Sermons

An archive of the most recent sermons by Pastor Ehlers.

Welcome Home: Where God Gives Good Gifts (September 15, 2019)

September 17, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

Welcome Home: Where God Gives Good Gifts

Romans 9:1-9

What is it with little kids and wrapping paper? Why is the box it came in more fun to play with than the actual toy itself? You’ve experienced that, right? You spend all the time and effort of finding the perfect gift, you wrap it up all nice, give it to your child with great anticipation, they unwrap it, toss it aside, and play with the box. Ugh… Why even go through the effort?! Why go through the effort of finding or even giving a gift if all they are going to do is focus all their attention on the packaging and toss the real gift aside.

This is nothing new. This focus on the packaging rather than the gift dates back hundreds of years. It was there with the Israelites. God had given them so many gifts – packaged the Gospel of the Messiah in so many different boxes all so clearly focusing on the gift inside. “Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen” (Rm 9:4-5).

They had been given it all! They had been given the gift of the Savior in so many ways. But rather than delighting in the gifts, they became infatuated with the “packaging” and failed to see these things as the blessings that they are. “Theirs is the adoption to sonship.” God chose them out of every nation to be his own. Not by their own doing, but by his love. And he gave them a sign of this adoption in the circumcision of all of their males. This sign was meant to be a symbol of the everlasting covenant between them and God – that he would be their God and the God of their descendants. But they threw away the gift of gracious adoption and held on only to the sign – circumcision.

Theirs the divine glory.” God himself actually came down to speak with them – face to face with Moses – and to make his presence visibly known among the Israelites in the pillar of billowing fire that towered over the Ark of the Covenant, the tabernacle, and the temple. But they soon forgot the significance of God dwelling visibly with them and became focused on the ark itself – even using it as a kind of good luck charm in battle. Then, later the temple building became their focus.

Theirs are the covenants” given again and again, repeated and restated through Abraham, Moses, David, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. All these covenants pointing to a Savior. Pointing out sin and the need for a Savior. Pointing to the Savior as the one who would keep the covenant in their place. But they liked the covenant more than the Savior.

Theirs the receiving of the law.” They knew exactly what God expected of them. They had the advantage of precisely knowing. And when unable to keep the law, “Theirs are the promises of the Savior.”

Theirs is the temple worship.” Which emphasized again and again how our sins separate us from God and his holiness – that shown in the two different rooms in the temple and the thick heavy curtain that separated them – which almost no one went behind. The temple worship also demonstrated how we are only brought close to God by an atoning sacrifice of blood, how one Passover Lamb takes away the sins of the whole world.

And even after hearing God’s promises, knowing the law that must be kept, knowing of the Messiah, knowing that he would deliver his people by a blood sacrifice, and then seeing all of this fall into place with Jesus from Nazareth who was crucified but rose again. After all the pieces fell so neatly into place – impossibly so – they just couldn’t believe it. The one thing all these gifts were pointing to was Jesus as the Messiah – Christ their Savior. But they didn’t want the gift. They didn’t like the gift. They threw the gift away and kept the packaging.

So, what does all that have to do with us and what we do here? Is that what we are doing here? Are we playing church? Going through the motions? Cherishing the packaging or the channels of God’s gifts but tossing his gifts aside? I live in a new and growing neighborhood. We have our own facebook group for the neighborhood, so I get a chance to see all the neighborhood buzz. One thing I see from time to time is people, who recently moved in, looking for a church. And that’s great! But when I read what they are looking for in a church, I have to wonder are they focusing on the packaging and tossing the gift aside? I’m truly glad that they are looking for a church. And I know that many churches have the Word and teach the word. But time and time again, I see these requests focusing on the wrong thing. “I’m looking for a good Christian church. We like contemporary churches with fun praise and worship.” “I’m looking for a church with good youth programs.” “I’m looking for a church my kids will enjoy.” Is that what church has become? Is that all that people are looking for – somewhere they will be entertained? Somewhere that has all the features I am looking for? I think what bothers me most is that in all of the requests I’ve seen, not one of them looks for recommendations based on teachings. It’s all about the packaging, and not about the gift.

And it might be easy to point this out in other churches, and in other people, but it happens right in our own hearts as well. Is this a social club that you attend just to meet people and make friends? That’s certainly not the primary intention. Although you will meet people here, make connections, and prayerfully build one another up. Do you attend here just to make you feel better about yourself? This is what Christians do. This is what my life is supposed to have. I do this to earn a certain status either among others, or even within my own heart. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, I think this temptation is always lurking. The temptation to focus merely on the things we do here. Or to use the things we do here merely as a psychological pick me up. I do this, because I’m supposed to. NO! I go here because of the Gift.

Well, you have all these same gifts to an even greater extent. The Jews of the Old Testament were truly blessed, but you, as a New Testament believer are even more blessed. God has also adopted you as his child (Gal 4:5). They had circumcision as a sign and seal that they were God’s people; we have Baptism as a sign and seal that we belong to Christ (Gal 3:26-27).  God has sent his Son to dwell in you as his temple (1 Cor 6:19). In faith they brought sacrifices to God for forgiveness; we remember the sacrifice our Savior made of himself for us as we take part in Communion. They looked forward to the coming of the Messiah; we have seen him come and rejoice in the knowledge of the completed work of salvation. This is all given to us in the package of Baptism and Communion, worship and the word. Don’t give up the true gift and turn these things into empty shells of what they are. Don’t focus so much on the features of worship and lose sight of the very real gifts they contain. Baptism and Communion are no mere symbols. In them, God comes to you, takes you as his own, and gives you forgiveness, life and salvation. Worship and the word are no mere motions that we go through – reading here, singing there, standing, sitting and everything else. Everything we do is meant to focus your attention on the gift itself – Christ Jesus our Savior. Proclaimed in the word. Honored is song and response. Central in our lives and in our worship.

These gifts are not only meant for physical descendants of Israel. They are not only meant for people in this room or Christians by name. They are meant for all people. You can see how Paul grieves over his people who have abandoned the gift of the Savior. The anguish in his words as he wishes that he himself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of his people. That kind of sacrifice is not possible, but you see the lengths he would go to for those he loves. Love is not only pure joy and delight, but also great heaviness of heart and deep sorrow for someone you care about. If only they would hear the word, see the truth, and live!

Despite what happened with the Israelites – that only a small number believed in Jesus as the Messiah – the word did not fail. In fact, look around you and see that the word did not fail. “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel…. In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring” (Rm 9:6,8). Children who believe the promise of Jesus as Savior.

So, as you talk about worship and church among friends, family, and neighbors, first give thanks that God’s Word is proclaimed in Christian churches across our country. Then, as you promote our church, be sure to draw attention to the gifts that God has given us. Trinity is a place of community, family, and mission, yes. But most importantly is what we do as a community and family, what our mission is. We are a church that focuses on the message God’s salvation, where forgiveness of sins through Christ is proclaimed, and where growing in faith through the work of the Holy Spirit happens. God’s gifts are great! And they are found here!

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Together We Stand (September 8, 2019)

September 11, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

Together We Stand

Ephesians 6:10-20

It happens in the home. Husband hurts wife with a statement that is far less than loving. The two of them then engage in a fight that can last hours… maybe days. It damages their relationship, their faith in one another, maybe even starts to erode away the core beliefs that once united them. It happens between friends where arguments sadly drive them apart – away from one person who used to stand with you, away from one person who used to support you, away from one person who would tell you the tough things you need to hear and encourage you on good paths in life. It happens in the church. Something was said, something was done, something was misunderstood, and rather than dealing with the issue, confronting someone, or seeking a proper understanding of what happened and why, you are driven away. My wife did this to me. Someone I once called a friend did that to me. The church drove me away from Christianity.

I’m not denying that these things happen. I’m not denying that people hurt one another, misunderstandings happen, or entities can become corrupted. I’m not even saying that issues should not be worked out and resolved between you and whoever or whatever did the damage. But before you throw it all away, before you leave and let yourself be forever divided from what you once called good, be sure to identify the real enemy behind it all.

Our struggle is NOT against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12). Yes, your husband or wife may have said hurtful things, may even have done something that makes it so you can’t even look at them. And it needs to be dealt with. But ultimately, your struggle is not against them. They were a pawn. The Devil used their sinful nature to begin driving a wedge between you. Divide and conquer is often his strategy. Yes, the church may have done something terrible – either purposefully or inadvertently. Yes, it needs to be brought up, addressed, and dealt with. But ultimately, your struggle is not against that entity. “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor 11:14-15).

This is serious stuff. Don’t picture a person with a nametag that says, “Hi, I’m with Satan.” Don’t even picture someone who is obviously up to something – plotting evil and scheming to deceive. Satan will drive his wedge in anywhere he can, all while masking and disguising himself so that we would be none the wiser. Instead, we are so consumed with defeating the visible enemy right in front of us that we don’t see who’s really behind it all. And he’s not just trying to drive a wedge between you and others. He’s trying to drive a wedge between you and God. Between you and salvation. This is no mere sport in which we try our own strength against a human opponent. It is a deadly battle in which we are pitted against spiritual forces of evil which would overwhelm us if we met them with anything other than God’s help. Face him alone and you WILL lose.

We know that we are surrounded by temptations but think that we are too wise to be taken in. “I won’t go too far.” “I won’t let it happen a second time.” Think about who you are dealing with. The Devil has thousands of years of experience in leading people astray. Paul emphasizes that he is organized, he is powerful, his hand is far-reaching. He is not a force to be messed with. He is behind every argument, every sinful action, and every offense. He loves to see God’s gift of marriage ripped apart. He loves to see the lone person who stomped off from friends who would support him. He loves to see you leave a church vowing to go it on your own from here on out. He is relentlessly trying to rip you away from your only hope in life – God your Savior. On your own, you WILL lose.

