Making Tracks!

VBS Celebration Sunday

Luke 10:38-42 – Food for our Souls

Let’s pray: “Lord Jesus, lead us to sit at your feet and learn. Amen” One of the railroad cars that we looked at this last week was the hopper car. The hopper car is the train car that carries things that can be poured, like grain. There’s doors on the bottom of the car for the grain to be unloaded by gravity. Grain is, of course, used to make food. Food keeps our bodies strong and healthy. But just like our bodies need food, our souls also need food to stay strong and healthy. The food that our souls need is the Word of God.

This is a very familiar account about Mary and Martha. They were sisters. Both were followers of Jesus, both loved Jesus, both cared deeply about Jesus. But when we first read this our heart immediately goes out to Martha, doesn’t it? Why? Isn’t it because we can all relate. Martha’s busy working and what’s Mary doing? Sitting around doing nothing but listening. Really?! Who of us hasn’t been in some situation where we’re exhausted from working hard and then there’s someone else who’s hardly lifted a finger. That’s not fair! “Lord, don’t you care?”

Every day in life we make value judgments, what’s important to us? Martha wasn’t just working, she was working for her Savior, she was busy preparing things and getting things ready. It’s good for us to work hard in serving our Savior. It’s good when we work hard at our work so we can provide for our families and support the gospel ministry. That’s a good thing! Unfortunately, how much of our hard work really isn’t going to help others or support gospel ministry, but going to support ourselves or to get things we want, or get things so that we can have a better life. But that wasn’t Martha- Martha was busy working for her Savior, but here, we’re told that Mary chose what is better. Even better than working hard for Jesus is being filled up by Jesus. That’s what Mary was doing. She sat at Jesus’ feet to listen and learn.

So, here’s the question: Are you a Mary or a Martha? Think about your life. What’s the most important thing you do each day? It’s not going to work, it’s not getting that project done, it’s not making food, it’s not eating, it’s not putting on the perfume and the make up, it’s not even saying and acting lovingly to your spouse (that’s right up there, but that’s not the most important thing). The most important thing you do each day is sitting at your Savior’s feet and listening to him. The most important thing is setting aside time, setting aside the busyness and the distractions and the work of the day, to spend some quiet moments listening to your Savior through His precious Word.

You see, it’s sinful and wrong to let anything crowd out God’s Word from our lives. It’s sinful and wrong to let anything become more important to us than God and His Word. It’s sinful and wrong when we push God down on the priority list. Does the way that we live make it very clear that God’s Word is our number 1 priority? Honestly, we all have to admit that we’ve failed to be Marys and sit quietly at Jesus’ feet. We’ve been distracted, we’ve confused life’s priorities. And that’s why we need what God tells us oh so much! We need His Word to remind us of our sinfulness, but even more of God’s grace and mercy. We need Jesus to tell us through His Word, “I’ve forgiven you. I shed my blood for you. I didn’t come to be served, but to serve and give my life in place of yours. I came that you may have life, life to the full in heaven. I came to give you the one thing needful.”

And the amazing thing is, as we, like Mary, focus on Jesus and listening to His Word, then we’re not so worried, upset, and distracted by many things. For we’re reminded that Jesus is in control, He’s the Savior- not us, and He’s taken care of the most important thing: eternal life. Thank the Lord for His Word- the food for our souls!

Luke 15:1-10 – Precious Cargo

On Wednesday this past week we looked at one special train car that carries automobiles. At one time they would transport cars on open flat freight cars, but soon discovered that cars were getting nicked by stones and other debris or pelted by hail in storms. So, soon, because the cars were so valuable and precious they made train cars that were completely enclosed to protect the cars. They were precious cargo.

But infinitely more precious that cars are to the railroad operators is how precious souls are to our God. Here Jesus told a couple of parables to illustrate that very point.

First, notice who it is that Jesus is speaking to. He’s speaking to Pharisees and teachers of the law who had said, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  In other words, they couldn’t believe that Jesus associated with people who had messy lives and messy backgrounds. People who clearly weren’t as good as them.

So Jesus told this parable. A shepherd has a hundred sheep, loses one of them, leaves the 99 in search of the one lost sheep and when he finds it he rejoices, celebrates, and throws a party for that lost sheep has been found. In the same way there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 who don’t need to repent. Then he tells the story about a lady with 10 coins, loses one, searches her entire house, finds the one coin and celebrates. In the same way there is rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner.

