Friday, December 30, 2016

God's Perfect Gift to You (A sermon based on Galatians 4:4-7)

What's the perfect gift? It's not something you'll find under the tree. It's someone you'll find in the manger. Jesus is God's perfect gift to you because he's something you really need right now, he's something you can use every day, and he's something you can use forever. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Galatians 4:4-7 and rejoice in God's perfect gift to you!

God's Perfect Gift to You
A sermon based on Galatians 4:4-7
Sunday, December 25, 2016 – Christmas Day

 

What's the perfect gift? One website suggests one or more of the following would make the perfect gift: For the gadget lover, the new iPad Pro, a Playstation with Virtual Reality, or a new smart watch (after all, who has time to pull their phone out of their pocket)? For the kids, they suggest a mini light saber tech lab. It will both entertain and teach your child as they play with different light crystals and learn about optics. For the pet lover, they suggest the PetChatz (c-h-a-t-z) which is like Skype for your pet. From your smart phone it remotely emits a treat for your pet so you can see it on the camera and talk to it to reassure your cat or dog or ferret that you love it even though you're away at work. It will even release calming scents of your choice so your pet can smell that you care. J

But some of these gifts aren't really very practical. Most are things that no one really needs. And none of them will really last. Not even the bonding you share with your pet.

Is there really such a thing as a perfect gift? Is there a gift that you know is needed? Is there really a gift that will last, not just for a month or a year, but for the long haul? Well, you know, of course that there is. And you know that that perfect gift is the one that God has given to you. He's given you his Son. And you need him more than you need anything! He's given you adoption into his family that you can use every day. He's given you heaven itself that will last, not just for a really, really, really long time, but for eternity—for forever. Here's how the apostle Paul put it Galatians 4:4-7...

4But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. 6Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." 7So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. Father."

I. We Need It Now


If someone bought you a PetChatz, what would you do with it? Maybe it might come in handy in a couple of days when you go back to work so you can see your pet, but for as long as you're home, you definitely wouldn't need it. You could see your pet in face to face. Likewise, a new swimming suit might be needed, but hardly right now when the temperature is… well, let's say, "a bit chilly" out. Some gifts are well-intentioned, but we can't really use 'em, at least not now.

But that's not the way it is with God's gift to you. It's something you and I need right now. You see, we, like Jesus were born under the law. And though we are obligated to keep it all perfectly—slaves to the law—we sure don't keep it that well. We break the law time and time again. We rebel against God in our thoughts, in our words, in our actions. And having rebelled against God's law, we were slaves not only to the law, but slaves to sin, slaves to satan, slaves to death, and slaves to hell. What we needed most was (and still is) a Savior from that slavery.

A new Playstation, even with Virtual Reality, has nothing on God's gift to us. He gives us what we really need. "God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law." He redeemed us who were enslaved, literally he "bought us out" of that slavery. Think of the ransom paid to rescue a child who's been kidnapped. And the ransom that Jesus paid was his own life. Jesus told his disciples in Mark 10:45, "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." 

That's what Christmas is all about—that true God became true man, born of a woman so that he could die, born under the law to keep it perfectly in our place. We miss the whole point of Christmas if we separate Jesus' birth from Jesus' death. That's the whole reason he was born: to die. That's what we confess in the Nicene Creed: "For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and became fully human. For our sake he was crucified..." And by that sacrifice, you and I are set free from our sin, rescued from satan, ransomed out of hell, and given eternal life.

And not only is this gift something we need right now, but it's something we can use all year...


II. We Can Use It All Year

Some gifts we can use right now, but they're seasonal. The Christmas ornament that you receive will be packed away with all the rest in less than one month's time. The hand towels with the snowman print, may make it through February, but will be out of place in July. But that's not the case with God's gift to us at Christmas. All year we can receive the blessings that his gifts give.

Paul says, "God sent his Son... to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. ...you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father"..." We are no longer slaves to sin. We are sons! Imagine the most destitute orphan living on the streets, but then a young couple finds him, takes him into their home, gives him a hot meal, a warm bath, a fresh set of clothes, and a soft bed to sleep in. And then… they start the process to adopt him as their own son! What a status change that boy would enjoy! 

And what a status change you and I have had! We're not God's employees, we're not his slaves or his hired hands, but his dearly loved children! And think of all the blessings that come with that status! We have our heavenly Father's promises that he'll provide for our needs, that he'll protect us from all spiritual harm, that he'll be there to answer our prayers! We can cry out to him, "Abba," "Da-da," and talk to God like he's our daddy. We can ask of him anything at anytime and be confident that he hears and will answer only a way that's for our eternal good.

And we have complete freedom from the law, not to go and sin, but as God's children, we have the freedom to not sin! We're not enslaved anymore!

And these gifts of our adoption, or our freedom, of becoming God's dearly loved children, aren't seasonal—here today at Christmas, but tomorrow packed away in storage for another year. No! We can enjoy the blessings and benefits of God's perfect gift to us throughout the year and throughout our lives! 

And finally, the perfect gift is one that lasts… forever.

 

III. We Can Use It Forever

Some gifts are great, but eventually break, or wear out, or get too small. The gifts of food or drink—even the jam of month club that lasts all year—will eventually be all consumed and gone sooner or later. But not God's perfect gift to us in Jesus. The blessings and benefits that he gives in his Son will last forever.

Paul says, "you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir."