So now that you’ve identified your true opponent, and realized his true power – I mean that. He is powerful and cunning beyond your understanding. – But you have someone even more powerful who stands in your corner. You have been given armor that can not only defend against Satan’s attacks, but stop him dead in his tracks. You have the armor of God! Don’t miss what that phrase means. This is not just armor from God. You are given God’s own armor – the very armor that Jesus himself used to defeat every evil attack and avoid every temptation. God gives you this armor. Paul urges, “Put it on!” Use the armor in which God himself is clothed when he goes forth to overthrow his enemies. If you use it, you will stand as conquerors and victors.

Let’s take a look at these pieces and why they are so important.

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist” (Eph 6:14). Unless you know the truth and use it, you will be overcome. For the devil “is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44). The only thing that can expose his lies for what they are is the truth of God’s Word.

Stand firm then… with the breastplate of righteousness in place” (Eph 6:14). One of the first and most common moves of the devil is to try to get us to despair because we do not measure up to God’s standard of righteousness. When any form of calamity strikes, Christians are tempted to ask, “What have I done to deserve this?” The devil will help them find some particular sin in their past and tell them because of it, God has turned against them. And if Satan has succeeded in plunging a Christian into some gross sin, he will be quick to follow up by telling him that he can never be forgiven. That is what happened to Judas. When you are under the same attack, use the breastplate of righteousness! Confess your sin, yes, but then remember that by his suffering and death Jesus earned perfect righteousness for you and declared it so! We can join Paul in issuing the challenge: “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies” (Rm 8:33).

Stand firm then… with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (Eph 6:15). When the believer has the gospel of sins forgiven – the gospel of peace – he has firm footing that cannot be shaken.

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph 6:16). If you think about a flaming arrow, they weren’t primarily meant to inflict a mortal wound. They weren’t lit on fire to kill faster or more efficiently. A flaming arrow, if imbedded in certain materials, could start a fire that would spread and eventually inflict massive damage. And I think this is the one we need to be most aware of in our relationships, in our homes, among friends, and here in God’s house. The devil tries to imbed in our inner being a small beginning of doubt, or false doctrine, or sinful desire, or vengeful impulse, or pride. He knows that if any of these gains a foothold it will spread. What embers do you think are smoldering now? What’s the evil ember glowing at the bottom of that argument with your spouse? What’s the ember that ignited scorn for your brother or sister in Christ? What’s the coal that fuels your anger against this place? If we hold to the faith, to what we have been taught from God’s Word, we will resist the beginnings and thus extinguish Satan’s arrows before they do massive damage.

Take the helmet of salvation” (Eph 6:17), the gift that is far too precious to be traded for any of the vain pleasures with which the devil entices us. “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Mt 16:26).

Take… the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph 6:17). While the word is not mentioned specifically until the end, every piece of armor is closely related to the word. The word is the truth that serves as your belt. The righteousness that is your breastplate is revealed in the word. The gospel of peace is found in the word. The faith that serves as a shield is taught in the word, as is the salvation that is your helmet.

If you are to be strong and safe, you need to live in the word. If a congregation is to be strong and united, all of its members need to live in the word. If a church body is to be and remain strong, all its individual members and congregations need to be rooted in the word.

So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Eph 6:10). Put on every piece of God’s armor every day so that we are not torn apart by the hidden enemy. I’m going to read this armor of God section once more, but in a slightly different way. I’m going to read it in a way that carries the emphasis the way that Paul’s listeners would have heard it, because this is the only way you can stand up against Satan – and, it’s a guaranteed way to stand against Satan.

“Take your stand then, with truth as your belt, righteousness as your breastplate, the gospel of peace firmly on your feet, salvation as your helmet and in your hand the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Above all, be sure you take faith as your shield.”

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Welcome Home: Where the Lost are Found (September 1, 2019)

September 4, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

Welcome Home: Where the Lost are Found

Luke 15:1-10

Have you ever walked into a place and immediately felt like you don’t belong? Recently, I was going to a coffee shop that I’ve been to often. Walking through the parking lot, I locked the car with the remote, checked my bag to see that I had everything I needed and confidently swung the door open, only to look up and see that I was standing in a nail salon. This is definitely NOT where I belong. I sheepishly backpedaled, went out the door, and quickly found the correct door to the coffee shop about 10 feet to the left.

That’s a fairly trivial example. What if you’re in a place you think you need to be, but from the stares of the people there and the sinking in your gut you just feel like you don’t belong. Maybe it’s a classroom that you are entering for the first time at a new school or new school year. Maybe it’s a new place of work, or a new position at work. Maybe it’s your very own home? It’s tragic. It’s heart breaking. It’s damaging when we don’t feel welcomed in the very place we know we are supposed to be.

Sadly, that’s sometimes what the church has become. We see a sharp contrast between two groups of people in Luke 15. On the one hand, you have the tax collectors and sinners. And on the other hand, you have the Pharisees and teachers of the law. And the way that these two groups were perceived in those days was, you have those righteous people who make up the church and then the lost sinners who don’t belong there. And the very people in the church who should have been reaching out and embracing were actually shunning and slamming the door. The Pharisees strove to maintain a “righteous” life and to associate with only those as righteous as themselves that they slammed the door on those who really needed to be there. They made the church an unattainable goal. And if any sinner dared enter the church, they would immediately be made to feel unwelcomed.

Is that how you feel here? Do you feel like you don’t belong? Do you feel looked down upon as unworthy to be seated among this congregation? Do you look around and see people who are all more put together and righteous than yourself? I mean, lets be honest with ourselves. When you look around this room, do you see people who are here because they have their lives together, or people who need help and healing? If you are here feeling lost or helpless, and yet feel like you don’t belong, then look at the group that is drawn to Jesus in the Bible. It’s the tax collectors and sinners who were all gathering around to hear Jesus (Lk 15:1). And the Pharisees, although trying to criticize Jesus, state perfectly why he came, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Lk 15:2).

Then Jesus tells a parable to show that he doesn’t just welcome sinners. No, he does much more than that. “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” (Lk 15:4). Jesus tells it from the perspective of the shepherd, defending his actions to the Pharisees. But what if we think of it from the perspective of the lost sheep? Maybe there was a disagreement between you and some other sheep in the fold. Maybe you were looking for greener pastures somewhere else for a time. Maybe you just weren’t paying attention, life gets busy or whatever else and suddenly you look up to notice that you haven’t been to church in what, a couple months? A year? A decade? Well, what’s one who wandered away anyway? Will anyone really notice me missing from the flock? Will anyone care?

The parable talks about 99 sheep, and the shepherd does notice the one missing. But I’m going to zoom out to the entire flock of God. How many Christians do you think there are in the world? One billion? 2 billion? I’ve read that 1 billion grains of sand is about a cubic meter of sand. That might not sound like too much, but if you had a cubic meter of sand, 1 billion grains, and when you’re not looking I take one of them away, are you going to notice 1 missing? I wouldn’t. But Jesus does. Out of the 1 billion or 2 billion Christians in the world, Satan plucks one of them away. Even if you and I don’t notice, Jesus does. No matter how insignificant you may feel in the larger flock of God, no matter how easy you might think it would be to slip his notice, your absence is felt. You are missed. And your Savior is concerned about you. So concerned in fact that he goes after you, seeks you, calls for you until you are found! Because he wants you safe at home. He wants you to realize that he is the person who is most interested in your safety, your salvation, and your spiritual welfare.

That’s one great thing about this place as well. Your Shepherd doesn’t want you to feel like one in a billion – unnoticed and easily lost. So, he gathers his flock into smaller groupings, in congregations, in church homes, where you can feel loved, known, and at home – a place where you belong. When you are not here in this gathering of about 80 members, it’s felt by every one of us. We long to be with you. We long to have you home. We long to build you up and be built up by you! Because every single one of you has unique gifts to share. Every single one of you brings a unique aspect to this group that we all need.

The second parable that Jesus tells, about the lost coin, highlights all the care he puts into searching for you and finding you. “Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?” (Lk 15:8). Your Savior doesn’t simply do a quick visual sweep of the area and say, “Oh well” if you are not found. He goes after you, intentionally, carefully, and in a variety of ways because he wants you to be home!

And what happens when you are found? What happens when you walk through these doors after its been months… a year… or even more? “I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk 15:10). The angels are rejoicing that you are home! Jesus rejoices that you are home! We, your brothers and sisters are overjoyed and ready to welcome you with open arms!

That’s the hope, at least. Every single one of us ought to rejoice any time a person is led in through those doors, to sit with us, to grow with us, to be welcomed by us and eat with us. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Sometimes we, like the Pharisees, mutter indignant phrases like, “What brought him back?” or “What does she need this time?” If that’s our attitude, then shame on us. This place was never meant to be a hotel for saints, it’s a hospital for sinners. It’s a place where the lost find healing. And if we need to be reminded of that, then we are lost ourselves even right within this very room. There is no such thing as a perfect person this side of heaven. There isn’t a one of us in here who has everything perfectly together. You and I come here for the healing, forgiveness, and peace we so desperately need. This place is made up of individuals who are all wrestling with our own sins, and yet redeemed by grace. So, any time a person walks through those doors, we ought to welcome them with open arms, because this is where they need to be. Because this is where they belong. Because that’s what Jesus does for every one of us.

