Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Delight in Your Thorns (A sermon based on 2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

"Ouch! That hurts! And the pain keeps coming. I don't know if I can take anymore! How could a loving God let anyone hurt so much? And why, when I pray 'Deliver us from evil,' each day, does he let us keep getting pounded by evil?" But God does deliver us from the evil of hell. He delivers us from satan's control, if not from satan's thorns. So we can be confident that any evil he lets come into our lives is for our eternal good or for the eternal good of someone else. And in thanks to Jesus, we gladly suffer even boasting in our weakness and rejoicing in our thorns. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 and learn to delight in your thorns...

Delight in Your Thorns
A sermon based on 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Sunday, July 28, 2013 

I know a man who is very skilled at basketball. At least he was. He was so good in high school that he was the ringer. He took his team to state several years in a row. And his senior year a scout watched him play and he was offered a full ride if he'd play college ball. His dreams were coming true! How blessed he was and he thanked God for the blessings he'd given him.

But it all came crashing down one night. On the way back from a basketball game he chose to ride home with his dad and brother rather than stay a little later and ride home with friends. That choice changed his life forever. A drunk driver sideswiped their car which rolled several times before it landed upside down on top of them. The young man and his father climbed out the windows and with amazing strength that came from the adrenaline they lifted the smashed car off his brother--and that in spite of the injuries he had received himself—injuries that would forever end his basketball career. The young man was devastated. But still he thanked God for the blessings he'd given him.

The apostle Paul had problems and pain too. He asked God to take it away, but when God said "no" he too thanked God for the blessings God had given him. He even thanked God for his pain. He even delighted in it.

Pain and suffering has come into your lives. And it will still come. It will dash your hopes. It will kill your dreams. And it will hurt. But you can still thank God for the blessings that he's given you. You can even delight in the pain that you endure... that he won't take away. How? How can you possibly be glad for your pain? Listen to the apostle Paul as he delights in his thorns and learn how you too can delight in your thorns. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10... 

7To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 

Three times Paul pleaded with God begging him "Please! Please! Take this thorn away!" Now I think "thorn" isn't the best translation here. Literally it's a spike, like a spike used to torture someone. Don't think a little stick of the finger when you go to pick a rose. No. Paul was tormented by it, literally beaten with the fists with repeated blows. And Paul didn't want to get rid of it for selfish reasons, to make life easier or more comfortable for him, but because he saw this thorn as an obstacle to his ministry. It made his task of sharing the gospel so much more difficult that he considered it be sent from satan. No wonder he cried out to God, "Please! Remove it! Take it away! End the pain that I might better serve you!" But God said, "No."

Now there's a lot of speculation on what the apostle Paul's thorn in the flesh actually was. Some suggest it was bad eyesight since Paul speaks of the love the Galatians had for him that if it were possible they'd give him their eyes and "Look what large letters I write in my own hand." Others suggest he'd contracted Malaria on one of the many voyages he'd taken. Still others suggest he'd been beaten and broken so many times that his body didn't heal correctly and that he was now crippled. Still others say he had a stutter or a speech impediment since he did not come with eloquent speech.

We don't know what Paul's thorn was. But I think God intentionally kept it vague that we might fill in the blanks with whatever thorns stick into us, tormenting us with repeated blows. What are your thorns? Are they financial as you wonder if you'll ever get a job or if the repo man will soon come knocking? Are they physical challenges like Paul seems to have? Do you have some sickness or ailment? Arthritis or a trick knee? Is your thorn emotional as you wrestle with depression, grieve over the loss of a loved one, or weep over wayward and rebellious children?

Every week, every day, we pray to God, "deliver us from evil." We pray to God to keep thorny problems away from us. But sometimes he says, "No. I won't keep that thorn from you." Why?! Why would a loving God let us endure such pain?! Why, when Paul—apostle of apostles—pleaded with God so earnestly those three times, "Please! Please God, take it away! Think how much better I'd be able to serve you!" would God say "No. I won't take the hurt away"? It's because he loves us so much.

"What?!" you say, "God loves us? That's why he lets us hurt?!" Yes. Paul says, "To keep me from becoming conceited... there was given me a thorn in my flesh." If not for this tormenting thorn, Paul may have been tempted to think that the success of his ministry was due to his excellence as a pastor, and not to God's powerful Word.

You see, when we think of evil, we usually think of that evil out there—the terrorists that want to blow us up, the diseases that want to spread, the accidents waiting to happen, the dollars ready to slip away. But too often we forget about the evil in here [pointing to my heart]—the evil inside of us.

