True Romantic Love

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6th Sunday after Epiphany
Matthew 5:27-32

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Ah Valentine’s Day. The stores are full of romantic red hearts, cards, chocolate and flowers. Did you know that Valentines Day is the 2nd biggest card giving day of the year? Just behind Christmas. Where did Valentine’s Day come from? The origin is actually quite mysterious. According to there are several possibilities. In the 3rd Century apparently Emperor Claudius of the Roman empire found out that soldiers fought better when they didn’t have wives and families so he outlawed young men from getting married and apparently a priest named Valentine continued to perform marriages for young men and women in secret and was subsequently put to death. Another possibility is that an imprisoned Christian fell in love with a jailer’s daughter who would visit him and he would send notes to her and his last letter before he died he signed “from your Valentine.” Whatever the case may be, today Valentine’s Day is associated with romance, love, and relationships.

Interestingly the assigned readings for the 6th Sunday after Epiphany all have something to do with love and relationships and specifically the marriage relationship. What we’re going to look at this morning is a small part of Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Jesus has already said things like we looked at last week- how we, as His people, are to be salt and light for this decaying and dark world. Now Jesus is teaching us further what else it means to be a Christian, to be someone bought and redeemed by the blood of Jesus. Specifically, in the portion we’re looking at, with regard to the 6th commandment.

Let me start off this way: if you were to ask most people in the world what it is that they want in life, what it is that they are after, what it is that drives them to do the things that they do, what will they say? The most common response you’re going to get is: “I just want to be happy.” Why do people lust? They think that will make them happy. Why do people commit sexual immorality? Why did David sleep with Bathsheba? Because he thought it would make him happy. Why do people get divorced or do things that break a marriage? What will their answer be? “I just want to be happy.” You’ve heard it, you’ve felt it. It’s as if the one guiding principle I have in life is: whatever I feel makes me happy, that is what I’m entitled to do. You see what that’s done? That’s made my happiness more important than anything else, made my happiness more important than God’s will, my happiness more important than God Himself. So everyone has this deep longing for happiness. But true happiness is only found in having true peace and true peace comes only from God.

And that’s foundational. You have to know that to understand God’s intention for marriage and what He wants marriage to be. What Jesus is building on here when he talks about lust and when he talks about divorce is what God has designed marriage to be. God designed marriage to be a covenant relationship. The sexual relationship is only to occur within that covenant relationship.

Well, what is a covenant relationship? It’s a relationship that is far more loving and intimate that just a legal relationship, but at the same time it’s also far more binding and enduring that simply an emotional relationship. You see, so many in our society treat marriage like a consumer relationship. You have a consumer relationship with a certain store you shop at. But if the quality of the product doesn’t meet your standard or the price goes up, you’ll bail on your relationship to the store. In a consumer relationship, you’re always looking for an upgrade. In a consumer relationship as soon as you have to put out more than what you take in, you cut your losses, you bail on the relationship. In other words, what you’re saying is, “My needs are most important, you keep adjusting to me, my needs are more important than the relationship, if I can get my needs met elsewhere, I’m gone.”

You see, it’s all about MY wants, MY needs, what I think will make ME happy. My wants are more important than the relationship. What is common about each one of the things that Jesus talks about here? What’s common about adultery, lust, and divorce? Each one is turning God’s incredible institution of marriage into a consumer relationship.

But the way God has designed marriage from the very beginning to be is a covenant relationship. In a covenant relationship the relationship is more important than my needs, wants or feelings. What a covenant relationship says is, “I will adjust to you, because I’ve made a promise, a vow, a commitment and the relationship is more important than my needs. My needs are less important than maintaining the relationship. That’s what marriage is. Now, if two people both treat their marriage like a consumer, it will fail. If one is a consumer and the other is a covenanter, the covenanter is going to be exploited. But if both are covenanters, think about that!

If you treat marriage like a covenant, think about what that means. First of all, you have a zone of safety. You can be yourself with your spouse. If you’re in a consumer relationship, you’ll always be trying to sell yourself, market yourself, you’ll need to perform, you need to meet the other person’s needs and if you don’t, they’re out. But in a covenant you can be yourself, there’s a commitment. Second, in a covenant relationship, ironically when you are committed to a person in spite of your feelings, deeper feelings grow. Here’s an example of this I think most of you will understand. The other covenant relationship other than a husband and wife is between parents and children. What do you do with children? You give, and you give, and you give, it’s not a consumer relationship at all! You adjust to them, you get up in the middle of the night for them, change their dirty, smelly diapers, help them when they’re sick, they drool on you, you give and give to them and they don’t really give you anything in return. But there develops a deep, rich love and feelings for them. See, so many people would have a much happier marriage if they just commit to their marriage like they do with their children, because if you commit in spite of your feelings, deeper feelings grow. Lastly, if you have a covenant relationship, you have freedom. If you’re in a consumer relationship, you constantly need to feel it, if I don’t feel the love, if I don’t feel this relationship is meeting my needs, I’m out of here.” You’ve really become a slave to your feelings, you’re puppet on the strings of your feelings. If you want to be free from the control of your feelings, you make a covenant, a promise, a commitment.

What do we have in each of these three things Jesus talks about? Adultery, lust, and divorce. It’s all turning marriage into a consumer relationship. Any kind of sex outside of the covenant of marriage is only harming you. If you live together outside of marriage, you’re really basing your entire relationship on a condition.  It’s a consumer relationship. You need to keep proving yourself, auditioning yourself, marketing yourself. The reason most people live together before marriage is to see if they are “compatible,” but all that’s just a nice way of saying, “I’m trying to figure out if this person is good enough to marry or whether I could do better.” Adultery is putting my needs, my wants, my desires before the relationship. Think about lust, think about pornography – it’s totally self-focused, you don’t even have another person involved, and yet it causes deep problems with your spouse or if you’re single with any future relationship you may have. Think about divorce. Think about the person who breaks the marriage bond through sexual unfaithfulness or abuse of any kind. It’s totally operating with a consumer relationship mindset- my wants, my desires, my feelings are more important than the relationship.

And what’s the final result? What’s the final result for putting my needs, my wants, my desires, my feelings before God’s will, before what God wants? Jesus tells us, “It would be better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” That’s the outcome. If I commit adultery, if I have sex outside the covenant of marriage, and don’t repent, I’ll go to hell. If I lust, if I use pornography and do not repent, I’ll go to hell. If I break my marriage through sexual unfaithfulness, through abuse, through giving up on my marriage and do not repent, I’ll go to hell. And the word that Jesus uses for hell here is “Gehenna.” It pictured a place outside of Jerusalem that was the garbage dump, it was a place of constant burning. It gives the idea of a place of unquenchable thirst and unfulfilled longing.

You see, if we walk away from God, if we walk away from what Jesus says, if we lose God, if we view marriage from a consumer relationship point of view, if we’re driven by our feelings, what we get is unquenchable thirst and deep longing. You see, if you’re looking for happiness in life and you look apart from God, if you look to external things- like adultery, or lust, or divorce or anything in this life, you’re always going to be lacking, you’ll be doomed to a constant searching, a constant longing.

