October 13, 2019- Message- Responding to Jesus (Y’all Need Jesus!)

y'all need Jesus

On the way to Jerusalem he (Jesus) was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Luke 17:11-19 (ESV)

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.

Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:8-15 (ESV)
The relationship of a parent to his or her child can be a strained and complicated one. Some of our children are easy to love some of the time. Some of our children can be difficult and hard to manage from day one forward. Most of them are a little bit of both- a little sweet, a little sour, just like the Sour Patch kids. We do things for our kids not because we want them to be grateful for what we do, but because they’re our kids. We love them even when they don’t care whether we love them or not. We love them when they are unlovable. We love them even when they are ungrateful. We love our children even when they don’t respond to our love in the way that we hope.
There’s a popular T shirt that states: Y’all Need Jesus. It’s fun to wear t-shirts with catty sayings such as this as a conversation starter. In one way the saying on the shirt is supposed to imply that others’ behavior is so bad that they need Jesus to straighten them out. In another it reveals the truth that we are dependent upon Jesus- and for far more than to keep us from saying or doing things we shouldn’t.
Our need for Jesus is just as profound and essential whether we are people needing healing from leprosy or people dealing with the turmoil of the 21st century. We ALL need Jesus. Our very lives, the heartbeats within us, the air that we breathe, the very existence of all matter depends on Jesus, whether we acknowledge His hand and His sovereignty or not. A lot of the time we are like the nine guys, the former lepers who were healed and just went along their merry way, not considering the amazing thing Jesus had just done for them.
All good gifts of God, including healing, are gifts- given not because we are worthy, but because Jesus is worthy. God does not give gifts expecting anything in return from us. What does God need? Is there anything we can give to God that He didn’t give us first?
The rain falls on good and bad people alike, as Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:45. – For he (God) makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
That’s not the message we expect to hear. We instinctively gravitate to the wisdom of the world that says, “one hand washes the other.” Quid pro quo. You get what you deserve, which is the concept that some of the world’s religions refer to as Karma, the principle that every world religion, with the exception of Christianity, believes. Because of Jesus we don’t get what we deserve, and that is good news considering that every human being deserves death and hell.
Cause and effect logically follow in our minds. Cause and effect are powerfully evident in the natural world. Good and bad things happen to good and bad people alike. But Jesus’ economy isn’t our economy. Jesus is the Giver, the Sustainer, the Lord of Life, whether we understand or acknowledge that or not. As we learn in the book of Job, God gives and takes away as God wills, not according to what makes sense to us.

Some of us pray for physical healing and will never see it this side of eternity. Some of us grieve the loss of someone precious to us who we will not see again until Jesus returns. All of us are crying out for some sort of deliverance or comfort at one time or another. The human condition since the Fall is such that we will all suffer. Some of us get respite from our torments, while others of us can only take comfort and strength in knowing that Jesus walks with us even through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4.)

We will share in the cross of Christ just as we will share in the resurrection and life of Christ.

The Samaritan leper understood the mercy and grace given to him by Jesus. He may have understood it even more profoundly than the Jewish lepers because he wasn’t “born into” the promise. It was only by faith in Jesus that he was healed. He knew that there was no way that he deserved or earned healing and that his healing was indeed a free gift of God.
Jesus tells us a story of a Pharisee – a guy who thought that he earned “having it made with God” and a tax collector, who acknowledged being a sinner in need of a Savior, in the temple.
He (Jesus) also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)
The Pharisee’s prayer was not as much in praise of God as it was in praise of himself. “Thank God I am not that prostitute, or that tax collector, or that guy.” He might as well have said, “Thank God I go through all the right motions and say all the right things.” The Pharisees even had prayers in which men thanked God that they were not born women. Today we still find ourselves trying to compare ourselves to others, saying things like, “at least I’m not an addict or a criminal,” without realizing that only by the grace of God we could be the ones trapped in addiction or mired in a life of crime. We have no idea to the extent and depth we are beholden to God’s grace.
We see the mercy of Christ when we see how completely and often we break God’s laws, yet He is still good to us. He still forgives us for all the times we break the Law. It is only because of His grace and mercy that we can stand, and He is the One Who chooses to make us His own. We do not choose God any more than children choose their biological parents.
We are invited to come to Him, to confess our sins and to be forgiven. No matter how many times we have broken God’s laws. No matter how horrible a sinner we may believe we are, even a sinner like the apostle Paul who claimed to be the chief of sinners, as he tells his protégé Timothy : The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 1 Timothy 1:15 (ESV)
Jesus bled and died to pay for the sins of ALL. There is no one beyond the scope of God’s grace, unless we choose to put ourselves there. We can choose to ignore God and fail to acknowledge Him, but ignoring God is not a good choice, as we learn from the Psalmist (possibly King David) who teaches : The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. Psalm 14:1 (ESV)

