Spiritual Wealth is Better than Money in the Bank

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We thank Pastor Phil Spaude for sharing a message from God’s Word with us today! Pastor Phil Spaude accepted the call to the WELS Ministry of Christian Giving after serving 27 years in the parish ministry in Missouri, Nebraska and Wyoming and serving four years in the teaching ministry in our Lutheran high schools. He has also served in positions at the district and synod level including 20 years with the WELS Adult Discipleship Commission.

While we do not have a transcript for this sermon, we hope you will enjoy the audio recording.

15th Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 3:5-12

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.”


How Long will you waver between two opinions?

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5th Sunday of Easter
1 Kings 18:21-39

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, do you like options? Did you know that if you take into account all the different variables, there are over 80,000 different drink options you can order at a Starbucks coffee shop? Think about your closet. I’m guessing you don’t have simply 1 or 2 different clothes options- I’m guessing that each of us has literally hundreds of different clothing options in our closets. Think about the grocery store. At the grocery store you don’t have only a handful of options of food- you literally have thousands of options! Very few restaurants would probably survive if they only had one option on their menu. I think it’s safe to say that we humans like options, right? I wonder why. Why do we like having so many options? Perhaps it stems from our desire to have control. We like to be in control. We like things to go OUR way, we don’t like being told what to do.
In fact, we can trace this all the way back to Adam and Eve. Why did they take that fruit off the tree? Because they wanted to be like God, they wanted to be in control. There was only one clearly good option, but they chose to turn away from God. We also see that very thing going in our lives. We are faced with many options every day, we’re faced with many decisions every day: honor God or give into sin, be unselfish or be selfish, speak well of someone or tear them down. We also see this same thing going on in our text this morning.
The Israelites had an option: do things God’s way or do things their own way. What God wanted was for them to completely drive out the heathen Canaanites from the Promised Land because He knew those people would become a snare to them. Well, instead of doing this God’s way, the Israelites left many of those Canaanites alone and even went one step further: they decided to learn agriculture from them. So, again and again in the OT we hear about how the Israelites were sucked into idolatry and worshipped false gods and idols. One of those prominent idols that we hear about again and again is the false god Baal. Baal was the fertility god of the Canaanites. Baal was the one who supposedly would help your cows and sheep reproduce, who would help your women get pregnant, and help your crops grow by sending rain. And rain, at this time, in many ways meant life, lack of rain meant death.
Well, there were also certain features of Baal worship that weren’t so distasteful to the Israelites. You see, Baal worship offered a physical, visible god to worship rather than the invisible true God. Baal worship also offered a god you could manipulate and control, while the true God is uncontrollable and not manipulated by our behavior. But it was also a human-made religion. And you’ll notice that any human-made religion invariably caters to the sinful nature. Part of “worshipping” Baal was consuming lots of alcohol as well as engaging in promiscuous sexual activity.
Add to all of this that the Israelite king at this time had even married a woman named Jezebel who was from a heathen-Canaanite city and a big patron and supporter of Baal worship. So, right in the midst of the very nation that had the truth, had God’s Word, had the promises of God, and was the nation through whom God promised to send the Savior into the world, right in their midst, we have what? Rank idolatry, horrid immorality, and a king and a queen who were actually putting to death anyone who was a prophet of the Lord. And we see right in our text that Baal had 450 prophets, but for the true God? One.
So what did God do? In incredible love God sent a drought. They claimed Baal was the fertility god who made it rain and caused things to grow, so God had Elijah pronounce that there would not be a drop of rain for not just one year, not just two years, but three years. Now, imagine if America didn’t have any rain for 3 years, we’d be seriously hurting, even though we have irrigations systems and wells. In Israel- no rain meant death, no water to drink, no food to grow. But instead of repenting and turning to the true God what happens? Ahab blames Elijah! “You troubler of Israel!” As if Elijah caused all these troubles!
Elijah has everyone gather at Mount Carmel. And notice what he says to them: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him. If Baal is god, follow him.” Now, perhaps we’re shaking our heads and thinking, “There’s clearly really only one option here” right? Ah, but then we have to examine our own lives. This question could be asked of us too, can’t it? “How long will you waver between two opinions?” The word used for waver here is the same used later on to describe the prophets of Baal dancing before their altar and it literally means to “limp” back and forth. Do we do that? Do you do that? Every day you’re faced with many options. Let’s see: serve my spouse OR serve myself, defend that classmate or join in making fun of him, open my Bible or turn on the TV, listen to my parents or do my own thing, respond in love and kindness or get angry and get revenge. You see, the people in our text aren’t the only ones with divided religious loyalties. Each of us here tries to have God plus something else. But Jesus says it clearly: You can’t have two masters, either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. But how often haven’t we wavered trying to have God and our sin? And notice what happens when you pick the option away from God? You’ll always be burned. Look at this! It’s almost comical! The prophets of Baal are dancing around their altar, they’re shouting louder and louder, they begin to slash themselves with swords and spears until their blood flowed and notice that this was their custom! That’s what following a false god will do to you- hurt you and often literally.
But notice something. Nothing can snap people out of their divided religious loyalties except the intervening of God Himself. The people had not come to the logical conclusion that after 3 ½ years of drought that Baal did not exist. The all-day long chanting, slashing and shouting session of the prophets of Baal didn’t convince them. The LORD must intervene. And He did boldly and powerfully. Fire from the LORD consumed Elijah’s sacrifice, the wood, the stone, the dirt, and even the water he had poured on the altar! And the people responded: “The Lord – He is God! The Lord – He is God!”
But as powerful and dramatic as this was, God intervened in a much more powerful and persuasive way when he consumed a greater sacrifice than the one Elijah offered. He himself offered this sacrifice. It was His own Son that He brought down from heaven and placed on the altar of the cross. It was this sacrifice, His Son Jesus, who was consumed by God’s burning wrath over sin. And it is this sacrifice, Jesus that leads double-minded people to respond, like the Israelites: “The Lord- He is God! The Lord- He is God!” And we have seen it. On Good Friday we saw how God intervened into human history for His double minded, fickle people. On Easter Sunday Jesus powerfully came back to life forgiving all your sins of wavering and mine!
This week, when your mind is tempted to trust in two different gods, respond like Israel on Mt. Carmel. When you are tempted to trust in the LORD and in your money, let Elijah’s words run through your mind: “How long will you waver between two opinions?” And then say, “The LORD – He is God! The LORD – He is God!” When you’re family is tempted to dive into their electronic devices instead of having a family devotion, let Elijah’s words echo in your ears: “How long will you waver between two opinions?” And then answer confidently, “The Lord – He is God! The Lord – He is God!” When you’re raising your head off your pillow next Sunday and you think, “Should I go to church or not?” Listen to Elijah’s words to you, “How long will you waver between two opinions?” And say to yourself, “The LORD – He is God! The LORD – He is God!” You see, there is nothing to be gained by lingering unnecessarily over two options. Lingering over trust in two different forces only benefits the wrong side. He who hesitates is lost. There is really only one clear option in most situations we face in life. “How long will you waver between two opinions?” Let’s say it together, “The LORD – He is God! The LORD – He is God!” Amen.