We’re all searching for happiness, but true happiness is found in true peace and true peace is found only in God. Only one thing is going to satisfy our deepest longings in life. If you want true happiness, don’t look to adultery or lust or divorce or anything in this life, look to Jesus. You see, He entered the ultimate covenant relationship with you. He didn’t say, “You adjust to my needs.” He adjusted to your needs for the sake of the relationship. He went to the greatest lengths to save you- taking on human flesh, suffering, dying on a cross. For what purpose? Not for His benefit, but for yours- to rescue and redeem you, to make you ready for the eternal wedding supper of the Lamb in eternal life, to be your true Spouse, to satisfy your deepest longings. That’s true romantic love! And when we have Him and when His love is the most important thing in our life, then we can be single well, we can be married well, and we can give true romantic love. Amen.

Lie: It’s Not My Fault!


7th Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 3:8-13

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, I remember it like it was yesterday, it was 4:15 in the morning, it was summer, I was in high school, my brother and I both had the same job- we worked for a porta-potty company that happened to be just ¾ of a mile down the road, one of the largest porta-potty companies in Southeastern Wisconsin. On this particular day all of the drivers- about 10-15 of us- were to start at 4 am because we were delivering hundreds of porta-potties to different locations for a breast cancer awareness walk. 4:15 am my dad walked into the room my brother and I were sleeping in and woke us up, your boss just called and they’re wondering where you are. Oh no! Immediately, I say, “Adam! Did you set your alarm clock!” We rush to work and everyone is standing there waiting for us, and I absolutely hate being late and I remember pointing my finger, “It’s his fault!” Do you do that? There are countless stories that I could relate from my life where I’ve said, “It’s not my fault!” It’s so easy to blame and blame and blame and refuse to take responsibility.

Just about every marriage counselor has witnessed this. And before I go on, I just want to say that if you have marriage problems, like we learned last week It is not easier to avoid them and I do offer marriage counseling and it’s free. But every marriage counselor knows that typically at the first meeting with a couple each spouse has this incredible ability and insight to confess the other spouse’s sins. Why? Because we believe, “It’s not my fault!”

But here’s another angle to this lie that we’re taking a look at this morning. Have you ever said to yourself, “Ooh, I’m just so mad! They make me so upset!” Maybe you’re waiting in line in order to go to some event that you’ve really been looking forward to and there’s this huge line, you’re waiting and waiting, the line is going so slowly, you’re getting really upset, then finally there’s one person in front of you and all of a sudden they let in 15 more people whom they’ve been saving a spot for. Really!! Or you’re driving your car and it’s been backed up for miles, you’re supposed to be in the right lane and car after car is zooming along in the left lane and nosing their way in. Ooh, that makes me so mad! Or you’re at the store, you’re just buying a few things and you get into the “speedy” checkout and the person in front of you has 2 carts piled high with things. Really! Ooh, that makes me so mad! In each of those cases, what we’re really saying, is my misery, my unhappiness is not my fault, it’s someone else’s fault. In fact, if you’ve ever said, “They make me so upset. Or they hurt my feelings.” You’re probably believing this lie.

The truth is, no one owns your feelings except you. No one can make you feel upset, no one can make you feel miserable, no one can make you feel anything. Why not? Because God hasn’t given your feelings to anyone except you. No one owns your feelings except you. No one can make you unhappy, but you can choose to feel unhappy, choose to feel angry, choose to be frustrated because of what so and so said or did.

Again and again in life we can try to shift the responsibility of our problems and responsibility of our feelings by blaming someone or something else. Do we constantly ask, “What did I do to contribute to this problem?” Or, are we saying, “If people would just listen to me then we wouldn’t be in this mess, if we did it my way it would have turned out, if my parents were better parents I wouldn’t be in the mess I am in today, if they didn’t do what they did I wouldn’t have yelled or become angry, etc, etc.”

And think about the ramifications of believing this lie. First, it will destroy our emotional health. Why? Because perfect me becomes the victim of everyone else. I place the responsibility for my lack of joy and peace in life in the hands of everyone else. “It was their insulting comment, it was my children’s behavior, it was that long line, that makes me so upset! You know what that does? It leaves us frustrated, angry and defeated and NOT able to do anything about it because we think it’s everyone else’s fault! Believing this lie will also hurt us spiritually. You see, if I don’t think anything is my fault I’ll find it more and more difficult to repent and confess my sins to God. If you find it difficult confessing you sins to God every day, you’re probably believing this lie. And then furthermore I have less and less of a need for God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s forgiveness. Finally, believing this lie also inhibits our ability to grow. How can I become a more loving spouse if I don’t think it’s my fault? How will I grow and improve when it’s everyone else’s fault?

So where did all this blame shifting and fault evading begin? It began with our first parents, Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve had both sinned against God and then they heard the LORD as He was coming to meet with them. The fact that they recognized the sound of God as He came seems to indicate that they had previously met with God and enjoyed His company. But this time is now different. When they hear the sound of God they quickly scurry here and there to find a hiding place. The verb form in the Hebrew indicates this back and forth frantic searching. Like a mouse in a dark room when the lights are suddenly turned on it frantically searches for a place to hide. But how ridiculous! God created everything and they think they can hide from him! That’s what sin does- it makes us do foolish things.  And when God questions them notice what Adam does, he tries to shift the responsibility off himself to the two people closest to him. First, it’s the woman. “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” But that’s not it- it’s not just the woman – it’s also God. “Hey God, if I remember correctly, this whole woman thing was YOUR idea!” Now that’s a scary place to be. But many people go there – maybe you and I. God had made Eve out of love and mercy and when God brought Eve to Adam he greeted her with utmost excitement and joy. Now he’s blaming God for his trouble. We see ourselves in that, don’t we? The alcoholic who is dying of liver disease often points his finger at God and says, “God did this to me, God made me this way.” What a scary place to be, trying to evade the responsibility of our problems by pinning them on God. Adam’s sullen, he’s angry, he’s frustrated. Eve’s not much better, she too blames the serpent.

But what is incredibly comforting here is watch what God does – He does not remain silent. What’s his reaction to His creature’s fall, to their sin, to their blaming? Notice how different it is from how he deals with the Serpent. He doesn’t confront Satan or seek Satan’s repentance, He has no time for Satan, He simply announces Satan’s condemnation- “He will crush your head.” But how different God deals with His human beings! He seeks fellowship with them, like a loving father He asks questions in order to hear a confession, and even before He explains the consequences of their sin, He assures them of someone who would deliver them from sin, “I will put enmity between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” It’s the first promise of a Savior from sin. Already God comes with grace and mercy to reconcile his wayward children in view of Jesus who would come to rescue them.

There is only one person in all of history who has walked this earth who could properly say, “It’s not my fault, I did nothing but speak the truth, I did nothing but love and live perfectly, I’m not responsible for this mess.” Only Jesus could say that. But what did He say instead? In amazing grace he said to his Father, “Don’t hold them accountable. Blame me. Place the responsibility of all their sin and problems and mess on me. I am the sinner. I am the one at fault.” And on the cross that’s exactly what God did for you and me! He took the responsibility for our sin and shame and placed in on Jesus- forgiving us completely.

