Sunday, July 31, 2011
In the third chapter of John’s Gospel we hear our Lord say these familiar words:
“God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
I want you to remember these words throughout our sermon today for they are the very heart of salvation. They tell us that the love of God embraces ALL people—but these words also remind us that it is only those who believe in Jesus who will be saved.
In our epistle lesson last week we heard how the love of God for the world has come to us personally and individually so that we can be saved: that God has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be his own dear children—that he has drawn out a plan for our lives so that we could hear the Good News of Jesus, come to him in faith, and persevere in faith until the day we stand in his presence forever.
An important part of that plan of salvation that God has been patiently working out in history (so that we here today can be saved) involved the Jews—God’s ancient people. Two thirds of the Bible is their story written in the pages of the Old Testament.
God chose the Jews and set them apart as his own beloved people so that the worship and knowledge of the one true God and the promise of his Messiah would go forth into the world to all people--and God wants his ancient people to be saved as well. At the very beginning of this letter to the Romans Paul says:
I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jews FIRST and also to the Greek.
There again you see that salvation is ONLY for those who believe—whether Jew or Gentile. And that brings us to our text today.
During our Lord’s earthly ministry, many of his own people rejected him. It was the same in Paul’s day and it is the same in our day. And that lack of faith among the Jews was a special concern for Jesus and the apostles. Jesus made their salvation his first priority. But after his last visit to the temple before his death, he looked back at city of Jerusalem and said: Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I longed to gather you to myself as a hen gathers her chicks—but you were not willing. The apostles sought out the Jews first in their apostolic ministry and even Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, always sought out the Jews first in each city he visited.
Sadly, in large measure, the Jews rejected their Messiah and were not converted to Christianity. In this, they are representative of humanity. Even today, the vast, vast majority of the world’s people are not Christians. And so what is our attitude to be towards the lost—both Jew and Gentile? Paul writes:
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
Three different times in three different ways Paul says: What I am about to tell you is the truth: that if there was some way that I could save my own kinsmen by being damned to hell for eternity—I would do it. Now that is a remarkable statement!
I cannot imagine another person as grateful for their own personal salvation as was the Apostle Paul—in letter after letter he praises God for his mercy and love towards him. But he was willing to sacrifice it all if it would do any good for his fellow Jews. Of course, he knew that his sacrifice wouldn’t accomplish this—but that is what he was willing to do. It came from a deep love and concern for the salvation of others.
We must not let this moment pass without asking ourselves: do I have the same love and concern for the salvation of others? All around us are people who God loves—people for whom Christ shed his life’s blood—who will die and go to hell because they do not know and believe in Jesus. Do we care? Are we concerned? God is!
We exist at this moment as believing children of God so that his love would be made known through our words and through our witness and through our work.
It is not enough for us to be grateful for our own salvation if that gratitude does not extend to making sure that those around us are also going to heaven—for this love for the lost comes from the very heart of God and is shown in salvation history—especially in the life of his ancient people, the Jews. Paul writes:
They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
God chose the Jews to be his people—to make known the knowledge and worship of the true God and the promise of the Messiah to the whole world. He made a covenant with Abraham to bless the world through the Messiah and he renewed that covenant with the patriarchs who followed. God showed his holiness and glory at Mt. Sinai. He spoke through the prophets who revealed more and more about what kind of person the Savior would be and what his salvation would look like and accomplish in our lives. And finally God’s own Son took on the human flesh of his Jewish mother in the person of Jesus-- who accomplished our salvation by his death and resurrection.
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. These words --and the person who spoke these words do not exist in a vacuum—they are the culmination and pinnacle of thousands of years of salvation history told in the life of God’s ancient people the Jews who were chosen by God and gifted by God for one saving purpose: that through faith in Jesus Christ salvation could be found—both for Jews and Gentiles—but only through faith in Jesus.
It was for this saving purpose that the Jews were chosen by God as a nation—and yet the tragedy is that so many missed out on salvation because they did not believe in Jesus. There is no other way or word to describe that situation than: heartbreaking. And so what went wrong? Had God’s plans and purposes failed the very people that he chose to reveal his plans and purposes to the world? NO! Paul writes:
It is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel…
Let’s go back to that person and promise we heard from at the beginning of the sermon: God so loved the world... Jesus spoke those words to Nicodemus—a religious teacher of the Jews—who came to Jesus at night, asking questions about the way of salvation and Jesus told him: You must be born again! Those words were not just spoken to Nicodemus—they were spoken to the Jewish people and the Gentile nations and to you and me: You must be born again!
Then Nicodemus asked Jesus: how can a grown man enter into his mother’s womb a second time and be born again. You see, Nicodemus, couldn’t conceive of a birth other than a physical birth. But that’s not what Jesus was talking about—he was talking about a spiritual rebirth. Even though Nicodemus was a religious leader among the Jews --and even though Paul’s Jewish heritage was spotless—merely being born a Jew was not enough for salvation. And it never had been. Paul writes:
Not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”
Jesus told the Jews of his day that if they were really Abraham’s children they would share the faith of their father and believe in him like Abraham had. Paul told the Jews at Rome that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness—that Abraham is the father of all who believe—but only those who believe.
When God chose Abraham he promised him that through his Offspring, all of the world would be blessed—that is, through his family line, the Messiah would come who would earn salvation for the world—and Abraham believed God’s promise.
Then, when he remained childless over the years, he tried to work out God’s promised salvation for himself---producing a child with his wife’s servant, Hagar. But that was not God’s plan. God himself would provide the child of promise.
Many, many years passed and Abraham and Sarah became old people and remained childless. But God had not forgotten his promise and when Abraham was 100 years old--when there could be no doubt but that it was God’s work—a child was born.
The point that Paul is making with this illustration from Abraham’s life is this: simply being born does not makes us children of God—not even being born to those who ARE God’s people—be they ancient Jews or modern Lutherans. As Paul says: It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God but the children of the promise who are counted as his offspring. It is being born again through faith in the promises of God that makes us his children --which God has purposed and planned to do for us from eternity, electing us unto salvation so that there can be no doubt that our salvation---from beginning to end—is his work alone. Paul writes:
When Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
Paul gives another example from the history of God’s ancient people of how the salvation God provides is a pure gift—completely his own doing from beginning to end—totally removed from any work of man.
Isaac, the promised son of Abraham, married Rebekah who became pregnant with twins. Before the twins were born, before they had done anything or said anything to distinguish one from the other—God chose the child who was born second (Jacob) rather than the first (Esau) to be the one through whom the Messiah would come.
