Monday, July 24, 2017

Get Hooked On Jesus (A sermon based on Mark 6:35-44)

​Keep your lines tight! You'll hear that every now and then on the Kenai this time of year. Too much slack and the fish will get off the hook. In this week's sermon we see how Jesus provides for all of our needs, both physical and especially spiritual. But he knows that too much slack might cause us to disconnect from him and he'd lose us eternally. So he gives what we need--never any less and never any more--to keep us hooked on him. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Mark 6:35-44 and get hooked on Jesus! ​

Get Hooked On Jesus

A sermon based on Mark 6:35-44

Sunday, July 23, 2017 – Pentecost 35

 

At the seminary, we had a class called homiletics, which is a class that teaches how to write and preach a good sermon. In that class, it was suggested that every sermon ought to start with a "hook." That is, every sermon ought to start with some quick story or illustration that will grab people, capture their attention, and get them ready to listen. Then you can reel them into the Word, if you will, and strengthen their faith by it.

You get that illustration well, don't you—that of a hook? Many of us are going to the Fergusons' this afternoon to try to snag some sockeye in the mouth… with a hook. That hook is what grabs them. Of course, once they're snagged in the mouth, you're not done fishing. That's just the start. Then you need to keep the line tight and keep reeling to bring the fish close enough to net it.

Today we hear a familiar account. It's a Bible story you've all heard before where Jesus miraculously feeds more than 5,000 people by multiplying a few loaves of bread and a few fish. (And he didn't need a hook, line, or yarn to get those fish!) J But that miraculous event recorded for us in Mark's Gospel, wasn't the end of what Jesus wanted people to know about him, it was really just the hook. He didn't do miracles like this just to fill bellies. He did them that people would come to know him as the God-man, so they would get hooked on him.

And though he may not do a miracle in your life, that's really Jesus' goal for you too: He wants to use the circumstances of this life—the blessings and the trials—to draw you to him. He wants you to get hooked on him and stay on the line until he reels you into heaven. Our Gospel lesson for this Sunday is found in Mark 6:35-44…

 

35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. "This is a remote place," they said, "and it's already very late. 36 Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat."

37 But he answered, "You give them something to eat."

They said to him, "That would take eight months of a man's wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?"

38 "How many loaves do you have?" he asked. "Go and see."

When they found out, they said, "Five—and two fish."

39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

 

What a cool miracle, huh? One kid of more than 5,000 people brought a filet o' fish Happy Meal to the long Bible Study that Jesus was teaching. And Jesus miraculously multiplied it to feed maybe 15,000 people! The text is clear that there were 5,000 men, that is males. So that's not counting any women or children that accompanied them. Can you picture Jesus' disciples passing out a free fish filet sandwich to every dipnetter on the beach?!

And what would that cost? Let's say the Happy Meal only cost $5. And let's say there were only 10,000 people. Still, that would cost $50,000 to feed them all! They said to him, "That would take eight months of a man's wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?"

But Jesus didn't need to pass the offering plate to take a collection. He didn't need their money. He didn't need to send someone to the store. He didn't need the help of a vendor in a truck on the beach. He just took what he had—five loaves of bread and two fish—and turned it into more than they all needed. And more than 5,000 people didn't just get a nibble to tide them over, but "all ate and were satisfied."  And they had 12 big baskets full of leftovers to boot! An impressive miracle, to say the least, right?

But what's the point of this miracle? Why did Jesus do it? Was his goal to end world hunger? To boost the economy? To allow them all to get a free handout anytime they wanted so they would never have to work a single day in their lives ever again? Well, that's what a lot of people wanted. John records for us in his Gospel how the people tried to make Jesus their king after such an impressive miracle. They thought it would be great if he would do this same miracle every day. Can you imagine how wonderful life would be with free food for everyone in the country and enough leftovers to export and make a little cash besides?

But that wasn't what Jesus wanted. He didn't want to solve every problem in this life or let people have their best life now because he knew that such lives of comfort and ease would be terrible for them spiritually. With every need met without work, with every comfort just handed to them, the people would see no need for God. They would think that they already had all that they needed, when what they really needed was forgiveness. If they were too comfortable, the line might go slack and he'd lose them forever.

Jesus wanted the people to get hooked on him—to see him for who he was: the God-man, capable of miracles not because he was a prophet of God, but because he was God. And why did he want that? So they would come to know that as God, his death would be sufficient payment for all sins of all mankind. That's what they really needed. And that's the need he came to meet.

So what does all of this mean for you?  Well, look at the blessings that God has showered on you! The fish are in! J  You've maybe harvested all you need already. (It isn't a miracle, but it's pretty close isn't it, that Jesus sends hundreds of thousands of fish up the Kenai for so many people—a lot more than 15,000!—to harvest what they need for food?) And even if you don't like fish, look at all the other ways he has provided for all of your needs! You have stores within easy access, that have so much food it sometimes goes bad sitting on the shelves! You have enough money to buy that food from a job you can do by the gifts God has given you! You have so much more than twelve basketfuls of abundance beyond your needs. Just look in your garage if you don't believe me.

And why does Jesus give you all these blessings? Just to make you comfortable, complacent, and lazy in life? To give you so many good things that you think you don't need him? No! Of course not! But he gives you so much abundance to draw you to him in thanksgiving! He wants you to get hooked on him!

But how do we respond? We too often ignore those blessings that we consider "ordinary." We take them for granted. We feel entitled, like we deserve them because of how hard we worked to get them, instead of giving thanks to God for giving us the ability to work, the opportunity to work, the means to provide food and shelter and clothes, and so much more, we deserve none of it.

