Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Be Protected from Identity Theft (A sermon based on Mark 8:27–35)

Identity theft can be a serious problem. It can mess with your credit, your sense of security, and your life. But it's nothing compared to having Jesus' true identity stolen from you by satan. Jesus is not just a wonderful teacher, a prophet of God, or a miracle worker. He is true God himself. And he came not just to make this life better, to take away our problems of suffering and pain here and now. He came to be our Savior from sin. Our eternity depends on how we identify Jesus. So read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Mark 8:27-35 and get Jesus' idenity straight. Then you'll be protected from satan's attempts to steal Jesus' identity from you...

Be Protected from Identity Theft

A sermon based on Mark 8:27–35

Sunday, September 23, 2012

 

I was once involved in a fraud.  Police figure that when I handed over my credit card at a restaurant, one of the wait staff took a picture of both sides of my card with their smart phone before running the card and returning it to me. Then later, armed with my credit card number and the security code on the back, pretending to be me, purchased a dozen airline tickets to Europe at a little over $1,000 each. My identity was stolen. And I had a $13,000 bill to show for it.

Fortunately for me, it was easy enough to get the credit card company on my side, get an investigation going, the charges on my card reversed, and the account closed. The only real consequences for me were a little more stress and a little less free time. But at other times, identity theft can leave behind huge problems: a ruined sense of security, ruined credit, and ruined lives.

But today, the consequences of identity theft are eternal. The consequences of identity theft are the difference between heaven and hell. But those aren't the consequences of having your identity stolen from you. Those are the consequences of having Jesus' identity stolen from you.

You see, Jesus' identity has been stolen by satan. Today he leads many people to think of Jesus as the giver of good gifts, the one who takes away problems, who brings heaven on earth—in other words, much like a political candidate. And Jesus does bring good things in this life. But satan leads some to believe that's all he does and nothing more.

But this deceit of satan is nothing new. It's not just a modern ploy he uses to draw people away from Jesus while making them think they're close to him. He's always confused people so they know Jesus, but don't really know who he is. He made it so that Jesus was misunderstood by his contemporaries. He made it so that Jesus was misunderstood by his disciples!.

But the truth of who Jesus is—who he really is—is crucial to learn. Our salvation depends on how we answer this one simple question: "Who do you say Jesus is?" So we'd better be sure. So let's take a look at Mark 8 and find out the only right answer to that question so we're protected against this identity theft. Then we will know that Jesus is the Messiah of God. We will know that he is our Savior from sin. And satan won't be able to steal Jesus true identity from us. We read Mark 8:27-35…

 

27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Who do people say I am?"

28 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets."

29 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"

Peter answered, "You are the Christ."

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it."


I.              Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God

 

[Jesus] asked them, "Who do people say I am?"  They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets."

On the surface, they seem to be good answers. They all showed reverence and respect for Jesus. They all showed that Jesus was someone special. They all confessed that Jesus was serving God. But they were all wrong.

And is it any different today? If you were to ask your friends and neighbors that same question Jesus asked, "Who do you think Jesus is? What do you think they would say? Would they answer, "Jesus was a great man who showed us all how to love."? Would they say, "He was the best teacher the world has ever seen!"? Would they say, "He was a great prophet, who taught about the Kingdom of God."?

They all show reverence and respect for Jesus. They all show that Jesus was someone special. They all confess that Jesus was serving God.

And while there is some truth in all of those statements, they're all wrong. They're all dead wrong because those answers are incomplete. Modern atheists and Muslims and religious Jews would all agree that Jesus was a great man, the best teacher, an amazing prophet. But that's not all Jesus was.

You see, satan doesn't always use lies to deceive us. He's sometimes more than happy to tell the truth—well, some of the truth, anyway—to keep souls from the saving truth. He loves to rob people of Jesus' identity as true God.

And in doing so, he robs people of saving faith. You see if Jesus was just a man, his death was just the tragic end of a noble martyr. But it didn't accomplish anything for you. No person could pay for your sins, let alone for the sins of the world. If Jesus was just a great teacher, a noble prophet,  or a loving man, you're sin remain with you. You would still be damned.

But Jesus isn't just a man. You know that he was and is true God, begotten from the Father from eternity. Last week you saw the evidence in the miracles he performed. In Jesus day everyone saw the miracles, or at least hear about them. Everyone should have known who he was. But satan hid it from them. And without the Holy Spirit it would be hidden from us too. But the Spirit has worked through his Word and through the sacrament of Holy Baptism and has created faith in your heart—that is trust in who Jesus is: the Christ, the very Son of God.