That choice is the sense in which we understand the words: Jacob I love, but Esau I hated. It is the same figure of speech that Jesus used to distinguish the love that we have for our family and the love that we are to have for God—a love that is so great and profound that all other loves look like hate in comparison. Esau was not cut off from salvation by virtue of God’s choice of Jacob—he was simply not the one--elected by God-- through whom the Messiah would come.
Paul’s point with both illustrations is this: It was God’s saving purpose and plan that was being worked out in history and what really mattered was not mankind’s efforts to bring about salvation (like Abraham)-- and not what man thought about how God ought to work to bring about salvation (preferring the firstborn over the second)—but what mattered was God’s saving purpose and plan which would reach its fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth—a man of the Jewish nation—who lived and died for all people.
God says concerning his ancient people the Jews: What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Jesus said of his own people the Jews: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I longed to gather you to myself! The apostle Paul said of his own kinsmen the Jews: I wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren. God’s choice of Israel—the gifts he gave to them—the love of Jesus for them—the apostolic mission directed to them—it all testified to God’s loving purpose and plan to save the world—a plan that lovingly included the Jews in a mighty way-- despite the fact that relatively few of them ever came to faith in Jesus. It’s in the context of that great love that God has for his ancient people that Paul writes:
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it ( that is: salvation) depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
Please, please listen and understand to what I am about to say: the story that we have heard today IS NOT the story of the bad, unbelieving Jews—it is the story of fallen humanity of which they are representative—a fallen humanity that lacks the will and the strength to make a way to God on their own.
But even more importantly, it is also the story of the mercy of God—who from the very beginning had a plan to save the world—a plan that he worked out in time in the lives of real people—so that WE could return to him through faith in Jesus.
Is it somehow unjust that his plan to save the world necessitated specific choices? Of course not! The gifts that he gave to the Jews—culminating in the gift of his own Son--were given in mercy and love for the sake of the world’s salvation—both Jews and Gentile—and the mercy of God is the only place for our salvation to rest—for that is what we can see and know (beyond any shadow of a doubt) in Christ.
God’s mercy is also the place for the mission of the church to begin. Our message as the people of God is that in the LORD we have a merciful God who loves the world and has given his Son so that whoever believes in him (be they Jew or Gentile) will be saved. Amen.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
Daily bread, that Fourth Petition of the Lord's Prayer, was the sermon text this morning. If we approach Daily Bread the way we usually approach prayer, God should give us whatever we want whenever we have the right motivation or enough people praying for us. But, as Dr. Luther reminds us, God gives daily bread even to evil people, to the wicked. In other words, God gives daily bread to sinners.
I think there's another dimension to daily bread when we consider words from Job, too: Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? (2:10)
The truth is, Daily Bread is pure mercy, pure grace, pure undeserved favor.
This Week at Mt. Olive
Coming soon - in fact, in about a month, Sunday School classes will be formed and those classes will need teachers. Please, PLEASE prayerfully consider serving as a Sunday School teacher this year. The goal is to have two teachers per class so that teachers are provided off weeks from time to time. Please call the Church Office or Kim Waddle if you're available.
July 31 Jr. and Sr. Youth will be going to the movies! On the big screen will be Captain America.
I will be out of the office Tuesday morning to take the offering to Timon's and for Bokenkamp board meetings.
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Ft. Campbell), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), John Sorensen, Ryan Radtke (Corpus Christi), Andrew Epley (currently on AT)
Students who are beginning their treks back to college campuses around our nation
Students and teachers who are already in class and those preparing
Sunday School teachers who are preparing for classes this fall
Zora Simonds, Ruby Rieder, Ann Cleveland, Walter and Pearly Theiss
This Week at Mt. Olive
Monday, July 25
Tuesday, July 26
Pastor's Information Class
Wednesday, July 27
Bible Study - 1 John
Lutheran Book Club
Thursday, July 28
Proper 13, Series A July 31, 2011
Lessons for The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 55:1-5 ~ God’s promise through David is like a banquet for those who cannot afford food.
Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26 [Antiphon 136:26]
Romans 9:1-5 (6-13) ~ God multiplied the offspring of Abraham by making them heirs of the Promise.
Matthew 14:13-21 ~ After healing the sick and teaching the crowd, Jesus fed them all abundantly.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: God Feeds Body and Soul.
God’s promise through David is like a banquet for those who cannot afford food. His mercy is not measured by what we want or do, but by His compassion. Even when Jesus went off by himself to grieve over John's death, his love for the crowds who followed him moved him to provide them abundant food for soul and body.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord Jesus, you fed the crowds with plenty and had even more left over! Help me recognize the plenty in your grace that I may be generous in sharing the left overs of your love with others. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: The security of God’s grace insures every gift we invest in God’s kingdom.
OFFERING PRAYER: O Lord, multiply these gifts of ours,
And let Your mercies fall like showers
To spread Your kingdom and Your reign
And tell the glory of Your name.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We invest so much of our time and effort into bankrupt living, as though we were starving and yet wasting our money on that which is not bread and our labor on that which does not fulfill life. God’s promise stands behind His good gift so that in the giving, God multiplies His grace with a family name and feeds us bountifully with a nourishment for body and soul. We have become disciples to help in the distribution of food that satisfies and life that is filled to overflowing.
Today’s sermon is the last in series of three sermons from Romans chapter 8. In the first sermon we were reminded of our royal status as believers in Jesus: that we are God’s children. What amazing and wonderful news this is that, through faith in Jesus, we have become what God intended for all people from the beginning: sons and daughters of the living God of the universe who are loved with an everlasting love.
In our second sermon, we learned that God’s children are people of hope—that we can be certain that there is an eternal future for us (and for creation) that is unbroken by sin and death—confident that, “come what may” here on earth, eternal life lived in fellowship with God in a new heaven and a new earth is our eternal future.
Today’s sermon is about that time that lies between our adoption into God’s family and our ultimate restoration on the Last Day—it’s about our life right here and now and the challenges we face and the faith questions we have in the midst of those challenges. Questions such as…
If I really am God’s child and if I really do have a glorious eternal future ahead of me, why am I experiencing such hardship right now? What is God’s purpose in allowing difficulties into my life? Can I be confident that earthly troubles are not going to destroy my faith and I fail to reach heaven? God’s answer to these questions is that he is working ALL things for our eternal good. The Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write:
We know that- for those who love God -all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
How devoutly we believe these words when our life is filled with good things—how we struggle to believe them when it is difficult and hard things that fill our lives! But whether there are pleasant things or painful things, the promise of God is the same: in every moment and circumstance of our life, he is working for the good of his children.