What’s Jesus’ point? Well, there may be 99 people who don’t need to repent because they are already repenting and trusting in Jesus for forgiveness and God has a continual joy over them. But then there is a sinner outside of the fold, outside of the church, who repents and trusts in Jesus for forgiveness, now there’s an outburst of joy.  Just like a mother might continually rejoice over all her children, but then one gets sick, then recovers and the mother has an outburst of joy for that one child. That’s God’s heart for those who are lost. Each and every soul is priceless, precious, a treasure to Jesus.

Do we have the heart of Jesus? A heart that aches for souls outside of God’s kingdom? A heart that rejoices when anyone comes to repentance and trust in Jesus as their Savior? Or do we have the heart of a Pharisee- that God’s church is only for the deserving, for those who’ve earned it, like us.

Thank the Lord for Jesus’ heart. There once was an outburst of joy in heaven when you were lost and found, when you were brought into God’s fold through faith in Jesus. So, rejoice in your own salvation and rejoice in the repentance and salvation of others, for every soul is precious to Jesus.

Luke 10:25-37 – Lives full of Service

On Thursday this past week we took a look at the train boxcar. A boxcar is exactly that: a big box. And just like boxes carry all kinds of different things, so do boxcars. They might carry: food, clothing, tools, wood, materials, etc. Well, in a way, as Christians we “carry” all kinds of things in us as well. We carry help that we can give someone, we carry service which we can bring to someone, we carry God’s love to share with someone. And in God’s world, the law of the conservation of mass doesn’t exist. When you give God’s love to someone with your words or actions, you don’t have less of it. Actually, the more of it that you give out, the more that you get.

In this parable Jesus teaches us a lesson on what it means to serve our neighbor. The expert in the law was trying to excuse himself from having to love and serve everyone, so he asked who is neighbor is. Surely there were some people he was supposed to love and some people he didn’t have to love. Who is our neighbor? With the parable, however, Jesus shows that that’s the wrong question to ask. Instead of asking, “Who is my neighbor? Who do I have to love?” Jesus makes the point that we rather need to ask, “Who can I show myself to be a neighbor to? Who can be a neighbor to?” In other words, how can I be on the look out for people I can serve and show love to?

This expert in the law needed to hear God’s law. We also need to hear it. We need to hear that it’s sinful and wrong to refuse to love and serve anyone. We need to hear that it’s sinful and wrong to “pass by on the other side.” On the other side of the coin we also need to hear that it’s sinful and wrong to expect or demand that other people serve us! It’s sinful and wrong to expect others to do for us what God has enabled us to do ourselves! Both are wrong: It’s wrong to not be looking for people to be a neighbor to and it’s wrong to expect or demand that others be a neighbor to us!

And that’s why we need the perfect neighbor. That’s why we needed Jesus to love God with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind. That’s why we needed Jesus to love his neighbor as himself perfectly. So perfectly that it led Him to die on the cross for our sins and rise to guarantee our salvation.

And in view of that grace and in response to it we can serve others. We can be God’s face and God’s hands as we look for people to serve and be a neighbor to in our lives, first in our own families, then our coworkers, customers, friends, acquaintances. Who can I serve today? Who needs encouragement today? Whose life can I lift up today?  To whom can I be a neighbor today?

Filled up with God’s love and His service to us, our lives are full of kindness, care, and encouragement that we can give to others. Amen.

VBS – Dive In!

VBS Celebration Sunday

Genesis 3:1-19 – Buyer’s Remorse

Have you ever had “buyer’s remorse”?  It’s something that happens usually after you’ve made some large purchase or spent a lot of money on something, but soon afterwards what you bought begins to disappoint you, maybe worry you, buyer’s remorse can lead you to even try and take your purchase back if you can.

Do you think Adam and Eve had some “buyer’s remorse”?  The devil had come to them and sold them the idea that eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a good idea.  But God had told them that if they would eat from that tree that they would surely die.  But the devil came to them and sold them a bill of goods.  So, Adam and Eve took the fruit.

Can you imagine their anticipation as they went into it?  As they were about to eat the fruit?  “Wow!  We’re going to be like God!  We’re going to understand good and evil!  We’re going to advance to a whole new level!”

And then?  Some “buyer’s remorse”?  All of a sudden they were hurled into all those terrible things, all of a sudden they felt guilt, shame, fear, selfishness, pain, anger, blame – all those things that we hate about ourselves.  What the devil had painted as being so wonderful, turned out to be awful and horrible!  “Why, why, why did we listen to the devil?  Why, why, why didn’t we listen to God!”

Well, nothing is new today is there?  The devil continues to paint sin as being alluring, attractive, interesting.  “Go ahead and hold a grudge instead of dealing with the person who hurt you, bottle it up inside, be angry, you deserve it!”  “Go ahead and indulge yourself even if you can’t afford it!”  “Just be lazy at work for once, so many are, your employer won’t notice, it’s about time someone did something for you for a change.”  But what happens afterward?  Sin always ends up biting us, making us feel terrible, or plunging us into more sin.

