Sermons

An archive of the most recent sermons by Pastor Ehlers.

Free to be yourself (November 3, 2019)

November 8, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

Free to be yourself

John 8:31-36

You spend time on the things you value. That’s a fair statement, I think. Many of you know, I value my cars, so I can spend a fair amount of time on my cars if given the chance. It’s never just an oil change – there’s always something I can inspect, tinker on, or fix. Maybe you value your health, and so you take the time to prepare healthy meals and get your exercise in. Maybe you value your baseball team, so you invested hours and stayed up later than usual to watch the Astros in the World Series… maybe next time. I know many of you value your children – I should rephrase that. I know you all value your children. You spend the time getting them a good education, encourage them to join extracurriculars, and fit it all into your already busy schedule.

These are all great things to value. But go through the list of the things you value. Go through your daily and weekly schedule and identify the things that you spend the most time on. Then for each one of those things ask, “Are you a slave to this thing.” The thought crossed my mind recently, mainly because I had two bigger and necessary repairs on each of our cars that took up a big chunk of my time – what would have been my time off. This time it was necessary, but there have been other times when I’ve taken away time from my spouse and my family to do what I wanted to do. I go about these things thinking that I’m making the most of my free time – making it better for my family, when really, at times, I’ve only taken away from my family.

Are you a slave? I think we all know what a slave is from the historical sense. But I want you to consider a slave in more of a psychological sense, with this definition. A slave is “a person who is excessively dependent upon or controlled by something.” Or, to be a slave is “to be so strongly influenced by something that you cannot make your own decisions.” I’ve seen even good things that we value become the master, and we the slaves. Do the sports you watch or play determine your weekly schedule? Do the activities your children engage in dictate where you need to be and when. Do you get so determined and so focused on your own interests that you block everything and everyone else out at times? You can be a slave to an interest if your life is excessively dependent upon it. You can be a slave to a coach if you let them control your schedule. Sometimes we become slaves to the things we value so much so that we cannot even make our own decisions.

And the worst kind of slavery is being enslaved by something we think we have under control. Or being enslaved and not even realizing it at all. Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you” – that’s a way of saying “pay careful attention” in Jesus’ day. “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (Jn 8:34). Maybe you convince yourself that it’s out of necessity that you lie just this once. But then another opportunity to lie comes up, and another, and another – and very soon you are weaving some pretty complex stories and it comes so naturally. Or you’ve been stuck in a rough patch recently and try to numb the pain with substances. “I’ll quite once things get better,” you tell yourself. “I can quit any time.” Or there’s the juicy bit of information that you just can’t resist sharing. You know it is damaging to the person’s reputation, but “it’s just sharing information,” you tell yourself. “And besides, I’ll just tell one person.” Do we really think that we can just dip a little toe into sin and pull it back out unharmed? Unchanged? Adam and Eve tried that, and they couldn’t stop sinning – running from God, hiding, lying, and blaming. Do we really think that our story will be any different? “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (Jn 8:34). We are born into slavery, we inherit sinfulness from our parents. We are so strongly influenced by sin that we cannot make our own decisions.

This made their blood boil! The Jews replied to Jesus, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone” (Jn 8:33). Really? Israelites… You don’t remember about 400 years in Egypt? But they were making a spiritual point. We are Abraham’s descendants, children of the covenant of God. We have never been slaves to sin because God chose us! They just didn’t see it. They used religion as a cover, when really they were slaves to the law all along. And although they may have enjoyed living in their master’s house for a while, “A slave has no permanent place in the family” (Jn 8:35). A slave can be sold or kicked out at any time. The same goes for you and I, whenever we excuse our sin by saying, “I’m a Christian!” I can dip my toe into sin and stop whenever I want because “I’m a Christian!” If that were true, your sins wouldn’t be enslaving you. If that were true, would you go willingly into sin in the first place?

And if you are thinking, like the disciples did, “Who then can be saved?” (Mt 19:25), you are exactly right. I don’t deserve to be saved. You and I aren’t able to free ourselves from the slavery of sin. We thrust ourselves into slavery again and again. But there is one who frees us again and again. There is one who builds us back up and strengthens us to resist the slavery to sin. “Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32).

So enough about slavery, let’s talk about freedom. What do you think of when you hear the word, “Freedom”? Maybe the movie Braveheart. “FREEEEEDOOOOM!” Maybe the flag, or a bald eagle. Maybe it’s finally retiring after years of working. But Americans often have a misconception of what freedom means. Many people think that freedom means free from any kind of bond in every way. Free from all constraints and every influence. But that’s not what freedom is. In fact, that’s not even a good thing either. Take, for example, a fish in a pond. You could look at that fish and think that it looks rather confined by the banks of that pond. There’s a much bigger world out there to know and explore. You could then take that fish out of the pond and set it on the shore. It’s now free from that pond and in a much larger world! Except, there’s just one thing, the fish needed that water. It needed the water to move freely. It needed the water to breath freely. It needed the water to live. What looked like freedom, was actually it’s destruction because the so called “freedom” was contrary to it’s design.

The fact is, there is no such thing as being free from everything. And that’s not a bad thing. Astronauts have found that being free from gravity makes simple, everyday tasks very difficult. And long periods of anti-gravity actually harms the body. Like the fish, you wouldn’t want to be free from the air you breath. Also influences. You can be free from your parent’s influence only to fall into the bad influence of people you call your friends. So rather than thinking of freedom as being free from everything, we need to realize that we are really only free from something, so that we can live for something else.

So what do you want to be free from? What do you want to be free to live for? Jesus says, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:31-32). The truth of God’s Word, will set you free from the slavery of sin. There’s a certain way that God designed you to live – just like there’s a certain way God designed fish to live. He didn’t design you for sin, yet in the Fall of Adam and inherited from your parents we are born as slaves to sin. Even the good we try to do is so easily stained by false motives and selfish thoughts. We are bound by sin. Addicted to it. So strongly influenced by it that we cannot make our own decisions.

But Jesus set you free from sin. He set you free from the punishment of sin. He set you free from the guilt of past sins. He even sets you free from the control of sin. That’s something that’s not often talked about in much depth. One of those things we know as a fact, but have a hard time realizing in our own lives. As a child of God, by faith, you have power over sin and the devil. Sin is not your master anymore. When you feel the temptation to sin you can – as a child of God – resist and destroy it before it enslaves you once again. Because you are a renewed creation. Finally freed to live the way God intended you to be. You are free to live according to his good design for you. And when tempted to return to the slavery of sin – to live contrary to God’s design – use God’s Word. It is powerful. Read it. Speak it. Pray it so that your sin doesn’t control you. So that you remain free from sin. Free to truly live.