There is a big difference between assuming the grace of God because of what we do or the tradition we follow, and knowing one’s sinfulness and undeserved favor before a holy God.
We learn from the writer of Proverbs that the fear (fear meaning: a reverent respect) of God is the beginning of wisdom.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)
In our baptisms we are made children of God- some of us are the easy children who smile and hug and cooperate and make our parent’s heart glad. Some of us are the difficult children who are incorrigible and frustrating and are the children who make us question our choice to become a parent. All of us are both- saint and sinner- some of the time. A lot of the time we are like the nine lepers who didn’t give God a second thought. Yet God gives His gracious gifts to us all, for the sake of Jesus Who died to save us from our sins and to reconcile us to the Father.
We all desperately need Jesus. Seeing this need is wisdom, and living in thanks to God for life in Jesus is a gift of faith.
Whether we are healed here and now or whether we suffer here and now, or we live a life of both suffering and of being healed, we live in thanks to Jesus. We look to the Suffering Servant who gave His life so that we may live with God forever. We believe Him and take Him at His word. We thank and praise Him, not as though there would ever be anything we could to do to repay Him, but simply as a response of thankfulness and praise to the Author of all things who has delivered us from death and brought us into ultimate healing- the healing and peace of eternal life with Him.

October 7, 2019- The Question of Evil – Praying for Retribution and Justice? Psalm 94:12-23

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Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord,
and whom you teach out of your law,

to give him rest from days of trouble,
until a pit is dug for the wicked.

For the Lord will not forsake his people;
he will not abandon his heritage;

for justice will return to the righteous,
and all the upright in heart will follow it.

Who rises up for me against the wicked?
Who stands up for me against evildoers?

If the Lord had not been my help,
my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.

When I thought, “My foot slips,”
your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.

When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul.

Can wicked rulers be allied with you,
those who frame injustice by statute?

They band together against the life of the righteous
and condemn the innocent to death.

But the Lord has become my stronghold,
and my God the rock of my refuge.

He will bring back on them their iniquity
and wipe them out for their wickedness;
the Lord our God will wipe them out.

Psalm 94:12-23 (ESV)

The Psalms are generally where we go when we seek comfort, to pray and praise, to find the words to reach out to God when we have no words of our own.  The full range of human emotion is expressed in the Psalms- joy, grief, thankfulness, longing, despair, and even anger.

We shouldn’t be surprised by the existence of or the harsh language of the imprecatory psalms.

(imprecation: the act of calling down a curse) 

In the imprecatory psalms the prayer is that God would curse the enemies of the people. There’s a “God, please get this bad guy, and by the way, he deserves to die,” sort of theme in these psalms that just isn’t there in the more commonly known psalms. The imprecatory psalms are cries for justice- that wicked rulers be brought down, and that evil people would be punished for their crimes, and that injustice would be put to a stop. We are invited in to rally behind the psalmist’s rage.

We can relate to the psalmist’s angst here when we see unfair legislation passed or the powers of government used in improper ways.   When life or the world is unfair it is easy for us to understand where the psalmist is coming from and to chime right in.

When we see those who should be good stewards of society and of the common good made corrupt and people are suffering without cause it should make us angry.  We should cry out to God.  We should be honest about how injustice makes us feel.

Then we remember that God is a just God.  We remember that we are not always the “good guy.” In fact we are the bad guy a lot of the time.  We need to be reminded as Nathan reminded David in 2 Samuel 12:1-15 – “You are the man!”

David was disciplined by God for his transgressions- the loss of his son with Bathsheba and the ever-present sword dividing his house.  Yet David was also beloved of God, the forefather of Jesus, the true King of Israel and of all things.

So we should pray the imprecatory psalms with caution, and with the understanding that even at our best we are simul justus et peccator – sinners and saints at the same time.  While we rail against the injustice and sinfulness of the world we rail against the same sinful things in us at the same time. We ask God to find those times when “we are the man” and reveal them to us so we can confess them to Him- so we can put those impulses and evil deeds that we hate (but we do anyway) to death, and be forgiven.

