Tuesday, June 25, 2013

“Deus Vult!” (A sermon based on John 6:35-40)

What is God's will for my life? What does he want me to do? Well, if we're honest, we have to admit that we know much of God's will pretty well. We have the Ten Commandments as a summary of what he wants. But we also have to admit we haven't done God's will when our wills are in conflict with his. Thank God that it is also his will that all people be saved. Thank God that he wanted that so much that he sent Jesus to perfectly keep God's will for us and to take our sin away. His grace now moves us to strive for whatever is pleasing to God and to do his will in gratitude and thanks. And it moves us to boldly pray, "Your will be done." Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on John 6:35-40 and be encouraged by God's will for you and be encouraged to do God's will in thanks...

"Deus Vult!"
A sermon based on John 6:35-40
Sunday, June 23, 2013 

When the crusaders heard the voice of their leader, Peter the Hermit, bidding them go to Jerusalem and take it from hands of the invaders, they cried out at once, "Deus vult!" ("God wills!")  Every man plucked his sword from the scabbard and set out to capture the Holy Land, thinking God had willed their mission. Of course, when Muslim terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Centers they too believed that Allah willed it. When a young man decided to study to enter the ministry, he felt God was calling him to do so. "It is his will," he said.

But someone once asked, how do you know that burning in your heart is God and not just indigestion. As we consider the prayer, "God, your will be done," we can't help but ask, "What is God's will?" and, more specifically, "What is God's will for my life?" Some wonder is it God's will that I take this job? Or should I pack my bags, sell my home, and take that one? Should I marry semi-perfect A? Or maybe God's will is that there's someone else out there for me and I should wait around for a little more semi-perfect B. What is God's will?

The crowds that gathered around Jesus after he fed well over 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two small fish wanted to know the same thing: "What is God's will?" In John 6:28 They asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" As we hear a part of Jesus' answer in John 6:35-40 we'll find some of the answers to that question. And hopefully by the time we're through today everyone here will be able to say with confidence, "Deus vult! I know what God's will is!" and then will pray with confidence, "God, Thy Will Be Done." Listen now to John 6:35-40... 

35Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. 36But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40For 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." 

Before we go too much further we have to make a distinction between God's hidden will and God's revealed will. God's hidden will is what God wants for you and your life, but that he chooses not to tell you. You can search the Bible front cover to back and you will never find which stocks to buy or when to sell. You'll never find God tell you whom to marry or which job to take. He won't pick your vacation destination or tell you what to have for dinner. God gives you guiding principles. (For example: Don't take a job that by it's very nature has you do things sinful. Drug lord, prostitute, or assassin for hire, are not jobs that God wants you to have. They are contrary to his will.) But he lets you use your God-given wisdom and intellect to choose between two or more amoral choicesthings that are neither right nor wrong no matter which way you go.

Nowhere does God tell you he will reveal that hidden will to you. He does not promise to visit you in a dream, whisper in your ear, or align the circumstances in your life to reveal a particular choice. That's why it's called his hidden will. And it's useless to try to find out what that will is because God keeps it hidden from us for a reason. Can you imagine what a nut case you'd be if you knew in advance every accident or illness that came your way? Or if you knew the year, month, and day of your death? How unproductive you would be! And so God hides certain things from us for our own good.

But other things God has revealed clearly. That's why we call it the revealed will of God. Those are all the things you find when you read your Bible. So what is the revealed will of God? Well, I think you know it pretty well. If not, dust off your catechism and review the Ten Commandments. God wills that you love him above all else, that you love his Word and are eager to hear and learn it. He wills that you respect the government and all in authority, that you honor his gift of life and do all you can to maintain it. He wills that husband and wife love and honor each other and that all remain pure in thought and action. He wills that you don't stealeven from your employer by working less that 100%. He wills that you tell the truth and do all you can to give others a good reputation. He wills that you be content with the countless blessings he's given and not be in a constant pursuit for more.