Sufficiently Saved, Satisfied, and Secure to Serve!

3rd Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 12:3-16

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,

Living in a house with young children I see it all the time.  There’s one room in the parsonage where we try to keep most of our children’s toys.  There’s a healthy amount of toys in that room: toy tractors, army men, dolls, stuffed animals, play kitchen stuff, trains, barbies, etc.  And yet, even with such a variety of toys we have a recurring problem.  Leave two children in there to play and at some point, at some time there will be screams, sometimes hitting, and always a flood of tears, screaming and crying.  Why?  Because one toy out of all the toys in that room has suddenly become exalted to the position of being THE most important toy in all the world!  And neither child is about to give in and give up the chance to play with THE most important toy in all the world.  Neither child is ready to miss out on the supposed happiness of playing with THE most important toy in all the world.  So what’s going on?  It’s one of those things that I never had to teach my children: how to be selfish.

And we might smile and shake our heads at blatant selfishness, but the reality is that it lives inside of each and every human being.  It’s something that even complete unbelievers recognize.  You will hear things especially among people who have succumbed to the lie of evolution talk about people and animals and they will refer to something called “the survival of the fittest.”  And, in short, what that refers to is that in an evolutionary model it’s only those who are the fittest and the strongest who end up surviving.  The weak and vulnerable will die off.  It’s simply the means of developing or evolving into greater and more capable species.  Now, there’s all kinds of things wrong with that that we could pick apart and not least of which it would be saying that death is an essential component of life.  But, in a way there’s a point.  Those who have come up with this “survival of the fittest” have simply observed life in this fallen and sinful world in which we live.

Human sin has affected humans and all of creation.  Think back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Everything was right, everything was great, they enjoyed a perfect relationship with each other, they enjoyed a perfect relationship with God.  They would have perfectly and completely unselfishly cared about each other – even more than themselves.  But then it happened.  The devil made the forbidden fruit alluring.  And Adam and Eve purposefully chose to take care of themselves over listening to and obeying God.  Make sense?  God had wonderfully and graciously given them everything they ever could have possibly needed or wanted and then they turned the very means God established to give him honor and thanks with loving service by refusing to eat that forbidden fruit, into a means to selfishly take care of themselves.  And ever since that point human beings have been plagued with sin and particularly this sin called selfishness.  Adam and Eve shattered that perfect trust in God.  And ever since then every human being has been born into this world with a gaping hole that needs to be filled and can only be filled by God alone.  People long for what was lost in the Garden of Eden.  People are longing for security, people are longing for protection, people are longing for significance and love.  And without God we think we need to satisfy these longings on our own.  And to the extent that we think we need to satisfy all our longings on our own we’re inherently selfish.  And so what evolutionists label as the “survival of the fittest” is simply an observation of this world now corrupted with the sin of selfishness.  I long for MY needs to be filled and as long as my needs are left unfulfilled I don’t care about you and your needs, in fact, I will use you or abuse you as much as possible to fulfill what I need.  And the results?  A world full of broken relationships, a world full of hurts, a world full anger, a world full of abuse, death and killing.  In its very crass form selfishness turns life into a competition where everyone is trying desperately to get ahead and win but in the end no one wins and all that is left is a world full of hurt and disaster.

