Sermons

An archive of the most recent sermons by Pastor Ehlers.

Life’s Not Fair! (September 16, 2018)

September 18, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

Life’s Not Fair!

1 Peter 4:12-19

“Hey! That’s not fair!” a child cries out in protest after landing on Park Place with three houses on it and losing all his money in one turn. “It’s not fair!” Serena Williams remarked after the umpire called the game costing her the most recent Grand Slam in women’s tennis. I’ll even bet every one of you can think of something from just this past week that was unfair, and not right! I can still hear my mom’s words echoing in my mind, “Life isn’t fair!” or my brothers’ more macho rendition of it, “Life’s tough!”

It’s true. Life isn’t fair. But not just in a general sense among all people. Jesus says right in the gospel reading for today, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mk 8:34). Many are caught off guard by this truth. Many seek a Savior who will give them an easy life or a quick ticket to success. After all, if we are children of God, it would make sense that God will look out for us and make our lives as easy as possible. But Peter says, “Dear friends, do NOT be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pt 4:12). Some come to Christ expecting to find an easy life, but they are surprised and frustrated once the reality of the world sets in. “This isn’t fair!” they say. Why does it seem everyone is against me as a Christian? To this, Peter says, “do not be surprised… as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pt 4:12).

Oddly enough, it’s this same Peter who not too long ago was surprised when Jesus predicted his own fiery ordeal. “[Jesus taught] them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed” (Mk 8:31). But Peter took him aside and began to rebuke Jesus (Mk 8:32), “This shall never happen to you!” (Mt 16:22). How often do we ourselves nod along to Jesus’ encouragement to deny self, take up your cross, and follow him (Mk 8:34), and yet throw our hands up in frustration when we are persecuted or spoken against as Christians. “Why are people so against Christianity?” we might question. “Why doesn’t God just give me some clear, surefire explanation I can use to just prove myself right and them wrong in every case?!”

Do not be surprised as though something strange were happening. Life just isn’t fair. They persecuted Jesus himself, “The way, the truth, and the life.” Don’t you think they will also persecute followers of the Truth? As I stand here, telling you not to be surprised, I have to admit that I was pretty surprised when I read page after page of persecutions throughout history. There was intense and gory persecution under the Roman emperor Nero. I’ll spare you the details. A decade later, Roman emperor Domitian demanded his subjects recognize him as “Lord and God.” During this time, the apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos – the only apostle to die of natural causes. All the rest were martyred. Under emperor Trajan, regional governors could arrest, punish, and even kill Christians just for bearing the Christian name. This continued in the Roman empire for centuries until finally Diocletian ordered the destruction of all Christian churches, the dissolution of all congregations, confiscation of Christian property, and death to any Christian caught in public assembly. This type of persecution has continued in every century and in every part of the world. In the early 1600s, Japanese shoguns were convinced that the West was planting Christians only to soften up Japan for invasion. And it has only gotten worse. In the early 20th century, hundreds of thousands of Christians were slaughtered by Muslim Turks. Vladimir Lenin with the Bolshevik revolution made hostility to Christianity a central feature of Soviet life which continued through Stalin. It continued into Communist China under Mao Zedong. And it is still seen as millions of Christians are captured and put to death in Islamic countries. It still shocks us and surprises us every time it happens. And I’m not saying it shouldn’t. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be outraged at this. But understand that Jesus said it would happen.

Although it’s so prevalent and so unfair, although it may not seem worth it being Christians in such places, be sure to take a moment to look up. Look up from your cross and see your Savior, marching in front of you, carrying his own cross. I know life doesn’t seem fair for Christians. But it wasn’t fair for Christ either.

“If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler” (1 Pt 4:15). Yes, you will suffer for being a Christian. But it’s not the same kind of suffering as that of a criminal, evildoer, murderer or thief. Your suffering is different. It’s not a just punishment for things you’ve done wrong and what a blessing that is! Because, there may not be any murderers in the room, but I’m sure every one of us have cut down others with thoughts of hatred. Maybe you wouldn’t consider yourselves thieves, but how often do thoughts of greed sneak into our lives? You and I could go through every one of God’s commands and think of numerous ways in which we have broken those commands in thought, word, and deed. But do we suffer like the wicked lawbreakers we truly are? No. Because it was Christ numbered with the transgressors (Is 53:12) as he hung there between two criminals on the cross. It was Jesus who was treated unfairly, coming down from the highest place to suffer and die as the worst of the worst. It was Jesus who took on the punishment of sin so that all you would ever have to suffer was injustice. That’s why Peter says, “if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Pt 4:16). Praise God that you have been called by the Gospel. Praise God that you have been baptized into his family. Praise God that he has justified you from all unrighteousness and clothed you with the holy robe of Christ! Praise God that when the world and when God sees you, it is through the lens of Christ!

And then remember, that as you suffer, Jesus knows what you go through. He doesn’t merely say, “Oh, it’s not really that bad.” He doesn’t minimize your suffering. He knows your pain is real because he knows your pain. He understands the rejections you face because he faced rejection. He understands how it feels when others make it hard on you because there were many who made it hard on him. He came and experienced your suffering. He went before you in your suffering. So, in the midst of your trials when you want to cry out that life isn’t fair, remember that you are merely following in his footsteps. It wasn’t fair for him first.

Then keep your eyes firmly fixed on him, because what happens next is truly amazing! Yes, Christ was insulted and mistreated. He was betrayed and crucified. But it wasn’t for nothing. Christ came with a purpose and that purpose did not end in suffering. He didn’t remain dead. He rose! And not only that, but “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Php 2:9-11). Just as you follow Christ and bear your crosses through life, keep following him. Follow him into the honor and glory that he once again has! He takes you there! “If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Tim 2:11-12).

Life doesn’t seem fair for Christians. It really wasn’t fair for Christ who gave up all honor and glory to be mistreated right along with us. But when all is said and done, when Christ comes on the last day and sets things right – and he will set things right – then the statement still holds true: “Life isn’t fair.” But… not in the way you and I usually think about it.

The apostle Paul says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rm 8:18). Just as Jesus’ story did not end in suffering, so yours also will not end in suffering. Praise God that you bear his name because it is the way into the eternal glories of heaven! The means by which everything is made right – in fact, not just made right. The glory that awaits is not even worth comparing to what we face now. And that puts reality into perspective. Just as growing older puts things into perspective. For a young child, a broken crayon can be the end of the world. How trivial, you might think. For a young adult, test scores and breakups are earth shattering news! What is it for you right now that really stresses you out? And how trivial will all these things be when you are 1 year into glory… 50 years into eternity… 10,000 years reigning with Christ?! The reality is, this is just the smallest sliver of the life you have ahead of you. Life definitely isn’t fair, but the scales will be strongly tipped in your favor in the end. Therefore, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed… If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Pt 4:14,16).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, just as I am your sin. You are my hope, just as I was in your despair on the cross. You are my sanity, just as I am your confusion; my joy, just as I am your sorrow. You are my healing, just as I am your pain. Indeed, you are my life, Lord Jesus, just as I was your death on the cross. Thank you for making life unfair in my favor. Amen.

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God knows when to say, “When” (September 9, 2018)

September 10, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

God knows when to say, “When”

Isaiah 35:4-7

“How long, O Lord?” I wonder how many times he sighed those words as he sat, unable to walk, at the temple gate called Beautiful. Life certainly didn’t look all that beautiful to him, sitting on the dusty ground, relying on strangers to eke out some semblance of livelihood. “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?… How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” (Ps 13:1-2). I wonder how many times King David cried out those words throughout his difficult life even before he penned the words of Psalm 13. “How long, O Lord?” I wonder how many times the deaf and mute man pondered those words as he went through life with this social barrier.

How many times have you pondered those words, or cried them out in agony? It puts a picture into my mind of God pouring into your cup as a father would pour milk into a cup for a child, whispering, “Say when.” Only, what pours so freely is pain, disease, struggle, and gloom. “Enough already!” you cry out. “When!” But still God keeps pouring, until you are lost in the dreadful feeling of abandonment, in the appalling thought that God had turned his face away. Yet, Scripture says God won’t give you more than you can handle. But that threshold often seems long past, so we cry out, “How long, O Lord? When, Lord, when will you return?!”

It’s what Israel’s cry must have been in the time of Isaiah, the prophet. They had gone astray, turned away from God, and now it felt as if God was turning away and leaving them! In fact, in the chapters leading up to chapter 35, God actually announces woe. “Woe to Ephraim. Woe to David’s city. Woe to the obstinate nation, Israel. Woe to those who rely on Egypt.” Very soon they would be taken into captivity and would be crying out, “Why, Lord, would you forsake us? How long, O Lord?” Although to most it seems as if God was pouring an overflowing cup of wrath, yet to those who still listened to God’s prophets and had confidence in God’s promises, they also hear encouragement. “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come” (Is 35:4).

Look back on the times in your life when the pain or confusion or sorrow got so bad that you cried out to God with all your heart, “Where are you?” And he answered? … Nothing… Or so you thought. Our hearts naturally lean away from God as it is, with resistance deeper than consciousness and stubbornness we cannot begin to justify. So, in times of suffering or gut-punching disappointment, people can find the temptation irresistible to declare themselves rid of God and to resolve to move on without him – this God who does nothing when they need him most. Where is he?