Or maybe, for you right now, it's hard to see all the blessings you have from God because of the trials and challenges you currently face. Maybe it's your finances, or a relationship with someone, or the lack thereof and the loneliness it brings, maybe it's a sickness, or just the drudgery of living in this sin infected world. But why does he let those things happen at all?! Couldn't Jesus step in with a miracle in your life and instantly make everything better? Ah… but he knows that that could make the line go slack and he might lose you eternally. So he let's those challenges, those trials, that pain, all draw you to him.

When you go fishing, sometimes you need to reel in hard and fast when the fish is coming at you. Otherwise the slack will let the fish off the hook. But other times you need to let the fish run and take out line. Otherwise, if you keep reeling, you'll snap the line and fish will get away. Well, Jesus is the master fisherman. He never gets it wrong. And Jesus wants you to stay hooked on him. So he'll use whatever it takes—sometimes blessings in abundance that move you to give him thanks, other times problems and pain that move you to cry out to him for help. But he does it all that you might stay hooked on him so he doesn't lose you for eternity.

So whether he gives you abundance or pain, know that he really is working all things for your eternal good. He's working for your best interest. And he's doing what's best for you. Because in the end, all that matters is that you know him as the God-man, not just a miracle worker who will give you your best life now, but as your Savior from sin, who, as God himself, could make sufficient payment for all the sin of all mankind by his perfect life and innocent death, who paid for your every sin to win God's forgiveness for you. As the God-man his death paid for all of your sin. You are forgiven by God. You are at peace with him. And though you certainly won't have your best life now, you will have your best life for all of eternity with him in heaven.

So how do we respond? We give back to him from the abundance of blessings he's given to us. You don't have to work 90 hour weeks just to put food on the table like our ancestors did because God has blessed you with so much! You have all you need and so much more! He's met your physical needs. He's met your spiritual needs. So give back some of your free time that you have only by his grace. Give back some of your wealth that you have only by his grace. Give back some of your energy and strength that you have only by his grace.

And don't just give of your leftovers. Jesus doesn't need your service. He doesn't need your money. He could just as easily multiply dollars as he did bread and fish. But he wants your heart. He wants your service. He wants your love. He wants you. So give him all that you are to show your thanks to him for the way he's provided for every one of your needs—your physical needs, and especially your spiritual needs. Stay on the line and keep the line tight until he reels you into his heavenly home. And then keep serving him by fishing for others. Who knows but God how he will use you to hook someone else? So let's keep fishing as we stay hooked on Jesus. In his name, dear friends, amen. 


In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Listen to sermons online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Podcast
Watch services online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Webcast

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

You Can Be So Stubborn! (A sermon based on Amos 7:10-15)

"You can be so stubborn!" Has anyone ever told you that? That's not always a bad thing to be stubborn. When it comes to the Word of God and its proclamation, we ought to stubbornly keep preaching it even when others don't want to hear it. We ought to. But we don't always. Thank God that he sent Jesus to live and die for us to win forgiveness for our apathy, cowardice, and silence. Now, read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Amos 7:10-15 and let that forgiveness move you to stubbornly share that message with those who will listen and even with those won't. 

You Can Be So Stubborn!

A sermon based on Amos 7:10-15

Sunday, July 16, 2017 – Pentecost 6B

 

They call it combat fishing for a reason. You're not just fighting the fish, but fights can quickly break out between over fishing rights. One fisherman wants the good spot in the river—right where it bends and a particular channel brings the fish right through. But another fisherman is already there. But that doesn't stop the first. He muscles his way in just feet from the other. That's when the fight starts. "You can't fish here. I was here first. You're too close! Our lines will get tangled! Back off! Go find somewhere else to fish!"

Today we hear of a similar fight, but it's not over fishing rights, but rather over preaching rights. "Get out of here! You have no place here! I was here first. Find somewhere else." That's what one priest told a prophet. And the fight ensued. I guess you could call it combat preaching.

Over the last few weeks we've looked at Job, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and saw how God called them to proclaim the message of his grace even in the face of some serious opposition. Today, we continue that theme looking at another prophet of God and his call: Amos was a farmer and a shepherd… until God called him to preach. And, like all the prophets of God, he too faced opposition. A priest named Amaziah didn't want Amos preaching in his turf. But Amos wasn't going to give up his place in the river, so to speak. He was going to preach until he caught, or rather, God caught people by that message.

That's what we're called to do too. Last week we were called to "man up." This week, we're called to get a little stubborn, not in our sin, but in our witness, so we don't give up, even when we face opposition. Our text for consideration is found in Amos 7:10-15

 

10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: "Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying: "'Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.' "

12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, "Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don't prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king's sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom."

14 Amos answered Amaziah, "I was neither a prophet nor a prophet's son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, 'Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'

 

People don't always like what I have to tell them as a pastor. "The devil is real and he is out to kill you eternally. You are a sinner incapable of any good before God on your own. It is a sin to have sex unless you're married. It is a sin to hold a grudge against that person who hurt you. It is a sin to speed, to be lazy, to get drunk. Hell is for real. And many people will go there. If your faith isn't growing, it's dying. And I'm concerned for your soul."

Sometimes people don't like what the pastor says so much, that they just don't listen. They "unfriend" me on Facebook. They ignore me when I call. They delete my emails before reading them. They don't like what will be said, so they don't listen.  

That's how it was with Amos. Amaziah and Jeroboam, worshipping in Bethel, where there was an altar to two golden calves, didn't like what Amos was saying. He was preaching that for Israel's sin God would send punishment. They would be attacked by an enemy nation, the king would be killed, the people carried away as slaves. Amaziah equated the message Amos preached to treason. Where was his patriotism? Where was his national pride? This Amos was a Benedict Arnold, betraying his country with this message of doom. And he claimed God sent him!

