Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Hope That Makes Us Confident

Do you have confidence? You can be absolutely confident in Christ. You can be confident that your sins are forgiven, that your Baptism has saved you, that you are heaven-bound! You can be confident in sharing your faith too, always prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have. Read or listen to ( download or stream) this sermon based on 1 Peter 3:15-22 and rejoice that our living Savior gives us a living hope that makes us totally confident...

Our Living Savior Gives Us Living Hope

A Hope That Makes Us Confident

A sermon based on 1 Peter 3:15-22

Sunday, May 25, 2014 – Easter 6A


"Umm… Hi… my name is… nevermind. You probably wouldn't like me anyway," said the teen in the school hallway right before he ran away from the girl and ducked into the men's room.

"I'm sure you probably have lots of other candidates for this job who are more qualified for the position than I am, but here's my resume," said the young woman as she snatched up her handbag and hustled out of the office.

"What do I believe? Well, I wouldn't want to bore you all that religious stuff," said the mom as she gripped her cup of coffee tightly and quickly changed the subject back to the kids playing in the other room.

"I don't want to die. I'm scared. I don't know what will happen to me after I die. I'm not a very good person," said the middle aged cancer patient as he spoke to the pastor, tears filling his eyes.

What do these four people have in common? They all lack confidence. It's one thing to lack confidence when seeking a date or a job. But it's an entirely different matter altogether when it comes to our faith. God wants none of us to be lacking in confidence at all. And Jesus' resurrection gives us confidence!

Our living Savior gives us a living hope—a sure and certain hope—that makes us totally confident! It makes us confident in our Baptism, that connected to Jesus' and his resurrection, our sins are forgiven. It makes us confident in our witness as we share that confidence with others. Listen to the confidence Peter had and that Peter gives which he describe in 1 Peter 3:15-22


15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19 through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20 who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

I.              Confident in My Baptism


As of yesterday morning, 97,000 acres of forest burned on the Kenai Peninsula. That massive fire was only 20% contained. Homes have been threatened, planes have been dropping water and fire retardant, residents have been busy watering, not their lawns, but their homes, and prayers for rain are going up to God. Why? Because water saves lives.

Water saves lives when fires rage. Water saves lives when it washes away infectious bacteria. Water saves lives when it prevents dehydration. Water saved lives in the flood, not just drowning the wicked, but lifting the believers above the corrupting influence of the ungodly. While we normally think of the Great Flood as an act of judgment and destruction, it was also an act of grace and salvation. Noah and his family were spared from the increasing wickedness that would have surely robbed them of their faith had God not acted. Water not only destroys, but water saves lives.

And water saves lives in Baptism. Verse 21 is one of the sedes doctrinae—that is, one of the proof passages—for the truth that Baptism is not just symbolic, but salvific. Baptism saves: "This water [of the Great Flood] symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." Water connected to the Word of God and applied to the human body saves.

And make no mistake: We need saving.

"In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord," Peter says, not as just some suggestion, but as a command with the consequences of failure being eternal. Set apart Christ as Lord of your Life. He is the master. Disobey and there is hell to pay—not just a fire that burns property, but that burns eternally.

But do you always set apart Christ as Lord? Peter didn't. Peter knew what it was like to deny Jesus. And so do you.

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." Peter says. But sometimes I'm more prepared to dodge the question avoiding the discussion altogether. Always be prepared "to give an answer" is literally "to give a defense." Stand up for Jesus and defend him! Yet, too often I'm ashamed of him, as is evidenced by the way I don't talk about him.

And my silence betrays my lack of confidence in me: "Well, I wouldn't know what to say. What if I said something wrong?! What if they don't like me anymore?" But even more it betrays my lack of confidence in the Word: "It can't really do what God says. It does depend on me and on my presentation. And when I do speak up, I don't always see immediate results of my efforts. In fact, I rarely do. So, the Word must not work."

But the hymn writer put it well when he wrote: "Ashamed of Jesus? Yes, I may… when I've no guilt to wash away." (CW #347 v.4) But I 0have guilt. I have been ashamed to talk about my Savior. No wonder my confidence is often so weak. I am a horrible sinner, deserving of the flames of hell. And there's no room for any self-confidence.


Ah, but I don't need self-confidence. I have Jesus. He is my only hope. And he is my sure and certain hope.