There's a story that's told of a new convert to Christianity. He was very troubled when he came to his pastor saying, "Pastor, no matter how much I pray, no matter how hard I try, I can't seem to ever stay faithful to my Lord. I think I'm losing my salvation."

The pastor replied, "Do you see this dog? He is my dog. He is house-trained, he never makes a mess, he's obedient and is a pure delight to me. But in the living room I have a son, a 3-year-old son. He makes a mess, he throws his food around, he makes a mess of his clothes, and quite often he disobeys me. He is a total mess. But who do you think is going to inherit my estate? Not my dog but my son is my heir. You are Jesus Christ's heir, not because of your faithfulness to him, but because of his sacrifice for you."

In the same way, dear friends, you are God's heir. Paul isn't being sexist when he uses the gender specific word, "son," instead of "child." In his culture, sons, not daughters, received their father's estate. (Daughters were married off and received the estate of their father-in-law.) But all of you, whether male or female, are sons of God. And as such you're heirs. And the estate that God leaves for you to inherit is heaven—the eternal paradise that will never break, never wear out, never spoil, never be consumed. It will last literally forever.

And finally, what makes this gift so amazing is that you can never lose it, even if you give it away. If you re-gift a fruitcake or a bottle of wine or a gift card, for better or worse, you lose the gift for yourself. But with God's perfect gift, you can re-gift it and pass it on to others without losing a bit of it for yourself. When you re-gift the good news of Jesus' ransom from sin, death, and hell, you can still keep it for yourself because it really does last forever.

What's the perfect gift? It's not an iPad Pre, a Playstation VR, or a smart watch. It's not a mini light saber tech lab or even a PetChatz. The perfect gift is God's Son given to you. The perfect gift is knowing that your sins are forgiven and that you are an heir of heaven! The perfect gift is knowing that the one you loved who died in the Lord, is enjoying that inheritance right now. For this perfect gift is one we all need. It's one we can use all the time. It's one we can use forever. Treasure that gift, above all others. And share that gift with all others. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen. 


In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

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

Have you been blessed by our ministry at Grace? Consider supporting us with your generous gifts. Give securely online with a check or credit or debit card here: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Give

God’s Gifts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future (A sermon based on Titus 2:11-14)

God has blessed us in every way: In the past he came to rescue us from our sin by living a perfect life for us and by dying an innocent death in our place. In the present, he comes to us in his Word and assures us we are forgiven, which moves us to live for him each day. And in the future, he promises that he will come to take us to be with him forever in paradise. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Titus 2:11-14 and rejoice in...


God's Gifts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future

A sermon based on Titus 2:11-14

Christmas Eve – December 24, 2016

    

In 1843, Charles Dickens wrote his classic tale, A Christmas Carol, which I came to know as a kid through Scrooge McDuck. J As you know, in his novel Dickens sent three ghosts to visit the bitter miser, Ebenezer Scrooge. The Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Future show Scrooge what had happened, what was happening, and what would happen. And once he saw these things, Scrooge was a completely changed man (or… I guess… duck). J


This evening as we celebrate Christmas we rejoice that God hasn't sent us ghosts, but his Spirit. And through the Holy Spirit, we're given great blessings! This evening we celebrate God's gifts to us—his gifts of Christmas past, of Christmas present, and of Christmas future. Listen to what Paul wrote to Titus of the impact of Christmas and God's gifts to us, recorded in Titus 2:11-14…

 

11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

 

This advent season we've celebrated Christ's coming: His first coming at Christmas where he came to bring us salvation, his second coming to us in his Word and in the Sacraments, and his third and final coming on the Last Day. These three advents of our Lord, sum up the gifts of Christmas past, Christmas present, and Christmas future…

 

I.             Of Christmas Past 

At Christ's first advent, we received the gift of Christmas past. At that first Christmas when God came in the flesh we received the gift of salvation! What an awesome gift! Paul writes, "Jesus Christ… gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own…" What an awesome gift! And unlike other Christmas gifts, it's something we really need!


You see, all too often we act like Ebenezer Scrooge. We're selfish and miserly not just with our money, but with our time and our talents. We're really only concerned about ourselves. And for being more concerned with the presents under the tree than we are with thanking Jesus for his death on the tree for us, we're wicked. Jesus warned, "You cannot serve both God and money." (Matthew 6:24) For loving our families more than the baby in the manger we're impure. Jesus said, "Whoever loves his father or mother… his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." (Matthew 10:37) This gift of salvation is something we desperately need.


And it's something we all have. Ever find a present under the tree with no tag on it? You're left wondering who it's for. But not with this gift of Christmas past. What Jesus did for us at his first coming is for everyone. Verse 11 reads, "the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men…" but the word order in the Greek is different. It reads, "the grace of God that brings salvation to all men has appeared." We're not left wondering who this gift is for. "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…" (John 3:16) It's for you. It's for me. It's for all.


And by his incarnation—becoming fully human on that first Christmas—so he could live under the law and keep it perfectly in our place, so he could go to the cross, suffer hell and die in our place, he redeemed us from all our wickedness, purified us, and made us his own! What a great gift of Christmas past!

 

II.            Of Christmas Present 

And what a huge impact this gift has every day of our lives right now in the present! It's not a gift that sits on the shelf unused. It's not something we use for a season and then goes into storage. God's gift of Christmas continues to bless us every day of the year! Paul says, "Jesus Christ… gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good."