But this promise applies only to those who are God’s children through faith in Jesus—whose lives are characterized by a love for God. Those who are God’s enemies-those who are living in open rebellion against God’s ways --can take no comfort from this wonderful promise-- for they are living at cross purposes with God.
God has created us and redeemed us for a single purpose: that we would be restored to a right relationship with him in time and eternity and live with him as his children. Everything he does and allows in our lives works to that good end so that we can be confident that-come what may-we WILL reach heaven. The Bible says:
Those whom God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
There are a number of theological words in these verses: predestined—justified, glorified—and we will talk about those in more detail in a moment—but what you need to know from these verses—the summary of what we’re going to talk about is this: God has always known you and loved you--and God will always love you-- and he has a perfect plan for your life so that you will remain his child for time and eternity.
God told Jeremiah, that before he formed him in his mother’s womb—he knew him—and that is true for you too. Before there was time—when there was simply the God WHO IS—you were already on his mind and in his heart. He called into being everything that exists out of love for you—to enjoy fellowship with you forever.
To achieve that goal, he predestined you—that is, he chose you in Christ to be his own- and designed a perfect plan for your life- so that everything that happened in your life would play a role in shaping you into the image of his only-begotten Son—so that you could enjoy the very same life with the Father that Jesus has.
A big part of that plan was accomplished when he called you into his family by the power of the Holy Spirit working in the Gospel. Maybe that happened when you were baptized—maybe it happened later in life through the preaching of the Gospel—but however and whenever it happened—God called you to trust in Jesus—and in that moment, God declared that you were right in his sight—justified by faith in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ.
And having justified you in his sight, he prepared an eternal home for you in heaven where his life and presence and glory would shine upon you forever.
From everlasting to everlasting God has loved you and known you and he has done everything necessary to make you his own precious child for time and eternity. That is why we can be so certain that all things are working for our good—because God is for us and always has been and always will be. The Bible says: What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
We may have our doubts about the “ALL” in “all things” that God chooses to work for our good. We would very much prefer to avoid hardship and suffering and the difficulties of life.
But there can be absolutely NO DOUBT that even in the midst of them, there is a God of love who is working for our good because his love stretches from eternity to eternity and standing right smack dab in the middle of God’s eternal love for you is the enduring sign of that love: his own Son’s death upon the cross. The Bible says:
God who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
None of us can peer back into the hidden counsels of God or gaze into the future at the glory to come—they have to be revealed to us for they lie outside of time and space. But we can know—beyond any shadow of a doubt—in a concrete way—God’s attitude towards us because of the gift of his Son.
God himself—in the person of his Son Jesus—entered into time and space and took upon himself our own human flesh. He offered up upon the rough cross of Calvary the one perfect, fully sufficient sacrifice that has reconciled us to our heavenly Father—fulfilling the law’s demands and suffering the punishment for sin we deserved.
The person and work of Jesus—events of history and a real, living person-- are preached to us so that our ears can hear it and they are poured over us in the waters of Holy Baptism so that we can feel it and given to us in bread and wine so that we can taste it. Truly WE CAN taste and see that the Lord is good and his mercy endures forever.
And having given us the gift of his own Son—having bestowed his saving life upon us in Word and Sacrament—why on earth would God withhold even one good thing from us?! All things—all things have already been given to us in Jesus Christ.
Some of them we enjoy right now: forgiveness, peace with God, hope for the future, a family of fellow believers. Some of them we have to wait for: a new heaven and earth, bodies unencumbered with sickness and sorrow, and the end of death.
But having already given us the very best he can give in Jesus—we can be absolutely certain that God will not withhold a single good thing from us—no matter what the world, the devil, and our own flesh have to say about it. The Bible says:
Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
When the Christian endures hard times and difficulties our spiritual enemies are right there tempting us to doubt the promises that God has made to us. The world ridicules for believing that there is a divine purpose and plan for our lives. The devil attacks our identity by tempting us to doubt we are God’s children because hardships have come into our lives. And our own sinful flesh rebels against the very idea that God can bring good things out of suffering.
But what are these spiritual enemies—with their temptations and accusations and condemnations-- compared to the verdict of Almighty God: that through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection we are indeed his children now and forever? Who can possibly condemn us when God has acquitted us—or dare to accuse us when Jesus is our defense?
The same One who died on the cross to forgive us and rose up from the grave to give us new life --has ascended to the Father’s right hand where he lives to be our advocate: holding up his once for all sacrifice as the enduring sign of our righteousness in God’s sight-- and beseeching his heavenly Father to bring us safely into the home he has prepared for us.
It is the eternal plans and purpose of our heavenly Father for our lives- and the work of his Son Jesus Christ for our salvation- that assures us that nothing, absolutely nothing—no matter how terrible, no matter how difficult, no matter how painful-- has the power to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. The Bible says:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
Hardship and difficulty and suffering are a possibility for the child of God and for many of God’s people it has been a reality. Paul quoted a psalm that was written nearly a thousand years before Christ about the suffering those believers were enduring—the church of Paul’s day was going through that same thing—and of course we’ve had our own share of life’s difficulties even as countless Christians still die for their faith.
But do these hardships have the ability to destroy Christ’s love for us? Can they undermine the Father’s plans for us? Will they separate us from God?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What does it mean that we are MORE than conquerors? After all it certainly seems that we have our share of defeats: we give in to temptation—we are opposed by the unbelieving world—we have to endure hardship and suffering—and all of us will die one day if the Lord does not come first. Where is the victory in all this?
It is in Christ—the One who loved us and gave his life for us. It is his victory that makes us more than conquerors in our daily battles.
Jesus never gave in to temptation—not even once. Jesus defeated the devil’s angels again and again. Jesus healed the sick and fed the hungry. Jesus conquered death and the grave. The crucified, risen, ascended Christ rules heaven and earth at this very moment to bring us to himself and through faith in him—his victory is our own.
We are more than conquerors in the hardships of life because the victory that we possess is our Lord’s victory and nothing that we will ever face in this world is greater than his love for us.
