Monday, September 28, 2015

Do You Want to Be Great? (A sermon based on Numbers 12:1-15)

Do you want to be great? God gives us the secret to greatness in this text. He shows us that true greatness is found in humility. We humbly confess our sins to God. We humbly rejoice at the foot of the cross in the forgiveness God gives us. And we humbly serve God by serving others to show our thanks to him. Such humility makes us truly great before God. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Numbers 12:1-15 and be encouraged to be truly great by your humility! 

Do You Want to Be Great?
A sermon based on Numbers 12:1-15
Sunday, September 27, 2015 – Pentecost 18B

"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. I am the greatest of all time." So claimed famed boxer, Muhammad Ali. There's no doubt he was a great boxer. But he was also known for his great ego which often got him into trouble. One story tells of Ali settling into his airplane seat getting ready for takeoff. When the flight attendant reminded him to fasten his seatbelt, Ali proudly protested, "Superman don't need no seat belt." But without missing a beat the flight attendant replied, "Sir, Superman don't need no airplane, either." Humiliated, Ali fastened his seat belt.

The truth is that an over-inflated view of oneself can lead to all sorts of problems. That's certainly the case with two famous people of high position in our text for this morning. Miriam, the sister of Moses was called a prophetess after she led the women of Israel in a victory song after crossing the Red Sea. Her big brother, Aaron, was the High Priest of Israel, the only one allowed into the Most Holy Place, the one who confronted Pharaoh to let his people go.

There's no doubt they were great leaders, famous and important people in the most famous and important nation. But they let that greatness go to their heads. And God had an important lesson to teach them and through them us—a lesson about greatness, about pride, and about God. Listen now to the history of Miriam and Aaron's rebellion and of Moses' and God's responses. The account is recorded in Numbers 12:1-15...


1 Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. 2 "Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?" they asked. "Hasn't he also spoken through us?" And the LORD heard this.

3 (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)

4 At once the LORD said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, "Come out to the Tent of Meeting, all three of you." So the three of them came out. 5 Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the Tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When both of them stepped forward, 6 he said, "Listen to my words: "When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. 7 But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. 8 With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?"

9 The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them.

10 When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam—leprous, like snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had leprosy; 11 and he said to Moses, "Please, my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. 12 Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother's womb with its flesh half eaten away."

13 So Moses cried out to the LORD, "O God, please heal her!"

14 The LORD replied to Moses, "If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back."

15 So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back.


The whole history of Israel's wandering in the wilderness is a story of grumbling and complaining. They whined when the saw the Red Sea, "Weren't their enough graves in Egypt? Is that why you brought us to die out here?" They complained when the water they had to drink was bitter, "What are we supposed to drink out here? Egypt had plenty of water!" They griped when they saw no food, "Are you planning on starving this whole assembly to death?!" But the first mutiny, the first flat-out rebellion against Moses, came not from the assembly, but from Moses' own brother and sister.

While the formal complaint they lodge is against Moses' Gentile wife, it quickly became clear that it really had nothing to do with her. It was jealousy and sibling rivalry that stirred up trouble. "Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?" they asked. "Hasn't he also spoken through us?" They wanted to be great—greater than they already were! And so they sought to defame Moses, to overthrow him, and take his position of authority. But in doing so, they really sought to defame God, over throw him, and take his position of authority. After all, it was God who put Moses in his position of authority over them! The fault of Miriam and Aaron was disloyalty to God and treason against his established government.

And this is the real character of pride and jealousy—of our pride and jealousy. It's really rebellion against God. He put each of us where we are. He has given us the gifts, the abilities, the station in life to which we've been called. And so it is rebellion against God to be envious of those who have more gifts, abilities, or higher station in life than we have. To complain that we don't have the blessings of another and to be greater than God has made us is really to claim that God is doing things wrong. What presumptuous rebellion!

And on our own, there's nothing we can do about it! Benjamin Franklin knew the problem of pride. In his autobiography he wrote: "There is perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive. Even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility."