Sometimes life is a mess because we are. And yet, we all also suffer in ways that aren’t particularly our fault. The first thing I want to tell you if you’re asking, “Where was God when I needed him?” is that it’s ok to say such things out loud. In fact, many of the prophets themselves asked this very question. You might as well bring to God what is really in you, not what you think is supposed to be in you, even if your questions has a serrated edge: “God, where are you?!” What we’re always needing to get down to, when it comes to a deep relationship with God, is the real me talking to the real You. Not me as an actor on stage talking to a god of my own distorted invention. Let God be God, and you be you.

So bring yourself and your tear-stained questions to God. “How long, O Lord?” And listen to him answer, “’I know the plans I have for you.’ Declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jer 29:11). What are the plans? We are dying to know. So, the verse goes on: “When you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you” (Jer 29:13-14). That’s the plan. It’s often in the dark times that we seek God with a fervent passion that we could never muster in the daylight. It’s in those times that we realize that what we really need. It’s God.

Therefore, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, … he will come to save you” (Is 35:4). And at precisely the right time, God indeed came. “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law” (Gal 4:4). Our one great need – our need as sinners – is to have peace with God. Therefore, the last thing we really need from the God who is there – the very last thing – is to have a sweet and pleasant life that never confronts us with our own true condition. God answered our question of “How long” at exactly the right time. And he answered it with a crucifixion. Not yours. Not mine – although we certainly deserve it. But his own Son’s. On the cross, we witness the greatest miracle in the Bible, the miracle of restraint – when the Father sat on his own hands, doing nothing at all. Because God, who exists in sublime independence, chose to enter a relationship with us even though it would cost him everything and us nothing. So, he did nothing, even when his own beloved Son cried out humanity’s own question, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). He did nothing. No miracle, no answer, no help. Because, you see, he also loved you.

Just as Isaiah prophesied over 700 years before it happened, your God did come. He came as the answer to humanity’s greatest need – sending his own Son to endure far more than you and I will ever have to. All because he wanted a loving relationship with you. However, just because God came and took care of your greatest need, doesn’t mean that nothing bad will ever happen again. We already talked about reasons why God allows trouble into our lives. Often to bring us closer to him. And although we may still cry out, “How long, O Lord?” or “Why have you forsaken me?” your motivation is completely different. Because you know that he never abandons you, and never acts out of anger, disappointment, or rage. But all things work together. Even in troubled times, God promises to do great things. And so we ask, with a sincere heart, “Why, Lord, have you allowed this to happen? What great thing will you work from it?”

Always the master teacher, Jesus often uses opportunities to meet a physical need also to teach a lesson about spiritual need. Having heard of Jesus and the great things he had done elsewhere, a crowd of people brought to Jesus a deaf man who could hardly talk. Knowing the man’s need, Jesus didn’t simply speak a word of healing – he wouldn’t have heard it. Instead, Jesus took him away from the crowd, away from the distractions. Jesus then put his fingers into the man’s ears and touched his tongue. His actions touched deep. “I know your need” Jesus was communicating. Then he looked up to heaven – the source of all great things – and said, “Ephphatha!” which means, “Be opened!” At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly (Mk 7:31-35).

In much the same manner, after Jesus had ascended into heaven, Peter and John addressed a need that was deeper than just physical. A lame man sat at the temple gate where he begged for money every day. “Look at us!” (Ac 3:4) Peter called out. “Silver or gold we do not have… but we do have something better” (Ac 3:6). “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Ac 3:6). And although the ability to walk was far better than just some money to get through another day, don’t miss the important words that Peter used. “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” This gift comes to you not from us – two mere men – but from Jesus who is the Christ! This man obviously understood who did this great thing, because rather than running through the city streets praising Peter and John, he went into the temple courts, “walking and jumping, and praising God” (Ac 3:8).

In both of these instances, a physical ailment was turned into physical joy! And because there had first been the dark time in their lives, their joy was multiplied! They told everyone they could! When the people saw the man who used to sit and beg at the temple gate, they were filled with wonder and amazement! The people who saw the deaf man healed couldn’t help but talk about it with overwhelming amazement! “He has done everything well! He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak” (Ac 3:37).

And how vivid of a picture do these physical healings paint of the spiritual healing that Jesus has worked and continues to work every day. It is Jesus Christ of Nazareth who gives a hand up to those who are not just lame, but dead in sin. And as he works through the Word and melts our hard hearts he proclaims, “Ephphatha! Be opened!” to our hearts and minds so that we can understand his Word, understand the sacrifice of his Son for our sins, even understand that the hardships we face in life are by no means signs of the Lord’s abandonment, but in time – maybe not until the last day – will serve as evidence that “He has done everything well” (Mk 7:37). It’s what Isaiah has been saying all along. “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Is 35:5-6). Their great need, turned into great praise for God!

It’s a marvel to see that sometimes God gives troubles to put his goodness into perspective. I realize that it seems God has given you more than you can handle, that it seems like far too much for you to take… yet here you are. Here sits the lame man. Here stands the deaf man. The miracle is that people who have suffered the most are often the ones singing the loudest at Christmas, “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” Their hearts are racing and their mouths shout for joy! Not because God’s peace and mercy are supposed to be in them, but because they are. Theirs is a heart-pounding intimacy with God, of a kind and a strength never dreamed of by people who have never known pain. There is a depth to these people, not in spite of the things he has allowed into their lives – he doesn’t do it lightly – but because of them. He’s on his way for you too. So “be strong, do not fear; your God will come” (Is 35:4). He knows when to say “When.”

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Authentic Faith (September 2, 2018)

September 10, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

Authentic Faith

James 1:17-27

I hear from time to time, people worrying about their faith. “I’m not sure if I have enough faith.” “I’m worried my faith is weak.” “How do I strengthen my faith.” Often they start questioning themselves when they see how someone else has taken a difficulty right in stride, or another person is just so active in the church and passionate about what they do. They look at these other people and then see themselves. Am I not doing enough? Am I not faithful enough? How do I grow in my faith? How do I have a deep, authentic faith? And as we worry about our faith, it becomes very natural to worry about how that faith displays itself and how others might perceive our faith. What can I do to show that my faith is authentic? What can I do to grow my faith?

But I think before we discuss what it takes to have authentic faith, we have to look at something else first. We have to learn from our authentic Savior. John chapter 6 really marked a turning point for Jesus. Of course, Jesus always had the same mission, same intention, same march to the cross, but John 6 marks the moment when he had to deny his own popularity, his honor, and the glory that he could have so easily had here on earth. Yes, he gave up heavenly glory already when he became man, but this is the point in his ministry where people started to turn away from him and actively spoke against him to be rid of him. Jesus remained true to his mission. True to the plan of salvation. Jesus was not running for office; he was heading for the cross to pay for the sins of all. He was not raising an army; he was inviting people to repent and believe in him. The people were expecting all of those great things. He could have easily done them, reaped the benefits, and spared himself a lot of torment, but that’s not why he came. An earthly ruler was not why God came. An earthly ruler would simply bear the appearance of deliverance, but in reality, would do nothing for those he came to save.

As Christ was an authentic Savior, doing what had to be done, so he calls you and I to be authentic followers. God calls for the same humble obedience from us. Not to put up a front. Not that we listen to the word, go through the motions, and appear very religious, without letting the word penetrate deep down to the heart. God says, “look intently into the perfect law.” Study it. Examine it. Listen to it and learn from it. When we keep the law just for the sake of keeping the law, it shows that we don’t really understand the law. And, we become like the Pharisees who kept the law not to give God honor and glory, but to honor and glorify themselves. In fact, they even became like the law police – not only upholding God’s law, but adding many of their own, even elevating those laws above God’s laws. The things we do don’t earn us any kind of righteousness, or status before God. And most importantly, we don’t grow in faith because of our actions. Actions do not precede faith. Jesus calls out such inauthentic faith when he says, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules” (Mk 7:6-7).

The fact is, if you were to look into the law and place your name behind each of God’s commands, saying that you have kept it perfectly… well, we wouldn’t look so good. We can’t uphold God’s law. We don’t love him perfectly above all things. We don’t love others more than ourselves. We bicker, we argue, we complain and do so much more. In fact, when I look intently into the law I find a very ugly picture of myself. I realize that I have not been able to keep even one command. The law condemns not only sinful actions, but also sinful thoughts. Disobedience comes not from the lips or the hands but it starts in the heart. In the law, when I look for myself, I see only moral filth and evil that is so prevalent.

So forget yourselves! If you are concerned about strong or weak faith, or growing in your faith, forget yourselves. Don’t look intently into the law to find yourself or your faith. Your name is never going to be signed under any of the commands in God’s law because you and I cannot keep his commands. It’s Jesus. Only Jesus can keep the law of God. Only he proved faithful. He loved God above all else, not considering equality with God something to be used to his own advantage (Php 2:6). He loved you and everyone else above himself – not coming to be served as a king, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28). He’s the only one who did this perfectly. The only one about whom God can say, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17).