His love chose us in eternity. His love rescued us from our sins and made us God’s children. His love has prepared a place for us where we will dwell eternally. And his love is still with us in this waiting time—this hoping time—working all things together for our good. Amen.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Our sister in Christ and fellow servant in the Lord's vineyard, Dcs. Christie Nelson, will soon begin work in a new field of service in China. I encourage you to remember her in your prayers and check out her blog which is linked on the left side of the page.
Monday, July 18, 2011
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
I'll go ahead and offer the portion of the Catechism from this morning. One note: This is from the 1921 translation.
The Third Petition.
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
What does this mean?--Answer.
The good and gracious will of God is done indeed without our prayer; but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.
How is this done?--Answer.
When God breaks and hinders every evil counsel and will which would not let us hallow the name of God nor let His kingdom come, such as the will of the devil, the world, and our flesh; but strengthens and keeps us steadfast in His Word and in faith unto our end. This is His gracious and good will.
Lord God, keep us firm in Your Word and faith until we die. Amen
Just to reiterate some numbers from last week that seem to be fairly firm. Without doubt, this was one of the biggest VBS sessions we've had in recent memory.
Students: About 150 on average
Teen Leaders/Helpers: 25
Adult Leaders/Helpers: 30
Total most days: 205
Kathy was doing some research earlier today and learned that the theme for next year is Desert Adventure. Living in south Texas, we should be experts on this!
This week at Mt. Olive, many activities return to a certain degree of normalcy. Zumba will continue on Monday and Wednesday evenings, Pastor's Information Class resumes on Tuesday at 7 p.m., and Lutheran Book Club will return on Wednesday at 7 p.m.. The only addition is LWML on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
This week, one of our number celebrates a milestone birthday. Walter "Anton" Theiss turns 90! As part of the celebration, a party is being held Saturday afternoon in Humble, where Anton and Pearly live. While I won't be able to attend, and many of you won't, either, I ask you to consider sending them a card or, if you'd rather, come by the Church Office to sign a card from the church before Thursday. I'll publish the address for cards. You're also welcome to send Walter a congratulatory email at email@example.com.
Zora Simonds, Leonard Howard
The home bound among us: Ruby Rieder, Ann Cleveland, Walter and Pearly Theiss (Houston)
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Ft. Campbell, KY), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), Andy Epley (on AT), John Sorensen, Ryan Radtke (Corpus Christi)
Students of London Schools and Tuloso-Midway Schools which begin sessions tomorrow
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, July 18
Tuesday, July 19
Pastor's Information Class
Wednesday, July 20
Bible Study (1 John)
Lutheran Book Club
Proper 12, Series A July 24, 2011
Lessons for The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Deuteronomy 7:6-9 ~ Israel became special because God chose them as His very own!
Psalm 125 [Antiphon 125:2]
Romans 8:28-39 ~ To know God’s love we must look beyond our troubles to the cross of Christ.
Matthew 13:44-52 ~ In the kingdom of heaven, value is determined by God’s love.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: How High the Cost?
Love doesn’t count the cost! Moses told the Children of Israel that out of His love for them, God had chosen them in spite of the fact that they were a liability! St. Paul gave us God’s assurance that nothing can separate us from His love in Jesus Christ! Jesus’ parable of the treasure in the field tells of the value of the kingdom, but it also reflects how much Jesus was ready to sacrifice to win our salvation.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Gracious God, you have chosen me with a love I cannot comprehend! Even though your Kingdom grace is a free gift to me, help me always appreciate how precious your redeeming love is! Make me ready to sacrifice great things to bring that gift to others. Amen.
OFFERING PRAYER: The grace of Your kingdom, Lord, is worth so much more
Than all of the treasures in our precious store,
And yet You have shown that more valuable still
Is the soul of each sinner redeemed by Your will.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: We do not practice faithful stewardship in order to reap the rewards, but God certainly does bless us in our faithfulness!
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We measure the worth of others by their benefit to us: Are they for us or against us? We evaluate ourselves by our circumstances in life: are we wealthy, happy, and free of suffering? Jesus turns our eyes away from ourselves and toward God’s great love for us. His grace gathers us in like fish in a net and purchases us for Himself at great cost, because our worth is determined by His love for us.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
It is so very easy--living in this world that is broken by sin and death--to become depressed and discouraged—to lose hope.
With each election cycle we hear candidates promise that they are different than those who came before—that this time things will be different for our nation. Many people find themselves in marriages and families where the future holds out the promise of the same old painful past. Those of us who have lived more than just a few years on earth discover that we are not becoming stronger, but weaker, with the passing years.
It is difficult to be people of hope when it seems as if the future is simply an endless repeat of the cycle of brokenness and death that has come before.
And yet, we are called to be people of hope. The Bible says: that love always hopes-- and that there is a hope that is an anchor for our souls—a hope that will not disappoint. And so what is that hope for the future that we Christians have? God the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to write:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Do you see that word “consider” there in your bible? The Greek word that Paul used there comes from the ancient business world and it means to count up and enumerate and weigh things out carefully.
In one column are all the things that tempt us to lose hope: a nation in moral decline, difficult relationships, frail health, economic difficulties-- and in the other column are the good things of God that are still to come: an eternal home where sorrow and suffering have no part, relief from the burden of our flesh, a reunion with those we love who have gone before, and a new life in the very presence of God.
Add both of those columns up and you will very quickly discover that even the most broken earthly life full of hardships-- still does not come close to outweighing the wonderful life that God has in store for those who are his children and heirs of all of the blessings Christ has earned for us on the cross.
Many of these blessings are still in the future—they are objects of hope—but they are no less certain than the accomplished facts of salvation history. We just have to wait for them in hope, looking forward to the day when they will be our own. And so…
When will, what we hope for as Christians, become our own? The Bible says: The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
As we look at the world around us, it is often difficult to distinguish between those who are God’s children from those who are not God’s children. As the bible says, it rains on the just and the unjust. In other words, earthly blessings and hardships are no indicator of those who are God’s children and those who are not. Sometimes Christians suffer while the evil flourish.
But it will not always be this way. There is coming a day—the Last Day—when there will be a distinct division between those who are God’s—and those who are not. There will be reward and punishment on that day—and what we have hoped for and prayed for and longed for as Christian people—what has always been in the future—will become our present possession for eternity. And not only do WE long for that day—but even creation longs for that day-- for it too will be restored. The Bible says:
The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
When evil entered into our world—all of creation was affected. Satan took upon himself the form of a serpent. Adam and Eve ate forbidden fruit. And their sin not only ruined their lives—but it ruined creation as well. God said that: No longer would work be a delight--but creation would work against man every step of the way with thorns and thistles and every other kind of earthly hardship. No longer would man and woman dwell in perfect delight with one another but there would be animosity between them. Every generation that followed them would come forth into the world through pain. And death would enter into the world—beginning with the animals that God used to cover Adam and Eve’s shame. A broken creation.