Not to mention Amos was cutting into Amaziah's revenues. This was his turf. This was where he made his bread. And Amos' message conflicted with his message of peace and prosperity. He didn't like it. So he tattled to the king: "Amos is raising a conspiracy against you… Amos is saying: "'Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.'" "Stop him, King!" And to Amos he said, "Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there." "This is my fishing hole!"

But Amos wouldn't budge. He wasn't in the business for the money. He was making a decent living back home as a shepherd and fig farmer. He didn't choose to come here. He probably would have preferred to stay home. But God sent him with this message. And Amos had to answer to God before he'd answer to Amaziah or King Jeroboam. So he'd stubbornly keep right on preaching.

Now, friends, you know that when you speak the truth of God's Word, a message that you didn't come up with, that you don't get paid to preach, that you'd maybe not speak at all, but would be content to just stay home instead, it will bring you opposition. Some people won't like you have to say. They'll want nothing to do with a message of sin, of punishment from God, of hell. And that can sometimes lead us to say nothing at all.

Here's a true story: A pastor was once encouraging his members to invite a friend to church for Easter. One woman, let's call her Sally, had a good friend that sat next to her at work. Let's call her Sue. She had known her for seven years, but never invited her to church. But with her pastor's encouragement, she built up the nerve and finally invited her. Sue started laughing. She not only accepted the invitation, but confessed to Sally that her pastor had encouraged her to invite a friend to church as well. And Sue intended to invite Sally. But the laughter stopped when the two realized that they both belonged to the same church, but kept their faith hidden from each other for seven years. True story.

Does that sometimes happen to you? Have you failed to talk to a co-worker about your faith because it's "none of your business"? Friends, it is your business. If your neighbor's house caught on fire in the middle of the night, it would be your business to warn him. Yes, he might get mad at you for waking him up at 3am. Yes, he might have some choice words for you even as he came to the door. But if you say nothing, you would be responsible for his life.

Friends, your neighbor's house may not be on fire, but your unbelieving friends and co-workers are headed for the fire of hell. That's your business. You don't need to be a prophet or a prophet's son. You don't need to be a pastor or a pastor's kid. Amos was a layman, a shepherd, and a farmer. But he stubbornly spoke the truth in love, even when others tried to threaten him and silence him.

But for our apathy, for our cowardice, for our silence, for stubbornly refusing to share the message God has given us to share… we deserve to go into exile. We deserve to die by the sword. We deserve hell.

But God has sent his prophets (and his evangelists and apostles) to preach that harsh truth of the law to us, not just to scare us, not to manipulate us, not to make us despair. But he sends one to preach that harsh truth to us, to lead us to repent of our sin, to turn to God for help, to seek the solution to our sin that's only found in him. So don't be stubborn, but confess your apathy, cowardice, silence, and sin to God.

And then listen to the message that God sent his prophets, evangelists, and apostles to preach: that message of comfort. Amos' message wasn't all gloom and doom. After he preached the law, he comforted those who confessed their sin by the sweet message of the Gospel. In the last verses of his book he wrote…

11 "In that day I will restore David's fallen tent. I will repair its broken places, restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be… 13 "The days are coming," declares the Lord, "when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills. 14 I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. 15 I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them," says the Lord your God.

And of course, you know the perfect restoration that is yours in Christ. Through his perfect life and innocent death, your apathy, cowardice, silence, and every sin is removed. You will not endure the hell that you deserve. You will have the paradise of heaven, with an abundance of every good thing, picture in Amos 9. And this is all yours by God's grace alone.

And it's that grace that makes us eager to do whatever he asks to show our thanks. And what does he ask of us? To go and share the message he's given us. And you don't need to be a prophet or a prophet's son. You don't need to be a pastor or a pastor's kid. But you can still be like Amos who stubbornly spoke the truth in love, even when others tried to threaten him and silence him. You can be so stubborn.

Because the Lord takes you, from whatever occupation you have or had, and he says to you, "Go, prophesy to the people in Kenai, Soldotna, Nikiski, Sterling, and Kasiloff. Tell them the harsh truth of my law that you might share with them the comforting truth of my gospel."

And coming up, you have an opportunity to learn to do that better. Come to the Praise and Proclaim evangelism training the evening of Friday, August 4th. Prayerfully consider practicing sharing your faith on Saturday, August 5th. As you do, you will face opposition. You may get doors slammed in faces. You will have people upset that you're in their space! They may yell at you, "Get out of here! Go away! Go back to where you came from!" But you can be so stubborn. You can be as stubborn as Amos. And some will hear and heed the warning. They'll listen and they'll learn. They'll hear the comfort of the gospel and they'll believe and be saved.

Make no mistake. We're in a fight, not over fishing rights, but over preaching rights. We're engaged in combat preaching. But with the help of the Lord and driven by his grace, we can be so stubborn, to his glory and in his name, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Listen to sermons online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Podcast
Watch services online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Webcast

Have you been blessed by our ministry at Grace? Consider supporting us with your generous gifts. Give securely online with a check or credit or debit card here: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Give


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Stand Up and Man Up! (A sermon based on Ezekiel 2:1-7)

"Man up!" Ever been told that before? It's a call to toughen up even in the face of a challenging or painful situation. "Rub some dirt it in. It's only a flesh wound!" The reality is that when we speak the truth of God's Word, we will often face fierce opposition. But that's no time to back down. It's time to man up! And we do this in thanks for the way Jesus "manned up" to live a perfect life and suffer hell on the cross for us, to make us sinless and holy. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Ezekiel 2:1-7 and man up! 

Stand Up and Man Up!