And that’s where it all begins.  As long as my needs are left unmet or as long as I think my needs are left unmet I will be continually plagued by the sin of selfishness.  At the very core of selfishness is a fear, a fear that if I don’t look after my needs, no one else will.  When I think that I’m the only one who’s going to look after me, selfishness, self-centeredness, self-absorption, self-service invades my life.

A blatant example of this selfishness is in this text.  King Solomon was great King David’s son and had started out his ruling right.  He offered sacrifices to God and God came to him and told him to ask from him whatever he wanted.  Solomon responded not for riches, fame, and honor, but unselfishly asked for wisdom to rule God’s people.  God granted that request and gave him even more.  Solomon lived in grandeur, built an awesome temple for God, built a royal palace, lived in luxury, but then he also abandoned that wisdom.  He married many women and then turned his heart after false gods and idols.  It got so bad that God determined to rip 10 of the tribes away from his family and give them to someone else.  So, after Solomon died, his son Rehoboam took over.  But the northern tribes of Israel weren’t totally on board.  Rehoboam went up there and they asked for relief from the heavy taxes and harsh labor that Solomon’s grandeur demanded.  And we can already tell where Rehoboam’s heart is when he asks for 3 days to think it over.  He doesn’t really want to grant that request but he’s got to weigh his options.  So he asks the elders, the wise and experience leaders who worked with his father, and they responded, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.”  But Rehoboam rejected their advice and listened to his peers who told him to tell them, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist.  My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier.  My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.” He’s not about to serve, he’d much rather be served. And what happened?  The northern 10 tribes, the majority of the land of Israel essentially said, ‘Forget you!  We don’t need you!  We’ll be on our own!’  And Rehoboam lost well over ¾ of the kingdom.

Wow!  We look at that and think, “How could you be so foolish?  So dumb?  How could he be so blind?”  Well, the truth is, that’s exactly what selfishness does, it blinds.  Getting his needs, his wants, his goals, his significance in life was more important to him than anyone else.  And the same is true for us.  The more needy I feel that I am, the more concerned about myself I become.  Think about it this way.  If I’m $15,000 in debt and I am selling my car to you how concerned do you think I will be that you get a good deal?  I will probably be more concerned that I get the very highest price possible, regardless of whether or not my car is worth that much.  But, on the other hand, if I’ve got plenty of money, actually more than I need, then there is a better chance that I won’t be so concerned about getting more for my car than its worth from you.  The difference is based on how needy I am and it affects the way that I deal with you.

So much of our lives are so influenced by selfishness that we probably don’t even realize how much.  Each of us tends to be motivated primarily by our own personal needs.  We can see it in how easily we become annoyed or bugged or irratiated by other people.  Perhaps we even begin to justify selfishness by saying things like: I’ve worked hard for this, I need time for myself, I deserve this.  And it can even come in even more subtle ways, it affects the way we act towards others.  We’re often nice to others so they will be nice to us.  We try to please others so they will like us and we will feel good about ourselves.  We work hard so that we can feel we did something important, so we can meet our needs, feel significant, etc.  Selfishness can so infiltrate our lives that we don’t even realize to what extent.  That’s why God can tell us in Isaiah that even our righteous acts are like filthy rags.  Even the best things we do are likely still corrupted with selfish intentions and motivations!

So what do we do?  How can we become unselfish?  How can we be selfless?  The truth is we can’t.  The truth is: we can’t.  Why?  Because the more we try to become unselfish the more selfish we actually become.  Because in trying to be unselfish we are still trying to meet our own need of being worthwhile or approved or favorable in God’s eyes!

So what can we do?  All we can do is despair of ourselves and say with the apostle Paul, “What a wretched man I am!  Who will save me from this body of death?”  There is only one that can rescue us from the sin of selfishness.  Since we can’t control the future we can’t guarantee that we will always have those basic needs of security, protection, significance, and love.  That is, unless we know and trust in the One who does control the future.