This freedom, then, as a child of God, spills over into every aspect of your life – influencing, leading, guiding you every day. So that the things you value do not enslave you and control your life, barring you from the freedom you have as sons and daughters in God’s house. It’s ok to say no to activities that take away from your time with God. It’s ok to be upfront and talk about the freedom you have in Christ, so that you can truly live for a Father who values you.

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What do you give to someone who has it all? (October 27, 2019)

October 31, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

What do you give to someone who has it all?

1 Chronicles 29:1-2, 10-18

How do you give to someone who has it all? You’ve seen that in cards, right? Maybe an anniversary card that reads, “How could I ever begin to describe you, the perfect wife?” Or a Father’s Day card that reads, “What could I ever do for the father that has done so much for me?” Or a birthday card that reads, “What do you give to someone who already has it all?”

King David had it all. Skimming through the history of Chronicles and Kings, you would see very quickly that David was a great and mighty king! He strategically fought the battles that extended Israel’s borders. He wisely stored up the wealth and supplies that fattened the storehouses of Israel. He ruled with authority and power. And yet, despite having all power, wealth, and glory David realized there is someone who has even more than him. The only reason he was able to do all of this is because “[the Lord] has given the inhabitants of the land into my hands, and the land is subject to the Lord and to his people” (1 Chr 22:18). That’s why, David rightly praised God, saying “Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all” (1 Chr 29:11). Because, despite David being king, God’s is the power. Despite David winning many battles, God’s is the victory. And despite David offering such wealth for the temple and the praise and honor he could rightly receive for doing such, he gives credit where credit is due: God’s is the greatness, and God’s is the glory. David was content being a mirror. Everything he had been given from God, he reflected to the people. And any praise he received, he reflected back up to God.

That’s hard to do. It’s hard to see all that I have as gifts from God, when I worked hard for that paycheck, I’ve worked hard to put food on the table, and I’ve worked hard saving for my retirement. We practice it though. Before our meals we practice remembering that this food is from God when we pray, “Come Lord, Jesus, be our guest. And let these gifts to us be blessed.” During the offering, sometimes, we practice it by singing something like, “We give thee but thine own.” It’s easy to say… Much more difficult to believe. Especially when it feels so good to hear such words of praise – to be honored for the gifts we have and give. “Great sermon pastor!” Ahhh! Thank you! “Thanks for your help today. You have such a kind and generous heart.” Ahhh! Thank you! “Thanks for sharing your wisdom. Your advice is greatly treasured!” Ahhh! Thank you!

We are quick to take credit for these things, and yet quick to give away credit for those less than desirable things. When we are caught in a lie, we quickly give away the credit to someone else and feign innocence. When we’ve done wrong and hurt someone, we quickly give away the credit to someone else pressuring you to do it. When we are confronted with sin, we quickly give away the credit saying, “The devil made me do it!” Really, these are the only things that are rightly mine. These are the only things I can claim. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death” (Rm 6:23) – “the earnings of sin is death.”

Thankfully, the God who has it all, is also happy to give it all. Is it too early to talk about Christmas? I well remember the days leading up to Christmas as a child. I remember waking up on Christmas break to the sound of Handel’s Messiah playing peacefully in the living room. I remember going out as a family to find and cut down the perfect Christmas tree. I also remember my mom taking us one by one to shop for Christmas gifts. On our special day to go shopping, we’d pick out gifts for our parents and each of our siblings. Maybe even get a special treat or lunch. It was great bonding time.

As I got a little older, I started to realize, how generous my parents were for letting me buy a gift for my siblings with their money! And wow, each sibling did that for each of our 5 siblings! And then I got a little older still and realized the second part of the generosity, the gift I bought for my mom and dad was also purchased with their money. They let me pick it out, wrap it, proudly give it, receive all the credit – thanks and praise – when really it all came from them anyway. What an honor and a privilege they have given me, freely, without my own earning.

That must have been what David was thinking as he went over the accounting of the generous gifts both from him, and the Israelites for the construction of the Lord’s Temple. First, he recognized the monumental task it would be to build a physical temple for the one whom all of creation cannot contain. “The task is great” he said, “because this palatial structure is not for man but for the Lord God” (1 Chr 29:1). Then he gave an accounting of what had been given. From the royal treasury was give “gold for the gold work, silver for the silver, bronze for the bronze…” as well as precious stones – all of these in large quantities. Then, on top of that, David himself gave from his personal treasury “three thousand talents of gold… and seven thousand talents of refined silver” (1 Chr 29:4). David’s portion would amount to about 740,000lbs, which is pretty close to double the weight of the Statue of Liberty! On top of all of that, the leaders, officers, and commanders also all gave willingly, gold, silver, bronze, iron, and precious stones. Their gift weighing in at 5,000 tons, or 10,000,000lbs… about the weight of train with 45 fully loaded coal cars. This was a colossal gift, given willingly to be used for the construction of the Temple of God!

And yet, when he looks over this massive amount of gifts collectively given – whether line items on paper like we just read or all piled up in a storehouse somewhere like a freight train of precious metals, can you imagine the sight and how that must have felt to accumulate such a gift to God?! And yet, when David looks over this massive gift, he realizes, “Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand” (2 Chr 29:14). And maybe even with a tremble in his voice, he asks, “who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this?” (2 Chr 29:14).” “We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors” (2 Chr 29:15). In other words, there’s nothing special about us that you should be drawn to us. There’s nothing we’ve done that deserves such favor from you. “Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope” (2 Chr 29:15).

But God gave for that too. “The wages of sin is death” yes, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm 6:23). Since I was talking about Christmas, it’s very fitting to talk about the gift of Christ Jesus himself. That God, who not only has all physical and material things in his hand, but also has all honor, glory, power and authority, and yet he gave that up to be born right along side you. To live in your shoes. To live in your place. And then stretch out his arms and give up his life – to take on the wrath of God and the death that our sins deserve onto himself, so that he could give you what he alone deserves. So he could give you eternal life, salvation from sin, honor to your name, and power over the devil. We are only unworthy servants, without hope. But by his death and resurrection, God has given the greatest gift of all.