This past week the children learned about a certain deep sea creature.  It’s called the black dragonfish.  It looks like a snake and it lives deep in the ocean where there is hardly any light.  What it does is it has a way of shining a little light in the darkness that causes little fish to swim to it, but when the little fish get close it suddenly chomps down on them with sharp teeth.  Isn’t that what Satan does when he tries to get us to sin?

Finally, all the horrible things of this world, all the bad stuff that we experience, comes back to this: our first parents’ sin and it is perpetuated by our sin.

But did you notice what God promised?  “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers, he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”  This is the first gospel promise, the first promise of the Savior, which came moments after sin first entered this world.  God promised to send Jesus who would come to crush the devil’s head, to destroy the work that he did in the Garden of Eden.   And…Jesus came.  Jesus lived knowing full well what he was getting into, knowing full well what he was purchasing with his life and bitter death on the cross.  And…He did it.  He went to the cross to buy us out of our horrible debt of sin.  So we can live, we can live free from sin’s guilt, live free from slavery to the devil and his bill of goods, live free to glorify our God and Savior.  Amen.

Matthew 4:1-11 –  Protection in Temptation

What scares you?  What are you afraid of?  We might be afraid of all sorts of things in life: Perhaps the darkness, perhaps an intruder in our home, perhaps we’re afraid of some sickness or disease, perhaps we’re afraid of some kind of loss, like the loss of our money, loss of our respect, loss of friends or family.  Living in this world there are all kinds of things that can scare us.  And how do we deal with those things?  If you’re afraid of the dark you might keep a light on all night long, if an intruder you might purchase a gun, if you’re afraid of getting sick you might take a bunch of vitamins or regularly visit a health professional.

But finally all of those things really pale in comparison with something that probably should fill us all with a great amount of fear.  Most things that we fear in life have only to do with this life, this temporary life.  But really there is someone who wants nothing less than for you to suffer eternally because that is exactly his fate.  You see, the devil’s number one goal is to bring people, including you and I, down and he will stop at nothing in order to try to get us to distrust God, abandon God and His Word, lose our faith, and suffer forever with him.

We learned about a certain fish this past week called the porcupine fish or pufferfish.  When it is scared or in danger it has a way of filling itself up with water or air and it becomes kind of rounded with these spikes sticking out all around it.  Whatever predator wants to eat it quickly decides eating that fish would be worse than not eating it at swims away.

Wouldn’t that be nice?  Would that be nice to puff ourselves up with spikes so the devil and his evil angels would think twice about attacking us with temptations to bring us down?

Temptations in and of themselves are not bad.  Any temptation that the devil throws at you has to first be allowed to come at you by God.  In fact, it was God who led Jesus to the desert to be tempted by Satan.  And here in the desert unlike Adam and Eve who had everything Jesus had all kinds of things against him: he was hungry, he was alone.  And yet, Jesus didn’t waver at all, He stood firm against every one of Satan’s attacks.

And why?  To be our perfect substitute.  Jesus didn’t give in to temptation for every time you and I have fallen for the devil’s tricks and lures.  Jesus didn’t give in for all of the times we’ve dove right into sin.   And because Jesus remained perfect his whole life and died on the cross for our sins, the devil has been defeated.  And you notice that each time Jesus didn’t use His power as God to shut down the devil, he didn’t strike him with lightning or blow him away with a powerful wind.  Rather, Jesus relied on God’s Word.  We want protection from the devil?  We want to give glory to God in every temptation in our lives?  Memorize God’s Word, keep it close to your heart and mind and the devil must flee.

Exodus 14:21-23, 26-27, 16:11-16, 17:3-6 – Providence in Need

At times in our lives we face obstacles, don’t we?  Things that keep us from confidently moving forward in life.  Perhaps it’s a health issue, a relationship issue, a difficulty of some kind.  And when we face obstacles it can be easy for us to get discouraged, to complain, to get frustrated, or to just be down.  Where do we go?  Where do we turn?

One little fish in the ocean is called a clownfish.  It’s bright orange fish and is an easy target for predators.  There’s another fish called the sea anemone that has a bunch of long tentacles.  Apparently, when a fish touches one of those tentacles it stings and paralyzes the fish.  It does that for most fish except for the clownfish.  The clownfish is unaffected by its tentacles.  So, when a clownfish is in danger it swims for protection in the tentacles of the sea anemone.