We know who Jesus is. But still, don't we sometimes forget. We forget that as true God he is everywhere; in the same room where you're yelling at the top of your lungs, in the same place you're drinking way too much, in the same room you're surfing the web for images you ought not see, in the same room you're being lazy and serving yourself instead of him. And we forget that as true God, Jesus isn't just in the room, he's in your head, knowing your every thought, your lust, your greed, your hatred. And though I'm sure we never mean to do it, too often by our behavior, we deny that Jesus is true God.

But he is true God. And that's a good thing. Because not only does he know your every thought, word, action, and sin, as true God, he was able to do something about it.

But satan is still at work, robbing people of Jesus true identity, so that even those who know that Jesus is true God still get his identity wrong… While they, with Peter, confess him as the Christ, as a true God, like Peter, they have the wrong kind of savior in mind. To have Jesus true identity, it's crucial to know not only who Jesus is, but what he came to do…


II.            Jesus is the Christ, Our Savior from Sin

 

When Jesus talked about his mission, Peter rebuked Jesus for being so pessimistic with all this talk of death. But Jesus' in turn, rebuked Peter: "Get behind me, Satan!" Why? Because Peter only had Jesus' identity half right. Satan had robbed Peter of Jesus' true identity. Peter knew that Jesus was the Savior. But a savior from what? That's where he was confused. Peter thought of Jesus as a political savior, as an earthly savior. He saw Jesus as the one who would save his people from the Romans, from poverty, from disease, and from death. And he was confident that as true God, Jesus could easily carry it out. But a Savior from sin wasn't on Peter's mind.

You know as we approach election day, both candidates are busy promising to be a savior. "Vote for me!" they each cry, "and I will save you from poverty—with less of your money going to pay taxes or more of other people's money coming to you through taxes." "I will save you from pain and death with better health care system, whether private owned or government run." "I will save you from enemy nations, with better national defense and better international relations."

Well, unfortunately that's all that many thought of Jesus too. They thought he was an earthly savior from poverty, pain, or enemy nations, and nothing more. That's what Peter thought. "Jesus, don't talk like that! You won't suffer and die. You'll do great. People will love you. They'll follow you. We'll rock the vote!" He didn't think he needed a Savior from sin.

And many today see Jesus the same way. "Jesus, save us from bad health!" they cry. "We'll get no exercise, little sleep, and have a bad diet. But whenever we get sick, we'll pray to you and you will make us well." "Jesus, save us from poverty! We'll pretend to worship you on Sundays and put some of our loose change in the offering plate. Then you make our businesses thrive and get me that raise. Deal?" "Jesus save us from our enemies. We'll act as godless as they do, but when they threaten us, we'll call ourselves a Christian nation and expect you to keep us safe."

But such thinking is satanic! Sound harsh? It is! But it's true! If we confess Jesus as true God and Savior, then satan wants us to think of Jesus as just an earthly savior. But those thoughts are not from God. God's thoughts were not to give us all physical peace, health or wealth, but to save us from our sins. And that could only come through the cross. Someone had to pay for our sin.

Why? Well, think if it this way. Pretend for a moment that I came over to your house last night. And while goofing around, I knocked over your brand new 60" TV causing the screen to shatter with zero chance of repair. (Oh, and that's not covered by the warranty, by the way.) So what's the result? Someone suffers loss. Either you make me pay for a replacement—a penalty I would rightly owe—or you would suffer the loss yourself and either replace it with your money or just be out the TV. But either way, someone has to pay.

For our sin, someone had to pay. Either we make payment in hell—a penalty we rightly owe—or God suffers the loss himself. Jesus chose to suffer that loss himself rather than make us pay for forgetting his identity as true God and for forgetting our identity as his children. He paid the price for the times we've acted like the world around us. He paid the penalty on the cross by suffering hell to make things right with God.

This is the kind of Savior that he is. Jesus had to "suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law…" He had to be killed. He had to do this to save us from sin. And thoughts of any kind of savior that's anything less than this come from satan alone. But we know better. Through the Holy Spirit, we have in mind the things of God. We know Jesus true identity. He is the Christ, the Son of God. And he is the Christ, our Savior from sin.

And we respond accordingly. We don't expect a perfect, problem-free life. We don't look for heaven on earth. We don't even expect that we'll always (or ever) have health, wealth, or earthly peace. God never promised us those things. And even if we had them, they'd be short lived anyway, since we're not here on this earth for very long.