A sermon based on Ezekiel 2:1-7

Sunday, July 9th, 2017 – Pentecost 5B

 

I think that this past week, I manned up a bit. I did a repair on the van—without asking Vermillion for help—all on my own! It wasn't a huge repair, but still… I manned up. This week, I operated a chainsaw for the first time. I oiled it. I fueled. I cut things. I admit that before I started, I was scared of a machine that could cut off my leg. But now I think it's kind of fun. I manned up. And going on a couple of hikes in bear country, I was packing heat. I carried my .44 Magnum in a holster on my shoulder… you know, just in case there was trouble and I needed to step in. As I spun the chamber of my loaded six-shooter, I thought, "Now this is a man's fidget spinner." And I manned up.

After recounting to my wife all these manly things I've done, I told here, "You know, I think I got a few more points on my man card this week, like at least 5." She agreed that I'd done some manly things, but added, "But since you're giving yourself 'man points,' I have to take some away. I'd give you maybe 2." I'll take it. I can use whatever I can get.

Actually, I recently finished reading a book called "Play the Man." The title is taken from 2 Samuel 10 (:12) where General Joab tells his troops, "Be of good courage, and let us play the man for our people, and for the cities of God." (ASV) In other words, he says, "Man up." But the book doesn't emphasize man skills like tying knots and small engine repairs. It highlights being the man in being first to apologize, to lead your family in the Word, to raise godly children. It's a call to "man up."

Today in our sermon text God calls Ezekiel to be his prophet. And in a sense, he calls him to man up. The job that God was giving him would be a tough one. He would preach to a rebellious, obstinate, stubborn people, who wouldn't want to hear what he had to say. They would mistreat Ezekiel, scratching him like thorns and stinging him like scorpions. So Ezekiel would have stand up and man up.

You and I too are called upon to stand up for what we believe in. We are called to stand up for Jesus. And it won't be easy. We will face opposition. So we too are called upon to "man up"—men, women, children alike.

Our text for consideration is from Ezekiel 2:1-7…

 

He said to me, "Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you." 2 As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.

3 He said: "Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. 4 The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says.' 5 And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them. 6 And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house. 7 You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious.

 

This week we celebrated the Fourth of July. We celebrated the freedom that is ours thanks to the countless men and women who stood up for what they believed in. They "manned up" and fought for a cause bigger than themselves. And many gave their lives for it. Let's face it: It takes courage to stand up for what you believe in, especially when taking a stand is going to cost you.

You and I have been called to take a stand for our faith. We have been called by God to stand up for what we believe in and to boldly share that faith. But sometimes, standing up for Jesus will be met with opposition. And that should be no surprise to us. God's told us so.

He told Ezekiel his call wouldn't be easy: He said: "Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. 4 The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn… In fact, at times it would be downright painful.

A few years ago I had to man up on a bear hunt. To get a good shot, and then to track the bear, I had to climb up the mountainside where the bear was. And it wasn't a nice grassy knoll. I had to scramble through thick brush full of Devil's Club. And I know now why they call it Devil's Club. The thorns clawed at me and cut my hands as I grabbed at any branches I could to stay on the mountain. Well, that's how God describes enemies of the Gospel: like Devil's Club: "briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions…"

So it takes courage. We need to man up! But too often we wimp out, don't we? "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." But too often when the going get's tough, we back down to avoid pain or discomfort. We hide our faith at work, so we don't become the object of ridicule. We keep our pet sins hidden in our closets, but not too far back so they're in easy reach. We fail Jesus because we, like the disciples, run away scared when following him might mean personal injury (or just inconvenience) or loss of property (as we give generously to his church and can afford fewer toys for ourselves). We fail Jesus. And for it we deserve to lose our freedoms. (And not just the national freedoms we just celebrated, but the spiritual freedoms we enjoy as well.) We deserve hell.

I don't think any of us would call Ezekiel a wimp for letting his knees buckle and turn to Jell-O when he saw a vision of God sitting on his throne with wheels covered in eyes, carried by four-faced, six-winged creatures that burned like fire. He saw "the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord," and "when [he] saw it, [he] fell facedown…" (Ezekiel 1:28)

That's how we all ought to respond to our sin. You see God in his love sends others to confront us in our sin and call us out: pastors, husbands, wives, co-workers, even our kids. And that's not the time to "man up" in arrogant defiance or denial, but to humbly back down. To confess your sin and fall on your face.

And when we do, God sends someone to share the Gospel comfort we so desperately need. So after Ezekiel fell facedown, God told him "Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you." 2 As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me." And God's Word and God's Spirit stood Ezekiel up. And it enabled to take his stand.

And God's Word and his Spirit do the same for us. Though we deserve death… Though we deserve hell… Though we deserve an eternity apart from God and therefore have every reason to wimp out, fall facedown, and just cry in the dust… The Gospel picks us up. You are not going to hell. You will outlive death. You have a paradise of glory awaiting you.

And all of this is because of what God has revealed to you in his Word: that God became man in the person of Jesus, that he "manned up" and lived a perfect, sinless life in your place, and when it came time for him to die, he "manned up" even more taking the sin of the world on himself, becoming the perfect sacrifice to pay for it all.

So we have no more sin. And that means we have no more guilt. We have no more shame. We can stand before God himself on Judgment Day and make that bold, audacious claim:  "You cannot damn me to hell because I am sinless. I am perfect. Your Son's blood shed for me makes it so!"

The Gospel makes us stand up. And the Gospel makes us man up. Since Jesus so willingly sacrificed himself for me to rescue me from the hell I deserve, the least I can do is make a bold stand for him. And we speak up and we share our faith, even if it means we face ridicule for it. We man up and stand up for Jesus! Confront your child or your spouse in their sin. Do it lovingly, remembering that you are a sinner too, equally worthy of hell, finding your peace in Jesus' forgiveness. But don't ignore the problem! Man up and confront it. Invite your friend to church and challenge the apathy he or she has toward religion. (Yes, you may invoke their ire and start a fight.) But man up and share your faith! Take that pet sin—that one you know you keep feeding—and take it out back and shoot it (figuratively speaking, of course… put down the gun). Man up and stop doing those things that you know lead you away from Jesus instead of toward him.