Do you know why it’s called the perfect law here? Perfected would actually be a little better. The Greek wording actually says, “whoever stoops down to examine the completed law that gives freedom… they will be blessed what they do” (Ja 1:25). It’s the same Greek word that is used when Jesus cried out on the cross “It is finished” (Jn 19:30).  Jesus kept God’s law perfectly, completed and fulfilled the law at every point. He kept it in your place all the way to his death so that you could have freedom through this “perfected” or “completed” law. Now, looking intently into the “completed” law – the law that was upheld by Jesus – see his name in place of yours after every one of God’s commands. See a beautiful reflection of your Savior. Forget yourself and see his name signed at each and every point of the law. If I want to see anything good in the law I must not see myself. I must see Jesus. In the law completed by Jesus I have freedom from inauthentic actions. I have the freedom to serve God with a true heart.

Actions always follow faith. Not the other way around. Actions that flow from an empty heart are really not pleasing actions at all. James paints a picture of what that might look like. “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless” (Ja 1:26). It’s a person who worships regularly, hearing God’s Word and singing praises to him, yet soon after is right back to letting his tongue run loose. It’s someone who is so passionate about their own ideas that they don’t take the time to listen to others. It’s someone whose patience is running thin and quickly snaps back without a hint of grace or kindness. It happens after church, in meetings when we are quick to speak against someone who’s opinion is not our own. It’s as if we look deeply into a picture of the love and kindness God has showered upon us, but it doesn’t sink in so that we forget to show that same love when we step out of worship. In that case we become like the unmerciful servant who was forgiven a large debt by his master, but then didn’t go and do likewise when he found a fellow servant owing him money.

God says, “look intently into the perfect law.” See the reflection of Jesus in it. Study it. Examine it. Listen to it and learn from it. “Because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (Jas 1:20). Because of Jesus taking my place under the law. Because he was patient with me – quick to listen to my prayer of repentance, slow to speak a word of judgment and slow to become angry with me, I am reborn. I am reborn through water and the word of truth so that I can be a firstfruit offering to him! Since he was patient with me, I can be patient to others. Since he was merciful to me, I can be merciful and compassionate toward others. That’s the evidence of a deep faith. These are actions that follow an authentic faith. It’s a faith that reflects Christ in every action.

That’s finally why James says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (Ja 1:17). A true faith is nothing more than a channel for God’s gifts. It is his good and perfect gift of faithfulness to you that carries you through the ups and downs of life. It is his good and perfect gift of loving kindness that flows through you and allows you to be loving and kind to others. And he never changes. He is always the same. That’s why you have authentic faith when it’s rooted in him. Realize this, faith didn’t die for you. Faith didn’t take away your sins or come to be your savior. Faith did nothing but connect you to God’s blessings. It’s Jesus who died for you. He took away your sins and came to be your Savior. The object of your faith is what matters. And the object of your faith, your God and Savior is faithful.

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Consider Your Conviction (August 26, 2018)

August 27, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

Consider Your Conviction

John 6:60-69

It’s sad to say that sometimes words can so offend us at their first utterance that we don’t even take the time to wrestle with them and consider the important truth that they hold. How many of you have blown up when your husband or wife thoughtfully critiqued your work out of love? How many of you have stubbornly refused kind advice from someone else simply because it wasn’t your idea? We do this all the time. Rather than putting in the time to thoughtfully process an idea, we fire off a reaction. Then we are left with either shamefully admitting our wrong, or stubbornly living with the consequences.

The followers of Jesus had already formed a conviction after hearing his discourse on the Bread of Life. “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (Jn 6:60). But Jesus asked them to reconsider their conviction. Jesus asked, “Does this offend you?” (Jn 6:61). Does my discussion ensnare you and cause you to fall into a spiritual death trap? Does my encouragement that you eat and drink of me – believe in me whole heartedly – so greatly confound you that it is leading you to abandon me in unbelief? Are you so offended by my words that you can’t catch on to the meaning intertwined with them to believe in me wholeheartedly?

What is it about Jesus’ words that cause offense? What things does he tell us that leave us saying, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (Jn 6:60). For the Jews that Jesus was addressing, he was telling them, that unless they believe in him, they are not God’s children – they do not have eternal life! And this was shocking to the Jews. “Weh… We are children of Abraham! Moses is our prophet” they would retort! But Jesus is telling them that they aren’t simply God’s children by name. They aren’t born into the family of believers. Whoever believes in Jesus is a child of God. Whoever continues to follow Jesus is a child of God. That person has eternal life, and Jesus will raise them up on the last day. But leaving Jesus, who came down from heaven, in favor of the prophet Moses, who pointed to Jesus, would be leaving God’s family.

I think the offense for us comes when Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24). Actively follow me. Deny yourself, your work, a little time while on vacation, and be followers of me! You aren’t believers simply because you bear the name Christian. You aren’t children of God simply because you hold membership at a Christian church. Are you actively following Jesus? Are you taking time to mull over his words and believe what they say? Because Jesus has been quite clear in his discussion with these Jews – which we’ve been talking about for 4 weeks now – Jesus is very clear that spiritual food is more important than physical food. He’s been clear that one who truly grasps the complete corruption of his own sinfulness will also devour the gospel and yearn for the means of grace. The offense comes when Jesus tells you flat out, “You need help. You need drastic help. This is not the life I intended you to have. This sinfulness is appalling. And you know, that sin is a real problem in my eyes. It separates you from me.”

But don’t stop listening! Don’t let these words offend you to the point that you stop listening. I didn’t gather our membership to chastise you. I want you here because what Jesus does next is truly shocking! Jesus says, despite your sinfulness, I still love you. In fact, I love you so much that I can’t stand being separated from you. So, Jesus came down from heaven – yes, down from the place where he had all authority, honor, glory, and power. And I’m not saying he came down in the sense that heaven is up there and we are down here. No, he came down to our level. He humbled himself. Became flesh and blood like you and me. And then, he traded places with you and me. You maybe know the account of Jesus standing trial before Pilate. And in a last-ditch effort to set Jesus free – because Pilate knew he was innocent – he asked the crowd, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas [a notorious criminal], or Jesus who is called the Christ?” (Mt 27:17). You are Barabbas. I am Barabbas. Notorious sinners that were set free because Jesus took our place. He died in your place, gave up his flesh and blood so that you could live eternally! It’s an offensive judgment when the crowd chanted that Jesus be crucified and Barabbas set free. It’s a shocking act of grace and mercy when God sets you free and gives up his own Son because he couldn’t bear losing you.

This powerful act of love motivates our every thought and action afterward. Yes, there will be more offensive teachings that you encounter as you grow in your walk of faith. The fact that Jesus says, “I am THE way” (Jn 14:6) – the only way – could cause offense to someone who finds value in a variety of dogmas and doesn’t want to be nailed down to a “religion” – as they state it negatively. That Jesus was not just a mere man, but that he was also true God is mind bending, but necessary for your salvation. That I cannot choose to believe the words of God because I am “dead in sin” and “blind,” even “hostile to God” as the Bible explains. But yet, God gives his Word and messengers to proclaim it. And these words that Jesus speaks are “full of the Spirit and life” (Jn 6:63), so that by a miracle of the Holy Spirit you can say, “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor 12:3). This is hard to make sense of. This is hard to take in. But because God is patient with me, I’m going to patiently take the time to mull over these difficult words, let the Spirit do his work in opening up the Scriptures so that I can believe!

Patience is what Jesus is asking for. To those who were threatening to turn away because of this hard teaching, Jesus said, “What if you had proof?” “What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!” (Jn 6:62). We know he ascended into heaven. In fact, the disciples who patiently waited for that proof, even through the offensive betrayal, trial, and death of their Savior, witnessed him rise and ascend with their very eyes! And the rest could have too if they were patient with Jesus and remained with him as their salvation unfolded before their very eyes. Jesus calls for that same patient, steady, following from you and I as well! If there are things you don’t understand yet, stay with him. Stay in his Word and connected to his sacraments, because as the disciples saw Jesus ascend into heaven, one day you will see him, coming on the clouds of heaven with the trumpet call of God!

Don’t you see? God has lavished his grace on you by sending his Son so that you go free. He poured out his love to you in his Word and brought you to believe that Word by the power of the Holy Spirit. He has “commanded his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (Ps 91:11) so that “he who began a good work in you” – dying for you and bringing you to faith “will carry it on to completion” (Php 1:6). You are here today because God has made you a disciple and equipped you to continue in that faith. Just as he taught, trained, and equipped the twelve disciples even up to this moment. It was a difficult teaching for them too to understand. And as people are grumbling, complaining, and turning away, he asks them, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (Jn 6:67).

With this question, Jesus was urging them to consider their conviction – evaluate their reasons for following him. Did they follow him because of his miracles and they wanted more? Did they follow his because he told them what their ears wanted to hear? Did they follow him because all his Words were crystal clear and easy to understand? They weren’t always. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (Jn 6:67). Will you turn back and no longer follow like the rest of the crowd? Or is there something deeper you believe me to be?

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). What else is there? What else is there that gives what you have to offer Lord? It almost sounds as if he’s saying, “Lord, don’t push us away. “We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:69). You give life like no one else can! The financial security I earn from work sure helps me sleep at night. The love showered upon me by family and friends makes my heart race. The peace and relaxation I find while away on vacation sooths my soul. But all of this can be lost in a moment. Stresses of work may follow and disrupt my relaxation. Relationships are only in this life – and even then can be broken or grow cold. Financial stability can be disrupted with just one unexpected disaster. But your love…. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. “Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm 8:36-39).