"Baptism… now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." Like the ark saved Noah and his family my baptism has saved me by connecting me to Jesus' death and resurrection, by delivering the grace Jesus won for the whole world to me personally. My Baptism has doused the flames of a guilty conscience. It has washed away the soot of my sin. Like the flood scrubbed the earth of sinful rebels, so my baptism has scrubbed my soul of my sinful rebellion. I am promised a good conscience by God.

I set apart Christ as Lord, not just as Lord of my life as I submit my will to his—for I do a miserable job at that. But I set apart Christ as Lord of my salvation. "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous [that's him] for the unrighteous [that's me and you], to bring you to God."  Jesus lived a perfect life in our place. He died an innocent death in our place. The righteous one became cursed so that we who were cursed might be made righteous. And the proof? The resurrection: "He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit."

And the benefits of Jesus' work have been delivered to us through faith given at our baptism. "Baptism… now saves you.." So remember you baptism daily, friends. If you know where your baptismal certificate is, display it prominently in your home—somewhere where you'll see it every day. And if you don't have that piece of paper, no worries. There are other reminders everywhere. In fact, every time you shower, notice the grout in the tile. Notice how it forms a cross everywhere four tiles meet. And remember that just as the water of the shower washes the dirt and stink from your body, so too the water of "baptism… saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God."

And with this reminder, you can be confident that your sins are forgiven. That you know what will happen to you when you die. That you are a good person—a perfect person!—through Jesus life, death, and resurrection for you. And when satan comes nagging you with your sin, answer him boldly: "You've got nothing on me! Sure I'm a sinner. But so what?! I'm also baptized. My sins are forgiven in Christ. I'm clean as a whistle." And be at peace.

But then this confidence in your baptism that your sins are forgiven, also gives you confidence to give an answer not just to satan, but, "to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." This confidence in sins forgiven makes you confident in your witness too…

II.            Confident in My Witness


Not long ago you felt the 5.5 earthquake shake you awake at 6:15 in the morning. It was a good reminder to be prepared for a really big one. This week we've seen a 97,000 acre fire sweep through the Peninsula, reminding us to be prepared for any disaster. This year, finances have been tight, reminding us to be prepared for another depression, to be prepared for retirement. We want to be prepared for what might come because we know the consequences of being unprepared can be disastrous.

But this morning Peter doesn't encourage us to be prepared for a disaster, but to be prepared to share our faith… so that others might be prepared for Judgment Day, so that that day isn't a disaster for them. The consequences of being unprepared are eternal.

And Peter spoke from experience. Peter wasn't really prepared to share his faith on Maundy Thursday. Intimidated by the fear of persecution he not only clammed up, but swore up and down that he didn't even know Jesus.

But Jesus' resurrection changed everything for him. Once he had the confidence that his denial of Jesus was forgiven, he could boldly and fearlessly proclaimed the truth to an audience of thousands on the Day of Pentecost. And he kept preaching after that even when it meant prison or possible execution. Even when it meant crucifixion, he had a confidence in Jesus that made him bold to share his faith.

And we can learn from Peter. You and I may suffer for sharing our faith. We may be persecuted, or executed, even crucified for sharing our faith. But so what? We're prepared for it through our Baptism. We know where we're going. And so we find the confidence to boldly share our faith, come what may.

So be prepared "to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have," and to "do this with gentleness and respect…"

Be prepared by staying in the Word, by regularly remembering your Baptism, by regularly receiving the Lord's Supper. Then be prepared by living a life that's different from co-workers, neighbors, and friends, by living a life that is so kind and generous and loving that it makes people wonder what makes you different. And when you do, some will ask you and will give you an opportunity to tell them the hope—the sure and certain hope—that you have.

So be prepared for the question. Be prepared by studying the Word. Be prepared by practicing talking about your faith. And let me help you to be prepared. That's what you've called me to do.

Here's something new I want to try with my sermons. I want to help you to take what you learn from God's Word each Sunday and to put it into practice Monday through Saturday. So every now and then I'm going to give you a "Weekly Challenge." It's homework, if you will. You don't have to do, but I hope that Christ's love for you will make you want to. So here's this week's challenge: Let's come up with a plan together to reach a friend or family member, a neighbor or co-worker that needs to hear of your confidence of sins forgiven in Jesus. Let me help you to come up with a plan so that you're more confident in your approach.

Sometime this week go to and fill out the form. There you'll target one specific person with whom you can share this confidence that we have of sins forgiven. Just give me some basic information about that friend or co-worker, son or daughter, neighbor or even spouse, and I will help you come up with a strategy to share the gospel with them. Together we'll come up with a plan to help you confidently witness. Go to or, if you're already signed up to get the sermons in email, you can find the link there.