We live in tough times. Temptation surrounds us. Haters are going to hate, like thorns and like scorpions. And if they rebel against God, they're sure to rebel against us. So we who follow Jesus need to man up. And the freedom of knowing that we are perfect, sinless, saints, dearly loved by God and guaranteed recipients of his heaven, give us the courage to do it—to man up.

And when we do, others will see our courage. They'll see what we're willing to risk for the sake of the Gospel. They'll see what we're willing to give up for the sake of Jesus. Some will still mock us and do all they can to hurt us. But others will want to know what makes us so bold and courageous, what makes us so tough and even manly. And through our witness, and by the same Word and the same Spirit that brought Ezekiel to his feet and brought us to faith, some will come to believe.

In a sense, we are freedom fighters! Jesus already won freedom from sin, death, and hell for us. But now we're fighting to free others—to bring to them the Key that unlocks their prison cell—to bring to them Jesus. So dear brothers, and sisters, (of all ages), we don't need to get any "man points" for it, but we do it out of love for our Savior who lived and died for us: It's time to stand up and man up for Jesus' sake! In his name, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Listen to sermons online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Podcast
Watch services online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Webcast

Have you been blessed by our ministry at Grace? Consider supporting us with your generous gifts. Give securely online with a check or credit or debit card here: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Give


Friday, July 7, 2017

​So Blessed, Every Single Day! (A sermon based on Lamentations 3:22-33)

What blessings do you enjoy from God every day? How often don't you take those blessings for granted? But thanks be to God! Of the many blessings he gives us, his grace and mercy, his love and forgiveness, all ought to be at the very top of our list! Because of his great love for us in Christ, his mercies are new every morning! Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Lamentations 3:22-33 and rejoice every day in God's forgiving love!

So Blessed, Every Single Day!

A sermon based on Lamentations 3:22-33

Sunday, July 2, 2017 – Pentecost 4B

 

Okay. It's time for another interactive sermon introduction. You ready? Paying attention? Over my vacation in Wisconsin I played a game with my mom and my boys called "5 Seconds." A category was named and you then had 5 seconds to come up with 3 things in that category. If you couldn't get three, play passed to the next player, but they weren't allowed to use any of the things already said. They had 5 seconds to come up with 3 things on their own.

This morning, I'm going to give you a little more than 5 seconds. I'll let you think for a bit, but I want you to call out things in the category, trying not to repeat something someone else said. Got the concept? Ready? Then here's the category: Things God blesses you with on daily basis. [Repeat:] Things God blesses you with on daily basis. Go!

[Wait for responses.]

That's a pretty good list we came up with in a short amount of time. That wasn't too difficult of a category was it? There are so many things that God blesses us with daily that we so often take them for granted. We could have named things like toenails that keep our toes safe when we drop things, refrigeration that allows us to store food without it spoiling so quickly, nose hairs that filter the air before it reaches our lungs, gravity that keeps us from floating away, road systems than bring our groceries to us, satellites that give us access to information in such a short time, sleep to recharge and refresh… the list could literally go on and on for days, couldn't it?

And yet, we take these things for granted. We even expect that we should get them. We feel entitled to things that we have neither earned nor deserved. And we deserve God's wrath for such ingratitude and entitlement. But some of those gifts we receive from God every day [which you mentioned] is his love, his compassion, his forgiveness, and his grace. So we are not consumed, but are saved. We are so blessed, every single day! Our text for consideration this 4th Sunday of Pentecost is found in Lamentations 3:22-33…

 

22 Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, "The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him."

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; 26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. 27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.

28 Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. 29 Let him bury his face in the dust— there may yet be hope. 30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace.

31 For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. 32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. 33 For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.

 

I have a confession to make. I'm not proud of this characteristic I find in me, but it's there. It's this: That I am normally pretty to slow to be thankful for the many blessings I have from God and at the same time I'm pretty quick to gripe when I don't get what I want.

That's maybe why I find listening to "First World Problems" so compelling. They too often describe me… 

  • One of these super delicious nachos I'm eating just stabbed me in the roof of my mouth. [Angry.]
  • One pillow is too low. But two pillows is too high. [Frustrated.]
  • The passenger on the plane next to me started the same move I'm watching a minute ahead of me. And he keeps laughing before I'm ready. [Pout.]
  • I have too many groceries to carry in in one trip. I'm going to have to back out to the van a second time. [Sigh.]
  • I don't have enough dip for my chips. But if I open a new dip, I won't have enough chips for my dip. [Confused.]
  • I had something witting to say, but the topic was changed before I could say it. [Angy.]

Seriously, even though I'm a grown man, I still find myself complaining when I don't like dinner (at least inwardly, even if I'm too polite to say it out loud). I find myself whining when my internet speed isn't as fast I think it should be, forgetting what it was like with a dial up modem. I get frustrated when my cell phone is out of range, taking for granted that I have a computer in my pocket that is way faster and has far more features than the first PC I owned in high school.

So here's my confession: I… am a spoiled brat. And that is when things are going well. When I face any kind of problem, I get even worse. And it doesn't take the destruction of my city with most of my friends and family carried off into captivity to a foreign nation like happened to Jeremiah to make me whine. A stubbed toe drives out any gratitude for the delicious meal I just ate. A higher utility bill drives out any gratitude for a personal dividend check. And a misbehaving son drives out any thought of my Savior's love and patience with me. Hi. My name is Rob. And I'm a spoiled brat.