So it still is today. The world that was created to support our life takes our life through earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes and disease and drought and famine. Men commit every kind of evil against their fellow man and bitterness and anger extend into even our closest human relationships. And death is still the end of every living thing.
That was true even for our Lord. His blessed mother brought him forth in painful labor. The knife of the priest on his eighth day of life cause him to cry out in pain. He labored by the sweat of his brow. His family struggled to understand him and his friends rejected him. He too breathed a last earthly breath just like every other person who came before him.
But three days later Jesus did something that no one had ever done before—he rose up from the dead. His resurrection is God’s promise that the curse of creation that brings death to us and ruins this beautiful world will not endure forever—that the downward spiral of the world -and mankind with it- has been reversed by God and is now moving in a different direction—towards freedom and life. The Bible says:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
When Adam and Even sinned, one of the consequences of that sin was that children would be brought forth in pain. And yet despite the pain, children are brought forth. The love and courage of women and their hope for their children’s future is greater than their fear of pain and new life comes forth into the world. That is the way that Paul describes the world itself—filled with pain-- but not futility—looking forward to the future and a new life to come.
This image radically changes how we view the brokenness of this world and the terrible tragedies of the natural order. No longer do we see an endless cycle of pain and misery and suffering that have no meaning or purpose or end—but we see them as the birth pains of a new world to come—a new creation redeemed by the blood of its Creator and renewed by his resurrection so that the whole world can live again without the stain and punishment of sin—just as we will one day live. The Bible says:
Not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.
The children of Israel offered up the first part of every harvest to the LORD—as a tangible sign that the LORD had provided for them just as he promised-- and that having begun the harvest he would bring in the rest of the promised crop. That firstfruit gift connected the past and present and the future.
So it is with the firstfruits of the Spirit. We have been born again by the work of the Holy Spirit—we confess that Jesus is Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit—the Holy Spirit dwells in our life—and the Holy Spirit gives us his good gifts.
The Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives is a promise from God—a guarantee, a down payment, on every other blessing of body and soul that he has promised to his children-- culminating in our physical resurrection from the dead on the Last Day.
Now, when we die, our souls go to be with the Lord—and the Bible says that is better by far than what we experience here on earth. But that is not all there is to the restoration and renewal of our lives by any means! We are both body and soul and Jesus Christ has redeemed both body and soul and rose up from his grave—body and soul—glorified, never to die again. So will we!
That day is still in the future—it is an object of hope—and until that day we suffer the hardships of the broken human condition. We age. We get sick. We become frail. And we die. But Christians do not see that as simply our own small part in an endless cycle of birth, life and death that has no meaning or purpose or fulfillment.
Instead, we know that we are moving towards something—that life, real life, life as God intends is getting closer and closer and that knowledge helps us to wait patiently for the day of resurrection that God has promised will come for his children. The Bible says:
Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Have you ever said something like this while waiting: this line is never going to move—that train is stopped dead in its tracks—we’re never going to get there—this is going to take forever. I know that I have! No one enjoys waiting.
But when it comes to our Christian faith—there are waiting times. The blessings that we hope for are, by nature things that lie in the future. The blessings of: never having to struggle with sin—of seeing our loved ones who have gone before us—of being truly and fully content and at peace—these are things for which we have to wait patiently. To do that, we need God’s help so that we can remain faithful and receive the fullness of God’s salvation on the Last Day. The Bible says:
The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Between the down payment of the Spirit that we have right now --and the fullness of God’s salvation that will come on the Last Day—there is a waiting time: an “even now, not yet” kind of life for God’s children.
This “waiting time” is to be a time of prayer for the child of God—lived out in constant conversation with our heavenly Father—not about what is to come (for that is certain)—but what is going on in our lives right now.
The Christian who is looking forward to eternity with hope is still interested and concerned about what is going on around them right now. We have families to care for and jobs to work at and neighbors to serve. The day to day struggles of living in a broken world call us to be people of prayer.
But what to pray for—that’s the question we often have. We discover that we don’t always know what to ask for. What a comfort it is for us to know that the Holy Spirit prays for us—that he is interceding for us so that God’s will would be done in our lives right now in such a way that our journey to heaven is strengthened and the blessings that we hope for when we get there are assured.
The good news for us today is that our hope for the future as Christians will not disappoint us—but God will keep the promises that he has made to raise us from the dead, give us a new life, and restore all that sin has destroyed. Amen.
Monday, July 11, 2011
Proper 11, Series A July 17, 2011
Lessons for The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 44:6-8 ~ The eternal God of Israel established His people with His powerful deeds.
Psalm 119:57-64 (Antiphon 119:89)
Romans 8:18-27 ~ All creation waits expectantly for God to free His children from the sufferings of this age.
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 ~ God’s children and those of the world live side by side until the end of this age.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: God is Always Beside Us.
God's love toward us is great, but His judgement upon sin is sure. Those who have been called according to God’s purpose can count on a love that made great sacrifices to rescue us from the evil power of sin and death. When evil crops up around us, God protects us from destruction, keeping us safe for the harvest of righteousness.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord God, in the turmoil of my life, help me see you beside me to encourage me, behind me to uphold me, before me to lead me. Help me understand my life from the certainty of your love, rather than trying to understand you from the experiences of my life. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: God leaves His people in this world to be instruments of compassion to those who are caught up in the despair of the bondage to this world’s cares. We use His good gifts to lighten their loads and turn their eyes toward the hope of the glory God has prepared for His people.
OFFERING PRAYER: Rock of our Hope and Redeemer of nations,
Lighten our suffering and comfort our sorrow.
Bless all these gifts from the things of creation,
As we confess patient trust for tomorrow.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: When the troubles of life overwhelm us, we resign ourselves to futility or destroy and start over. God, however, waits in hope and expectation as His redeeming love brings His purpose to fruition. Through all our sufferings, the one Lord, the redeemer of His people, helps us in our weakness.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Today we have one of the most important, instructive, and sadly, ignored teachings of the New Testament: our adoption as God’s children. Having been purchased and set free from slavery to sin and death by the blood of Jesus, the Holy Spirit has brought us to faith and made us sons and daughters of the heavenly Father, adopting us into his family.