And whether the person that you're trying to reach with the Gospel responds the way you pray they will or not isn't up to you. Leave that to the Holy Spirit. But confident of the forgiveness you have in Christ, delivered to you in your Baptism, which connected you to his resurrection, you can be confident in your witness, as you boldly "give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611
(907) 690-1660

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Hope That Gives Us Our Identity (A sermon based on 1 Peter 2:4-10)

Who are you? I don't mean just your name. But who are you really? What makes you you? Do you find your identity in your profession? In your family? In your intelligence or physique? These things can all go away in an instant. Then your identity would be lost. But as a Christian--one who trusts in Christ--you find your true identity in him. He defines who we are to God. And he defines who we are to ourselves. I don't need self-esteem. I have God-esteem in Christ. I know what he thinks of me through my living Savior who gives me my identity. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on 1 Peter 2:4-10 and rejoice that in Christ you know who you are...

A Living Hope from Our Living Savior

A Hope That Gives Us Our Identity

A sermon based on 1 Peter 2:4-10


I guess it was just one of those weird seminary traditions. "Who are you?!" the other students would shout if any first year student at the seminary would stand up in the cafeteria to make a motion or an announcement. And it didn't matter if it was the first time he spoke in August or if it was his hundredth time he stood up before the dining assembly in May.

"Who are you?!" he was asked, as a subtle way of reminding those first years to stay humble. "Don't assume everyone knows who you are because your dad was a president or a professor, because you played football in college or had a 4.0 grade point average. Introduce yourself every time you speak so you don't get too big for your britches. And don't worry. We'll help remind you who you are."

But it's not just at seminary that we're asked the question, "Who are you?!" Who are you? How do you answer that question? Do you answer with your name? I think that's a normal response, but does your name define you? Does it give you your identity? Maybe, if your name is Obama or Pelosi, Wilson or Rogers, Gates or Trump. But I don't think too many people would recognize the name Guenther. Maybe you answer, "Who are you?" with your accomplishments, with all that you've done, with your awards and achievements. But your actions don't really define you either. Not really.

And thank God! Because if that were the case, we'd be know as nothing more than "sinner, damned to hell." But God has given us a new identity in Christ. By his life, death, and resurrection, our living Savior has given a living hope—a hope that gives us our true identity. Listen how the apostle Peter describes it in 1 Peter 1:4-10…


4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For in Scripture it says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame."

7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone," 8 and, "A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.


I.      Who Are You? I Am A Selfish Sinner 

"Who are you?!" Well, what do you do? That's typically where men find their identity in their career. But that can be dangerous. Define who you are by what you do and you can feel pretty lousy when things don't go well. And besides, if you found your identity in your job (and what a danger that can be when most people call you "Pastor"), what would happen if you ever lost that job? Your identity would be lost.

Women, on the other hand, tend to find identity in their families, in their husbands (or lack thereof) (and who can blame them they literally change their name when they marry—how can that not affect your identity). Or they find their identity in their kids. But what happens when those children misbehave? Or grow up to be degenerates in spite of mom's best efforts? Or die before mom does? What happens if the marriage isn't all it's cracked up to be or if it ends in divorce? A woman can struggle with serious identity issues too.

But thank God that our identity—whether male or female—doesn't have anything to do with what we do. We aren't defined by what we do at work. We aren't defined by what we do at home. And thank God! Because what we do is sin.

And so we deserve the identity of selfish sinner, with placing too high a value on our own desires and wishes, on our achievements and accomplishments, of thinking that we're something when we're nothing but a selfish sinner.

You guys know me pretty well, right? And you know that I usually have no shortage of self-esteem. But I should have low self-esteem. And not just because I'm a few pounds overweight and balding. Not because of job performance, but because of my sin. (And yes, that extra weight is because of my poor choices, and some of my hair loss might be due to my poor job performance. In other words, those may be the symptoms of the real problem: sin.) It is because of my rebellion against God that I deserve death in hell. In my sin am worse than worthless—I'm harmful to others.

By nature, if I were asked by God, "Who are you?" the only honest answer would have been, "I am a selfish sinner." And the same would be true of you too. And that's all that mattered, no matter how much money we made, how smart, athletic, and well-behaved our kids were, or how many monuments we built to our own greatness.