Nothing can take you from Jesus your Savior. But he does not enslave you like mindless robots. He gives you the chance to consider your conviction. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (Jn 6:67). Each and every time your faith is challenged. Each and every time someone disagrees with what you believe, and you verbalize just what it is you believe, God uses that opportunity to strengthen you. His Spirit living in you answers with a resounding, “NO! You have the words of eternal life.” Just as this confession would strengthen the disciples and carry them even through the bleak confusion of the death of Jesus, so also your conviction of salvation in Jesus, guided by the Father and strengthened by the Spirit, will carry you through life. “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:8).

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My Savior Moves Me (August 19, 2018)

August 27, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

My Savior Moves Me

John 6:51-58

The Jews of Jesus’ day wanted an earthly Savior who could provide for them like Moses did with the manna. We’ve been circling around this central theme for several weeks now, and Jesus keeps circling back to it in his discussion about the Bread of Life. But there was a point that they just weren’t getting. There was a need that they had that they just didn’t realize. They were unholy and needed a spiritual Savior. They thought they had it all taken care of through the sacrifices at the temple, their tithes and offerings, and the way they lived their lives. With all of these actions they convinced themselves that they could remove their guilt, pay for their sins, and actually feel good about themselves. And so, they didn’t really feel they needed what Jesus was trying to give them. Sure, they had a use for him as an earthly provider, but they didn’t feel they needed much help with the spiritual side of things.

The problem was, they didn’t realize just how sinful they really were – how deep the corruption of sin really went. And at times I think we struggle with the same disconnect. Ask yourself, “How deep do my sins go? How wicked am I really?” And now consider, what kind of a Savior do I need? do I need a Savior to guide my life and help me make the right choices? Yeah. Do I need a Savior to make up for or pay for the wrong things I’ve done in life? Yes, most definitely. But it goes far deeper even than that. Far deeper. You and I are sinful to the core. The Bible says, “nothing good lives in me” (Rm 7:18), it says, “the sinful mind is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Rm 8:7). In fact, the apostle Paul had to admit, “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Rm 7:19). I’m not just smudged, dirty, or in need of a little repair. No, I am sinful to the core. There’s no fixing me. I’m completely broken, defective, hopelessly lost! A creation of God that cannot praise him or give him glory is like a clock that cannot tell time, a pen that doesn’t write, or a stove that cannot heat up food. It’s completely useless. I deserve to be thrown away, destroyed, eternally condemned. And not just me, but every human being who ever lived since the time of Adam. Again, the apostle Paul cries out what also must be our confession, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me for this body of death?” (Rm 7:24).

God could have just ended it all, you know. His perfect creation was utterly and completely ruined. He could have ended it the moment it all happened with Adam and Eve. God knew that every person after them would share the same inherent defect. In fact, he did end it during Noah’s time. God knew that if he did not drastically intervene at that point that there would be no one left on earth who awaited the Savior. In fact, the promise of the Savior, very gospel itself, would have been lost if he did not intervene at the time of Noah. God could end it each and every day for me and for you because each and every day I prove again and again that the corruption of sin is still there. Each and every day I prove to God that I deserve to be eternally condemned – handed over to the destructive fires of hell.

“The soul that sins is the one that will die” (Eze 18:20), declares the Lord. That truth stares you in the face each and every day. Consider the holiness of God without a dismissive, “Yeah, but he forgives” and you will instantly melt before the stern Word of the Lord, cowering in fearful sinfulness. But God was merciful! Not only is he infinitely more holy than we realize, but every moment he does not just end us, we instantly realize that he is also infinitely more loving than you or I could ever know. Out of love he allowed Adam and Eve to live out their days trusting in the promise that a Savior would somehow be able to fix what they destroyed. In love he preserved Noah and his family not just from the waters of the flood, but from the corruption that would have inevitably consumed his family line and the promise they clung to if left unchecked. In love he allows you and me to go on living each and every day so that you can know him, believe in him, and be covered by the perfect life of your Savior.

God was merciful to us and sent his own Son. He sent Jesus not to guide us and show us how to live a perfect life – we could never do that – but to be our perfect life. Not merely to pay the price of the wrongs we commit – though we certainly need that. But the corruption of sin is far deeper than just our thoughts, words, and actions. Jesus came to fundamentally change us. He took the place of each one of us on the scrap heap. Took into himself the sins we commit and the inherent sinfulness which corrupts us completely, and he was destroyed by God in our place. “he was pierced for [y]our transgression, he was crushed for [y]our iniquities” (Is 53:5). And this not just in some figurative or symbolic way. There is a shocking reality to sin. There is real carnal torment for sin. Hell is real. Hell is seen in the death of Jesus who gave up his flesh and blood for you. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46), he cried out as he became your sin, and was condemned in your place. All so that you and I can now marvel, “My God, My God, why have you not forsaken me?” “I am the living bread that came down from heaven” Jesus said. “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51). God has not forsaken you and me because Jesus gave up his very flesh and blood, to fix what we have broken and to preserve you for life everlasting.

Brothers and Sisters, Jesus is telling us in these verses that saving faith is so much more than just knowing about Jesus. It is so much more than just a book, or a person in distant history, or feeling spiritual. Real flesh was broken because of sin, real blood was shed for your salvation. And to get this point across to the Jews, Jesus said it in a way that would just grate on the ears of any Israelite – even many of us today. He said, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53). All their lives Jews were taught to abstain from blood. They had procedures to carefully remove all blood from the food that they ate, and now Jesus is telling them to “drink my blood.” It was repulsive to them. Yet Jesus tells them, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53).

I have to take a moment, however, to clear up a common misconception regarding these verses. These verses are not talking about the Lord’s Supper; and there’s several reasons why. First, here, Jesus uses different terms than he does for the Lord’s Supper. Here, Jesus talks about his “flesh” and “blood,” but for the Lord’s Supper, Jesus uses the terms “body” and “blood.” Second, it is very unlikely that Jesus would command the sacramental eating of his body and blood before he had instituted his Holy Supper. Third, nowhere does Scripture say that the sacramental eating and drinking of Jesus’ body and blood are an absolute requirement to gain life. Yet, in this section here, he makes it clear that eating and drinking in this way is required. Finally, Jesus guarantees that “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (Jn 6:54). It’s the same guarantee as in other places of scripture that talk about believing in Jesus (Mk 16:16; Jn 3:16). Yet Scripture does not issue such a guarantee to everyone who partakes of his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. In fact, a person may eat and drink the sacrament unworthily and thus drink judgment on himself (1 Cor 11:29). And so, it is a spiritual eating and drinking that Jesus is encouraging here. In fact, to emphasize his point, he uses a word for “eat” that is often used to describe animals feeding. If you have a dog, you know how voraciously they can gobble up their food the moment you put their bowl on the floor. Jesus wants us to take him in and believe his words with the same intensity as an animal enthusiastically intent upon its food.

Go to Calvary and see the gut-wrenching sacrifice for sin on the cross. God is serious about sin. Then go to the empty tomb with butterflies in your stomach! God is serious about saving you. You may see a long list of sins in front of your eyes. As you look at your past, present, and even into the future you see the sins you have committed and the sins you will likely commit again. But, according to the cross of Christ, that list of sins isn’t on you anymore. No, when God looks at you through the cross, he sees perfection. He sees you as if you have never committed a sin in your life, never given into temptation, never been corrupted by sin in the first place. And it’s true! Because that is what you are through Christ. That is what he has made you. Holy and perfect in God’s sight, beloved sons and daughters. That’s what Jesus says you are to believe because of the cross. Stand at Calvary and see your sinfulness destroyed there. Stand at the empty tomb and drink in the sight. Take it into your inmost being. As surely as Jesus rose from the dead, so too a new creation rises within you – like the radiant butterfly arises from the husk of its former self. Your sins have been destroyed. You live a new life now!

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Check the Ingredients (August 12, 2018)

August 13, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

Check the Ingredients

John 6:41-51

How many of you check food labels before you buy or eat certain foods? I definitely don’t study the label, but at least a glance here and there. Sometimes a little more in depth. But even if you don’t read labels, you certainly pay attention to the foods you eat. You probably try to eat a balanced variety of healthy foods. You know certain foods you need to avoid because they are unhealthy, you have allergies or some other health issues. And you do this, because you know that the foods you eat affect you. Some help you feel better and maintain your health. Others can really harm you.

And if that’s true for the physical food that you eat, do you think it’s also true for the spiritual food you eat? You can really think of it in terms of healthy spiritual food and spiritual junk food. I know you care a lot about the church you choose to attend – not just because of the people there or the programs, but because you believe this church accurately teaches and preaches what God’s Word says. But what about beyond these walls? Never before have people had such a buffet of spiritual foods accessible to them. Many churches livestream their services online. Many pastors and theologians write books. And in addition to all of that, there are countless ways in which anyone can immediately make their ideas about God and his Word public for your consumption.

Do you read the label on these things? When you pick up a book by a Christian author, do you find out who that author is and what kind of background they have so that you can read with a discerning mind? When you click on a YouTube video because you were curious about a particular biblical question, do you consider who it is you are watching and what kind of background they have? They could be feeding you a nutritious banquet from God’s Word, or they could be inadvertently feeding you a banquet that has been poisoned by false teaching. What you read and hear about God’s Word matters just as much for your soul as what foods you eat matters for your body.