When I thought, “My foot slips,”
your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.

God holds us up.  Even though we fail and even though we must drown the old Adam in the water of baptism on a daily basis, we are free to call out to God.  He will see that His justice is done.  He will defend and hold up those who belong to Him.

But the Lord has become my stronghold,
and my God the rock of my refuge.

 

April 3, 2019- The Widow’s Mite, the Shema, and the First Commandment-Mark 12:41-44, Deuteronomy 6:4-8, Matthew 22:34-40

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And he (Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44 (ESV)

Jesus’ account of the poor widow isn’t meant to guilt trip us into putting all of our money in the collection plate. Jesus isn’t really even talking about just our money.  While we should be good stewards of what God provides us, and we should be mindful of our giving of time, talent and resources to the mission of the church, Jesus is really talking about the First Commandment and what it is to take it seriously.

We can all agree that the shema – which is the primary prayer and petition of the Jewish people- is good.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-8 (ESV)

Jesus underscores the shema as being the foundation of God’s Law as well:

But when the Pharisees heard that he (Jesus) had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40 (ESV)

So the question Jesus asks of us is, “Do you really love God with all your heart and soul and mind? Do you really love other people like you love yourself?”

The answer to this question is, “No, we don’t.”

We don’t love God with all our heart and soul and mind – and we certainly don’t love others like we love ourselves because we can’t. No matter how hard we may try, we fall short.  Cats meow, dogs bark, and sinners sin.  As long as we live this life in these imperfect bodies, we will still be subject to the curse of sin. We are powerless to love perfectly, and we cannot love God and others in and of our own strength.

We can only love God and others, as imperfect and fallen as we are, by the grace of God in Christ.  We, like the poor widow, have nothing to offer God but ourselves in our weakness and poverty.   Jesus loves God, and loves fallen humanity perfectly in a way we are not capable of.  He gives us the faith we need to be able to give even our imperfect selves.

This isn’t to say that the Law is a bad thing. The Law is a good thing because it shows us our desperate need for Jesus.  Jesus lived out the Law perfectly, not only in love toward God, but also in love for us.  He gave His life- which was all that He had here on this earth- so that God would see us as being justified under the Law.  He freely took the punishment that brings us peace (Isaiah 53:5.)

That is what love is, and why it is so difficult for us to trust God so fully that we give freely of ourselves for the good of others. In Christ, we know love.  In Christ – by His grace, through faith, we are free to give all that we are and all that we have to Him.

March 5, 2019- Shrove Tuesday, Extravagance and Love – John 12:1-8

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Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”  He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” John 12:1-8 (ESV)

Shrove Tuesday is also known as Mardi Gras (literally: Fat Tuesday.)  Being the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent, in liturgical traditions, (especially Roman Catholicism) Shrove Tuesday is traditionally a day to eat up all of one’s sumptuous food and to live it up before embarking on the somber, penitent, fasting season of Lent.  Of course, the Mardi Gras tradition is also one of theoretically getting all one’s sinning out of one’s system so one can be “shriven” or forgiven all their sins.  Of course, we all need to remember our baptisms and confess our sins daily.  We may be God’s saints, but as long as we are in these bodies on this earth, we are also sinners in need of God’s grace.

Jesus was sinless, so He had no sins to get out of His system before the Passover- or at any other time. The only sin problem Jesus ever had is when He took on the sins of the world- so that He could defeat the curse of death, cover us in His blood, and forgive our sins.

He was treated to a dinner with His disciples and friends. Mary saw the opportunity to be extravagant in her care for Jesus while He was with them.  Before He had to embark on His lonely journey through Passion Week, taking on the burden of our sins, and ultimately dying for us on the cross, He was cared for and richly anointed.  She had no idea what lie ahead of Jesus in the following days, but she responded to Him out of love.  Mary did not realize that she was preparing Jesus for the journey ahead of Him and she was anointing Jesus for His burial.

Yes, there are times for prudence and frugality. There is always a need to care for those less fortunate than we are. It can be said in this text that Judas had an ulterior motive for pointing that out. Charity does not always come from a heart with pure motives. There are also times in our lives in which we should celebrate and be extravagant with each other.  We do not know how long we will have our loved ones with us.