And because of that we’re delivered from this lie. Instead of evading responsibility and blaming, we can accept responsibility for our sin, confess it, and then rely on God’s grace and mercy for us in Jesus knowing our sin is forgiven. Because of Jesus we don’t have to be the victims of anger and frustration and unhappiness caused by everyone else, but be filled with the joy and peace that comes from our gracious God. Because of Jesus we can each say, “It’s mostly my fault, but my Jesus has paid for it.”

Imagine a scenario where two people sit down- maybe a husband and wife, maybe two relatives – and instead of blaming each other the one says, “It’s mostly my fault. I’ve been so stressed at work that I’ve just been irritable and impatient, please forgive me.” And the other says, “It’s mostly my fault, I have unreasonable expectations, I should never have insisted on what I insisted, please forgive me.” All praise to God for He is working the freeing power of the truth in their lives: It’s my fault, but I’m forgiven. Amen.

Lie: It’s easier to avoid problems than face them

6th Sunday after Pentecost
2 Samuel 19:1-8

Grace, mercy, 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 know what the ball joints are on your car? Maybe about a year ago I started hearing this clunking noise while driving our car. Now, granted, our car is 1995 and is actually the car that I took my driver’s test in when I was 16, but I heard this clunking noise. Wasn’t sure what it was, only heard it when I drove over a bump or on some rough surface, so I ignored it…for about a year. I thought it was easier and cheaper to just ignore the problem, not to face it, the car still drove. Well, last month I was listening to a sermon by another pastor and he talked about how important the ball joints are in the car.  The ball joint is a bolt with round piece on it that that connects the wheel of your car to your car. If your ball joint breaks while you’re driving it could do a lot of damage to your car and more importantly be very dangerous to your safety- it’s nothing to mess around with. After hearing that I did a little research and discovered that the clunking noise was probably a bad ball joint and so after about a year I finally I fixed it.

A couple years ago my daughter Megan was complaining that it hurt when she chewed. My wife and I had thought that it was both easier and cheaper to just make sure we brushed our teeth instead of going to the dentist. Our daughter Megan had never been to the dentist. And when she complained about it hurting when she chewed we told her to chew on the other side of her mouth. Finally we noticed some of her teeth not looking right. We took her to the dentist and found out that she had such major cavities in her teeth that no dentist in town would work on her, no we would have to go down to St. Cloud to a pediatric dentist and she would need child root canals in all her molars with stainless steel caps. It turned out to be much more difficult and much more expensive than if we had been regularly taking her to the dentist.

The lie we’re looking at today is a lie we’re all tempted to believe. “It’s easier to avoid problems than to face them.” Have you believed that lie? Have you found yourself putting something off again and again and again because you don’t want to face it? Then you’re believing this lie. Maybe in school you knew that at the end of the semester there was a large paper due so you found yourself putting it off and putting it off until the week before the due date.  Then you were believing this lie. As a parent do you find yourself rescuing your child in every difficult situation they are in instead of letting them learn their lesson and grow? Then you’re believing this lie (and teaching your children to as well!)

Believing this lie can affect us physically. Perhaps we know that we have a medical history of cancer or high blood pressure or heart disease in our family, but we avoid going to the doctor because we’re afraid of what they will say. Maybe we know that we really should lose weight but we don’t want to face the problem of changing our diet or getting exercise so we put it off again and again. Believing this lie affects us financially. Perhaps we know that we have a spending problem, but we don’t want to face it so we keep charging things to the credit card until we’re broke and can’t pay the bills. There are people who don’t want to do their taxes so they don’t file for one year, then the next year, since they missed the last one are afraid to file again and again and again until they owe thousands of dollars in back taxes. And believing this lie affects our relationships. Maybe we have an issue with a family member but we avoid dealing with it so the relationship gets more and more distant. Maybe we have unresolved issues in our marriage, arguments never settled, issues never dealt with. They pile up and up, we avoid them thinking it’s easier to avoid the difficult conversation and soon we think our marriage is dead and looking for a divorce, when if we had dealt with the problems right away we wouldn’t be in this situation.

The truth is, problems do not just go away if you avoid them, they pile up. Avoiding a problem is not an escape, it’s just a postponement of the inevitable. Whereas when problems are faced, they’re usually not as bad as they are imagined to be.

King David is a prime example of someone who believed the lie, “It’s easier to avoid problems than face them.” One of David’s sons, Amnon, became overwhelmed with lust for his half-sister Tamar who is described as being very beautiful. One day Amnon devised a plan to be alone with Tamar, over powered her and raped her. Then, after he had his way with her, he became just utterly hateful toward her. Tamar happened to be the full sister of another son of David’s named Absalom. When Absalom found out what Amnon did to his sister he was furious. David was also furious- but that’s all we’re told. David never intervened, never called Amnon to repentance. It seems that David thought it would be easier to avoid the problem than to face it.

Absalom on the other grew and grew in his hatred toward Amnon and devised a plan and had Amnon murdered for what he did to his sister. Afterwards Absalom fled and stayed away for 3 years and David never spoke to his son. Again, it seems David thought it would be easier to avoid the problem than to face it and have a difficult conversation with his son. After 3 years, finally, with the intervention of some of David’s friends, Absalom is allowed to come back to Jerusalem to live but spends 2 years without seeing David because David didn’t want to see him. Again, it seems David was avoiding problems than facing them. Finally, after two years they reunite. Then over the next four years Absalom began to conspire against his father, he stole people’s hearts away from the king, saying that if he was king he would rule and judge so much better than David. Four years. It’s hard to believe that Absalom did that for four years right in the same city as David and David didn’t know anything about it. 4 years goes by and David doesn’t intervene – avoiding problems and not facing them? Seems like it. Well, it leads to David having to flee Jerusalem because Absalom leads a rebellion against David, Absalom wages a civil war in Israel between his own army and the army that was faithful to David, 20,000 men die in this battle and so does Absalom. Wow! And it all happened because David tried to avoid problems rather than to face them. Then, in our text, David is mourning for his son Absalom who had tried to overthrow David and kill him and his soldiers feel like even though they won, they lost. David’s about to lose everything, but finally Joab steps in, does the difficult thing, faces the problem and tells the king to encourage his army. And David does so.

Problem after problem after problem. Easier to avoid problems than face them? I don’t think so.  The problem started around a decade earlier and since it was not dealt with it spiraled out of control. But David says something very instructive a few chapters earlier when he was fleeing Jerusalem he said, “It may be that the LORD will see my distress and repay me with good for the cursing I am receiving today.” You see, although David’s problems had gotten out of hand for him, they were not out of the control of our gracious God.

What amazing grace that we have a God who does not avoid problems. We have a God who never has had and never will have a problem caused by Him. We have a God who rightly wouldn’t have to deal with any of our problems. And the  greatest problem that none of us can avoid is our sin and the consequence of our sin which is eternal death. So what did our God do? He faced not His problem, but our problems. He faced Satan’s temptations, He faced hunger, He faced exhaustion, He faced ridicule, he faced rejection, He didn’t avoid any problem, He faced them all, then He took our problem head on as He faced the cross of crucifixion and took our problems on himself, faced our punishment, faced our death.  Jesus died and Jesus rose to forgive you for all the times you’ve foolishly tried to avoid problems rather than to deal with them.

