had the cloud with them, God led the Israelites by this pillar of cloud, they could see it, they could march on ahead with confidence because GOD was with them, they could go to sleep at night knowing that GOD was with them. That’s not all, they ALL also passed through the sea, they saw the spectacular event of the Red sea parting for the entire nation to walk through on dry ground. In a sense, they had something like baptism- an incredible event through which they were rescued by God. They also all ate the same spiritual food. God fed them with manna from heaven. They also ALL had a spiritual drink – they drank from a rock. God continuously supplied them miraculously with water throughout their wanderings in the wilderness. And we’re told that Christ was involved in all of this. Christ preserved them throughout their wanderings, in fact, it’s only because of Jesus that God cared for them at all – without Jesus, God would have no reason to provide anything for us humans. So they had spiritual food from Christ, spiritual drink from Christ, they also had something like the Lord’s Supper to assure them of God’s grace and love for them.

But what happened? “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.” Despite all these privileges that they had, similar privileges that the Corinthians had, they failed to get the prize, they failed to enter the Promised Land, dead bodies, corpses were strewn all over the desert. One by one they died. Why? These are examples for us to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things like them. Instead of rejoicing in the great spiritual blessings that were theirs they lusted after evil things and met with God’s wrath.  Their hearts were evil.

And here’s the direct warning for the Corinthian Christians and us: “Do not be idolaters.” The Corinthians thought it was just fine to go to a temple, sit down and eat at an idol worship feast. Well, the Israelites did the same thing, “They sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” That’s what the Israelites did with the golden calf. What about us? Are we idolaters? Perhaps we might think, “I’ll never fall into idolatry, I could never do that.” And we think that since we don’t have idols lining our streets like they did in Corinth, we couldn’t fall into that sin. But idols are just as prevalent today as they were back then, we just don’t call them idols. Do you have a god before God? Overconfidence is thinking that this doesn’t apply to me. If you think you’re standing firm be careful that you don’t fall. Am I worshipping my family before God? Am I worshipping success and wealth before God? Am I worshipping my hobby or my body before God? We live in a world of vast idolatry. We are raising our children and grandchildren in a world of vast idolatry.

The next example from the Israelites is that they committed sexual immorality and 23,000 of them died. That’s more people than the population of Bemidji who died. Again, we can’t be overconfident and think, “I’m too strong a Christian to ever fall into this sin. It doesn’t matter what I watch, it doesn’t matter what I fill my mind with.” We live in a culture and society that is saturated with sexual immorality. “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall.” Sexual immorality is something to be fled, not flirted with. We cannot play around in our minds with such immorality and think it doesn’t have a destructive effect on our hearts, our souls, our minds, our families. Should you really be visiting that internet site? Should you really be watching that movie?

The next example: “We should not test the Lord.” The Israelites did and they were killed by snakes. What does it mean to test God? It means trying to make God comply with me, instead of complying my life to Him. I want God on my terms, if God does this for me, then I’ll serve him, if God does that for me, then I’ll worship him. That’s testing God. It’s like my children, they’ll say to my wife, “I’m starving.” She makes a meal, we sit down to eat, and what do they say? “Oh, mom, I don’t want to eat that!” They’re trying her, they’re trying her patience. We do that when we complain about what God gives us in life. And that leads to the last example. Grumbling is giving audible expression to unwarranted dissatisfaction. Grumbling and complaining is saying to God, “We know better than you.” We challenge God’s grace, goodness, love, and righteousness. “If only I had a different job, if only I had a different house, if only God had blessed me differently, if only God had given me a different life, a different lot in life.” Complaining.

These are examples for us. If you think you’re standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall. Even though the Israelites had amazing advantages in life, they saw the cloud, they saw the Red sea split, they were fed and they drank miraculous food, they became over confident and they fell. We, too, have amazing advantages, we’ve been baptized, we’ve tasted the miraculous food of the Lord’s Supper, we’ve been nourished by God’s Word, we dare not begin to think, “God loves me, God forgives me, I can do what I want.” Christian maturity is not seeing how close we can get to temptation before we fall, it’s fleeing it. The guy who thinks that he might fall doesn’t need to be told, “Be careful that you don’t fall.” It’s the guy who thinks he can’t fall who needs to be told, “Be careful so you don’t fall.” The more self-confident we are, the less dependent on God we are, the les dependent on God we are, the more careless we are in living, the more careless in living we are, the more open to temptation. When we think we’re good, that’s when we most need to be on our guard and dependent on God.

There are two ditches on either side of the Christian life, both of which, if we fall into will destroy our faith. We’d like to think that our lives are lived right down the center of this road, hovering a little to the left sometimes and a little to the right sometimes, but for the most part right down the middle. But, unfortunately, that’s simply not true.  It’s far more likely that we spend a good share of our life hovering on the brink of falling off the cliff of overconfidence, pride, self-security and then the other part of our lives hovering over the perilous cliff of despair, thinking God could never love us or forgive us. Our lives are probably a constant shooting back and forth between these two perilous ditches.

So what are we reminded of? “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide the outcome so that you will be able to endure it.” You see, when I think that I’m standing firm, when I think I don’t desperately need God, I need to hear, “I can fall, I can lose my faith.” But when I’m worried, when I’m troubled, when I’m frightened by my sin, this is what I need to hear, “God is faithful.” In fact, God is so faithful that He sent His own Son to be tempted in every way that I am but was without sin. Jesus overcame every single temptation – he did so for you, in your place. And not only that Jesus took upon Himself all your guilt, all the times you’ve given in to temptation, he suffered and died for it on the cross. He rose from the dead to assure you that you’re forgiven. And because of that God is faithful, He is with you in every temptation and promises to give you the strength to endure it without falling.