Traditionally Lent is a time of penitence and sacrifice. It is not just a time to give up bad habits or to get rid of unnecessary things.  It is a time to contemplate the life and Passion of Jesus.  It is a time to consider taking up good habits such as regular Bible study, giving, or serving others.  As we enter the season of Lent- whether we participate in Fat Tuesday traditions or not- perhaps we could make time to appreciate our loved ones, while they are with us, and we with them.  We do not know where this life’s journey may take us.

 

August 21, 2008- Shadow, Refuge, Light and Jesus, Lord of All -Psalm 36:7-9, Acts 7:9-16

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How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light. Psalm 36:7-9 (ESV)

And the patriarchs, (i.e. Joseph’s brothers) jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food.  But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit.  And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all.  And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem. Acts 7:9-16 (ESV)  (See also Genesis 37 and Genesis 45:1-15.)

God, the fountain of life, the light of the world, God our refuge, is for us. Even though situations can appear hopeless, God makes a way for His people.

Joseph seemed to have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He was his father’s favorite child, much to the disdain of his older brothers.  His brothers became so angry with and jealous of Joseph and his favored position that they decided to take his clothes and sell him into slavery.

One might think that it would be difficult to see the hand of God in being sold into slavery and to being made to suffer humiliation and even time in prison (Genesis 39) during that enslavement.  Yet God preserved Joseph so that he would be able to provide a way for his family to survive a terrible famine.

Sometimes we might wonder what God is doing with us in our particular time and place.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. – Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)

Walking by faith- trusting God- doesn’t always make sense. We have no idea most of the time what God has in mind when we find ourselves in situations we would never want to be in.

It’s hard to say, “Trust God,” when someone is in the middle of suffering. It’s hardest of all when we have to look up and trust God through impossibilities, through adversities, and through our tears. Sometimes we wonder what use we can be to ourselves or others when we are disabled, or broke, or too scattered and busy. Other times we wonder if God really cares about us or our lives.  As we study the Bible, time after time we see all the ways that God makes a way for His people.  We can trust He will make a way for us as well, even when we can’t see it or we don’t understand.

We look to Jesus, whose thoughts were of us as His earthly life bled away on the Cross. What did God do with such a seemingly senseless sacrifice? Jesus told us that we must take up our crosses too – Luke 9:23– as we follow Him.  Because He died and rose from the dead, we share both in His death as well as His resurrection life.  He walks with us through it all- even as He walked with His forefather Joseph through the impossible and the unfair and the seemingly hopeless.

Walking by faith, trusting God, seems like a very silly thing to do if we subscribe to the wisdom of this world. Confessing our sins to God daily, putting on our baptism and accepting His free grace and forgiveness, bringing our prayers to God, forgiving others, serving others, these are gifts of the Holy Spirit to us.  Jesus is the only Way, Truth and Life.  He works in and through – and sometimes in spite of- the crosses we are called to bear even though we don’t see how most of the time.  We may never see the good that God works in and through us in our lifetimes.  Even so, because of God’s good gift of faith, we can hope beyond our temporary circumstances. We look up, we trust God, and we know that we are covered under His wings.

July 10, 2018 One Flesh, One Body- Genesis 2:13-25

garden of eden

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Genesis 2:18-25 (ESV)

It is not good for human beings to be alone. God made us for relationship, not just with Him, but with His creation and with other humans. God entrusted Adam with naming the animals, but having the animals as companionship just didn’t seem to be enough for Adam.  As much as we might think a world with just dogs and cats for company would be a good thing, we can’t relate to them on the same intellectual level.  Procreation is pretty much impossible without both male and female humans.  Where would the babies come from?

One of the most tragic casualties of the Fall – and of the second half of the 20th century- is the good gift of marriage.  Fewer and fewer couples see the necessity of making the commitment of marriage, and even among those who do, only about half of all marriages will survive until one of the partners dies.  Our culture glorifies the ideals of independence and sexual freedom.  The fallout of the so-called “sexual revolution” is all around us. We want that euphoric high of infatuation, and we love to be in romantic love, but we don’t want to deal with another person’s flaws or hard times. Infatuation doesn’t last long. Marriage can become trying when the reality of monthly bills, medical issues, and dirty laundry and each other’s personality flaws becomes painfully clear.

