Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Pardoning Word (A sermon based on Luke 23:34)

They're such wonderful words to hear. And they're such difficult words to say. But they are the most powerful, life-changing words ever spoken. "I forgive you." What enables us to say those words? Hearing them spoken by Jesus first. The forgiveness we have in him, moves us to gladly forgive others. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Luke 23:34...

The Pardoning Word

A sermon based on Luke 23:34

Sunday, February 18th, 2018 – Lent 1

 

What are the most powerful, life changing words in the world? "Ready. Aim. Fire!" or "Do it. Drop the bomb."? Maybe "You're hired!" or "You're fired!" Or maybe, "I love you" or "Will you marry me?" or "I do." Maybe the most life changing words are, "Congratulations. It's a boy!" or "It's a girl!" Or "I'm sorry to give you these results," from the doctor. Those are all powerful, life-changing words. But I would argue that there are words even more powerful and even more life changing: "I forgive you." What power those words carry, especially when they're spoken by God.

On Sunday mornings of this Lenten season we're going to examine the seven powerful, life-changing phrases that Jesus spoke from the cross. The first phrase heard from Jesus' dying lips is a pardoning word in the form of a prayer to God, recorded for us in Luke 23:34. Here's verse 33 too for the immediate context:

 

33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

 

What's the hardest thing you've ever had to forgive? Some harsh words spoken against you by a parent or spouse in a moment of frustration? Some thoughtless action that left you with a greater burden to carry? Some cruel joke that hurt your feelings and left you feeling wounded? Some public humiliation that ruined your reputation and left you feeling ashamed and alone? Some betrayal of trust, a broken vow, an illicit affair? The death of one you loved, the murder of someone you would have gladly given your life for? (This week as I heard of another mass shooting in a school in Florida, I wondered if I could ever forgive someone if they came into our school and shot and killed one of my sons.)

But no matter what you've been asked to forgive someone else of, I can promise you that it's nothing compared to what Jesus forgave…

As the nails were jutting out of his wrists and his feet, as his back, shredded from the scourging that he already endured, was rubbing against the rough wood of the cross, as the agonizing pain—the excruciating pain—was hitting every nerve of his body, what was Jesus thinking?

 "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

What is the antecedent of the pronoun, "them"? Was it the Roman soldiers who were executing him? "Father, forgive them for the scourging, for the torture, for the agonizing pain they're inflicting in this crucifixion!"

Was it the Jewish leaders – those Pharisees and teachers of the law who worked so hard to have him sentenced to death? "Father, forgive them for the ridicule, for the mockery, for the rejection, for their misunderstanding and ignorance that caused it all!"

Was it the disciples who abandoned him in his hour of greatest need? "Father, forgive them for their cowardice, for their betrayal, for their betrayal when I needed them the most!"

Nevertheless, when he was in the greatest pain a human could ever suffer, when he was absolutely alone, abandoned by his family, his friends, his own Father, when he was about to endure the agony of hell itself… it wasn't himself he was thinking about. It was them: the Roman soldiers, the Jewish leaders, his own disciples.

"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

And he went on to give his life—and his very soul—as the once-for-all sacrifice that won forgiveness for every sin.

 

What's the hardest thing you've ever had to forgive? I know what it is for some of you. And I know it's something much bigger than anything I've ever had to forgive. I don't have a clue what it is for others of you. I can only imagine the sins and hurts that God asks you to forgive. And those aren't small things. I get that. At least, sort of, even though I haven't experience all that you have. But… how well do you forgive?

Peter once asked Jesus, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?" (Matthew 18:21) (And he thought he was probably being pretty generous in forgiving someone not just "three strikes and you're out," but seven times!) But Peter wanted to set a limit to forgiveness.

And don't we sometimes want to do the same? "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Don't we sometimes want to say "three strikes and you're out," not just in the legal process of our justice system, but in our personal lives? Don't we sometimes want to hold a grudge, keep a record, make the other person hurt the same way that they made us hurt?

But Jesus upped the ante for Peter. Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."  (Matthew 18:22) You see, Jesus wanted Peter to realize that placing a limit on forgiveness was a failure to see one's own need for forgiveness from God.

I know that some of you have experience much bigger hurts that need to be forgiven than I ever have. But, still, as a faithful pastor I need to blunt with you: To say that the sins that others have committed against you (no matter how big that they are) should not be forgiven, is, in essence, to say "They don't deserve forgiveness the way I do," which is to say, "I don't need forgiveness the way they do," which is to say, "I don't really want your forgiveness, Jesus." Our failure to forgive others is really a plea to God that he should not forgive us. After all, don't we daily pray, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."?

We don't deserve God's forgiveness any more than those who have sinned against us deserve ours. We don't deserve God's forgiveness for the countless ways that we have sinned against him. We don't deserve God's forgiveness for the way we've failed to forgive those who have sinned against us. But what we do deserve, is God's wrath, God's punishment, God's banishment to an eternity without him forever in hell…

 

What is the antecedent of the pronoun, "them"? Is it the Roman soldiers who crucified him? Is it the Jewish leaders who rejected him? Is it the disciples who abandoned him? I think it's all of those… and more. I think the "them" of Jesus' prayer, "Father, forgive them," is all of mankind.

We don't know what we're doing as we sin against God again and again, as we knowingly rebel against his will, as we refuse to forgive others who have sinned against us. But nevertheless, Jesus said of us, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

And unlike our prayers, "Father, take away mom's cancer." "Father, heal my broken relationship." "Father, help me keep my job so I can provide for my family…" where God might answer, "No, that wouldn't be for the eternal good of souls," when Jesus—God's own son!—prays to his Father, we know that what he prays is in perfect accord with the Father's will. And so God will hear and he will answer—in the affirmative!—whatever Jesus prays!  So you know, without any doubt, that you are forgiven; for your rebellion against God, for your selfish thoughts, words, and actions, for your failure to forgive those who have sinned against you, for your every sin!