Just think about that for a moment: you are a child of the living God of the universe—and that royal status shapes how we understand God- and our own lives- and our purpose in this world. Paul writes: So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.
In the first eleven verses of chapter eight, Paul very carefully lays out just exactly what God has done for us and our salvation: that he sent his Son Jesus so that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled--that the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in our lives to empower us in a new way of living—and that when this life is over, we can look forward to being raised from the dead.
Because of what God has done for us, we Christians have an obligation—a debt we owe—but it is not to our flesh—not to our old way of life —but an obligation—a debt we owe to the Holy Spirit-- for bringing us back to our heavenly Father.
A life of sin, the condemnation of the law, having to obey the temptation of the world, our flesh, and the devil—all of that is over for us now that we have a place in God’s family through faith in Jesus. To him—we owe our very life in time and eternity—a debt that the child of God is glad to pay.
Normally, we don’t like being indebted. We are glad and relieved when our car and home are paid off. But the obligation we have to God for what he has done for us in Jesus and the place he has made for us in his family—is something altogether different—it is not a burden but a pleasure to pay that debt—to live for God—not the flesh. Paul writes:
If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
There really are only two ways to live life here on earth—to gladly serve our heavenly Father who has done so much for us at so great a cost—or to live our lives indulging ourselves. The first way leads to life—the second, to death.
This second way, the way of death, the way of self-indulgence and sin is the way of the world. The world tells us: You’re not in love anymore—get a divorce. You are in love—don’t bother waiting for marriage but indulge your lust now. You want to get ahead—you’re going to have to step on others to do it. You want the nice things in life—put your career and the pursuit of money first.
The child of God knows that this is the way of death because it is the path AWAY from the God who has given us new life—and so rather than living this way—the child of God puts to death the deeds of the body.
The verb form that is used there indicates that putting to death the deeds of the body is not a one-time action—but it has to be done again and again so that we do not return to a life of sin and forfeit our place in God’s family. And so what exactly does that mean—to put to death the deeds of the body?
It means that we accept the judgment and verdict of the law regarding our sin. The activities and behaviors that God calls sin—are sin-- and will remain sin until the end of days. God has not changed his mind about right and wrong. It means that we recognize that sin leads to death and so we are quick to repent when we have done wrong. It means that we ask the Holy Spirit to help us live a holy life and that we make regular and faithful use of God’s Word and Holy Communion to that end.
This is how the Holy Spirit works repentance in our hearts- moment by moment- and day by day- so that sin does not get the upper hand and destroy our faith and our life with God.
Dying to self—crucifying the flesh-- putting to death the sin that overtakes us at times—cannot be done in our power-- but has to be done in the power of the Spirit who lives in us, guiding us into the way that leads to life.
And in fact, it is only those who are led by the Spirit who can count themselves a part of God’s family. Paul writes: For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
Now that is a question worth asking, isn’t it: Am I led by the Spirit? Since it is only those who are led by the Spirit who can count themselves a part of the family of God, am I a person who is led by the Spirit? Do I have God’s perspective on things? Are his values and his purposes and his priorities my own? Is the testimony of the Spirit more real and compelling to me than the voice of the world and the desires of my fallen flesh?
Christians get confused about this ‘leading of the Spirit”. It is not some mystical experience that Paul is talking about—but rather, it is the voice of God as he speaks to us in his Word and impresses that truth upon our hearts so that we know the direction that we should go in life because we are God’s children and we know our Father’s heart.
That is the leading of the Spirit and if we find ourselves going in a direction other than the way that he leads, we know that direction in life doesn’t lead to the glorious freedom of the children of God—but is return to the slavery from which Jesus set us free. Paul writes:
You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
The world is full of people who think that they are free because they are doing what they want, when they want. But they are not free at all! They are either enslaved by their flesh- or they enslaved by what others think about them- or they are enslaved by the devil.
They are anything but free and they live in fear—fear of growing old, fear of not having enough money, fear of not being pretty enough or handsome enough, fear of being rejected by others, fear of being alone. Lives of fear. Sadly, there are even Christians who live in fear because they do not understand their status as God’s child.
I recently visited with a very nice young woman (not a member of the congregation) who is a stay-at-home mom. A devoted, sincere, hard-working, young mom with nice, well-cared for children. She and her husband attend church regularly. But she lives life in abject fear: fear that she hasn’t done enough—fear that she is making some mistake—fear that God will punish her and her children if she fails in some way. For all intents and purposes she views God as her enemy that she has to placate to avoid punishment. Dear friends in Christ—IT IS A TRAGEDY TO LIVE THIS WAY!
She believes in Jesus. She has been adopted into God’s family as his daughter. And yet she shrinks back in fear from God rather than running to him as fast as she can like a little girl running to her daddy!
That is what God wants for us and this is why God has gone to all the trouble of saving us. Our adoption into his family is the pinnacle of our life with him: that we would know him as our Father—that we would have such an intimate, loving life with him that we would address him as Abba—the name that little children called their father in the days of Paul.
God has created you and redeemed you and made you a part of his family to have this kind of life with him. You are his child. He loves you. You do not have to fear him as a slave.
Respect him, to be sure! Stand in awe of him, certainly! But even then our respect and awe shouldn’t make us cower in fear-- but lead us to trust him and come to him no matter how difficult the situation—no matter how great the obstacle—to cry out to him in our need, knowing that the living God of the universe is our Father and he loves us and will help us just as we love and help our children.
This is who you are. This is the kind of life that God wants to have with you. This Father/child relationship is what shapes our lives of faith and leads us in the paths of holiness and obedience.
We do not obey God because he is going to strike us down. We do not obey God so that we can make a place with him on our own. Jesus has already been punished for us. The Holy Spirit has already adopted us into the family of God through faith in Jesus.
We are God’s children and it is because this is who we are that we WANT to know what pleases our heavenly Father—we WANT to know what his wisdom says is best for us— we WANT to talk to him in prayer, confident that he is listening--we WANT to worship him and listen to him—we WANT to spend time with him and we expect blessing and protection and provision from him because he is our Father and we are his children. This is not my opinion—this is not wishful thinking—this is what God himself says about us. Paul writes that:
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
In the third chapter of his first epistle, John says: See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God—AND SO WE ARE!
Everyone who has Jesus Christ for their Savior has God for their Father and his message to today is this: Dare to believe what the Holy Spirit says about you in the Bible! Know that the promises of God are true! Rejoice in the place that the Father has made for you in him family—not only as his child—but as an heir of all that he possesses.