So, the God who has it all, and gives it all, also honors it all. Just as my mom let me pick out a gift, wrap it, and proudly give it, so that I could receive all the credit, thanks and praise; so your God does for you. Because he gave you new life through faith in Christ, complete with a new heart and will, a new mind fixed on God, you are able to truly give to God with a right heart. Your coming here for worship is giving to God what he desires – worship and songs of praise. And I always say, the Bible says, “Make a joyful noise” (Ps 100:1 KJV) not, “Make a beautiful noise”. Your confessing of sins and believing the forgiveness proclaimed is the sacrifice God desires as Psalm 51(:17) declares. Bringing children, or yourselves, up to the font to receive a new life through baptism, encouraging and supporting one another. Supporting the work of the Church with your offering, all of this God gives to you, so that you can wrap it in love, proudly give it, and rightly receive honor for doing such.

Although David rightly gives God all credit, all glory and all honor, he says, “All this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and belongs to you” (2 Chr 29:16). And yet, God shares that with you and me. He gives us joy and satisfaction in our ability to give back to God what he has given to us! He honors us by giving us the pleasure of being a part of the gift he has, gives, and honors.

So, what do you give someone who has it all? Your heart. So that he may fill it with joy and integrity. I marvel at David’s prayer concluding this section, and it is my prayer for you as well. So let’s close with it. “I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. Lord, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you” (2 Chr 29:18). Amen.

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Been there. Done that. (October 20, 2019)

October 23, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

Been there. Done that.

Revelation 2:8-11

When you want to learn how to do something well, you turn to those who have been there, done that. Those who have experience doing the same thing, and are good at it. So, needless to say, I was really excited and looking forward to attending the TNT Gathering this past week. The TNT Gathering is a gathering for every pastor in our Texas and Oklahoma district who is actively starting a new mission congregation. I was looking forward to talking to seasoned veterans, getting great ideas, and being encouraged all along. And all that did happen! I came back on Tuesday with advice, direction, contacts, and enthusiasm. But there’s also the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with all of that. As missionaries were presenting on their exciting work, there was also despair as I thought to myself, “I should be doing more of that.” And envy as I thought, “I wish I had that available.” Or “My work didn’t produce those kind of results.”

It’s all a bit daunting. And I know the experience isn’t exclusive to pastors and missionaries. Throughout school you’ve got your eyes on different people, longing to develop the skills they have. Throughout your career there are disappointments as you work hard for something and see it go to someone else. In retirement there are regrets as things didn’t turn out how you had hoped. And aside from those things, there is the hurt that comes and goes at any stage of life: Relationship strains, the spiritual darkness of the world around you, and your own failures haunting you. There are times when you feel alone, helpless, worthless, like an underdog.

That was the Christians in Smyrna. It was a thriving city for all but the Christians living there. We aren’t told exactly why. It could have been that the Romans imprisoned them and confiscated their property for refusing to worship the emperor. Emperor worship was a real thing. It could have been that they suffered local persecution and economic discrimination as their own townsmen refused to buy their goods and services. And in the midst of troubles like these, heartache and personal struggles, we often wonder, “does anyone care?” “Does God care about me?” “Does he even know what I’m going through?” You just want a moment to dump all of this on someone – just to have them listen, just to have them understand, just to have them know.

Jesus answers you right here in this letter. “I know” (Rev 2:9), he says. “I know your afflictions and your poverty” (Rev 2:9). And understand what he means by that. In Greek, there are two different words for “I know”. The one is more of knowledge and information. Learning something and knowing about it. The other is more of understanding. It’s knowing completely – how it feels, why it is, how it relates to your life and the intricacies of it. That’s the word here. Jesus knows your affliction so intimately that it’s like he is experiencing it himself right along side you. So, lay it on him. Lay it all out there. Sometimes I’m hesitant to do that. Like, I don’t want to offend God with what I say. I’m jealous of what someone else has. I’m disappointed that I haven’t been given those gifts or that level of success. And I know these thoughts are wrong, so I don’t want to tell them to God in prayer…. He knows. He knows it completely. And you wouldn’t be the first to lay some complaints, confessions, and struggles on God. In fact, some complaining prayers are recorded right there in the Bible for all to read. Lamentations is almost all one big complaint from Jeremiah. Jesus says to you, “I know your afflictions and your poverty” (Rev 2:9). I know it completely. So, unburden your heart and lay it on me in prayer. Because I care.

And then, he immediately follows it up by redirecting your focus on the true reality of what’s going on. “I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich!” (Rev 2:9). And if you were living in Smyrna, you’d be thinking, “Uh…. No I’m not.” It almost seems like a trite statement. Like a bandaid that’s just thrown out there to try to cover it up. “I’m poor.” “No you’re not.” “I’m hurt.” “No you’re not.” “I’m struggling.” “No you’re not.” Come on, Lord, do you even care?! I assure you, he does. More than you realize and more than you can know. This isn’t just a statement to take your eyes off of the wound to numb the pain and make you forget. Jesus is actually refocusing your life on the big thing that really matters.

Look at the beginning of the letter. Realize who is talking to you. “These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again” (Rev 2:8). He’s been there, done that. Lived a life here on this earth and experienced all of it – even the worst of it. He’s been ignored, rejected, betrayed, falsely accused, and crucified. He’s been through life on earth and out the other side. He knows your afflictions and cares about them. But also refocuses you on what is truly important in life. And if anyone can give that kind of advice, it’s the one who died and came to life again.

So, let Jesus show you why you are truly rich. Read his words in the gospel reading (Lk 16:19-31). Between the rich man and poor Lazarus, it was Lazarus who was truly rich. Because he had the one thing that death could not take. He had the one thing that the destruction on the last day could not destroy. He had the one thing in life that truly meant a life worth living. And that was his faith in Jesus. Death couldn’t take Jesus from him. His last day only brought him closer to Jesus. And knowing Jesus, he had everything for the rest of eternity. Put into perspective, he had a sliver of tough time, on an eternal timeline of peace, joy, and true value. Refocus your life on the riches you have in heaven. Yes, they seem distant, but they are significant even now. No matter what happens in life, God knows, God cares, God has set in motion a plan to take you from all affliction, and he will bring it to completion in his own way.

Don’t be afraid. Even though Jesus doesn’t always take away the suffering, don’t be afraid. Even facing it head on, for Smyrna, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer” (Rev 2:10). And he gives three reasons why.

Do not fear what you suffer. Because Jesus has been there. He’s experienced it. In fact, every believe has and will continue to experience it. Whether Smyrna or Temple, whether one of the 12 apostles, a distant disciple, or Jesus himself, those who hold to the truth will suffer in this life for that truth. Jesus forewarns you. But do not fear. I know it completely. I care. I am with you.