This is contradictory to our mind, but it is exactly what our contradictory hearts need. When I think I’m fine, when I think I’m good on my own, when I’m tempted to become proud. I need to hear, “Be careful that you don’t fall.” I need to hear that I can fall from the faith so I don’t become careless and indifferent. But when I’m scared I’m going to fall, when I know I’m weak and helpless on my own, that’s when I need the assurance from God which says that God is faithful, He won’t let me be tempted beyond what I’m able, I have a Savior who has washed all my sins away, I have a God who has done everything and will do everything to make sure that I will live with him forever in heaven. Amen.

Scripture presents both of these as facts: God is faithful, He promises to preserve us in the faith and yet at the same time we are warned by Scripture that we can fall from faith and lose our salvation. There is no such thing as once saved, always saved, it is false security to think that as long as I can point to a time in my life that I was “saved” that I’m good. It’s also false for parents to think that as long as I have my child baptized, they’re good. As long as I send my child to a Christian day school, they’ll be good.

 

Devil, You Lie!

Devil, you lie!

1st Sunday in Lent
Luke 4:1-13

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, how many lies do you tell a day? I’m going to guess that most of us would like to actually lie about the answer to that question. There’s all kinds of statistics that have been created to understand lying. Just a quick look on the internet about lying can reveal all kinds of different studies and statistics about lying. On average children begin to lie between the ages of 2 and 3 (isn’t that about the time that children start to talk?) When meeting someone new a person will lie 2-3 times in the first 10 minutes. On average everyone lies at least 4 times per day. We lie to make ourselves look good, we lie to get out of trouble, we lie to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Not only do we lie, but we’re also lied to. Apparently on average a person is lied to their face 10 times a day. A person is indirectly lied to – through advertisements or media – 200 times a day.  Now, you can take those statistics however you’d like because I’m not sure how accurate a study you could make of this. But it does show that we lie a lot and we’re lied to a lot.

Why? Finally, all lies began with one lie. Jesus tells us that the devil is a liar and has been telling us lies from the beginning, “When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). It all started with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. There in the midst of tons of food, the devil came to them and said, “You will not surely die! For God knows that when you eat of it- when you eat the fruit from the tree that God told you not to eat from – you will really see, you’ll be like God!” God longs for us to be in communion and fellowship with Him, He alone wants to be the center of our lives, the one around whom we orbit our lives and our very existence. But what happened? Adam and Eve replaced God with something else, God – His love and His Word – were no longer the center of their existence, instead of God, they placed themselves there, they wanted wisdom, they wanted power, they wanted to be god of their lives. But they soon found out the sad truth. It was all a lie. What the devil promised was a lie. They fell, they believed the lie and we’ve been feeling the effects ever since.

Now before we start pointing fingers at Adam and Eve, we need to understand that we’re just as much guilty as they were. In more numerous times than we can count, we’ve bought Satan’s lies. But finally, the reason we lie and the reason we sin is because of what’s deep within us, what’s at the center of our existence, what’s at the center of our lives. Apparently the two most popular places to lie are on resumes and on dating websites. Why? God is truth, He wants us to tell the truth. In fact, He wants our “yes” to be “yes” and our “no” to be “no”; in other words, that we’re just so used to always telling the truth that no one would disbelieve our words. Why would someone lie on a resume? Because they want the job. So, the desire for the money, or the status, or the pleasure of a certain job has replaced God at the center of their life, getting that job is more important than God. Why would someone lie on a dating website? Because they want someone. They want a relationship so bad that they’re willing to cover up those things that might not be appealing about them. Having a relationship has become more important than God, the center of their lives is romance or a relationship, but not God.

There are lies all around us every day. But worse than all those lies, are the lies the devil tells. Here we get a sampling of the temptations that the devil lodged against Jesus. Notice that Jesus was “led by the Spirit in the desert.” This wasn’t an accident, this wasn’t a situation where Jesus backed himself into a corner, he didn’t put Himself in the way of temptation- God led Him there! Half the time we’re faced with temptation is because we foolishly put ourselves in temptations way. We treat Satan not like the roaring lion that he is looking for someone to devour, but like the nice little pet kitty! But that’s not here. Here Jesus was led into the desert and for 40 days he was tempted by Satan and for 40 days he had nothing to eat and so at the end of them he was hungry. Remember, Jesus is fully human so He knows exactly what hunger feels like. And that’s when the devil lodges this temptation. Now, Adam and Eve, were in a totally opposite situation- they were surrounded by food and they fell. Here Jesus is physically empty, but, full of the Spirit. How often aren’t we physically full, but running on empty spiritually?

The devil’s temptation? “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” It’s a physical temptation. But notice what Satan insinuates. Are you really sure about God’s love for you? I mean, if you really are the beloved Son of God, well, the Son of God shouldn’t be hungry! Remember, God the Holy Spirit had led Him to where He is, God wanted Him to be where He was, suffering as He was. Satan wants him to take the easy track to get rid of the pangs of hunger. But Jesus came to do the will of God, to suffer, not to avoid it. What Satan was really trying to get Jesus to do was to place Himself and His own interests at the center and cast out God and the Spirit from the center of His life. “Think about yourself for a change!” Have you bought that lie of Satan? Think of all the physical gratification that he lures in front of you and me. “Go ahead, indulge yourself, think about yourself for a bit, you deserve a break, have another drink even though you know you shouldn’t, feast your eyes on something provocative even though you know it’s a sin to lust, spend that extra money on yourself, don’t think of someone else.” How easy it is for us to fall into such lies of the devil.

But notice how Jesus answered: “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’” In other words, “Devil, you lie!” Man doesn’t live on bread alone. You see, bread would have no sustaining power, no power to satisfy hunger, if it wasn’t for God’s will and power behind that bread to do that, so God and His will are more important than bread. God will sustain His life.