Do you think life is all about you? Do you think God ought to take away every form of hurt and pain that you ever face? Should God let you live a problem-free, worry-free life? Then you're in danger of becoming conceited. Thank God for giving you thorns. Martin Luther once said, "God cannot fill you up with his grace if you're already full of yourself. First he must empty your cup of pride before he can fill it up."

If we never faced pain in our life, if we were always in control, we'd be tempted to think, "What do I need God for?" We may become self-reliant, instead of God-reliant. So God lovingly sends us troubles to remind us how much we need him. And do we ever need him! You see, the hurt and the pain that you and I face in this life is nothing—nothing!—compared to what we deserve! We deserve hell. And God would much rather send us a thorn—a tormenting spike of torture even—than to let us or someone else go there.

How do you know he loves you that much? After all, that "No" can be pretty hard to take when you plead earnestly with God to take your thorn away. It can be hard to understand how God could love you when he says, "Keep the tormenting messenger of satan. I won't take it away." But you can know he loves you by looking to Jesus.

After all, Jesus, like Paul, desperately pleaded with God in prayer three times, "Father, if you are willing take this cup from me." But God said, "No. I won't take the cup away. I can't." Jesus was then tormented, literally beaten with the fists with repeated blows. He endured not a thorn in the flesh, but a crown of thorns, not a figurative spike of suffering, but literal spikes nailing his hands and feet. Jesus didn't deserve it, because he never complained against God, never demanded God change his situation, but patiently endured, yet he suffered the misery and shame of the cross and the torment of hell. And he did it all that you might be forgiven—for your complaints to God in the midst of suffering, for your conceited self-centeredness, for the-world-revolves-around-me attitude.

And that suffering that he underwent for us, that torment he endured, completely changes the way we view our suffering and the torment he asks us to endure for the kingdom. We're no longer self-centered and conceited, but Christ-centered and eager to make sacrifices of our own. We no longer live to secure our comfort, but to serve him, even when that service is painful.

That's how Paul could say, "I will boast... about my weaknesses... I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties." Paul wasn't a sadist or a lunatic. But he understood that it's often through our suffering that God can really work. "For [his] power is made perfect in weakness!" For Paul, his thorn in the flesh meant that the gospel message—and clearly not the messenger—deserved the credit and the glory for having the power to change lives. For the early Christians, their persecution meant they would take the gospel to the ends of the earth as they fled for their lives. (cf. Acts 8:1,4)

For the man in the introduction, Jeff Loberger, now a grade school principal serving at a Lutheran elementary school, well... Had God kept Jeff from getting injured, he may have gone pro. But he wouldn't be sharing the gospel with dozens of children every day like he does now. So God had other plans for Jeff. And in Jeff's weakness, he's strong.

What does your thorn in the flesh mean for you? Maybe you suffer pain in the hospital because the person you share a room with needs to hear your confidence that "If I live, I live to the Lord. If I die, I die to the Lord. So whether I live or die, I belong to the Lord." (Romans 14:8) Maybe you've lost your job because a former co-worker needs to hear you say, "Though Christ was rich, he became poor so that I though his poverty might have the riches of heaven." (2 Cor. 8:9) Or maybe your thorn is simply a reminder that this life with it's problems and pains is fleeting—here today and gone tomorrow. But the things of the Spirit are lasting. They're eternal. And those are the things that are really worth working for, fighting for, suffering for, even dying for.

Dear friends, pray "Deliver us from evil." Pray it boldly. Even plead with God to remove your thorns. But when he doesn't, delight in your thorns, in your weaknesses, in your hardships, your persecutions and your difficulties. Even boast about them. Do it for Christ's sake. For when you're weakened by these thorns, then you're strong  in your faith and strong to serve God and others. And his power will rest on you and give you the strength to endure. In Jesus' name, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

How Can I Resist? (A sermon based on Hebrews 4:14-16 preached on Sunday, July 21, 2013)

"How can I possibly resist? That dessert looks too good!" But how can we resist the temptations we daily face to sin and rebel against God? By the forgiveness we have from Jesus, our Great High Priest, we have a clean slate. By that same forgiveness, we're also motivated and empowered to resist temptation to show our thanks to him. And thank God that we don't have to resist alone. We have help from our Great High Priest to whom we can always pray. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Hebrews 4:14-16) and learn how to resist temptation with Jesus' help...