And knowing that means we can face all problems in life with the confidence that our God has already taken care of our greatest problem. It is knowing that that gives us the confidence to face every difficult situation in life. Think about it. What do you have to fear? Christ has redeemed you! Your sins are forgiven! You have peace with God! You have joy! Nothing can change that! With God’s grace empowering you, you can face problems.

What a gracious God that not only does he come to us and forgive us for all the times we’ve let our problems spiral out of control instead of dealing with them, but He promises to never leave us or forsake us and he will help us and lead us through the difficult situations we bring on ourselves. Think about your life- times when you were really stuck, had no where to turn, and did God bring you through it?

Since we don’t live in a perfect world we will face problems. Problems give us opportunity to turn to God for strength, comfort, encouragement, and empowerment to face them. Problems give us a chance to demonstrate a Christian attitude and response to the problems that everyone faces in life as an example for those around us. Problems give us a chance to grow in our faith and trust in God who promises to never give us more than we are able to handle.

And did you notice what Joab did here in our text? Joab confronted the king. Joab helped his friend not avoid but face his problems. God’s grace in Christ empowers us to do that too. Not only can we face our problems and deal with them as forgiven children of God, but we can help those around us to face their problems with the comfort we ourselves have from God.

Easier to avoid problems than face them? Nope. Thank the Lord for His grace and forgiveness that washes away all our sin of trying to avoid our problems and thank Him for dealing with our greatest problem, our sin, for us so that as His forgiven children we can face our problems head on. Amen.

Examine Yourselves

19th Sunday after Pentecost
2 Corinthians 13:5-8

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, I have a little test for you: Number 1: If you are following a school bus and it’s lights come on and the stop sign comes out, at least how many feet behind the bus do you have to stop: A. 15 feet, B. 20 feet, or C. 30 feet? Number 2: What are you not allowed to do at a reduced conflict intersection? A. Make a u-turn, B. Make a left turn, or C. Make a right turn. Number 3: Motorist service signs are what color? A. Brown, B. Green, or C. Blue. Number 4: At what point do you need to switch your headlights from bright to low beam when you meet an on-coming car at night? A. 750 feet, B. 1,000 feet, or C. 1,500 feet. Answers? 20 feet behind a school bus, you don’t make a left turn at a reduced conflict intersection, blue signs give motorist service information, and you must switch your lights at 1,000 feet. When my wife and I moved to MN from WI one of the first things we had to do in order to get a MN state driver’s license was take the knowledge test of the driver’s education program. Anybody who moves to MN from out of state has to take the test. We didn’t have to take a test when we moved to TN or when we moved back to WI. I remember skimming over that little driver’s manual book and thinking, “Come on, I’ve been driving for over a decade, my part-time jobs involved driving truck regularly in both big and small cities, this will be a breeze, no way will I fail.” And when I took the test I think those were some of the questions. And I feel a little ashamed to admit this but I didn’t pass the test with flying colors. I probably got like 5 wrong and that’s not too good when there’s only 30 questions! But what’s the point of such an examination? The state of MN recognizes that driving a car on the road is not only important to know, it’s also something that can be very dangerous. So, for your own protection and the protection of your fellow citizens, the state requires a driver examination.
Tests and examinations serve a purpose. Well, today in our text the Lord tells us we need to do another kind of examination, a personal, spiritual examination. And how are most examinations conducted? They’re conducted by asking questions, aren’t they? So, here’s the question: There are two kinds of Christians, fake ones and real ones. Which one are you? Which one am I? That’s an important question especially when we consider the implications: real Christians go to heaven and live with the Lord forever, fake Christians don’t. Take the lady who filed for divorce. She grew up in a split home, she hated it, she told herself that would never happen to her, she would absolutely make her marriage work. In fact, she was so confident that it would never happen to her that she didn’t bother with the tools to sustain a marriage, completely ignored the warning signs, and ended up getting a divorce. “I can’t believe this happened to me,” she said. Her never happened. “I could never be a fake Christian, no way! Not me!” But nevers do happen, don’t they?
But the point is: they don’t have to. Nevers don’t have to happen to people. That’s why examinations and evaluations are so valuable. They can help us evaluate ourselves so we can get help before the “never” begins to happen. Fake Christians don’t start out as fake Christians. They start out as real ones, truly loving the Lord, truly acknowledging their sin and trusting in Jesus. But then after a while they don’t care anymore, they fall into a sort of “ehh whatever” attitude about faith, about hearing and reading God’s Word. And we don’t have to look much further than the Corinthian congregation for a prime example. Paul had founded the church in Corinth and spent a year and half there. But after a few years those who had received the gospel with joy were slipping. The church had a bunch of divisions among members, one man was committing sexual immorality with his step-mother and it was condoned, members were taking other members to court over trivial matters, there was abuse of the Lord’s Supper, and people were even getting sick from their abuse of it.
So, in response to all of these problems that were going on Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. After they received Paul’s letter they thankfully corrected some of the problems that were going on. However, they didn’t fix all of them. In the meantime Paul sent Titus to check up on them and then changed his plans. He had planned on stopping in Corinth but instead traveled elsewhere. Then a new problem developed in the Corinthian congregation. Some began to attack the apostle Paul. “See, he changed his plans, he’s not reliable. He’s not an impressive speaker, not incredibly dynamic or charismatic, why should you trust him? How do you know he’s speaking the truth, speaking Christ’s words?” And so they were looking to “examine” Paul. And there were certain false apostles who came into the congregation and were claiming superior authority, “Paul, he’s just a second class apostle, we’re top-notch apostles, we’ve got the credentials, the dynamic and charismatic talents and he doesn’t, etc.” And what was the problem? The Corinthians were heading down the path of fake Christians because who was getting lost in all of this? Christ. They were allowing themselves to be steered away from God’s Word by the false prophets based on what felt good to them or not.
So what does Paul tell them? “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” Take a look at your own heart, what’s inside there? Take a look at yourself? Am I on the path to becoming a fake Christian? Am I doing what that first son did in Jesus’ parable: saying all the right stuff but not meaning it or living it? It’s easy to become comfortable with sin. Am I allowing myself to get sucked into a sin, saying with my mouth that Jesus is my Savior, but by the way that I live my life I’m denying my Savior?
What is the path to becoming a fake Christian? Perhaps it begins with a failure to regularly confess my sins to the Lord. Then I fail to see the enormity of my sin before God. I then begin to think that I don’t really need a whole lot of help from God. Soon I begin to rely on myself for strength. God’s Word and the Sacraments become less and less important to me. After that my thinking is not shaped so much by what my God says, but by what my sinful nature or the sinful world around me or what the devil says. My decisions become less and less based on what God says is right and wrong and more and more based on whether or not it feels right to me or not. We need to continually examine ourselves: Am I relying on myself or God? Am I relying on myself for spiritual strength or am I being nourished by God’s Word? Am I serving God or am I serving sin? Am I on the path to becoming a fake Christian?
How am I living my life? Am I living in a way that is consistent with the gospel of Jesus? Am I living as a person who was on a path to destruction? Am I living as a person who was headed for eternal death? Headed for an eternal sentence in the horridness of hell? About to be cast into the pit of fire forever? Facing sure death, but then apart from any of my doing, was fetched from the flames, plucked from destruction, caught stuck in the burning house of my sins when out of nowhere the Savior rescued me with His perfect life and complete payment for our sins on the cross. Am I living in a way that is consistent with that? Does my life reflect a perfect zeal for God due to the fact that I was lost and headed for death but was rescued and am now, thanks to Jesus, headed for the paradise of heaven that is far greater than anything I could ever dream of or imagine? How’s your examination going?
If we truly examine ourselves, we probably see inside of us some good, but a lot of bad. If eternal life was left in our hands we’d fail the examination, fail the test and there are no do overs. But Jesus didn’t fail any test or any examination. He came as the perfect Lamb without blemish or defect. The devil tested Him but Jesus stood firm, people tested him by trying to pin a sin against Him but couldn’t. For every trial, test, or temptation we’ve failed, Jesus didn’t, He remained perfect for you and me. And for every trial, test, or temptation we’ve failed, Jesus took our failures upon Himself, on His own body and paid the penalty with His death on the cross. And miracle upon miracle God worked faith in your heart to believe it.
All for what purpose? So you could answer this question, “Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you?” That’s not a multiple choice question, it doesn’t have to be, in Greek it’s a question that expects a yes answer. Yes, I know Christ lives in me! God says so! Through faith Jesus lives in you. You see, you’d never believe in Jesus if Jesus hadn’t taken up residence in your heart. And anyone in whom Jesus lives is not a fake Christian.
Think about that! Jesus who lives inside of you is fighting for your faith! He hasn’t given up on you. He died for us so often failing people and he’ll stick it out. He still forgives us and loves. He’s in us. And what else does that mean? That means he gives you the strength to change, live in better ways. Jesus- the Lord, the one who came back from the dead and has all authority – isn’t just near you, but is in you!
So what kind of Christian are you? Of course you’re a real one. Jesus lived and died for you! Jesus lives inside of you. But that examination question is good because it causes us to live in repentance. To confess our sins, to be strengthened by Jesus’ forgiveness who lives in us and to clear out the bad thinking, to change bad behaviors and pursue what is right and good. That’s the Christian that you are. Amen.