In short, it is God's will that you "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Luke 10:27) and it is God's will that if you "Do this... you will live." (Luke 10:27) You'll live forever in heaven with him.

You know what he wants. So, how well have you done God's will?

A few years ago The Detroit News reported that 17-year-old Willa Chen had managed to do what no one has ever done. She got a perfect score on the ACT... and the SAT... and the PSAT. For those of you without teens, those are the tests most students take before they apply to college. Now the odds on a student scoring perfectly on all three tests are about as good as the chance of water running uphill. It just doesn't happen. Even so, Willa did it. But a quick search of "Willa Chen" will show that that's not all she's capable of. Willa also received scholarships in the categories of Physical Fitness, Self-Expression, Talent, Interview, andsurprise! surprise!Scholastics. She was also crowned as the Plymouth-Canton Junior Miss for 2009. So, is there anything Willa Chen can't do?

The answer is, "Yes." Willa is spectacular, no doubt about it. But she's not perfect. She's a sinner, and she can't save herself from those sins. Neither can we. We have failed God's test of perfection. We must admit, "I have not kept God's will—not perfectly as he demands. I have not obeyed God's will as well as the angels in heaven do. Too often I have prayed "Thy will be done," but by my thoughts, my words, and my actions that have run contrary to God's will have screamed, "My will be done!"

And this full knowledge of one's guilt can leave us wondering "What is God's will?"—not for my job, or my health, or my relationship with someone else. For ultimately, before long these won't matter at all. At least, not compared to the far more important question, "What is God's will for my eternity?" And while we may think, "Surely his will is to punish me! Surely he wills for my eternal torment in hell!" or "Surely he wills that I somehow make it up to him, that I somehow set things right!" he doesn't leave us guessing. He tells us what his will is...

"And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day." It is God's will that no one be lost to the hell they deserve. In 1 Timothy 2(:4) God makes it clear he "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." What truth? The truth about his Son and what he did. "For 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."
        God came up with a plan that his will might be done. He sent his Son to earth to live a perfect life in our place. That's why Jesus said,
"For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me." He always did what God wantedperfectly!—always! He never broke a commandment. He never sinned. Not even with a thought. And then, because the Father willed, and because he willed, he gave that perfect record away to you and me. And he took our guilty record on himself and paid the penalty of hell for our sin because it was the Father's will that "everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life."

According to the American Medical Association a human being cannot live without food for more than nine to ten weeks. Depending on one's physical condition and the amount of fat stored in the body the time span for survival may vary. But nine to ten weeks without food is the maximum, regardless of other conditions. That is because food is absolutely essential to physical life. Without it humans die.

Likewise, without Jesus we might live 100 or maybe even 150 years. But that's the maximum, regardless of other conditions. After that we would die eternally in hell. But Jesus said, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry... everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."

And so the soul, famished because of sin, can feast on Jesus' payment and live. The soul hungry for a perfect life to present to God at Judgment Day can reach for Jesus' righteousness and be satisfied. God's will for you is that you live forever in heaven, never to hunger again. And of that you can be absolutely certain, even if you don't know which job to take or which which car to buy.

And in thanks to God, we're eager to do the Father's will. We want to keep his commands in our lives. We long to hear more of his Word and to grow in our faith! We're eager to do all we can that his name be kept holy, that his kingdom come to us and through us, and that his will might be done perfectly—on earth just as well as it is in heaven. We long to serve him and do his will, not because we must or because it will earn us heaven, but eager to thank him for the heaven he gives. And so we boldly go to live for him and spread the good news that "everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life!" For this is his will! "Deus Vult!" 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

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Is It In You? (A sermon based on Luke 17:20-25)

Where does God rule? Everywhere! But in a special way he rules in the hearts of believers. Is the Kingdom of God in you? Look to the cross. See what God has done for you there. Know that you are forgiven and be at peace. It is in you. God rules in your heart by his Word. In the second petition of the Lord's prayer, we pray that he may rule in our hearts and lives more and more, and that through us his Kingdom would come to others too. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Luke 17:20-25 and rejoice that the Kingdom of God in in you...