In fact, pride and jealousy are not the problems of the immature believer, but of the mature. With growth in the Christian life, we're quickly tempted to believe our own press reports that we're doing pretty well. Our pride leads to jealousy of the blessings of others and complaints against God. And we rebel. And we deserve the punishment that God should dish out. We deserve the shame of having the Father spit in our face.  And is there any punishment worse than that: "The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them."? And that's exactly what we deserve: to be abandoned by God. To be kicked outside of his camp! That's what hell is: separation from him.

But God confronts us, not to destroy us, but to lead us to repentance and back to him. God appeared to Aaron and Miriam in the cloud and in the leporosy to bring them to repentance. And it worked. Aaron cried out to Moses, the same little brother he had just slandered: "Please, my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed." And it was that confession that made Aaron truly great! And through Moses' merciful intercession (in spite of the fact that it was also Moses that they wronged), God granted forgiveness to Aaron and forgiveness and healing to Miriam.

And God does the same for us. He may not confront us by a pillar of cloud, but by the word spoken to you by a pastor, a family member, or a friend. He may confront you with the law in a devotion you read or a particular passage you hear. And when he calls us to account and levels our pride, there is only one proper response—that of Aaron—to fess up. Do you want to be great? Then confess your sinful pride and jealousy. Confess your rebellious complaints against God and plead for forgiveness.

And when you do? How will God respond? 1 John 1:9 tells us, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." How can this be? Because we have an intercessor too. One who not only pleads our case before God, but takes our place before God. Jesus was not jealous or proud but the epitome of humble. Philippians 2:8 says, "He humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!" Why? For you. That you might be forgiven and healed of the leprous affects of sin.

And now, the good news of the Gospel is that unlike Miriam you need not go outside the camp. It was Jesus' face which was spat on in shame so that you will never be shamed before the Father. He went outside the city of Jerusalem and endured God's wrath so that you and I will never be sent away, but will be welcomed as sons and daughters. Now, through Jesus, you and I truly are great!

And in thanks for such forgiveness, full and free—in thanks for making us so great!—we gladly humble ourselves before God. We get rid of pride and arrogance and jealousy in our lives and gladly accept whatever position, whatever honor, whatever place in life he grants us in thanks. When others speak against us, we act like Moses and let God deal with it. He'll do a much better job than we could anyway. When others speak out against God, we act like Moses and intercede before God on their behalf because the greatness that God gives us in Christ makes us eager to humble ourselves for him.

Don't envy others, friends. Don't be so foolish as Muhammed Ali, who boasted, "I am the greatest of all time," whether by words or by your actions or by the proud and jealous attitudes of your heart. Instead, be humble. Humble yourself before God in repentance as you pray, "Please, my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed." Humble yourself before the cross where you'll find forgiveness and healing. And in thanks to your Savior who makes you great, humbly serve him. Be like Moses who prayed even for those who stung and hurt him. Be like Moses who "...was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth." Live in humility like him, and then you'll truly be great! 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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Monday, September 21, 2015

It's A Dirty Job... (A sermon based on Jeremiah 38:1-13)

It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it. Proclaim the truth of God's Word, that is. It's not always fun to tell others what God says in his Word, especially those parts that they don't want to hear. It could even be dangerous as some respond with hostility! But it's a job we're eager to do in spite of the risks, as we live to serve our Savior who pulled us out of the pit of our sin and out of hell. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Jeremiah 38:1-13 and be encouraged to do the dirty work you've been assigned to do... 

It's A Dirty Job...
A sermon based on Jeremiah 38:1-13
Sunday, September 2
0, 2015 - Pentecost 17B


I'm not sure if it's still on, but there used to be a show on the Discovery Channel, called "Dirty Jobs." And in this show, host Mike Rowe, searches America for the most disgusting occupations. Then he volunteers as their assistant for a day to show TV viewers just how dirty this job is. For example, how would you like to be a snake wrangler where the snakes bite you every time you handle them? Or a shark suit tester, where angry sharks bite you repeatedly. And if you live, the suit works. If you don't, well… back to the drawing board! Or Mike Rowe's personal worst: Sewer inspector, where you walk among the foul smelling waste looking for cracks.