This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Lk 15:2). It was meant to be a derogatory slur, but it’s actually one of the most comforting statements anyone could say. Especially in times when I am struggling with sin, or overwhelmed by guilt. In times when I know I am not good enough, could never measure up, and the law is rightly condemning me as a miserable sinner. Times when I feel worthless compared to those surrounding me. These are exactly the words I need to hear, “This man welcomes sinners” (Lk 15:2). This is exactly the place I need to be. Even though I may feel like I don’t belong. Even though I may feel out of place. Even through I may feel unworthy. It’s just a feeling. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!” (Lk 15:2). It’s one thing to be standing in a crowd next to someone. It’s another thing to have them sit down and eat with you – willingly be seen with you, associate with you, and welcome you. And that’s exactly what your Savior does here. He welcomes you, sinner, and eats with you, to give you the help and healing you so desperately need – along with all the rest of us.

Welcome home! Where the lost are found. And where the lost find healing.

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Welcome Home (August 25, 2019)

August 28, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

Welcome Home

Hebrews 2:9-18

Brothers and sisters in Christ, welcome home. How are you doing? Does this place feel like home to you? Is it a place you feel like you can unburden and relax? Slump down into your seat and just know from this place that everything is going to be ok? Some of you would, no doubt, answer “Yes! This is where I’m comfortable. This place feels like a warm hug.” Others of you, though, might answer, “Home? This is supposed to feel like home? It’s never felt that way to me. I feel like a stranger. Sometimes, I even feel like I am not wanted. No this place doesn’t feel anything like home to me!”

Sometimes things don’t feel the way God intends. Sometimes things don’t seem the way they really are. In fact, nowhere is that more true than in Hebrews 2 where we are told something remarkable and unbelievable. Are you ready for it? “Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters” (Heb 2:11). The eternal God of the whole universe is your brother! And if that’s not hard enough to comprehend, Hebrews chapter 1 underscores just who Jesus your brother really is. He is the “heir of all things” (Heb 1:2). He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Heb 1:3). He “sustains all things by his powerful word” (Heb 1:3). He is the one about whom the Father says, “Let all God’s angels worship him” (Heb 1:6), and “Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever” (Heb 1:8). Yes, Jesus, your brother, is also called the one who “laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of [his] hands” (Heb 1:10).

To think that this one calls himself your brother?! He is the one who willingly “was made lower than the angels for a little while” (Heb 2:9). He is the one who “is not ashamed to call you brothers and sisters” (Heb 2:11). It’s as if you had a brother who was world famous, rich beyond your wildest dreams, and powerfully influential in all he does. And yet he doesn’t hesitate to associate with you, to welcome you into his home, to go into your home, and be right there with you. A real down to earth kind of guy.

To try to put this into perspective, you can think of the Chevy Chase movie, “Christmas Vacation.” In this movie, you are introduced to his character’s down-and-out brother-in-law who drives up in a beat-up Winnebago. His raggedy niece and nephew, and his snarky in-laws pile out. It’s not a pleasant sight. They say you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family. And yet, Jesus did pick you as his family! He willingly put his name on you when you were baptized and continues to strengthen your family bonds through the Word and the Lord’s Supper. He humbled himself to the point of being “lower than the angels for a little while” (Heb 2:9) because he wanted you in his family.

The dumpster-diving God leaves his perfect Triune Family in a pristine, sinless heaven, was born into the dumpster called earth to search through the filth and rubbish of this fallen world – for you, and for you, and for you. He’s the Lord who chose to live with you. He’s the Lord who chose to be your brother. And he didn’t just spend an extended weekend with you. He spent 33 years of what must have been an absolutely mind-numbing existence. A 24 hour revolting experience if you contrast heaven and earth – his riches to rags story.

But he did this willingly, lovingly, compassionately so that he could “bring many sons and daughters to glory” (Heb 2:10). Jesus took my sin and your sin, and the sins of all people upon himself and did what we couldn’t do. And you get the forgiveness and holiness you so desperately need! You and I get to bask in all Jesus’ glory!

Actor Kevin Bacon recounted when his 6-year-old son saw Footloose for the first time. He said, “Hey, Dad, you know that thing in the movie where you swing from the rafters of that building? That’s really cool, how did you do that?” I said, “Well, I didn’t do that part – it was a stunt man.” “What’s a stunt man?” he asked. “That’s someone who dresses like me and does things I can’t do.” “Oh,” he replied and walked out of the room looking a little confused. A little later he said, “Hey, Dad, you know that thing in the movie where you spin around on that gym bar and land on your feet? How did you do that?” I said, “Well, I didn’t do that. It was a gymnastics double.” “What’s a gymnastics double?” he asked. “That’s a guy who dresses in my clothes and does things I can’t do.” There was silence from my son, then he asked in a concerned voice, “Dad, what did you do?” “I got all the glory,” I sheepishly replied.

Our brother, Jesus, not only lived for the people of this world, but he, “tasted death for everyone” (Heb 2:9). I think of just a couple weeks ago, we were sitting at the table eating dinner. And the rule we try to enforce is that we have to sit at the table until we finish all the food on our plate. Well, Nehemiah starts off strong, but very quickly fades, and soon is doing anything but eating. I finally get him to eat his last bite, but there’s still his cup of milk. By now, the milk is warm and not the least bit pleasant to drink. It probably has some crumbs in it from whatever we were eating as well. Who on earth would volunteer to drink that glass of warm milk to free him from the dinner table? Very few of us would do it willingly. In contrast, your brother, Jesus, was willing to drink death to the dregs for you. What a brother!

Verse 10 then goes on to explain that Jesus was made “perfect through what he suffered” (Heb 2:10). That word for perfect means “complete,” or, “to bring to a goal.” Without suffering, Jesus would not have been a complete savior. So it was fitting that he should suffer and die. After all, it was his goal to bring “many sons and daughters to glory” (Heb 2:10). And since the Father’s and the Son’s wills are in perfect alignment, the Son willingly went along with the suffering.

Verse 11 is the bombshell that we began with. “Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters” (Heb 2:11). Many people are ashamed of their families. Perhaps your father is the town drunk. Perhaps your mother is a mess. Maybe your sister has known too many men, or your brother has been in trouble with the law more times than you can count. And so, you are ashamed. You are ashamed to admit your relationship. You are concerned with what others will think of you if they know you are related to him or her.

If ever there was a brother who had a right to be ashamed of his siblings, it is Jesus. He ought to have disowned us long ago. He ought to hang his head in shame at even knowing us. If we were him, that’s surely what we would do. But he is not like us. He is the one who has made us perfect through his suffering. He is not ashamed to call you brothers and sisters because he has made you holy in his sight. He is as proud to call you a brother or a sister as someone whose sibling won a gold medal at the Olympics or was elected to high office. Jesus points to you and says, “He is my brother! She is my sister!”

And he is here with us this morning. Just as surely as I am standing right here in front of you, as surely as that person is seated next to you, he is here. Listen again to what Jesus says to his Father, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly [in the congregation] I will sing your praises” (Heb 2:12). Isn’t that amazing! Jesus is joining us in our worship this morning. Even as we praise him, he joins us in praising his Father. Of course, he is here to do more than be worshiped by us and worship with us. He is here to give to you – to give you his forgiveness so you need never fear his anger. To give you the promise of eternal life so that you need never fear death. To give you his strength so that you need never fear temptation. “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb 2:18).

I think of my grandma in Hong Kong whom I lived with before Ruby and I got married – and after, in fact. I learned very quickly that I should never eat if I was on my way home. Because she was incapable of allowing anyone to walk into her home without giving them something to eat. She was always thinking of me and buying snacks for me. She’d pile them on my desk for when I was home. When I went home, she insisted on feeding me a meal – and there was always more. Our brother Jesus treats you the same way. When you enter this house, he insists on feeding you. He always has more for you. He knows precisely what your needs are and provides the spiritual nourishment to meet those needs. He feeds you in his word. He gives your forgiveness in the absolution. He gives you strength for your faith in the Lord’s Supper, and much more. It’s no wonder Jesus’ brothers and sisters love to visit his house! He feeds you well here! And invites you to come often.

Certain places just evoke certain feelings. If you were raised in a warm, loving family, the thought of coming home immediately brings joyful thoughts to mind. Some of my strongest memories were finally arriving home for Christmas break after a long semester of school and what seemed like an even longer drive home. There was the smell of a freshly placed pine tree ready for decorating. Music softly playing in the background, and a hot meal always ready. But of course, there were the faces of the people I longed to be with. People who just understand you, and place no burdens on you.

But not everyone was raised in such an environment. For some, the thought of their childhood home brings feelings of sadness or loneliness or lovelessness. In the same way, some Christians have had wonderful experiences in God’s house. They have found caring and supportive brothers and sisters in Christ. They have found warmth and welcome. But, others have not. Some of you have experienced unloving attitudes and actions. For some of you, this place has never felt like home. In part, this weak “family feel” could be due to our culture’s tendency toward isolation rather than from actual unloving attitudes or actions. In our society, some people don’t even know their neighbors. They leave for work, close the garage by remote, and return to the same cocoon in the evening. Sometimes that extends to this place and people don’t connect with others at Sunday worship. People come and go with a degree of anonymity – or at least without a deep connection to others. Maybe we feel more like distant cousins than brothers and sisters. But we do care – and want to improve our caring – for those cousins.

Sadly, it’s not always that simple. Sadly, sometimes it is that brother has hurt sister, or sister has been unloving toward brother. This is why Every Member Sunday affords us the opportunity to repent of our sins against brothers and sisters in Christ. We beg forgiveness from Christ and from one another for every unkind thought, every hurtful word, every self-serving action. Were we upset about something so silly as how to do this or that? Were we simply too selfish to consider how our words or actions impacted others? Were we too busy serving ourselves to think of how we might serve those around us? For all of the ways we have failed to be the brothers and sisters God has called us to be, we repent.