You are perfect, sinless, and holy, because Jesus not only prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing," but he also lived a perfect, sinless life in your place to give you credit for his moral perfection. He willingly chose the cross, the nails, the injustice, the agonizing pain, the separation from his Father, the hell that he endured… He went on to give his life—and his very soul—as the once-for-all sacrifice that won forgiveness for every sin—for yours; for mine.

The Father has forgiven us for the sins we committed when we didn't know what we were doing… and for those we committed when we did know better. He has forgiven us for every sin for the sake of Jesus, who lived for us, who died for us, who prayed for us, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

 

So what's our response? There is no other response than to say, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us." Or as Luther put it in his explanation to the 5th Petition of the Lord's Prayer, "So we too will forgive from the heart and gladly do good to those who sin against us."

I don't know what the hardest thing is that you've ever had to forgive. I may know what it is for some of you. And for most of you, it's probably something much bigger than anything I've ever had to forgive. I can only imagine the sins and hurts that God asks you to forgive. But I do know that in Christ, who prayed from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing," who on the cross won that forgiveness for you, who says to you, those most powerful, life changing words, "I forgive you." …through him you can do the very thing that you so often pray to God for help doing and forgive those who sin against you, just as God has forgiven you. And what powerful, life-changing words those will be, when you say to others, "I forgive you." In Jesus' name, by his forgiveness, and for his sake, 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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Monday, February 12, 2018

Unveiled (A sermon based on 2 Corinthians 4:3-6)

The veil has been lifted. The blindfold has been removed. You have seen Jesus and the glory of his cross. You know who he is and what he came to do: to rescue you and all people from sin, death, and hell. Now, we have the privilege of doing all we can to lift the veil from the eyes of others and take the blindfold off of them so they too can see who Jesus is and what he's done for them. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 and rejoice in what you see and be renewed in your zeal to help others see it too. 

Unveiled

A sermon based on 2 Corinthians 4:3-6

Sunday, February 11, 2018 – Transfiguration B

 

Jake was ready for the big day. It had been a long engagement, but his wedding day was finally here. And he was so excited! The ceremony was beautiful and went off without a hitch. The celebration to follow was amazing with so many family and friends. And the wedding night… well, let's just say that it was pretty special too. It was a perfect day and Jake went to sleep counting his many blessings.

But, when he woke up the next morning… Gah!!! The woman next to him wasn't the woman he'd been dating for the last seven years! It wasn't the woman he proposed to! It wasn't the woman he thought he married the day before! It was, of all people… her sister!

Do you ever wonder how Jacob could have not noticed that he was marrying Leah instead of her sister Rachel, the woman he'd been engaged to for seven years! How did he not know that he wasn't marrying the woman he was so in love with that those seven years seemed like only a few days to him?! How did he take her home into his tent and consummate the marriage without knowing who she really was?!

Some have speculated that Leah was in on the deception, spoke softly so Jacob wouldn't hear her voice, and wore a thick veil so he couldn't see her face. I suspect the amount of beer or wine Jacob drank in the celebration had something to do with it as well. But here, normally intelligent Jacob, who was duping others to get his way, was now himself duped. And all of the drama, the heartache, the pain he brought into his family was because of a veil and maybe some beer goggles. (Read Genesis 26:15-30 for the full account).

Well, friends, Jacob isn't alone in his blunder. How often don't we make the same mistakes? No… I'm not suggesting that any of you accidentally married the wrong spouse. (If that's where you were going with that thought, let's talk after the service. I offer free marriage counseling.) But how often haven't we been blinded to the truth by satan who promises blessings if we do things our own way (his way) rather than God's? How often don't we fall into sin because we don't think clearly or don't see things clearly with sober judgment?

And just as Jacob, kind of deserved the deception for all the deceiving he'd been doing, so too, we justly deserve the consequences of our sin. We deserve hell. And on our own, we were too blind to see God's solution. We couldn't see the light of the gospel. But, God, in his great grace to us has lifted the veil. He's turned on the lights, so to speak, so we can see clearly. We can see clearly the truth about ourselves—that we are sinners who deserve to perish apart from God. We can see clearly the truth about Jesus—that he came to rescue us from our sin and bring us to glory.

Let God lift the veil for you again today as we see those truths. Our text for consideration this morning is recorded for us in 1 Corinthians 4:3-6…

 

3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

 

I.        God's Glory is Unveiled for Us

 

It's a fun game children play at birthday parties: One child is blindfolded so he can't see a thing, then he's spun around a number of times so he gets dizzy and disoriented, then he tries to pin a tail on a donkey or beat the snot out of his favorite cartoon hero hung in effigy and stuffed with candy. (I've never understood that part, by the way. Why do we want to beat Spiderman or Dora the Explorer to pulp? Are we teaching kids the right thing with piñatas?)

But what's meant to be a fun game for kids at a party, is no way of going thought life. Can you imagine if you had to steer the boat blindfolded? What if you had to drive to Anchorage with your eyes covered? What if you just had to get something from the garage without being able to see?

But that's the way God's word describes us all by nature: spiritually blindfolded. A veil before our eyes obscured more than just our fiancé; it obscured the gospel. "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ…"

Some people read the Bible and never understand it. Some think that Jesus was a great teacher who taught us how to live to earn favor with God. Others read of Jesus' resurrection and say that he lives on, but only in our thoughts and in our and hearts. Others read Jesus' saying, "This is my body," and "This is my blood," and respond, "This cannot be." Some read the Bible and see great literature, but miss the plan of salvation. Some read the Bible and see myths and fairy tales. Others see a self-help manual with directions on how to make this life better. Everyone, on their own, thinks that they can or must do something to earn God's favor. They all read the same Bible, but without the Holy Spirit, they're in the dark. They just don't get it. It's like trying to drive a car with a blindfold on. And you know how well that would end—in death.