After watching the show, I imagine one might come away with a greater appreciation for the job you do have. No matter how bad your boss might seem, you're not getting bitten by sharks. At least, not literally. But the truth is, dear saints, that you and I do have a dirty job. Don't get me wrong. I don't mean to slam your place of emloyment and I certainly don't mean to complain about teaching at Grace. But the truth is that we, as Christians, have the dirty job of proclaiming the truth of God's Word—the whole truth, even those parts that people don't want to hear. And that can be a dirty job. It can be unpleasant, uncomfortable, and sometimes even dangerous.

When the prophet Jeremiah was given the dirty job of proclaiming to the King of Israel that the nation would soon be destroyed for their rebellion against God, even though it wasn't fun, he did it. And he suffered for it. He had death threats issued against him. He was imprisoned. And now he was thrown down a well and left for dead. Yet, Jeremiah kept at his dirty job and God rescued him. Listen to the account in Jeremiah 38:1-13 and be encouraged to keep doing you dirty job, in thanks to Jesus...


1 Shephatiah son of Mattan, Gedaliah son of Pashhur, Jehucal son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur son of Malkijah heard what Jeremiah was telling all the people when he said, 2 "This is what the LORD says: 'Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague, but whoever goes over to the Babylonians will live. He will escape with his life; he will live.' 3 And this is what the LORD says: 'This city will certainly be handed over to the army of the king of Babylon, who will capture it.' " 

 4 Then the officials said to the king, "This man should be put to death. He is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, as well as all the people, by the things he is saying to them. This man is not seeking the good of these people but their ruin."

 5 "He is in your hands," King Zedekiah answered. "The king can do nothing to oppose you."

 6 So they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the king's son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.

 7 But Ebed-Melech, a Cushite, an official in the royal palace, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern. While the king was sitting in the Benjamin Gate, 8 Ebed-Melech went out of the palace and said to him, 9 "My lord the king, these men have acted wickedly in all they have done to Jeremiah the prophet. They have thrown him into a cistern, where he will starve to death when there is no longer any bread in the city."

 10 Then the king commanded Ebed-Melech the Cushite, "Take thirty men from here with you and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the cistern before he dies."

 11 So Ebed-Melech took the men with him and went to a room under the treasury in the palace. He took some old rags and worn-out clothes from there and let them down with ropes to Jeremiah in the cistern. 12 Ebed-Melech the Cushite said to Jeremiah, "Put these old rags and worn-out clothes under your arms to pad the ropes." Jeremiah did so, 13 and they pulled him up with the ropes and lifted him out of the cistern. And Jeremiah remained in the courtyard of the guard.

I. Afraid to Get Dirty?

How would you like to be Jeremiah in this situation? Already imprisoned in the courtyard of the guard, he had two choices. Ignore what God said and keep quiet. Or ignore what the King said and keep up his bold witness. Jeremiah chose the latter and willingly took the consequences that came. But if you were in his situation, would you still speak up? I'd like to think the answer is yes—that if I were asked to make a bold witness for Jesus and die for it, I would still make a bold witness. I like to think that, anyway. But the truth is I can't know until I'm put in that situation.

But I do know that I've compromised my faith on matters much smaller than death. And I'd be willing to bet that I'm not alone here today. Do you always have the courage to speak the truth even when you know the ramifications aren't going to be pleasant? Could you be like Jeremiah who made such a bold stand? Or like Paul who was stoned and beaten again and again for preaching Christ crucified? Could you be like the apostles and prophets who were tortured and killed for boldly speaking the truth? Or have you been more like Peter, denying that you know Jesus so you can fit in? Do you still try to avoid getting muddy or doing the dirty job?

It's true, isn't it, that we sometimes clam up to avoid being thrown into the well. We avoid the well of ridicule by turning into chameleons and blending in to the godless crowd around us. We dodge the well of rejection by going along with the crowd even when the crowd goes against God's Word. We duck under the well of discomfort by not mentioning the sin of a friend and by justifying it by saying, "That's really none of my business anyway." We want to keep our lives squeaky clean of any muddy problems or pain or persecution that might come with a cross. And you heard what Jesus said about what those who try to avoid the cross deserve.