Is It In You?
A sermon based on Luke 17:20-25
Sunday, June 16, 2013 

Have you ever seen a football player, sweating big drops of purple sweat, haul in a spectacular catch for a touchdown? Have you seen the basketball player who's sweat is bright orange, swish the buzzer beating shot to win the game? If so, you've seen the Gatorade commercials that seem to promise that you too can play this great if you'll only drink their product. And the commercials end with that prodding question: "Is it in you?"

This morning we ask that question, not of some sports drink that promises improved athleticism, but of something far more important...

The Pharisees rightly understood Jesus' claim to establish the kingdom of God. So they demanded to know when? When would he dominate the Romans? When would he bring peace to the Holy Land? When would he make his so-called Messiahship known?

But they misunderstood what the kingdom of God was all about? The rule of God is not over a plot of land. It has no borders. And it doesn't increase by force. It's a kingdom, a ruling, that takes place inside of people. And in a certain sense Jesus asked the Pharisees (and today he asks us), "Is it in you?" Let's answer that question as we take a look at Luke 17:20-25... 

20 Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, 21 nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you." 22 Then he said to his disciples, "The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. 23 Men will tell you, 'There he is!' or 'Here he is!' Do not go running off after them. 24 For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation." 

I. It's Within. 

Borders of a nation or a kingdom are pretty easy to see, aren't they? You know where Alaska ends and where Canada begins. You know where Canada ends and Washington State begins. You know when you've crossed from one state into another and from one country into another. The kingdoms are clearly marked on a map.

But when we pray the 2nd petition of the Lord's Prayer, "Your kingdom come…" it can be a little confusing, can't it? Kingdoms don't usually go anywhere! Canada won't come to the United States. China won't come to Mexico. People go to a kingdom, but not vice versa. But the kingdom of God is different. It comes to us. And it comes to others.

So what is this kingdom? Well, let's turn to God's word for a better understanding. In John 18(:36) Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world. God's kingdom doesn't have a flag or national currency. It's not made up of countries or borders, or even of churches or synods. But it does have a ruler. So where is this kingdom? Jesus makes it clear: "the kingdom of God is within you." Or as Paul wrote in Colossians 3(:15), "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts..."

Simply put, the kingdom of God is Jesus ruling the hearts and lives of people. The Pharisees didn't get that. They only dealt with externals. That's why Jesus warned them, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean." (Matthew 23:25-26)

So, as I look out into the pews this morning I see clean cups. You all look bathed and dressed up. You're all in church and look like Christians, members of the kingdom of God, citizens of heaven. But… looks can be deceiving. The outside doesn't matter. Only what's in you matters. So, how about it? The kingdom of God... is it in you?

Who rules your heart? "Well, Jesus, of course!" Right? But would your bank statements agree? Do your purchases and transfers reflect the fact that Jesus and his kingdom are most important in your life? Or do they show that your greater concerns are still about earthly kingdoms?

Or how about that even more precious commodity that's in even shorter supply than money? How about your time? Does your schedule reflect that you serve God first by your regular worship, your time spent in the word, your hours of service to him and others? Or does your calendar book reveal that Jesus isn't really in charge, but that other things rule in your life?

You see, as pious and tidy as we want to look on the outside, truth be told, we're dirty cups. We don't let Jesus rule in our hearts as we should. We take the throne. We do things our way, not his. Jesus said he had to "be rejected by [his] generation," but too often he's rejected by us too. And for rebelling against the laws of his kingdom, we deserve to "long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but... not see it." We deserve to lose citizenship in his kingdom and to be deported to hell. 

II. It's Within You. 

And yet, in spite of what we deserve, we get to be a part of his kingdom anyway.