But that's not the way we are anymore. "For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." When he brought us to faith, God flipped on the light switch! He pulled off the blindfold! He revealed himself and what he's done so we can see clearly!

You and I have seen the full glory of the Lord! Not just the glory of his miracles, for those were only temporary. The people he miraculously fed were hungry again. The people he raised to life died again. We have seen the full glory of the Lord! Not just the glory of transfiguration when he shined like the sun on the mountain. For that glory soon faded. And his disciples still didn't get it, soon arguing who was the greatest among them, who would get the greatest glory.

But we have seen his full glory—the glory of the cross! We have seen how he lived a perfect life in our place! We have seen how he suffered hell on the cross to pay for our sin! We have seen that God's greatest power is found his apparent defeat. We have seen how he rose again to give us the proof that we are right with God! We have seen that the real glory comes not in this life, but after the suffering, after the cross, after death, in the life to come! The veil has been lifted for us! The blindfold has been removed! We have seen the full glory of God!

You know, our nation no longer faces the problem we once did with a large percentage of our citizens being illiterate. Now, through our education system, that problem has been solved and almost everyone knows how to read. But we have another problem—a high percentage of alliterate people. That is, people aren't illiterate. They know how to read, they just don't! Very few Americans read more than five books a year. I hope that you're not in that category. You have had the blindfold removed. You know what the Bible is all about. You know that it's all about Jesus. But that knowledge doesn't do you much good if you don't read the Bible regularly.

Can you imagine if the blind man whose sight Jesus miraculously restored, were to say to Jesus, "Thanks, Jesus. I really appreciate what you did, but… you know what? All this 'seeing business' is pretty crazy. I think I'm just going to go back to not seeing and walk around with a blindfold on all the time. Thanks though for the thought. I appreciate it."

Don't be like that! God has given you spiritual sight to see how all of your sins are forgiven by Jesus! He has given you eyes to see how you are at peace with God! But if the gospel that was once veiled, but now is revealed, still has no place in your life… what a waste! Use your spiritual sight to keep looking at all the wonderful things God has done for you! Enjoy your spiritual sight as you look into his Word and find Jesus in every book of the Bible! The blindfold has been lifted. The veil has been removed!

Keep looking into his Word where you see how you've been forgiven even for neglecting your spiritual sight! And look into his Word through which the Holy Spirit will continue to work in you as you unveil the gospel to others!

 

II.      God's Glory is Unveiled through Us

 

"What's behind door number two?" the game show host cries, and the door is open to show a wonderful prize. "Vanna, show her what she's won!" and the game show hostess pulls off the drop cloth to reveal the shiny, new sportscar beneath it. That's sort of what we get to do too…

Think of what Paul went through before he wrote these words. On the road to Damascus he saw the glory of the Lord! Jesus himself stood before Paul shining so brilliantly that it caused Paul to go blind. (Talk about transfiguration!) When he got up, he opened his eyes, but could see nothing, totally blinded. Three days later, after he was instructed, baptized, filled with the Holy Spirit, something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see! He could see physically again. And he could see spiritually for the first time! (Read Acts 9, 22, and 26 for the account of Paul's conversion.)

And God not only gave Paul sight, but he gave Paul a mission: In Acts 26:17-18, Paul reported what Jesus said to him on the road to Damascus: "I am sending you to [the Gentiles] to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me." And here Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake."

In a sense, Paul was like a glow-in-the-dark star. When he saw the glory of God, he sort of absorbed it a bit. And it was his job then to reflect some of that glory, proclaiming the truth that lifted the veil from his eyes to lift the veil from others too.

And that's exactly what it's like for us. We, who have seen the glory of God in Christ—in the forgiveness that he won for us, get to be like the game show host who reveals the prize to others. We get to be like Paul as "We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as [others'] servants for Jesus' sake."

God simply spoke. And with the words, "Let there be light… Let there be lights in the vault of the sky…" (Genesis 1:3,14) he made light and the sun and the moon. God simply spoke. And with the Word he brought you to faith and made you the moon to his Son. "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."

And now we really are like the moon in several ways. As the light doesn't really belong to the moon but is only a reflection of the sun, so the glory isn't ours. It's his. But we reflect it in our lives to others. As the moon gives light to the earth when you can't see the sun, so too when others can't see the Son of God because their hearts and minds are veiled, they can still see us as we reflect his love and remove the veil for others!

Jesus put it this way in Matthew 5:14-16, "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

So let your light shine, dear brothers and sisters! Actively look for ways to serve others. Look for opportunities to serve your family, your neighbors, your coworkers, and your friends. Do not just what's expected of you in your position, but surprise others by your willingness to go above and beyond. Surprise your spouse. Surprise your kids. Surprise your parents. Surprise your boss. Surprise your employees. Surprise the stranger you meet at the store by how thoughtful and loving and kind you are! And as you do, you'll be reflecting the glory of Jesus. You'll shine brighter and brighter with his love.

And as you do that, you'll find more opportunities to share the story of Jesus' love and the full glory of his redemption won at the cross with others. You'll be able to pull off the blindfold and lift off the veil for them. You'll be able to "preach… Jesus Christ as Lord… [that] his light [might] shine in [their] hearts to give [them] the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."For Jesus sends us, "to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in [him]."

The blind fold has been removed from our eyes. Jesus has been unveiled to us. Now, Jesus is unveiled through us as we let our light shine before others that they may see our good works, that we might share the message of his love and his grace. So go unveil the gospel to others, 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

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Sent Out by the Holy Spirit (A sermon based on Acts 13:1-5)

You've got a mission to do: you're sent out by your spouse or by your parents to go get a few groceries from the store. How well do you do? Do you get the right items? The right sizes? Do you get other things not on the list? You've got another mission to do and this one's far more important: You're sent out by God to share the good news of what he's done for all people by Jesus' perfect life and innocent death on the cross. Do you get the job done? Do you do it well? Thank God he did send Jesus out to carry out his mission to rescue us from our failure to accomplish ours. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Acts 13:1-5 and rejoice in Jesus' forgiveness and be renewed in your zeal and commitment to carry out the mission God has given to you...