Second, do not fear who causes you to suffer. Although it’s the Jews who are slandering these disciples, Jesus identifies the real enemy behind it, “the devil will put some of you in prison to test you” (Rev 2:10). Don’t fear him because I’m holding him in check. I tell him he can go this far and no farther. In fact, I’ve already defeated him completely. And whatever I allow him to do, I will still use to fulfill my purposes.

Finally, do not fear how long you will suffer. Ten days is mentioned in the letter. Being in the book of Revelation, and at the direction of John himself – who wrote this letter – we take this as symbolism. Ten is the number of completeness. A complete amount. So, you will suffer for a complete and predetermined amount of time. And that timeframe is determined by Jesus. And yet, 10 is also a pretty small number. It’s not 100 days. It’s not 1,000 days, which is 10x10x10. It’s not a large number of completeness – like the great multitude of those who are saved. It’s a small amount of completeness. So do not fear because although you suffer what seems to be a great and weighty thing, in the eyes of the First and the Last – the eternal one – your suffering is fixed, and it will be small in the grand scheme of things.

And it all ends well. If you want to know how life, death, and eternity goes, ask the one who’s been there, done that. He says that because of your faith, you are rich. He says do not fear what you suffer, who you suffer by, and how long you will suffer. Trust the one who’s been there, done that. Trust the one who’s died and came to life again that when you are faithful even to the point of death, he will give you life also as your victor’s crown. Trust the one who is victorious that you who are victorious through him will not be hurt at all by the second death – that’s eternal death in hell. The first death being physical death. The second death won’t even touch you because you are going somewhere else entirely.

So that puts things into perspective a little bit. Just as the child who doesn’t get his way is devastated, yet the parent knows the struggle is small. Just as the teen whose heart is broken, yet the parent knows it will be alright. So also, the one who has lived and died, and lives again knows what’s really important in life. Even though life and its afflictions seem big, it’s eternity that is greater by far.

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Addicted to the Gains (October 13, 2019)

October 16, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

Addicted to the Gains

1 Timothy 6:6-16

There’s a financial article posted on CNBC that’s been getting a lot of attention recently. You may have seen the highly critical editorials discussing it entitled something along the lines of “$350k a year and still struggling”. The article itself was talking about how it’s difficult to maintain a “Middle Class” lifestyle even on $350,000 when you live in an expensive coastal city like San Francisco or New York. The many critical editorials and comments then pick apart the line by line budget that was posted, and criticize the exorbitant spending in certain areas. It’s a whole big thing right now.

Rather than getting into it, I think the article points out a fundamental flaw in our society: We always want more. We’re always looking for gain. Although the actual median household income in the US right now is just under $60k, wouldn’t it be nice to be making $350k? Who here wouldn’t want that kind of money?! What if? Just to make my point, what if you did work up to that amount of income? What if you set that as your goal and you finally made it, $350k a year! What then? What will your life look like? Will you have such a big excess in income that you can rest easy for once? I’d venture a guess to say you’d be making $350k and still be struggling. Because for the most part, people in our society live to their means. That means if you are making $20k a year, you will find a way to get by and probably be pretty ok. And if you build that income to just under $60k a year, you would increase your spending to get by at about that level – maybe buy a newer car, maybe take on a mortgage. And then if you finally achieved your dream of making $350k a year, you’d most likely be in about the same boat as you always were. You maybe had to move to a bigger city to make that income where housing is more expensive. You’ve maybe had to take on a busier lifestyle so that meals on the go and childcare are a must. You get the picture. People typically live to their income. Most people could probably cut back in a few places to have a little more cushion. But people typically want to gain more. In our minds we want to gain more so that we can have that financial security if we lose a job or the car breaks down. But at what amount is that? Our goal is usually not a fixed amount, but rather our goal is gain – and always more.

Interestingly, Paul does talk about gain. Paul even encourages gain. “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim 6:6), he says. But gain in the right context. And gain of the right thing. “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6:9-10). As you are gaining a bigger income – for the sake of financial stability and security (you tell yourself) – you find out that it turns out not to be about security. You’ve tasted a new lifestyle, achieved a new lifestyle, and you quite like it. And you wonder, what’s the next level like? So, you focus on gaining more. And without realizing it your focus has shifted from that level of security you’ve wanted to just the wealth itself. It quickly becomes a temptation and a trap. It leads to foolish and even harmful desires. And finally, you find yourself in ruin and destruction. And here’s what we don’t realize. That all sounds very bad and scary, like, “Hello? Don’t you realize the terrible path you are on?” It sounds bad and scary when you say it like that, but what does it actually look like?

It looks like business success. It looks like nice cars and big houses. It looks like nice clothes. Maybe it even looks like a big yacht on the Mediterranean. Wouldn’t that be nice?! In fact, it looks so good that the prophet Jeremiah even complained to God, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? You have planted them, and they have taken root; they grow and bear fruit” (Jer 12:1-2). It looks nice on the surface, but underneath they may be caught in an unyielding trap. The rich young man who came to Jesus, even though he lived a very virtuous life went away sad with head hung low because he had great wealth (Mk 10:22). Judas was driven to ruin and destruction because in his pursuit to gain he betrayed his Lord. Grieving and despairing, he took his own life (Mt 27:3-5). Make no mistake about it, our society’s love for money, our goals of gaining just for the sake of gaining are deadly! And it’s often a silent killer – what appears to be “the good life” often ends in our “eternal death”. And what then? What will all your gains be for then? To you, all your gains will be gone.

This section starts with contentment. “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim 6:6). So, how do we get there? How do we get to a proper attitude toward wealth so that we can use it for eternal gain? First, realize that there is a fixed amount of time that we all have – both on a personal level from birth to death, and on a historical level. One day our Lord Jesus Christ will appear. One day this will all end and something new will begin. Second, realize that you can’t take anything with you when that time comes. “We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it” (1 Tim 6:7). You can’t take your money. You can’t take your house, or car, your masterpiece, or your virtual character. The only thing you can take with you is people. Yourself, and hopefully others.

Does that mean I have to strive to keep a zero balance in my bank and give the shirt off my back? Of course not. But it does mean that you shouldn’t be overly worried about those things. “If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Tim 6:8), Paul says. Jesus gives the perspective behind this. “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:33). “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim 6:6). Focus your attention on his kingdom of believers and your own righteousness. Seek gain in these areas by knowing Jesus and growing in him so that you can share it with others and build the kingdom of God. Your clothes, your food, the roof over your head, God will take care of those. He will provide those. That’s Jesus’ promise to you. And when you trust his promise to take care of you, it loosens your grip on them, so that you can use them more freely for eternal gains. You begin to manage them in a way that builds God’s kingdom.