Every kingdom is established by a war as one ruler proves his dominance over another. Think of the wars our nation has seen. The Revolutionary War created a new Kingdom. The Civil War prevented a new Kingdom from being established. And every war has been a struggle to gain or maintain a kingdom – that is, the rule of one people or group over another. And it often comes at the expense of many lives.

Jesus fought a war to establish his kingdom too. He spoke of that struggle when he said, "First he [the Son of Man] must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation." He fought at the expense of not many lives, but just one—his own—but that life was the life of the Son of God. He went to the cross to take all of the guilt of every rebellion against his rule that you and I have ever committed on himself. He paid the penalty they earned. He was deported to hell in our place. And by that war, he defeated sin and satan and death and hell and he established his Kingdom. And he did it for you.

Most (if not all) of us here became U.S. citizens by birth. But by birth we were also sinners—citizens of hell. And when we could only choose to reject Jesus because we were spiritually dead and unable to choose to become citizens of heaven, Jesus chose us. He poured out his Holy Spirit into our hearts and began his rule there through the Word.

Can you imagine the joy that must have filled Matthew, the lying, cheating, traitorous tax collector, when he heard Jesus say, "Follow me"? As unworthy as he was, Jesus chose him to be a part of his kingdom. Well, you can imagine it! Because that joy is yours! You too are unworthy to be a part of his kingdom, but Jesus chose you!

So, the kingdom of God... Is it in you? Well, do you believe that Jesus died to pay for your sins? Then, yes, absolutely! It's within you! Rejoice! You're a citizen! A member of that kingdom with all its blessings!

So if it's already come to us, why pray "Your kingdom come"? Because we long to have Jesus take more control of our hearts and lives and establish his rule more firmly. So we pray as the Father of the demon possessed boy did and cry out to Jesus, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24) We guard our faith and our doctrine closely and are eager to spend time in the Word. And as the kingdom of God does come to us and we let Jesus rule more and more, the kingdom will also come through us, as we share the good news with others in thanks to Jesus.

And so that prayer—"Your kingdom come"—is a dangerous prayer. For when you pray "Your kingdom come" you pray that the word will spread through you even if that means God creates situations that move you well beyond your comfort zone. When you pray "Your kingdom come" you pray that God move you to generously support the work of the Kingdom, putting it first in your budget, even if you have less left over for entertainment. When you pray "Your kingdom come" you pray that God guide your pastor to speak the truth of his Word in a clear and precise way even when he preaches the stinging law to you. When you pray "Your kingdom come" you pray that God would crush any opposition to the growth of his kingdom... even if that opposition is you.

And as you pray that bold prayer, God will hear and answer. Is it in you—the kingdom of God? You bet! And just as his kingdom has already come to you, so it will continue to come, to you more and more, and through you to others until it finally comes in its full glory on the last day. "For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other." So keep praying that bold prayer: "Your kingdom come!" 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

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

What a Name He's Made for Himself! (A sermon based on Exodus 34:4-7)

What's in a name? A lot! If you've ever had your name dragged through the mud you know how important your name and your reputation are! Well, God feels the same way. He wants us to honor his name and keep his reputation set apart. Too often we ruin by God's name, not just by our words, but by our actions. Thank God that he maintains his reputation of being a compassionate and forgiving God. Thank God that he puts his name on us. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Exodus 34:4-7 and be encouraged to hallow God's name... 