After the three ghosts visited Ebenezer Scrooge, he was a changed man. He was no longer stingy and miserly, but generous and kind-hearted. Why? Well, mostly because he was scared into changing by these ghostly apparitions. It's the same motivation many push today. Think of the lyrics of another Christmas carol: "You'd better watch out. You'd better not cry. You'd better not pout. I'm telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town." Now I know it's meant to be just a fun song, but did you get the tone of the song? It's one big threat! You'd better behave or else! Don't act up or no presents for you, just a lump of coal! You'd better be generous and kind, Mr. Scrooge, or you'll die a sad, lonely death and go to torment.


God's gift of Christmas completely changes us from miserly and selfish to generous and kind. But it does it in a much better way than the ghosts changed Scrooge. It does it without threats of the law. We're motivated by thanksgiving. We're "eager to do what is good," Paul said.


When you open your presents under the tree and get that perfect gift that you really wanted, what's your natural reaction? You can't help but say, "Thank you! Thank you!" to the person who gave it. That's how God's Christmas gifts to us impact our present. When we're reminded of God's gift of salvation when he comes to us in his Word and assures us that every sin is forgiven, that we have peace with him, we can't help but say "Thank you."


And Paul tells us how we do that: We "…say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…"


When we're tempted to be lazy at work, we remember how hard Jesus worked for us—even going to the cross and to hell for us—and we say "no" to that laziness and work faithfully in thanks to him.


When we're tempted to withhold forgiveness from someone who's hurt us, we remember how Jesus has forgiven us for all of our sins and say "no" to that grudge and gladly forgive in thanks to Jesus.


When we're tempted to be malcontent with the blessings God's given we remember all the blessings we have—the peace with God that is ours—and say "no" to greed and give thanks to God.


God's gift of Christmas present—the grace he gives us every day teaches us "to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…"

 

III.          Of Christmas Future 

And finally, one day soon, we'll receive God's gift of Christmas future. Paul says we live "...godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ…"


The gifts that the changed Ebenezer Scrooge gave to Tiny Tim and the Cratchit family wouldn't last. The turkey would soon be eaten and gone, the money given would soon be spent. Similarly, the presents we give and receive under the tree won't really last either. The cookies and the candies will all be eaten. The toys will eventually break or fall into disuse. The clothes will become worn out or outgrown. But God's Christmas gifts to us won't ever run out, but will continue to an eternal future.

"We wait for the blessed hope," Paul says. But you know that this hope is more than our typical hopes that are so uncertain. "I hope I get that new gadget for Christmas. I hope I get a raise in the new year. I hope I recover from this illness." No. Our hope in Christ is certain.


We know that every promise of God is as good as done. He promised to send a Savior and he did. He promised to forgive our sins and he has. He promised he will come again and he will. We know he will appear again in glory to take us to be with him. And what a glorious future that will be! A future without end!


And so, dear friends, we don't need to fear the end of the world. We don't need to fear death. We don't need to grieve the death of our loved ones in the same way as others who grieve without hope. And we don't need to fear the uncertainties of tomorrow. God has promised to work all things for our good—even our pain and sorrow—until he takes us to heaven. He's promised that "our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18) And with this blessed hope—this certain hope—we are joyful, even when we're in pain. We know that at "the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" all sorrow and pain will cease and every tear will be wiped from our eyes.


Brothers and sisters, rejoice this Christmas Eve in God's gifts of Christmas past—the salvation he won for all people—of Christmas present—teaching us to live godly lives in thanks to him right now—and of Christmas future—the certain hope of an eternal glory with him. And may these great gifts to you, move you to no longer be selfish and miserly, but loving and kind and selfless as you thank him for his Christmas gifts. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.

 


In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

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

Have you been blessed by our ministry at Grace? Consider supporting us with your generous gifts. Give securely online with a check or credit or debit card here: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Give

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

To Us A Child Is Born! (A sermon based on Isaiah 9:2-7)

Wouldn't it be nice to have some peace and quiet this holiday season? Well, we have peace this Christmas. We have perfect, eternal peace, through the child that was born for us -- through Jesus. He is Mighty God who won for us the perfect victory over sin, death, and hell. He is the Prince of Peace who won for us a last peace that will only increase and never end. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Isaiah 9:6-7 and rejoice that to us a Child was born! 

To Us A Child Is Born!

A sermon based on Isaiah 9:2-7

Sunday, December 18, 2016 – Advent 4B
(Children's Christmas Program)

 

Aaron, Abner, Abraham, Adam, Adan, Ahmad… Every day, expectant parents around the world ask, "What should we name the baby?" And so they read books like "The Very Best Baby Name Book Ever" and "Biggest Book of Baby Names."

Well, Mary and Joseph didn't have to go through all that. Gabriel told them what to name the baby: Jesus, which means, "He saves." But even before the angel announced his name, this little baby had already been given a name. 700 years before he was born the prophet Isaiah gave him several names. And every one of them fit perfectly.

This morning we'll take a look at those names and see how Jesus, a.k.a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace came for us. To us a child was born. He came to bring us a perfect victory. He came to bring us a lasting peace. Isaiah 9:6-7 read…

 

6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

 

I.              To Bring Us Perfect Victory

 

What wonderful names God gave the promised Messiah through the prophet! They described not just who the Messiah would be, but what he would do. Isaiah saw in this little baby, the Savior that we need.