Then the devil comes again.  “So, you want to live by your Father’s Word? Will you also die by it? Doesn’t this God point you to suffering and a cross, to unimaginable agony for an ungrateful world of whom most will ignore you? Where’s the love in that? Here, see all this power and authority and glory of the world? It’s mine, but it can all be yours, and I don’t demand a painful cross for it, just bow down your weary bones for a moment and all will be yours!” He does the similar thing to you and me, right? “Have an easy life! Just lie here, cheat there, make a little compromise to your faith, it’ll all be worth it, to get ahead in life, so much easier than the hard way!”

But how did Jesus respond? “Devil, you lie!” “It is written: Worship the Lord your God and serve him alone.”

But Satan wasn’t out of lies yet, he took Jesus to the highest point of the temple and hissed, “So, you’re going to trust and worship this Father, but if he’s truly worthy of such trust and worship, then there shouldn’t be anything wrong with putting him to a little test. He promises to protect you- see the Bible even says so – time to see that, don’t you think? Throw yourself down and let’s see him and his angels get to work for you rather than allow you to suffer!”

Resting in God’s Word, Jesus says, “Devil, you lie!” It is also written: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

Is that your response to Satan’s temptations? “Devil, you lie!” Sadly, it isn’t, is it? We’ve given in, we’ve failed. But why? Why do we even go through temptations? Why does God allow us to face them? Isn’t God more powerful than Satan? Yes, He is. But think about it. God already knows everything about you, he knows you through and through, He knows you even better than you know yourself. But our God is so amazing that He uses temptations to reveal to us the thoughts and intents of our hearts. That’s what trials do, that’s what temptations do – they reveal where our heart really is, they show where our true devotion lies, to whom our real dedication is. But you’ve listened to his lies, you’ve given in to temptation. Oh, wouldn’t it be nice to have a clean record, a clean slate, one not so muddied by giving in to Satan’s lies? The truth is, you have it. But not because of you, but because of Jesus.

Why didn’t Jesus fall into temptation? As true God He couldn’t sin because God can’t go against His nature- if He did then God couldn’t be God. But as true man Jesus felt every temptation to its fullest. But what does Jesus’ reaction to each temptation reveal to us? God was at the center of Jesus’ life. That means that every action was based on love for God. He didn’t sin, He couldn’t sin because He had a perfect love for God all the time. Jesus’ temptations would culminate in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus would pray, “If it be possible may this cup be taken from me, but not as I will but as you will.” Even at the height of all temptation, love for God never moved from the center of His being. Because this is what’s at the very heart of Jesus and at the very heart of God Himself – a love that wouldn’t stop at anything in order to win you back to Him. So Jesus came to this earth fought Satan’s temptations perfectly so He could offer His perfect life on a cross in your place paying the punishment for your life and mine that’s so full of centering it on something other than God. He died for that. So that, His record, His life of perfect centering on God could be given to you. You have it!

The only way we can fight temptation is not by our strength, but by God’s. How did Jesus withstand? God was at the center of everything for Him. How did Jesus know the Scripture that He did? You saw that right? Every time Jesus defeated the devil with God’s Word. He was immersed in Scripture. The truths of Scripture wasn’t just a head thing or a feeling thing, it was at his very core. How do we fight temptation? It’s having God and His Word at the very core of our life. The reason we lie, the reason we sin, the reason we give in to Satan’s temptation is because something other than God has become our core, something else is more important to us than Him. But the opposite is also true. God is truth. And if we plant that truth deep in us, not only does that mean that we know that God is truth and everything He says is true, it means emotionally we love it, we find God’s truth to be beautiful and wonderful, and it affects our very will. We wouldn’t want to do anything that was against God’s truth.

You kids sometimes wonder why you have to memorize so much in school. This is why. It is the sword of the Spirit, breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation.  Be immersed in Scripture. It’s knowing Scripture that plants our God and His grace to the very deepest core of our existence, Scripture enlightens our eyes to the truth, enables us to clearly see temptation coming and be able to say to Satan, “Devil, you lie!” It’s Scripture that when Satan says, “God couldn’t possibly love, you couldn’t possibly be forgiven” to say to him, “Devil, you lie!”