My Brother’s Keeper

7th Sunday after Pentecost
Ezekiel 33:7-10

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, I read an interesting article this past week.  It was written by a veteran of the military and he was writing about why he feels that many veterans struggle in the transition from the service into civilian life.  He stated eye-opening statistics regarding joblessness, narcotic addictions, and suicide among veterans.  Most people attribute those statistics to trauma that they suffered while in the service.  But this writer attributed it to something entirely different.  You see, in the army each soldier has a supportive social environment unequaled to anything else.  You might think that doesn’t make much sense; being chewed out because your shoes aren’t shined doesn’t seem very supportive, right?  But think about it:  In the army it matters to someone else if your boots fit properly or not, it matters to someone else whether or not you’d been to the dentist, it matters to someone else if you are where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there and you’d find out if you weren’t!  That culture is inbred in the army in order to support the team mentality of the troops.  But it also meant that there was always someone there for you.  It was everyone’s job to look after you, and it was your job to look after everyone else.  If you’re on a road march and someone is struggling, you’d help carry the load.  If you’re in the cafeteria and someone’s on crutches, you’d help carry his tray.  That’s just how it is in the army.  But then you exit the service and what’s gone?  No more standing at attention, no more grueling runs setting your speed to the slowest member of your group, no more morning formations.  Suddenly, gone is the cohesive structure meant to take care of you, gone is this strong sense of social security, gone is the sense that wherever you go you fit in, gone is your network of friends who are as much interested in your success as you are in theirs.  The writer’s point was this: when Veteran’s leave military service, many of them are leaving the most cohesive and helpful social network they’ve ever experienced.  And hence many spend the rest of their lives searching for that belonging that they had in the military.

Well, that need for belonging is something for which every human being longs ever since the fall into sin.  In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve enjoyed a perfect sense of belonging, a perfect relationship with God and with each other.  They weren’t troubled by not being part of something, they weren’t troubled whether or not someone was going to be there for them or not.  But when they sinned against God, all that changed.  Gone is that perfect care for each other, gone is that perfect trust in God, gone is that belonging to God’s family.  But by God’s grace through the gospel of Jesus that what was lost in the fall is restored to a degree within the family of believers, God’s people, Christians, the church.

God calls each of us to be concerned not just about ourselves, but with each other.  Not just to be there for encouragement, support, and care, but also be there for our fellow believers to correct, rebuke, and confront them when they’re wrong and their souls are in danger.

And that is what God told the prophet Ezekiel in our text this morning.  It was Ezekiel’s job as watchman for the nation of Israel to confront them with their sins.  The nation of Judah was still in rebellion against God at this time, they were trusting in themselves and not God, many were still committing idolatry, many were living in sin.  So what did God do?  He sent the Babylonians to invade Judah and haul many of them into exile in Babylon.  But many of the Jews who were left in Judah still didn’t repent of their sins.  They claimed they had the temple of the Lord and everything was going to be fine.  So, in a devastating act in order to get them to turn back to Him, the Lord allowed the Babylonians to come and completely destroy the city of Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, including the temple.  The very place that symbolized God’s presence with His people.  In other words, turn your back on God and you forfeit God’s presence, protection, and blessing.  After that, the people were devastated.  Finally, it seems that they took to heart Ezekiel’s message and said, “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them.  How then can we live?”

That’s the work of the law.  We need to hear the law of God.  Martin Luther once stated that the human heart is an idol factory.  Every day we chase after this or that, every day our hearts push God off of front and center, every day we don’t want to do what God wants, we want to do what WE want, we want to do what we think is best, what will make us feel good, and we don’t care about what God says.  If we take an honest look at our hearts and our lives we have to conclude that each of us falls into that category of “wicked.”  We’re not righteous, we’re the opposite: wicked.  There is no one righteous, not even one; no one who understands, no one who seeks God, all have turned away, they have together become worthless.  The wages of sin is death.  Unrepentant sin leads to spiritual and eternal death.

So what does God do?  Ignore us?  Leave us alone?  No.  He surrounds us with people, he puts us in a social network of sorts, a group of fellow Christians.  He makes each of us watchmen or women for each other to care for each other with the highest possible care: the soul. To warn, to rebuke, to confront sin, just like Ezekiel.  And God says if we fail to warn someone in danger of spiritual death, God’s going to hold us accountable.  And God also says that if we warn someone and they don’t repent we’ve still done what He wants us to do.