But, at least I'm not alone, right? Aren't we all a bit like that? Slow to thank. Quick to gripe. That's in our sinful human nature. We are all the spoiled brat that takes and takes from God, that feels entitled to get even more, and rarely stops to give thanks. We're like the son that complains to his parents, "Only fourteen presents for my birthday?! Last year I got fifteen! I want two more!" Or like the little girls who demands, "Daddy, I want a pony! Get me a pony!!!"

What would you do if your child talked to you that way? I expect that you would quickly put that child in his or her place. I expect you would stop enabling that selfish and spoiled behavior. You would stop giving in to the self-absorbed demands.

And for our self-absorption, for our thankless attitudes, and ungrateful expectation that God continue to bless us with all of those things we listed at the start of the sermon, God ought to stop giving us these daily blessings and worse. God ought to stop giving us daily forgiveness. He ought to give us hell.

But instead, God gives us problems and trial and pain to draw us back to him. He gives us a wake up call, that we risk to lose everything that matters if we keep whining about things that don't.

So what's our response?

​ ​
Jeremiah says, "It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust— there may yet be hope…"

What do we do? We burry our faces in the dust. Not like the ostrich, pretending there is no problem. (For, like the ostrich, such head burying fools no one, least of all God.) But bury your face in the dust in repentance, falling on your knees, accepting the yoke of discipline that God gives, heeding the rebuke of his law. "Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace."

But how can we do that? Don't we risk losing God's love if we admit what we've done and how we've been? No. We don't. Because. "The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him… For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love."

He will show compassion. He will offer his unfailing love. And he will do it every single day: "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."

And again, just like last week, it's not insignificant that Jeremiah, like Job, used the word "Lord" (all caps), the name connected to the covenant promise to send a Savior from sin. And the Lord did show his love and compassion and faithfulness in the person of Jesus. Jesus never took for granted the blessings he had from the Father, but thanked him for them every day. He never complained, even when the Father laid on him a humbling mission to become a man to rescue us. He never whined when the Father laid on him a mission to have men lay on him a cross. He never grumbled when the Father laid on him the iniquity of us all and asked him to endure hell on that cross to rescue us.

And by the work of the Lord,  God's mercies "are new every morning." We are so blessed, every single day. Every morning is a clean slate. Every absolution is a brand new do over. Every gospel proclamation is a declaration that you and I are sinless and holy in every way before God!

So dear brothers, dear sisters, count your blessings, not your woes. Get over your first world problems. And rejoice in your other world blessings. Give thanks to God for them every day—for the greater spiritual blessings he gives, and then for the smaller, but countless other blessings he showers on us daily. The next time you pray it, think about that prayer (that we so quickly rattle off) a little more: Give thanks to the Lord for he is good and his mercy endures forever! Sincerely give thanks to God for the many blessings he gives you each day. And accept any hardships he permits or sends your way as opportunities to grow closer to him.

Can you imagine what it would be like if we all did that? If each day we offered prayers of gratitude and thanks instead of any complaint. Can you imagine if our gratitude overwhelmed our frustrations, consumed our attitudes, and spilled over into our daily lives? What would life look like for you? How would you live differently? What kind of an impact do you think such grateful living would have on those around you?

Well, the next time you feel like whining about the things you think you should have or about how badly things are going for you, maybe listen to some "First World Problems" and remember how good you really have it. Play "5 Seconds" with the category: "Things God blesses you with on daily basis." And especially remember your Savior and his love and grace that won full and free forgiveness and heaven itself for you. Remember that, "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." Remember that you are so blessed, every single day! Then with restored gratitude to God, let it spill over into your actions as you live for Jesus each day in thanks. In his name, dear friends, amen.


In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Listen to sermons online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Podcast
Watch services online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Webcast

Have you been blessed by our ministry at Grace? Consider supporting us with your generous gifts. Give securely online with a check or credit or debit card here: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Give


Monday, June 12, 2017

I Believe in One True God (A sermon based on Romans 8:14-17)

There is one God. That God has three persons. That doesn't make sense, but we know it's true because God's Word says it's true. That's the doctrine of the Trinity. We know that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. We also know that there are not three gods, but one God. But... so what? What does this mean for us? It means everything! Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Romans 8:14-17 and see the very practical nature of this doctrine that gives us our identity and gives us so much comfort...

I Believe in One True God

A sermon based on Romans 8:14-17

Sunday, June 11, 2017 – Pentecost 2B

 

There is one God. But there are three persons. The Father is God. The Son, Jesus, is God. The Holy Spirit is God. But the Father is not the Son. The Son is not the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is not the Father. Or to put it another way…

"We worship one God in three persons and three persons in one God, without mixing the persons or dividing the divine being.  For each person—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—is distinct, but the deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory and coeternal in majesty. 

"What the Father is, so is the Son, and so is the Holy Spirit.  The Father is uncreated, the Son uncreated, the Holy Spirit uncreated;  the Father is infinite, the Son infinite, the Holy Spirit infinite;  the Father is eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Spirit eternal; yet they are not three who are eternal, but there is one who is eternal, just as they are not three who are uncreated, nor three who are infinite, but there is one who is uncreated and one who is infinite."

That's from the Athanasian Creed which describes the Triune God. We know the doctrine (even though we can't fully understand it). There are three persons (tri). But there is one God (une). That's doctrinally sound according to the Word of God. But… so what? Why do we set aside a Sunday in the church year for a doctrine? We don't have "Predestination Sunday" or "Verbal Inspiration Sunday." So why "Trinity Sunday"?

Well, as we celebrate Trinity Sunday we look at the practical side of this doctrine of the Trinity. We see who we are because of what our Triune God has done for us and continues to do. Today, we boldly confess that "I Believe in One True God." We believe in the Holy Spirit who set us free and leads us still. We believe in the Father who sent us his Son to make us his children now. We believe in Jesus Christ who became our brother that we might share in his inheritance.