Freedom from selfishness comes when we know and trust in our God who has and always will meet all our needs for security, protection, significance, and love.  And He has in Christ!  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  Because of Christ God looks at you and me no longer as sinful, selfish people.  He sees us as what He has made us through the sacrifice of His own Son.  Not only did Jesus bleed on the cross to wipe away every selfish act and every selfish motivation and intention that hoards our hearts, on that cross God exchanged our sinful selfishness for perfect selflessness.  Since Jesus’ entire life was one of perfect selflessness and since God has transferred Jesus’ perfect life to you, He sees you like He sees Jesus.  That means we can see ourselves not as self-centered, self-absorbed or self-serving people, but as redeemed children of God.  We can live not to be served, but to serve others.  We already have all that we need, we don’t need to prove anything to anyone, there’s nothing more we need for time and eternity.

God’s saved you from selfishness, He’s satisfied you by giving you the significance of being a son or daughter of the ruler of the universe, and He’s made you secure promising to supply all your needs, promising you His all-encompassing protection, and making you an heir of eternal life!

And it’s knowing that in Christ you already have all you need: significance, protection, security, and love, that you are released from selfishness and released to serve.  And as we get to know God better we realize more and more how God has satisfied all our needs and we gain more confidence in who we are in Christ.  And God opens our hearts to love others unconditionally as God has loved us unconditionally.  God opens our hearts to see how we’ve been selflessly served by our Savior and we can selflessly serve other putting their needs before our own.  You see, God opens our hearts to see that we’re sufficiently satisfied by our Savior and in need of nothing so we can give all that we have and are in service to God by serving those he puts in our lives.  Amen.

One Way, One Truth, One Life

5th Sunday of Easter
1 Kings 18:16-45

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  In Jesus name, dear friends in Christ,

I think GPS maps are a really beneficial thing.  But before GPS maps were really popular I worked as a delivery driver so I  got used to using conventional maps, so when GPS’s were just coming out I stayed away from using them.  I liked the map, I could picture the roads in my mind, I could make my own judgments about the best route and the shortest way to get where I was going.  But I find myself putting more and more trust in my GPS to get me to where I want to go with the best route.  But there are times when the GPS will direct me one way and I know there’s another way that’s probably almost identical in time and distance and I’ll purposely choose differently than the GPS forcing to  say, “Recalculating.”  Why would I do that?  I think it illustrates a tendency each of us has: WE want to be in control, WE want to do things OUR way, we generally don’t like being told what to do.

In fact, that’s how it’s been since the fall into sin when Adam and Eve wanted to be in control, wanted to be like God knowing good and evil.  It’s also something that we see in our text for this morning.

The Israelites wanted to do things their way, not God’s way.  God wanted them to completely drive out the Canaanites  from the Promised Land because He knew they would become a snare to His people.  Well, instead of doing things God’s way, the Israelites left many of the Canaanites alone and even decided to learn agriculture from them.  So, over and over again throughout the OT we hear about the Israelites being sucked into idolatry and worshipping false gods and idols.  One prominent idol that the Israelites returned to again and again was this false god Baal.  Baal was the fertility god of the Canaanites.  Baal was supposedly the god who would help your cows and sheep reproduce, who would help your women get pregnant, who would help your crops grow by sending rain on the land.  And rain at this time was an essential ingredient to life, in many ways rain meant life, lack of rain meant death.  Remember that point.

Well, certain features of worshipping Baal were not unpleasant or distasteful to many Israelites.  Not only did Baal worship offer a tangible, physical, visible god to worship rather than the invisible true God, it was also a human-made religion.  So, like all human-made religions, it catered to the human sinful nature, it allowed its constituents to give full vent to their sinful nature.  Consuming lots of wine getting drunk as well as engaging in promiscuous sexual activity were not just options of following Baal, they were duties.

And the Israelite king at the time of our text had even married a woman who was from a heathen-Canaanite city and a big patron and supporter of Baal worship.  We from time to time will hear the opinion, perhaps we even have them at times, that the world is the most corrupt today than it has ever been.   But what do we have here?  Right in the midst of the very nation that possessed the truth, had God’s Word, the very nation that was to be the cradle of the Savior and the very nation through whom God had promised to send the Savior into the world, right in their midst, what do we have?  Rank idolatry, horrid immorality, and a king and queen who were also actually putting to death anyone who was a prophet of the Lord.  So much so that in our text we have 450 prophets of Baal and how many for the true God?  One.  We have a sad spiritual condition here!

So what did God do?  They claimed Baal was the fertility god who made it rain and caused things to grow, so through Elijah God told the Israelites there would be no rain and so there wasn’t even a drop of rain for one year, two years, three years.  You can imagine if America didn’t have rain for 3 years, we’d be seriously hurting, even though we have irrigations systems and wells!  In Israel this meant death – no water to drink, no food to grow.  But instead of repenting and turning to the true God, what happens?  Ahab blames Elijah!  “You troubler of Israel!”  As if he has caused all of this!

But we ask, “Why?”  Why this mess?  Finally it boils down to control, doesn’t it?  They wanted a god that they could control, a god that they could manipulate, a god who would do what they wanted him to do, a god who would allow them to indulge their sinful natures, in essence they wanted a different way in life other than the true God.