But is it loving to do that?  To confront sin?  Well, think about it this way, it’s just as loving to allow someone to continue in unrepentant sin as it is to leave your neighbor inside his burning house without doing anything to help him.  It’s just as loving to allow someone to live in sin as it is to watch a young child swallow prescription drugs like candy.  It is just as loving to allow someone to remain in sin as it is to allow a young toddler to run out on a busy highway after a ball.    Sometimes it is essential that love has to be tough.  If someone is doing something that is endangering their soul and their eternal salvation, drastic means are necessary to confront that person.

So, what if I notice someone who sins?  What should I do? Well, I could ignore it, pretend I didn’t see it or hear it, and go on my merry way.  But, what does God say?  If I don’t warn that person, God will hold me accountable for their blood.  I could immediately tell other people, gossip about that person, “Did you hear what so and so did?”  And think maybe someone else will talk to that person so that I don’t have to, never mind it is well after their reputation has been tarnished.  Or, I could go up to the that person and lambast them with their sin, telling them I couldn’t believe they could do such a stupid thing, and that they are going to hell and drive them further into their sin or into despair.  Or, I could, as a fellow forgiven sinner, go up to that person in private, gently, lovingly, caringly, share my concern for their soul and their spiritual life.  That is the kind of warning God wants his people to share with those who have sinned.

But what about the other side of the coin?  How does God want me to react if I’m that person who has sinned and a fellow Christian confronts me?  Well, if I am caught in sin, I could say, “This is none of your business!  Mind your own business!”  And continue on my sinful way and my path to spiritual destruction.  Or I could say, “You’re right I’ve sinned!  Please forgive me!”  And hear from my fellow Christian, “God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but that they turn from their ways and live.  In Jesus your sins are forgiven.  Go and sin no more.”  But what if I haven’t done something wrong and yet someone comes to me and confronts me with a concern from misinformation?  How should I react? Again, there are several things I could do: I could react by saying, “How dare you think that I could do such a thing!  How terrible! What a mean person you are!” And then become upset, initiate silent treatment, hold a grudge, refuse to speak to the person.  Or, I could say, “Thank you so much for having such a concern for my spiritual well-being to come and talk to me about your concern.  I want you to know that I did not say that or do that.  But I really appreciate your concern for my soul.”

God’s serious about this.  Just like not waking your sleeping neighbor inside his burning house is not just loveless and careless, it also makes you a killer, so not confronting someone in sin is not only loveless and careless, but God says that he will hold us accountable!  This is serious!  Sin is serious!

Why is God so serious about this?  He tells us, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.  Turn!  Turn from your evil ways!  Why will you die, O house of Israel?”  Why is God so serious?  It’s because of his grace and mercy and sincere desire that no one go to hell and that all repent and receive salvation.   God is making an oath, staking his life on this statement.  In fact, God did more than just take an oath, He came, He Himself laid down His life on a cross as payment for all sins in order to show that he is absolutely serious that He wants no one to perish, but if someone remains in unrepentant sin they reject God’s free offer of salvation.

The responsibility of waking our sleeping neighbor becomes a joyful privilege when we see him emerge from the house safely.  The responsibility of stopping an infant about to choke on prescription medication is a joyful privilege when you see that child kept safe from potential poisoning and death.  The responsibility of stopping a young toddler from running onto a busy highway becomes a joyful privilege when you hold that child safely in your arms away from imminent danger and death.  The responsibility of warning a brother or sister in their sin becomes a joyful privilege when we see that sinner repent of their sin, turn away from their sin, and so be saved for eternal life and salvation.

No we aren’t the military, but God has placed us into an incredible network of fellow believers whom we not only look after, but who look after us and the safety of our eternal souls.  Imagine what the church would look like if each one of us saw ourselves as integral part of this network of believers, helping, encouraging, supporting, and yes, confronting each other.  Be a watch man or woman, be your brother’s keeper.  Have a sincere concern for the eternity of your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Amen.


Gather Gossip or Give Grace?

13th Sunday after Pentecost
Ephesians 4:20-29

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

Do you know who I am?  I’m sure you’ve met be before.  I don’t care about justice, I can hurt without killing, I break hearts, I trash lives, I’m cruel, I’m mean, I get stronger as I get older, the more I’m talked about the more I’m believed, I can thrive on any level of society and with any person still breathing, my victims are entirely helpless, there’s no way they can protect themselves against me because I don’t have a name, don’t have a face.  I have no friends, once I ruin a reputation it’s never the same.  I shatter friendships, wreck marriages, and destroy careers.  I cause heartaches and sleepless nights.  I infiltrate churches.  I divide Christians.  I spread suspicion and make innocent people cry on their pillows.  Do you know me?  I’m sure you’ve met me, my name is gossip.

Finally, every sin of the tongue has horrid effects.  Profane language, insults, lying, complaints, cutting criticism, they’re all harmful.  But, perhaps it’s gossip that has likely destroyed more people, tarnished more reputations, broken more friendships than any other.  It’s quickly told, quickly heard, and quickly spread.  But worst of all, it’s quickly believed.

Well, what exactly is gossip?  We often think of gossip as talking about someone behind his or her back.  But, really, gossip isn’t all talking about someone who isn’t present.  There are times when we might talk about someone’s good news to others, or share some funny story, or share someone’s concern.  So how do you know if it’s gossip?  Well, would the person object to what is being said if they were present or not?  Is what we are saying meant to honestly help someone or to hurt the person?  Am I sincerely trying to build someone up or am I trying to discredit or tear them down?

The reality is that there is a part of each one of us here that absolutely loves to spread and listen to gossip.  There is a part of us that is hopelessly insecure, that loves to harbor jealousy, pride, and anger, that loves to tarnish the reputations of others in order to try to make us look better, that loves to speak falsely and lie, that loves to let our mouths drip with “unwholesome talk.”  Interestingly, the word translated as “unwholesome” here in verse 29 of our text is the word sarpo, the same word that Jesus used in the gospel lesson for “bad,” “Make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad.”  Literally, it means “decaying” or “rotting.”  There is certain speech that comes out of our mouths that is like a decaying, rotting piece of fruit.  Like a piece of produce you might have left on your kitchen counter behind a box that you forgot about until you smelled something nasty and when you discovered it you saw a gross, mushy, stinky, rotting, fly-infested mess.  There’s a part of each of us that loves to spew out such rotten words.  And the first part of our text tells us just where those rotten words come from: our “old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires.”

Each one of us has this multi-personality battle going on inside of our hearts between our old sinful self and our new spiritual self.  Each of us, as we were born into this world was completely controlled by this old self, but through faith God worked inside of us a new self was created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.  And our hearts are this continual battleground between our old sinful self and our new self.  And Satan in league with our old self wants nothing less than to get us to fall headlong into feeding our old self with any kind of sin with the hope that it will defeat and drive out our new self and destroy our faith.  It’s like two nations going into battle with each other and one side has a spy, a traitor who constantly feeds intelligence to the enemy.  The devil plays on our sinful nature to get us to be self-centered, to get us to only be concerned about ourselves and what we falsely think will make us feel better about ourselves, to become angry, to steal, to let rotten words spew out of our mouths.  Why?  Because he wants a foothold in our lives.