Jesus is trying to explain to the Jews that the spiritual food they had been eating did not come directly from God. Rather, it had been dragged all across the dirt of Israel, been improperly prepared by hundreds of years of misuse by Israel’s priests and teachers, and then served dirty, undercooked, and poisoned to the unsuspecting Jews of Jesus’ day. Jesus is warning them and encouraging them to check the ingredients of the spiritual food they have been eating. Because the Bread of Life is standing right in front of them, and if they don’t check the ingredients, they could miss out on healthy spiritual food and instead return to their spiritual junk food.

Jesus just revealed himself as the true bread from heaven – the spiritual food which truly comes directly from heaven. But the Jews refused to believe it. Instead, they grumbled about him. “They said, ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I came down from heaven”?’” (Jn 6:42). Instead of pursuing the point to uncover the truth about his heavenly origins and miraculous birth – all of which has been prophesied – instead of seeking a fuller explanation from Jesus, they began to grumble about him. And their grumbling was meant to be caustic. It was meant to pollute his image so that people would instead turn to spiritual junk food. Their human reason couldn’t accept this amazing truth from the lips of Jesus. Although our reason is a gift from God, we have to understand that it has been influenced by sin, and therefore can lead us astray. If reason ever disagrees with what Jesus says, then trust Jesus. Take his words as they are and put reason in its proper place. There will be things we don’t understand. But faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb 11:1) because we take Jesus’ words as truth.

So, we have our human reason at times working against us, and these people that Jesus was talking to had something else working against them as well. They considered themselves to be spiritually well-fed by their scribes and teachers of the law, but they had been eating spiritual junk food. And since they filled up on spiritual junk food, they had no room for the pure bread of life. They were unwilling to reconsider the spiritual food they had been eating. Most Jews of his day had incorrectly learned from their spiritual leaders that God’s Word is filled with nothing but laws and regulations. They saw salvation as something they had to earn. Therefore, they learned to lean on their own works as their object of faith rather than on Jesus. And we sometimes fall into this same trap. We fill up on spiritual junk food without realizing it, we listen to this teacher and that teacher and form our beliefs based on what they say, but then we have no room for the pure Bread of Life. The Bible says to stand before God empty of your own good; let God fill you up with his love and forgiveness (Mt 5:5; Lk 1:53). Always save room for the pure Bread of Life. Always include the plain and simple Word of God in your spiritual diet.

Consider it this way. What happens when you don’t eat a healthy diet? What would happen if you didn’t care what you ate, how much you ate, how often you ate? You would probably end up harming your body with unhealthy habits and unhealthy foods. You would also dramatically decrease your life expectancy and quality of life. Yet too often, this is how people eat their spiritual food. They don’t consider how often they eat. They don’t consider the ingredients. They get it from any source they want. And when they find one that tastes good, no matter how healthy it is, they binge on all they can get! This is harmful. This is dangerous. And it has a bearing not just on your life now, but into eternity. I’m speaking primarily of videos that are so easy to find online. I’m talking about books and articles by Christian authors. Even choosing a church for something other than the fact that it teaches God’s Word purely and accurately falls under this category. And the scary thing is, once you start with a source of spiritual food that has even just traces of false teaching, you may begin to consume more and more without realizing the poison you are eating.

Be discerning of where you get your spiritual food from. Eat carefully. And I’m not saying you have to avoid all Christian books or online videos and articles, but always compare what they are telling you to what the Bible tells you. Judge carefully how they use Bible passages and apply them to make sure they are doing so correctly. And sometimes, what I find best if I’m searching a question is not to just search the question and read whatever articles pop up. But search for passages that relate to the question. Then I know that I am getting my answer straight from the source. Then I know my spiritual food is not tampered with or poisoned. The apostle Peter says, “Crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Pt 2:2). Anything other than pure spiritual food could be very harmful.

Jesus tells us exactly where to get this pure spiritual food. He says, “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die” (Jn 6:48-50). The food that you receive from Jesus, his words recorded in the Bible, are the purest form of spiritual food you can get. Check the ingredients! The Bible says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:1, 4, 14). Make this source of spiritual food your primary source. It’s packed with all the right spiritual nutrition you need and no preservatives, additives, substitutions, or anything else that would be toxic or harmful. That’s why we always have readings directly from God’s Word in every worship service.

Jesus goes on to explain that learning from God’s Word leads to a correct understanding of Jesus and his work. If only the Jews would have gone straight to the source of God’s Word instead of allowing their priests and teachers of the law lead them astray. Jesus points out what their own prophets have said, “It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me” (Jn 6:45). Only people who eat pure spiritual food will understand and believe who Jesus is. The Father draws people to Jesus, to understand him correctly when they learn directly from his Word. The Jews had trouble believing Jesus because they thought they had known Jesus’ origins. But if they truly listened to God through his prophet John, they would know that Jesus’ origins stretch back long before he was born of Mary. But they couldn’t get over their own reasoning. They allowed their reason to trump God’s Word and so were misled by spiritual junk food.

“I am the living bread that come down from heaven” Jesus said, “Whoever eats this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:51). Pure spiritual food is truly beneficial – for eternity and even now. Think of it this way: Eating healthily can increase your life expectancy, but you don’t just receive the benefit of it when you are advanced in years and living a little longer. No, eating healthily helps you feel better right now and gives you a better quality throughout your life. The same is true for eating healthy spiritual food. Yes, it prolongs your years and gives you life everlasting. But it also means something right now. It means you don’t have to keep searching for spiritual food because you have found it. It means you don’t have to wonder what is going to sustain you through times of need. It means you have a healthier outlook on life knowing that it’s all in God’s capable and loving hands. Ever since Jesus gave up his life for the life of the world, your biggest problem is solved, and all the rest are put into proper perspective. Salvation is yours. You don’t have to fret over your sins or past wrongs, just lay them at Jesus’ feet. You don’t have to stress over how you are going to remain in him, the Father will draw you to him. Feed on the pure Bread of Life by reading and studying his word, comparing everything else to his Word, and you will have a healthy spiritual life.

How much attention do you pay to the spiritual food that you eat? It matters just as much, actually, far more than the physical food that you eat. Choosing correct spiritual food means the difference between an eternity of regret and hunger for God’s grace, and living in his love, filled with his blessings each and every day. Check the ingredients of every source of spiritual food you eat. Not all bread is from heaven. Only pure bread is beneficial. Think of all the sources of your spiritual food. The Bible, your church, your friends and family, Christian books you read and videos or articles you find online when searching for answers. Now, reconsider each of those sources. Hold them up to God’s Word, because the Bible says, “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God.” “Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me” (Jn 6:46, 45). Hold every source up to God’s Word. See if they are accurately proclaiming, teaching and feeding you God’s Word. And do this often. Some sources of spiritual food may be healthy on some points of the Bible, but toxic on other points. Continuously compare every source of spiritual food to God’s Word. Because only pure bread from heaven is beneficial.

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Work for Food that Endures (August 5, 2018)

August 13, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

Work for Food that Endures

John 6:24-35

Moses the model Christians loves God and his word. He can’t get enough! He goes to every worship service available. He goes to every Bible class – even though studies on the first 5 books are his favorite. And he has a 30 min devotion every morning! All of that time spent in God’s Word adds up quickly. All totaled up, it’s about 290 hours a year that Moses the model Christian spends in God’s Word. Or, about 5.5 hours per week.

How does that compare to the hours you clock weekly at your job? It’s no secret that many Americans are workaholics by nature. In fact, on average, Americans work more hours per week than most other countries. And that number keeps going up. If you work 40 hours a week and take a total of 4 weeks vacation or holiday time, you would be working 1,920 hours per year. Keep in mind that an estimated 40% of U.S. employees regularly work more than 50 hours per week, and 20% work more than 60 hours per week. That means there are plenty of people who easily come close to hitting the 3,000 hour mark year after year!

And what do all of these working hours get us? There are some who work long hours to keep the lights on and the kids fed. There are some working those hours just to have more and more. But I think most are working long hours to have our needs met, plus a little extra and build up security for the future. But wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to work such long hours to meet our daily needs?

Those that were fed among the 5,000 just the day before thought they had found their way to provide for themselves day after day, year after year – without putting in those long hours. Jesus had just fed a huge number of people with just one boy’s lunch. The people wanted more! Yesterday’s bread was gone. Their stomachs were empty once again. They needed more. And to get more they traveled all the way back to the opposite side of the sea of Galilee in search of Jesus. When they had found him, they asked, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” (Jn 6:25). But their question of “when” was really a question of “how.” They saw the disciples leave in a boat without Jesus. They saw Jesus retreat to a secluded place. And when morning came, they didn’t see him on any of the boats. Was it another miracle? Jesus, please give us the details! What amazing thing did you do this time?! Their only purpose for Jesus was to meet their needs in miraculous ways.