What a Name He's Made for Himself!
A sermon based on Exodus 34:4-7
June 9, 2013 

    I have to question the wisdom of a certain Texas governor of the late 1800s. I don't question his policies or leadership of the great state of Texas, but the name he and his wife chose to give their daughter... welll... I don't know. It's not that Ima is necessarily a bad name in and of itself, but when you're Governeror Hogg... yeah. Ima Hogg. (This is true, by the way, not a name Bart Simpson made up for a prank call.) Can you imagine the jokes poor Ima had to face in school?
    And what impressions poor Ima must have given those who hadn't even met here. With a name like Ima Hogg I'm sure many assumed she
was overweight, slovenly, and lazy. But that couldn't have been further from the truth. Ima was a fit young lady who soon became one of the most respected women in Texas in the 20th century. She was an art collector, a philanthropist, and even established the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health. Too bad she had such an unfortunate name.
    You and I, dear friends, were born with a very unfortunate name too. We were called "sinners." But now you and I have been given a new name - "Christians" - with with all the benefits that go with that name: forgiveness of sins, peace with God, and heaven itself. And we've had such a wonderful name change because God has revealed to us his name - a name that is special, holy, and set apart, because his name - who he is and what he's done - brings us salvation. And so, we long to keep his name holy as we represent him.
    Listen to the name that God revealed to Moses, the reputation he would be known by. What a name he's made for himself! And rejoice in that name, because by that name... what a name God's made for us! We read Exodus 34:4-7...

4 So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the LORD had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. 5 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."


I. God's Made Quite the Name for Himself!

    "What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet." So says Juliette in the famous play, Romeo and Juliette, written of course by... Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. At least that's what many conspiracy theorists believe: that "William Shakespeare was a pen name, a psuedonym to hide the true identity of the author. Kind of ironic, don't you think? That that which we call Shakespeare, by some other name seems not quite as sweet.
    What is in a name? They say if you want to sell a car, talk about the car. If you want to sell a copy machine, talk about the copy machine. But if you want to sell yourself, talk about the other person. And say their name often. People love to hear the sound of their own name. But it's more than just the pleasing melody of a string of syllables pronounced together that sounds so nice, isn't it? It's becasue people love to know they're cared about, that their name means something to someone else - especially in our increasingly impersonal society. You see, I  value my name, not because it sounds nice, but because it means something to others. I have a reputation - hopefully a good one and people don't instantly think angry thoughts when they  hear "Pastor Rob Guenther."
    It's that true of any name? There are associations - wheter or good or bad - that go with that name. Michael Jordan. Tom Hanks. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Pastor Mike Geiger. Those names conjured pictures in your head, they called to mind characteristcs of those individuals and the actions they have done.
    And the same is true of God's name. His reputation - who he is and what he's done - is called to mind when you hear one of his many names. So what kind of a name has God made for himself? Well, he describes what his name means in Exodus 34. When you hear "The LORD," our English translation of the Hebrew, Yahweh (later translated, Jehovah), what comes to mind? First, we think of a just God. One who is holy and sinless and cannot tolerate sin. Speaking of himself in the 3rd person, God said, "He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."
    Yikes! That must have been a tough one for Moses to relay to the Israelites. After all, they had just made a golden calf and chose to worship it instead of the true God who just brought them out of Egypt with such miraculous displays of his power. Just as they had broken God's commands - the very commands Moses was bringing down from the mountain - Moses smashed the tablets. That's why our text began, "So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones..." And God had just told them, "Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way." (Exodus 33:3) When you think of the name, the LORD, think just, holy, righteous. Think one who cannot tolerate sinful rebellion.
    But thankfully that's not all there is to God's name. Yahweh also told Moses that his name was, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin." God is not just a God of justice, but also a God of compassion who is "slow to anger."
    This literally discribes a picture of God's nose. Of course, God is spirit and doesn't have a physical nose. But it's a word picture for God's temper. Several places in the Old Testament, God is described with nostrils flaring at injustice. Psalm 18:8 says, "Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth." But here in Exodus 34 the phrase "slow to anger" is literally "long of nose." Anger shows in flared nostrils and snorting, like enraged people with reddened noses. But God is "long of nose," meaning that it takes much longer for his wrath to kindle. It takes a long time for his blood to boil. God demonstrated that time and time again to the Israelites when he continued to show his patience and mercy to them after they rebelled again and again. What a reputation God has! What a name he's made for himself! The God of perfect justice! The God of perfect love!
    And what a name God has made for his people - for Israel and... for us!