How Can I Resist?
A sermon based Hebrews 4:14-16
Sunday, July 21, 2013 

Have you ever tried to go on a diet to lose a few pounds? If you haven't because you're one of those who can eat whatever you want and not gain a pound, then I think I speak for the rest of us when I say, "Please, don't admit it. You will likely get hurt." But if you are like the rest of us, you know that dieting can be tough! It can be an exercise in will power. You know how it goes. You're exercising, watching what you eat, and off to a great start. But then a co-worker brings in donuts... and they're from The Moose is Loose. Or your mom bakes your favorite brownies. Or a hurting friend wants to talk and brings over two pints of ice cream—one for each of you. How can you resist?

It's hard to resist temptation, isn't it? And I don't mean just in your diet. Today, as we discuss the 6th petition of the Lord's prayer we talk about temptations that have consequences far more serious than keeping these love handles. We're talking about our temptations to  sin—to rebel against God and against his will. We know it's wrong. We don't want to do it. But... how can we resist?

The 1st century Jewish Christians were going through tough times. A fierce and bloody persecution broke out against them tempting them to desert—to deny Christ. Just go back to the old way with its rituals and rites, with its priests and sacrifices, and they'd be left alone. No more running. No more prison. No more torture. No more death.

How could they resist that temptation? The author of the book of Hebrews tells them in Hebrews 4:14-16. He told them they could resist temptation with the help of their great high priest. Let's listen and discover how, by his help, we too can resist temptation... 

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. 

I.      For the Sacrifice of My Great High Priest  

It's been said that the only time losing is more fun than winning is when you're fighting temptation. And it's been said that those who flee temptation generally leave a forwarding address. A man who was a more than a few pounds overweight decided it was time to take his diet seriously. He even changed the route he took to work to avoid his favorite bakery. But one morning he showed up to work with half a box of donuts and crumbs all over his shirt. "It's okay," he told his co-workers. "God wants me to have these donuts. You see, I prayed to him and said, 'God, if you want me to have some delicious donuts, give me a sign: let there be an empty parking spot right in front of the donut shop. And, sure enough, there it was... and only the 8th time I circled the block!"

Isn't that how we all are though? We pray, "God help me resist temptation," but we keep circling the block. We ask God, "Help me be more faithful in my worship attendance. Help me get to Bible Class on time." But we stay up super late on Saturday night. We pray, "God help me with this sin I'm struggling with." But we plan on putting ourselves in most vulnerable place we can think of.

We're like the little boy whose father clearly told him, "Come right home after school today. Do not go swimming in the creek. Come straight home." But sure enough when he finally go home dripping wet, his father asked him, "Didn't I tell you not to go swimming? Why did you?" "Well, sir, I had my swim suit along and just couldn't resist the temptation." "Why did you take your swim suit to school?!" dad asked. And the little boy replied, "I wanted to be prepared, just in case I was tempted."

Is that you? No? Then maybe you're not being honest with yourself. C.S. Lewis once said, "No man knows how bad he is until he's tried very hard to be good... Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is." Or think of it this way, only those who try to swim against the current know how strong the current really is. If you don't struggle with temptation, maybe it's because you're just going with the flow.

And if you think temptation's not that big of a deal, think again. Children who grow up with teddy bears sometimes think that real bears and cute and cuddly too. But in 1990 two boys scaled the fence at the Bronx Zoo in New York City into the polar bear compound. The next day they were found dead, of course. And I'll spare you the gory details. But in the same way, your pet sins that seem so cute and cuddly and harmless are deadly to your faith. They will shred it apart.

So, how can we resist those temptations? Try harder? Dig in and get more will power? How can we resist?

Does it really matter? We've already given in to them! And it only takes one sin to make us less than perfect, unacceptable to God and deserving of death—not just by a polar bear, but eternal death in hell. So, what can we do about it? Nothing. But there is one who can. Our great high priest.

Do you know the duties of a high priest? They had several. They were to pray to God on the people's behalf. And they were to instruct the people on God's behalf. In this way they would serve as mediators. But their role of go-between between the people and God involved more than just communication. It involved a lot of sacrifice. The priests were more butcher than pastor and would slaughter countless animals each day to show that sin must be paid for with a life. But the 1st century Jewish Christians didn't need that old priesthood they were tempted to turn back to anymore. That priesthood was only meant to point ahead to Jesus—the Great High Priest.