The magician, Penn Jilette, of famed, Penn and Teller is an outspoken atheist. But he takes Christians to task when he challenges them, "If you honestly believe that I'm going to hell without your Savior and don't get the nerve to tell me, to warn me, to try to rescue me, then how cruel are you?!" And how right he is.

For seeking our comfort above the truth and the spiritual good of another, for trying to dodge the cross and avoid the well, we deserve to be thrown, not into a well, but into hell, where no amount of rope could ever pull us out, where we would forever starve in our sin for eternity. But thank God, we don't get what we deserve...


II. Jesus Lifts You Out

Jeremiah took bold action and he suffered for it. He was thrown into a bell shaped well (with the narrow part on top), with no chance of escape,  no food to eat, and only starvation to look forward to. But God did not abandon him. He sent a friend to help. He sent Ebed-Melech, a Cushite from Africa who's been called the Good Samaritan of the Old Testament. Ironically, this foreigner was a better Christian to Jeremiah than his fellow Israelites. And it took courage for him to do what he did. Zedekiah could have said, "You don't want Jeremiah down that well all by himself? Fine! Go join him!" But he found the courage in his faith. Literally Ebed-Melech means "Servant of the King." And while he served Zedekiah, he really served God as King. And through him God rescued Jeremiah from his hopeless situation and from slow, painful, and certain death.

And dear friends, God has delivered you. Like it was for Jeremiah, our situation was hopeless. There was no way that we could climb out of hell on our own. We could not manufacture a ladder from nothing when we were sinking down in the muck and mire of our sins. There was no way that we could climb up. Help had to be sent down from above. And so God did send help. He didn't lower a rope, but lowered his Son. He sent Jesus, his own Ebed-Melech, the servant of the King, who served God perfectly in our place. He always spoke the truth—to the powerful, to the mighty, even if it meant torture, even if it meant death. And it did mean torture and death and worse...

For even though he was perfect, Jesus was willingly covered in the muddy filth of our sin. He willingly felt the guilt and the shame they brought on. And he willingly endured the hell that those sins deserve. Talk about dirty jobs! And as he was tortured to death on the cross (because he spoke the truth) he took our cowardice and quiet on himself and gave that perfect record to us.

And he did it that we might be lifted up. And we will be lifted up to heaven.


III. So We Can Be Ebed-Melechs

So what's our response? We can't help but thank our loving Savior and become like Jeremiah, become Ebed-Melech's, that is, servants of the King. And opportunities to serve him surrounds us! We can reach down to help others. We can throw them the rope of the gospel that will lift them out of the cistern of hell. And the more we come to appreciate the rescue that God has given us, the more we'll be eager to do the dirty job of speaking the truth, come what may.

There was once an artist who painted a picture of a little girl clinging to a rock in the middle of a storm-tossed ocean. In the background you can see the ship that she was presumably on moments ago now breaking apart and about to sink entirely. The picture of the girl, now safe from the waves that would drown her, clinging to the rock, was, the artist explained, a picture of Christ the Rock who rescues us from hell and the storms of life and keeps us safe. But after further reflection, the artist painted a new picture. It was almost identical to the first. But this time the girl was only clinging to the rock with one hand. With the other, she was reaching as far as she could into the raging water to take hold of the hand of a boy who was trying hard to keep his head above water.

Christ is our rock. He keeps us safe from the hell that would otherwise engulf us. And now in thanks, we can be like that girl. By all means, cling to the rock that lifts you up and rescues you! But then, in thanks, reach out to rescue others. Don't be afraid to get a little muddy. It may mean you get a little dirty. But so what?! It's a life or death situation.

Pastor knows a woman who on the way to her own bridal shower when she saw a car go off the road and down a steep embankment into a ditch. Without hesitation, she pulled over, got out of her car, and, even though she was in her nice dress, climbed into the muddy ditch to help pull a person out of the wreckage. And when she finally arrived to her shower, hours late, her nice dress was ruined—covered in mud. Why'd she do it? Because someone was hurt. It could have been a matter of life and death.