But that's what I was. And that's what you were. Though we were spiritually dead, dead as a lifeless stone, that's not how we are anymore! Now we've been raised to life by the living Savior.


II.    Who Are You? Jesus is the Capstone 

People asked Jesus, "Who are you?" and sought to discover his identity. And even though they heard his answer, they saw his miracles, they read his Scriptures, many still came to the wrong conclusion about him. They didn't have enough esteem for Christ. They put the wrong value on him because he wasn't what they expected or wanted. And because he wouldn't conform to what they wanted, they rejected him and his short three-year ministry ended in death.

But Peter (a.k.a. "Rocky") explains why as he talks about rocks a lot these verses. First, he calls Jesus the living Stone—a reminder that Jesus didn't stay dead—a reminder that Jesus is solid as a rock—unchanging throughout time. Then he calls him the cornerstone—the straight edge against whom all things measure up. And finally he calls him the capstone. The top of the arch on which the whole thing leans like the foundation of a house or the bottow layer of game of Jenga. Get rid of him and everything falls apart. But with him in the center of your life and it all holds together.

Jesus once said that he could make the stones cry out his praises. Well, he pretty much did that… with us. When we were dead in sin—stone cold in our spiritual lifelessness—he made us alive, like living stones! (cf. Ephesians 2) He did this by living a sinless life in our place, by dying an innocent death in our place. He gave us life when he rose from the dead, never to die again. (And nothing can change that fact!) And brought us to life when he led us to believe these truths and gave us faith in him so that we can say with certainty that we know who Jesus is. His identity is not hidden from us. He is the Son of God. He is the Savior from sin. He is our Savior, our sure and certain hope.

And through that faith he brought us from death to life. We are living stones. Thought that faith he brought us into his Church. We are being built up in him. Through that faith he cleansed us of all our sin. We are holy without any mistake, blemish. And through that faith, we find our new identity in him…


III.   Who Are You? I Am A Special Saint 

Do you ever feel like you're nothing special? Like you're worthless? Like you really don't matter in the big scheme of things? Well, you're wrong. You may not matter to the paparazzi, to the history books, or even to the person you wish would return your love. But you are worth everything to the God who gives you his unconditional love.

The living Stone has made us like living stones in his Church. Who are you? You are special. This is the identity that God has given you…

9 But you are a chosen people, [you are] a royal priesthood, [you are] a holy nation, [you are] a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

It's still popular hobby to trace your genealogy learn more about your family tree. It's suggested that if you know your past, know yourself. But that's not really true. If I were descended from a king it wouldn't change my finances today. And if I were descended from a mass-murderer, it would not define my actions or my life. But Peter traces your new geneology and it does impact your identity every day. "Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God." And your new birth certificate is your baptismal certificate. You're a part of his family and this, more than anything defines who you are and gives you your identity.

You may still not feel very special, but you are. And this is not to promote good self-esteem, but Christ-esteem. This is what he thinks of you. No, this is what he declares of you. And so this is reality. For his word makes it so.

Who are you?! You are a sinless saint! Holy in every way! You are a child of God! You are royalty then! You are sons and daughters of the King! You are a prince! You are a princess! This is your identity! This is what defines who you are!

And this new identity also gives us purpose and meaning to our lives. It gives us confidence. It gives us direction. We have been called with a special mission. We are all living stones built into a church, or really, the Church (with a capital "C")—that is, not just a part of Grace Lutheran, but a part of the body of Christ! That means that you are a part of something big—something far bigger than these walls, something far bigger than your own life!

You are a part of a movement that will keep marching on through the millennia until it finally comes to its full and perfect completion on Judgment Day! And you have a job that will outlive you for a long time! You can, and you do, and you will continue to, have an impact on people's lives for eternity! What a wonderful purpose you get with your identity!

And this massive construction project isn't yours, but God's. You're not the foreman, but he has hand-picked you to be on his crew. A man was was working on a construction site. He spend long hours at his back-breaking work. But he loved his job and he did it with a passion. You see, he knew he was a part of something bigger, than digging the ditches, and stacking the bricks. He was building a new oncology unit at the hospital—at the same hospital where his daughter had died of cancer last year. And so he knew that the brick laying and ditch digging was meaningful work. It would help to save lives.

So too, when you put a few dollars in the plate, when you volunteer to clean the church or mow the lawn this summer, when you help with an outreach event or just call a fellow member or a friend to see how they're doing… you are a part of something bigger. You are helping to putting another brick on the building of the Church. And your work is so meaningful because it helps to save lives for eternity!