"He will be called… Mighty God," Isaiah wrote. And how we need a God who is mighty! Let's face it. As tough as we want to appear to everyone, we're weak—at least when it comes to spiritual matters. On our own, we're walking in darkness. We can't see where we are or where we're going. Deceived by Satan, influenced by the world, led into sin by our own sinful natures, we can do nothing but sin. We rebel against God not only in what we do, but in what we say, in what we think, and in what we don't do.

We sin with our bad priorities in forgetting God in regular worship or in our budgets. We sin when we think we're strong enough to make him love us. We sin when think we only need a little help from God, as if to say, "Nice work on the cross, Jesus, but I'll take it from here."

And even when we do something "good," we ruin it with our selfish motives. I give to a charity, but not out of love for God. I do it because it makes me feel good about myself—like I'm not really that bad. How full of sin we are!

But even if we fool others—even if we fool ourselves—we can't fool God. Because just as it only takes one pinprick to pop a balloon, so it only take one sin to destroy the perfection that God demands of us. We are stuck in sin, "living in the land of the shadow of death," Isaiah said in the verses preceding our text—with eternal death in hell our deserved fate after our physical death.

And there's nothing we can do about it. We can't undo what we've done. We can't unsay what we've said or un-think what we've thought. We can't achieve perfection any more than we can glue a popped balloon back together. How weak we are! In fact, we're worse than weak. By nature we're spiritually dead. We need a miracle—an act of God.

And that's exactly what we have in our Mighty God. Though he hardly seemed mighty as an infant, laying in a trough in a barn smelling of manure… though he hardly seemed mighty as he walked this earth as a poor, homeless man… though he hardly seemed mighty as he hung on the cross being tortured to death for a crime he didn't commit… what a Mighty God he is!

He had the strength and power to defeat our enemies. In fact, that's why he left heaven. That's why the Mighty God humbled himself to be born as a lowly child—to win a victory for us.

As Mighty God, he had the strength to live a perfect life, never sinning—even once! And he gave that perfection to us. As Mighty God that death on the cross could pay for not just one person's sin, but for the sins of the entire world! And by his mighty power he shattered the yoke of guilt that once burdened us. He shattered the bar of sin across our shoulders. He shattered the rod of our oppressor when he undid Satan's work, figuratively crushing his head on the cross. Our Mighty God won the perfect victory for us! To us a child is born!

"And he will be called Wonderful Counselor…" What does a counselor do? He or she gives counsel or advice, helps you with your problems, and gives you the encouragement you need to keep going. Our Wonderful Counselor didn't just win a perfect victory for us, but he brings it to us in his Word. There he advises us how to be rid of our sin: "Trust in me and in my work on the cross," he says, "Do nothing. It's already done." He advises us how to live our lives in thanks for what he's done. And he encourages us, reminding us that though he may not shatter every burden of suffering we face right now, he will when he takes us to glory. And that truth brings us lasting peace…

 

II.            To Bring Us Lasting Peace

 

"And he will be called… Prince of Peace," Isaiah wrote. And in the preceding verses: "Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire." The soldiers' boots and bloodstained clothing could be burned in the fire because they would no longer be needed. When the Messiah would come there would be perfect peace.

But wait a second! Jesus did come! He was born more than 2000 years ago! So where's this perfect peace? There are still wars throughout the world. There are still conflicts on the streets, gang activities, murders, rapes filling the headlines. And even in our own homes there seems to be little peace: There are bitter fights among family members, sickness and surgeries, and financial troubles that leave us feeling anything but peaceful. And we may feel like shouting at Isaiah, "You have no idea what you're talking about!"

But he knew what he was talking about. He wasn't talking about a physical or political peace or a world without problems. He was talking about peace… with God. Through Christ and the forgiveness of every one of our sins, we appear holy and perfect to him. And so we're no longer at war with a holy God who must pour out his wrath against sinners. He already poured out his wrath on Jesus. Because of Christmas (which allowed for Good Friday) you and I are free from sin, death and hell. We have peace with God. And no matter what turmoil we go through, this peace can never be taken away.


"And he will be called… Everlasting Father," Isaiah wrote. "Of the increase of his… peace there will be no end. He will reign… over his kingdom… upholding it… from that time on and forever."

We may fight to win a war and establish peace in some country, but as soon as we leave, some new enemy could quickly rise up and destroy that peace. But that's not the case with God. Just as God has no beginning, so he has no end. Jesus always was, always is, and always will be. And so, because "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever," (Hebrews 13:8) his work will always last. The peace with God he won for us will never be lost.

In fact, the peace he's established can only increase. His peace will increase as we grow in our faith and learn more and more to put our trust in him and in his promise "that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…" (Romans 8:28) His peace will increase as we let go of the petty arguments and the worthless stuff we cling to and realize that soon enough heaven itself will be ours. His peace will increase as we share the message with others—the message of the cross and why he came to be born as a child. And finally, it will increase and become a perfect peace with no more war, or suffering, or struggles or pain, when he takes to heaven forever. This Christmas we receive the blessed gift of heaven!

So amid the hustle and bustle of this holiday season, dear friends, remember this little baby's name: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given… And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Remember that your sins are forgiven, satan has been crushed, hell has been conquered, because to us a child was born, to us a son was given. So now, you have a perfect victory in him! And matter what burdens weigh you down, you can rejoice because one hundred years from now, whatever troubles you today won't matter. This Christmas we receive the blessed gift of heaven. And soon we'll all enjoy the perfect, eternal peace that God gave through this child born to us. In his name, dear friends, amen.