So too with us. It is a dirty job—to face the ridicule and rejection and persecution that comes from speaking the truth and living the truth. But someone's got to do it. In thanks to our Savior, we're eager to step up. It may not be pleasant. It may not be fun. It may be dirty and filthy and muddy as can be. It may be dangerous, or even deadly. But remembering how Jesus lifted us up out of the mud, we'll gladly get dirty to help others out too. May God always continue to give you such resolve, determination, courage, and strength to do the dirty job you've been called to do. 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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Monday, September 14, 2015

Thirsty? Have a Drink! (A sermon based on Isaiah 35:4-7a)

We need water to live. In fact, we often could use a lot more water than we get. Eight 8 oz. glasses per day is what most doctors recommend. We need the Living Water of God's Word to live spiritually. And most of us could use a lot more of that water too. Feeling thirsty for peace? Want to quench your soul of that guilty feeling? Then drink deeply from the water that God provides in his Word and be refreshed! Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Isaiah 35:4-7a and be refreshed! 

Thirsty? Have a Drink!

A sermon based on Isaiah 35:4-7a

Sunday, September 13, 2015 – Pentecost 16B


"Water! Water!" the man pleaded to no one in particular. He was lost in the desert, thousands of miles from home or from any civilization. His canteen had run dry yesterday. And dehydration was hitting hard. The headaches seared. His throat burned. And he collapsed. He lay there for a while. How long he didn't know. But when he saw the vultures cirlcle overhead, he knew he had to keep moving. He crawled along, inch by inch, foot by foot. But when he crested the next sand dune, he saw it. A beautiful oasis complete with reeds and palms and a small lake of watersweet, life-giving, water. "Surely it must be a mirage or a hallucination brought on by the dehydration," he thought, but by sheer will power he picked himself up and dragged himself along as quickly as he could. Finally, he made it and he fell at the water's edge sticking his face in the cool, refreshing water. He would live!

Spiritually speaking, the Israelites were in the desert. They were morally dried up and dehydrated. Their kings had abandoned the true God and worshiped idols. The people followed the lead and sacrificed to whatever god they saw fit. And so, God allowed them to be attacked by an enemy nation, stripped of their rich posessions, and carried off into captivity to live as slaves. Life was like a desert. But God did not abandon his people. He would revive them again with the cool water of his Word. He would restore their health, and give them life through the Savior. And when he came everything would change like a desert becoming an oasis.

Does life sometimes seem like a desert to you? The money's dried up. Your health is sapped. Your energy is gone. And the foundation on which you once rested and relied is now hard and cracked? If you ever feel this way, then Isaiah's message is for you. Listen to the comforting promise Isaiah gives...


4 Say to those with fearful hearts, "Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you."

 5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. 6 Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. 7 The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. 

Do you sometimes wonder why life can seem like a desert wilderness where everything is a barren, lifeless wasteland? Why would God allow things to feel so dry and dreary? You know the answer: it's because of sin. It's because people are blind to God's law. They don't want to look into it. They're deaf to God's Word. They don't want to hear that what they're doing is wrong. They're spiritually lame, incapable of doing anything but serve themselves. Your boss, your spouse, your kids, they're all sinners.

But is that the only reason? Israel thought they were in such dry and dreary times because of those wicked Assyians, those godless terrorist barbarians who, in their cruelty, killed some, tortured others, and hauled the survivors into captivity. In other words they thought life was like a desert because others were so morally dehydrated. But Isaiah had warned them again and again that the real root of the problem was not in those Assyrians, but in these Israelites. It was because of their sin that God allowed the Assyrians to attack. They chose to be blind to God's law, deaf to his Word, lame to act on behalf of those in need. It wasn't just the Assyrians, but the Israelites, who were spiritually dried up.

Might we have just found the reason why our lives sometimes feel so dry and dusty? Is it because we leave our Bibles shut and are blind to the law that condemns us? Love God with all your heart and soul and mind with an undivided love. Love your neighbor—everyone else, your spouse, your boss, your co-workers—as much as you love yourself. And love them even when they're acting like the sinners that they are. Maybe we've been too deaf to hear God's Word when he calls us to repentance and to change our behaviors and actions. Maybe we feel dehydrated because we're refusing to drink deeply from the Living Water and we are spiritually all dried up.