And Jesus does indeed meet our needs. He does it with extraordinary miracles, and he does it with ordinary miracles. We talked about that last Sunday. But this is not why Jesus came. He didn’t come to be merely a great provider. He didn’t come to be a “bread king.” Their focus on an earthly Messiah blinded them to the true significance of the miracle. “Very truly, I tell you,” Jesus said, “you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (Jn 6:26-27). There’s something much better than having your physical needs met, and that’s having your spiritual needs met. It’s something better, and it’s something which really endures!

Have you ever thought about it in that way? You need water to survive. You need food to survive. We all know that, and if we don’t get those things our bodies cry out to be filled. But do you realize that you also need spiritual food to survive? Do you hear your spirit cry out to be filled when you go too long without feeding on the words of Jesus? I think it’s very interesting that Jesus even uses a direct illustration of physical food and drink to talk about spiritual food and drink. Here, he talks about the “bread of life” that you need to survive. A couple chapters earlier, Jesus talks with a Samaritan woman at a well about the “water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4). You need spiritual food even more than you need physical food! “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life” (Jn 6:27).

So, the crowd is intrigued. Ok, Jesus, we get your point. How do we work for this “spiritual food”? “What must we do to do the works God requires?” (Jn 6:26). And here it is, the same old problem that comes up again and again. Human nature thinks that everything has to be earned, everything has to be worked for. Human nature doesn’t understand grace. And maybe that’s what gets us every time. Maybe that’s part of the reason we don’t take time to provide enough spiritual food for ourselves. We see it as “work” – something I have to do. Maybe that’s why we have no problem working an average of 40 hrs/wk to earn something we can see, to provide something which we can feel, but we grumble and complain about 1 hour a week, hopefully a little more at home, because we can’t see anything physical that we get out of it. It feels like our duty. And if that’s your attitude about it, then Jesus has something to say to you. “This is the work of God, that you believe in him, whom he has sent you” (Jn 6:29). This isn’t work. It isn’t something you do at all. It’s a time for God to serve you – a time for him to work for you! The Israelites were all about work, even spiritual work. But here Jesus tells them, God does this work! God creates faith in your hearts. God teaches you to believe in Jesus. God serves you spiritual food as he connects you to Jesus and his words. You wouldn’t consider it “work” to eat a nice meal that was prepared for you. So also, the table is set. On the menu is a banquet of spiritual food! The main course is the Bread of Life! That’s why we highlight the gospel reading every Sunday. That’s why every Sunday we read about the words and works of Jesus. “These words are spirit and life” (Jn 6:63). They are spiritual food.

So, Jesus is setting himself up to be a spiritual leader of Israel – a great prophet. Well, if anyone claims to be a great prophet, the Israelites are going to compare him to the greatest prophet they have ever known: Moses. “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness” (Jn 6:30-31). Look at how great of a prophet Moses was! And he proved it by feeding and preserving a whole nation of Israelites, not just 5,000! And he did this for 40 years, not just one evening! What will you do that can top that? Then, maybe we will believe you. You simply took bread which already existed and multiplied it. Your miracle was quite inferior to what Moses did.

Jesus sets the facts straight. “Very truly I tell you, it is NOT Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is MY Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (Jn 6:32-33). This manna that you cherish, came from a cloud of morning dew. The Bread of Life, truly comes from heaven. The manna sustained bodily life day by day and fed a nation. But the Bread of Life give real, spiritual life which endures! And it isn’t just for one nation, it feeds the entire world. Moreover, you ask for “signs” yet you reject the signs you have already been given. Earlier Jesus said, “You are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill” (Jn 6:26). The very purpose of the miracles Jesus performs are that they are “signs” pointing to something greater. They aren’t meant to be the main event. But they focused on the miraculous sign, and so missed the real miracle: the Son of God, come down from heaven and standing in their midst. God the Father set his seal on Jesus when he was baptized, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17). They did not come to find the Savior Jesus claimed to be, they came looking for the Savior they wanted Jesus to be, and so were dissatisfied with what he offered.

How often do we share the same dissatisfaction with what God provides for us? It could be preemptive worrying: “I’ve gotta save up more in case something unexpected happens. My time right now needs to be on providing financially. I can’t afford to take Sundays off.” It could be comparative complaining: “Look at the things my neighbors have. Why hasn’t God provided me with just a little bit more than the necessities?” We get caught up in the physical, that we forget about meeting our spiritual needs. We forget that God has saved us from a truly miserable and agonizing life separated from him, and he desires to preserve us for an eternity of indulging on all the fullness of the blessings he has in store for us. It’s true, you may not have all the luxuries you see others have if you take time off from working for things that will eventually fade. But you will gain things that are so incomparable to anything here and now when you let God work for you something which endures.

Peace. You can’t really earn peace, but knowing that your life is in God’s hands gives peace! Hope. You can’t buy hope, but believing God when he tells you that there is a better place fills you with hope! Perseverance. Feeding on the bread of life every day gives you the strength and perseverance to face another day entrusting yourself to God’s care.

God’s Word is powerful! At least some in the crowd were moved, “Sir, always give us this bread” (Jn 6:34). And finally, Jesus reveals the food that endures to eternal life, “I am the bread of life.” He says, “Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (Jn 6:35). It’s hard to trust your life to someone else. When we live in a reality where every day we get hungry and meet that need with food, or have bills and we meet that need with money, it’s hard to come to grips with the fact that we also need to be fed spiritually. It’s hard to trust that taking small amounts of time during our week to simply sit at Jesus feet is really better spent than working extra hours or catching up on rest because we have been so busy with work. And I’m not saying you have to be Moses the model Christian. I gave that example so that you could see that even if you could do it all, that 290 hours a year is just a small portion of the 1,920 hours a year that many of us spend working. Don’t make 5 and a half hours a week your goal to begin with. Start with just 1 hour a week – here at church or if it doesn’t work out from time to time, then eat your spiritual food at home. And slowly build your appetite. Because when you feed on his Words, the bread of life, you realize that life is more than just eating, drinking, and enjoying life. It’s about knowing and trusting in the one who provides for all of your needs, physically, spiritually, and into eternity.

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Back to Basics (July 29, 2016)

July 30, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

Back to Basics

John 6:1-15

Have you ever taken a moment to give thanks for all that goes into your daily bread? Think about it. Even for something as simple and basic as bread, there is so much that has to go right just to get it to your table. You need good soil, good weather, and healthy farmers to grow and harvest the wheat. You need machinery to harvest and transport that wheat along with the intelligent engineers and manufacturers who make that equipment. There are people who combine the wheat with all the other ingredients, bake the bread, and ship it to stores where you can buy it. Finally, you need a vehicle and gas to get to the grocery store, and money so that you can buy it, bring it home, and finally eat it. All that just for a loaf of bread! In fact, I condensed quite a bit as well.

Sometimes things just become so automatic. Have you ever doubted that you would have daily bread? Have you ever worried about where your next meal would come from? I think for the vast majority of you, you probably haven’t. And I give thanks to God for providing for you in such an abundant way. But sometimes we forget. Sometimes we forget that this is all a gift from God and not something we do strictly on our own. Sometimes we forget that everything we have and all our abilities are God’s gifts to us. His way of providing for our every need.

Jesus wanted to remind his disciples of this. He wanted to bring them back to basics. Things were going quite well for Jesus and the disciples. Jesus was gaining a larger and larger following ever day. The people who came to him were genuinely interested in what he had to say, and they were favorable toward Jesus. The disciples had just come back from mission trips and were amazed to find that even though they didn’t pack anything for their journey, all of their food and clothing were provided by generous people. Things were going great. And now, a large crowd gathered even in a remote area just to be with Jesus and hear him! But in order to remind his disciples of where all this comes from, he asks a simple question to bring them back to basics.

“When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’” (Jn 6:5). It seems then that Jesus went about teaching and conversing with the crowd as he allowed his disciples time to ponder and work out a solution to this big problem. Obviously, Philip told the other disciples to get their input as well. They went about their afternoon with furrowed brows and brief, frantic conversations between one another until it was time to eat. Jesus regrouped with his disciples with an expectant look upon his face. “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (Mk 6:7) Philip blurts out with frustration! Andrew has brought someone with him, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” (Jn 6:9). Both of these disciples were focused on what they could do, what they could provide. Both of these disciples completely forgot about all they had seen Jesus miraculously do. They were at the wedding in Cana where Jesus turned water into wine (Jn 2:1-11). They had seen him heal a number of people from countless diseases. They just went out on journeys, taking nothing with them, and yet were provided all they needed! And yet, when it comes down to something as simple as daily bread, they completely forgot that God provides this too.

Oh how often do we fall into the same boat? How often do we take all that we have for granted – the food that we eat, the clothes we wear, our abilities, our jobs, our families and everything else. We look around at all we have and simply take it all for granted. We forget about all the little details that all have to go just right even to have something as basic as daily bread. We forget that even though God has blessed us with skills, abilities, and jobs so that we can be provided for, we forget that all of it still is a gracious gift and blessing from God.

Because of our forgetfulness, sometimes God has to take us back to basics to remind us of the great miracle that each and every day is. “’Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do” (Jn 6:5-6). It did not just suddenly occur to Jesus that the thousands would be in danger since they had stayed with him so long. No, he let them stay until there was a problem. And although he knew exactly what he was going to do already, he allowed his disciples to wrestle with this problem to test them.