And that is so like us humans to want to be in control.  We like to pick what we’ll do with our time, where we want to drive to, how to get there, we like to pick what we’ll eat at a restaurant, we like being in control.  We don’t like being told what we should do or how we should do it.  And does that same attitude carry over into how we view God?  Do we think we can control God?  Well, if I try to do good, if I go to church, if I pray regularly, if I’m nice to people, then surely God ought to owe me something or at least be compelled to give me something for all I do!  Surely God ought to hold up His end of the bargain and make sure that my investments always go up, my health remains good, my friends like me, etc.  Those ideas are rooted in this false assumption: God exists in order to make me happy.  And having that wrong assumption can even lead to finding excuses to sin: God wants me to be happy and if doing this sin makes me happy it must be ok because after all God wants me to be happy, right?  But those ideas are not only wrong, they’re sinful

And there’s one thing that no matter how hard we try we cannot control: Our sinful condition.  That’s a problem.  We also can’t change or fix our sinful condition.  That’s an even bigger problem!  Therefore, we cannot control the most important thing of our lives and that’s where we’ll be when we die.  Nor could the Israelites.  And in such a mess as they were in we’d almost expect God to simply withdraw His presence, withdraw the rain, and even worse withdraw His Word- which is the worst judgment that can fall on any people or any nation.  Because without God’s Word people will die in their sins and be condemned to eternal agony, suffering, and death in hell.

But God is a God of grace and as the God of grace not only does God not give us what we deserve, but He actually gives us the very opposite of what we deserve.  As we see here.  There’s an almost comical display as for hours the Baal prophets scream, dance, even cut themselves in order to try and control their god – but… nothing, no response, no fire, no answer, nothing.  And then we watch as Elijah prays a less than 30 second prayer focusing on God and on His faithfulness and God acts not in minimums but extravagantly and powerfully as fire falls from the sky consuming everything: sacrifice, wood, stone, water.  So who’s in control?  There can be no question.  And then something amazing happens, the people shout: The Lord, He is God, the Lord, He is God.  God turned their hearts back to faith in Him.  Then only after the false prophets of Baal were all dead, God in His grace sent rain.

And so God demonstrated that He as the God of grace remains in control no matter what.  There is only one God and He alone is the way, the truth, and the life.  We may want to be in control, we may want to do things our way, we may try to manipulate God, we may want to fix our deepest spiritual problem of sin on our own, but how silly because we’ll never be able to, nor will we ever have to.  The God who can powerfully send fire from the sky was, is, and always will be in control.   Finally, He demonstrated His ultimate control by keeping His promise to send the Savior.  God became man to offer himself for you and me!  Jesus fixed our greatest problem once and for all by becoming the perfect sacrifice for our sins.    So not only does God not give us what we deserve, He gives us freely the exact opposite of what we deserve: eternal life in heaven.

Our God remains in control with His grace and such a God is one we don’t have to selfishly think we can control, for He always has our best interests in mind as He rules the universe with His gracious power.   Such a God is one we can come to with all our prayers for He is able to answer our prayers in powerful ways like He did here.  Such a God is one we don’t have to try to manipulate, rather we serve Him with our lives.  Such a God is one we can trust to be in control, no matter how terrible and awful things might seem on earth or in our lives.

Our God is exclusive He alone is the one way to a true meaningful life on earth, He alone is the one truth in the world of lies and deceptions, He alone is the one life through whom we have eternal life.  Thank the Lord that He is in control!  Amen.


Keep a God-Focused Perspective!

12th Sunday after Pentecost

Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Last fall I had the opportunity to use one of these things (hold up a gun scope).  I had the opportunity to go deer hunting twice, once with Leonard and once with Tom.  While I was sitting in the deer stand with Leonard I learned something about a scope.  It was nearing dusk and as the sun went down it got more and more difficult to see.  So you could stare at a certain place in the woods wondering if there was a deer there or not, but the lack of light made it very difficult.  But when you look through a scope at a certain place it actually made it look brighter and easier to see.  The scope makes your eyes focus just on one area and makes that one area brighter and clearer.  But there’s also a problem then.  When you look through that scope you can no longer see the big picture.  You could be so focused on that one area that you completely miss a deer walk by in a different place.  The same phenomenon can happen in our lives as well.  We can so focus on one area, one thing, and see it so clearly but at the same time miss the big picture, blind ourselves to the full reality.

This happened to one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament times.  Elijah served as God’s prophet during a time of incredible rebellion against God.  The northern kingdom of Israel had for the most part turned away from God.  Under the wicked leadership of people like Ahab and Jezebel things got even worse.  Jezebel actually sought out the Lord’s prophets to put them to death.  In judgment on their unbelief and their worship of false gods like Baal God sent a famine all over Israel.  Then Elijah under God’s direction set up a test between the false god Baal and the true God.  Two altars were built and an offering placed on each and whichever God consumed the sacrifice would be the true God.  Well obviously nothing happened to Baal’s altar, but when Elijah prayed to God fire came down from the sky and burned everything up, the altar, the stones, the sacrifice, even the water that he had poured on top of it.  Wow!  What an awesome display of God’s power and God’s might!