Well, the Israelites faced many dangerous obstacles.  God had just miraculously delivered them out of slavery in Egypt but now there they were sitting on the edge of the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army marching after them.  Where do they go?  Where do they turn?  There’s no solution that they can see.  So what does God do?  He parts the water so the whole nation could go through on dry ground and then closes the sea on top of their Egyptian pursuers.  Then, later on they’re hungry, they have no food, what will they do?  There’s no solution that they can see.  What does God do?  He miraculously provides bread for them every day while they wandered in the desert.  Then later on they have no water, they’re dying of thirst, so what does God do?  He causes water to come from a rock for them to drink!

It wouldn’t have been too difficult for the Israelites to see that their protection, their food, their water, really came from God.  Perhaps it’s more difficult for us to see that.  Our pantries are often filled with food, we don’t really ever have to wonder if we’re going to have water when we turn the faucet on, and we aren’t exactly afraid of an enemy nation ready to kill us or take us hostage.  Perhaps it can be easy for us to forget that it’s really God who gives us everything we need for life.

And so sometimes God will let us realize that we have a need or a bunch of needs.  We’ll hit an obstacle in life just like the Israelites.  They saw clearly their need for protection from the Egyptians, their need for food, their need for water.  What need in your life has God let you see?  A health issue, a financial issue, a relationship issue?

But when the Israelites lived only by sight they were filled with discouragement and fear.  When we live only by sight we, too, are filled with discouragement and fear.  But when we look back at God’s faithfulness to us in the past, how He’s provided for us in the past, how He’s protected us, how He worked things out so that today we could once again hear His Word, hear the message of Jesus our Savior, when we look back at God’s faithfulness in the past we’re encouraged to live not by sight, but by faith, trusting that our faithful God will bring us from the point we’re at now to the place where He’s calling us.  And one day, because we have a faithful God and Savior, we know He will faithfully lead us and bring us to our ultimate home in heaven.  Amen.

Road Trip: Route 3:16

VBS Sermonettes 2013

Note – This year’s VBS theme was “Road Trip.”  These sermonettes are based on 3 of the accounts that were studied during the week.

Sermonette #1 – Numbers 21:4-9

As every parent knows there are 4 words that you can expect to hear again and again and again, if you go on a long road trip with small children, they are: Are we there yet?  Since living in Bemidji my family and I have made a number of trips back and forth from Wisconsin to see our families.  It’s about a 10 hour trip to get there.  It is a given that at some point along the way we will hear those words: Are we there yet?  Sometimes we’ll hear them after only an hour and know that the trip is going to be a very, very long trip J!

Well, if there’s anyone in the history of the world who could be asking the question: “Are we there yet?”  It would be the OT Israelites.  God had powerfully led them out of the land of Egypt through a series of 10 plagues, parted the Red Sea for them to go through, led them all the way to the border of the Promised Land.  They were right there, then they sent in 12 spies to search out the land, they all came back with the report that the land was great –flowing with milk and honey – but only 2 of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, said that they could take it.  10 spies said, “The people are too strong!”  And unfortunately the people, in general, believed the 10 unbelieving spies.  At this point God’s patience ran out and He declared that the people would have to wander for 40 years until the unbelieving generation had died off.

Can you believe that?  They were right there!  Their journey was just about over!  But their unbelief caused their journey to be elongated by 40 years!

Well, 40 years passed and now God led them to about the place they had been, but this time He directs them east to pass through the nation of Edom.  They ask for permission to go through their land, but permission is denied.  That meant they now had to travel hundreds of miles to the south, the opposite direction of where they were going, then travel east, then travel back north all in order to go around Edom.  And, mind you, this is all on foot and through some very rough and harsh desert.  “Are we there yet?”  Nope!  And we’re going in the opposite direction than we need to go!

And knowing that might help us understand their complaint, but it doesn’t make it right or ok.  They complained about their “miserable food” but really their complaint was addressed directly to God, it was an attack on God.

And when you or I complain in our life, that’s in essence exactly what we are doing too.  We are attacking God, attacking His goodness, attacking His providing care for us, attacking his plan for us, attacking his love.

So, complaining is actually a spiritual problem.  And since the Israelites were complaining that meant they had a spiritual problem and God had to address it and the way he addressed it was by sending poisonous snakes among them.  And God’s plan worked!  The people came to Moses in repentance and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you.  Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.”

But God had a better idea.  Instead of simply taking the snakes away, God had Moses make a snake, put it up on a pole, and anyone who is bitten can look at the snake on the pole and live.  “What?!”  Sounds crazy!  But it worked.