Sent Out by the Holy Spirit

A sermon based on Acts 13:1-5

Sunday, January 28, 2018 – Epiphany 3B (Confirmation)

 

Sometimes I'm sent out by my wife to run some errands or to do some shopping. Sometimes I get it right. More often I get it wrong. "What?! These are tomatoes. You never said they couldn't be in a can. The list didn't say 'fresh tomatoes.'" Or, "The list just said, 'cream of mushroom soup.' You never specified 'family size.'" Or, "Cuties, satsumas, clementines… what's the difference? They're all little baby oranges." Usually it's not that big of a deal, but sometimes I get sent back to the store.

Now Becky's not the only who sends me out to carry out tasks for her. God has sent me out too. I've been called by the Holy Spirit through this congregation to carry out the task of preaching and teaching the truth of God's Word, of administering the sacraments, of using law and gospel to confront and then comfort sinners.

And I'm not the only one here who's been called by God and sent out by the Holy Spirit. You too, confirmands, are called by God to go out now with the knowledge you've gained from the Word of God and to share it with others. You too, members, have been called by God to carry out the mission work of this church. You too, Christians, have been called by God to share the good news of his salvation with your friends and family, your neighbors and co-workers. This is the task we've all been given by God. Do we sometimes do that errand wrong? Do we sometimes leave it undone altogether?

Now, when I goof up the task for Becky, it's usually not that big of a deal. But when we goof up the task for God, it's always a big deal. So today we thank God that he sent out Jesus to carry out his mission for us. We thank God that he sent out missionaries to carry the message of his mission complete to us. And we joyfully recommit ourselves to carry out the work that he has sent us out to do. Our text for consideration is from Acts 13:1-5…

 

In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.

 

Wouldn't it be nice to have God whisper in your ear exactly what he wanted you to do? Wouldn't it be nice if we were called the same way Paul and Barnabas were, with explicit directions? Wouldn't it be nice to be called like the disciples were with clear instruction from Jesus himself every day?

Friends, Jesus has given us that that direction… in his Word. There God has given us the errands we are to run for him. He's made us his ambassadors. We are called to love, called to serve, called to use our gifts and abilities for something eternal, called to proclaim the word of God to those who need to hear it. God has no Plan B. You and I are his only plan to get the message out. It's our job. And it's our primary job in this life. Wherever else you work is your secondary mission that helps support you in the only work that will last for eternity.

But how well do we do the job entrusted to us? Outside of these walls, how many people have you talked to about your faith in the last month? How much have you given to support the spread of the gospel this year and how much have you spent on entertainment? How earnestly have you prayed for the lost souls in your neighborhood or in your family?

The challenge with carrying out our mission is that it almost always demands sacrifice.

For the church in Antioch, they had to give up two of their five pastors. "Well, they already had five pastors," you say, "How many more did they need? Why shouldn't some leave to go somewhere with zero pastors?" But Antioch had half a million residents. That's one pastor to 100,000 people. And even if the work load might easily be covered by the other three pastors, it may still have been hard for the members of the church to give up Paul and Barnabas, their beloved pastors and their friends.  

And when it says, "they placed their hands on them and sent them off," it likely means more than just booting them out the door. They probably supplied Paul and Barnabas with the funds needed for travel, for lodging, for their food. So, while we often call them "Paul's missionary journeys," we might just as well call them "Antioch's missionary journeys," as the Christians there we funding the trips Paul took.

And think what Paul and Barnabas gave up. They gave up the comfort of the known to go on a mission full of unknowns. They gave up their homes and their beds to travel across the globe. They gave up their friends and church family to make new friends for Jesus. They made big sacrifices for the Kingdom because they were sent out by the Holy Spirit.

What have you sacrificed for the Kingdom lately? Have you risked ridicule, forfeited finances, lost loved ones to share your faith? The truth is, we don't like to give up our friends, our homes, our pastors for the sake of the gospel. We don't like to give up our money or our time to help the Kingdom of God expand. We don't even like to give up our comfort or our convenience. And so, even though we've been sent by God to carry out his vial mission, we too often don't. In our selfishness, we simply refuse to do the work that God has called us to do.

It usually isn't that big of a deal if I'm sent out by Becky to get some item and come back with the wrong thing. But when we're sent out by God to run an errand for him and don't do it, it is a big deal. An ambassador who refused to do what he was sent to do would not only lose his job, but could be fined or even jailed. And for refusing to do the job that God has entrusted to us, we deserve to be jailed for eternity in a hellish prison separated from God with no chance of parole.

But friends, I've been called by God, appointed by the Holy Spirit, set apart by the laying on of hands to share a message from God to you: "You are forgiven for the way you've failed to do the tasks that he has given you. You are forgiven because he sent off his Son to come to earth." And that gospel message didn't originate with me.

By God's grace, that message has come here by missionaries. Missionaries from Jerusalem took the message to Turkey. Missionaries from Turkey took the message to Greece. Missionaries from Greece took the message to Rome. Missionaries from Rome took the message to the rest of Europe. Missionaries from Germany brought the message to the American Midwest. Missionaries from the Midwest brought the message to the Pacific Northwest. Missionaries from the Pacific Northwest brought the message to Anchorage. And missionaries from Anchorage brought the message here.

Through that long chain of witnesses (or one much like it), the gospel has been handed down to you so that you know what God has done for you in Christ: That he sent his one and only Son on a mission of his own. "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law…" (Galatians 4:4-5) And, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1 John 4:10) And Jesus never turned aside from his mission, but did everything needed to bring it to completion: he lived a perfect life, he died an innocent death, he rose again to prove: "Mission Accomplished!"