Our text for consideration this Trinity Sunday is from Romans 8:14-17…

 

14 Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

 

What has God done for you? Well, there's almost too much in this text to cover it all! What hasn't he done?!

For starters, we believe in the Holy Spirit who set us free. Can you imagine an enemy nation attacking Alaska and in a shocking victory, they haul us all off and lock us up in their prison camps? With no hope of ever seeing your family again, of just endless days of forced manual labor, with endless nights of physical and mental torture, we would live in constant fear of the merciless enemy.

But then can you imagine seeing special ops forces break into the encampment and after killing every one of your captors, telling you to stand away from the door, before they break it down and set you free? What joy would be ours! Free at last from the enemy that would keep us living in fear!

"For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship."

You're not a slave anymore. You're set free! Free from sin! Free from guilt! Free from shame! Free to live for God as his dearly loved child.

For, we believe in God the Father who has made you his very own. "You received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children." You haven't just been freed from prison, but even more, you've been adopted!

Now imagine the prisoner set free from the enemy by that special ops team was an orphan who's parents had been killed in the war. I'm sure it would be great that he would be free, but now what? Who would take care of him? Who would provide for him? You don't have to have such a worry, becaue the Father promises that you are his dearly loved child. He loves you so much he adopted you as his own.

And how did he accomplish that? He signed your adoption papers with the blood of his own Son. We believe in the Father who sent his Son to die for us to make us his own children.

And finally, we believe in Jesus Christ, who became our brother to rescue us. He was the special ops team! How did he do it? Paul only alludes to it in these verses when he mentions, "his sufferings…" But you know what he's talking about. Jesus willingly took our sin on himself to suffer death and hell on a cross to rescue us from death and hell for eternity. And he's promised us an eternal inheritance in heaven that can never spoil or fade!

What has God done for you? What hasn't he done?! The Triune God has done everything! God the Spirit set you free! God the Father adopted you as his own! God the Son rescued you from sin, death, and hell, and consequently from all fear! He's won heaven itself for you! Do you see why the doctrine of the Trinity is such a special doctrine? Do you see why we set aside a day to celebrate the love of the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

And how do we respond to such wonderful truths? Well… Not well. Having been freed, we climb back into our comfortable cells. We wallow in the filth of sin again. Having been made sons and daughters of God, we act like he's a stranger as we reject his will and his ways. Having been given an eternal inheritance, we still prefer the shiny trinkets of this life, as worthless as they are in comparison to the eternal riches that are ours, and we chase after them. Our schedules and our budgets prove our priorities. We show not just apathy, but utter contempt to the things our Triune God has done for us.

And as the verse right before our text says, "If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die…" That's what we deserve: Instant death, right now, followed by an eternity of death, separated from God forever in hell. That's what you deserve. That's what I deserve.

But we don't get what we deserve because of our Triune God. What he did for us, he still does. The Holy Spirit still sets us free from the prison of guilt and shame by the powerful words of the Gospel, by the absolution you heard earlier this morning, by the promise of sins forgiven you hear right now. The Father still calls you his dearly loved child whom he loves even after you misbehave and run away from him. He still calls you his own. The Son still promises you the inheritance of heaven that he won for you as your big brother. And he will do all he can to rescue you from this world and take you to be with him there. So you are forgiven. You are free! You are a dearly loved son or daughter of God! You have Jesus as your big brother! You are a part of God's family! You have an inheritance in heaven!

Now there's only one proper response: "We have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it… but… by the Spirit… [to] put to death the misdeeds of the body…" (Romans 8:12-13) So let's respond well. Let's live well, according to the Spirit and the will of God he's revealed in the Word.

And know that you're not alone in this. The Spirit will lead us. So be led by the Holy Spirit. For "Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." Listen to what he says to you in the Word. Which means you need to hear and read the Word. There he will guide you in a life of thanksgiving to God.

The Father will help us whenever we pray for help. Whenever, "We cry, 'Abba, Father.'" You can be certain that the one who sent his Son to death and hell to make us his own children, will certainly help us when we ask for help to live according to his will!

And the Son who went to the cross to suffer hell to rescue us from it, will certainly be with us and help us as, "we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory."

There is one God. But there are three persons. The Father is God. The Son, Jesus, is God. The Holy Spirit is God. But the Father is not the Son. The Son is not the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is not the Father. This is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. But it's not just some dry, stuffy doctrine to keep in your head. It is a glorious truth that gives you your identity: Led by the Spirit, a child of the Father, an heir of the eternal glory the Son won for you. Now, go live for him: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the name of our Triune God, amen. 


In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Listen to sermons online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Podcast
Watch services online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Webcast

Have you been blessed by our ministry at Grace? Consider supporting us with your generous gifts. Give securely online with a check or credit or debit card here: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Give

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Look What He Left Behind (A sermon based on Ephesians 4:7-16)

Ever leave something behind when you travel? Forget a phone charger with your host or leave some clothes in the hotel room? When Jesus visited earth and then left at his ascension, he left some things behind, not on purpose, but as gifts he gave to us. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Ephesians 4:7-16 and look what he left behind...

Look What He Left Behind

A sermon based on Ephesians 4:7-16

Sunday, May 28th, 2017 – Ascension Sunday

 

It's quite alarming, really: How high the divorce rate is… among socks. J

It's that time of year again—summer on the Kenai—or as we know it, "Tourist Season." For the Guenthers that means a whole lot of house guests between now and mid-August. And with the guests coming and going it's almost inevitable that some of them leave something behind. That's where we end up with divorced socks—one of a pair that we never bought left behind at our house while it's ex travels north perhaps to travel thousands of miles south so the two will never meet again. We've had favorite toys left behind. We've had fishing gear left behind. We've had boots and coats with no discernable owner to sit in our garage for a year or two before we finally donate the lost items.