How did Jesus serve? He too prayed to God and taught the people. But that wasn't his primary role. Jesus came to make a sacrifice. And it had to be a perfect sacrifice. If Jesus had sinned—even once!—then his sacrifice on the cross could not have paid for our sin. But he didn't sin—not even once!

"We have [a high priest] who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin."

Jesus is fully human in every way. Jesus was tempted just as we are in every way. But Jesus never gave in to that temptation in any way! He was a red-blooded male with natural male desires, but he never lusted. He grew tired and weary, but was never lazy! He was frustrated and angry, but never used words to hurt! He was incredibly busy in his short, three-year ministry, but always made worship a top priority. He knows what it's like to be tempted. But he never gave in.

And yet, he died. He went to hell on the cross. Why? For us. The author to the Hebrews said that Jesus can sympathize with us. Literally sympathize means to suffer with someone. But Jesus does more than suffer with us when we're tempted. He suffered for us to pay for the times we've caved and given in to temptation. And by the sacrifice of our great high priest, he took our sin away and gave his perfect score of resisting every temptation to us. Our sins are forgiven! And the proof is in the resurrection. He didn't stay dead, but "[he] has gone through the heavens!" What a great high priest we have!

And now, we long not to indulge the sinful nature and give in to every temptation, but to fight it all the harder. We long to do what our Jesus wants no matter how hard it might be. Because we have to thank him for what he's done! But how can we resist? Our hearts are in the right place—longing to thank him for our sacrifice—but still... "The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." Well, the author to the Hebrews gives us some advice on how to resist... 

II.    By the Help of My Great High Priest  

First, he says, "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess." To resist temptation and keep from falling into sin, hold firmly to the faith.

Back in July of 2009 the kicker from the University of South Florida football team, was working at his summer job at the Busch Gardens amusement park. After three girls climbed into one of the rides he was in charge of, he noticed that the door wasn't latched properly. So he reached for it, but a little too late. The ride took off with him clinging to the side of the car, hanging 35 feet in the air. The girls tried to pull him in and he tried to hang on, but he let go and he fell, breaking one of his vertebrae nearly ending his football career—only 50 feet from the platform and from safety. He would have been fine if he had only held firmly to the car.

In the same way, we will fall into temptation and sin when we don't hang on to the faith by hanging on to God's Word. "Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess." Know the truth of God's Word. Read it. Study it. Learn it. Come to worship. Come to Bible Class. Celebrate the sacraments. Remember your baptism. Take the Lord's Supper as often as you can. Grow in your faith and strengthen your grip on the truths of God's grace. That's how you hold firmly to the faith. Cling to it and never let go. Because if you let go the results are far worse than falling 35 feet. You'll fall into sin and you may even fall from the faith.

A few years ago a friend of mine, a coach and personal trainer, came to visit me in Raleigh. And in spite of my protests, he took me to the gym for a work out. And I was impressed that this man 10 years my senior could easily do 30 pull ups after our already vigorous lifting. Then it was my turn. My arms already felt like spaghetti and after a few attempts to pull myself up, I had trouble just hanging on. I just didn't have the strength.

And on our own, none of us has the spiritual strength to cling to the cross and keep from letting go. But thankfully, we're not on our own. We can call for help at any time from our great high priest. "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

In December of 2007 a 16 year old kid from Iceland, decided to call the White House. Introducing himself as the president of Iceland, he was passed on through several security personnel, each quizzing him about the president of Iceland. But armed with Wikipedia and a few other websites, he easily passed. Later, in custody, he told police he only wanted to have a chat and invite the president to Iceland.

Not everyone has access to the President of the United States. But you don't need it. You can call in greater forces when temptation comes knocking at your door. With your sins removed by the sacrifice of your great high priest, you have direct access to God. You can approach his throne—a throne, not of wrath, but of grace, as he longs to bless you. There you will find grace to help in time of need.