So we don't try to save our lives on earth. We don't strive for the things that don't last: for salvation from poverty, pain, or enemy nations. But we keep our eternal focus. Then we're eager to lose our lives for Jesus. We're eager to give up our rights, our wealth, our sleep, our health, even our very lives if God allows such persecution to come our way. We're eager to give up all that we have and are to serve others, that we might serve our Savior.

For we know his true identity. We know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. We know that Jesus is the Christ, our Savior from sin. And as we hold on to Jesus' true identity, we find our true identity too. We are his perfect saints. We are God's dearly loved children. And just as Jesus is not of this world, neither are we. We're strangers here. We're foreigners and aliens, not citizens of this life, on our way to our real, heavenly home. (cf. Philippians 2). And whoever loses this life for Jesus and for the Gospel, holding on to his true identity, will gain eternal life in him. In Jesus' name, dear friends, stay safe from identity theft, 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

Friday, September 21, 2012

Be Opened! (A sermon based on Mark 7:31-37)

Sometimes have a hard time hearing? I think we all do when we don't really want to listen. But that's a big problem when it comes to God's Word. When we don't listen to what he says the consequences are eternal. Thank God that through his Word he revealed the Savior to us. He opens our ears to hear the message of his grace. And then, in turn, he loosens our tongues to tell others how he does all things well. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Mark 7:31-37 and have your be opened again...

Be Opened!

A sermon based on Mark 7:31-37

Sunday, September 16, 2012 – Pentecost 16B 


Now this will be easier for some of you than for others, but imagine for a minute that you have no cell phone. How would you communicate? Some of you say, no problem. But bear with me. Now imagine you have no telephone at all and no computer because these things don't exist. You can't email, you can't text message. You have no paper or pen because they're too expensive and you're poor. Add to that an inability to talk and on top of that, and you can't hear anything because you're completely deaf. If you have any thoughts they're locked in your mind and you have no way of communicating them but by crude gestures and signs because there's sign language even established.

If you can imagine these things, you understand how the unnamed man in our gospel lesson this morning must have felt. He was cut off from the rest of the world. Until he met Jesus. Of all the millions of things this man didn't hear, the most important was who Jesus was. But in his love and compassion, Jesus took the initiative. He stepped in and completely cured him.

For us too, who all too often take for granted the simplest blessings God has given, like our ability to hear and to speak, let alone the greater blessings of our ability to hear God's Word and speak his truth to others, Jesus steps into the scene. Once more this morning, though the Word of God that you hear, Jesus does everything well. He opens the ears of the deaf. He loosens the tongues of the mute. Listen now and hear what Jesus does well in Mark 7:31-37…

 

31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man. 33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. Then he spit and touched the man's tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, "Ephphatha!" (which means, "Be opened!"). 35 At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. 36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. "He has done everything well," they said. "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."

 

I.              Be Open to Hear God's Word

 

Jesus left the crowded Jewish scene to take a break from those who pressed around him to have another miracle performed. He needed a get away from the people who focused on the miracles over the message. So he went to the region of the Decapolis, the ten cities, an area that was so "Gentile" it was known as the Rome away from Rome. The last time he was there, after driving a demon out of a man into a herd of pigs, the people kicked him out of town. But this time the reception was quite different. This time a crowd, Mark tells us, gathered around Jesus, no doubt looking for more miracles. And there a group of people brought their deaf, mute friend to Jesus to see what he could do. 

Now, I imagine this man was not a big fan of crowds. He could tell they were excited by the expressions on their faces, but what they were talking about must have been hard to tell. It's pretty obvious when someone is blind or lame, but most people wouldn't know you were deaf or mute until they tried to talk to you and you didn't respond. It must have been uncomfortable, awkward and embarrassing. Then Jesus stepped in.

In love and compassion he dealt with this man individually, pulling him aside from the crowd to be with him one on one. Jesus didn't want to make a scene for this man and turn him into a public spectacle. Neither did he want to make a scene for himself since many of the people had the wrong idea of what kind of Savior Jesus was and would follow him for the wrong reasons. This was no publicity stunt done for the sake of the crowd, but an act of compassion for the individual, so Jesus pulled him aside.

And then in a way the deaf mute could understand, using signs—thrusting his fingers in the man's ears, spitting and touching his tongue, looking up to heaven—he communicated what he was about to do. With a great sigh of sorrow for the man's condition and the effects of sin in the world, with a great sigh of compassion for the struggles this man had, Jesus called out, "Ephphatha!" "Be opened!" And instantly, by the power of Jesus' Word, the man's ears obeyed and were opened. Perhaps for the first time in his life, he could hear.

