September 30, 2007: Can We Learn Honesty From The Dishonest?

Let us pray: Dear Savior, it is so easy for us to live “other worldly” and refuse to get involved in the business of this world. With our minds on heaven, we often ignore the here and now. But in so doing, we can become lazy managers of the blessings You give us. So, today teach us anew to be “wise as serpents and gentle as doves.” Teach us to employ our God-given earthly wisdom, while tempering it with love and compassion. And in so doing, Your kingdom may grow and flourish all the more! Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE GIVER OF EVERY GOOD AND PERFECT GIFT!

TEXT: Luke 16: 1-13

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

Hopefully, you’re mother taught you that: honesty is the best policy. I know mine did. And it’s true, isn’t it? Honesty means a clean conscience. It means you’ll sleep better at night. It means you’ll avoid a whole lot of pain, too, both with others and with God.

The lesson before us is a difficult one to understand at first glance. Many a Christian has struggled grasping the truth that Christ lays out in it. Read superficially, questions like: “How could Christ commend someone for their dishonesty?” come to mind. But, if you delve a bit deeper, the honesty of our Savior’s word is refreshing and motivational. It is designed to shake us out of our “other worldliness” and busy ourselves in earthly service to His heavenly kingdom. With that in mind I lay before you this question:

CAN WE LEARN HONESTY FROM THE DISHONEST?

I

This lesson is a parable, an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Jesus tells this parable to His disciples a few weeks before His passion, or at the end of His ministry. His purpose is to get them to come to grips with their past. Many of them had amassed much wealth (Like Matthew the tax collector) by means of dishonest gain. Now they were saved, redeemed children of light. Now they not only felt guilty about their sorted pasts, but had also renounced any connection to them. Now they were “other worldly.” Now they were focused on heaven and the spiritual realm—much like most of you. But, Christ knew that they still lived in the here and now and that earthly laziness was a great temptation. He wanted them to be more like Abraham of old and employ their earthly wisdom for use in building up His visible church, without getting infatuated by their own business acumen. So, He tells them this parable.

II

It seems that a very wealthy man had a business manager who was corrupt and dishonest. He had been stealing, skimming off the top to line his own pockets. The rich man found out about it and calls on the manager to fess up and open the books for further examination. The business manager is smart and cunning. He knows he’s caught. “What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.”

And so, still armed with his power of attorney, this man acts. He calls various creditors in and marks down their bills. Now this is dishonest, but it will help insure favorable treatment after he’s lost his job, won’t it? Now, these creditors owe him directly for his apparent favor.

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

Note well that the rich man does not commend dishonesty per se. No, instead he commends and admires wise, shrewd business sense. And Christ adds the truth that non-believers are often more adept at earthly business practices than the children of light because we’re “other-worldly” and they are not. And then Jesus goes on to chide the disciples to be shrewdly honest in using their earthly possessions (much like Abraham of old) to further God’s work of saving souls, in order that those same souls will welcome them when heaven is finally attained. In other words, Jesus died for our sins and has saved our souls, but He needs us to use and apply those blessings to others with every means at our disposal.

III

This is a powerful parable against complacent, lazy Christians! And to further drive home His point, Jesus adds: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with very much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? (Think salvation and heaven.) And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?” Yes, God gives huge blessings to those people that don’t misuse or abuse smaller blessings. Using earthly wealth wisely to honor its Giver, God, shows that we won’t look His gift horse of eternal life in the mouth and yawn!

Finally, Christ adds a word of warning to keep things in perspective. “No servant (us) can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”—And note that Money is capitalized because here it denotes a false god.

Yes, money is a great motivator in life. In fact, it’s the second greatest motivator of all, isn’t it? But, we dare not let it crowd out God’s love for us or our love for Him. So, Can We Learn Honesty From the Dishonest? Yes! Take from them their shrewdness, couple it with Christian honesty and compassion, and God really will bless your life! Amen

September 23, 2007: I Was Shown Mercy…

Let us pray: Dear Savior, human words cannot express what You have done for us. Although we killed You with our sins, although we are wayward and wanton children who walk away from You on a daily basis and take Your love for granted, nonetheless, You still love us! You have shown mercy upon us. You shower us with blessings. You’re always there when we know we need You and when we’re not even aware of how much we need You. Lord, accept our thanks and our praise. Thank You for being our Lord and our Savior. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE FORGIVING LORD!