Someone once said that when Temptation comes knocking on the door, call Jesus. "Would you please get that for me?" And when Temptation sees who answers, he'll say, "Oh! I'm sorry. I must have the wrong address." And he'll turn around and run. Really that's what we do every time we pray the sixth petition of the Lord's Prayer, "Lead us not into temptation." We approach the throne of grace and cry out, "Jesus, please get that for me!" You see, we not only resist temptation in thanks to our great high priest for the sacrifice he's made for us, but we resist temptation with help from our great high priest as he keeps us clinging to the faith. And with his help we can resist!
        A wealthy woman was interviewing potential chauffeurs to drive her Rolls Royce and narrowed it down to three candidates. She took the first to her driveway and asked,
"How close could you get my Rolls to that brick wall without scratching it?" "I can get it within one foot. No problem!" he said. She asked the second applicant the same question. "I can get within 6 inches! No scratches guaranteed," he proudly said. But when she asked the third applicant, he replied, "Ma'am, I don't know how close I could get, but if I were driving your Rolls Royce, I'd leave a few feet of clearance to be sure not to damage your car." And you can guess which applicant got the job.
        Likewise, as we live in thanks to our Savior for rescuing us from the sin
s of giving in to temptation time and time again, we keep our distance from those things that might "scratch" us again. Don't keep driving around the block looking for the empty space. And don't take your swimming suit along, just in case you're tempted. Live for him. Serve him in thanks. And with his help, crying out to the throne of grace, clinging to the faith you profess, you can—you will—resist! In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

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How Can I Ever Forgive? (A sermon based on Matthew 18:21-35 preached on Sunday, July 14, 2013)

"How can I ever forgive? It hurt. A lot. And it still stings whenever I think about what that person did to me! I can't just forget about it. I still remember. I can't just move on and pretend it didn't happen. I can't pretend that I trust." But Jesus does help us to forgive. He helps us to let go of the anger and to let go of wishing harm on the one who hurt us. By the forgiveness he's given to us in erasing our debt to God, he helps us to forgive others and the debt owed to us. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Matthew 18:21-35 and listen to Jesus teach us how to forgive...

How Can I Ever Forgive?
A sermon based on Matthew 18:21-35
July 14, 2013 

The sound of laughing and giggling quieted as recess ended and the smiling kids returned to their seats in their school. Their teacher prepared for the next lesson when a stranger entered the room. He'd lost a small piece of equipment on the roadside outside their school and asked if the teacher or any of the students had seen it. When they said "no" he left, but... he came back. And less than 20 minutes later, 5 little girls were dead and four more were wounded. On October 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts IV had let the boys go, then bound the girls, and shot them, with a 9mm gun, before taking his own life in the small, one-room Amish school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

What a sad and tragic event! An event that, unfortunately, wasn't new to the media. But I'm sure you remember that what was new and what truly shocked the media reporters was the forgiveness that the parents of the slain extended to the gunman's widow, his children, and his family. They were saddened and full of grief and loss, to be sure! But they were not angry. They did not seek revenge or retaliation. They did not sue or demand tighter gun control laws. No. They let it go. They forgaveeven the man who brutally and senselessly killed their little girls!

So what I wonder when I hear that story is what if it it wasn't an Amish school in Pennsylvania that was attacked? What if it was an elementary school in Kenai, Alaska? What if it wasn't the girls that were attacked, but boys? What if it were my boys that were shot and killed? Could I forgive the way those parents forgave? Would I forgive the way those parents forgave? ...Would you? How could you ever forgive someone who hurt you like that? For that matter, how could you ever forgive the spouse or ex or "friend" who hurt you and betrayed your trust? How can we ever forgive?

In our sermon text for this morning, Jesus has a tough conversation with us. Speaking to the twelve, Jesus pulls us aside too. And he tells us how in the world we can ever forgive the sins committed against us. Let's listen in and learn the secret. Matthew 18:21-35... 

21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" 22Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven time. 23"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26"The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' 27The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. 28"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. 29"His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' 30"But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' 34In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." 

I. God Let Go of the Debt You Owed 

Now I don't know who hurt Peter or how, that prompted such a question, but Peter must have thought he was being incredibly generous. You see Rabbinical law had a three strikes and you're out rule: Forgive someone of the same sin three times. After that treat them as an outcast. How generous Peter must have felt, more than doubling the normal forgiveness quota. But Jesus made it clear that to forgive 77 times or even 490 times wasn't enough. In fact, Peter shouldn't even be keeping track. You see, Peter forgot that God wasn't keep track with him. And we sometimes forget the same

What is the most you've ever been in debt? I'm guesing most of you carry a mortgage, maybe a car payment, perhaps some credit debt on top? It's not a good feeling is it, to be in debt? Germans hate being in debt so much that in the German language the word for "debt," "Schuld," is the same word for "guilt." It's not fun to be in debt. But what were the consequences for that debt? Would you have to cut a few corners and go out a few less times to pay it off? Would some of your stuff be repossessed? Would you and your spouse and even your children be sold into slavery to pay it off?