In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

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

Have you been blessed by our ministry at Grace? Consider supporting us with your generous gifts. Give securely online with a check or credit or debit card here: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Give

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Christian Recipe for a Happy Advent (A sermon based on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24)

Do you have a favorite family recipe you enjoy every Christmas season? What would happen if you tried to make that dish or dessert from memory without the recipe? Would it still turn out okay? This morning we get God's recipe for what a Christian should look like. But even with the recipe right in front of us, we don't follow his directions very well. Our lives turn out a mess then, spoiled by selfishness and sin. Thank God, then that he helps us. In fact, he rescues us from the mess of our sin, so that when Christ comes again, at his Advent, we will be happy indeed! Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 and see...

The Christian Recipe for a Happy Advent

A sermon based on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Sunday, December 11th, 2016 – Advent 3B

 

Do you have a family recipe that you make each Advent as a part of your Christmas preparations? Maybe it's a recipe for grandma's Christmas cookies, or Aunt Tilly's Christmas ham. For the Guenther's it's ginger bread teddy bears and a dessert called Buckeyes. Every year Becky and the kids follow the recipe and they turn out great.

But of course, the recipe is crucial to that tradition. If Becky or the boys just decided to go off their memories—if they just decided to wing it—well, I don't think we'd enjoy the cookies as much. But when they follow the recipe we all have a happy Advent as we enjoy the cookies all season.

This morning in our lesson God gives us a recipe. It's the recipe for a Christian. And it's the recipe for a happy Advent. The Apostle Paul tells us what ingredients go into the making of a Christian. He gives us the directions to follow. And with some help from God, we know it will all turn out great at Jesus' Advent---that is, his second coming, when he comes to judge the living and the dead.

So let's take a look in God's "recipe book" if you will—that is, his Word—and see the recipe for a happy Advent. Our text for this morning is recorded in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24…

 

16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

19 Do not put out the Spirit's fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil.

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

 

I.        3 Ingredients

 

Most recipe books or websites or I guess now mobile apps, have a lot of pictures in them. I like that so I can browse through the cookbooks window shopping, if you will, just exploring those recipes that look appetizing to me. But the pictures also serve another purpose: They show you what the final product looks like—or at least what it should look like if done right.

So too, in the conclusion to this letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul shows them what they ought to look like as Christians—if done right. And he lists three key ingredients: [Recipe Slide]

16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

1) The first ingredient: "Be joyful always," that is, in any and every circumstance: In peace and prosperity as well as in suffering and pain. When things are going great and when things are downright miserable, when you're on top of the world and when you're in the dumps. How can they always be joyful? Well, he reminds them at the end of verse 18: "this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

No matter what their other circumstances were—and at this time the Thessalonians were being persecuted—they still had Christ. They still had forgiveness of sins. They still had the promise of heaven. And this would always be enough reason to be joyful no matter what else happened. It's been said that "Happiness depends on happenings; but joy depends on Christ."

2) The second ingredient: "Pray continually." The Christian will be regularly talking to God all the time. God is his or her best friend. God is his or her first go to in every situation. Like a child helping in the kitchen is wise to ask mom for help when the job is too big for him or her, so too we're wise to talk to God continually. And the content of those prayers isn't just getting help. It's not just asking, but especially thanking…

3) The third ingredient is, "Give thanks in all circumstances." Again, Paul reiterates "in all circumstances." That is, in the good and the bad. My kids are usually pretty good about thanking mom for making Christmas cookies. But they're not always that quick to express thanks for the Advent green beans or the Reformation shoes. But I shouldn't just pick on them. We're all like that aren't we? Here's a humorous video I saw this week that I thought drove that point home.

[Show Thankful for the Gifts.mp4.]

How true that we have so much to be thankful for. But we have even more to be thankful for, even if we had none of the gifts in the video. We have Christ. We have forgiveness of sins. We have the promise of heaven. And this is always enough reason to be joyful and give thanks to God no matter what circumstances we're in.

These are the key ingredients for a Christian: Joyful, prayerful, thankful, always. And these aren't suggestions. They're not optional like the walnuts in the banana bread recipe. No. "This is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." This is the picture of what a Christian looks like.

It's been said that a Christian is always an optimist. But, admittedly, that's sometimes hard to do—be the eternal optimist, always joyful, always prayerful, always thankful—when life is tough. How can we be that way? By following the directions in the recipe…

 

II.      5 Directions

 

Of course, when you're making grandma's secret recipe, you can't just have the right ingredients, toss them all in a bowl, turn on the mixer, then dump them in the oven. No, you need to add the ingredients in the right order. You need to follow the directions.

So too, the Apostle Paul shows the Thessalonians the directions to follow if they want to look like the picture above, what they should look like if done right. This is how to do it right.

19 Do not put out the Spirit's fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil.

Like some recipes give warnings, "Don't let it simmer too long or it will turn to syrup," "Don't put the wet ingredients in until the dry ingredients are thoroughly mixed first," Paul begins with two prohibitions, two "don'ts".

1) First "don't": "Do not put out the Spirit's fire."