And for our sin, for choosing to remain in the desert when the oasis of God's Word is right at hand, we deserve to have him "come with vengeance [and] with divine retribution" that he pours out with all his fury. We deserve to be left in our blindness and our spiritual deafness. We deserve to lay deyhdrated on the burning sand and damned to a burning hell. And like the Israelites, it's because of our sin—"my sin, mine and not another's"—that you and I deserve to be afraid.

But that's not what God says through Isaiah. Instead, he told Isaiah to, "Say to those with fearful hearts, "Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you." God comes to save. Literally he comes to Yeshua. You know that Yeshua is Hebrew for Joshua. But did you know that Joshua is the Hebrew version of the Greek name, Jesus? Jesus and Joshua both mean "He saves." God does not come to squash you, but to "Jesus" you—to save you

God poured out his vengeance and his divine retribution on Jesus in your place. He took the hell and the burning wasteland of separation from God the Father that we deserve. He paid the debt that we owed. And just as he came with vengeance and divine retribution against Assyria, similarly he has destroyed our sin, death that would hold us in the grave, the gates of hell that had us bound, and satan who had us in his chains. Those enemies have been destroyed.

And what's more, it is God who has given us the very faith to believe these things. Isaish prophesied that when Jesus would come, "Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy." And that's exactly what he's done. Yes, Jesus did literally heal people miraculously. But that's not all. He's also opened our eyes to see Jesus and who he really is: He's not just a wise teacher. He's not just a miracle worker to give restored health and restored wealth. He's our Savior—our Savior from sin who's restored our relationship with God. He's opened our ears to hear his Word. He's made us who were once spiritually lame—incapable of any good work—now able to serve him in thanks every day of our lives! And he's made us who were once mute able to speak of God's grace to others. In short, when Jesus comes to us with his living water of refreshing forgiveness, our lives are transformed.

Imagine for a moment that you're standing in the middle of a desert. There is no sign of life around, not a single cactus in sight. The ground is hard and cracked because there hasn't been rain in months. It's dry and dead and desolate. But suddenly, out of nowhere, a geyser shoots up out of the ground! And the thirsty earth gulps down the water. A lake forms where the geyser sprung up and the cracked dry ground becomes soft, moist earth. And seeds that have been laying dormant in the cracks suddenly have what they need to thrive. Right before your eyes the grass grows in a matter of seconds as a field is rolled out like a carpet across the landscape. As you watch, beautiful flowers and trees burst from the field. And in an instant what was once dead and barren and lifeless is vibrant, and beautiful, and rich in color and life.

That's the scene that Isaiah depicts when he writes of Jesus' arrival on the scene: "Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs." And that's what happens in your life and in mine when the Living Water springs up. Jesus once said, "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." (John 7:38) When Jesus' forgiveness touches our lives, we can't help but bubble up with excitement at what he's done for us. And we can't help but overflow with Jesus' love.

When others are unloving and cruel to us, we can continue to act loving toward them anyway! When we feel lonely and tired, we can rejoice that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us! When the dollars are running dry, we can rejoice that our treasure in heaven can never be taken away! When the deserts of life hit, we can continue to bloom!

And as we do, we'll water the earth with the good news of Jesus love for everyone. A love that took him to the wastelands of hell on our behalf. A love that gives us living water to drink that we might live forever. A love that makes us bloom!

When it feels like life is a desert and you're so, so thirsty... When it feels like you're about to collapse and can go no further... When the scorching heat of sin—both yours and the sins of others—seems to just suck you dry... then have a drink, dear friends. Drink deeply from the living water. Be refreshed. You will live! 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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Monday, September 7, 2015

Onward, Christian Soldiers! (A sermon based on Ephesians 6:10-20)

There is a battle being fought in us and all around us; a battle for our eternal souls. Satan and his evil allies will not give up their relentless efforts to make us their eternal prisoners of war. But not only has God fought and won the war for us, but he helps us in our daily battles. He gives us his armor to protect us. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Ephesians 6:10-20 and be encouraged to put on the full armor of God as we go onward, Christian soldiers, bravely into battle...