This is who you are. You are special. You are chosen. You are royal. You are holy. You are in the service of God with a job with eternal significance. Who are you? You are a Christian. Let that be your first answer whenever you're asked, as you continue to "declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." In his name, dear friends, amen! 

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Hope that Endures Suffering (A sermon based on 1 Peter 2:19-25)

"It hurts so much! I can't take it anymore!" But in Christ we can take it. We can suffer much pain, gladly even, as we live to thank him for enduring the worst kind of suffering and pain to rescue us from the suffering and pain of hell. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on 1 Peter 2:19-25 and be encouraged to gladly suffer for doing good as you take up your crosses to follow him...

Our Living Savior Gives a Living Hope

A Hope that Endures Suffering

A sermon based on 1 Peter 2:19-25

Sunday, May 11, 2014 – Easter 4A


Anybody here own a Timex watch? Remember what the Timex slogan is? Timex: It takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin'. Timex branded themselves as tough, durable, dependable, able to take the most rigorous beating and still perform.

I recently watched a vintage Timex commercial on YouTube. It was from a time when commercials were filmed live. The host took a Timex watch and strapped it to the propeller of a boat motor, submerged watch and motor into a tank full of water and ran the engine as fast and as hard as it could go. And when they were done, well, the watch fell off the prop, so they couldn't show you the watch very well, but when the cameraman zoomed in on the watch at the bottom of the tank, sure enough, it was still ticking away.

(cf. to watch the commercial)

How about you? Do you take a licking and keep on ticking? When the going gets tough, do you toughen up and get going? Or do you sometimes fold under the pressure. The truth is, that we often fold under very little pressure, like when we have an opportunity to grow in our faith at Bible class or sleep in a little later, we too often fold. When we have the opportunity to serve someone else or get our own way, we fold. We fold to our sinful nature far too often, let alone any external persecution. And for our sinful selfishness we deserve much suffering.

But Jesus took a licking for us on Calvary's cross. And he kept on ticking afterwards when he rose from the dead. These truths give us a sure and certain hope that is willing, even glad, to endure much suffering, to take a lickin' and keep on tickin'. Our text for this morning is from 1 Peter 2:19-25…


19 For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22 "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth."

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 

I.      Follow Jesus and Take A Licking 

What's your job? Well, you might answer that question by telling me where you work or the name of the company that issues your paycheck. But that answer would be incomplete, wouldn't it?

If you're a parent, you also have the job of taking care of your kids (even your adult kids sometimes), right? If you're married, you have the job of providing for your spouse's needs (even before yours are met). And as Christians, you all have the job of sharing your faith with others, of supporting the work of the Gospel, of doing the work of the Gospel, and of suffering for the sake of the Gospel. That's your job. 

If you follow Jesus, and I understand that everyone here claims to follow him, then persecution will follow. "But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called…" This is your vocation, Peter says; your job. You may be called to suffer in big ways: by losing a job for sharing your faith, by being imprisoned if Christianity becomes illegal, by being killed for your faith should persecution increase in our land.

But then again, we may not be stoned like Stephen or crucified like Peter. But we will still stuffer as Christians even if it is in smaller way.  Moms, (happy Mother's Day, by the way), but you have had to sacrifice your wants and needs to change a diaper, to make a meal, to clean up afterwards. You could neglect your kids, but you serve them at your own expense.

Dads, kids, singles, everyone else, you too have made sacrifices to serve others. You may not have had to take up a cross the way Peter did to follow Jesus, but you've had your share of splinters. It may not be a boulder of martyrdom that crushes you, but the pebble in your shoe of choosing to serve others instead of yourself each day. You will suffer if you follow Jesus. It's not optional. It's' your calling.

Now, if you heard our text and you initially thought as I did, "Well, I don't really suffer all that much," well… if we're not facing persecution, if everyone likes us, if live is comfortable and good all the time, well, maybe it's because we're too quiet about Jesus. Maybe we avoid suffering by hiding our faith. Maybe we avoid suffering by indulging the sinful nature. Maybe we avoid the suffering by not serving others instead of ourselves.

But when we choose to avoid the suffering—and it is a choice that we make--then we deserve to also avoid the blessing of heaven. Remember the story of the Little Red Hen? She sought help from all the other animals to make her loaf of bread, but they all refused to help. When the fresh bread was hot out of the oven and ready to head, the Little Red Hen refused the bread to all the other animals.