A few weeks ago Becky and I were outside when we smelled natural gas. We called EnStar out right away. The main line was getting old and a seal had worn. We were just spilling gas into the air for who knows how long. Of course, if the main was completely gone and no gas made it into the house, we'd not only be wasting money, but would have no heat. And we'd have a hard time cooking in our gas oven. The cookies certainly wouldn't turn out right then. As a friend once said, "My favorite food additive is heat. Cooked is better."

Likewise, we need to perpetually add fuel to our faith. Or like a fire without wood will go out, our faith will soon die. So what's the fuel we add to Spirit-given faith we have? The Word.

2) Paul's second "don't": "Do not treat prophecies with contempt." "Prophecies" is another way of saying the "Word of God." Don't treat God's Word with contempt because it is the only fuel for your faith. And, by the way, it is contemptuous and disrespectful to leave God's Word unread. Imagine if someone gave you a love letter and told you, "This letter expresses my heartfelt feeling for you," and you replied, "Gee thanks. I'll maybe read that in a couple of years when I get more time." Or imagine if grandma handed you the special secret family recipe and you tossed it on the floor. "Thanks a lot, granny."

And the next three directions in the recipe, the three things we should do, pertain to that family recipe of the Word:

3) The first "do": "Test everything." Some recipes warn that you can't make substitutions. And you can't swap ingredients. You have to use the right ones. Some even warn that you can't take short cuts by getting generic ingredients. Only the real thing will do or the recipe won't work!

Paul would agree. No substitutes will work. You have to have to have the real truth, the Word of God. And to make sure you're using only that right ingredient in your Christian life, you have to test what you hear, what you read, what you watch. Not every sermon one might hear is true to the Word of God. Not every devotion properly divides Law and Gospel. So you need to test them against the Word. And to test them against the Word means you have to know the Word of God. That means you have to read it, and listen to it, and learn it, and study it, so you can test teachings against it. Then, when you test those teachings, the next two "dos." 

4) "Hold on to the good." Those teachings that pass the test, hold on to them! Like that special family recipe that you value and keep safe and never want to lose, hold on to those true teachings that pass the test of the Word of God. Memorize those favorite verses that bring so much comfort. Buy wall art to put around your home for when your memory fades. Tape that verse of the month to the dash of the car or to the bathroom mirror and read it every time you see it.

But, of course, not every teaching will pass the test of the Word. So the next direction is… 

5) "Avoid every kind of evil."

You wouldn't put mud in your cookie mix would you? You wouldn't replace water with bleach! One concern of the legalization of marijuana was that a child might accidentally overdose on mom's brownies. Likewise, false doctrine is poison in the recipe of a Christian. It might still taste okay, just a bit "off," but it's deadly. It doesn't take much to overdose. So even if the other church had better programs, if the doctrine isn't pure, avoid it. If the devotion you're reading rarely mentions Christ as Savior, toss it. If your friend is regularly trying to pull you away from Jesus, it's time to get new friends.

All of these directions Paul gives, by the way, are in the present tense in Greek. That means that they are to be ongoing , perpetual actions. Here's where my recipe analogy breaks down because they're not just steps you can check off once you're done, then move to the next one. These are things we are to be constantly doing. We are to be constantly in the Word and regularly receiving the Lord's Supper to add fuel to the fire of faith. We are to be always testing everything according to God's Word—even our own actions and attitudes. Perhaps the closest analogy is like following a recipe for a soufflĂ©, which, I'm told, takes constant attention. You can never take your attention away from it.

This is what a Christian is like. This is the recipe for a Christian. Stay like this all the time and you will be ready for Christ's return. When he comes again, it will be for you a very happy Advent.

Ah, but here's the problem. Does this recipe describe you? Even with those words, "Always… continually… [and] in all circumstances,"? I'll admit, this isn't me.

When I compare my life to the recipe God gives in his Word, well, it reminds me of a Pinterest Fail. You know, when someone sees some really cool and creative idea for a holiday treat online and they think, "I could do that," and try it on their own, but then, when they do try it, it looks nothing like it's supposed to. [Pinterest Fail Slide #1] It looks like a horrible mess. [Pinterest Fail Slide #2] Instead of cute, it looks terrifying. [Pinterest Fail Slide #3, then click to black.]

That's what we've done with our lives. The recipe has turned out horribly wrong and there's nothing we can do to fix it. We deserve to have anything but a happy Advent when Christ returns, but a terrifying one because we know we deserve eternal damnation forever in hell.

So thank God the recipe doesn't really depend on you…

 

III.    1 Reason to Rejoice

 

Imagine a preschooler trying to make cookies from scratch all by himself. You know already that that isn't going to end well, right? Now imagine the same preschooler trying to make cookies from scratch, but with mom's help. Now it might end well, right? I guess it would depend on the mom. Well, you and I trying to be Christians on our own will end worse than a preschooler trying to make cookies, worse than a Pinterest Fail. It will be horrible. So if the recipe's going to turn out right, we need help.

Earlier in this letter to the Thessalonians Paul encouraged these Christians by reminding them that their pastors would help. They would teach and encourage, and, when necessary, rebuke. They would comfort with the Gospel. Later he urged them to help one another. Encourage each other with the Word. But in this final conclusion of this letter, Paul gives them one big reason to rejoice: ' God himself would help them with this recipe.

And you know that God will help you too: 23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

First off, Paul names our helper "God himself, the God of peace." This is the very God who won peace for you by the Cross. Jesus perfectly followed the recipe. He was always joyful, prayed to his Father regularly, gave thanks even when he had so little to be thankful for. He always did God's will. He loved the Spirit. He loved the Word. He is the Truth. And he always avoided every kind of evil all of the time his entire life.