TEXT: I Timothy 1: 12-17

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

What’s the most shameful thing you’ve ever done? What particular sin would you willingly die for rather than have it become public knowledge? Well, you’re not alone. All of us have secret sins that haunt us. Thank God they don’t bob to the surface too often. But when they do, we agonize whether or not we’re really a child of God. We ask ourselves: “How could God forgive me for such a sin?”

We beat ourselves up over our inner demons. Secret sins lead to guilt and guilt plagues all of us. We long for happiness and joy instead of heartache and sadness. And I’m here today to tell you that you have such happiness! Christ holds it out to you today. He’s forgiven you all your sins—even those secret ones! So, like Paul, you can now say:

I WAS SHOWN MERCY….

I

Have you ever been around a braggart who had nothing to brag about? When golfing, I hear tall tales in the clubhouse. But, later on, on the course, that scratch golfer is obviously a hacker, just like the rest of us. The annual Christmas letters we all receive often parallel such braggadaccio, too. Proud mothers write about how fabulous their children’s careers are. I can think of one aunt who reminds everyone that her son-in-law works at the university. Although he’s a janitor (and many of us have done like duties!) from her letter you’d think he headed up the endowment fund! My point is this: we always accentuate the positive—and try to hide any negatives. So, too with our Christian lives. We don’t like to talk about our sins, but we talk a lot about our various good deeds.

Notice that in our lesson St. Paul does just the opposite. He willingly talks about his sins—both the secret and not-so-secret ones. But, that talk doesn’t drag him down or diminish him. Instead, his joy is most evident in our text because true joy always comes from Christ and not ourselves. True happiness comes from being a forgiven child of God and knowing it from the depth of your being. “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.”

Paul knew that God forgives and forgets our sins. He knew we are to forgive and forget the sins that others have committed against us. But, he’s not about to forget his sorted past. Remembering his own evil ways serves as a reminder of the marvelous love of Christ. Remembering what he’s been saved from serves to uplift him and causes him to focus on what he’s been saved for.

You and I are no different. What past evil haunts you? Adultery? Theft? Child abuse? Drug addiction? An uncaringness toward God? Well, like Paul, you acted in ignorance of God’s ways when you did such things. Your sinful side showed itself in unbelief. You and I may not be very pretty to ourselves. But, we are beautiful to God! Why? Because like Paul, Christ has shown mercy upon you, too!

II

“The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.”

With these words, Paul takes us back to his earlier days before he was converted. He was there when Stephen was stoned. In fact, he held the coats of those who murdered that pious man. He viciously rounded up Christians in Jerusalem and had them beaten, tortured, and perhaps even murdered for their faith. Later he obtained a warrant from the high priest to go to Damascus to hunt down even more believers. And he did all this in the name God!—Utter blasphemy! O the height of Paul’s hypocrisy. And yet, God, Christ, met him on that road to Damascus and converted him. Christ humbled Paul, just like He has to humble us on a daily basis, so that Paul could learn to trust solely in Christ and not in himself. Paul learned that Christ paid for his evil, for our evil, for everyone’s evil on the cross. God’s Son willingly died to save His enemies—us! Hell and death were suffered by Him—for us! And why did Christ do it? Why did Christ bleed for you? Because that’s the depth of His love—it’s perfect! It extends even to hateful, shameful, spiteful people like Paul, you, and me!

Paul believed it when Christ told him that he was forgiven. Faith saved Paul because it laid hold of Christ’s forgiveness. When you trust in the Lord in gratefulness, you actually put on the perfection that Christ won for you via His perfect life and death. Through faith God sees you as a new creation. He sees Christ when He looks at you. That’s why Paul is so happy here. And that’s why you can be joyful, too. Others may dredge up those past demons to haunt you with. You may dredge them up to beat back your pridefulness. But, God never dredges them up! They’re gone in Christ! You’re free from their prison. Free from their guilt. Free from their shame.

III

You and I have a blessed responsibility in response to God’s grace. I’ve heard it said that when you save another’s life they owe you. Well, in a sense, we owe Jesus. But our debt is not one of obligation. It’s not a burden that we must fulfill or face guilt and condemnation all over again. No, our debt is easy and light because it is one of love. Loved moved Paul to talk about his evil past. Love moved him to say: “If God can forgive me, obviously He can forgive you, too.” Love compelled him to live and breathe and act as a forgiven, renewed child of the Most High! And when you take God’s grace to heart, love will propel you to do likewise!