You might think that God testing us seems unfair or cruel. A test might seem like a trap to catch his disciples unprepared. But that isn’t the case at all. A fair test is never meant to trap or frustrate. I can still remember my dad saying as I sat in his catechism class, “I’m not trying to trick you with this test. I just want you to be able to show me what you know.” Jesus wanted to give his disciples an opportunity to show what they knew. A chance to prove both to Jesus and themselves that they have grown in the training and instruction they had received from Jesus. Would they be able to distinguish between the inability of human provision and the almighty power of their Lord to provide for the physical needs of that great crowd? Would they be able to think beyond the question of buying to the possibility that he had another solution in mind? Unfortunately, however, the disciples were only able to prove that they still had room to grow. In the same way, how often, when finances are tight or we are in the middle of a big transition, how often do we prove that we still have room to learn? Room to grow in our trust of receiving everything from God.

Once Jesus had revealed the need, he drew their minds away from themselves to the one who provide in both ordinary and extraordinary ways. He taught them to “Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (Deut 8:18). He brought them back to basics. Then he provided the solution.

The solution was already there. In fact, even in such a remote place, Jesus was able to provide not just for basic needs. He provided much more. “Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down” (Jn 6:10). Don’t miss that point. The first time I read that this week I kinda chuckled and thought to myself, well there’s a pointless detail. But it’s not. They were in a remote place. And you know how some of the terrain in that region can be. It was mountainous. It was often rocky and jagged. But here, where Jesus decided to teach, it was grassy and comfortable to sit and eat.

Another part of the solution they already had was the five small barley loaves and two small fish. And even though this seemed to be a joke when the need was so great – really only able to get people thinking about food and make their stomachs grumble even more – yet, Jesus gave thanks! Not after multiplying it, before. When it was still just five loaves and two fish, Jesus saw it as a blessing from God!

The last part of the solution was Jesus. Jesus who is one with the Father who always “gives them their food at the proper time. He opens his hand and satisfies the desires of every living thing” (Ps 145:15-16). Jesus gave and gave and gave, and as he gave there was always more to give. He gave to each person “as much as they wanted” (Jn 6:11)! In fact, in Matthew’s account of this same event, he wrote, “They all ate and were satisfied” (Mt 14:20)! They didn’t have to skimp. The disciples didn’t have to limit or monitor as it was being passed out. They just kept on giving. Jesus kept on giving. And after everyone had eaten, they gathered up the left over pieces and “filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten” (Jn 6:13). The people immediately recognized it for what it was: a miracle!

That ought to be our attitude each and every day we wake up! It’s a miracle that all night long my heart kept beating and my lungs kept filling with air! That ought to be our attitude each and every time we bite into a piece of bread – or any other food for that matter. God made the good soil for the seeds to grow in. God provided the favorable weather. God enabled the farmers to do their important work of planting and harvesting. The engineers who build the machinery, the transportation, the bakers, other ingredients, and stores, gas in my vehicle and money in my wallet, each and every one of these things is a miracle of God’s providence! A miracle which God does each and every day, yes. An ordinary miracle, yes. But a miraculous gift from God each and every day.

As Jesus took the time to teach his disciples a very important lesson by bringing them back to basics, I pray that God never has to bring you back to basics by reducing you to your need. Because I pray that each and every day you realize how you are surrounded by God’s abundant blessing of provision. May your table prayer at lunch today have much more depth in meaning. May your bed time prayers be a sincere request that God preserve you until another day. And if you don’t do it already, maybe you can even say a morning prayer, thanking God for the new day and all you know he can provide.

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Peace in Witnessing (July 15, 2018)

July 16, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

Peace in Witnessing

Mark 6:7-13

I have a quick announcement that applies to the sermon today, so I hope you don’t mind me taking a moment to talk about it. When you are ushered out of church today, go to the bulletin board and take a look at the yellow sheet of paper I’ve pinned up. On it, you will see that I’ve assigned you a witnessing buddy and a neighborhood that I would like you and your partner to walk through and share the gospel with anyone you meet there. I’m not going to be giving you any kind of pamphlet or evangelism tract. Just speak from the heart what you know!

How many of you are feeling a little nervous right now? I bet you are feeling a lot like the disciples felt when Jesus did much the same thing. And notice, we are only in chapter 6 of Mark. This isn’t after 3 years of instruction by Jesus. This is shortly after Jesus called his disciples to follow him and appointed twelve of them as apostles. We aren’t told exactly how long Jesus spent with them. It could have been a few months, probably less than a year. Needless to say, the disciples were probably feeling scared, worried, and nervous.

How are you feeling? Have the nerves worn off a bit? What questions are going through your mind? Are you wondering what kind of people you are going to meet? Will they be kind? Will they be rude? Are you wondering what you are going to say to the people you meet? Where do I even begin! Are you worried about producing results? Bringing at least one person into church from your witnessing. I think I should tell you now that there is no yellow sheet. I haven’t divided you into pairs to go out two by two. I haven’t assigned you neighborhoods. But the great commission still stands! Jesus has called you to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). He has called you to “preach the gospel.” And so this ought to be on our hearts and minds every day. But I know that you may feel anxious or nervous about witnessing. Sharing the good news with other people can be a nerve-racking thought. So let’s dig into this reading and see how Jesus eases our fears and gives us peace in witnessing.

The first worry of witnessing is, who should I witness to? Where should I go? When should I bring up my faith in conversation? Who is going to direct me and give me opportunities to share? Perhaps, at times, we are so busy thinking about all of these things, wondering when we should flip into evangelism mode, that we forget that being a Christian and witnessing isn’t just something you do some of the time. Being a Christian is who you are, and sharing the Good News is what you naturally do. Remember that it is Jesus who first called you to faith, changed your heart, and made you a believer. Included in that call to faith, then, is also an invitation to all that he is and does. He is your Savior – your good news! He is your message.

Having changed your heart, by calling you to faith, he also calls you to witness to that faith. Keep in mind, witnessing isn’t some highly-technical, carefully-crafted thing you do. A witness is simply someone who tells what they have seen or know. As a witness, you are simply sharing what you already know about Jesus. Tell your story! Tell how Jesus made an impact in your life. Tell others what he means to you. That’s it! And since the message is such a personal thing, it should be something you can talk about very naturally. As God plans out your life, he will provide opportunities in which you can naturally talk about how God has shaped your life.

The second worry you probably have about witnessing is what do I say? I’m not an expert in the Bible. I don’t know that many passages by memory. In fact, I don’t even know if David is in the Old Testament or the New! What can I tell anyone that will really have an impact on them? What if they want to discuss deeper or dispute some of the things I want to say?

As you worry about all of these things, I’ll tell you to hold your horses and remember just who Jesus sent out when he sent the 12. Today, we think of them as highly trained and courageous men who stand up to opposition even in the face of martyrdom! But remember, Jesus sent the 12 out here toward the beginning of his ministry. Four of them we know were fishermen – Peter, Andrew, James and John. Thomas, Nathaniel, and Philip may have also been fishermen. Just average, blue-collar workers who had no special training in the Bible; no exceptional speaking skills. Matthew was a tax collector, who probably had some level of education and reputation to acquire this job. There is no background information on the other disciples, but you noticed that Jesus called people from all walks of life. He didn’t go into the temple or synagogues asking for the most highly trained scribes or most skillful teachers of the law. He called ordinary people to follow him and be witnesses of all that he is and does.

That’s all it takes to be a witness. Jesus comes to you, wherever you are in life, and makes you his in your own unique way. Maybe Jesus found you when your parents brought you to church regularly, or the baptismal font. Maybe Jesus found you when you were settling down and reordering your life. Maybe he found you in the midst of addictive sin and turned your life around. In all of these situations, the good news had an impact on you. In all of these different ways Jesus changed you, and you can talk about that with others! Start with what the gospel means to you. Talk about the truths that sooth your fears and release your burdens. Encourage others with the same miraculous power that God has displayed in your own life. And as you talk about how all of these things relate to you personally, you will speak with passion and fire, because this is personal!

Then, continue to grow in your faith. Jesus instructed his disciples before sending them out in Mark chapter 6. And he didn’t end there. They didn’t graduate then. After they returned from their mission trips, Jesus continued to instruct and teach them. You also can continue to learn from God’s Word. Your confirmation was not your graduation. My graduation from Seminary was not a graduation from studying God’s Word. And when we gather together to study, like during Bible Class, our learning multiplies!

Here, Jesus instructs his disciples on some practical matters. “Take nothing except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic” (Mk 6:8-9) etc. But this isn’t really a dress code for the disciples. Jesus was teaching them a very specific point. He was teaching them to rely on him for all they need. Don’t worry about what you will eat or what you will wear. In fact, Matthew records this same sending out of the twelve and even records Jesus saying, “do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Mt 10:19-20). I’ll let you in on a little secret. There are times when I stand up here and I’m not as prepared as I would like to be. Sure, I have a sermon written out, but it’s not as polished as I would like it to be, or doesn’t quite flow. In those time I especially pray, “Holy Spirit, it is your word alone that changes hearts. Speak through me that your people may be edified.” That same Spirit speaks through you and works in hearts when the Good News is proclaimed! Just as Jesus gave the disciples authority over evil spirits, you exercise the authority of the word to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).