Then, at the cook-off, he replaced his dish with yours. And he took the loss as he endured hell in your place. And you get the blue ribbon of his perfection! You have Christ. You have forgiveness of sins. You have the promise of heaven. So you can be joyful always and give thanks in every circumstance!

And for as much help as God himself has already given you, he won't stop there! He will also sanctify you through and through! He's already set you apart from sin. Now he will also set you apart for a life of joyful service to him. And he will keep you—all of you, body and soul—until Jesus returns. He may not always give you perfect physical health, but he will preserve your spiritual life as long as you live. And then, when he comes again, he will give you a new, glorious, heavenly body to enjoy for all of eternity in heaven itself. Talk about a happy Advent!

And finally, what Paul wishes in verse 23: "May God… sanctify you… May [you]… be kept…" Paul assures God will do in verse 24. "The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it." God is faithful to all of his promises. He's promised that those he has called to be his own, he will keep in the faith. He will sanctify you and keep you set apart—from sin and for him! He will keep you—faithful to him until the end so you're, "blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."

A preschooler doesn't need to worry if mom will help him bake the cookies. He knows mom will. Likewise, you have one big reason to rejoice: God will help you with this Christian recipe for a happy Advent. And when Christ comes again, it will be a happy day indeed!

So, in the meantime, we can, "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances…" This is the recipe for a Christian and with God as the master chef who's not only given us the directions in his recipe book, but has promises his help, we know we'll turn out all right. In fact, we'll turn out perfect! And in the end when Christ returns—at his second advent—it will be a happy advent. This is the Christian recipe for a happy Advent. Now let's keep following the recipe. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.


In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

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

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Monday, December 5, 2016

Clearing Up Some End Times Confusion (A sermon based on 2 Peter 3:8-14)

Are you excited for the end of the world to come? You can be! We Christians know that when the end comes it will mean our deliverance from this fallen, broken world, and our entrance into an eternal paradise -- and this in thanks to Jesus and his work for us on the cross. But maybe you're not ready for the end quite yet. Maybe there are still others you'd like to see in heaven with you who don't yet believe that Good News. Well, God feels the same way. That's why the end hasn't come yet. He's patiently waiting for more to come to faith. And in the meantime, while we wait for the end to come, we can do all we can to stay ready and help others get ready too. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on 2 Peter 3:8-14 and stay ready! 


Clearing Up Some End Times Confusion

A sermon based on 2 Peter 3:8-14

Sunday, December 4, 2016 – Advent 2B

 

The countdown to Christmas has begun! It's only three weeks until the celebration of Jesus' first advent (his coming to this world as a human so he could rescue us). Christmas is, well, coming—and soon! The signs are all here. The decorations are up. The seasonal items are all in the store. The Christmas music is playing on the radio. With only three weeks left, it's time to get ready!

The countdown to Judgment Day has also begun! Jesus' second advent (his second coming) is also coming soon. The signs are all here. Wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, false teachers, and the spread of the gospel around the globe have all taken place. With only… well… who knows how much time is left. But it's still time to get ready!

But there's a lot of confusion about the End Times. When are they? Are we living in them now? Or are they still to come? Will the 1000 years before the end be a literal number of years or is that a figurative symbol of something? And what about all that weird stuff in the Book of Revelation? When's Jesus coming back? And why is he taking so long?! Well, I'll invite you to come to Bible Class on Sunday mornings to get the answers to those and other End Times questions as we study the Book of Revelation.

But for now, know that we're not the first have such questions about the Last Days. And it wasn't just John who shared so much information about the End Times. Peter wrote a letter to address some of those questions to the first Christians and to clear up some End Times confusion. So this morning, we'll listen in to what Peter wrote them and maybe get some of our confusion cleared up too.

And as we do, we'll see that 1) God is patient with us, not slow in bringing about our deliverance. 2) We are eager for that day, not scared. And 3), We want to be blameless, not careless as we wait for it to come. Our text for this morning is from 2 Peter 3:8-14…

 

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. f That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

 

I.        Patient, Not Slow

 

What is this world coming to? I mean, read the headlines and see all that's going on! A bank robber takes hostages in Florida. A police officer is shot and killed in Anchorage. The number of murders followed by suicide are—very sadly—on the rise. We might wonder if the moral decline that seems so prevalent today will continue. We might wonder what the sad fate of our nation (and our world) might be. We might wonder, "Where is God in all of this? Doesn't he care? Why doesn't he do something? Why doesn't he end all the suffering and pain?!"

Well, we're not alone in wondering that. Peter addressed the first century Christians to answer those same questions: "Where is God in all of this? Why is he so slow in coming to deal with it all?"

Peter answered them, "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."

God is not slow, but patient. Time is different for God. As we count seconds, he counts years. As we count minutes, he counts decades. As we count hours, he counts centuries. So slow to you and me isn't slow to God. A long wait for his return isn't all that long to a God who's been around for all of eternity past.

But more than that, Peter wanted Christians to know why God is waiting so long between Jesus' first advent and his second. He's waiting for more to come to faith. If God were to end all the evil, he would end would evil people in hell. But God wants no one lost for an eternity apart from him. So he's waiting for more evil people to repent—to turn around!—to come to him. He's working for more people to repent—doing all he can to save more.