What a profound impact that event must have had on this man for the rest of his life! Not only was he physically healed, but he could hear the Words of his Savior! He could hear the Scriptures read in the synagogue! He could hear the passages like Isaiah 35:5-6 that clearly pointed to Jesus as the Messiah, as God himself… "5 Then [when God comes to his people]… the eyes of the blind [will] be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. 6 Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert." Not only could he hear physically, but he could hear spiritually about his Savior! What an amazing miracle this was!

 

Mark recorded this story in his Gospel to give us one more proof that Jesus is the Son of God with power to do all things well, even heal the deaf and the mute. But as we read this account we can't help but think of how he's healed us too and given us another kind of hearing.

You see, we once had a problem that was much worse than being physically deaf. By nature we couldn't hear and understand the gospel. The idea that our sins are forgiven by the death of a guy who lived almost 2000 years ago is complete foolishness to us by nature (1 Corinthians 1:18). It's ridiculous. The wisdom of the gospel is a secret wisdom, Paul says (1 Corinthians 2:7), that's hidden from us by nature. And without that wisdom we were doomed to hell.

And as if that weren't bad enough, even as Christians we often turn a deaf ear to God. We act like we're deaf when we stay away from worship or neglect our Bibles, refusing to listen to God. Or like the Pharisees we're "ever hearing but never understanding…" (Mark 4:12)   We find it easy to listen to the TV or the radio for hours, but very difficult to tune in to God's Word for a few minutes.

But our Savior breathes a sigh of compassion for us. Through his Word, read from the lectern, preached from the pulpit, read in a devotion, spoken with the water of Baptism, married to the bread and wine and the body and blood of the Lord's Supper, he pulls us aside, and working with each individual, he opens our ears, so we can hear him. 

As we hear our Savior fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah, we're reminded that he is the promised Messiah. As we hear how he cured a deaf mute, we're reminded how he is God who would later die on a cross to pay for every one of our sins. And through these reminders, far greater than any physical healing, he heals us spiritually—forgiving us, restoring us, making us whole again and acceptable to God.

With your hearing restored, dear friends, listen. One of the expressions Jesus liked to use was "He who has ears, let him hear." He encourages us to stop taking his gift of hearing for granted and as James encourages, be quick to listen—especially to his Word. Use your ears to literally listen to God's Word—in worship, in Bible class, or to a sermon podcast on your computer or phone. Use your spiritual ears to listen to God's Word, reading and studying the Bible, or a devotion, and not just listening, but doing what it says. And listen to the comfort of the cross—where you're forgiven for each time you've been deaf to God's Word by Jesus who eagerly listened to the Father and did everything that he said perfectly, doing all things well, and giving that perfection to you. Then, having listened to what he's done for you, you won't be able to stop talking about it…

 

II.            Be Open to Speak God's Word

 

Now Jesus really did two miracles in one. Not only did he open the man's ears, but he loosened his tongue and taught the man to speak. The man didn't have to go through years of speech therapy to learn how to communicate, but once Jesus touched his tongue and spoke his powerful Word, "his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly."

What joy must have filled this man's heart! How overwhelming! To hear the noise of the crowd! To hear the birds singing! To hear his own voice—clearly! To hear Jesus' voice! The man couldn't help but use his new gift of speech. "At this…" Mark says, "at once, immediately," "…his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly." He couldn't contain his joy, but had to speak out!

And this man's tongue wasn't the only one loosened that day. The crowd must not have been very far off because they heard this "mute" man speak. And their response was one of complete astonishment. Their tongues were loosened and even though "Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone,"—because he knew the story would be twisted to show him as a magician or just a miracle worker and not the Savior from sin, thus doing more harm than good—yet, in spite of his command, the crowd couldn't help it! "The more he [commanded them not to tell anyone], the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. "He has done everything well," they said. "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak." And while they may have misunderstood the full implications  of what they'd witnessed, how true a confession it was! "He has done everything well!"

 

Dear friends, we are like those crowds. We can't help but talk about our Savior. They were forbidden from talking and couldn't help it. But Jesus doesn't give us the command to keep silent. He tells us, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." (Mark 16:15) 

And through the gospel message that we hear, our tongues—once unable to speak, since "no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit," (1 Corinthians 12:3)—have now been loosed. We can speak of our Savior! We can tell others how he's done all things well! We can share how he's blessed us with "every good and perfect gift… from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights," the greatest of which is our forgiveness of sins and salvation in him!