God does not treat his adopted sons and daughters any differently than he treats his only-begotten Son Jesus. The fellowship—the life—the eternal future—the place in heaven that Jesus has—this inheritance of grace is for all of those who have faith in Jesus and follow him as his disciples—even when that means hardship and suffering.
Jesus’ journey back to the Father went through the cross and how can it be any different for we who are God’s adopted children than it was for Jesus? And the promise that is found in Jesus’ life is also true of our own—that the way of the cross leads to glory for all of God’s children. Amen.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Proper 10, Series A July 10, 2011
Lessons for The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 55:10-13 ~ God’s Word produces new life as rain upon dry soil.
Psalm 65:(1-8) 9-13 [Antiphon vs 5]
Romans 8:12-17 ~ God’s children are led by His Spirit to live in the joyful hope of His glory.
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 ~ God’s Word in our hearts produces great results like seed in good soil.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: When God Speaks....
The Word of God is powerful, creating what He wills, doing what He wants. God's Word accomplishes His plans the way spring rains bring forth life in the desert. Children of God, adopted by the power of God's Spirit through His gospel Word, are freed from slavery to fear to live in the joyful hope of inheriting the glory of God’s Kingdom. Jesus explained that God's kingdom grows by the planting of his Word. Like Isaiah's spring rains, God's Word brings forth the fruit of repentance in our lives many times over.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Gracious, all-creating God, you spoke and the world was made. You speak today and provide everything we need for life. Speak to my heart this day, O Lord, and fill me with patience in my suffering, hope in my waiting, and trust in my Savior. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: What we give to God is a generous and honorable portion of the harvest growing from the seed He has planted in our lives.
OFFERING PRAYER: Your word, O Lord, takes mighty root,
And nurtures faith to grow.
Now bless these gifts to bring forth fruit,
And all Your grace bestow.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: Little plants spring up quickly when the spring rains provide moisture. They push relatively large chunks of crust away easily. God’s Word is like that; it pushes aside any opposition, which is good news for us when we are facing the tribulations of life that get in our way of faith. But frightening news when we recognize we are often the ones who oppose the new work that God is doing in our lives and in our world. Thanks be to God, he has given us a new spirit as his children and heirs of the kingdom he is building.
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
The holy name of God. In Hebrew, "God" is actually a plural - the real God among all gods. The word most often translated "Lord" in the Old Testament is actually "Yahweh" from Exodus 3:14 - I am who I am, denoting the eternalness of the true God. The other word for "Lord" in Hebrew carries the meaning of "master." Jesus means "Yahweh delivers." The Holy Spirit, with all of the meanings in the original languages, is the wind/breath/Spirit of God.
The name of God. Sometimes I cringe when people ask me to offer a "little" prayer. My response is that the true God, the one who created the universe, is not a "little" God.
The name of God. By grace it is given to us, in mercy He hears us.
This week at Mt. Olive is filled with preparations for Vacation Bible School:
VBS Canvassing of the area will be Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 6 p.m.
VBS Decoration Making Party will be Thursday evening at 7 p.m.
VBS set up will be next Thursday at 2 p.m.
VBS begins next Monday, July 11, at 8:30 a.m.!
VBS donations needed:
Large live or plastic plants
Rolls of green paper (like you'd put on a bulletin board)
Cookies and punch
Any cash donations will be GREATLY appreciated and live plants will be returned unharmed.
I'm really "jazzed" about the current Adult Information Class at Mt. Olive. Besides having 6-8 people per session, the discussions ROCK! Information Class meets on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall.
Lutheran Book Club is going into the second half of chapter 2 of Why I am a Lutheran by the Rev. Daniel Preus. If you've been through Confirmation class and believe you could go for more in depth stuff, this book is for you! The club, which is really a gathering that discusses, is held on Wednesdays at 7 p.m.
Finally, a subject that is near and dear to me is in order: your safety. I am charged with teaching correct doctrine so that you are not led astray. I like that. But, I'm not entrusted with your well being in other venues. On this holiday weekend, please keep yourselves and your loved ones safe. Remember to fasten safety belts. Don't drink and drive. Remember your sunscreen, and be careful of rip currents in the gulf. I know, it sounds like I'm becoming the voice of your grandmother. In truth, you folks are special to me. I'd much rather see you in church on Sunday than in a less welcoming environment.
Those who serve in our armed forces: Rob Vadney (Ft. Campbell), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), John Sorensen, Ryan Radtke (Corpus Christi)
The great nation with which our Lord has blessed us
VBS volunteers and preparations
Those who travel
Zora Simonds, Kathryn Guerra
Ruby Rieder, Ann Cleveland, Walter and Pearly Theiss (Houston)
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, July 4
Independence Day! Church Office and Child Care closed
Tuesday, July 5
Adult Information Class (Fellowship Hall)
Wednesday, July 6
Bible Study (1 John)
Zumba Aerobics (Fellowship Hall)
Lutheran Book Club (Overflow)
Thursday, July 7
VBS Decoration Making Party
Sunday, July 10
8 and 10:30 a.m.
Sunday School/Bible Class
VBS Set Up begins!
Sunday, July 3, 2011
Every true, believing Christian comes to the cross of Jesus Christ with the spirit—if not the words—of the old hymn: just as I am without one plea but that thy blood was shed for me.
Every true, believing Christian comes to Jesus as a sinner—knowing that there are no excuses they can offer up to God for their sins—knowing that they cannot justify themselves in God’s sight for they have fallen short of his glory.
Every true, believing Christian also knows that, coming to the cross in faith, putting their trust in Jesus and what he has done, they are justified by God’s grace—their salvation and forgiveness and peace is a gift from God.
Every true, believing Christian—from that moment on, is born again and a new person in Christ. They love God from their inmost heart and desire nothing more than to do his will and live in fellowship with him.
But every true, believing Christian very quickly discovers that what they most desire in their life with God—to do his will and serve him in holiness of life—is the very thing that they struggle—and often times fail—to do.
Even if we had never before heard these familiar words of our text from the book of Romans—believing Christians immediately recognize the truth of them—the genuine pain and sorrow of wanting to do God’s will—but failing to do that very thing. That struggle was true of Paul and it is true of us too.