And, even as our loving Lord assures us of his forgiveness, we look for opportunities to show his kind love and forgiveness to the fellow members of our church family. Who is hurting? Who needs help? How can I serve? What can I do? This attitude of love and service to our brothers and sisters creates the kind of home we all long for. It is a place where we can find encouragement as we face an increasingly hostile world, hope when we feel hopeless, and help when we feel helpless.

As today’s first reading from Ecclesiastes put it: “Two are better than one…. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up…. A cord of three strands is not easily broken” (Ecc). We are not wired to exist as rugged individuals. We need one another. God has designed us to be this way, and God’s design is for us to be family in Christ.

People often ask if someone can be a Christian without going to church. Technically, of course, they could. There are those who are, for a variety of reasons, unable to be active in a Christian congregation. But, when we consider who is here when we gather as we are this morning – our brother Jesus and our Christian brothers and sisters – we might answer this questions by saying, “Who would want to?” It would be like asking if you can be a member of your family without ever visiting your parents’ home. Technically, the answer is “yes.” But, I can’t for the life of me imagine why anyone would want to.

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Your Father Gives Good Gifts (August 18, 2019)

August 22, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers
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Your Father Gives Good Gifts

Luke 11:1-13

I don’t think I’m a very good prayer. Sometimes I listen to other pastors pray, and I just marvel at the reverence in their address, the wisdom in their petitions, and the fitting way they wrap it up so perfectly matching the closing with their petitions that it’s as if it’s tied with a matching bow and so delicately sent off. I don’t think I pray so eloquently – especially when it’s an “off the cuff” prayer, an “ex corde” prayer.

But then I look at this prayer, Jesus’ prayer, the Lord’s Prayer. And my thoughts change. I still think I need to improve my prayers, but this prayer, the Lord’s prayer, is so simple compared to what I typically think a good prayer should be. The address is one word! There are short, simple petitions without really any connections. And the closing, well Jesus doesn’t even give that here! It looks so simple in comparison to what I typically think of as a good prayer. And yet, I still have a hard time praying as Jesus taught. I still have a hard time praying for the truly good gifts that Jesus teaches me to pray for.

As we study this section today, there’s two things I want you to focus on. The first thing is “gifts”. Notice what kind of gifts Jesus teaches to pray for. The second thing is “Father”. Because God is your Father, how are you able to talk to him.

I said that I still have a hard time praying as Jesus taught. I still have a hard time praying for the truly good gifts that Jesus teaches me to pray for. To be honest, most of my prayers are for the wellbeing of my family, my own struggles and thankfulness, and the people that God has entrusted into my spiritual care. But that’s much too narrow. That’s much too closeminded. Those are merely the things that I have direct contact with – things that impact my life and my immediate circumstances. I think that’s why they so often fill my prayers. Because they are close to me. Because they impact me. Because I can easily see tangible results. In essence, they are all things that I can test to see how God answers my prayers. And, they are all centered on me. Sure, I’m praying for other people, but I pray for other people because their lives impact my own. So, when I compare my typical prayer with the way that Jesus taught us to pray, I feel a little self-conscious. I feel a little embarrassed. There’s a good deal of room for improvement.

Could you imagine being a disciple? Can you imagine what they must have felt on a daily basis? Luke frequently mentions Jesus in prayer. He prayed after he was baptized (Lk 3:21). He often withdrew to solitary places to pray (Lk 5:16). He once spent a whole night praying (Lk 6:12)! And the disciples were often with him, observing this, listening to his prayers. I think very quickly they would become conscious of how weak their own praying was by contrast. That’s probably what prompted this very question. One of those days when Jesus was praying, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk 11:1). What should we pray for? How should we pray? John taught his disciples to pray. Teach us too! It serves as a reminder that good praying is something that doesn’t come naturally. It’s something that’s learned. It’s something which takes practice to get better. Because by nature we are selfish. By nature, we are self-centered. And that’s reflected in our prayers. Even having come to faith, with the New Man led rightly by the Holy Spirit, that Old Adam still infiltrates our prayers. Our sinful nature still influences the things we pray for.

So, let’s look at the Lord’s prayer and learn from Jesus what good gifts we are to pray for. There’s 3 things I want you to note. First, the spiritual outweighs the material. Of the 7 petitions in the Lord’s prayer – I know there are only 5 recorded in Luke – but of the 7 petitions, only 1 of them is for material gifts. “Give us each day our daily bread” (Lk 11:3). The other 6 petitions are for spiritual gifts. It’s a reminder that the most important gifts are spiritual. The most important things in life are spiritual. Man does not live on bread alone. Yes, we need it. But there’s other gifts we need far more. The spiritual outweighs the material. Second, pray for all people. Look at all the petitions and notice that they are for the benefit of all people, or large groups of people – not just me and my own. “Give US each day.” “Forgive US our sins.” “Lead US not into temptation.” (Lk 11:3-4). “Forgive us our sins” and “Lead us not into temptation” are specifically for all believers, but the rest are for all people. Even “Hallowed be your name” and “Your kingdom come” (which means let faith through the gospel come), are prayers for all people. Broaden your focus. Lift your eyes from your own circles and your own congregation, and pray for the kingdom of God! So, the spiritual outweighs the material, pray for all people, and finally, pray to your Father. I’ll talk about this more in depth in a moment, but what I mean is, when you pray, remember your relationship with God. He is your Father. You are his child. He’s not a distant ruler of the galaxies. He’s not an unapproachable King of kings. He’s your Father. Your dad. Elsewhere Jesus teaches us to pray to him as “Abba, Father!” (Rm 8:15). It’s what a young and trusting child would call their daddy.

Pray to your Father. He has good gifts for you. Pray primarily for spiritual gifts, like forgiveness, guidance, and faith. These are better, more beneficial for you, each and every day. And pray for all people. God’s good gifts get even better when shared with others. This isn’t something we do naturally. These aren’t the “go-to” good gifts that we typically pray for. So, practice this often.

In fact, practice this often not just to drive it into your own mind. But practice it often because Jesus actually tells you to persist with God in your prayers. Actually, Jesus says it even more strongly than that. He says to pray with “shameless audacity” (Lk 11:8).

Jesus tells a story, a parable. He puts you right into the action and says that you are hosting a friend for the night on his travels. Yet, you don’t have what you need to host your friend. You don’t have any bread or food to offer your friend. So, you go to your neighbor, it’s late at night, they have young kids already in bed sleeping. Your neighbor is already sleeping. But you keep banging on that door. You keep ringing that doorbell. You keep calling their phone. Even close friends would have enough sense to not do this. It’s common curtesy not to pester someone at inconvenient hours of the night. But do you know who would? A child. A child would pester their parents with “shameless audacity” at any hour of the night and at inconvenient times. Children often lack a sense of what’s proper and request things with unashamed boldness. That’s exactly what Jesus is saying here. You and I need to stop thinking of Jesus as a friend, and start thinking of him as a loving Father. A Father whom we can pester and bother whenever we like and as often as we like. And he doesn’t see it as a bother. He doesn’t see it as pestering. He’s happy to see your persistence.

Persistence pays with God. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Lk 11:9). In fact, these verbs are all present imperatives indicating continuing action. “Keep on asking… keep on seeking… keep on knocking.” Like a little child persistently tugging on their father’s shirt. Or a toddler who will not stop saying, “Hey dad… hey dad… hey dad.” Jesus also adds a promise to each. “It will be given…. You will find… it will be opened” (Lk 11:9). Jesus encourages persistence and also encourages the confidence that little children have trusting, “my dad can do anything!”

And right after that parable, Jesus goes right into another. Because our immediate thought is, “Well I’ve asked for things and it wasn’t given to me. I’ve knocked and doors were not opened.” That’s why we need to also understand the second parable as well. Jesus says, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” (Lk 11:11-12). Show of hands. Any fathers out there who would give their son a poisonous animal when they ask for food? I didn’t think so. If you fathers, though you are evil – and what he means by that is sinful and weak – If sinful and weak fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, “how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:13). This goes two ways. First, and most obviously, When God’s children ask for something good and necessary, the heavenly Father does not give him something harmful. And second, even when we do ask for something harmful (even if we don’t think it is harmful to us), is your heavenly Father going to give you something that will harm you? Of course not. Your heavenly Father will give you something better. He only gives good gifts.

Which brings me to my last point. Notice carefully what the last verse says, verse 13. The natural parallelism would be to read it “If you… know how to give good gifts… how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts.” But that’s not what it says. Jesus breaks the parallelism to emphasize and to show what the greatest gift is. “If you… know how to give good gifts… how much more will your Father in heaven give THE HOLY SPIRIT to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:13). The greatest gift anyone could receive is the Holy Spirit. The greatest gift your Father can give is the Holy Spirit. When you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit from the Father, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. The Holy Spirit puts faith into your heart. Faith is the channel that lays hold of the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of sins means that you are justified – holy. Holiness means that you can enter heaven – you are saved! The good gifts just keep on coming! And your Father loves to give them. Pray for the good gifts that Jesus points out. Pray with shameless audacity.

 

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Fill up on the Word (August 11, 2019)

August 15, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

Fill up on the Word

Colossians 3:15-17

Do you remember those old Gatorade commercials with the slogan, “Is it in you?” The commercials would show an athlete shooting baskets, running drills, or working out. And the whole commercial was black and white except for their sweat. Their sweat would be neon green, or bright orange, or some other Gatorade color – and there was a lot of it. They were sweating profusely! It’s like they had just come out of a pool. Their sweat was flying off them in sheets – all brightly colored and Gatorady. “Is it in you” was an understatement. Like a drenched sponge it looked like if you squeezed them just a little bit, Gatorade would come pouring out of them. After watching those commercials, I had no doubt in my imagination that those athletes had been consuming nothing but Gatorade for weeks!