Onward, Christian Soldiers!

A sermon based on Ephesians 6:10-20

Sunday, September

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6th, 2015 – Pentecost 15B


Nineteen year old, Private Harry Taylor, was riding a night mission in northern France in 1915 when a German sniper got him in his sights. The bullet struck Taylor in the chest knocking him backwards off his bike. But a moment later, Harry got back up! He pulled his Bible out of the left breast pocket of his uniform to find that it was completely ruined. The bullet tore through the front of the thick book, but just barely penetrated to the back cover. It was still lodged in the pages. The Bible was ruined, but Harry was saved. He was saved by the Word of God.

Okay, so it's not usually in that sense that God's Word saves us. But we too have God's Word to protect us like armor. It protects us not from bullets or German snipers, but from enemies far more dangerous. God gives us his armor to keep us safe from the devil and his powerful allies. And we'd be fools not to use it. In our text for this morning, God, through the Apostle Paul, urges us to put on the full armor of God, as we march onward, Christian soldiers, into the battle that rages around us. Our portion of God's Word for consideration this morning is taken from Ephesians 6:10-20…


10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.


Are you strong enough? Are you strong enough to stand in the face of temptation? To serve God daily as he's created you to do? To withstand the evils of materialism, narcissism, commercialism? The Lord calls on us to be strong. But at the same time it's he who makes us strong through his powerful Word.

God, through Paul, used imagery taken from the equipment of the best soldiers in the world of his day, the Roman legionaries. These soldiers conquered the world for Rome and maintained the Roman Peace. What made them invincible in their day was their discipline and valor. But what makes Christ's soldiers invincible in peace and in war is nothing in themselves or in their strength, but in their divine armor, given to them by God himself.

And make no mistake. The battle is very real. The enemy is real. And the enemy is tough. Even Paul said he needed prayers to be fearless—that is to say that Paul, that great champion of the faith—was scared! So earnest was his plea for courage that he repeated it!

"Pray… for me… so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel… Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should."

 Why was Paul so scared? He had a healthy fear of the enemy because he knew he wasn't just fighting against flesh and blood, but against the devil himself and against his demons who are out to get us—to destroy our faith that God might destroy our bodies and souls in hell. And although the war has already been won, the devil's forces are still there and waiting for the next battle when they might reclaim us as their eternal casualties, the devils POW's—his prisoners of war.

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

So what can we possibly do to fight against the demonic forces that we can neither see nor match in power? We have no strength of our own to fight satan! We're not Schwarzenegger, Stalone, or Willis in the movies. We're no Jack Bauer who can single handedly take down hell's terrorist forces. If we were to fight the devil on our own, it would be like putting a 5 year old kid up against 100 ISIS terrorists. We wouldn't stand a chance.

And yet, so often we try to face the enemy on our own. We put down our armor as we leave our Bibles on the shelf collecting dust. We think, "I'll be just fine. I know the basics. I took the BIC. I took a confirmation class… well… it may have been a long time since, but I did take it!" And in refusing the help that Jesus gives we show how weak we really are as we fall into sin again and again.

We deserve to be left to face the enemy on our own. And we deserve to lose not just the battle but the war for the times we've deserted and gone spiritually AWOL. Jesus warned us how little strength we have on our own and the disastrous results when we try: "Apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." (John 15:5-6) We deserve to lose at life and end up as satan's prisoners in hell.

But thank God that we're not on our own. We have a hero who fought and won for us. He crushed the devil's head on the cross when he took our sin on himself and, paying the penalty our sin earned, took our sin away.

And having won the war, he still continues to fight by our side and help us in every battle. Paul said, "Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power…" But in the Greek "be strong" is "be strengthened." That is, it's entirely passive. Not "buck up and be stouthearted, men!" as if we could produce this strength in ourselves. But let God strengthen you. He does it for us by his mighty power.

And his mighty power is his Word; his Gospel that assures us we are forgiven for thinking we can fight on our own without him, for trying to do anything without him. His mighty power protects us. His mighty Word gives us armor. So let's use it!

"Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes… put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…"

So let's look at each piece of our suit of armor and see how God protects us. First he mentions our belt: "Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist…" But the belt Paul had in mind was a waist belt, much wider than the belts we wear to hold up our pants. It protected the most vulnerable parts of the body as a sword swung upward into groin would drop your enemy pretty quickly. It also kept the armor in place and held the sword.

The truth of God's Word—the objective truth of God's grace to you in Christ, revealed in the pages of your Bible—guards your sensitive parts spiritually speaking. Satan knows where you're most vulnerable and that's where he's going to attack. But you know the truth! You know how deceptive satan's lies are. And you know there are lies. He never delivers on what he promises. You know what God wants. But most of all, you know what God has done for you in Christ. Don't believe satan's lies, but cling to that truth and be safe!

Next Paul mentions your breastplate: "Stand firm… with the breastplate of righteousness in place…" Of course, this piece of armor would guard a soldier's heart. And the righteousness which you have—and not your own righteousness, for that would be a breastplate of cardboard!—but the righteousness of Jesus, given to you, that righteousness from God, which is ours by faith, apart from works—that righteousness guards our hearts. In Jesus' righteousness we find peace with God and peace from a guilty conscience. Our hearts are safe.

Paul continues, alluding to the soldier's sandals: "Stand firm… with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace."  It's hard to fight a battle barefoot. A sharp rock could send you to the ground. And in the middle of battle, you can't be tiptoing around! You need to be ready to move on a moment's notice, ready to dodge an attack. We are ready to move by the Gospel that gives us peace. We're ready to dodge the temptations that come our way because we know that no sin—nothing!—can satisfy us like the Gospel does.

"In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith," says Paul, "with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one."

Roman soldiers didn't have small round shields that hung on the arm, but huge shields, called scutum, that were four feet tall and two and a half feet wide. When a soldier was in battle formation, his entire body was protected. And when soldiers knew a battle was coming they would soak their shields in water overnight so the burning arrows of the enemy would go out when they struck the shield and wouldn't burn through.

The devil won't give up on you. He will keep launching accusations against you like flaming arrows. But your faith in Jesus and in what he's done to take away your sin silences satan's accusations with a steaming hiss. Tssssssss! And they're out!

Of course, the warrior was not to hide his head behind the shield. He needed to look over it to face his opponent. So Paul continued, "Take the helmet of salvation…" On the Christian's helmet is written, "Salvation." Knowing the salvation you have in Jesus helps you to hold up your head with confidence and joy. It guards your mind and helps you keep your head when you might otherwise lose your cool.

You are protected from head to toe by this armor of God. What a foolish soldier he would be who would only wear his helmet and nothing else, or who would only take his shield, but not his armor. Likewise, we use it all—the full armor of God as we grow in our faith by regular use of God's Word. And we remain well protected.

But how foolish it would be if a soldier was all decked out in his armor, but took no weapon into battle. But we have a weapon, Christian soldiers! "Take… the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." We have the Word of God which can knock down any barrier set up against God's grace. So learn it. Study it. Read it. Know it. Use it—the mighty Word of God—as we go on the attack against satan and his allies to strike them down and win more souls for our side!

And finally, Paul mentions one more gift God gives as we fight this battle for our souls. If Paul had written this in modern times he might have said, "Don't forget your radio…" We're no Rambo who can do it all alone. In some battle situations you need to call for help. And God has given us something far better than a satellite radio: We have prayer. We can call to God anytime anywhere to help us and to help others.

So Paul concludes, "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me…"

Pray to God for help in your battles, dear friends. He will give you the help you need when you pray sincerely and trusting in his promises. But don't just pray that God would help you. Pray that he would help all believers—all the saints, who have been made holy through Jesus' blood! Pray for me as I pray for you, and God will send the reinforcements we need.

Yes, the enemy is real. Yes, the enemy is tough. Yes, the enemy is strong. But we are stronger—not on our own or by our strength, but with the bulletproof armor that God has given us, in the strength of the Lord and in his mighty power. The war is already won! The victory is ours! Now let's keep fighting the battles we face each day always wearing the armor of God. Onward, Christian soldiers! We will prevail, in Jesus' name, amen!

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

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