Examine Yourselves

19th Sunday after Pentecost
2 Corinthians 13:5-8

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, I have a little test for you: Number 1: If you are following a school bus and it’s lights come on and the stop sign comes out, at least how many feet behind the bus do you have to stop: A. 15 feet, B. 20 feet, or C. 30 feet? Number 2: What are you not allowed to do at a reduced conflict intersection? A. Make a u-turn, B. Make a left turn, or C. Make a right turn. Number 3: Motorist service signs are what color? A. Brown, B. Green, or C. Blue. Number 4: At what point do you need to switch your headlights from bright to low beam when you meet an on-coming car at night? A. 750 feet, B. 1,000 feet, or C. 1,500 feet. Answers? 20 feet behind a school bus, you don’t make a left turn at a reduced conflict intersection, blue signs give motorist service information, and you must switch your lights at 1,000 feet. When my wife and I moved to MN from WI one of the first things we had to do in order to get a MN state driver’s license was take the knowledge test of the driver’s education program. Anybody who moves to MN from out of state has to take the test. We didn’t have to take a test when we moved to TN or when we moved back to WI. I remember skimming over that little driver’s manual book and thinking, “Come on, I’ve been driving for over a decade, my part-time jobs involved driving truck regularly in both big and small cities, this will be a breeze, no way will I fail.” And when I took the test I think those were some of the questions. And I feel a little ashamed to admit this but I didn’t pass the test with flying colors. I probably got like 5 wrong and that’s not too good when there’s only 30 questions! But what’s the point of such an examination? The state of MN recognizes that driving a car on the road is not only important to know, it’s also something that can be very dangerous. So, for your own protection and the protection of your fellow citizens, the state requires a driver examination.
Tests and examinations serve a purpose. Well, today in our text the Lord tells us we need to do another kind of examination, a personal, spiritual examination. And how are most examinations conducted? They’re conducted by asking questions, aren’t they? So, here’s the question: There are two kinds of Christians, fake ones and real ones. Which one are you? Which one am I? That’s an important question especially when we consider the implications: real Christians go to heaven and live with the Lord forever, fake Christians don’t. Take the lady who filed for divorce. She grew up in a split home, she hated it, she told herself that would never happen to her, she would absolutely make her marriage work. In fact, she was so confident that it would never happen to her that she didn’t bother with the tools to sustain a marriage, completely ignored the warning signs, and ended up getting a divorce. “I can’t believe this happened to me,” she said. Her never happened. “I could never be a fake Christian, no way! Not me!” But nevers do happen, don’t they?
But the point is: they don’t have to. Nevers don’t have to happen to people. That’s why examinations and evaluations are so valuable. They can help us evaluate ourselves so we can get help before the “never” begins to happen. Fake Christians don’t start out as fake Christians. They start out as real ones, truly loving the Lord, truly acknowledging their sin and trusting in Jesus. But then after a while they don’t care anymore, they fall into a sort of “ehh whatever” attitude about faith, about hearing and reading God’s Word. And we don’t have to look much further than the Corinthian congregation for a prime example. Paul had founded the church in Corinth and spent a year and half there. But after a few years those who had received the gospel with joy were slipping. The church had a bunch of divisions among members, one man was committing sexual immorality with his step-mother and it was condoned, members were taking other members to court over trivial matters, there was abuse of the Lord’s Supper, and people were even getting sick from their abuse of it.
So, in response to all of these problems that were going on Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. After they received Paul’s letter they thankfully corrected some of the problems that were going on. However, they didn’t fix all of them. In the meantime Paul sent Titus to check up on them and then changed his plans. He had planned on stopping in Corinth but instead traveled elsewhere. Then a new problem developed in the Corinthian congregation. Some began to attack the apostle Paul. “See, he changed his plans, he’s not reliable. He’s not an impressive speaker, not incredibly dynamic or charismatic, why should you trust him? How do you know he’s speaking the truth, speaking Christ’s words?” And so they were looking to “examine” Paul. And there were certain false apostles who came into the congregation and were claiming superior authority, “Paul, he’s just a second class apostle, we’re top-notch apostles, we’ve got the credentials, the dynamic and charismatic talents and he doesn’t, etc.” And what was the problem? The Corinthians were heading down the path of fake Christians because who was getting lost in all of this? Christ. They were allowing themselves to be steered away from God’s Word by the false prophets based on what felt good to them or not.
So what does Paul tell them? “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” Take a look at your own heart, what’s inside there? Take a look at yourself? Am I on the path to becoming a fake Christian? Am I doing what that first son did in Jesus’ parable: saying all the right stuff but not meaning it or living it? It’s easy to become comfortable with sin. Am I allowing myself to get sucked into a sin, saying with my mouth that Jesus is my Savior, but by the way that I live my life I’m denying my Savior?
What is the path to becoming a fake Christian? Perhaps it begins with a failure to regularly confess my sins to the Lord. Then I fail to see the enormity of my sin before God. I then begin to think that I don’t really need a whole lot of help from God. Soon I begin to rely on myself for strength. God’s Word and the Sacraments become less and less important to me. After that my thinking is not shaped so much by what my God says, but by what my sinful nature or the sinful world around me or what the devil says. My decisions become less and less based on what God says is right and wrong and more and more based on whether or not it feels right to me or not. We need to continually examine ourselves: Am I relying on myself or God? Am I relying on myself for spiritual strength or am I being nourished by God’s Word? Am I serving God or am I serving sin? Am I on the path to becoming a fake Christian?
How am I living my life? Am I living in a way that is consistent with the gospel of Jesus? Am I living as a person who was on a path to destruction? Am I living as a person who was headed for eternal death? Headed for an eternal sentence in the horridness of hell? About to be cast into the pit of fire forever? Facing sure death, but then apart from any of my doing, was fetched from the flames, plucked from destruction, caught stuck in the burning house of my sins when out of nowhere the Savior rescued me with His perfect life and complete payment for our sins on the cross. Am I living in a way that is consistent with that? Does my life reflect a perfect zeal for God due to the fact that I was lost and headed for death but was rescued and am now, thanks to Jesus, headed for the paradise of heaven that is far greater than anything I could ever dream of or imagine? How’s your examination going?
If we truly examine ourselves, we probably see inside of us some good, but a lot of bad. If eternal life was left in our hands we’d fail the examination, fail the test and there are no do overs. But Jesus didn’t fail any test or any examination. He came as the perfect Lamb without blemish or defect. The devil tested Him but Jesus stood firm, people tested him by trying to pin a sin against Him but couldn’t. For every trial, test, or temptation we’ve failed, Jesus didn’t, He remained perfect for you and me. And for every trial, test, or temptation we’ve failed, Jesus took our failures upon Himself, on His own body and paid the penalty with His death on the cross. And miracle upon miracle God worked faith in your heart to believe it.
All for what purpose? So you could answer this question, “Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you?” That’s not a multiple choice question, it doesn’t have to be, in Greek it’s a question that expects a yes answer. Yes, I know Christ lives in me! God says so! Through faith Jesus lives in you. You see, you’d never believe in Jesus if Jesus hadn’t taken up residence in your heart. And anyone in whom Jesus lives is not a fake Christian.
Think about that! Jesus who lives inside of you is fighting for your faith! He hasn’t given up on you. He died for us so often failing people and he’ll stick it out. He still forgives us and loves. He’s in us. And what else does that mean? That means he gives you the strength to change, live in better ways. Jesus- the Lord, the one who came back from the dead and has all authority – isn’t just near you, but is in you!
So what kind of Christian are you? Of course you’re a real one. Jesus lived and died for you! Jesus lives inside of you. But that examination question is good because it causes us to live in repentance. To confess our sins, to be strengthened by Jesus’ forgiveness who lives in us and to clear out the bad thinking, to change bad behaviors and pursue what is right and good. That’s the Christian that you are. Amen.