By God's grace the gospel has been handed down to you through that long chain of missionaries. But a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So don't break the chain! Just as that gospel message didn't originate with us, let's not let it end with us either!

Josiah, Ayden, and Hailey, in a minute I'm going to lay my hand on you (or at least do my "holy hover") as you are confirmed. But to be clear, your confirmation is not graduation from the Word. You're not done. You don't know all you need to know yet; not even close. But on the contrary, already now, you are equipped to go on your way, sent out from here, sent on your way by the Holy Spirit, to proclaim the Word of God. And your mission is to your high school classmates and your high school teachers, then perhaps to your college classmates and teachers, or maybe to you co-workers and to your future spouse and kids.

And, of course, this mission isn't just for Hailey, Josiah, and Ayden. It's for all of us. You all are "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." (1 Peter 2:9-10) You all are a part of the chain. So go share that message! Proclaim it boldly!

"But wait," you protest. "I'm not pastor. I can't preach." Maybe not. But you are a part of the mission nevertheless. Look again at that last sentence of our text: "John was with them as their helper."

This isn't the John who wrote the gospel, three epistles, and the book of Revelation. This isn't the John who baptized Jesus in the Jordan River either. In Acts 12(:12) we learn that his full name was John Mark. He was Barnabas' cousin (Colossians 4:10) and would later write the gospel of Mark. (Maybe he went by Mark so he wouldn't be confused with the "other John.")

But he wasn't a preacher. He was a helper. He was an assistant. That was his role. Some think he taught the children wherever Paul and Barnabas taught the adults. Others think he may have been their travel agent, helping them get to where they were going and to find adequate food and lodging along the way so they could focus on preaching and teaching. But whatever his role as helper was, he was vitally important to the mission. Paul and Barnabas wouldn't have been nearly as efficient in their job if not for the work of John Mark.

The point? You can carry out the mission entrusted to you in a number of ways. First, pray. As the old maxim goes, "If you want a better pastor, pray for the one you have." The same could be true if you want a better neighborhood, workplace, church, school, or synod. Second, serve. Cleaning church isn't a menial task. It's vitally important to our mission, giving a good first impression to our guests. So is smiling and warmly greeting them when you see those guests enter. Teaching the children, organizing events on a committee, operating a camera for a webcast, or clicking through PowerPoint slides, all help carry out our important task of passing the message along in that long chain of missionaries.

You don't need to have a call into public ministry to have a call. God has called you to be a part of our ministry here at Grace. You are sent on your way by the Holy Spirit. And he's called you to your own private ministry too as you serve your family, your co-workers, your neighbors, and your community. Use your gifts to serve him. You are a vitally important part of the mission.

Do it all in thanks to God for the mission he carried out for you. And do it with the strength that he gives.

Ever wonder why the Book of Acts is named that? What "acts" is it talking about? Well many Bible versions call the Book of Acts, "The Acts of the Apostles." And the book certainly does describe the apostles' actions as they spread the message around the Roman empire. But I prefer the title other Bibles give it: "The Acts of the Holy Spirit," as it was really he who was acting in and through the apostles. And it is he who is acting in and through you too. 

So put your trust in him. Trust in the Holy Spirit who's not only sent you out, but has also promised to help, just as Jesus said, "You will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict." (Luke 21:13-15)

And as we put our trust in him and go out to carry out our mission, not only called, but also empowered, by the Holy Spirit, we will keep the chain intact. And passing the gospel message to others, the Kingdom will expand. The fire will spread. As you go out, sent on your way by the Holy Spirt, and tell others, they, in turn will go out and tell more still. And on and on it will go until the last person hears, and Jesus returns, and we are sent off to heaven. So go, sent out by the Holy Spirit to tell the story of Jesus and his forgiving love. 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

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Chosen for Glory (A sermon based on 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17)

You have a choice to make. Actually, you have a lot of choices to make every day. Sadly, our choices aren't always the best. They are often selfish and self-serving. And for such poor choices, we deserve God to make the natural choice to send us away from him. But in his inexplicable grace God chose us -- before the world was made, before time began! -- to be his own. And he did everything to make it happen. Jesus chose the cross. The Holy Spirit chose to bring us to faith. Now read or listen to (download) this sermon based on 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17 and be encouraged to make better choices in thanks to God for choosing you. 

Chosen for Glory

A sermon based on 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

Sunday, January 21, 2018 –

​Epiphany 
2B

 

When I was a kid, they were one of my favorite genre of books. Now, I can hardly seem to find them for my kids. They were called, Choose Your Own Adventure. If you're not familiar with the series, they'd work like this: You'd read a few pages into the story until you got to a spot that directed you to make a choice. Would you get on the boat? Then turn to page 42. Or would you try to take the plane? Then turn to page 56. Would you fight the guard? Turn to page 105. Or would you try to sneak in through a window? Then turn to page 114. And based on the choices you made the story would unfold in a very different manner.

Choose your own adventure. That's how life works too, doesn't it? Take the prize or trade it in for whatever's behind door number two? Should I get a PC or a Mac? A truck or a minivan? Can I hit the snooze button or do I have to get up now? What should I eat for breakfast? Should I watch Netflix or read a book? Should I read my Bible today? And, of course, based on the choices made, the story can turn out very different in the end.

Every moment of every day is full of choices. From what we eat to what we do, from how we spend our money, to how we spend our time, we have choice after choice to make every single day. And, of course, many of those choices are moral ones: Will I snap back when someone hurts me? Or will I forgive as I've been forgiven? Will I choose to be kind and compassionate? Or bitter and angry? Will I choose to confess my mistakes and my sins? Or will I try to cover them up to shift the blame to someone else.