That’s exactly the picture that Paul wants you to have in your mind when he says, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly” (Col 3:16). Take in the Word. Consume the Word. Feed on the Word so much so that if someone barely touches you, the message of Christ comes gushing out like a drenched sponge. Feed on the Word so that it fills you. Feed on the Word so that it fuels you. Feed on the Word so that it flows through you.

If you think about it, “You are what you eat” really applies in a lot of spheres of life. Not just actual food pertaining to health. But the things that you read and study become a part of you. The things that you fill your time with and make a priority become a part of you. In every sphere of your life, whatever your focus, it becomes a part of you and fuels how you feel, how you act, and how you respond. These fuels we choose can also spill into other spheres of our lives as well. For example, if my day at work is filled with stress, that fuel is going to fill me and probably overflow into my family life when I get home. I’m going to be on edge, short tempered, and snappy. If my days are filled with meetings, deadlines, extracurriculars, practices, and everything else I’m trying to squeeze into one day, that frazzled fuel is going to overflow into everything I do. I’m going to be unable to focus. I’m going to get frustrated with people who are taking up too much of my precious time. I’m going to cut out the things I don’t think I have time for.

What is it for you? What do you fill up on during the day? What fuel do you fill up on and how is it affecting your work, your relationships, your free time? Are any of these things suffering because you constantly fill up on the wrong fuel? If so – and I think we all do – it’s time to take a diet analysis to see what’s really in us.

The apostle Paul gives us the best daily diet advice – focuses our attention on the proper fuel. He says, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly” (Col 3:16). Richly! Abundantly! Overflowing and drenched like the athletes in the Gatorade commercials! The Scriptures should be more than something believers hear periodically or invite as an occasional guest into their homes. The Word of Christ should inhabit Christians continually, filling every corner of their lives with it’s spiritual wisdom for daily life and eternal life! And I’ll admit, I too need work on this. After spending much of my day working with the Word, sometimes I forget that I need to bring it home as well. As I reflect on this, it’s really sad that the Word sometimes feels like a foreigner in my house. Yes, we get into good habits for a time with nightly Bible readings with the kids, but then we fall out of the habit due to busy days and rushed bedtimes. And when our daily diet is lacking the most important ingredient – the message of Christ – it shows. There’s lack of patience. There’s problems. There’s no peace.

So, let’s all redirect our diets. Let’s all fill up on the Word and make it our daily fuel. “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly” (Col 3:16). When you do this, you are immediately going to notice a change take place. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Col 3:15).

It’s really hard to find peace when your heart is anything but peaceful. It’s really hard to find peace when you are filled with the stresses of your day. But when you fill up on the Word, you will have peace. It won’t be something you have to find. It won’t be something you have to get. When you fill up on the Word, you will have peace! Because a rich and steady diet of God’s Word provides all you need.

When you are distressed or downtrodden because you feel like you haven’t quite found where you belong, you find your place in the Word. You are “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved” (Col 3:12). In your baptism, he lovingly brought you into his family. In the Word he speaks directly to you. In prayer, he listens patiently to you. Your home is here. When you are disgusted by your own words or disappointed in your actions, you find pardon and forgiveness in the Word. It is in the Word that you find Jesus forgiving those who mock him, and forgiving those who nailed him to the cross. In the Word your wrongs are forgiven at the cross and you are fueled to live a life of “compassion and kindness” (Col 3:12). When you are drowning in the relentless waves of worry or dead under the weight of wickedness done to you, you find life in the Word. It’s in the Word that you see how God can turn weakness into strength. It’s in the Word where you see God turn the tides in ways that are not expected. It’s in the Word where your focus is broadened to see not only the here and now, but also what your future holds. Fueled by your ultimate victory through Christ, you can be “patient” (Col 3:12) and have peace through any affliction.

Brothers and sisters, do you see how the most important thing you need to face anything life throws at you is found in the Word? Forgiveness for the past. Confidence for today. And hope for tomorrow – it’s all there! So fill up on this Word that fuels you. “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly” (Col 3:16). Make it the focal point of every day “as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Col 3:16). You find such a rich diet of the Word right here in the worship service. In fact, from time to time, I’ve annotated in the margin of the bulletin where different parts of the service come from in the Scriptures and it’s almost the entire thing! Many of our hymns are just drenched in scriptural references as well! One of the reasons the Lutheran Reformation took root was because, Luther said, God’s Word was sung into the people’s hearts! People knew what the “One thing Needful” for salvation was because the message of Christ was sung into their hearts. People knew what forgiveness and grace were because the message of Christ was sung into their hearts. People knew why they go “Forth in the Peace of Christ” because the message of Christ was sung into their hearts. Brothers and sisters, we have been given a heritage of hymns that is so rich in the message of Christ. We have been given a liturgy that is so rich in the message of Christ. We focus every Sunday on the message of Christ. Take this buffet home with you. Fill up on it every day. Fill up on it with your families. And let this be the fuel for each and every day.

When you do, you are going to see great things happen! It’s going to be the peace in your heart that rules every moment. No longer will your heart be filled with the frantic busyness of the day. No longer will your heart be distracted, distant, disgusted or deriding. It will be filled with peace. Peace will rule every moment. Peace will rule every word and every action. When the peace of the message of Christ fills you and fuels you, then it will also flow through you.

Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17). It happens when you have a favorite author that you read constantly, or a favorite radio show or podcast, you start to speak like them. You start to take on some of their mannerisms. It flows through you effortlessly. Their words are always on your lips. How great is it when God’s voice is the one that fills our minds! How great is it when the message of Christ is always on our lips. How many opportunities would we make the most of if we weren’t struggling for the words to say, but they are already on our lips and out our mouths because every day we take time to fill up on God’s Word?

In the same way, often we start to mimic and copy the friends and family that we hang out with the most. It still amazes me at our family reunions how my siblings and I almost immediately dive into our own way of communicating and interacting with one another. In fact, at the last family reunion we had, my brother’s girlfriend – the newest to member to join the group – just kept saying, “That’s where Micah get’s that from.” Or, “That’s why he does that.” If you think about it, I’ve been with my siblings for about 18 years of my life. Of course we are going to rub off on each other!

So what’s it like when you, or your children, grow up in household where Jesus is a regular guest – a regular member – of the house for 18 years and beyond! Don’t you think he’s going to rub off on you? Don’t you think he’s going to rub off on your kids. Very quickly you are going to see how the peace of Christ fuels every moment of your day, and how whatever you do, whether in word or deed, is done in the name of the Lord Jesus – all because you took the time to fill up on the Word – to drench yourself in the message of Christ.

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The only person you can change is you (August 4, 2019)

August 5, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

The only person you can change is you

Romans 12:9-21

Have you changed your mind yet? Debate season is starting up, along with presidential campaigning. If you’ve tuned in to any of this, have they changed your mind? What about any kind of debate or argument you’ve participated in online, with friends, or wherever else? And it doesn’t even have to be political. That’s just what seems to be most prevalent at this time. I mean, from little on we are debating and arguing with others. “That’s mine!” is probably the first argument we learn, trying to persuade your friends that you have the right to play with the toy. Then we learn how to back up our arguments with supporting details as we talk with our friends about favorite characters in books and TV shows. And finally, when we are adults and fairly convinced in our own minds, our debates can, at times, get pretty heated! It makes me wonder, though. Can we ever really change a person’s mind? Can we ever really persuade someone? I think it’s possible, but only with great effort. And, to make matters worse, I’ll borrow a quote from the wise trolls in the movie Frozen, “The head can be persuaded, but the heart is not so easily changed.” Or, to put it in the words of the Apostle Paul, “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me” (Rm 7:21-23).

Even if you manage to change someone’s mind, it’s very difficult to change the driving motives of a person’s actions. That’s where the rubber hits the road when you get into this “Christian thing.” Picture being new to the faith, or, even let’s just take a refresher about what it means to be “Christian” – what it means to bear the name of Christ. And here, Romans 12, is a good place to start. “Love must be sincere” (Rm 12:9). Got it! Sincere love. Let’s go on. “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Rm 12:9). Yup, just kind of a reiteration. Check! “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Rm 12:10). Ok, now we’re getting somewhere. I think I can do that. I’ll just reorder those priorities in my head. God first, others second, me last. Sure, I can keep that it mind. “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Rm 12:12). Awesome! That’s kind of like one of those Magnolia plaques that says, “Live, Laugh, Love.” Just the Christian version. “Joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Rm 12:12). Ok! Look out world here I come!

But then I slam on the breaks as I read what comes next. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Rm 12:14). … “Do not repay anyone evil for evil… Do not take revenge… overcome evil with good” (Rm 12:14,17,21). Whoa, whoa, whoa. I’ve got to do that? I mean, I understand it. You know, “What would Jesus do.” Of course. But, how can I bless someone who hurts me? How can I not repay someone who clearly did me wrong and deserves it! How can you ever overcome evil with good? Wouldn’t my enemy just take advantage of me?

The head can be persuaded, but the heart is not so easily changed. The heart that is by nature sinful does not like to do good to those who hurt me, cheat me, persecute me, and make my life difficult. Sure, I can try for a while, maybe even keep up a good façade for a while. But in the end, it’s going to eat away at me. Diminish my will. And eventually make me cave and lash out.

It all goes back to the very first line. “Love must be sincere” (Rm 12:9). Another way of translating that is, “Love without hypocrisy.” If you are going to love – and this is agape love here – love without conditions.