Really, you can think of every resource we have as a commodity. There’s my finances and my time. There’s my abilities and my energy. And all of these can be traded and spent in different ways. The vast majority of people use their time to buy money. My first job was at McDonald’s. I made $5.15 an hour. So, I traded an hour of my time for 5 dollars and 15 cents. And my parents taught me at a young age how to manage that money – including a line item for church, for the kingdom. Then, as you gain more money often because of it, you have less time. So, some people start to trade their money for time. Hire a landscaper to take care of your lawn. Hire a maid to clean the house for you. Hire capable people to take care of certain tasks of your business and all of this frees up some time. What are you going to do with that time? Hopefully something good. Hopefully something that’s good for more people than just yourself. It’s great to hear about the super wealthy who are also big philanthropists. Or those who use their time to develop something for the greater good.

The man in Jesus’ parable traded his money for something very interesting. It sounds crass when you say it outright, but that’s what I’m going to do. The man in Jesus parable (Lk 16:1-13) traded money for people – for relationships. He was caught, being dishonest, and was about to lose his job so he used what he had available to him to win favor with people so that they would welcome him in when he lost his job. And that’s the point that Jesus is making with this parable. It’s not wrong to have lots of money. It’s not wrong to gain more wealth, but what are you doing with it. Jesus says, “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone” – when you die and can’t use it anymore – “you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Lk 16:9) – there will be people in heaven with you because you used what God gave you to manage for the good of the kingdom. To build relationships with people. To send out missionaries. To support Ministers of the Gospel. To expand outreach efforts. All of this is driven toward a kind of gain that will last forever – a gain of people for heaven.

When you manage your finances well, and have a godly attitude toward them, you can use your wealth for gains that will last forever. That means having in our minds a focus on God’s kingdom. That means having in our hearts a contentment with what we have. That means trusting God when he promises to provide for us. That’s what we will spend our whole lives doing – working on believing his promises. “Fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Tim 6:12) Paul says. Which yes, includes knowing Jesus as your Savior, taking up your cross of persecution and struggling with sin. But doesn’t it also include restraining my sinful desire for worldly gains and trusting in God to provide for me and take care of me? Doesn’t it also include struggling to be content by wanting the things I already have rather than having all the things I really want? “Fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Tim 6:12) includes a disciplined struggle against the temptations of wealth because you trust that God will indeed provide what you truly need.

And as we struggle with that, subduing sinful desires more and more, we will find contentment in what we have. And that contentment, along with godliness will lead us to pursue faith, love, and endurance (1 Tim 6:11). Endurance that although you’re struggling and might cry out with Jeremiah from time to time, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper?” (Jer 12:1), you have faith. Faith that God will provide for your needs. Faith in his promise will free up a lot of wealth from hands that want to amass more and more of it, so that you can reach out to others in love. Use what you have – your wealth, your time, your talents, your energy – to build relationships that are eternal.

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Warning Signs: Attention! (October 6, 2019)

October 8, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

Warning Signs: Attention!

Revelation 3:1-6

I’ve driven down that road hundreds of times. I knew it. I was familiar with it. I was comfortable with it. That comfortability led to me almost blowing out my tires and denting my rims a couple times. I’m talking about where 93 bridges I-35 in Belton. Not too long ago they redid a portion of that road which created a trench across 93 several inches deep for several weeks. It’s a road I often travel on, and during those weeks of construction it took several sudden impacts to finally get it in my brain that I have to slow down, watch out, and pay attention until the road was fixed.

It’s a very different story for the road construction on I-35 between Jarrell and Georgetown right now. There too, they are tearing up the road, but it’s being done in long swaths, with the flow of traffic. There’s still potholes that could do serious damage that are uncovered as they dig up the road, but since I’ve been driving on such a rough road already, my senses are heightened, I’m paying attention, and I’m watching for any potholes that might show up in my path. Two similar roads, two very different outcomes. All due to my attention and awareness.

This letter to the church in Sardis serves as a wakeup call. “Pay Attention!” Jesus says. “Wake up!” It’s really interesting as you go through these letters in Revelation – there’s 7 of them – it’s interesting to see that the churches that needed the wake up calls were the only 2 that really weren’t being persecuted or threatened in any way. The poor and persecuted Christians in Smyrna was praised for being rich in spirit! And even though they would go through a time of suffering, God says don’t be afraid, you will be victorious (Rev 2:8-11). The church in Pergamum, although the city being a prominent place of false doctrines and false gods, Jesus commended them from remaining true to his name. But Laodicea, which was comfortable in its wealth is criticized for being neither cold nor hot. And here, Sardis, which was a prominent and peaceful city, is criticized for looking very lively, but really being dead.

All this goes to show that comfort can lead to complacency. Sometimes God uses affliction, trouble, or persecution to serve as warning signs and build up his church. Why do you think that Smyrna was rich in spirit and strong in their reliance on God? Because they didn’t have a lot of worldly possessions and yet they saw how God took care of them. Why do you think the church in Pergamum firmly held to the truth of Jesus? Because they were up against false doctrine on every side and had to hone their understanding of God’s Word to stand up against falsehood.

Now, I’m not saying that we here in Temple are like Sardis – having “a reputation of being alive, but really dead” inside (Rev 3:1). But I am saying watch out. It’s always a danger we want to be aware of. I think we are quite comfortable with where we are at and how things are going, and before we get lulled into complacency and sleep walking I want to say, “Wake up! Strengthen what remains” (Rev 3:2). Because I think we Lutherans have a tendency to get comfortable, to be content with how things are going, and to lose our zeal for what we have. I don’t think we are quite a Sardis – looking alive, but really dead inside. But maybe we’ve taken the first step and become comfortable with how things are going and lost some of our zeal.

Here’s where I see it. We have a number of things going well right now. In terms of worship services we have Reformation coming up – a celebration of our “grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone” heritage. We also have our Advent by Candlelight and Christmas Eve service coming up which I know are cherished by many. And just around the corner from that we have our Easter Festival service which swells our hearts and voices! I’ve also loved adding choirs and special instrumentation to those services. In terms of outreach we’ve had our VBS earlier this summer, we have our Movie Night coming up, and on a regular basis we’ve had a growing group for Mommy&Me. All great things. All exciting events. All things which get us going and working together as a congregation! I’m so happy and proud to be a part of all this.