The same is true of God’s plan of salvation.  When Jesus, God’s Son, was hung on a cross, every sin of every single human who has ever lived was hung on him.  When we look to Jesus on that cross it reminds of our sins, similarly when the Israelites looked at the snake on the pole it reminded them of their problem, their sin.  So you might not think it would work, but it did!

Just like those people when they were bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake and lived, so you an I, who are infested with the horrible poison of sin, when we look in faith at Jesus as our Savior, we live, we live eternally, we live under God’s blessing, we live knowing God takes care of us always, we live free from a life of complaining!  What wondrous love of our Savior God!

Sermonette #2 – Mark 5:21-43

We sometimes refer to our lives being kind of like a journey or a walk along a path.  We “journey” through our lives, we make decisions that lead us down different paths, we go down roads that bring times of happiness or sadness, times of pain and challenges.  Some people have a short journey through life, others a long journey through life.  But in the end unless Jesus returns soon each one of us faces the same end of our earthly journey: death.  And for many people death is a scary, scary thing.  Why do you suppose?  Well, people like to have control of our their, but death?  Who knows how it will happen, when it will happen, and many in our world don’t know what will happen after death.  Some people fear death because they know the terrible things they’ve done in life and know exactly what they ought to get after death.

Then there’s Jesus.  He comes to settle our fears.  How does Jesus view death?  To him it’s a simple, plain, non-terrifying, everyday, peaceful thing.  To him death is nothing but a sleep.  But how?  How can Jesus deal with something so terrible as something comforting and peaceful?

Jesus can come, stare death right in the face and say, “Talitha Koum.”  And death must obey, it must give up its customer, it must release its slimy grip.  The girl and death obeyed.  Immediately she got up and started walking around!  But Jesus didn’t just have the power over the death of other people’s death, did he?  He, Himself, died, his body was placed in a grave.  But death, the final enemy, couldn’t win, couldn’t subdue him.  Death itself had to submit to His will – Easter morning He burst from the tomb with all power and all glory!

Someday, if Jesus doesn’t return soon, your earthly life’s journey will come to an end, your road trip will be about over.  But even when death is staring you in the face remember what Jesus has done to death: He’s transformed it into something sweet, peaceful, and restful.  And even though God might not raise you back to physical life after you die, he will raise you to eternal life!  Thank the Lord for such a Savior who has power over your entire life’s journey, beginning, middle, and end!   Amen

Sermonette #3 – Luke 24:50-53, Acts 1:6-11

So, if you’re going on a long trip, what do you need?  Well, you need supplies for the trip, safety for the trip, and you also need to know where you’re going.  And if you’ve never been to the place where you’re going, it would sure be nice to have someone who’s been there before to go with you, right?

Well, at the very end of Jesus’ earthly ministry he took his disciples up on the mount of Olives, just outside of Jerusalem and he ascended before their eyes.  Jesus earthly journey had ended, but the disciples journey was just beginning.

So, Jesus gave them something for their journey.  What did he give them?  He gave them the picture of Him ascending into heaven.  Just picture it.  First, He lifted His hands up to bless them and what did they see on the hands?  The nail marks reminding them of how he went to the cross and paid for their sins in full!  And notice that He never put His hands down, they remained up in blessing.  Then He powerfully ascended into the sky, Jesus, whom they follow is Almighty, all-powerful God!  Then a cloud hid him from their sight, no he didn’t leave them, they just couldn’t see him anymore.  And someday He would come back and take them to be with Him forever.  So what did the disciples have for their journey?  The Almighty God to go with them, the very God who had forgiven all of their sins, who’s hands were up blessing them and who would come back to take them to heaven forever!

Sometimes our journey through life can seem long, can seem burdensome, can be tiring, can be frustrating, can be painful, can be exhausting, and can leave us feeling discouraged, lost, confused, and defeated.

But you know what?  You have all of the same blessings as the apostles for your earthly journey.  The Almighty God is with you (watch as Jesus ascends into the sky).  Jesus loves you dearly and has forgiven you (look at the nail marks in his hands).  Jesus will work all things out for your good and blessing (look at his hands still up in blessing).  Jesus remains with you (see the cloud hide him).  And Jesus has already been to the place where we want to finally arrive – heaven.  And he knows the way perfectly.

So, “Are we there yet?”  No, not yet.  But someday we will be.  And as we journey through life, we journey with confidence, because Jesus is with us, the same Jesus who was lifted up on the cross for us, the same Jesus who had power to raise people from the dead, and the same Jesus who ascended in victory.  No, we’re not there yet.  But with Jesus at our side, we WILL arrive there, in heaven, when the time is just right!  Amen.