So what does he do?  He comes to us like a friend.  He convinces us that sin is good and pleasurable.  He tempts us to sin and to sin and to sin.  Then he flips his hat accusing us and feeding this insecure self-talk that goes on inside of us things like, “I can’t believe I did that!  I’m so stupid!  I’m such a failure!  I’m an awful person!  I’m worthless, useless.  Everyone else has it going on and I’m going backwards in life.”  Then he flips his hat back and says, “Hey, don’t you want to feel better about yourself?  Point out the sins and failures and mistakes of others!  It will make you feel better!  Spread it around so that others see how much of a better person you are at least than so-and-so!”  No matter how much the devil may try to get you to think it, he’s not your friend, he’s your enemy.  He knows that if we’re full of garbage inside, all we can give out is garbage.  If I’m living according to my old sinful self all I can give out is garbage, falsehood, anger, stealing, rotten speech.  Gossip stems from this insecurity inside of us that thinks we need to make ourselves feel better by tearing others down.

Think about it, if I’m not at peace with myself and with my God I have nothing to give you.  If I’m not built up, I’m in no place to build others up.  Rather, I try to bring everyone else down so that they can be miserable like me.  Misery loves company.  What comes from our hearts comes out of our mouths.  “Out of the heart, the mouth speaks” Jesus said.  If we are bitter and angry and upset and frustrated inside, guess what’s going to come out of our mouths?  If we are insecure, frail, and troubled inside what’s going to come out of our mouths?  And our words are a powerful way to tear other people down.  And here’s the devil’s lie, we think it will make us feel better about ourselves to use our language to hurt others or spread gossip, but the truth is: it doesn’t help, it just hurts us more.  And so the cycle continues.

Where does this cycle end?  Right here: “You, however, did not come to know Christ that way.  Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.”  What is the truth that is in Jesus?  It is the reality, it is the real historical facts, Jesus, God’s Son was born into this world, lived perfectly, never gossiped, used His mouth to always do what is right, Jesus died on a cross as God’s lightning rod against all sins, including every sin of the tongue, Jesus rose victoriously from the dead to prove that the payment for sin was made in full.  And He did that for you!  That is the truth, the reality.  It is that truth, that reality that teaches us to “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”  If we can’t control our tongue, we’re failing to appreciate the gospel.  God’s changed us.  We don’t need to rip others apart to feel better about ourselves.  God’s taken away our hearts of sin and given us hearts of faith, he’s taken our worthless rags of sin and given us Jesus’ perfect robe of righteousness.  “I’m a forgiven, redeemed, baptized, eternal child of God and the devil can’t change that!”

It’s this gospel that feeds our new self, enabling us to put off falsehood and speak truthfully, to not become angry giving the devil a foothold, to not steal but work hard, and “not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  God wants us to use our speech to build others up and literally the end of that last verse reads “to give grace to those who listen.”  Where does grace come from?  The ultimate source of grace and every blessing is God.

It’s only when we are filled with the grace of God that our lips will be filled with blessing, benefit, and encouragement for others.  If our hearts are off, our mouths will be off.  If the scope on your gun is off, it doesn’t matter how close you put the crosshairs on the bullseye, it’s going to be off.  But If our hearts are centered on grace, our lips will drip with grace to build others up and encourage.  “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him” Jesus said.  God has filled your heart with His grace and love.  “It is by grace you have been saved”  God has “justified you freely by his grace through the redemption that came in Christ Jesus.”  “From the fullness of His grace we have received grace upon grace.”  “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access into this grace in which we now stand.”

Filled with His grace God commissions us to throw off mouths of gossip and to be His grace givers throughout our lives.  And too many of us forget or underappreciate the great power resting in our mouths.  It’s not enough just to like someone in your heart, it needs to come out of your mouth.  People in our world are starving for encouragement, starving for affirmation, starving for something positive.  The devil loves to tear people down, make them feel awful and use them to tear others down with harmful words and gossip.  God, however, fills us with His grace.  Encourages us by the gospel.  Uses our mouths to be grace givers to share with people the ultimate encouragement which is the good news about sins forgiven in Jesus and he uses our mouths lift others up in their day to day lives: “You did a wonderful job!  Dear, that was an amazing dinner!  I really like that about you!  I’m so proud of you dad!  You do so much for us mom!”

Encouragement comes from the gospel.  The more you know the awesome encouragement, the awesome grace God has given you, the more compelled, motivated, empowered, you will be to not use your words to tear others down, but to use them to build others up and drip God’s grace from your mouth!  Amen.

When Idleness Becomes Idolatry

12th Sunday after Pentecost
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friend in Christ, When most people’s alarm clocks go off, they’re already working at the gym.  I think it’s safe to say that if you were going to train to be in the Olympics it would require hard work.  I did a quick search: typically an Olympic athlete will plan his or her exercise schedule 4 years in advance, a runner will run at least about 20 hours a week, have at least 2 hour training sessions twice a day 5 or 6 days a week, there’s also proper nutrition, hydration, recovery, etc.  I think it’s safe to say that to be an Olympic athlete requires determination, dedication and hard work.  Well, here we are once again at another Labor Day in America.  And what’s the point of Labor day?  Is it the last day of vacation?  A last day for a good summer grill out, last day for the beach, last day off of work or school before the fall grind?  Actually, it’s a holiday that’s been celebrated since 1884 to honor the importance of hard work and labor.

And it gives us the opportunity to ask: How should we as Christian view “work”?  We often here people in our world either express or imply that work is one of those necessary evils that we have to put up with.  Wouldn’t an ideal world be one where you don’t have to work and can live in luxury waited on by others?  This negative view of work can distort people’s lives as well.  In one case it may cause someone who is unwilling to work- the key word is unwilling not can’t work – to exploit the support provided by government welfare programs.  In another case, this negative view of work can cause people who are willing to work to view work simply as a means to an end.  Work is the unpleasant price you pay to get money or stuff so you can enjoy the weekend.  We hear phrases like, “I’m working for the weekend” or “Thank goodness its Friday.”  But what is a proper view of work?  How does a Christian approach work?