But I’ll ask one question, why do we do it? Why do we have special services? Why do we host events for the public? Why, I might ask, do you come here Sunday after Sunday? Is it just because that’s what I do? Is it because that’s what’s on the calendar? Is it because that’s just what churches do?

Wake up! Strengthen what remains” (Rev 3:2). “Wake up… Remember what you have received and heard” (Rev 3:2-3). If we just do things because we’ve done them. Or do things because that’s what we are comfortable doing, well then we need to wake up, remember, and strengthen.

What have you received and heard? When I stand over there at the lectern and read, what are you hearing? Just stories from an old book? Or is it something more? Isn’t it the words of God himself? God’s own message, spoken from the lips of men, yes, but God’s own word for you to hear and believe. And really, although some might say that’s hard to believe, what’s so hard to believe about an Almighty God doing things that we can’t? Doing things that we deem impossible? He’s God, isn’t he? And so if he wants to create all things into existence he most certainly can. If he wants to raise people from the dead, he can. If he decided that by the death of his Son on the cross all sins would be forgiven, then glory be to God! And if he decided to raise his Son from the dead to prove without a doubt that this is most certainly true, then praise be to God! He did it. He rose from the dead. He rose victorious over sin and death, proved it to his disciples and more than 500 people that as God he can do impossible things! And he still does the impossible as the Spirit goes out and raises the spiritually dead to new life – raising you from unbelief to faith. All this is packaged so conveniently. All this is made so readily available to you.

Do you remember what that was like? When you were digging into God’s Word for the first time – or maybe digging into it again after being away from it for too long? Do you know what it’s like to make new connections in Scripture as you continue to read and study it? There’s excitement over what God has done. There’s eagerness to learn more. There’s a fighting urge to share your excitement with someone else so that they might marvel along with you at what God has done! I have a pastor friend down near Austin that I share many moments like this with. Just ask my wife. We get into our own little zone and feed off one another’s excitement and together we grow! Together we marvel. Together we are strengthened. Together, we share Christ with one another.

When you get down to it, isn’t that why we are here? Here on this earth at all, really. But also here on Sunday morning – each one a mini Easter where we die to sin as we confess it and are raised to new life through Word and Sacrament. Isn’t that why we have events, so that we can share the reason for why we gather, the reason for our excitement, the reason for our hope. And I know it’s easy to fall into a pattern and to lose our zeal. I know it’s easy to get into habit and forget what we have every time we read the Scriptures – the very word of God. Especially when it’s the 17th Sunday after Pentecost… how many more until a change of season? It’s easy to be lulled to sleep like Sardis when things just keep on running smoothly – no interruptions. The church at Sardis didn’t put her peace to use. She did not reach out and share what she had. She was content and was lulled to spiritual sleep in that comfort.

So, wake up! Remember what you have! Wake up! Strengthen what remains! Wake up! And share the reason for the hope that you have every opportunity you get.

I heard about an interesting study that was done where non-Christians were asked if they were opposed to talking about faith with believers. The surprising answer was that they weren’t opposed when the Christians were excited about their faith. And I don’t think it’s simply because people like talking to exciting people. I don’t think the answer is simply to rile up Christians with a powerful sermon and moving music and then send them out before the feeling wears off. I think the real issue is that we forget what we have. You have salvation, eternal life, the treasure of God’s Word! Or maybe we are hesitant to share God’s word because we forget what it does. We place the burden on ourselves to persuade and convince rather than on God and his Word! Someone once said the best way to defend God’s Word – defend the truth of God’s Word – is the same way you would defend a lion. How do you defend a lion? You let it out of its cage. How do you defend God’s Word? You let it out of its cage. You share it. So unleash the Word and let him accomplish what he desires and achieve the purpose for which he sent it (Is 55:11).

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Warning Signs: Safety Equipment Required (September 29, 2019)

October 2, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

Warning Signs: Safety Equipment Required

Philippians 3:4-11

How tough are you? What can you handle? Loss of job? Loss of Parent or Child? Stresses at work or school? Society that is plunging farther and farther away from the Christian values you hold? It would be really nice if God would just shield us from all of these things – so that nothing that we deemed bad or harmful would ever happen to us. What if God just shielded Christians from all the bad things. What if all the pain and heartaches you’ve experienced, all the trials and adversities just didn’t happen. We would be in a much better place today don’t you think? We would, wouldn’t we?

A lot of the difficulties we face in life could be alleviated if we were just confident… secure… certain. Certain in our salvation. And you might be thinking, well, he’s just trying to make a spiritual connection and this one is pretty terrible… quite a stretch. What does salvation have to do with the struggles I face on a daily basis? What does salvation have to offer me when I lose my job? When I’m struggling with health? When I lose a loved one? Get your head out of the clouds and get down to earth!

Hear me out. When you are certain of your salvation, you know the end of your story. And that’s the most important part, right? That’s why when you talk about a book or a movie you say, “Don’t give away the ending. I haven’t finished it yet!” The ending is ultimately the only thing that matters. Everything that comes before it is just details that lead up to it. So, if you know that the main character is going to make it, you don’t have to worry when that character is facing challenges. You don’t have to worry when it seems that character is going to die. You don’t have to worry, no matter what the character faces, because you know they are going to be alright. You know for certain! You know the ending.

So, are you certain? Are you absolutely, 100% certain of your salvation right now? If you were to die tonight in your sleep, are you certain of your salvation to eternal life in heaven? That’s the first big question. To get to that certainty, we have to talk about the second big question. Why? Why are you certain? Or, how can you be certain? What do you cling to for your certainty? And that is where many people, even believers, have it wrong.

There was a group of people in Paul’s day that put a lot of confidence in who they were and what they did for their certainty of salvation. This group was called the Pharisees. They carefully and diligently went about their day keeping not only the law of God, but also many of their own laws that kept them from even coming close to breaking one of God’s laws. Give 10% to the Lord. They tithed even down to their spices (Mt 23:23). Rest on the Sabbath. They counted their every step – and they didn’t even have Fitbits! Worship the Lord. They wouldn’t miss a festival, big or small. They strove for perfection. And if you were from a particular clan or family line, even better! This is what they put their confidence of salvation in. This is what made them certain. If they could live this way, their actions gave them certainty.