And so we too need to be patient like God is. And we too ought to work to bring the Gospel to others, or, as Peter put it, speed the coming of the Last Day. How can we hurry things along? How can we move up the timeline for Jesus' advent? Well, if God is waiting for more to come to faith, we can do all we can to share our faith with others. And we certainly ought to be doing all we can to stay in the faith ourselves, to, "make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him."

But we grow im-patient, don't we? We hate the delayed gratification of heaven and we want our selfish goals met today. We want our best lives right now, not then! We want comfort and convenience and excitement and fun. And if that comes at the expense of others, well… so be it. If it comes at the expense of spreading the Gospel—if it comes at the eternal expense of others, well… we don't mind so much, so long as we get what we want right now.

And so, of course, we deserve to be melted in the fires that God brings on Judgment Day. We deserve to be lost for an eternity away from God and all his blessings. We deserve the eternal fires of hell! And if Jesus returned today would you and all your loved ones be on the right side? What a frightening thought! So Peter warned, "[The Lord] is patient with you…" God is not slow, but patient.

And we don't need to be frightened. We don't need to be scared of that Day, even though some pretty scary things are going to happened. Instead, Peter says, we can be eager for it, instead of scared…

 

II.      Eager, Not Scared

 

My brother used to sometimes confuse common sayings. Instead of saying, "What's this world coming to?" He would accidentally say, "What's coming to this world?" But that's really a better question to be asking. "What's coming to this world?" Or maybe better still, "Who is coming to this world?"

You know the answer. Jesus is coming. His second advent could happen at any time without warning—like a thief in the night! And you know what will happen when he does come: The world will be destroyed!

What do you think about global warming? Think it's all made up? Actually, it's Biblical. Well, sort of… God says that when the end comes the world will be destroyed by fire, that it will melt, that the very molecules of this creation will disintegrate in the heat he brings—talk about global warming!

"The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare… That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat."

Like wax melting in a furnace, like paper vanishing in a blaze, the earth will be laid bare, utterly destroyed, completely melted! Some people think that the average temperature around the globe increasing by a few degrees each year is scary. But this… this is terrifying stuff!!

But it's not terrifying for you and me. Peter told the early Christians that instead of being scared at the thought of Judgment Day, they could eagerly anticipate it: "You look forward to the day of God and speed its coming… we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth…  you are looking forward to this…"

But how? How could they "look forward" to Judgement Day with eager excitement like kids looking forward to unwrapping all the presents under the tree? How could they be excited about that Day instead of terrified—especially knowing that they were selfish, impatient, rebellious sinners who deserved hell?!

Peter tells us that too: "But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells."

We aren't terrified of Jesus advent, because we know that Jesus already came to this world. He lived a perfect life in our place, focusing only on saving others, not ever being self-serving or selfish in any way. And we know that went to the cross to endure the fiery wrath of God—the essence of hell itself being away from God the Father, forsaken by him for the sin he carried—your sin… and mine. And having paid for our sin, he removed the threat of hell. He removed the terror of Judgment Day because he promised that with sins forgiven we are righteous and sinless and we will be with him in paradise.

So, "In keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells." We are eager, not scared. But what about in the meantime? So, now knowing that we're going to with him in heaven, we just kick back and relax? Take it easy and wait for the fire to rain down? No. Peter encourages us to be blameless, not careless…

 

III.    Blameless, Not Careless

 

You can picture it: The teacher leaves the room, she has some quick business in the school office. And as she leaves she tells the students, "Work quietly and behave yourselves!" Or the CEO of the company goes undercover and visits his employees. He also regularly sends "Mystery Shoppers" to critique the business and give him an honest evaluation of how his employees behave.

How should those students behave? What should those employees do? Well, they shouldn't goof off! They should misbehave! They shouldn't be lazy! Instead, those students should be ready for the advent of their teacher, diligently working even while she is away. Those employees should be ready for the advent of their boss and ready for the advent of another mystery shopper, always prepared, always working, always faithful.

And friends, that's exactly how we should be too! We know that Jesus could come back at any time! And we most definitely want to be ready and prepared whenever he does! But it takes effort to stay ready. Peter said, "You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming… So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him."

Jesus has made us ready for his second advent by his first. By coming to this world as an infant, by coming to keep the law perfectly, by coming to the cross and to the tomb, he's made us sinless and holy and ready for that day when he comes again. But it still takes effort on our part to stay ready.

So set the alarm on Saturday night so get up in time for worship. Schedule time in God's Word on your calendar and guard that appointment with Jesus like you would with anyone else. Make drastic changes in your lifestyle where needed—you know where those areas are—so you root out the sin in your life, so you, "live holy and godly lives… [and] make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him." Be blameless, not careless, as you wait for him.

God's not slow, dear friends. He's patient. He's waiting for others to repent, wanting to save them. He's already saved us. So we're not scared of Judgment Day, we're eager for it! Even though scary things will happen, we know it will mean our victory. And in the meantime, while we wait for that day, we're not careless or idle, but make every effort to keep our faith, to live our faith, and to share our faith.

The signs are all here. Christmas is coming and it's coming soon! The signs are all here. Judgment Day is coming and it's coming soon! Let's stay ready and help others get ready too. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.


In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

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

Have you been blessed by our ministry at Grace? Consider supporting us with your generous gifts. Give securely online with a check or credit or debit card here: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Give