If you were Elijah at that point, how do you think you’d be feeling?  I’m guessing pretty good!  Elijah’s zeal for the Lord and for the Lord’s work and for the truth paid off in an awesome visible demonstration of God’s power.  Life is great!  And in his zeal Elijah had the 450 prophets of Baal put to death for leading people away from God.  Then after this Baal worship had been struck a devastating blow God sent rain on the land once again.  Things are looking good!  What a turnaround!  Now God will be honored!  Now Baal worship in Israel will cease!  Now Elijah will be respected and appreciated and looked to for advice and intercession to God!  But…now the very land which Elijah had prayed to God to send rain for became too hot for him and he was forced to flee.  Ahab reported to Jezebel everything who then put out a death warrant on Elijah’s head.  Arrogantly she called down a curse on herself if Elijah would not be dead in 24 hours.  Ouch!

Elijah goes from cloud 9 to the dumps.  Here is now a low point in Elijah’s career.  He was afraid, defeated, “burned out,” and ready to give up and throw in the towel.  So he ran for his life all the way to Beersheba which was the southernmost border of the southern kingdom of Judah.  He left his servant there and then went another 15-20 miles into the desert wilderness.  Finally he sat down underneath a “broom tree.”  In the Hebrew it says, “One broom” tree in order to stress that it was an isolated tree in the middle of nowhere that would provide a little shelter for Elijah.  Then he prayed to God that he might die- prayed that God might take his life and not Jezebel or her cronies.  “I have had enough, Lord,” Elijah said, “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”  Humbly Elijah recognized his inability on his own to accomplish anything; his efforts at calling the people back seemed fruitless.  Elijah’s great zeal didn’t seem to be accomplishing anything!  He felt like he was fighting a losing battle- why not just put it to an end?

So he laid down under the tree and fell asleep.  But then all at once, in the Hebrew it uses a word that means “Behold! Look!” to introduce something extraordinary, an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat!”  He got up and “Behold! Look!” right by his head was some freshly baked bread and a jar of water!  What an astounding miracle!  Here in the middle of the desert where there is literally nothing to eat, God provides Elijah with food and water to sustain him.  Elijah wanted to die, but God sustained his life.  So he ate and drank and then…went back to sleep.  The angel came a second time, woke him up, told him to eat and drink again and he did.  Then to top it off Elijah wandered around this desert for forty days and nights until he reached the mountain of Horeb, which is also Mount Sinai where God appeared to Moses and gave Moses the 10 commandments.  But notice that God miraculously strengthened him with that little food to travel 40 days!  What patience of God!  What caring love for his despairing servant!

This text helps us in a number of ways.  It helps us recognize that the people of the Bible were real people, with real feelings, who faced real situations.  It helps us because we too face real challenging situations in our lives.  But here we get yet another lesson of how God deals with us as He dealt with Elijah in his despair and turmoil.

We, too, as God’s people find ourselves in situations and predicaments that distract us from some of the fundamental and comforting truths from God.  Elijah was so overwhelmed by his current situation and the setbacks and temptations that he lost sight of the gospel and God’s loving patience.  Even though Elijah had witnessed many of God’s great works- God preserved his life by having ravens bring him food, by miraculously providing for the widow at Zarapheth, by sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice- even though he had seen God’s great works he doubted and despaired that God was no longer able to protect him nor able to work good out of this threat on his life.  If this happened to Elijah, one of the great prophets of the OT, then it certainly can and has happened to each one of us too.

There are times when we too lose sight of the big picture and focus on our temporary and current situations.  It’s times like these when we forget the fundamental and comforting truths of God’s Word.   We can relate to Elijah because there are times when we are burned out, defeated, distressed, and depressed.  The constant weight of peer pressure effects us all, young and old, trying to do what is right and God-pleasing.  We face struggles at work or struggle with lack of work when all we are trying to do is earn enough to provide for ourselves and our families.  We face physical limitations that prevent us from doing the things we want to.  We face the mockery and condescension from people who have no respect for God or His Word.  We try again and again to do what is right and best and again and again it seems to back fire on us.  All those things and many more take their toll.  Add to that our frustrations when we constantly want something else and are never satisfied with what we have or the feelings of thinking we need something more to truly be happy.  And even worse than all of this is the fact that we face the realization that we often fail in our service to the Lord, failing to serve Him the way He deserves to be served, and when we realize our failing we’re faced with guilt.

All these things can lead us to run and hide down the road of distress and despair.  We too are no better than Elijah, we were born from the same first parents, Adam and Eve, and from them we inherited sin that lives inside us and it distracts us and gives us tunnel vision so we ignore the big picture.