That's what we deserve. We deserve suffering. We deserve hunger for not helping make the bread. We deserve the hangover, the speeding ticket, the health problems from too much sitting, working, eating, smoking, drinking. "How is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it?"

And we deserve far worse suffering than anything we can imagine in this life. Jesus warned, "Whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven." (Matthew 10:33) And for all the times we've tried to save our plush, comfortable lives to avoid any pain or persecution, we deserve to lose our lives forever.

You know, it's always kind of bugged me a bit when I hear someone who's suffering say that they've been through hell. I know it's meant to be hyperbole, but I can't help but think, "This person clearly doesn't understand the torment hell."

Well, to be fair, neither do I. And thank God that you and I will never understand how horrible hell really is, because Jesus took a licking for us… 

II.    Follow Jesus who Took A Licking 

Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England, once sentenced a man to death at the sound of the bell that tolled every evening to signal curfew. But this young man had a special lady friend who loved him very much. She went to Cromwell to plead for the pardon of her beloved, but she was quickly and harshly refused. But she didn't give up.

She went next to the man who rang the nightly bell and pleaded with him to neglect his duty that evening. But her plea fell on deaf ears, literally. From the many years of ringing the bell he had gone deaf and, not understanding what this mad woman was trying to say, he went to faithfully do his duty.

But she still didn't give up. She ran up the bell tower and leapt to the clapper of the bell, hugging it tightly. The bell ringer pulled the rope again and again and she was repeatedly crushed between the bell and the clapper. But she didn't let go. Finally, when the deaf man was done sounding the curfew call, he let go of the rope and retired for the evening. Thought badly beaten and bruised, the young woman made her way down the bell tower and to Lord Cromwell and her beloved.

"Why hasn't the curfew bell tolled yet?" Cromwell demanded.

And she, staggering to the scene explained why the curfew bell would not toll that night. And Cromwell, filled with pity and compassion, pardoned that young man in appreciation of the love that young woman showed him that night.

That's sort of what Jesus did for you and me—but on a much grander scale. He took a licking for you and me. Humbly, quietly, patiently, knowing full well what it would cost him, Jesus went to the cross. With no thought of retaliation he instead cried out, "Father, forgive them!" (Luke 23:34) No threats were made to his aggressors, but, "Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit," he cried. (Luke 23:46)

And by that act,

"He… bore our sins in his body on the tree… by his wounds you have been healed." Now, "You have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." Or, literally in the Greek, "You have [been] returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." You have been rescued from Satan, from death, from hell, and have been brought back to God.

You are forgiven for wimping out when the pressure was too great. You are forgiven for giving up when the stakes were too high. You are forgiven for your cowardice and just plain apathy. You are pardoned, rescued from hell, because he took the beating for you, because he endured hell itself.

And that pardon moves us to endure all kinds of suffering for him who suffered for us. "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness…" Imagine how dedicated that rescued young man was to that woman who had saved his life? We are that dedicated to Jesus—and more!—for saving our lives from hell… 

III.   Follow Jesus and Keep on Ticking 

Right now Judah is learning how to write his letters. And he's really getting pretty good. One of the tools Becky uses to teach him during his "school time" as they call it, is a dry-erase book. It has all the letters of the alphabet printed in very, very light grey that's just barely visible, but just enough. With his dry erase marker Judah can trace the letters by the pattern that's there for him to follow. And he's almost got them all down.

Now, Jesus saved you from hell by his suffering. That's the most important result. But Peter says he did something else for you by his suffering: He gave you an example. "But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example…"

Literally what the Greek word translated "example" means, a pattern you trace over. (That's how ancient children would learn their Greek letters.) So we mimic our lives after Jesus. We trace the pattern he set.

"Suffer like me," he says. "Trace your life over mine." So what does that look like? Well, for starters, expect unfair treatment. It will come. Don't be selfish, willingly suffer for others. Don't retaliate. Make no threats. But forgive your persecutors just like Jesus did from the cross, just like Stephen did beneath the flying stones. Commit your spirit into the Father's hands.

And you, unlike Jesus, can rejoice that you're not alone in the struggle. Jesus took a licking, but he kept on ticking… Or at least, starting ticking again when he came back to life after he died – after his ticker stopped ticking. And Jesus lives today still. He lives forever. He lives to be your Good Shepherd, the Overseer of your souls.