And yet, all too often we find ourselves mute, don't we? Our tongues are tied. "I don't want to be put on the spot. The other kids in school will think I'm weird! My co-workers will think I'm a Jesus freak or something." Or, "I want to talk about Jesus, but I just don't know what to say. What if they ask a question I can't answer?" And instead of speaking with our new tongues, we turn the conversation to sports or the weather, and like a mute, never say a thing about our Savior.

But friends, remember what amazing miracles he's done in our lives! The crowds only heard a miracle of physical healing and they couldn't contain themselves. But we have not only heard about, but experienced for ourselves, a spiritual miracle—the forgiveness of every one of our sins! Being brought to faith by the Holy Spirit in spite of our resistance! Peace with God with our souls perfectly restored through Jesus' blood! The certainty of heaven itself where our bodies won't just be restored from our physical ailments, but we'll be given new, powerful, glorified, immortal bodies! (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)

How can we possibly contain ourselves?! Astonished and overwhelmed with amazement by the love and grace of Jesus toward each of us individually, we can't help but speak. As Peter put it, "…you 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)

It's my prayer, perfectly restored saints of God (2 Corinthians 5:17), that the same Jesus who healed a deaf man by the power of his Word, may by that same powerful Word say "Ephphatha" to us. That he would continue to open our ears to listen to his Word every day! To get in the daily habit of hearing what he says to us. I pray that the same Savior who by his grace loosened the tongue of the mute, might continue to loosen our tongues to speak of that grace boldly. To tell others that like us, their sins have been paid for! Our Savior, Jesus, has done it all! He has done everything well! In his name, dear friends, amen.


In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

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

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Be One Who H.O.L.D.S. God's Word! A sermon based on Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-9

How well do you hold on to the Word of God? Do you sometimes let it pass in one ear and out the other? Do you ever heard it being read without really listening to it? Do you ever listen without acting on it? Then stop! Hear God's Word and observe it! Live by his Word--live forever! Don't forget his Word, but stay in it every day! And share God's Word with others and you'll grow in your own faith even more. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Deuteronomy 4 and be encouraged to...

Be One Who H.O.L.D.S. God's Word!
A sermon based on Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-9
Sunday, September 19, 2012 – Pentecost 15B

It's been said that 93% of communication is non-verbal. For example: [With a smile and arms outstretched], "Four years our nation was in trouble and look at all President Obama has done for us since!" and [With a frown and arms crossed],  "Four years our nation was in trouble and look at all President Obama has done for us since!" Those two statements mean completely different things by completely different parties. And it's important to know the difference. That means if you want to really get the message, you need to really pay attention! You need to not only hear what's said, but how it's said. You need to observe.

This morning God tells us something similar. If you want to get his Word, you need to really pay attention. You need to hear his Word and observe it. One who really pays attention in this way holds that knowledge. This morning then we'll using the acronym, holds, H.O.L.D.S., to see how Moses teaches how one can be a person who holds the truth of God's Word. First you, H-hear it, then O-observe it. Then you'll L-live by God's Word and D-don't forget it, but remember it daily and finally, in thanks, we'll S-share the truths we know with others. Hear it. Observe it. Live by it. Don't ever forget it. And share it. Listen to Moses' instruction in Deuteronomy 4 that you might be one who holds God's truth...

 

1 Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 2 Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you...6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people." 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? 9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. 


I. Hear

 

Moses was near the end of his life. He knew that he wouldn't go into the Promised Land himself, but would die before the Israelites crossed over Jordan. And so, before they parted company, Moses wanted to impress on God's people how they could hold on to the truth of God's laws and decrees -- the most important message ever communicated.
            And the first step was to "Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you." In other words, show up to Moses' Bible class. There's not much you can do with God's Word until you first learn what it says. Brothers and sisters, the same is true of us. What use is your Bible if it's left closed on the shelf? It's no better than a paperweight.

What good is Bible class to you if you don't attend. What blessings we daily take for granted when we neglect that Word that is so readily available to us because we have more pressing things to do. And so we don't even listen.
            But that's not you, right? After all, you're here, at least in worship if not Bible class. You hear it. And when you can't be here you download the sermon later or read it in your email inbox. But there's a difference between just hearing and listening. You can read your daily Bible chapter to check it off your to-do list without gleaning a single insight from it. You can sit in the pew and think about all you have to get done this week or just this afternoon and even recite your parts of the liturgy and prayers without giving them a glancing thought. To hold on to God's Word we need to really listen. Actively listen.
Ask questions. Dig for answers. Take notes in your Bible. Participate, even now when you're just listening.

II. Observe

And more than that, Moses didn't stop with just hearing the Word. He said "Don't just listen, but observe." Of course he didn't mean we should be spectators, just watch how others keep the Word, like we observe a football game. No, he meant observe like we should observe the speed limit -- that is keep it! Do what the Word says! Or as Jesus put it, "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it!"       