So what does God do?  In the same great patience that He had for Elijah, He also deals with us.  In love God worked to open Elijah’s eyes a little further.  If God miraculously provided him with food, does God not care deeply about his well-being?  If God was able to work a miracle like this and give him food, would God not also take care of him?  If God is sending angels to aid and help Elijah, would those same powerful angels not protect him from Jezebel?

God opens our eyes too.  He wants us to move back from the scope, to not get caught dwelling on the temporary, current situation we’re in but step back and see the big picture.  How does He do this?  We have food to eat and more in the pantry and more in the fridge.  Why?  Because of God’s constant providing hand, because God cares about you.  We survived that calamity or that accident.  Why?  Because we’re lucky?  NO!  Because God sends His angels with the express purpose to serve and protect you!  And why does God care about us so much?  Only because of the bread of life.  It is only because Jesus came and paid for our sins completely on the cross and forgave us that God has anything to do with us.  Because Jesus paid for our sins, we are now part of God’s family and He deeply cares for each one of us.  With Jesus we have everything- even if all we had were taken from us!

So He gives us these examples of His providential care in our everyday lives, he sustains us physically, gives us physical blessings that we might see them, realize they are from Him, and be reminded of His constant care and His power to do what He has promised to do, to lead us to a fuller appreciation of the spiritual blessings He has given us which far outweigh the physical and temporary.

It is then by recognizing the God we have who is in control of all things completely – both physically and spiritually- that we begin to appreciate the things He does for us, we thank Him in our prayers and in our attitudes for the physical blessings He gives us because they remind us of Him and His care for us, we change our outlook on life.  No longer do we face life with fear and despair as if all is lost and there is no point to keep going, but we face life confidently, we face life knowing that our God remains in control and will continually provide for us body and soul.  We face life knowing that this life is merely temporary and will one day pass away, but what God has given us – our faith, our hope, our life, our joy, our salvation, our home in heaven- those cannot be taken from us no matter who or what threatens us.  So step back from the scope, open your eyes to the big picture, and keep a God-focused perspective on your life!  Amen!

God Never Fails You!

12th Sunday after Pentecost

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father  —  to him be glory and power for ever and ever.  Amen.  Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, “God has spoken by his prophets…spoken his unchanging Word, Each from…each from age to age proclaiming…God the one…God the one the righteous Lord.  In the world’s despair…in the world’s despair…in the world’s despair…in MY despair!”  I was in 3rd grade, I’ll never forget it, hymnology class on Friday, it was that hymn we had to learn and write out from memory.  My mind blanked, the few minutes before school was not long enough to memorize a whole hymn (kids, did you get that?).  I was the last one to sheepishly hand in a virtually blank paper.  Monday comes.  I get my paper back…and there it was a the top, in an unmistakably biting red…F…I had never had an F before.  I was devastated.  I was hurt.  I didn’t get ‘F’s’.  And in my family…you simply did NOT fail in grades.  I dreaded my parents finding out!  My first F.  I had failed.  Here I was wanting to be a pastor…and I failed…I couldn’t even memorize a hymn!  I was devastated.  (A beautiful hymn #351 in your hymnal, but don’t be too surprised if we don’t sing that hymn much here : ).  How about you?  Have you ever failed?  It’s not an easy feeling is it?  A lump in your throat.  A pit in your stomach.  The hurt. The pain.  Who enjoys failing?

Well, God’s prophet Elijah felt like he’d failed.  Elijah was God’s prophet during a time in Israel’s history when they had a very evil and corrupt leader.  God warned the nation that if they were unfaithful to Him he would close the skies and there’d be no rain.  Well Ahab and his wicked wife Jezebel turned the people away from God to worship the fertility god Baal.  So, God sent a severe draught on the land (Baal, fertility god was supposedly responsible for rain and making things grow).  God sent Elijah to do a test.  He was to meet with the 450 prophets of Baal and whichever God would send fire from sky to consume the offering was the true God.  Well, of course, Baal’s altar did absolutely nothing.  But when Elijah prayed to the true God, fire fell from the sky and massively consumed everything, even the water that he had poured on top of the sacrifice.  Afterwards, Elijah had the 450 prophets of Baal put to death for leading the people to a false god.  Now, if you were Elijah what would you expect?  Everyone to follow the true God, right?  Well, afterwards Jezebel was so upset that she issued a death sentence on Elijah.  And Elijah had to run for his life.  This was certainly not the result Elijah had anticipated.  He said, “I have been very zealous tor the Lord Almighty.  The Israelites have rejected your covenant broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword.  I am the only one left and now they are trying to kill me too.”  And so, since things didn’t happen the way Elijah had hoped and since God hadn’t reigned down judgment and destroyed all those who turned away from Him, Elijah fell into doubt.  Isn’t God serious about wanting all people to honor and serve Him ALONE?  Isn’t God serious when He says, “The soul who sins is the one who will die?”  Worse yet, perhaps Elijah thought God had failed.