That we have this struggle between what we desire as Christian people and what we actually accomplish in our life—is not unique to us. It is the painful struggle against sin of every true Christian. This struggle is not a sign that we have lost our faith—but so long as the struggle exists—a sure sign that we are Christian people—wanting to do the will of the One who has saved us—but falling short again and again on account of our flesh. Paul writes:
We know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
The broken-ness of our human condition is not the fault of God or the fault of his law. But rather, the fault lies within us—in the sinful flesh we inherited from our first parents. That is true of every person by nature—and it is STILL true of us even when we become Christians.
When we came to faith in Jesus, we were born again—we have a new heart and a new spirit—we are new people—in Christ. But the old, sinful flesh we were born with did not magically disappear. We still must bear it—like corpse that is chained around our neck that we must carry around every moment of our lives—but even worse, for this corpse fights against our best efforts and sincere desires as Christians.
Every Christian can understand Paul’s words: I do not understand my own actions. How many times have we said to ourselves: “Good grief! What is wrong with me? I know not to do that! I know that’s not right! Why can’t I keep my big mouth shut! When will I ever learn! You would think I would know better than that by now!”
When we sin against better knowledge--it seems that we haven’t even begun to progress in the holy living that we really want to do as Christian people.
Now, all of this is assuming that we really are Christians and we really do hate the sin in our lives—but the person who is living in sin without repentance or concern-the person who is consciously and deliberately making room for sin in their lives--ought not fool themselves into believing that any of this applies to them because they are not Christians no matter where they sit on Sundays or what church roll they are on. There is no faith where there is no repentance and desire to amend one’s life.
This struggle against sin that Paul is describing is only true of the Christian who knows what God desires—who very much wants to do it—and yet finds that they fall again and again under the crushing weight of their sinful flesh. Paul writes:
If I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
To understand these verses, it is vitally important that we understand who the “I” is that Paul is talking about. The “I” in these verses who hates sin and wants to do what is right as revealed in the law-- is the new person we are in Christ. This new person we are by faith knows the right things to do and wants to do them—we recognize that the law reveals the holy will of God—and that the judgment of the law upon our own lives is correct: that sin still dwells within them—in our flesh. Paul writes:
I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
The old sinful person within us, the flesh that leads us away from God and into sin—cannot be reformed-- for there is no good within it to begin with. It cannot be whipped into shaped. The law will never make it better.
Instead, the flesh must be crucified and put off again and again which is the purpose of the law —to show us the truth about our sin again and again—to lead us to sorrow over our sin again and again-- and to bring us to the cross of Jesus Christ for forgiveness again and again.
This dynamic of- sorrow over sin and faith in the forgiveness of Jesus- is the heart of the Christian life and it begins with seeing our sin as God sees it—as that which is evil.
The sin that Paul mentions as that which brought him to the truth of his sinful condition was coveting—desiring things of which were not rightfully his—a sin of the heart. He wasn’t committing adultery or stealing or murdering or blaspheming God—he simply had sinful desires in his heart—but he recognized those as evil—not because they were less than others’ sins—but because of what they were in God’s sight: evil.
Often times, we are confused about the seriousness of our sins. We say to ourselves: “So I am not real regular in church attendance—maybe I say a curse word now or then—so what if I talk back to mom and dad—I’m still better than most people.”
But most people are not the measure that matters! The holiness of God is the measure of our lives—and all sin is evil in his sight-- and deserving of his punishment in time and eternity.
Recognizing our sins as evil in God’s sight and deserving his wrath brings us to a point where we can be saved-- because so long as we are measuring ourselves against others-- so long as we are excusing our sins-- so long as we are trying to justify what we do wrong—we will never come to the cross as sinners who need salvation. And Jesus only saves sinners.
The child of God knows the truth about their sinful flesh, that even when we are doing our best—sin is never too far away. Paul writes:
If I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,
The child of God wants to do the Father’s will. It is simply impossible that a person has truly come in faith to the cross of Jesus Christ- recognizes the priceless gift of forgiveness that is there in the shed blood of Jesus—but remains unmoved in their hearts to live for God from that moment on. It is simply impossible! The child of God delights to know and do his Father’s will and searches the Word of God to discover that will is so that they can begin to do it in their lives.
But as soon as we begin to do that—our sinful flesh is right there beside us, marring the good that we would do. We volunteer at church—but we want to be honored for it. We give to charity --but we hope someone sees and comments. We extend kindness to someone in need—but are oh so proud of how nice we are.
Paul says that it is a law—a principle—a pattern—that as soon as we begin to really attempt to follow Jesus—we discover- in a brand new way- just how sinful we are –that it extends to each part of our lives. Paul writes:
I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am!
Our mouth says things that we know we shouldn’t say—our feet take us to places we shouldn’t go—our eyes look at pictures we shouldn’t look at—our ears listen to things we shouldn’t hear. There is a spiritual battle that lies before us each moment of our lives and that battle doesn’t just come from the unbelieving world so that we could shut ourselves up in a monastery and avoid it—the battle comes from within us.
From the moment we were baptized and came to faith in Jesus there was a war within us—a conflict between good and evil involving the new person we are in Christ and our old sinful flesh. There is not one part of our lives that is not affected by that battle-- and often times we lose and fall into sin.
And so what should we do when that happens? Should we just give up and give in? Should we simply surrender to our flesh and confess that it is too powerful a foe? No! Instead, we fight on—moment by moment, day by day, temptation by temptation—we fight on—confident that our daily battle against sin is a part of an epic war and that has already been fought and won by Jesus Christ who gives us his victory and ultimate deliverance from the power of sin and death. Paul writes:
Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
I have always said that one thing that I am looking forward when I die is the opportunity—for the first time in my life—to be unencumbered by my fallen flesh—to never again disappoint my Lord by sinning.
Of course I’m looking forward to seeing Jesus—yes I want to know what heaven is like—but I will be really, really glad that my days of sin will be done with—once and for all.
But that day of deliverance is Good News for us ONLY because Jesus has already dealt with sin and death—for us—in our place.
His death on the cross has forgiven all of our sins—even those sin we commit in weakness as Christians. His resurrection is God’s promise that our own death will be a day of deliverance into a new life in which sin will never have a part.
The realities of our Lord’s death and resurrection mean that the daily battles against sin that we often times lose—are not the last word about us—but that Jesus has already won the victory-- and so our victory is assured.
Today Jesus speaks to us in his Word and comes to us under bread and wine to assure us that despite the sins of this last week and despite the struggles against our flesh which often seems more powerful than our faith—we really are his people and he forgives us and lifts us up in his power so that we can begin again to fight the good fight of faith. Amen.