Of course, sometimes our guests leave something behind on purpose: They leave behind a card expressing their gratitude. For a longer stay, they'll sometimes leave behind cash or a gift card to restock the fridge they helped empty. Or they'll leave behind a bottle of wine to express their thanks to us, their hosts.

Jesus was like a tourist in a sense. He came to visit this earth as a guest for a while. Never leaving an area the size of the Peninsula but once (heading to Egypt as a child—about as far as it is from here to Anchorage), he relied on the hospitality of others most of the time. But when his time here was done, when it was time for him to leave, he didn't take everything with him but left gifts behind.

This morning as we celebrate Jesus' ascension, we pause to look at what he left behind. He left us his victory. He left us his grace. He left us gifts of pastors and teachers. He left us his Word.

 

7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men."

9 (What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

 

Can you imagine if one of our guests from Wisconsin Lutheran College placed a thank you note on the kitchen table this morning and I walked over there, picked it up, and tore it in half and tossed it in the garbage saying, "Yeah, I don't want to read that. I don't care what you have to say." How rude! How thoughtless! That guest would rightly think I was a jerk and a terrible host.

But in a certain sense, isn't that we do to Jesus with his gifts? He gives us grace to forgive us, but we would often rather wallow in our sin. He gives us his Word to strengthen our faith and help us to grow up, but we'd rather crush candy or binge watch Netflix than read it. He gives us pastors and teachers that we disrespect and neglect. He gives us opportunities to serve and work to do and we say, "Yeah, I don't really want to do that. I don't care what you have to say."

When Jesus came to visit us, descending here to the lower, earthly regions from heaven itself, we were terrible hosts. We neglected him. We mistreated him. We killed him. And I say "we" because we are included in the humanity that still mistreats him, that sins against him, that neglects and mistreats the gifts he left behind. And we do it right in front of him since he "fills the whole universe," and there is nowhere where he is not.

And of course, if a guest left me a gift certificate and I tore up the envelope that held it right in front of them, I would rightly forfeit the gift and lose it! And that's what we all deserve from God: to lose the gifts he gives for our infantile and immature sins and for our rebellion against him.

"But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it…" Instead of getting what we deserve, we get grace. We get God's undeserved love and the gifts that express it.

The first gift is the victory he won for us by his work here on earth: "But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men."

In ancient times when a conquering general returned home, a parade would be thrown in his honor. His enemies would be paraded through the streets in a cage to declare his dominance over them and his total victory. And the spoils of war would be tossed to the people who came out to the parade. Christ's ascension demonstrates his victory. He could ascend back to heaven because his work on earth was complete. That work? To be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

"What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?"

Jesus left his heavenly home to live among us in these lower, earthly regions. He lived as a guest here, that he might keep all of the "house rules" that we could not. He lived a perfect life in our place and took our sin on himself. And he paid for every one of them. Talk about our conquering hero! And his ascension proves that the work is done. We are forgiven! We have peace with God! What a wonderful gift!

 

But what is our ascended Savior doing now? Did he ascend just to vacation and take life easy now that his work is done. No. Jesus is still at work ruling over all things for our eternal good. And he can do it perfectly because he is God and, "He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe." You can trust that he is ruling all things everywhere for our good. What a wonderful gift!

 

What else did he leave behind as "parting gifts" when he returned to heaven? "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers…"

I admit, it's a bit awkward for me to preach on this verse and in essence tell you that "I am God's gift to you." But when I reflect on the pastors who baptized, taught, and confirmed me, who absolved me of my sin and strengthened me in my faith… when I think of the teachers who patiently taught me not just to read and write, but to read the Word and write a sermon, well… I have no trouble saying that called workers are God's gift to his church. And what a good encouragement Paul gives to remember that they are gifts our ascended Savior left behind.

After all, if Jesus were still walking the earth, though I'm certain he would be a better preacher and teacher than me or any called worker I know, how many people could you pack into a synagogue in Israel? But by leaving earth and by leaving apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teacher behind, the Gospel can get around the globe like some reverse virus healing spreading to heal souls everywhere! What wonderful gifts God has left his church!

 

The next gift he left behind is his Word of truth, meant to strengthen us and mature us to keep us in the faith and to equip us to share the faith. "Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." Speaking the truth (that is, the Word of God) in love, we mature. We grow up. And we strong to defend the Kingdom and to extend the Kingdom.

 

It would be odd if I decided to use the socks left behind at our house. That would just be weird. But it would be equally odd if I didn't use the gift cards or enjoy the bottle of wine left behind with the intention that I do use them—if I just let them sit and collect dust.

So, dear friends, let's use the gifts that Jesus left behind for us to use. First, rejoice in the victory that our Savior won for us—that in spite of the way we've neglected and rejected his gifts, he's forgiven us in Christ. His ascension proves that that work is done! Next, rejoice that he is filling the whole universe and working all things for our eternal good.  Then thank him for the gift of pastors and teachers. Come to worship and Bible class, pay attention to the devotions and chapel services, and honor those servants of Christ. Maybe even write a thank you note to the pastor that baptized or confirmed you or the teacher who helped you grow in your faith. Let them know what a gift from God that they are. And finally, be in the Word every day. Read a Meditations devotion or a chapter of your Bible and get that Word of truth that you might, "grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ…"

And as we do, we will grow and build ourselves up in love as we each of us do our work for him who lived and died for us and for our salvation, who rose and ascended into heave to prove that our victory is complete, who left such wonderful gifts behind for us to use. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

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