And he promises that he won't ever leave you or forsake you. He promises that he'll never let you face more than you can handle. Or if it is too much to bear, he'll provide a way out. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

If you do suffer, he promise that he will use that suffering to strengthen your faith, just as sore muscles grow stronger. He will use that suffering to hone and sharpen your faith, as a stone sharpens a knife. He will use that suffering to help you focus on him, as a gardener prunes away what hinders the plant from producing more and better fruit.

And he will bring you through that suffering, which will be over soon enough, and take you into glory. And through that suffering he will bring others to glory too as they see your response to such unjust suffering.

So endure, dear friends! Take a licking, but keep on ticking. And when you fail, go back to the Gospel. Remember that he's not just your example, but he's your Savior, your Good Shepherd. And remember that no one learned the alphabet in one sitting. You're still learning.

And when you do focus on the empty cross and on the empty tomb and on what your Savior lovingly accomplished for you… well… you'll be even tougher than a Timex. You'll be able to take a licking and keep on ticking, because you know that your Savior lives! And because he lives, you too will live forever. You'll keep on ticking into eternity! 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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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Hope that’s Fully Paid For (A sermon based on 1 Peter 1:17-21)

I hate debt. More specifically, I hate being in debt. I'm hopeful for the day that I can yell "I'm debt free!" like they do on the Dave Ramsey show. But that hope is uncertain. That day may or may not come. Thank God though that I have the sure and certain hope that I can cry, "I'm debt free!" about the debt I owed to God. Jesus has paid my debt on the cross with his precious blood. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on 1 Peter 1:17-21 and rejoice that you and I have an eternal hope that is fully paid for!

A Living Hope in Our Living Savior

A Hope that's Fully Paid For

A sermon based on 1 Peter 1:17-21

Sunday, May 4, 2013 – Easter 3A


$7,087. That's how much the average American carries as debt on his or her credit card. That's the average, mind you, which means that for every person who has no credit debt, someone's carrying a debt of $14,000 or more. The average debt per American (including mortgage, student loans, and car payments) is over $225,000 dollars. Again, that's the average. So for every person who's free and clear of debt, there's someone else who owes close to half a million dollars. That's a lot of debt, isn't it? That seems to be the American way.

How about you? Do you owe quite a bit? Are you in a lot of debt? Or just a little? Are you one of those fortunate few who are free and clear of any and every debt? Well, it's not really about financial debt that our sermon text for this morning speaks of. It's about the debt that we owe to God for our sin. And it's about the wonderful payment that Jesus made to make us free and clear of that debt. This morning we rejoice that we have a living hope that is fully paid for by our living Savior. Our text is from 1 Peter 1:17-21…


17 Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.


I.              Buy Now; Pay Later


Any of you ever listen to Dave Ramsey, the radio talk show host and financial advisor? If you do, you know that one of his mottos is, "Debt is normal. Be weird." In other words, he would advise that if you want financial peace, then don't do what other broke people do. Be smarter than that.

In a similar way, the apostle Peter advises that if you want peace, then don't do what other self-serving sinners do. His motto might be, "Self-absorbtion is normal. Be weird." "Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear."

I think a lot of Christians love the hymn, I'm But a Stranger Here, and we sing with gusto: "I'm but a stranger here; heaven is my home." We sing it especially loudly and boldly when life is hard and we're in pain as a reminder that we have a better, heavenly home that awaits us when this life of struggle and pain is over. But I have to ask: While we're quick to profess "I'm but a stranger here," do you always act like a stranger here? How weird are you?

Normal is being self-centered. It's weird to be self-sacrificing. Are you weird? Or normal? Normal is buying lots of stuff for myself that I think will make me happy. It's weird to give a lot away to charity or church. Are you weird? Or normal? Normal is the pursuit of happiness for me and my family as we try to live the American dream. It's weird to live for an unseen Savior and strive to please him first in all you do.

Normal is "the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers…" Just like living in debt is often passed from parent to child, a learned behavior. In fact, just as some parents buy more than they can afford and pass the debt on to their kids to pay, so too we pass on the debt of our sinful, selfish, striving to please no one but myself. But that way of life is worthless, because you know where it leads. It leads to a fate much worse than Dave Ramsey's proverbial "Alpo for dinner" in your retirement. It leads to an eternal retirement in hell.

And Peter reminds us that "[God] judges each man's work impartially…" Literally God will judge "without receiving faces." He doesn't judge a book by its cover. And his justice is truly blind. So what if you're a 7th generation Lutheran or if you give lots of money each week or if you show up every Sunday for Bible class and worship? Those things don't earn you any brownie points before God. God demands that you be perfect! Peter wrote in the verses immediately preceding our text, "Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'" Pretty good is not perfect. We have done the crime and we deserve to do the time.