I’ll give you an example of what that looks like. A man was standing on a bridge. He had lost all hope. He had already been divorced for some time now, but just a couple months ago he was in a car accident with his son. The boy didn’t make it. With his son gone, and already dealing with feelings of guilt, now overcome by them, he had no reason to go on. No strength to live. He felt that he had no place and that no one loved him… that no one could love him. As he prepared to climb over the railing, the bumper sticker on a passing car caught his eye. It read, “God loves you.” Maybe it’s because he was scared to actually go through with it. Maybe it was one last desperate attempt, but he left the bridge, went to the church that he knew was close by and asked the pastor there, “Does God really love me?” “Yes,” was the pastor’s response. “But wait, I haven’t even told you anything abou-“ “God loves you!” The pastor interrupted. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done. His love isn’t dependent upon you. God loves you because his love is sincere – without any kind of conditions. So no matter what you say or confess, God still loves you.”

You can’t force a change of heart onto someone else, but you can change your heart to love sincerely as Christ has loved you. He didn’t take into account the number of times you pushed him away. He doesn’t consider the many evil things you have done in life. There’s no asterisk, fine print, or conditions attached to his love. When he brings you to himself it’s because of his own love. Not your actions. Martin Luther once said, “When I look at myself, I don’t see how I can be saved. But when I look to Christ, I don’t see how I can be lost.” Because his love is sincere. Because when Jesus says, “I love you.” The sentence ends right there.

Now you – you who bear his name, “Christian” – go and do the same. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Rm 12:14), “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Rm 12:17), and “Do not take revenge” (Rm 12:19). It’s a tall order. But there are some things that perhaps make these life changes a little easier.

This is the very example that Jesus shows us by his own life. If there was anyone who followed this list to the T, it was Jesus. He hated what was evil – overturning the tables which crowded out sincere love for God – and clung to what was good – sitting in the temple, talking with the teachers even as a young boy. He rejoiced with those who rejoiced at the wedding of Cana. He mourned with those who mourned, even shedding his own tears for Lazarus alongside Mary and Martha. He was not proud. He was not conceited. He regularly associated with people of low position. And when evil men nailed him to a cross, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34).

But the example of Jesus, though inspiring, is not enough to foster a change in us. Observing the example of Jesus and trying to always do what Jesus would do is really just law. The example of Jesus is the law kept perfectly as we ought to. Striving after this perfect example leads only to despair. And despairing at how hard the law is to keep leads only to rebelling against it. And so, looking at Jesus example isn’t to despair and abandon him, but rather to realize that Jesus perfectly kept all of God’s law for you. He loved perfectly for you. He changed what we can’t change. He changes the heart. “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17). All this is possible because God reconciled himself to you in Jesus. All of this means that when God sees you, he sees the perfection of Jesus.

And yet, through Jesus, you ARE able to change too, because God changed you. He took all your sin onto himself. He took all that’s wrong with the world onto himself. Every evil, every curse, every persecution, everything that is wrong and needs to be set right, he did. “Leave room for God’s wrath… It is mine to avenge; I will repay” (Rm 12:19), and God did just that. Repaid your evil on Christ. He righted your wrongs in Christ. He changed you through Christ. You are not consumed, because of God’s sincere love for you. Because God did every single one of these things in Romans 12 already for you.

“In view of all this”… That’s how Romans 12 actually starts. It sets the precedent for how we are able to be changed in any kind of way. “In view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Rm 12:1). Out of the genuine joy you have in being forgiven, and from the sincere love you have for God, your love for others can be sincere. You can hate what is evil and cling to what is good. You can bless those who persecute you and not repay evil for evil. Rather “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head” (Rm 12:20).

It’s really the only way you are going to bring about any positive change in this world – by heaping burning coals upon people’s heads. Not literally, of course. But by doing good to those who don’t deserve it. When your enemy has vented wrath and done harm, it may go against their expectations if you be the one who changes and does not repay evil with evil. It may cause them to reflect on their course of action. It may lead them to see the error in their ways and regret their actions. Their sorrow and remorse may make them feel as though they are carrying burning coals on their heads. Whether they realize it or not, they will see Christ in you. Your change through Christ may be enough to change them – overcoming evil with good.

It’s not why we change. We change because that’s what God has made us through Christ. We change for Christ and because of Christ. But, fueled by Christ’s love for you, you can share Christ with someone else by sincerely loving them. If they still don’t change, don’t worry about it. Leave it to God and keep on loving. But If they are changed, rejoice! The world is a better place to be when Christ is the change in us, and when he alone is our reason for loving.

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Give your nothing (July 28, 2019)

July 31, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

Give your nothing

1 Kings 17:1-16

Have you ever had nothing left to give? Your week is scheduled so full with obligations packed so close together that when someone asks for a bit of your time, you simply have nothing left to give. I’ve been there. You’re in a transition period in your life or had a string of tough times, a friend asks for a bit of help but you simply have nothing left to give. I’ve been there. You’ve had a busy day – both physically and emotionally draining – and when it’s all over your family requires a little bit of patience but you simply have nothing left to give.

It was definitely a time of nothing for Elijah. He had no food – there was a famine in the land and no one had anything to spare. He had no support system – King Ahab had no time for any true prophets of God. And he had no security – this too from Ahab.

Actually, I think we need to back up a bit. Let me tell you a little bit about this king Ahab. The Bible says, he did “more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him” (1 Kgs 16:30). In fact, he was so evil that the Bible says he considered the sins of the kings who went before him as too “trivial to commit”. He delved even deeper into the worship of false gods – building a huge temple to Baal and setting up an Asherah pole. With Ahab, this idolatry was now no longer just a matter of syncretism – where you practice many religions side by side. Now it was open defiance against the LORD God and turning completely to Baal. False temples are built, and God’s true prophets are driven away.

Yet here stands Elijah. A prophet of the God that Ahab wants to eliminate. And Elijah doesn’t have anything nice or favorable to tell the king. No, God commands Elijah to proclaim judgment, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word” (1 Kgs 17:1). This made me wonder, though, why no rain? Why this specific plague? Why not turn the Jordan to blood, frogs or locust, fire from heaven, or death of the firstborn? All these are certainly swift and noticeable actions of judgment! Why did he decide on no rain – a famine? It’s actually very interesting! You see, Baal was a fertility deity – specifically, the “Lord of Rain and Dew”. And Asherah was also a fertility goddess, of new and growing things. So no rain, no dew, and no crops is a specific attack on these false gods that Ahab chose for himself over the true God. It’s almost like asking, “Where’s your god now?” Needless to say, Ahab was probably furious with Elijah, and blamed him for the famine. So Elijah is on the run with no food, no friends, and no security. He had nothing.

But the Lord took care of him. “Leave here,” God said, “turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there” (1 Kgs 17:3-4). Ok, sounds pretty doable. I mean, yeah, it’s going to take a miracle from God, but this was a prophet! Surely he trusts that God can do miracles. But do you realize just how big of a miracle this is? Have you ever seen a raven scavenge for food? They are quite greedy and quite RAVENous… see the word correlation? In fact, ravens have been known to not even feed their own young! And Elijah has to trust that in his time of nothing, God would provide through this unlikely provider. God did!

After a while, the brook dried up because of the drought. So, God directed Elijah again, “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food” (1 Kgs 17:9). Zarephath? A widow? Zarephath was a city outside of Israel. And Elijah had to trust that a Gentile was going to provide for an Israelite during these times of nothing? I’m sure word got around. “The Israelites say this famine happened because of one of their own prophets!” And she was a widow! Widows in those days are not like widows today. Their society didn’t really have a place in the workforce for them. They relied on the generosity of others. They had to scrounge for their own food and scrape together whatever they could just to survive. And this kind of person, who typically had nothing, was to provide for Elijah? Why not a nobleman who surely would have food to spare? Why not at least a God-fearing Israelite widow? But he went. He went trusting that God would provide even when there was nothing.

Elijah went and found this woman. He sees a woman gathering sticks at the town gate. Obviously poor. Most likely a widow. Is this the one? Elijah starts with a small test, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” (1 Kgs 17:10). What do you know?! She’s actually going to get it! This could be the one God was talking about! “As she was going to get it, he called, ‘And bring me, please, a piece of bread.’” (1 Kgs 17:11). She didn’t have it… In fact, all she has is a handful of flour and a little oil. She was gathering a little kindling so that she could make all she had left into a small loaf so that she and her son could have their last meal before they die of starvation. The famine had been so severe that people were dying. It was so severe that it reached even north of Israel’s border. These were dire times.

But Elijah, the prophet of God had hope for this widow, who appears to be a believer because she says, “As surely as the LORD your God lives” (1 Kgs 17:12). Elijah offers reassurance, but also a test. He says, “Don’t be afraid, God will provide for you. But, go home and first make a small loaf and bring it to me. Then, when you have nothing, you and your son can have something.” “For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD sends rain on the land.’” (1 Kgs 17:14). There it is! The hope and promise of never running out of food throughout this bad famine. But you are going to have to trust God to provide what you do not see. And, you’re going to have to share this blessing. You are going to have to share your nothing. God says that there will be enough. Enough even not just to provide for you, but to serve God and his prophet as well.

This widow had nothing. And like the widow of Jesus’ day who gave her last mite, this widow gave everything she had to God. A small amount, yes, but huge proportionally. This little bit was all she had. It made me wonder, do we sometimes have too much? Do we have too much to be able to trust God? I mean, if you think about it from this widow’s perspective, what’s the difference if she kept this food for herself and lived another day, or shared it with others and died a day sooner? It’s strange to say, but I think sometimes we have too much to trust. Or at least we are too attached to what we have to trust that God will take care of us. Often, it’s those who are poor, those who are unwell, those who are struggling or being tested, those who have nothing who can see very plainly how God is providing.