Gather Gossip or Give Grace?

13th Sunday after Pentecost
Ephesians 4:20-29

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, dear friends in Christ,

Do you know who I am?  I’m sure you’ve met be before.  I don’t care about justice, I can hurt without killing, I break hearts, I trash lives, I’m cruel, I’m mean, I get stronger as I get older, the more I’m talked about the more I’m believed, I can thrive on any level of society and with any person still breathing, my victims are entirely helpless, there’s no way they can protect themselves against me because I don’t have a name, don’t have a face.  I have no friends, once I ruin a reputation it’s never the same.  I shatter friendships, wreck marriages, and destroy careers.  I cause heartaches and sleepless nights.  I infiltrate churches.  I divide Christians.  I spread suspicion and make innocent people cry on their pillows.  Do you know me?  I’m sure you’ve met me, my name is gossip.

Finally, every sin of the tongue has horrid effects.  Profane language, insults, lying, complaints, cutting criticism, they’re all harmful.  But, perhaps it’s gossip that has likely destroyed more people, tarnished more reputations, broken more friendships than any other.  It’s quickly told, quickly heard, and quickly spread.  But worst of all, it’s quickly believed.

Well, what exactly is gossip?  We often think of gossip as talking about someone behind his or her back.  But, really, gossip isn’t all talking about someone who isn’t present.  There are times when we might talk about someone’s good news to others, or share some funny story, or share someone’s concern.  So how do you know if it’s gossip?  Well, would the person object to what is being said if they were present or not?  Is what we are saying meant to honestly help someone or to hurt the person?  Am I sincerely trying to build someone up or am I trying to discredit or tear them down?

The reality is that there is a part of each one of us here that absolutely loves to spread and listen to gossip.  There is a part of us that is hopelessly insecure, that loves to harbor jealousy, pride, and anger, that loves to tarnish the reputations of others in order to try to make us look better, that loves to speak falsely and lie, that loves to let our mouths drip with “unwholesome talk.”  Interestingly, the word translated as “unwholesome” here in verse 29 of our text is the word sarpo, the same word that Jesus used in the gospel lesson for “bad,” “Make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad.”  Literally, it means “decaying” or “rotting.”  There is certain speech that comes out of our mouths that is like a decaying, rotting piece of fruit.  Like a piece of produce you might have left on your kitchen counter behind a box that you forgot about until you smelled something nasty and when you discovered it you saw a gross, mushy, stinky, rotting, fly-infested mess.  There’s a part of each of us that loves to spew out such rotten words.  And the first part of our text tells us just where those rotten words come from: our “old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires.”

Each one of us has this multi-personality battle going on inside of our hearts between our old sinful self and our new spiritual self.  Each of us, as we were born into this world was completely controlled by this old self, but through faith God worked inside of us a new self was created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.  And our hearts are this continual battleground between our old sinful self and our new self.  And Satan in league with our old self wants nothing less than to get us to fall headlong into feeding our old self with any kind of sin with the hope that it will defeat and drive out our new self and destroy our faith.  It’s like two nations going into battle with each other and one side has a spy, a traitor who constantly feeds intelligence to the enemy.  The devil plays on our sinful nature to get us to be self-centered, to get us to only be concerned about ourselves and what we falsely think will make us feel better about ourselves, to become angry, to steal, to let rotten words spew out of our mouths.  Why?  Because he wants a foothold in our lives.

So what does he do?  He comes to us like a friend.  He convinces us that sin is good and pleasurable.  He tempts us to sin and to sin and to sin.  Then he flips his hat accusing us and feeding this insecure self-talk that goes on inside of us things like, “I can’t believe I did that!  I’m so stupid!  I’m such a failure!  I’m an awful person!  I’m worthless, useless.  Everyone else has it going on and I’m going backwards in life.”  Then he flips his hat back and says, “Hey, don’t you want to feel better about yourself?  Point out the sins and failures and mistakes of others!  It will make you feel better!  Spread it around so that others see how much of a better person you are at least than so-and-so!”  No matter how much the devil may try to get you to think it, he’s not your friend, he’s your enemy.  He knows that if we’re full of garbage inside, all we can give out is garbage.  If I’m living according to my old sinful self all I can give out is garbage, falsehood, anger, stealing, rotten speech.  Gossip stems from this insecurity inside of us that thinks we need to make ourselves feel better by tearing others down.

Think about it, if I’m not at peace with myself and with my God I have nothing to give you.  If I’m not built up, I’m in no place to build others up.  Rather, I try to bring everyone else down so that they can be miserable like me.  Misery loves company.  What comes from our hearts comes out of our mouths.  “Out of the heart, the mouth speaks” Jesus said.  If we are bitter and angry and upset and frustrated inside, guess what’s going to come out of our mouths?  If we are insecure, frail, and troubled inside what’s going to come out of our mouths?  And our words are a powerful way to tear other people down.  And here’s the devil’s lie, we think it will make us feel better about ourselves to use our language to hurt others or spread gossip, but the truth is: it doesn’t help, it just hurts us more.  And so the cycle continues.

Where does this cycle end?  Right here: “You, however, did not come to know Christ that way.  Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.”  What is the truth that is in Jesus?  It is the reality, it is the real historical facts, Jesus, God’s Son was born into this world, lived perfectly, never gossiped, used His mouth to always do what is right, Jesus died on a cross as God’s lightning rod against all sins, including every sin of the tongue, Jesus rose victoriously from the dead to prove that the payment for sin was made in full.  And He did that for you!  That is the truth, the reality.  It is that truth, that reality that teaches us to “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”  If we can’t control our tongue, we’re failing to appreciate the gospel.  God’s changed us.  We don’t need to rip others apart to feel better about ourselves.  God’s taken away our hearts of sin and given us hearts of faith, he’s taken our worthless rags of sin and given us Jesus’ perfect robe of righteousness.  “I’m a forgiven, redeemed, baptized, eternal child of God and the devil can’t change that!”