So does God fail?  Has God failed in our world?  Look in the newspaper, turn on the tv, listen to the radio.  You hear it in the news crimes of all kinds, murders, wars, thefts, cheating, corruption, etc.  Sometimes we can certainly sympathize with Elijah, “Why doesn’t God just let loose and show His force and His disgust with all of the wicked in this world and reign down the fires of judgment on the wicked people like He did with Sodom and Gomorrah?”

Maybe we also have to ask has God failed in His church?  There are plenty of Christian churches in our world today who’ve lost respect for God’s Word.  The going trend in our day is not to look for a church that preaches and teaches God’s Word accurately, but to find a church that makes me feel good about myself, where I can go and have a good time and that’s it.  Yet, even here at St. Mark’s where we do treasure God’s Word and hold it in highest esteem, who of us can honestly say we’ve perfectly kept 10 simple commands our Lord gives us in that Word?  Who of us can say we’ve never lied, deceived, coveted, lusted, hated, dishonored those in authority?  Has God failed in His Church?  Shouldn’t God deal with this whole world by reigning down the fires of His judgment?

But God didn’t fail Elijah.  He took Elijah to a cave in a mountain.  The Lord said, “The presence of the Lord is about to pass by.”  Then came a powerful wind shattering rocks and mountains, but the Lord wasn’t in that wind.  Then came a powerful earthquake, but the Lord wasn’t in it.  Then came a fire, but the Lord wasn’t in that either.  God certainly had the power to come in might and strength to tear apart and destroy in judgment.  But instead God came in a gentle whisper…literally a “voice, a still, weak one.”  Although our plan might be that God should come in the might and terror of judgment, God’s plan and what He wants is to come in the quiet, gentle whisper of His Word.

God hasn’t failed us either, has he?  Just think about it for a moment.  It wasn’t through a grand display of power or pure force at gun point that God brought you to faith in Him.  It wasn’t through an earth shattering feat or an awesome display of power.  Rather He used the quiet whisper of His Word.   It was the dynamite power of God’s Word, His gospel, that broke down the barriers of sin we had constructed and He worked faith in our hearts.  It was through the gentle water and quiet words spoken at your baptism that the Lord did a miracle, creating faith in your heart.

No God doesn’t fail.  Although like Elijah, we may not understand His plans, He knows what He is doing.  He told Elijah to anoint Hazael King of Aram, in the near future the nation Aram (Modern Syria) would be God’s scourge against the unfaithful Israelites.  Eventually the whole N. Kingdom of Israel would be destroyed because of their unfaithfulness.  Jehu would also come along and destroy the wicked royal family of Ahab and Jezebel.  And Elisha would succeed Elijah in continuing to preach God’s Word.  God hadn’t failed.  There was still 7,000 people who had not lost their faith in the one true God.  And today God hasn’t failed.  There are still God’s own in this world.  There is still God’s band of believers who have not bowed their knees to the gods of our age today.  There is still God’s band of believers who have not kissed the god of worldliness in our age today.

But in this world we are going to be faced with plans that fail us, failures of all kinds, and disappointments.  Perhaps there will even be times when full of self-pity we will say things like Elijah, “I have had enough, Lord, take my life.”   Perhaps there will be times when things don’t happen the way we expected and we wonder, “What in the world is God doing?”  Perhaps wrapped up in our own self-consciousness we’ll fail to see any good in situations that confront us and we’ll wonder has God failed?  Has God the one who’s promised me that all things work out for the good of those who love him, has he failed that promise?

But God hasn’t failed us.  God keeps all of His promises.  How do you know for sure?  Look at the most important promise He made and kept.  He sent His own Son into this world.  He didn’t come with earthquake, wind or fire, but with the gentle, quiet voice of the Gospel He proclaimed His love to a lost world.  Yes, occasionally God pulled back the veil to let us see Jesus for who He is, the Son of God who walks on the water and calms the storms.

But then there’s other times when we have to wonder, really?  Can it really be?  God’s plan was certainly not what mine would have been.  I mean Jesus was arrested, bound by sinful men, spit upon, beaten, mocked, harassed, sentenced to death.  He had nails driven in His hands and feet and dying a criminal’s death he suffered the full amount of all sins of all time.  There he died.  There he died looking like the greatest failure of all!  Had God failed?  Does God fail?

But look a little closer…look a little closer and see that tomb burst forth Easter morning…look a little closer and see the proof of Jesus’ victory over sin, death and the devil.  He didn’t fail, he won the ultimate victory!  He powerfully rose from the dead!  He won life eternal for you!

So when you face failure, trust in God, He has never nor will ever fail you.  When doubts come, remember what God’s freely given you- life eternal!  When frustrations come, when you feel you’ve failed, when you realize that God’s plans are not your plans, remember where God settles your doubts, remember how He comes to you… through the quiet, gentle, loving whisper in His Word.  No, God never fails you!