Some marriages are destroyed by adultery. Still others are torn apart by addiction, or by physical or emotional abuse. Some even decide to end a marriage due to lack of interest or “falling out of love.” There is always emotional and spiritual fallout throughout a family when a marriage falls apart.  Separation and divorce- while sometimes absolutely necessary due to abuse or unavoidable because of adultery- are part of our sinful condition, because of our hardness of heart. Separation and brokenness were not the ways God intended.

The relationship of a husband and wife was intended by God to be the closest and most intimate relationship within humanity. John the Baptist compares the relationship of Christ and the church to a marriage. See John 3:28-30. We, the church, as the Bride of Christ are part of His body- just as we see foreshadowed in the creation of Eve from the flesh of Adam. Marriage was intended to be a mirror of that perfect union.

Flesh of my flesh,” Adam says of Eve.  He speaks of a relationship so close that they are of the same body, the same mind, unashamed of their nakedness, with no secrets between them.  This kind of relationship echoes the intimacy of God walking with Adam and Eve in the Garden without the barriers of sin, shame and regret.

The good news is that Jesus always invites us to come to Him- to confess our sin, to repent, and to surrender our shame to Him. Unlike our flawed and tempestuous relationships with other sinners/saints like ourselves, Jesus is always with us, always faithful, never letting go of us, even into eternity.

While the best earthly marriages foreshadow the delight of the forever relationship we will share with Jesus, we can trust that at all times Jesus is our comfort, our strength and our defender.

It is important to remember that there is no condemnation for a person to seek separation or divorce should they be the victim of adultery, or for those who suffer abuse (which includes physical, financial and emotional abuse) at the hands of their spouse. There is forgiveness, healing and restoration for those who have suffered the pain of divorce. Everyone alive has fallen short of the glory of God.  Jesus invites us to come to Him to be forgiven and restored.

We can look forward to the day when there will be no separation from Jesus- no more tears, no more pain, and no more brokenness. Until that day we trust that God will give us the grace to reflect and share His love, forgiveness, restoration and peace.

April 30, 2018 God’s Love- Overcoming the World: 1 John 5:1-5, Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 12:1-2

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Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.  For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 John 5:1-5 (ESV)

God’s commandments aren’t burdensome? Really? Who among us can claim to have kept God’s commandments for any length of time?

If we try to go through life keeping score and attempting to will ourselves “good” by adhering to a harsh legalistic interpretation of God’s law, we are setting ourselves up to fail. The apostle Paul teaches us:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

Faith itself is a gift of God. There is nothing to brag about unless one is bragging about Jesus.

The things we do, or the length to which we succeed in obeying God, is in response to our faith, which is in and of itself a gift. The glory all belongs to God, because we are not capable of love or goodness apart from Him.  John Calvin (a theologian who was a part of the Reformation around the same time as Martin Luther) proposed the total depravity of man, which is to say that apart from God humanity is 100% corrupt, self serving and downright evil. Roman Catholics refer to this concept in a similar way, calling this condition original sin, which is the concept that we humans all inherit the original sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden.

Jesus died on the Cross as our substitute for all the sins of humanity for all time, because the penalty for sin is death. (Romans 6:23) Even though we trust Jesus for our salvation because He became our substitute, as long as we live in these bodies on this earth, we live the paradox of being saints and sinners at the same time.  God in us prompts us to respond to His love, but the old Adam has to be drowned (as we remember our Baptism and confess our sins) on a daily basis.

If we try to love and do good deeds as if those are items on a checklist, we will fail horribly. Yet if we focus on loving God, the fruits of repentance will follow.  A wise Pastor once taught that if a person truly loves God, he or she can do whatever he or she wants, because his or her desires will be God’s desires.  As Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer: Thy (meaning God’s) kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

The apostle Paul also teaches us:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)

It won’t necessarily become easy to love the unlovable.  Diapers will still stink.  Drudgery will still cause our bodies and minds to be weary.  But as we grow in our faith, and we trust that Jesus gives us our daily bread, we experience joy beyond the drudgery, and we know love in serving others, which is love we share in serving God.   We have the hope of the kingdom to come where sorrow and pain and tears will be no more. (Revelation 21:4)

It has been said that nothing easy is worth doing. Yet it is God behind the action, God granting us the faith and the resolve to love the unlovable, and to endure hardship for the sake of another.  We cannot love or serve others apart from God’s love.

This world can be painful, difficult and hard to endure. But in Jesus we have hope.  Because He loved us first, we are free to love others and find joy in that service.