For every sin, we owe a debt. For every time we do some self-serving act with no regard to the consequences, it's like using the credit card to buy now with no regard to what we'll have to pay later. But we will have to pay. Just as irresponsible spending is eventually met by the bill collector, by the IRS, by the repo man, and eventually by the jailer, so too our bill will come due on Judgment Day. Sin now; pay later. And the bill is death and hell. When we die, our souls will be repossessed. Ecclesiastes 12:7 reminds us that "The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it." And when we meet our maker, we will be judged and all remaining debt must be paid.

You know the Germans only have one word for both guilt and debt: schuldig. They're not big fans of debt and consider one guilty if they are in debt. Well, for our sins against God we have racked up a huge debt before God. We are schuldig. We are guilty. We are indebted to God with a debt that we could never pay. No amount of silver or gold could ever buy off God or bribe him to look the other way. We deserve hell for each and every sin. That's a steep price. And God is just. He "judges each man's work impartially…"

So thank God that Jesus paid our debt for us!

II.            Paid Now; Paid Forever


I think I stood in line for close to two hours at Blockbuster that night. They had a promotion that I didn't want to miss. You see, the Reign Man, Shawn Kemp, the rookie player for the Seattle Supersonics and the youngest player to ever play in the NBA at that time. was signing autographs at that Blockbuster. And I was intent on getting his rookie card signed. On the way home from Blockbuster I stared at my signed rookie card in awe and asked my dad, "How much do you think this card is now worth?"

"Well, that depends," was dad's reply.

"On what?" I asked, "On the rest of his career?"

"Well, I suppose that could impact the perceived value. But what something is worth is exactly how much you can get someone to pay you for it. If I give you $50 right now, will you give me that card?"

"No way!" I protested.

"Well, then it's worth at least $50 to you." And dad taught me that worth and value are in the eye of the beholder. One man's trash is another man's treasure.

So, keeping that in mind, what are you worth to God? Well, what would he pay for you? He paid, not just silver or gold, but his own Son, damning him to hell in your place. What are you worth to Jesus? He willingly took on that hell for you on the cross. He shed his blood, his holy (that is, sinless), precious (since it's divine—the very blood of God) blood for you. He picked up the tab for you on Good Friday and he signed it with his blood.

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

And the receipt is found in Jesus' resurrection. God has revealed these truths like a blooming Easter lily, slowly revealing how he'd pay the debt from the time of Adam to Abraham, from Moses to David, down through Zechariah and Malachi. But it fully bloomed on Easter. Easter proves that your debt it paid—in full!—that what Jesus cried from the cross is true for you and me: "It is finished!" Our debt is paid now! And it's paid forever!

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! He's alive! That means that your hope is alive! And it rests, not on something so shaky and uncertain as dollars—here today; gone tomorrow—but on the sure and certain resurrection of Jesus from the dead. "Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God." You have a living hope that's fully paid for

And now Jesus gets a return on his investment. If I took you to lunch and at the end of our meal I said, "Don't worry about the bill. I got it," and grabbed it before you could, would you say, "Great! Thanks! And hey, as long as you're buying… I'll take four more entrees to go, please, waiter!" Of course not! You wouldn't want to take advantage of my generosity. Likewise, we don't say, "Jesus, thanks for picking up the bill. Now I can do some more sinnin'!" No! Now we offer our thanks. We give him our praise. We give him our service. We give him our silver and our gold… and our hands and our feet. We give him our very selves to thank him for picking up the tab that our sins earned. We choose to be weird as we "live [our] lives as strangers here in reverent fear."

Did you know that every Monday through Friday individuals and couples go to visit Dave Ramsey's office in Tennessee so they can do the "Debt Free Scream." That is, they go into a small sound booth and scream into the microphone those words they've been so excited to scream, "I'm debt free!"

Well, dear friends, we don't need to go to Tennessee. We can cry out in joy those same words in eager excitement! "I'm debt free! All my sins are paid for by Christ! All my debt to God is paid for forever! I'm free and clear!" We shout it in the way we speak. We shout it in the way we live. We shout it in the way we serve. We shout it in the way we give. And will we look weird shouting "I'm debt free! Thanks to Jesus I'm debt free?" Sure! But who cares? Debt is normal. We're thrilled to be weird. 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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