II. What A Name God's Made for Us!

    You know it's not just for the Israelites that "He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation." is an intimidating phrase. After all, we've been no better than them. God has taken his great name - his reputation - who he is and what he's done - and he's entrusted that name to us. He's said to you and me, "Go and be my representatives. What people see in you, they'll think of me."
    The past couple of days we've been blessed to have five members of Good Shepherd Luthran Church in Omaha, Nebraska come and help us out with our Path to Victory Basketball Camp. And whether they knew it or not, those five people came as representatives of Good Shepherd. How they act and behave reflects not just on them, but on their congregation. (And so far, they've done an outstanding job, by the way. The members of Good Shepherd must all be polite, friendly, and hard working.)
    But, let me ask, how well have you represented God. Do you call yourself a Christian? Then you are his ambassador, since you bear his name. Whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not, whether it's fair or not, what other people think of when they hear the name Christ or Jesus, depends a great deal on you who call yourself Christian. I'm sure you too have heard people say, "If that's how Christians behave, I don't want to be a Christian."
    Is that sometimes because of you? Do you faithfully represent God's name by the way you live your life? Do you "let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven"? (Matthew 5:16) Do you faithfully proclaim the name of the Lord? Not always. Not  perfectly. And neither do I. And in our attempts to make a name for ourselves, we've made our own golden calves, and ruined God's name.
    And for such sinful failures, for the way we've run God's name through the mud by the way we live and behave, by the we act and by the way we don't act, for the way we fail to keep his name holy and special and set apart, we deserve to have God take his name from us. We deserve to have him say, "You are no Christian. That's not how one bearing my name behaves." We deserve his punishment - both now and in eternity. We and our children and their children after them. And God is just.
    But thankfully that's not all there is to God's name. Yahweh also told Moses that his name was, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin." God is not just a God of justice, but also a God of compassion who is "long of nose" with us.
    Did you know that sympathy and compassion are really the same word? Just one's Greek and the other's Latin. They both mean "to feel with someone." God is that close to us. He shares our nerve endings and our tear ducts. What hurts us hurts him. But God didn't just sympathize by sending a card that said, "I'm so sorry for you that you have to go to hell! No. His sympathy - his compassion - led him to act! When we were doomed to hell, he intervened. Because God couldn't stand to see our misery without his help and salvation, he sent Jesus to endure the hell that should have been ours.
    That's how God's qualities, described in his name, can coexist. He is just, punishing every sin. Not a single sin ever committed has gone unpunished. But Jesus took that punishment for us. So we won't go to the hell we deserve. God is also "compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin."
    You know that word "forgiving" in the Hebew is נשא [pronounced naw-saw], which literally means "to lift or carry away." When I was studying Hebrew in college the mnemonic aid I used to remember נשא was to think of NASA. NASA takes a massive rocket ship and lifts it off the ground and carries it far away from the earth into outerspace. Isn't that a fitting picture of what God does to our sins? He packed all our wickedness and rebellion and sin onto Jesus. He lit the ignition on Good Friday and sent all our sin flying. "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." (Psalm 103:12) This is who God is! This is his reputation!
    And because we know his name,The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, what blessings are ours! We have forgiveness! We have peace with God! We have the promise that he will maintain his love and continue to remain faithful to all his promises! You know, someone once quipped that in a time of misery the only place he could find sympathy was in a dictionary. It might seem that way sometimes. But you know that it's never the case with God. He is there! He is the definition of compassion, our source of help in trouble. He is the one who encourages us to cast our anxiety and all our guilt and sin on him.
    And for the blessed priveldge of not only knowing God's name, but bearing God's name as "Christians" we can't help but thank him and strive all the more to keep his name holy. How? For starters, represent him better as you live pure and godly lives in all you say and do. Then follow Martin Luther's suggestion: "Fear and love God that we do not use his name to curse, swear, lie or or deceive or use it superstitiously, but call upon God's name in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks." Share his name - his reputation of who he is and what he's done with others who don't know it. And finally, ask him to help you keep his name holy whenever you pray, "Hallowed be thy name." In Jesus' 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