I may have used this example before, but right after getting married, getting an apartment, and attending Seminary things were tight for my family. In fact I think every month we stressed about how we were going to stretch the nothing we had. And as early spring came, and after just paying for another semester, our half-basement apartment started to flood. Thankfully, we had nothing of value to be damaged, but just another stress, another test, piled on top. Yet, out of it came a huge blessing! Because of the flood, our landlord gave us a month of free rent! Some breathing room for us! And we have no doubt that this was God providing for us in an unusual way.

It isn’t just money. It’s our patience, our willingness to help out, our time. All of these things are valuable commodities to us that we only have a finite amount of. We see what we have, we know how far it will take us, and when we have nothing left to give, we become stingy with our money and our time. We leave no room for God to do amazing things with the nothing we have. What if it was a prophet of God who needed your help? Would you be more willing to share your time and possessions with him? What if it was Jesus himself who so often relied on the generosity of others to support him while he poured out his wealth of forgiveness and love. Doesn’t Jesus say, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40)? The last hymn we’ll sing today states this truth beautifully! Every opportunity you use to serve others with your time, your possessions, your heart – every opportunity, is an opportunity to serve Jesus himself.

Through this time of nothing, this unlikely pair was blessed by God. Elijah, who perhaps was despairing over the spiritual condition of Israel – in fact, he would lament just a couple chapters later that he is the only faithful one left – he finds this widow, a believer! A believer who has been so changed by God’s Word that she would give all she had – even the nothing she had – in service to God. And this widow, whose faith was probably faltering during this time, wondering, “Does the God of Israel really provide?” She found encouragement in her faith as “the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah” (1 kgs 17:16). And they both ate! They both ate every day until the Lord lifted his judgment on Israel and sent rain.

In thinking about all this, you have to just marvel at how God provides for those who give. I’ll take it a step farther. He not only provides for those who give in good times. But he especially provides for those who give their nothing – trusting God to provide what cannot be seen. Even Jesus went through this. Think about it, what did Jesus not have a lot of? What might he have been tempted to keep for himself because he was lacking it? I think it would be time. Jesus had a very limited amount of time. He lived only until the age of 33. His ministry was only 3 years. My short ministry has already been longer than his. And in this time he had to train disciples, teach his followers, share the good news with those who didn’t know him. He had to keep the law perfectly, go to Jerusalem and be crucified when he was barely in his prime. And despite all this filling his time, he still carved out time to deal with individuals one on one. There were times when Jesus was busy, times when he was tired, times when he was hungry, and yet, when people who needed him asked for a little bit of that time, he willingly gave his nothing – taking the time to heal the sick, raise the dead, and assure people that they are forgiven. Think about that, the next time you feel like you don’t have time to take the time.

In fact, Jesus even took time out of his busy schedule for you. Did you know that? It was in the upper room, while he was celebrating the Passover with his disciples – the Last Supper – John 17 records a prayer of Jesus. He prays that God would glorify him at the proper time. He prayed for the disciples, and then he prayed, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (Jn 17:20-21). Jesus prayed that you would be one with each other and with him. One heart, one mind, one spirit, one will. And then, after Jesus finished praying, he went out to the Garden of Gethsemane where he would be handed over and crucified – taking the time to pay for every one of your sins – every time you had too much to trust in God. He forgave all of that in Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, serve the Lord with gladness – trusting that he will provide. Serve the Lord even when circumstances seem to indicate that you nothing. God will provide the time you need, the money you need, the heart you need to serve him through others.

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What it means to “Follow me” (July 21, 2019)

July 24, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

What it means to “Follow me”

Luke 9:51-62

Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot about this tiny house movement and living off the grid. If you haven’t heard, it’s basically all about striping it down to basics – living in a home about the size of an RV, unplugging from social media, internet, often even unplugging from the power grid. They use solar electricity and collect rain water. Basically, the withdraw from society completely. And why is that? Why do we sometimes just want to withdraw and not have to deal with anyone else? Well, because people can be annoying. They can be frustrating. They can be aggravating and stubborn. Sometimes we just don’t want to deal with people anymore!

That’s certainly the vibe we get from those living in Samaria, right? They were fine with themselves, but certainly wouldn’t welcome any Jews. Jesus was just passing through. He didn’t intend on staying long. He wasn’t trying to oppose them or make life difficult. But simply because he was heading to Jerusalem – and because the Samaritans didn’t like the Jews due to an age-old rivalry – they wanted to act like stubborn babies and not welcome Jesus. It’s enough to make you want to grab them by the ears and say, “What’s wrong with you?!” It’s enough to make James and John ask, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” (Lk 9:54). Might sound a little harsh, but haven’t you at least thought something like that before – even if somewhat jokingly? Sounds a little harsh, but God had done it before. When a king and his commanders had no respect for Elijah as a prophet of the Lord, God commanded that respect by sending down fire upon the commanders and their men. Then the people respected the prophet, and more importantly, the word of the Lord. So, James and John asked, “These people have no respect for you or who you are, should we teach them to respect you?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. “You don’t know what kind of spirit is influencing you. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy people’s souls, but to save them” (Lk 9:55-56).

This really spoke to me this past week. Not that I would actually wish people physical harm, but I would love it if sometimes God would just teach people a lesson. Don’t harm them, but just show them that I’m right and they’re wrong. I rage within that they are so adamant about their position, and I whip up an unassailable argument that will surely put them in their place. “If they think they know their Bibles better than me… then I’ve got to teach them a lesson! I’ve got to set them ablaze with the true Word of God!” And as I’m putting together such an argument, I read these words, “You don’t know what kind of spirit is influencing you. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy people’s souls, but to save them” (Lk 9:55-56). Am I responding in the spirit of winning them over and saving them? Or am I responding in the spirit of winning the argument and crushing them in the process?

Maybe for you it’s arguing with someone about the life inside a mother’s womb. And in the heat of arguing, it becomes more about being right than it is about showing that person how much Jesus loved that unborn child already. Or maybe you have friends living a homosexual lifestyle, and somewhere along the line you’ve forgotten that this is about sin and forgiveness and instead been focusing on changing their lifestyle without changing their heart. Or maybe you have been trying and trying to reach out to an atheist family member, but after years of stubborn rejection you forsake the Word of God and try to crush them only with arguments of reason, science, and morality. If that’s the case, you’ve lost the soul only to win the argument.

Jesus isn’t concerned with winning arguments. He isn’t concerned with setting the record straight or even concerned about judging them at this time. Now is the time for saving sinners. Now is the time to be patient with people. So instead of punishing the rude behavior, Jesus and his followers simply went to another village. His focus was on Jerusalem. His mission was to follow God’s plan. And he’s going to do that by taking their rudeness onto himself. He’s going to do that by enduring God’s fiery judgment for all people. He’s going to do it because he loves those people. He loves every one of them. He loves them so much that he would take their punishment of sin so that they wouldn’t have to. He would die their death, so they could live with him.

Think about what that means. That friend, who is so infuriating at times by their determination to reject the truth, was on Jesus mind as he “resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51). That family member, who refuses to listen any more to the Word of God, is loved by Jesus so much that he was willing to die and endure the hell that such rejection deserves. Each and every person – even the frustrating ones – are loved by Jesus so much that he did not abandon them, he did not send fire down to consume them, but went straight to the cross to die for them. To die for me, and to die for you. Yes, you and I deserve to have fire called down on us as well. But the Son of Man did not come to destroy people’s souls, but to save them. So, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And instead of destroying judgment, his mission was saving. Remember that the next time you want to call down figurative fire on people. Remember that you deserve just the same. May your prayer and my prayer be, “Jesus you love this person, help me love them too. Jesus, give me strength to be patient with the people you loved and died for.”

This puts things into a whole new perspective. Now, every person you see, yes, even the infuriating ones, is a person loved by Jesus, and a person that Jesus paid the ransom price for with his own blood. Be patient with these people, just as Jesus was patient with you. And as reach out to them with God’s love, don’t let your commitment be based on how they treat you, but on what Christ has done for you and for them. As you follow Jesus, be committed to Christ and his mission. It’s not easy work, but it is rewarding.

As they were walking along the road, a man said to [Jesus], ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’” (Lk 9:57). In other words, I will do whatever it takes to serve you. I will go wherever you want me to go and do whatever you want me to do. No sacrifice will be too great. No hardship will be too difficult. A respectable statement! Jesus answers in the form of a warning. I hope you know what you are saying. I want you to know what you are getting yourself into before you make such a pledge. “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Lk 9:58). To follow Jesus means that you may not have a permanent dwelling place here on earth. It could mean that you will be moving constantly, because the work of Jesus is more concerned about heavenly things and saving souls than earthly treasures. In fact, not even the Son of Man himself would have the earthly comforts that many of us are so accustomed to. What this means for us today is that our biggest concerns should not be a beautiful home or a big salary. Sometimes, following Jesus and doing his work requires sacrificing such earthly comforts for the sake of reaching out to those whom Jesus loves and died for.

That’s the first thing to keep in mind when following Jesus, the second is even harder, I think. This time Jesus asks a man, “Follow me.” To which he replies, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” And Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:59-60). Ouch! A little harsh, don’t you think Jesus. This man’s father just died, and you are asking him to just suck it up, leave him behind, and not even pay respects? His request seems reasonable enough – can you cut him some slack?

First, and above all, you have to realize that Jesus that Jesus can read hearts, and he knows things that we can’t know. Therefore, he is able to say things that we wouldn’t say. And he knows exactly what he needs to say. And with that in mind, we know that he always says the right thing that someone needs to hear. With this in mind, take a careful look at what Jesus said. “Let the dead bury their own dead” (Lk 9:60). This could mean one of two things. Since physically dead people can’t actually bury anyone, he could be saying, “Let the undertakers handle the burial of the dead” – those in charge of the dead do the burying. Kind of an awkward understanding though. Better, and I think what Jesus is saying is, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own.” In this case, the work of God is more important than taking part in a non-Christian burial. Really, a non-Christian burial is not offering hope, not offering any real comfort, not proclaiming the Good News of the resurrection through Christ. A non-Christian burial is nothing more than putting a body into the ground. And in that case, if ever forced to decide between the two, God’s work should trump earthly work.