Imagine how the man of Jesus' parable felt! He owed the king more than he could ever possibly repay. He owed millions of dollars. He could never repay what he owed, even if he and his entire family were sold into a lifetime of slavery. So with no hope at all, he groveled before the king. He begged the king, making promises he knew he couldn't keep. He asked for more time and promised to pay back the whole debt. But the king took pity on the man. Though he only asked for more time, the king gave the man much more. For no other reason than the king's kindness, he canceled the entire debt and let the man go free.

Did you know that the gross national debt is now over $16.9 Trillion! That's a number we can't even imagine. How about this number: $100,000? Can you imagine that much money? That's how much our national debt has been increasing per second! Does that help you with the amount our nation owes? It's an amount that we can never really pay off. Ever!

Well, we owe more than $16.9 Trillion to God. You see for each sin we commit—for each time we refuse to forgive another saying, "Enough is enough! If I forgive again I'll be taken advantage of!"we deserve hell. For each sin! Augustus Toplady, the author of that famous hymn, Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me, once tried to calculate the debt we owe to God. Calculating one sin per second and graciously omitting the extra days of leap years, he figured that at ten years old each of us is guilty of committing 315,360,000 sins. At twenty the debt grows to 630,720,000. By thirty we've reached 946,080,000. At eighty one each person will have committed an estimated 2,522,880,000 infractions of God's holy law. That means we deserve hell 2,522,880,000 times over! And still we're foolish enough to think that if we're only given enough time, we can make it up to God! What arrogance—which only adds another sin!

And we deserve to have every blessing taken away. We deserve to lose our families! We deserve to be sold into slavery! We deserve far worse than a life of torture! We deserve an eternity of torture in hell for any one sin we've ever committed, for each time we've refused to forgive as we've been forgiven. And there's nothing we can do to pay God back for our sin! We can't make it up to him and we can't undo our sins. All we can do is fall on our knees and beg and plead with him, "Please! Be patient with me! I know I deserve nothing, but please, please, forgive me."

Then something truly amazing happens! God, the king of heaven, takes pity on us—a pity that caused God to act. You see he didn't just ignore our debt of sin like the king in the parable ignored his servants debt. No. God paid for it.  He sent his son to suffer far worse than torture in prison. He sent Christ to endure hell on the cross to cancel our debt for us. What amazing grace! That's way, way better than someone saying to you, "Your mortgage, your car payment, your credit card billall your debt!has been paid for! You're debt free!" That's even better than someone saying the gross national debt of $16.9 Trillion has been forgiven! Your sin has been paid for! You're debt free before God! And you know that no matter how wicked the deed, no matter how many times you sin, no matter how great the debt, you have God's forgiveness because Christ paid the debt for you. God has let go of the debt you owed to him! And that drastically changes the way we view the debt owed to us! 

II. Let Go of the Debt Owed to You 

Now a professor of mine once pointed out the disservice the NIV footnote does in this parable. After "one hundred denarii" in verse 28 it says, "That is, a few dollars." But a denarius was one day's wages. Let's say you make $10/hr and work 8 hours a day. That means a hundred denarii would be worth about $8,000! Now I don't know about you, but $8,000 is a lot of money for me to say, "Don't worry about. Keep the change."

You see, the man wasn't thrown into prison to be tortured because he refused to forgive someone who bumped into him in hall, but someone who caused him real hurt, real damage. Maybe someone hurt Peter badly. Maybe they hurt someone in his family. But for whatever reason, Peter was having a very difficult time forgiving. And Jesus pointed out that that difficulty came because he was forgetting about the forgiveness he had from God.

We too have a hard time forgiving because we somehow think that our sins are more forgivable than others'. But we really have a hard time forgiving because we take our eyes off the cross. An unwillingness to forgive others shows our lack of appreciation for the forgiveness we've recieved. It amounts to a lack of faith in and rejection of the forgiveness God won for you on the cross.

But when we go to the foot of the cross and are reminded again of the full and free forgiveness of the massive debt that we owed to God—a debt we could never pay back—that forgiveness absorbs our hurt and pain like a thousand oceans would absorb a drop of poison. When you're hurt and you ask yourself, "How can I ever forgive him for what he did to me?" or, "How can I ever forgive her for what she did to me?" then close your eyes, and picture Jesus hanging on the cross. Why is he there, suffering, dying, enduring hell itself? For you. To pay for your sins against God that you might be fully forgiven.