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Our Father in Heaven... (A sermon based on Matthew 7:9-11)

How can we call God Father when we haven't behaved like his children very well? How can we expect God to listen to us when we so rarely listen to him? Because of his Grace, we can call God our Father. Because of his promise, we can expect that he will listen. Because of his love for us in Christ, we know that he will always answer our prayers in a way that is best for us, just like a loving father takes care of his kids. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Matthew 7:9-11 and rejoice that God is our loving Father who hears and answers our prayers...

Our Father in Heaven...
A sermon based on Matthew 7:9-11
Sunday, June 6, 2013 

There once was a small town that had historically been a "dry" town. But one day a local businessman decided to build a tavern and see how he could do. The local church organized a prayer meeting to ask God to intervene. That very night lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground. The owner of the bar sued the church, claiming that the prayers of the congregation were responsible, but the church hired a lawyer to argue in court that they were not responsible. The presiding judge, after his initial review of the case, stated that "no matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear. The tavern owner believes in prayer and the Christians do not."

This morning we begin a new sermon series on the Lord's Prayer. We'll learn how we should pray, what we should pray for, and how God answers prayer. This morning we begin with the first part of the Lord's prayer, called the address. Every day millions of Christians begin their prayers with the familiar words "Our Father Who Art in Heaven..." And what comforting words those are. God is our Father. He resides in heaven and he's eager to hear and answer our prayers. And he promises to answer them in a way that will bless us as our loving Father in heaven. Listen to Matthew 7:9-11, words that Jesus spoke in his Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said,

 9"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!


Wow! That's a bit harsh isn't it? That Jesus calls us, his own children, evil? I mean, we're not perfect sure, but evil? Yes. Absolutely. Every one of us is evil. If you don't believe me, consider your prayer life.

George was driving down the street in a sweat because he had an important meeting in just a minute, but he couldn't find a parking place anywhere. At the next stop light he looked up into the sky and cried, "Lord, please, take pity on me. If you find me a parking place, I'll be nice to that neighbor I hate so much. I'll quite stealing his newspaper, and I'll go to church and Bible class every Sunday." Miraculously, a parking space appeared. George pulled in and looked up into the sky again and said, "Nevermind, Lord. I just found a spot."

Is that how you view prayer? Do you treat it like a spare tire? Something to be forgotten about until you're really in a bind. Then you pull it out, dust it off, and use it just long enough until everything's okay again so you can put it away until the next crisis? Imagine if the person who you loved most dearly in life never spoke a word to you. They gave you the silent treatment. If they did speak to you it was only if they really needed a favor and expected you to bail them out. How would you feel? Isn't that what we do to God sometimes?

 Or imagine if Bill Gates were to give you a blank check and say, "Take how ever much you want." And you sat down to write out the check for $2. Or worse yet, you tear it up and throw it away, because you don't believe he'll make good on his promise.

Jesus' brother, James, wrote in James 1(:5-8), "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does."

 You see how your weak and feeble prayer life shows how evil you really are? If you were to tear up Bill Gate's blank check you could rightly expect him to withdraw his gracious offer to give you anything you asked and instead kick you out of his mansion never to contact you again. And for our rare prayers, for our selfish prayers looking only to have more of our wants met while others needs go unmet, for neglecting to pray for the spiritual blessings we need far more than any more physical stuff, we deserve to have God withdraw his offer to bless us or even let us communicate with him. We deserve to lose the privilege of prayer or to call him "Father." After all, we sure don't act like his children. We deserve to have him harm us with with stones and snakes, rather than bless us. We deserve hell.