And, sadly, we don't always make the best choices. Instead we selfishly choose to seek glory for ourselves. And by our sin, we really choose hell over God. But thank God that he made a wonderful choice—a choice that wasn't driven by logic, or self-interest, but entirely by love. A choice that seems to make no sense at all: He chose me, he chose you, to be his own. He called us to be his own. And he chose us to share in his glory. Our text for consideration this morning describes God's wonderful choice and is taken from 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17…

 

13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

 

"Why did I eat that? Now I feel uncomfortably full and bloated." "Why did I say that? I can tell my comment really stung. But I can't take it back or unsay it now." "I really wish I hadn't spent my money on that. What a waste it was! But there's no way I'm getting my money back on that deal."

I find that there are plenty of choices in my life where only a little bit of hindsight reveals them to be the wrong choice. And I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had chosen to do or say something different.


And I'm sure you can relate. Some choices we make are good and work out in the end. Other choices aren't so good and we suffer the consequences for them as we each choose our own adventure.

But do you ever stop to think why we make the choices that we do? Well, if we're honest with ourselves, don't we usually make our choices based on what's in our own best interest? Sure, you may make better choices about food and exercise than I do, but is the reason for those choices that you want to have more energy to serve your Savior? Or is because you feel in control of your health and your life? Or maybe you make the wise chose to save your money instead of spend it all at once. But do you find your security and sense of well-being in what you've saved rather than in God? Do you choose to forgive and show kindness at home because you love your Savior and your family? Or because you just want to get along and you know they'll leave you alone if you're nice. You're more likely to get what you want if, every now and then, you give them what they want.

You see, our choices are more than just the things we say, and do. Our choices are driven by our beliefs and by our attitudes. And our choices are often selfish, seeking to get glory for ourselves. When given the choice between serving selflessly or demanding that we get our rights, we choose our rights. When given the choice between showing love and getting our way, we choose our way. When given the choice between humility or glory, we choose glory.

And when we make such poor choices, we choose to ignore God, to rebel against him, to live to serve ourselves with no thought of him. And for choosing the glory of self over humble service to God… well… you know where that so-called adventure leads.


You know, unlike most stories, my Choose Your Own Adventure books didn't always have a happy ending. If you chose to sneak past the gorilla on the shortcut instead of taking the long way around, you could get killed by the gorilla when it awakes. Or, if you tried to play it safe and take the longer route through the grassy field, you might be bit by a venomous snake. Sometimes it seemed like whatever choice you made, didn't matter. You would still end up getting yourself killed.

Well isn't it that way in life too? If you choose to live in open rebellion to God and his will (seeking adventure and glory for yourself), sinning openly and brazenly, it will most certainly lead to death—eternal death. But if you choose to live as morally as you can, striving to be well-behaved in all you do (seeking your glory in a moral superiority compared to others)… well, you still won't be perfect. And that choice will still lead to death. (And it might ironically fill you with a pride that tells you don't really need much forgiveness anyway, leading you to be caught off guard when that judgment comes.)

And honestly, if left to your own choices, it wouldn't matter. You'd be damned if you do, damned if you don't, because unlike my Choose Your Own Adventure books, there is no right choice we can make to survive. We were all dead in our sin and transgression incapable of choosing to serve God and incapable of acting on it even if we could choose. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And the wages of sin is death—eternal death in hell.

 

But, in spite of our bad choices, we won't get the hell we deserve. Paul explains why…

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.  

Why won't be suffer the eternal consequences of our bad choices? Because of gracious choices God made concerning us. God chose you. Before the world was made, before time began, God chose you to be his adopted children and live with him forever in heaven! God chose to send his Son on a rescue mission to recover your soul.

Jesus chose to give up his glory, to leave heaven behind to live on this earth instead. Jesus chose to never do anything selfish, but always chose to do what was loving and kind. He always chose to obey his Father. Jesus chose to go to Calvary. He chose the cross. He chose the nails. He chose the torture. He chose the hell. He chose to give you credit for his perfect life. He chose to take your sin away.

God chose to send his Spirit to bring you to faith—to believe the truth—by his sanctifying work in the Word and in Baptism.  He chose to strengthen your faith by that Word and by his Son's body and blood. He chose to keep you in the faith, "that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" that he has prepared for you in heaven.

As Luther put it so clearly, "I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.  In the same way he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith."

When we choose to do all we can to get an earthly glory for ourselves, and in so doing choose the path to hell, God, in his grace chose us "to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called [us] to this through [the] gospel, that [we] might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." We call this "the doctrine of election," that God chose us, by grace, to be his own. Thank God for that choice! Thank God that our lives aren't a Choose Your Own Adventure story,  but that he chose to make us a part of his story to bring us to the eternal adventure of heaven!

And now, while we wait for that great adventure to begin, Paul has some advice for us in the meantime:

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter… May our Lord Jesus Christ… encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word."

Now, in thanks to God for his gracious choice, and by the encouragement and strength that he gives, you can make good choices. Choose to stand firm in the Word. Choose to read your Bible before you reach for the remote. Choose a devotion over a few more minutes of sleep. Choose to cling to these truths in Jesus and never let go because you know that in these truths we find our salvation! 

Then choose to serve God and bring glory to him instead of serving yourself as you reach for self-glory. Choose to serve others before you serve yourself. Choose kind words instead of the snappy comeback. Choose to confess your sins to God and to each other. Choose to change your bad habits, replacing them with something good. Choose to use your money, your time, your food, your body, your mind, and all that you have to bring glory to God.

And with his encouragement and with the strength that he gives, you can do it! "May our Lord Jesus Christ… encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word."