It’s this gospel that feeds our new self, enabling us to put off falsehood and speak truthfully, to not become angry giving the devil a foothold, to not steal but work hard, and “not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  God wants us to use our speech to build others up and literally the end of that last verse reads “to give grace to those who listen.”  Where does grace come from?  The ultimate source of grace and every blessing is God.

It’s only when we are filled with the grace of God that our lips will be filled with blessing, benefit, and encouragement for others.  If our hearts are off, our mouths will be off.  If the scope on your gun is off, it doesn’t matter how close you put the crosshairs on the bullseye, it’s going to be off.  But If our hearts are centered on grace, our lips will drip with grace to build others up and encourage.  “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him” Jesus said.  God has filled your heart with His grace and love.  “It is by grace you have been saved”  God has “justified you freely by his grace through the redemption that came in Christ Jesus.”  “From the fullness of His grace we have received grace upon grace.”  “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access into this grace in which we now stand.”

Filled with His grace God commissions us to throw off mouths of gossip and to be His grace givers throughout our lives.  And too many of us forget or underappreciate the great power resting in our mouths.  It’s not enough just to like someone in your heart, it needs to come out of your mouth.  People in our world are starving for encouragement, starving for affirmation, starving for something positive.  The devil loves to tear people down, make them feel awful and use them to tear others down with harmful words and gossip.  God, however, fills us with His grace.  Encourages us by the gospel.  Uses our mouths to be grace givers to share with people the ultimate encouragement which is the good news about sins forgiven in Jesus and he uses our mouths lift others up in their day to day lives: “You did a wonderful job!  Dear, that was an amazing dinner!  I really like that about you!  I’m so proud of you dad!  You do so much for us mom!”

Encouragement comes from the gospel.  The more you know the awesome encouragement, the awesome grace God has given you, the more compelled, motivated, empowered, you will be to not use your words to tear others down, but to use them to build others up and drip God’s grace from your mouth!  Amen.

Self-Indulgence Creates Craving, Grace Creates Self- Control

10th Sunday after Pentecost
Titus 2:11-14

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Just “Like a kid in a candy store.”  There’s a well-loved fictional children’s story that goes something like this: a wealthy man owned a factory that made a bunch of candy.  After the factory was closed for 3 years it reopened and began selling tons of candy all over the world.  But, nobody was allowed to see its operations.  But one day the owner announced a special prize.  In 5 of his factory’s chocolate candy bars there was a golden ticket allowing the owner to have an exclusive tour of the chocolate factory.  By chance, a boy named Charlie happens to get the last golden ticket.  5 children and their chaperones are allowed to tour the factory.  The tour begins and before they go on the tour each child has to sign a long contract that the factory is not responsible for any harm that comes to the children.  The tour begins and Augustus falls into a hot chocolate river attempting to drink some of it and must leave the factory.  Veruca is judged to be “bad-nut” by the nut-judging Squirrels and is thrown out of the factory.  Violet impetuously grabs an experimental piece of gum and turns into a giant blueberry and has to leave the factory.  And Mike shrinks himself to the size of a few inches by mischievously trying out an experimental TV broadcast thing.  The only one left is Charlie.  And in the original movie he, too, samples some Fizzy Lifting soda which causes him to float to the ceiling and almost get sucked out a giant exhaust fan.  Fortunately for him, he’s able to get down.  Perhaps you’ve seen the movie or read the book, it’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Surrounded by the lures of candy the children couldn’t resist.  The lure of the sweets, the temptations were just too compelling for the children and they had to have it.  And they were willing to disobey in order to get it.  Whoever coined the phrase “like a kid in a candy store” was right.

But really, is it much different for us?  We live in a society of many, many freedoms.  We enjoy our freedoms and those freedoms enable us to do many things.  We also, in comparison to past civilizations, live in a world of unprecedented wealth and material and luxury.  The combination of these things makes it very accessible for us to be self-indulgent.  There is little keeping us from being over-indulgent with the pleasures and treasures of this earthly life.  There is little hindering us from living without restraint.  The mantra of the world we live in is “There are no limits.  If it feels good, do it!  Gratify yourself!”  Advertising often thrives on it.  How often in one day do we hear things like, “You deserve this, you owe it to yourself to indulge, if it feels good, go ahead!”

I think we’ve all also heard many accounts of self-indulgence or people living with self-control.  I’ve heard of people winning the lottery, taking the lump sum pay out, and squandering it and are broke within a year.  There are magazines that make their living on telling the details of all the Hollywood stars who’ve become popular and wealthy and the have become monsters with terribly messed up lives.  A few years ago I remember the story about a family who was down and out financially and was given a brand new mansion to live in by the show Extreme Home Makeover.  Then, within a matter of years their home was lost to foreclosure.  Why?  The loss of self-control and the takeover of self-indulgence.  The paper is also full of these stories: the desire for more wealth causes someone to steal or embezzle.  The desire to feel better about oneself causes someone to indulge in drugs or alcohol.  The desire for sex causes an unmarried couple to go too far, causes a husband or wife to be unfaithful to his or her spouse, broken homes, broken families, broken lives.

But what about you and me?  Are we innocent in this world of self-indulgence or loss of self-control?  When was the last time you or I lost our temper?  When was the last time we spoke things we shouldn’t have?  When was the last time we charged too much on the credit card or bought something we couldn’t afford?  When was the last time we permitted indecent thoughts or lust to linger in our minds?  When was the last time we over-indulged our body, eating or drinking more than we should have or failing to exercise the temple of the Holy Spirit?  Often self-indulgence involves taking a good blessing of God and abusing it.  Pride convinces us that we deserve all the things that we think will make us feel good.  But the result?  Any striving after the selfish appetites of our sinful nature leads only to a greater craving for more and plunges us into greater spiritual trouble.  Finally, self-indulgence boils down to abandoning what I have already in God and thinking that the pleasures and treasures of this life will give me what only God can give.  Nothing, nothing, nothing in this life can give you or me: lasting joy, lasting peace, lasting fulfillment, lasting meaning, lasting purpose, and lasting significance.  Those things can ONLY come from God.