Why should we? Because it's a matter of life and death. Moses said, "Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you." Implied, of course, is "Don't follow them and you'll die without seeing the Promised Land"—a message that may have been personal for Moses who would die outside the Promised Land because he didn't observe what God commanded.

            Sometimes I think we view the commands God gives as a burden, as if God's law were some sort of killjoy keeping us from enjoying life. But God gives his commands to bless us and give us life.
            A little boy was riding his tricycle furiously around the block, over and over again. Finally a policeman stopped and asked him why he was going around and around. The boy said that he was running away from home. So the policeman asked why he kept going around the block. The boy responded, "Because my mom said that I'm not allowed to cross the street." The point
? Obedience keeps you close to those who love you.
            But how well do you obey? Do you love God with an undivided heart? Do you hunger and thirst for his Word, just biding the time until you can dig into it again? Or do you view your personal devotion as one more thing that has to be done? Do you even do that much? Are you always glad when someone says to you, "Let's go to the house of the Lord!"? Or can you think of a number of things you'd really rather be doing right now?
            Imagine you wrote a love poem for someone you cared deeply about and you sat down to read it to them and pour out your heart. And as you did, that person reached for the remote and started surfing or started to trim their nails or work on a sudoku puzzle. "No, no. Go on. I'm listening." Wouldn't you rightly be hurt? Think how we must hurt God by the way we treat his Word with such ho-hum attitudes. "
Follow [God's decrees and laws] so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you."? Then we surely deserve to die and be left out of the heaven that the Lord, the God of our fathers is giving.


III. Live

            But thank God that his Word is not all laws, but also decrees. Just think of all the times God decreed his love for his people through Moses. He rescued his people out of Egypt and decreed that just as the angel of death had passed over their homes by the blood of the Passover lamb, so God's wrath would pass over his people by the blood of the Lamb of God who takes a way the sins of the world! -- the blood shed on the cross.
            Just as God miraculously provided safe passage from death to life through the Red Sea, so too he would miraculously provide safe passage from eternal death to life through his own son. Just as they did nothing to save themselves from the poisonous venom coursing through their veins, but simply looked to the bronze serpent lifted up on the pole, so too they didn't need to do anything to save themselves from the deadly sin polluting their souls, but simply look to the Son of God lifted up on a cross.
            As he provided water from the rock for their thirst, he provided the Living Water of Christ for their souls. As he gave them bread from heaven, he gave them
Living Bread. And the list could go on and on... The Books of the Law is a bit of a misnomer, with all those gospel promises, isn't it?
            And when Moses said, "
Follow them... keep the commands of the LORD... Observe them carefully..." Surely these gospel promises were included. When spoke of obedience surely he included obience to the gospel (as both Peter and Paul put it - cf. 1 Peter 4:17 and 2 Thessalonians 1:8), that is, to believe it.
            Jesus took our many failures to pay attention to God's Word -- as we've been distracted by the cares and worries of this life -- all on himself. He took all our failures to obey God's Law or believe his Gospel -- focusing on our desires or our fears instead -- all on himself. He suffered the penalty of hell that those failures deserve. And on the cross he gave his perfect record of faithfully hearing, obeying and sharing God's Word to you and me.
            And as we observe those gospel decrees of his forgiveness, we will not die, but will live. And we will go in and take possession of the the land that the Lord, the God of our fathers, is giving us -- that is, our Promised Land of heaven.
            And our response? We will eagerly live God's Word every day and "don't forget"...


IV. Don't Forget

            Moses encourages us to "
be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live."
            Holding on to God's Word isn't like riding a bike, where once you get it, you never forget it. It's not like reading a book one time where you get the information you want from it and then give it to
The Shelf. No! It's more like your retirement savings, where you invest bit by bit, little by little, day by day, never stopping until you retire -- or with God's Word, until you expire. And because it's a matter of life and death and we know that by these Words [holding up the Bible] we live, we are eager to read it, hear it, learn it, and as the old prayer so beautifully put it, "inwardly digest" the Word of God every day!
            Just as we know that eating one time each week wouldn't be enough to keep us healthy and well, we know that
coming to worship once a week won't provide adequate food for our souls. But even if you could get by on one meal a week, I'm guessing most of us would still eat more of the foods we love. So too, we love the Word of God that reveals our Savior's love for us. And we can't get enough!
            Literally translated Moses encouragement to "
watch yourselves closely" is "guard or keep your soul." Don't forget what God has done, friends, but get regular reminders, by your time spent in the Word, by the devotions you read, by the decorations on your wall, by the daily reminders of the cross that are all around.
            And finally, as we keep that daily focus, we won't be able to help but share the Word with others. Because when they see how we live, they'll want to know what makes us different...