 And yet, in love for us, God still says, "You who are evil, call me Father. For that is what I am. Expect that I will continue to bless you." Why? How can he do this for us who are evil? Because of his grace. In his great love for us God gave us what we needed most. He didn't send a million dollars or that new mansion. Instead he sent a Savior, before you and I even knew we needed one.

In Isaiah 65(:1,17-19,24) he said, "I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, 'Here am I, here am I.' ...Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more... [And] Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear."

Through Jesus and his perfect life in our place, and by his perfect sacrifice on the cross, you and I, who are by nature evil, are forgiven, sinless, and holy. We are made perfect by our baptisms and through the faith given us by the Spirit you and I are adopted into God's family! We are his dearly-loved children! He is our Father in heaven! John reminds us in 1 John 3:1, "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!"

As Jesus encourages us to pray to our heavenly Father, his point is pretty clear, isn't it? Dads, when your children say they're hungry, do you give them a rock? Of course not. You may not give the candy bar they ask for, and you may make them wait until dinner time, but you give them the food they need, when they need it, that their bodies might be nourished. And I'm guessing that most of you don't stop at just taking care of your kids needs. You give them many of their wants as well. Why do we do this? Because we love our kids. Now, if you and I who are inherently selfish take care of our children, how much more won't God, who is perfectly loving and selfless, take care of his children?! And does he ever take care of us! Much better than any earthly father ever could!

Where earthly fathers don't always know what their kids' real needs are, God is in heaven. He sees all things. He knows all things. He knows your needs and how best to provide for them. He's already provided for our greatest need by taking our sin, our neglect of his gifts of prayer, our rebellion against our heavenly Father and nailed it all to the cross. He's provided for our physical needs. None of us here are naked or starving. And who here can say he's given you none of your wants?

Where earthly fathers aren't always able to provide for their kids because they don't have the resources, our heavenly Father is in heaven. The whole world is his with everything in it. He has unlimited resources at his disposal. He can give you anything if he wants you to have it. Where earthly fathers can be selfish and unloving, our heavenly Father has a perfect love for us that will only give us what's best.

But just as an earthly father won't always give his child a bowl of ice cream for dinner because he knows it's not best for him—Instead he gives his child broccoli because he knows that will nourish his child and give him strength in days to come—so too your heavenly Father won't give you what you want when he knows it's not best for you. Like the four-year doesn't understand how broccoli instead of ice cream could possibly be in his best interest, you may not understand why the cancer, the loneliness, or the pain you have is in your best interest, God does. He knows that they give you spiritual nourishment and strength that will far outlast this life.

Knowing that this is how your heavenly Father answers our prayers, changes the way we look at prayer doesn't it? It's not a way to manipulate God into getting what we want. But it's having a heart to heart talk with our loving Father who wants only what's best for us. And so, as Paul wrote in Ephesians 3(:12), "In him" (that is, Jesus), "and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence." Or in the words of Martin Luther, "We can pray to him boldly and confidently as dear children ask their dear father."

 Jesus promises that "your Father in heaven [will] give good gifts to those who ask him!" So here's my challenge to you: Ask him! Commit yourself to spend just 5 minutes each day with God in prayer for the next 28 days—through the end of this month. Just 5 minutes a day! Set a timer!

There is no problem too big to take to God in prayer. It's been said that if we prayed half as much as we worried, we'd have half as much to worry about. And no problem is too small to pray about as if you were bothering God. If it's big enough to concern you, it's big enough to concern him. In fact, the only way to bother God is to not pray at all.

Rejoice, dear friends, that though you and I are, by nature and by actions, evil, God in his great love for us has taken our sin away. He's adopted us as his dearly loved children and given us the priviledge to call him, "our Father." Rejoice that he's given us a direct line to heaven 24-7 in his gift of prayer. And make use of that gift! Try it! Pray for just 5 minutes a day for the next 28 days. And trust in his promise that "your Father in heaven [will] give good gifts to those who ask him!" In Jesus' 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