You and I have failed miserably.  We’ve indulged ourselves more than we could ever count.  We deserve nothing from God but punishment.  And that’s what makes grace grace; pure, undeserved grace.

For the grace of God that brings salvation for all has appeared.  Where did this grace, this rich and undeserved love appear?  It appeared the night the angel proclaimed, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people; today in the down of David a Savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.”  It appeared as Jesus withstood the every one of the devil’s temptations to self-indulgence.  It appeared as Jesus gave Himself in service to others his whole life and never indulged selfish appetites.  It appeared as Jesus hung bloodied and beaten on a cross paying the price for all sins – yours and mine included.  It appeared as that same Savior burst from the tomb of death alive proving the victory was won the payment for sin was made.

And what does this grace do?  “It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”  But isn’t it God’s law that says, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal?”  Yes, God’s law demands us to say no to ungodliness.  But it’s God’s grace that moves us and motivates us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions.  It is God’s grace that enables us to reject self-indulgence from the heart.  It’s God’s grace that creates in our hearts the desire for self-control.  We can’t demonstrate godly self-control in our lives unless God’s grace has enabled us to do so.  We can demonstrate self-control for all kinds of reasons.  Even someone who doesn’t believe in God can come to the conclusion that leisure and pleasure have to be contained in order to reach a higher good.  But the Christian who grasps the grace of God thinks not so much about the negative effects of self-indulgence, but thinks about the amazing and rich grace of God and asks, “How could I not live a self-controlled, upright and godly life?”  I have a Savior who’s lived, died, and rose for me!

Add to that what we know: We are waiting for the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  One day Jesus will return.  And when Jesus returns we’ll see all the worldly stuff we’re tempted to indulge in  for what it really is: temporary and fleeting.  But rather, unlike the fleeting pleasures and treasures of this world, we look forward with a certain hope for an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade kept in heaven for you!

Jesus redeemed us from all wickedness- all our self-indulgent sins and our self-indulgent ways – by Jesus’ blood you have been purified, cleansed, and freed from sin and it’s slavery.  So what do we want to do?  Enslave ourselves to sin again?  Plunge ourselves back into self-indulgence?  No way!  As God’s own dearly loved people how can we not be eager to do what is good?  How can we not strive for self-control?

It’s God’s grace, the gospel, that is the power source for everything we do as Christians.  It’s God’s grace that is the power source for living self-controlled lives.  And what does that mean?  That means empowered by God’s grace we keep our emotions and feelings in check and don’t let them escalate and cause us to lose our temper, become easily angered, or react to someone with rage.  Empowered by God’s grace we can maintain self-control financially as we properly distinguish wants from needs and not let our emotions lead us to indulge in things we can’t afford.  Empowered by God’s grace we can live self-controlled with our bodies by taking care of them by how we eat, by what we put into our bodies, and by what thoughts we allow access in our minds.  Empowered by God’s grace we can live in self-control by guarding our hearts and bodies from sexual impurity.

Like a kid in the candy store we are each surrounded by an enormous buffet of options for self-indulgence.  How do we live?  How can we be self-controlled?  On our own we can’t.  But the grace of God has set us free.  Keep the grace of front and center in your heart, live in light of the fact that Christ came once to redeem us and will come again to take us home.  It’s that grace that assures us that we have all we need in God our Savior that disciplines us to live in self-control and uprightness and godliness.  Remind yourself of this constantly, keep a focus on God’s grace, say to yourself “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”  And may that shape your heart, your tongue, and your actions in Christ this week.  Amen.

Free to be kind and gentle!

5th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 6:27-35

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.  In the name of Jesus, friends in Christ, You’re driving in your car and all of a sudden you hear a strange ding coming from somewhere in the car and you look down and there on the dash board is one of those dreaded check engine lights indicating that something is not working correctly, something is out of sync, something is failing in your engine.  So what do you do?  Well, there’s a number of things you could do.  You could keep driving your car and ignore it and pretend it wasn’t there.  You could find a piece of black tape – my sister actually did this with her car – and put it over the light so that you don’t have to look at it.  You could find the fuse or the wire that controls the light and disconnect it.  All of those things might have a way of dealing with the light, but none of them really get to the heart of the problem.  In fact, in some cases if you keep driving a car when the check engine light is on you can end up doing some serious damage to the engine.  There’s another option of dealing with that check engine light.  You could take it to a mechanic and have them hook it up to a computer and he could explain to you what the problem with the engine is and fix the problem so that the light turns off.

Well, in a way, anger is kind of like that check engine light.  It can come on suddenly, when you don’t expect it and there’s always a deeper problem, a reason lying underneath that anger.  There may be all sorts of ways to try and deal with anger by covering it up, bottling it up inside, masking it with a cold shoulder or the silent treatment, ignoring it, etc.  But if anger isn’t dealt with it can cause serious damage to our own lives and to the lives of other people.  It can devastate some of the most important things of our life like our careers, our jobs, our families, our marriage, and, yes, even our faith.