IV. Share
   
            Moses said, "Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees...
Teach them to your children and to their children after them."
            As you observe God's commands, your co-workers, your friends, your family, will take notice. And through it God will open doors and give you opportunity to share his decrees, especially his gospel decrees with others. As you grow in your faith you'll be eager to pass it on with others. As the kids' song puts it, "It only takes a spark to get a fire going. And soon, all those around are warmed up in its glowing. That's how it is with God's love once you've experienced it." Or as the Psalmist put it, "I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done."
           
And you have many opportunities to do that. School teachers, Sunday school teachers, parents, you all have a special opportunity to "Teach [Gods' Word] to your children and to their children after them." All of you have theat opportunity to share God's Word by the words you speak, by the emails you send, by what you post on Facebook, by the example you set, by the prayers you offer God, and by the gifts you give in support of Christian education. We have the words of God's grace. And we will share them.
            And one
other added blessings is that as we do, we'll grow even more in our faith. Researches say that 30% of what is said can be retained by students. But 50% is retained if it's heard and seen. The percentage jumps to 70% if it's heard, seen, and acted upon. But when it's heard, seen, done, and taught, 90% is retained!
            Dear friends, though we deserve to die and be excluded from God's Promised Land of heaven, thanks to Jesus and his obedience to the commands of God, we will not die, but will live. Let's then be like one who holds on to the Word of God. Hear it. Observe it. Live by it. Don't ever forget it. And share it. Hold on, dear friends. Amen.


In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

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

Monday, September 3, 2012

Build on the Rock! (A sermon based on Matthew 7:24-27)

Where do you place your trust? Where do you turn for help when things aren't going well? Whatever you answer to those questions is the foundation of your life. And that foundation really is important. It might seem important when everything is going relatively well, but when the storms of this sin-filled life hit, and especially when the hurricane of Judgment Day hits, the foundation will be revealed for what it's worth. Build your life on something that will last. Build your life on Christ, the Rock, the one Sure Foundation. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Matthew 7:24-27 and be encouraged to keep building on the Rock...

Build on the Rock!

A sermon based on Matthew 7:24-27

Sunday, September 2, 2012 – Christian Education Sunday

 

            You're all familiar with the story of the Three Little Pigs right? Remember how it goes? One little pig built his house with straw, another built his house with sticks, and the third built his house with bricks. All seemed to be doing fine and well in their new dwellings, until one day, when the wolf came. Then, when he huffed and he puffed, the quality of home was revealed for what it was.

Jesus actually tells a very similar story in his Sermon on the Mount. He says that the way you build your house is crucial to how well it stands. Of course, Jesus wasn't giving architectural advice, but was speaking about your spiritual house. Jesus encourages all of us today to build our house—our trust, our faith, our lives—on the Rock. The Foundation is Key. The Foundation is Already Laid. Listen now to Jesus' counsel to you, found in Matthew 7:24-27…

 

24 "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."

 

I.              The Foundation is Key

 

It's sort of ironic, but I haven't heard of any services like this in Alaska where we live in earthquake country, but in Raleigh, I used to hear the ad on the radio a couple of times each week. It used some scare tactics and said that if your house has a crack in the wall, if the windows aren't quite straight, if the floor doesn't quite seem level, you may have a very serious underlying problem. It may be a problem with your foundation. And unless you contact their company immediately, they suggest, your house could quickly become unsafe, even deadly.


But the foundation of a building is crucial, isn't it? No matter how high the quality of building materials, if the foundation on which they rest is broken, the house soon will be too. A weak foundation makes for a weak house. And saints, what's true of the foundation of your physical house is also true of the foundation of your home. What you build your relationship on, what you build your faith on, what you build your life on—that foundation—is key.

Granted, building on sand may be quicker. It may be easier. It may be cheaper. The house built on the sand may appear to be just fine and would be fine… at least in the dry season. But when the rainy season hits, the foundation will quickly be washed away and the house will collapse, leaving the residents, homeless at best, or even worse… dead.

This sand is the foundation the world builds on. It's the security of having enough money in the bank to know you'll be okay no matter what troubles life throws at you. It's the surety that we have what it takes to make it through whatever comes our way. It's the certainty that I'm a good person, better than most anyway. And I deserve good things in life. I deserve good things from God.