And as you continue to make good choices, you will stand firm to the end and you will share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. You don't need to choose your own adventure hoping your choices don't lead to death. God already chose you to share in his heaven. And he did everything to make it happen. Now choose to live for him in thanks with every choice you make each day. To God be the glory in thanks for the glory he called you to share! In Jesus' 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


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

When Foundations Are Shaken… (A sermon based on Acts 16:25-34)

What do you do when your world is shaken to its core and your world starts crumbling beneath your feet? Do you thank God anyway? Do you sing your hymns  of praise to him? Too often we whine and complain against God as if he owed us something better. Thank God that he rescued us from our self-absorption and our sin. Now, as we praise him for his saving Grace even in our trial and pain, others will notice, and it may provide us with an opportunity to share our faith with them when their world is shaken to it's core. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Acts 16:25-34 and rejoice that in the waters of Baptism you find your firmest footing. 

When Foundations Are Shaken…

A sermon based on Acts 16:25-34

Sunday, January 14, 2018 – Epiphany 2B

 

He slept so soundly that it seemed like nothing could wake him but his alarm. And it didn't take the other guys at the seminary very long to figure out what a deep sleeper he was. One morning he woke up on his mattress to find that it had been moved from his bed, outside, and placed on top of his car. Thankfully he didn't roll off. But he was late for class. Another morning he woke up with his mattress at an incline… on the steps going up to the library. Good thing it didn't rain. And one morning as he was getting dressed his roommate asked what was all over his back. He ran to the mirror to see all the messages his friends wrote on him while he was asleep, thankful they wrote on his back and not on his face.

Some people are deep sleepers. They could seemingly sleep through almost anything. They're not the ones to help when you hear a strange bump in the night. They won't get up to when the baby is crying. They need the alarm to sound or they're sure to be late.

Some people are deep sleepers… spiritually speaking. It takes a lot to wake them up. It takes a crisis. It takes hitting rock bottom. It takes the ground to drop out beneath their feet before they wake up. But God loves them too much to let them sleep unaware of their eternal doom. So he does all he can to shake things up to wake things up. Listen to how he did that to a jailer in the city of Philippi, using a midnight earthquake to wake up from his sleep, both literally, and spiritually. And learn how God can do the same for you and through you. Our text for consideration is taken from Acts 16:25-34…

 

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody's chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, "Don't harm yourself! We are all here!"

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"

31 They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household." 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.

 

You've heard the expression, "No good deed goes unpunished." Well, that's probably how Paul and Silas felt. They had helped a little girl who had a rough life. Not only was she a slave to masters who used her for their own profit, but she was possessed by a demon. They drove the demon out in the name of Jesus when she kept following them and shouting a them. And for their kindness, her owners pressed charges.

Paul and Silas were publicly stripped, then severely beaten with rods, flogged, and finally thrown into prison where their feet were locked tight in the stocks. And suffering this injustice of being condemned without a trial, humiliated in public, abused, and injured, now bleeding and stiff-legged and cramped on the cold floor of the jail cell… they whined and complained and shouted their angry cries of outrage.

Actually, no. That's what I might have done. But not Paul and Silas. They were praying and singing hymns of praise to God. And they kept at it all night, still singing at midnight.

It may have been that their jailer fell asleep to the sound of those soothing hymns. But he didn't get to sleep long. Suddenly, he was shaken awake by a violent earthquake! The foundations of the prison floor were rolling, perhaps splitting beneath his feet! And if that weren't frightening enough, it got worse when he realized the earthquake was throwing all the prison doors wide open. And he must have known that this was not a natural event because no earthquake would make the chains and shackles on fall off the wrists and ankles of the prisoners. No! He knew this was from the gods, likely from the god or gods of Paul and Silas.

And that's when the real terror struck. Roman law demanded that if a jailer let his prisoners go, he would have to suffer the fate of each and every prisoner there. If some were scheduled to be flogged and others executed, he would first be flogged, then executed himself. So the best option he could think of was to take his own life. "He drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped." Yes, he would selfishly leave his wife to become a widow and his kids to grow up fatherless. But it was better than what he knew was coming him to him. When the ground dropped out of his life, suicide seemed the best option.

Have you ever been there? Ever had the ground crumble beneath your feet? Ever been shaken up so badly that you saw no solution, no way out? Have you ever had it bad at work, at home, in your marriage, with the kids, that you felt utterly miserable? How did you respond?

Maybe you went out of your way to help someone and were chastised for it. Maybe you feel like you've put in great effort to make the relationship good, but your parents, spouse, or kids keep ignoring your efforts, blaming you, and abusing you again and again. How do you respond?

Did you pray? Were those prayers just asking God for help? Or did you praise God for his goodness in spite of what you were going through? Did you sing? Were those songs "woe-is-me" songs fit only for a pity party? Or did you sing hymns of praise to God for his never-ending grace to you like Paul and Silas did?

I'll bet no one here has been publicly stripped and humiliated, beaten with rods, and mercilessly flogged because you've tried to help someone out. And yet, for much smaller offenses, don't we often whine and complain and shout our angry cries of outrage to anyone who will listen… even to God as if he owed us something better?

Or flip it. Maybe it's not you who's suffering, but a friend, a spouse, a neighbor.  Maybe you've never considered suicide. (Or maybe you have.) But I can almost guarantee that someone you know has considered it. There are people in your life who have no hope. They find life so sad, and miserable, and lonely, with no hope for a way out, that they have considered taking their own life. They may have even attempted it. Some may have even succeeded in that attempt.

Now, to be clear, for those who did succeed in ending their own life, that decision was their own. They chose to be selfish and take what seemed to them to be the easy way out in direct violation of God's will that we shall not murder (self-murder included). It was their choice, not yours.

But for those who have attempted suicide, for those who have considered it, for those who are now considering it but have told no one… did they find a friend in you? Did they find a sympathetic ear? Did they find one who held out hope? Did they know you to be one who sings songs of praise to God even when in pain? Or did they even know you were a Christian? Did they assume that you didn't care either, because you never showed any concern, too absorbed in your own life and your own problems and pain that you did nothing to reach out to help them in theirs?