This sin of anger really infects us all.  Even my 7 month old baby knows how to get angry.  If mom sets him down when he doesn’t want her to, he knows how to scream and be upset.  My other children know anger, if their toy is taken away by another child, they each know how to scream, to hit, to pinch, to get even.  Even adults know anger well.  Road rage is a common problem in our world.  When people mistreat us, when we get a raw deal, when there’s injustice, when there’s abuse of any kind, or jealousy, all of those things can cause anger.  Now, not all anger is a sin.  Jesus Himself was angry.  In His anger He drove the money changers out of the temple.  There is something called righteous anger.  Righteous anger, however, is only present when God’s honor is at stake.  We may have a righteous anger against sin, against wickedness, against evil, against false teaching that twists God’s Word.  But the truth is, each of us is far more likely to be tempted to unrighteous anger than righteous anger.  And although we may become angry at our situation, at our circumstance in life, at our job, or whatever, what about anger toward other people?  What does God tell us?

That’s where Jesus’ words have a way of striking us right between the eyes.  Why?  Because it’s totally foreign to our nature.  Our sinful nature would never dream of doing what Jesus tells us here.  Our natural reaction is to hate our enemies and to do harm to those who hate us, but Jesus says to do the very opposite: love our enemies and do good to those who hate us.  It would be natural to return evil words with evil words, but Jesus says the opposite: bless them and pray for them.  We might think ok, ok, that’s fine and good as long as they aren’t physically doing anything to me.  Our natural reaction to someone hitting us would be to hit back, but Jesus says to turn the other cheek and if someone takes our coat, to give him our shirt as well, and if someone takes something from us we shouldn’t demand it back.

But wait a minute, we might think.  This is crazy??  Right?  Is Jesus telling us to just let people walk all over us?  What is Jesus’ point?  Well, God wants us to see Him has the One who remains in control no matter.  If revenge is needed, if pay back is needed, God will make sure that it’s taken care of.  As far as it is for us, though, He wants us to repay evil with good so that those who mistreat us will be ashamed and in that way defeat evil by doing what is good.  Letting someone hit us again is better than filling our hearts with anger and resentment that lashes out and wants to get even.  Letting someone take our coat and our shirt would be better than let our hearts be filled with anger and resentment that wants to get even.  Finally, this is Jesus’ point: It is better to suffer in body and in property to every extent than to have our souls taken over by anger and bitterness.

But what if, for instance, a burglar woke me up in the middle of the night banging on the front door insisting to come into my house so that he could take whatever he wants from me.  Is God saying let him do it?  Actually, it would be loving for me to call the police and have the man arrested.   You see, true love looks for the best interest of everyone.  Helping someone in their sin or remain in their sin is not loving.  If someone in my life perpetually abused me and felt no remorse, it would be loving for me to point out the error and separate from that person for a time perhaps even to break the relationship.

Interestingly, the word Jesus uses here is not to like someone like a friend, rather it is to love, to love the unlovable and seek the best interest of the person loved.  It would not be in a person’s best interest to continue in unrepentant sin.  Loving my enemies or loving those who hurt me also means that I don’t get angry with them and look for a way to get even or get back at them in order to see them suffer.  True love means that I care so deeply about other people that I sincerely want what is best for them no matter who they are and ultimately that means faith and eternal salvation.  That’s the true essence of what Jesus said: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Finally, every Christian is foremost concerned about his or her soul and wants others to help, aid, and support them spiritually.  True love would then move me not to allow someone to stay in their unrepentant sin and yet at the same time true love would move me to respond not in anger and rage, but in kindness and forgiveness no matter what someone does to me.  Think abou tit, how much anger would I cling to and harbor if my number one concern with everyone I meet is their eternal welfare?  How much would I fly off the handle, become enraged, yell, scream, when I’m foremost concerned about someone else’s eternal soul?  But how often isn’t our concern not so much with the eternal welfare of others, but our own wants and desires?

So, is what Jesus tells us even possible?  Is it possible to love your enemies?  Is it possible to not get angry?  Finally, as a Christian I can let things go, I’m free from anger, because I can forgive.  Why?  Because I know how much I myself have been forgiven.  God had every right to inflict every single ounce of His eternal wrath against you and me.  God had every right to be angry with us.  God’s anger against us would be totally justified.  God is the owner and Creator of the universe, whatever He decides goes, whatever He says is right and proper.  So if God had decided to be angry with you and me forever for being sinful, He would have been totally justified.

But that’s not who our God is.  God isn’t like that.  Instead of directing His righteous wrath against you and me for our petty little problems and our petty little squabbles, He directed all His wrath against His own Son.  Jesus became the lightning rod for all of God’s righteous anger against sin.  On that very cross God turned this sinful world upside down with His love.  He shook everything up.  He broke the rule of reciprocity.  The rule of reciprocity that otherwise would dominate our lives says, “Whoever does bad to you do bad to them and whoever does good to you do good to them.”  God blew that up on the cross.  He inflicted punishment on the only one who ever did Him right and He showered love on all of us who’ve time and time again done Him wrong!  He punished Jesus for our sins so that He could shower His mercy, love, and grace on you and me!  There He rescued you, there He freed you from anger, there He forgave all your sins, there He made you His own child and heir of eternal life!

Knowing that, seeing that, realizing that, appreciating that makes all the difference for our lives.  Knowing God’s love means we can be loving – even to those who hurt us, even in circumstances that are unpleasant, even when things don’t work out the way we wanted, even when people disappoint us.  Knowing God’s love means we can turn anger down and be loving and gentle instead.

Warning lights in our cars serve a purpose- they warn us of deeper more serious problems.  Temptations to become angry come at us all the time and will continue to come, but perhaps they can serve as a warning to us.  Next time you’re tempted to be angry be reminded of your deeper problem beneath it all: your sin.  But then remember what God has done with all your sins: forgiven them.  Then you can see this life for what it really is: not all that important, but temporary, fleeting, passing.  You can see people in your life, even people who antagonize you, as who they really are: souls bought by the blood of Christ who need to see their sin and their Savior.  Then you can let it go, live freely, free of anger, free of bitterness, and free of resentment, and free to smile and let it go, free to forgive, free to love, and free to be kind and gentle to all.  Amen.