And while these may seem to be a fine foundation at first, when a rainy season hits and the troubles and problems of this stormy, sin-filled life hit, what happens to the foundation? When you get laid off and money is scarce, that foundation is washed away. When a fight happens and your marriage may not survive, that foundation is washed away. When those you love are the ones who hurt you most, that foundation might crumble. The streams of trouble rise, the weak foundation is washed away and the wind easily destroys your house with a crash.

And, ultimately, even if your finances, your marriage, your friendships all last without a strong foundation, when the storm of Judgment Day hits, your eternity will be lost forever in hell without a solid foundation, because the problems of this life are like a tiny breeze compared to the hurricane that is to come. If you trust in the foundation of your good works and what a great person you've been, it won't stand—because God demands sinless perfection. Trust in your regular attendance in worship or your constant involvement at church and you won't stand. Trust in the fact that you've always tried your hardest and it won't get you into heaven either because your hardest isn't good enough. In verse 21 Jesus makes that clear. He says, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."


Now one might assume that to do the will of the Father means to follow his commands. To do all the things Jesus tells us to do in the Sermon on the Mount. But if that's the case it can be pretty unsettling to hear Jesus say, "Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock…" because, let's face it: none of us have perfectly put into practice what Jesus says. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Trust in our efforts and our works and we trust in a foundation of sand.

So what is the will of God? What is the firm foundation? Or really, who is the firm foundation? It's none other than Jesus; the foundation that's already been laid…

 

II.            The Foundation is Already Laid

 

In John 6:28 the Jews asked Jesus what the will of God was. Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." (John 6:29) Again in John 6:40 he said, "My Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."

While we naturally think the will of God is something we do, Jesus says the will of God is to trust the one he sent—to believe in him and his work for us. Jesus took our sins on himself—our sinful neglect of his Word, our rebellion against his commands, our impure thoughts and actions, our unkind words spoken in anger or frustration, our every sin of thought, word or deed, and nailed them to Jesus on the cross. We are forgiven and his perfect life is credited to us. God now looks at us and sees perfect saints who perfectly keep his will.

This is the one firm foundation—Christ the Rock. Every other foundation—anything else in which we place our trust is nothing but sand. That's why Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:11, "For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ."

Dear friends, it's my encouragement to you and my prayer for you that you build your marriage, your parenting style, your friendships, your work ethic, your hobbies, your schedules, your budgets, and everything that you do on this rock. Build on the rock, not on sand.


When someone hurts you, look to Christ the rock, your firm foundation and forgive just as Christ has forgiven you. When you're tired and worn out after a long day of work or after too many hours of studying, look to the Rock and see how he served you, giving even his life on the cross for you, and long to serve him by serving others. When you're tired and don't feel like reading his Word or going to worship, when another hour of sleep seems so much better than Bible Class, look to the Rock, remember what he's done for you, and long to learn more about his love for you, long to encourage others and be encouraged in the Word.

And keep building. What good is a foundation if that's all that's there? You'd be better off in the woods, where at least there's protection from the wind! Keep building on that foundation! Grow in your faith to strengthen the walls! Build up a storeroom of help by memorizing God's Word. Put up a watch tower to guard against temptation and the devil's seduction. Keep building! Keep fortifying what you have!

Here's my challenge to you: Add one thing to what you're already doing. Are you coming to church monthly? Make a commitment to come twice a month. Are you coming weekly? Make a commitment to read a devotion at home twice a week. Are you studying the Word at home? Try coming to Bible Class on Sunday mornings, just for a month. See if you're not built up! Are you coming to Bible class each week? Try memorizing a chapter of God's Word. Add one thing to what you're already doing to build on the foundation that you have.

And then, dear friends, when the storms of trouble hit your home, when Satan huffs and he puffs, you'll stand firm. Then, when death or Judgment Day comes like a hurricane, you'll be just fine, because you'll be firmly planted on the sure foundation—the Rock of Christ.

Rejoice dear friends, that your solid foundation has already been laid. Now don't be like the foolish man, who heard the Word of God, but refused to put it into practice. Instead, continue to build your home on this Rock so you can stand. Stay in the Word of God to better know his love for you. Gather with your fellow believers to grow in your faith. Share the Word of God with your children. Talk about it at home and in the car, when you lie down and when you get up. (cf. Deuteronomy 6:7-9) Love the Word of God, make it a part of your daily routine and build on this firm foundation. Then, when you're on your deathbed, you can boldly confess:

My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus blood and righteousness; I dare to make no other claim But wholly lean on Jesus' name. On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand. Amen.


In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

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