Then Paul comes around and puts them all to shame. “Alright. You want to play that game?” “If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh” (who you are and what you do), “I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless” (Php 3:4-6). And he was not lying. If anyone could be confident of their salvation based on who they were and what they did, it would be Paul. He could have served as a benchmark to strive for!

And what about you? Are you a pretty good person, even going out of your way to help your neighbor? Do you go to worship AND Bible Study? Is your church attendance record flawless? Do you still know your books of the Bible in order and by category? Can you give a historical summary of the entire Bible and trace the promise of the Savior through it all? Can you still recited the catechism’s 4 parts on the Lord’s Supper with explanation? Are you from a family with a big name in the WELS, or been featured on an episode of the WELS Connection?

I know I’m getting a bit ridiculous here, but that’s essentially what Paul is saying. If I were to boast like Paul, it would go something like this. “If you think you have reason to put confidence in what you’ve done, I have more. Born into a Lutheran pastor’s family in Wisconsin, the heart of the WELS. Baptized on the 4th day. Attended Lutheran elementary school, high school, college, and seminary. In regards to church attendance, flawless!”

While these things certainly can be of great benefit to us, when they become objects of trust for the certainty of our salvation, well, then they need to be thrown out like garbage. If your reason for being certain of your salvation begins with you, “I am…. I’ve done…. I have….” Then you can’t really be certain at all can you? Because none of us are perfect, not a single one. None of us is faultless, blameless, holy or righteous. I mentioned that Paul could have served as a benchmark for keeping the law, but even at his status, he was far from salvation. Because God says if you want to do some comparing, benchmarking, then compare yourself to me. God is the benchmark. He says, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). If I’m focusing on myself and my own ability to earn certainty in my salvation, then I’m only going to get hurt.

That’s how it happens, right? I don’t need to wear a helmet on my bike, I can ride just fine. And that works just fine… until you crash that is. Until disaster strikes. How well does your helmet-less head hold up to pavement? I don’t need to wear a safety harness, I can climb and I am steady on my feet. Great… but what happens when you do fall? Is the ability to climb or stable feet going to help you when they have nothing to grasp but handfuls of air? You get the picture. You can be the toughest guy or gal out there, but when you are smashed against something too overpowering for flesh and bone, something’s going to break. Something’s going to get hurt. That’s why there are warning signs in dangerous work environments. “Safety Equipment Required.” That’s also why men are statistically more likely to get injured or hurt – because we think we are tough stuff and don’t need safety equipment.

You wouldn’t think of it, but probably one of the most dangerous places to be is simply in the world. Not physically dangerous, but spiritually dangerous. Especially so if you are a believer. It’s not that everyone is out to get you, but there is one who is. I once asked a Bible Class, do you think Satan works harder against believers or unbelievers? The unbelievers he’s already got them. They are already going down with him. But believers, they are out of his grasp. They are the enemy. They even have the power to free people from his grasp – from unbelief. So, Satan is going to throw everything he’s got at you! He’s going to use everything and everyone he can to rip you away from God and put your certainty in things that do not give salvation at all.

That’s why Paul said, “Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Php 3:7-8). Sometimes it’s the simplest statements that give the most confidence. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you” (Lk 2:11). “Friend, your sins are forgiven” (Lk 5:20). “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43). “He has risen, just as he said” (Mt 28:6). There’s no uncertainty in what Jesus was born to do. There’s no uncertainty in the message of forgiveness that Jesus proclaimed. There’s no uncertainty in Jesus death for your sins and resurrection for your salvation. There’s no uncertainty in your salvation.

If you are going to be certain of your salvation, it has to be by faith in Christ alone. Not my works, not my heritage, not anything. “I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Php 3:8-9).

Jesus Christ alone is your righteousness. Jesus Christ alone is your salvation. Salvation in him is far superior to anything else. The only thing worth keeping. “I want to know Christ” Paul says, “yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Php 3:10-11). That, “somehow” is not like a, “I hope this works,” but rather, “I know this works, I know salvation is through faith in Jesus, even if I can’t fully comprehend it”.

And that’s where this all comes back to helping you through the struggles of your daily life. You know the end of your story. You know that salvation is already yours. Everything in life then is just the details in between. Did someone tear into your reputation? Yeah, it hurts, but you are going to be ok. You know how your story ends. Feeling guilty for something you’ve done in the past? Yes, it weighs you down, but you know how the story ends. You are forgiven. Leave it at the cross where Jesus already took it from you. Is life dragging you in a direction you don’t want to go? No matter where it leads you, you already know the end of the story. You already know where you will end up. Even facing death cannot shake you. You know your salvation!

So, I want you to leave here today seeing the world from a different perspective – from a spiritual perspective. Even though going to school or work, or answering a phone call may not seem dangerous at all, there are many spiritual dangers out in the world. And no matter how macho your own mind, heart, and will are to take these things head on, realize it’s the devil you are going up against. Realize that he will use anything, good or bad to try to rattle you. Teachers discussing the science behind evolution can erode away at your certainty. Coworkers pushing societal norms in the workplace and on you can push your certainty beyond the breaking point. The death of a loved one can make you question your certainty in Christ. All this is too much for you alone. But when you are safely wrapped in Christ’s righteousness, and salvation through him alone, you already know how your story goes. You were born. You came to faith in Jesus. You die in faith. You begin a new, eternal life in heaven. This is most certainly true!

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Warning Signs: Low Overhang (September 22, 2019)

September 25, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

Warning Signs: Low Overhang

Luke 14:1, 7-14

This week we begin a new sermon series on “Warning Signs.” I’m thinking of those bright yellow signs you see on construction sites, roadways, and manufacturing plants. Signs that point out dangers to be avoided lest you get too close and really harm yourself. God’s word is filled with warning signs that point out dangers to faith, and pitfalls into sin. The intention of these warning signs, like those bright yellow ones you may see, are not meant to restrict your freedoms and kill your fun. Rather, they are meant to preserve your freedom from sin, and save your life from eternal death.

So today we are going to talk about the “Low Overhang” warning sign. You see it on bridges most often. I’ve also seen them around large and sprawling machinery. They are meant to prevent you from banging your head on something, and to warn semi-trucks when their load is too big to pass through. The warning signs of “Low Overhang” in the Bible are meant to prevent us from holding our heads too high, or getting too big of a head about ourselves. Because when I get too big in my own eyes and my own heart, Jesus naturally gets smaller and I risk losing what true salvation is about.