In our text for this morning the apostle Paul addresses this issue of work.  Apparently the Greek mindset wasn’t too different than the mindset of many in America, particularly that work is bad and should be avoided if at all possible.  Add to that, that in Thessalonica some Christians had taken seriously Paul’s instruction that the Last Day could happen at any moment.  But instead of that being a motivation to live in a God-pleasing way, some in the congregation had quit their jobs and become idle simply because they figured Jesus was going to return soon anyway, so what’s the point of working?  Paul had addressed this issue briefly with his first letter to the Thessalonians, but apparently some were still refusing to work.  So, here, God gave a stricter warning, that the congregation members were themselves to keep away from those who were idle as a further warning to them.  God certainly wants His people to love their neighbor as themselves, but he doesn’t want them to encourage the sin of idleness by providing for those living in that sin.  And Paul provided a visible example of hard work.  While he taught God’s Word to them he didn’t even accept a free meal, but labored night and day in order to set a model to them.  And while they were there, they set the rule that “If a man will not work he shall not eat.”  He’s not talking about people who are unable to work, but people who are unwilling to work.  It’s an attitude problem.  People who are unwilling to work, expecting to be carried along by others, should not eat.  And what often happens?  Those who aren’t busy become busy bodies.  Not minding their own business they minded everyone else’s and ended up meddling and gossiping about other people.  The old saying has a lot of truth to it: “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”

So Paul urges them in their relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.  That is God’s good and pleasing will for them.  Then Paul also addresses the others who are busy and hard working when he says, “And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.”  You know how it is when you’re busy and working hard and you see someone who is idle or lazy.  The sinful nature immediately kicks into gear and you become ready to give up, to quit helping others, to be demoralized and that’s when the devil whispers in one ear, “Why work so hard?  Look at those other people!  Why, they’re not working and they’re better off than you!”  But here the Lord whispers in our other ear, “Don’t envy people who are idle.  They’re under God’s judgment, because they are living in sin.  Listen to your Savior, who loves you and died for you.  His will is that you live a quiet life, mind your own business, and provide for your own needs as much as possible.  Do what is right.  Not only is that pleasing to the Lord but it also glorifies His name in this world.”

You see, work itself is a gift of God.  We see two kinds of people in this text: those who were lazy and idle and those who were hardworking and diligent.  What about you?  Are you a “hard worker”?  Am I a “hard worker”?

There’s a lot of people who would consider themselves hard-working.  Perhaps many of us.  But the truth is, the world we live in really only looks at one dimension of work.  Often when someone says, “He’s such a hard worker.”  They are referring to his job, his work ethic.  Perhaps he’s on the jobsite early, he takes minimal breaks, he’s constantly busy, he’s the last one to leave.  That might be considered “hard work” and that might be very pleasing to an employer.  But the reality is, that same person could also be terribly lazy.  You see, God has called each of us to positions in life that are more than our employment.  Each of us has a calling from God in His Church, in the Home, and in society.  He’s called us to be Christians, if we’re married, God’s called us to be a spouse, if we have children, God’s called us to be parents, if we’re a citizen of the U.S., God has called us to be a faithful citizens, if an employee, a faithful employee.  But first and foremost each of us has a calling as a Christian.  And God wants us to be hard workers at that calling.

So what about our work in God’s Church?  There are certain things that God has NOT enabled us to do by ourselves.  We can’t come to faith on our own, we can’t decide to become a Christian, we can’t save ourselves by our hard work, we can’t become good people in God’s eyes by what we do.  Our salvation from a to z is God’s work.  He made us, He chose us, He redeemed us, He worked faith in our hearts, He will bring us to heaven.  However, once God has done His wonderful work in our hearts, brought us to faith in Jesus, once GOD does that, He enables us to do all kinds of things for ourselves.  And God doesn’t do for us what He’s already enabled us to do for ourselves.  As a Christian in God’s Church, He wants us to work hard.  God wants us to be growing spiritually.  If we want to grow spiritually, it requires hard work and time.  It requires time spent listening to and studying God’s Word.  If we want to have a stronger faith, it requires effort to be in God’s Word on a regular basis, attending church, attending Bible classes.  God wants our spiritual training regimen to be of Olympic quality.  And why?  Oh, just where we spend eternity is stake!

But that’s not it, we also have an obligation in the home?  Again, it’s our sinful human nature to want something for nothing.  If you want to be physically fit, but you’re unwilling to work out or exercise, it’s not going to happen.  If we want a “fit” marriage, but we don’t spend any effort on it, it’s not going to happen.  If you are married, God has called you to love and serve your spouse in a unique way.  A good marriage takes dedication, it takes hard work, it takes sacrifice, it takes time spent together, it takes a motivation to grow closer together.  Far too many people have marriages that are way out of shape because either one or both are unwilling to work hard at the marriage.  Being a good parent doesn’t just happen.  It takes hard work, it takes dedication, it takes a willingness to be an active part of your child’s life to love and serve them.  If a child, it takes determination and dedication to love and serve your parents.

What about in society?  If we are citizens, God wants us to be faithful citizens, aware and active about the issues in our community or in the government.  If we are employed, God wants us to faithful employees, to find a job we enjoy and work at it as if we are working directly for the Lord himself.  Martin Luther once pointed out that just like God works on us spiritually through means – the gospel in word and sacrament- he also works through means to physically care for His people.  In other words, God works through the person who built your house, made your clothes, prepared your food, picked up your trash, designed the technology you use, to take care of you.  God hides behind all honorable jobs to take care of us humans.  Likewise, when we’re faithful and work hard in our jobs we become God’s means for providing for other people.  So, instead of having an attitude of “what can I get for me?”  “How can I get other people to take care of me?”  Unfortunately, our society is plagued by many people who abuse government welfare programs who can work but don’t want to placing the burden of their support on others, perhaps to satisfy their greeds instead of needs.  But like the apostle Paul, God wants Christians to set an example of hard work and faithfulness in service to others.

So how do you measure up?  How do I measure up?  If we’ve failed to be hard working in our spiritual life, in our home life, in our lives as citizens, in our life as an employees, then really we’ve made idleness our idol.  We’ve bowed down to the idol of laziness in our home, our work, our spiritual lives.  So one thing is for sure: none of us can stand before God and say, ‘God you should like me because I’m such a hard worker.”  We’ve failed.  But God didn’t.

Jesus spent whole days teaching people and preaching God’s Word.  He knows what it is like to be tired and hungry after a long day of work.  Yet, Jesus also found ample time to go off by himself and pray to God His Father.  Jesus always kept his relationship with God as first priority in His life.  Jesus also took care of his family.  While on the cross he provided for the physical needs of his mother by giving her the disciple John to take care of her.  Jesus also led a perfect life in society, paying his taxes, giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s, honoring the laws of the government.  He worked perfectly for us, in our place, for all the times we’ve been idle and lazy in our various callings in life.  For every time that you or I have been lazy, have failed to work whole-heartedly at our jobs, every time we’ve been a lazy spouse or a lazy parent, every time we’ve been lazy in our work of growing in our faith, studying God’s Word, neglecting the Sacraments.  For every time we’ve been lazy, Jesus wasn’t.  Jesus worked hard, indeed perfectly.  And his hard work, his faithful work led him to work out our salvation by becoming all our laziness and dying as God’s curse on that cross for us.

And because God did that to Jesus, His view of you has entirely changed.  In His sight you are a faithful worker.  In His sight He sees you as a hard worker in your spiritual life, your home life, your work life, for Jesus was for you.

And what’s our response to that?  To view work as a burden, a drudgery?  Sure there are times when it’s a struggle, when it’s difficult, but it’s worth it.  For work itself is a wonderful gift of God and He wants to bless us by it.  So he’s built into honest work a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment for work well done and He gives that blessing to those who work faithfully.  So be faithful, work hard like an Olympian at home, at your job, in society, but most importantly “work” spiritually by staying in God’s Word and receiving the sacrament.  In that faithful work he gives blessings not just temporal, but eternal.  Because of Christ labor is a blessing, celebrate that this Labor day!  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.