And there you'll find the power to forgive others. It may not be pleasant. It may not be easy. And you may still be filled with sorrow and grief at what was done. But you can let go of the anger, let go of the desire to get revenge or seek retaliation, let go of trying to get even or make them pay. Because when you go back to the cross and remember what's been forgiven you—the inestimable debt you could never repay, when you remember the love and mercy and kindness and grace that God has shown to you, then you'll be moved to such gratitude that forgiving other will not seem an obligation of something you have to do, but a joyful opportunity to show your thanks to God for the forgiveness you've received. And instead of asking "How many times do I have to forgive?" You'll ask, "God how can I show my thanks to you and my love toward the one who hurt me?" You'll be moved to forgive joyfully and freely from the heart.

What if your child or spouse or friend were brutally killed in a remorseless rage? Could you forgive the way those Amish parents forgave the one who murdered their children? Yes, you could. Would you forgive the way those parents forgave? By the strength that Jesus gives you by the forgiveness that he's given you can say "Yes, I would forgive those who hurt me." You can say, "Yes. I will forgive those who hurt me." In Jesus name, and by the power of his forgiveness, amen!

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Don't Worry About It! (A sermon based on Matthew 6:25-34)

"Aren't you worried?" "What if you don't get better?" "What if you lose your job?" "What if your marriage is over?" There sure seems to be a lot of things to worry about in this sin-filled life. But our God gives us the cure to worry. He assures us of his gracious promise to give us each day our daily bread. And better still, he assures us of his gracious promise to forgive us for our self-obsessed worry and unbelief -- and of all ours sin! -- in Jesus. Thank God! And receive his gifts with thanks and gratitude each day! Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Matthew 6:25-34 and as far as everything else is concerned, well, don't worry about it.

Don't Worry About It!
A sermon based on Matthew 6:25-34
Sunday, July 7, 2013

It's been said that worrying is a lot like running on a treadmill. You do a lot of work, but you don't get anywhere. But actually worrying isn't that much like running on a treadmill because running on a treadmill is good for you. It's good for your health. Worrying causes anxiety. Worrying causes ulcers. Worrying causes us to focus on ourselves.

So what's the cure for worrying? Or better still, how do we prevent it? I mean, let's face it. We all worry. We worry about our health, about our families, about our jobs. We worry about what the future holds, even us Christians who know who holds the future. And this worry is a problem. This worry is sinful because it's really a lack of trust in God and his promises to care for us. We're too self-dependent to rely on God.

And yet, God doesn't abandon us to our worry, or damn us for our sin. Instead he teaches us the answer to worry in the Lord's prayer as he teaches us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," and teaches us to put our trust in God and then, "Don't worry about it." Listen now to Matthew 6:25-34... 

25"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 28"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. 

I. Don't Worry About It... O You of Little Faith!

Jesus makes it clear that we shouldn't worry, doesn't he? "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear." And yet, we all do it, don't we?

What sorts of things are you worried about? My job... will it be okay? Will I keep it and not get fired when the next round of layoffs hit? What about my finances? Will they be okay? Will I survive retirement? Will I be able to provide for my family? How about my health? Will I be okay? What if I don't get better? My family... will they be okay? Will my kids be deviants when they grow up? Will I be able to keep my family together? Or get it back together? Will I ever be happy?

This morning in a portion of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addressed our worries. First, he pointed out how useless worrying is: "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." We worry, not just about our daily bread, but about our monthly steak, and our annual luxuries. And we do it all for naught. Someone once said that worrying is nothing more than borrowing trouble from the future. And what good does that ever do? "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" In fact, worrying can take hours from your life—causing ulcers, making you lose sleep, and be less productive and alert the next day.

But worrying is more than just a foolish act, harmful to your physical health. Jesus called our worries what they really are: sin—which is always damaging, and, if left untreated, even deadly, to your spiritual health. He pointed out that worrying about anything is really failing to trust in God. If he cares for birds and lilies, why don't you trust that he'll take care of you? He tells you why. "If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?" It's because you and I have little faith in God that we worry about anything.

A man was out hiking in the mountains one day when suddenly a thick fog rolled in making it hard to see. But he decided to press on anyway and try to get above the clouds. But suddenly he slipped off the edge of the trail down the side of the mountain and over a drop-off. On his way down, he just barely managed to grab hold of a shrub and hung on to it for dear life. He called out for help, "Is there anyone up there? Anyone at all?" And suddenly a voice came booming from the sky, "Yes. There is!" "Can you help me, please?" the man cried out. And the voice answered, "Yes. I can. Just let go of the shrub and everything will be okay." The man thought about it for minute and cried out, "Is there anyone else up there?"