The final worry we have in witnessing is that when God calls us, instructs us, and sends us, we won’t be able to produce any results. I’ve spoken to people before about what I believe. I’ve offered the comfort of the gospel to someone struggling with sin. I’ve defended the faith. But I don’t see any results. No one has told me that they have become a believer. No one has come to church through my witnessing. But notice that in verse 12 of the reading it simply says, “They went out and preached that people should repent” (Mk 6:12). It doesn’t say that many people came to believe. It doesn’t give numbers. Mark simply tells us that the apostles faithfully carried out the ministry to which Jesus called them.

That’s all that Jesus asks of any of his called servants. It’s not my witnessing that does anything, it’s his gospel that is the power for anyone to believe. Moreover, I’m not the one who needs to worry about producing results. God calls you to witness. He says, “Preach the Word.” Paul talks about planting and watering, but ultimately God makes the see of faith grow. So be at peace in your witnessing. It is God who called you to faith and made you who you are – calling you to live as his disciples. It is God who grows that faith within you as he instructs you from his Word. It is he who works through the words you speak no matter how simply or how eloquently you speak. Witness the good news and share how God has worked in your life. Leave the results to him.

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Peace in Persecution (July 8, 2018)

July 16, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

Peace in Persecution

2 Timothy 3:10-4:5

The bald eagle was chosen as the emblem of the United States because of its long life, great strength and majestic looks. The fierce beauty and proud independence of this great bird symbolizes the strength and freedom of America. But bald eagles don’t start out life so strong and free. And they definitely don’t look very majestic. More like white balls of fluff with a gaping mouth wide open. Because of their helpless state, baby eaglets spend all of their time high up in a tree or on a rock face, safe in their nests. As eaglets, their lives are pretty easy. Their mother brings them food. They are safe from predators. And the lining of their nest is nice and soft with feathers and fur. But they can’t stay there forever. It’s time for them to grow up. The problem is that, with such a comfortable nest, they don’t want to grow up and leave the nest. They want to remain children in their soft and easy little world.

And so, the mother eagle does what she always does. She stirs up the nest. She uses her powerful talons to pull out all the softness, exposing all the sharp branches, thorns and rocks that lie underneath. She makes the nest uncomfortable. In this way she gets her children to stop thinking like children. They grow up and are prepared to go away from the nest. Does life ever feel like that? Does it ever feel like God is stirring up your life as comforts are ruffled, hard rocks exposed, and you feel the sharp prick of a stick that juts out too far?

Paul’s life definitely felt like that from time to time. He didn’t just feel the sharp prick of a stick, he was beaten with rods three times (2 Cor 11:25). He didn’t just feel the cold, jagged surface of a rockface, he was pelted with stones until they thought he was dead (2 Cor 11:25). And there was much more. He had been shipwrecked multiple times while trying to spread the gospel. He has known hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness. But it wasn’t just physical pains he endured either. “[Timothy], you know all about my persecutions and sufferings – what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured” (2 Tim 3:10-11). Timothy, you know because your hometown is right in that area. You’ve seen how jealous men hunted me down and made my life and ministry difficult in city after city. You’ve seen the contempt they have for the true gospel and those who share it with others.

Timothy, you’ve seen it happen to me. It will happen to you as well. “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). I’m not the only one who is going to be persecuted in this way, Timothy. You will be too. In fact, every one of us, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. What has it been for you? In what ways have people attacked you because of the gospel? Do you feel the stone cold attitude of a world that is moving farther and farther away from the truth. In fact, they are not just moving farther from the true gospel but making it generally difficult for those who still cling to the truth. Even if you don’t feel this persecution in a direct way, it weighs heavy on you as you see society plummeting and wonder, when is this going to affect me? Maybe you have been made fun of for believing in a “fairytale” or “myth” as they might call it. And if not made fun of, I’m sure you have been challenged in your beliefs.

But why? Why does God allow this to happen? Wouldn’t it be so much easier to convince people that the Bible is true and God is real if he prevents all harm from those who believe in him and looks out for us in the way that we expect him to? Why? Does it mean that God is not in control of all things? Does it mean that he is unable to shield and protect us, or… do I even dare say it… that he doesn’t really care about our wellbeing?

Our minds would have us think that if God really cared, he would shield us from all of these things. Others might point and laugh at you and me for believing in a God who fails to rescue and protect. Satan whispers in our ears, “Did God really say that this was the kind of life that you have to live? One that comes with difficulty, hardship, and persecution?” And if we’re not careful we start to believe these things. We start to believe that a life worth living is one in which we are free from any kind of discomfort.

But then we look at Paul, who lived a pretty rough life, and amazingly we hear him say, “The Lord rescued me from all of them” (2 Tim 3:11). He wasn’t trying to lie to Timothy. Timothy knew about all these things that Paul endured. He knew that Paul was verbally attacked and harassed, beaten on multiple accounts, and even stoned. And you are thinking, God didn’t rescue him from these things! But Paul says, “Yes! He did.” Because were any of these things able to separate him from God? “Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us… [nothing] in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm 8:35, 37, 39).

These persecutions and hardships are part of life. In fact, the hardships that God allows are sometimes even a good part of life. There’s a really interesting experiment which proves this in a different kind of way. The project was called Biosphere 2. A large dome was built in the Arizona desert to create a perfect environment for human, plant, and animal life. The environment was controlled with purified air and water, healthy soil and filtered light. Everything seemed to be going well. Trees grew faster than they grew in the wild. But, once they reached a certain height, they would fall over. That’s because the creators of the biodome overlooked one important factor: wind. Trees actually need the stress caused by wind because it causes their root systems to grow deeper and stronger. In fact, the strongest trees are found in the strongest winds. In the same way baby eaglets need that discomfort of a stirred up nest to build the strength of their wings and encourage them to mature. It’s the same thing that God does for you and me.

“In this world you will have trouble” (Jn 16:33). Persecution is a part of life. But God uses it to prepare you for life. And he never leaves you empty handed.

The seasoned and weathered Paul encourages young Timothy, “Continue in what you have learned and become convinced of… from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:14-17).

There’s three important things that God does for you through the scriptures to rescue you from all persecution. The first, is that God shows you how he has been there for his people in the past. “Continue in what you have learned” (2 Tim 3:14). In the Bible, you have seen how God carried a persecuted brother named Joseph, the youngest of 12, through slavery, imprisonment, and eventually made him second in command of all Egypt so that he could save his family, his county, and all Egypt from a severe famine. You’ve learned about the promised Messiah, traced his lineage from the promise given to Adam and Eve all the way down to Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph, but also Son of God. You’ve learned about how God preserved that promise of the Savior, kept that family line secure, and placed himself into history at exactly the right time. You’ve even seen how God led a man, completely opposed to Christianity, to see the light of the gospel and become one of Christianity’s strongest proponents. You’ve learned how God sees to it that his will is done and his people are brought to faith and protected in that faith!

You have known these things, many of you, since infancy. Having known and believed these things, you have become “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). And that’s what this is all about isn’t it? Life isn’t about having it made. It’s not about having all the creature comforts or greatest honors. It’s not about avoiding confrontation. Those things are all good, but there’s really only one thing that life is all about and that’s becoming wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. It’s all about knowing Jesus, trusting in him as your Savior so that you know that this isn’t all there is to life! Realize that things aren’t going to get better. No, God actually says here that things will go “from bad to worse” (2 Tim 4: ). And so, although a simple faith in Jesus is all it takes for salvation, God prepares you for the challenges you will face by “stirring up the nest” – introducing little discomforts to encourage you to stretch your wings, grow in your faith, and root yourself even stronger in your salvation. When your salvation comes first, when it’s the most important thing in life, then everything else is put into perspective. It won’t be the end of the world if someone challenges you for what you believe. It won’t be depressing to miss out on some of the things that you see others having. And you will have peace despite the persecutions you face, because you know that it’s better to take up your cross in this life to save your soul, than to lose your soul by trying to save your life here on earth (Mt 16:24-25).

God prepares you to meet these challenges of life. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful… so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). Don’t imagine that the Bible is just about a lot of dusty old history that doesn’t have any application in your life. Don’t assume that the Bible is all about spiritual stuff which really isn’t down to earth at all. All Scripture is useful! As you go through life and God stirs up the nest so that you begin to feel some of the pressures of life, go to Scripture and be equipped. As your faith is challenged and you are looking for answers, go to Scripture to be equipped. “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim 4: ) And things aren’t going to get better. “Evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim 3:13), and God wants you to be prepared. A childlike faith is all you need for salvation, yes, but false teachers are going to try to mislead that childlike faith – lead you to where you don’t want to go, where you will have a truly difficult life. God gives you opportunities to grow in your faith and gives you all the equipment you need in his Word.

A little discomfort from stirring up the nest is good for baby bald eaglets. It encourages them to spread their wings and see what power God has given them. Eventually the discomfort that the mother eagle knows is best helps them become the majestic, soaring, and free creatures we know them to be. Trust God when he stirs up the nest in your life. It can be stressful. It can be uncomfortable. But he knows what’s best. Little by little he’s stretching your faith so that you can see all the more what power God has to rescue. Paul knew that power through his many hardships explaining, “the Lord rescued me from all of them” (2 Tim 3:11). Find peace in your persecutions as you also see that “the Lord rescues you from all of them.”

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