I know that still probably sounds harsh. But that is the fact. However, is Jesus saying that we should never attend a non-Christian funeral? Not exactly. Remember, Jesus knows things that we don’t know. And since he spoke in such a direct, black and white, now or never kind of way, we have to assume that the Jesus knew that if this man went now to bury his father, he wouldn’t have another opportunity to follow Jesus and do God’s work. Also, taken into account with the previous man, the bigger lesson that Jesus is teaching is that God’s work should be more important to us than earthly comforts; and second, God’s work should be more important to us than earthly relationships and obligations.

Which brings me to the third encounter. Yet another came to Jesus and said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” To which Jesus replies, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:61-62). Wait a minute, Jesus, he can’t even say goodbye? Even Elijah let Elisha say goodbye! What gives? Again, remember that Jesus knows more. Jesus sees intentions and knows all things. Especially in the light of Elijah’s actions, we have to assume that Jesus knew something we don’t. Either, Jesus knew that this man, who seemed so ready, would falter in his desire to follow Jesus when he saw his relatives. Or, Jesus knew that the relatives would try to persuade this man not to go, not to follow Jesus, but stay home with them. Jesus must have known that this man’s desire to see his family was stronger than his desire to serve the Lord.

And again, we take this not just as an encounter between Jesus and a man who wants to follow him, but also as a teaching moment. All three of these encounters serve to build on one truth – What does it mean to Follow Jesus? 1) it means that if we are ever faced with a choice between earthly comforts and following Jesus, we must follow Jesus. 2) it means that if we are ever faced with a choice between earthly relationships or obligations and following Jesus, we must follow Jesus. And 3) when we follow Jesus, our focus and attention must be the work at hand.

Remember why you are doing this. There are people who don’t know Jesus, who maybe won’t welcome Jesus, who maybe have rejected Jesus. But regardless of all of that, Jesus loves them. And he paid dearly for them. He shed his blood for their sins and gave up his life for theirs because he loved them. These are the people in this room today. These are your family members and your friends. These are the people who want to argue doctrine and practice with you, or argue any other matter. Jesus loves them all. Jesus died for them all. Following Jesus means you love them too. Following Jesus means you live for them with your whole heart and whole life. It’s not going to be easy, but they are worth it. They are worth it for Jesus, just as you were worth it for Jesus. Lord God, give us a spirit of love to be patient with people and committed to Christ.

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Your Highlight Reel (July 14, 2019)

July 24, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

Your Highlight Reel

Hebrews 11:24-26

Hebrews chapter 11 is known as the “Hall of Faith” chapter in the Bible. Walk through the figurative halls of this chapter and you see the walls lined with portraits of the greats! They’re all there. Abel, the first martyr for his faith. Noah, who built an ark believing that God would indeed send the flood. Abraham, who by faith left his home to go to a promised land. Who also believed that God would give him a son even though he was as good as dead. Jacob, Joseph, Moses. They’re all there! Many of the judges, kings and prophets – “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised” (Heb 11:33).

How did they do it? “By faith” yes, but I share the same faith they do and I don’t think I could do it. I don’t think I could give up the kind of position that Moses had and take on the position of a slave. I don’t think I could give up such treasures or endure the kind of mistreatment that Moses did. I’d like to think I could, but I’m not always so sure. I’m not so sure my portrait will ever be hanging next to such greats as Noah, Abraham, and Moses. How did they do it? How did he do it.

Well, I realized that there’s a little more to the story than you might catch at first glance. Because looking at Hebrews it all sounds so good. “By faith Moses, when he had grown up,” saw the plight of his own people, his own flesh and blood and selflessly “refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Heb 11:24-25). He put down his crown, cast aside his signet ring, left the palace and never thought twice about it – getting down in the mud with his true people and opposing the super power of his day. Sounds like the making of an epic story! Sounds like the selfless heart of a hero!

The thing is, these verses in Hebrews are kind of like the highlight reel of Moses’ life. They highlight some of the great things he had done. Nothing wrong with that. But if you want to see what really happened, how it all went down, you have to go back and look at the history book. Exodus gives us the raw history. And Stephen’s speech in Acts chapter 7 gives a bit more detail as well. You see, Moses may not have been as heroic and selfless as we idealize in our minds. Not at first, and certainly not on his own. What Hebrews 11 says about him remains true! No doubt about that. But Moses may not have been quite as eager to give up all that he had to respond to the Lord’s call.

No, Exodus 2 shows as that he was trying to be a bit of a ninja – a secret vigilante for justice. He knew his roots. He knew that he was a Hebrew by birth. And so when he went out to watch his people at their hard labor one day, he saw and Egyptian beating a Hebrew. The Bible says, “Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand” (Ex 2:12). He wanted to help his people, but he didn’t intend on giving up his high position to do so. Acts 7 adds a little more detail. It says, “he went to [the Hebrew’s] defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not” (Acts 7:24-25). Moses was trying to use his position and power to rescue his people – almost like Batman, the Dark Knight. But that is not what God had intended.

Word got around about Moses. Very quickly Pharaoh found out and tried to kill Moses for the treason he had committed. Moses was forced to flee his position, his power, and his wealth. He fled to Midian and lived with a shepherding people. There he stayed in hiding for forty years.

Well that sheds a bit of light on things. That makes the story a little more real – maybe even tarnishes his portrait hanging in the Hall of Faith you might think. But no, it doesn’t. You see, those great “Heroes of the Faith” aren’t in there by their own doing. The greatness of their faith isn’t at all by their own doing or choice. Really, behind or above every one of those portraits in the Hall of Faith should be a portrait of God himself. Because when life forced them in directions they didn’t want to go, when people around them became hostile, when means of support were running thin, every time it was God who carried them through. It is God who was backing, supporting, uplifting every single one of these heroes of faith – especially in their most difficult of times.

The fact is, sometimes we think it’s the things that God has blessed us with that we will use to do His work or bring more people to faith. Sometimes we think it’s the wealth we’ve acquired, the notable position in our community, or the superior education we have that can use to do God’s work. And don’t get me wrong, God can and does use these things. The Bible even specifically talks about faithfully managing our blessings to do his work. But sometimes we become too focused on the blessings themselves and forget about the “Blesser” – the one giving us these things. Sometimes we focus too much on what we have and what we are going to do with these things to achieve results that we forget that nothing will be achieved if God is not in it. Nothing will be achieved except that which God does. And he can use these blessings to do his work, or he can strip us of these blessings to do his work, reminding us of the one who is behind all that we do.

Make no mistake about it, God had blessed Moses. He blessed him with a high position of authority among the super power of that time. He blessed him with all the vast wealth of Egypt at his disposal. And historians and archaeologists have well documented the tremendous treasures of Egypt. He blessed him with a superior education. Remember, it’s the Egyptians who gave us great advancements in mathematics and science. God could have used all of this! In fact, he did use almost these exact same blessings about 400 years ago when Joseph was made second in command of all of Egypt, and brought his family down to safety during a famine, preserving the family line and promise of the Savior. But with Moses, God chose a different route. Yes, God was going to use Moses, but first he was going to strip him of his position, his power, and his wealth. In all human appearances, God was going to make Moses weak, so that God could build him up in his strength.

After a difficult period in his life, Moses learned to trust God, to put his faith in him and his plans for rescuing his people. He gained a new perspective on life and the blessings he had previously been given. “By faith Moses… chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt” (Heb 11:25-26). He returned to Egypt, not to seek mercy and take up his position again, but rather to side with his people and his God, bringing about deliverance for the Israelites according to God’s plan.

Remember that the next time you look at the wealth or lack there of and think, “I can’t do anything with this.” Or the next time you think about your position in life or humble education and think, “I can’t do anything with this.” Remember that it wasn’t until God stripped Moses of all of these things that he did his most impressive work through him. Remember, it wasn’t Moses or what he had that did such things, but God who backed him, supported him, and sustained him. It was through faith in God that Moses was able to refuse to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. It was through faith in God that he chose to be mistreated along with the people of God and view the many treasures of Egypt as fleeting. It was only through faith in God that he could consider persecution and disgrace for Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt. And by faith you look at what you have and say, “God will work through it.” Because by faith he could see what lay ahead. By faith he could see his Savior and reward in heaven.

You have that same faith in your Savior too. You know that his blood covers every wrong. You know that his perfect life stands in as a substitute for your own. You know, because he rose, that you too are looking forward to a reward which is of greater value than all the treasures of Egypt. And nothing can take that away! Have you been mistreated for associating with the people of God? Your reward is still safe. Have you been disgraced for the sake of Christ? The treasure of heaven is still yours. Are you struggling, persecuted, or just overwhelmed by everything you’ve faced recently? You need not fear, because your God is the one who can turn weakness into strength.

All those portraits in the hall of faith are upheld, supported, and uplifted by God. And there’s one more portrait in the Hall of Faith. It’s got your hair, your eyes, your features. In fact, it is you! The last verses of Hebrews 11 actually say just that. It says, “All of these were commended in Scripture by faith, yet they did not receive what was promised, because God had planned something better for us, namely, that they would not reach the goal apart from us” (Heb 11:39-40). Your portrait hangs there too in the exact same manner that all the others hang there – by faith. It’s by faith in your Savior that your life becomes a highlight reel just like all the rest. It’s by faith that God supports you, sustains you, and works through you no matter how much or how little you have.

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