Isn't that how we often act? Do we really trust God? Or are we just paying lip service when we say to God, "I trust that you will take care of my sins and save me from hell," but then doubt that he will take care of our smaller, less important needs. And when it comes to our finances, our health, or our family, we cry, "Is there anyone else up there?" Or worse, just try to deal with all on our own. We are full of worry because we lack faith. We're full of worry because we're way too wrapped up in ourselves. And we are guilty. Not just of some minor mistake, but of gross unbelief. And we deserve to be punished for it.

The man stuck in our cliff hanger hung on to his little shrub for hours. But finally, he grew too weary. His strength left him. And he let go. And sure enough, he was just fine. He fell through the fog—about a foot and a half—and came tumbling to the ground safe and sound. Didn't he deserve the burning muscles and the exhaustion that he felt? He'd earned them by all his worry when he could have avoided it all by simply letting go and trusting the voice up above.

Likewise, for claiming to put our trust in God for the greater blessings of forgiveness, resurrection, and heaven, while refusing to put our trust in him for daily protection and provisions—for our daily bread—we deserve to have him leave us be to our own self-trust. We deserve to be counted as pagans. We deserve to be abandoned to our misery and pain and, ultimately, to hell. But thankfully, God loves us too much to leave us to what we deserve. Instead he provides for our every need, giving us his kingdom, his righteousness, and our daily bread on top of it all... 

II. Don't Worry About It... Your Heavenly Father Will Provide! 

Where you and I fail to put our complete trust in God, Jesus trusted him perfectly. Remember when he was tempted in the wilderness? Satan tempted him to turn stones into bread after he'd had nothing to eat for forty days and forty nights. In a sense he said, "You can't trust in God to provide for you. He won't give you your daily bread. After all, he's let you go hungry for forty days already! Time to take matters into your own hands!" But Jesus didn't fall for the temptation. Instead he answered with God's Word, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God,'" and he continued to trust in God—perfectly.

But then Jesus gave that perfect trust in the Father away. He gave that perfect trust in God's providence to us. He took our lack of trust—our unbeliefon himself and endured the hell that our sins deserve. So now, when God looks at us, he doesn't see arrogant fools who bring about more trouble by our own self-reliance. He doesn't see faithless rebels who refuse to trust that he can or will help. Instead he sees his children, who have always trusted in him perfectly all the time.

And so, now you are no longer counted as a pagan, but as a dearly loved child—one who God longs to care for, giving you not just the things you need to stay alive, but so much more on top of it. Standing out the mountainside with the crowds sitting around him, Jesus may very well have gestured to a few birds flying overhead when he made this argument from the lesser to the greater, "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" Or in Matthew (10:29-31) Jesus put it this way: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows."

Maybe in Kenai he'd say, "Look at the seagulls. They all go well-fed and I love you so much more than them. Won't I take care of you?" If God will take care of the relatively worthless birds, you can be sure that he will certainly take care of you for whom he sent his own Son to die. The Apostle Paul summarized it in this one verse from our Epistle Lesson: "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)

You know, had the fog lifted for the man on the cliff, he would have realized how foolish his worry had been and would have let go much sooner and he would have been at peace. But the worry and fear left him crippled. The same can happen to us: Worry and fear can keep us from being fruitful and productive Christians. But you know the love of your Savior. You know you can trust his promise to take care of your every need, providing food and drink and clothes, in a way far greater than he provides for the birds or the flowers. And when we trust in him, the fog of worry is lifted and we're set free to let go, to be at peace, to really start living!

Now, knowing that he will always be with us, that he will always love us, that he will give us each day our daily bread, we can receive those blessings in thanks. We can be confident in our trust in Jesus without worrying that he'll ever let us down. We can be generous in sharing the blessings that God's given us without worrying that we'll have nothing to live on. We can be bold in our Christian living and in our witness without worrying what others will think. Jesus has put an end to worrying by his gracious promises.

What's the cure to worry? Look to Jesus. Find forgiveness for your sinful worry and your unbelief. Find comfort in his gracious promises to always provide your daily bread. And "Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7) And when you grow concerned about your health, about your finances, about your parents, your spouse, or your kids, don't worry about it. Our heavenly Father values us more than anything and his is more than able to meet all of our needs. "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." And through faith in Jesus, in his work for us, and is his promises to us, we pray, "Give us this day our daily bread. Amen!"

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

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