This is a real danger to us because we have a natural need to receive recognition. Did I study hard and do well on my test? That beautiful A+ says “you betcha!” and recognizes the time and effort I put into it. Am I working hard at “adulting” and living a great life? The “likes” on my social media profiles recognize it! Trying to give back to society, be that great friend and loving member of the family? The pats on the back and words of appreciation sure make it feel good to serve!

But what happens when I don’t receive that recognition? What happens when there is no praise? Maybe I go to great lengths and even sacrifice a few of my own things to help a friend move, or watch their kids and there’s little more than a “Thank you”. Maybe that picture I posted of my kids all in matching outfits, ready to go out the door for their first day of school #NeatAndClean #SuperMom #WrestledABear goes unnoticed and there are no “likes.” Or maybe my new PR, my latest creation, or pictures of my newest grandchild gets no recognition, no words of praise. Don’t you feel a little deflated? Don’t you feel like you did it for nothing?

What does all of this say about me? If I feel deflated and empty because I received no recognition for my great accomplishment, does that mean my accomplishment is anything less? No. But it might say that I am really doing it for the praise and the honor – a cause and effect relationship. It might say that I believe that life is about getting what I rightfully deserve right away. In fact, especially when actions of service are in question, it really says that I didn’t do it to serve at all. I really just did it for me. Life is all about me. I need to get what I rightfully deserve! … Be careful what you wish for. There’s a Warning Sign there. Be careful what you wish for. You may be humiliated.

I think there’s real rub with us and humility. Our view of humility is often that I have to make myself lower. I have to give up what I rightfully deserve. I have to be just a little peon. But actually, when the Bible talks about humility, the focus is not so much on self as it is on others. It’s not about lowering self, but elevating others. “In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others” (Php 2:3-4). Jesus gives an example of this as he sits at a banquet he says, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid” (Lk 14:12). In other words, don’t just think of yourself and how you might be repaid and recognized for your act of service. Rather, think of others. Think of their needs. “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Lk 14:13). Those are the people who really need your service! Humility is thinking of the importance of serving – serving others. In fact that’s the simple summary of the law – love God and love others.

I saw a short little video recently about this. It showed an old man walking down the aisle of a train looking for a seat. Every seat was already filled with people glancing out of the corner of their eye trying to keep their heads down, not wanting to be asked to give up their seat. Finally a lady stood up and offered the man her seat. He urged her to stay seating, saying that his ticket was not assigned a seat – standing room only. But she insisted, saying that she had the same kind of ticket. After a couple hours passed, the conductor came by to check tickets. He punched the ticket of the old man, noting that it was a “no seat” ticket. Then he punched the ticket of the lady who gave up her seat. Her ticket said “seat A22”. She winked at the conductor and gave a hushing motion. She would rather give up what she rightfully deserved for the sake of someone else who really needed what she deserved. She didn’t do it for the recognition, or the praise. No one knew except herself… and now the conductor. She did it out of love.

It would be natural, here, to talk about what happens when I have a humble attitude of service – an attitude that values others above myself. And our sinful human tendency is to crave that recognition, that praise, that “return on investment” of time, energy, and service. And even though Jesus does mention what happens to those who are humble in his parable, I’m not going to. Because so easily we can fall into the temptation of being humble just for the sake of the praise – and that’s all backwards. Once any thought of self enters into my mind, well, I’ve lost all humility. That’s the tricky thing about humility. Once there’s any praise of self or craving for recognition, once I think to myself, “Wow! I’m pretty humble” … well, then I’ve lost it. So, I’m not going to go there. That’s not why we humbly serve. If I go there, then I’ll have to start the sermon all over again because of our sinful cravings. So rather than talking about what happens when you practice a life of humility and service, I’m going to point you to one who humbled himself for you, who lived his life to serve you. One who wanted you to have what he rightfully deserved. His name is Jesus.

To really wrap your mind around just how low Jesus stooped to serve you, you have to understand where he came from. I mean, we all know and confess every Sunday that Jesus was “born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, died, and was buried” – that’s his service. Cool. Good. But you need to pause and think about that a moment longer. Yes, it says “suffered under Pontius Pilate,” but even before that, he suffered. Every day he suffered. From the moment he was born, or even conceived, till the day he died he suffered. This is something he never experienced before. He is God. He was living in perfection. He never suffered a day in his life before he took on flesh. Nor should he have suffered any of this because it was a result of OUR sin. It was what we rightly deserve. He was sinless. Yet he chose to live in a world of thorns and thistles, sweat of the brow and early death. Yeah, we all know how tough life is. But remember, Jesus knew how good life was supposed to be. And you don’t. You can’t even imagine that. It’s much harder to lose something once you’ve had it, than to never have it at all. And he lived every moment of his earthly life like that – seeing what should have been blessings and beautiful be misused, abused, or just wrong because of sin. But he willingly endured all of this, without complaint. For what? For the praise? No. He did it for you. He did it to serve you. He endured all of this up to the cross to die for sins he never committed – your sins. Taking on what you rightly deserve, to save you from what you deserve.

[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Php 2:6-8).

And although that’s his greatest act of service for you, that’s not even the best part! Then he rose! He rose from the dead and took up again the honor, glory, praise, and recognition that was already rightfully his. And in doing all of this, he earned something for you that you don’t deserve. I didn’t talk about what happens when you are humble, but I will gladly talk about what happens because Jesus was humbled. You are honored by Christ! You are praised by God! Through Christ, you truly have praiseworthy deeds that God does recognize and does honor! What Jesus earned for you, “you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Lk 14:14).

So why is it that humility is so hard for us? Why is it so hard to keep our heads down and egos in check when God warns, “Low Overhang!” “Don’t make it about yourself!” Why is it so hard to serve simply for the sake of serving? Do we fear that our gifts and good deeds will not be noticed? Are we afraid that we will not receive the credit we think we have coming? Well God has noticed you! He noticed you before you even did anything good. The King of kings and Lord of lords humbled himself to be your servant! He is merciful beyond what you deserve. He is gracious beyond what you can comprehend. All so that you can find your worth in what truly matters. Not in what you do, but in what he did for you. By acknowledging my sin and who I am by nature I am kept humble. But when I look to Christ and his loving service, I rejoice in the value he’s given me!

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

September 17, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

Welcome Home: Where God Gives Good Gifts

Romans 9:1-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Welcome Home: Together We Stand (September 8, 2019)

September 11, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

Welcome Home: Together We Stand

Ephesians 6:10-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 4, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

Welcome Home: Where the Lost are Found

Luke 15:1-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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