You see then that whether it's our response to our own injustices, problems, and pain that we face by whining and complaining instead of praying and singing praise to God, or it's our response to the problems and pain of others as we uncaringly ignore it to focus on ourselves, we deserve far greater problems and pain than anything we've ever faced in this life.

And that crushing news can rock your world. That realization can break up the ground beneath your feet. It can shake you up to your very core and make the foundations of your life crumble. And… that's what it's supposed to do. It's meant to wake you up from your spiritual slumber and see your great need for help—your great need for a Savior.

That's exactly what it did for the jailer. 

When Paul stopped him from taking his own life, "Don't harm yourself! We are all here!" he threw that jailer a lifeline of hope. Clearly, these men had a powerful god or powerful gods on their side. That must have been the source of this supernatural quake. So he asked them a very important, yet very flawed question: The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"

It's very important because everyone asks this question at some point in their life and eternity depends on having the right answer to it. But I say that it's a flawed question because even though, by nature, we all assume there is something we must do to make things right with God, that's not the case. I hope you all know and believe the answer to this man's question already, but just to be clear the answer is, "Do nothing. Jesus did everything." "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…"

You see, for life's biggest questions, God often has the simplest answers.

Paul and Silas made it clear that there was nothing for the jailer to do because Jesus had already done it all. He lived a perfect life in the jailer's place. He died an innocent death in the jailer's place. He rose from the dead to prove to the jailer and to everyone that the debt every sinner owed to God has been pain in full. It's done. It is finished.

And as the jailer took them home and washed their wounds, Paul and Silas led him and his family though a Bible study to explain it all. And then there were two washings that night. After the jailer washed the wounds of Paul and Silas, Paul and Silas washed the jailer and his family in the waters of Baptism. And by that water they were connected to Jesus' work for them on the cross, they were washed of their sin, they were adopted by God as his own children. And why shouldn't they be? They were a part of all nations. And the promise was for them and for their children. And, so, the jailer "was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family."

Ironically, the one who's job it was to keep the prisoners locked up, was, for the first time, truly free himself. He found freedom from sin and guilt, from shame and death, from satan and hell. And, ironically, when the foundations of his world were shaken to the core, that jailer found his firmest footing on water—on the water of Baptism that connected him to Jesus. 

And that's where we find our firmest footing when our foundations are shaken too.

For our sin and self-absorption, for our whining and complaining when life isn't fair or just a bit uncomfortable, for our calloused heartlessness in the face others' pain, we deserve hell. So what do we do to be saved? Nothing at all. The answer is still the same: Do nothing. "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…"

In 2011 a woman named Jenni Lake had a rough year. Terrible headaches led her to see a doctor to figure out what was causing them. It didn't take long to reveal three tumors on her spine…. And three more on her brain. She immediately started aggressive radiation and chemotherapy treatments. But just before Thanksgiving Jenni died. She died because she quit her treatments back in March. "Why in the world would she do that?" you ask. In March of that year, Jenni discovered that she was pregnant. So she stopped the radiation and chemotherapy treatments that would harm her unborn son. And on November 9th, 2011 Jenni gave birth to a healthy baby boy. And 12 days later, Jenni died with her son in her arms.

Now, what did that little boy do to be saved? Nothing. Mom did it all. Mom gave her life for her son that he might live. And do you think that that 6 year old boy ever doubts that mommy loved him? Of course not! She gave her life for him.

Of course, you know where this illustration is going. God loves you. He loves you even when your world is shaken to the core, then the foundations that you thought would always be there are rocked. He loves you so much that he gave his Son that you might live. Jesus loves you. Jesus cares for you as you go through the problems and the trials of this life. Jesus loves you so much that he took the cancer of your sin and it's terminal illness on himself. He endured the hell that you and I deserve on another day when the ground shook—so hard that the rocks split!—on Good Friday (cf. Matthew 27:51). And he did it all so that we might live forever with him.

And God graciously delivers the blessings of what he won for the whole world to each individual through his gift of Baptism, that means by which he delivers his grace to you. And so you never need to doubt that God loves you. He gave his Son for you. He gave his life for you. 

And for that reason you can pray to God thanking him for his love for you, even when you're hurting and feeling all alone. You can sing hymns of praise to God for his never-ending grace to you like Paul and Silas did… even if you should someday be publicly stripped and humiliated, beaten with rods, and mercilessly flogged because you've tried to help someone out.

And as you praise God even in your suffering and pain, others will take notice. They'll notice that you're made of different stuff than other people. They'll see your quiet confidence in the face of pain, they'll hear your songs of praise even when the foundations of your world are shaken, and they'll come to know you as one who can handle the big challenges of life.

And when their world is shaken to the core, when they hear the doctor's diagnosis, when crime comes to their home, when they lose their job and with it a part of their identity, when they lose a parent, a spouse, or a child to death, when they don't know where else to turn… they may wake up. And when they do, they may turn to you. And ask you how you stay so calm when these things rock your world. They may ask, in their own way, "What must I do to have what you have? What must I do to find such peace?" "[Friend], what must I do to be saved?" And you can answer them with the truth that you've come to know and love: "Do nothing. Jesus has done it all." "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved."

Your foundations may be shaken. Your world may be rocked to its core. In fact, some big earth-shaking tragedy is likely to happen to you at some point in this sin-filled world. But find your firm footing and solid ground in water—the water of your Baptism. Know that even if you're beaten, flogged, and imprisoned, nothing can ever rob you of the freedom you have in Jesus; the freedom from sin and guilt, from shame and death, from satan and hell. And then praise God for it in all you do—in good times, and in bad.

And when others' foundations are shaken, and they, knowing you to be one who always praises God, come to you for help, share with them this simple truth: "Do nothing… Jesus has done it all…" "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved." 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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