None of us like to around braggarts or their opposite number: people who are depressingly negative. But we all enjoy being around people who live and breathe thankfulness and joy. Paul’s thankfulness is obvious when he writes: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen!”

Embrace this truth: I was shown mercy, and then the same kind heart that spawned them will be yours! Yes, embrace God’s grace and watch your past demons lose their horns! Watch God’s love dissolve them into thankful joy! Amen

September 16, 2007: The Nexus Between Unconditional Surrender And Unconditional Grace

Let us pray: Dear Savior, we know that following You is not easy. It demands that we sacrifice our pride to repentance, our anger to contrition, and our spirit of competition to humility. Today show us the importance of doing all that and more by holding before our eyes Your gift of grace. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR LOVING LORD

TEXT: Luke 14: 25-33

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

Sometimes people can shock you! I remember the first time my prim and proper pastor, who always wore a white shirt and tie took the mound to pitch softball for the youth group. We were all amazed that he even knew how. And more amazed that he was really good at it! I had a fastidious professor of Greek in college who always used very precise, perfect English syntax in his speech. One day we were amazed that he used the word: “ain’t”. Our faces showed our surprise. And then he added: “Got your attention, didn’t I?”

Now those two examples may sound rather quaint to your ears. And they are, unfortunately. For we live in an age where behavior, dress, and speech patterns are all sloppy and not precise. It’s the dumbing down of America. To help counteract that, I’ve taken to adopting a “word of the week.” That is, I pick one seldom-used word in the English language and try to employ it in order to enlarge the vocabulary of both myself and those with whom I interact. Today, my word for the week is: nexus. It comes from the Latin and means: a connection between two distinct things. And since our text outlines it, today I want to lay before you:

THE NEXUS BETWEEN UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER AND UNCONDITIONAL GRACE

I

Christ often uses paradoxes to describe Godly truths. That is, things that seem to run counter to each other, but that have a nexus, a connection. Here’s one from our lesson: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.”

The Bible says: “He who hates his brother is a murderer.” Likewise, the 5th commandment states in the original Hebrew: “You shall not commit murder.” So, do those words contradict Christ? Is He in error when He says this, and also, elsewhere in the Bible talks about how those who don’t provide for their families—wives and children—are worse than the heathen? Well, the nexus to all this, the explanation, is found in the point of comparison used here by our Lord. He’s not talking about literal hatred of others or of ourselves bordering on murder, no, He’s talking about how we must be willing to give everything up for Him. Our relationship with Him is paramount. It is all-important. Nothing can stand in the way of it. And it must be born of a willingness to surrender everything to Him and a willingness to trust in Him no matter what comes our way. That truth is revealed in His words: “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

A fellow pastor once told me, tongue-in-cheek, that perhaps we should start charging people a lot of money for communion! “Let’s make it $500 or $1000,” he said. Then he went on: “Since people attach value to things based on how much it costs, perhaps if they had to really give of themselves for communion, they would really value it and take it more seriously?” The same thing could be said of Sunday worship. Since it’s free, and the doors are always open, we tend to take it for granted and let all sorts of other events crowd out regular worship. But, that’s because we don’t really count the cost, not truly, not honestly. And that is where the nexus between unconditional surrender and unconditional grace meet!

II

Let’s turn the equation around 180 degrees. Let’s look at the cost of discipleship from God’s vantage point instead of our own. What did our salvation cost God? Was it free and easy? Not hardly. Before time began, before God created this world, before Adam and Eve walked on it, God knew that humans would pervert and subvert His goodness. He knew we would rebel against Him and fall away. And He knew that to save us He would have to send Christ into human flesh to bleed and die for us. And yet, God went ahead with His plan for creation because He loved us that much! He went ahead with the manger, the cross, and the empty tomb to buy us out of the slavery of sin and pride. God unconditionally surrendered His all, His heart to us in Christ and through that blessed gift freely and unconditionally gives us His grace—His undeserved love. It cost God the best He had to redeem our souls, didn’t it?

Being a disciple means being a true follower. It means being connected, having a nexus, with God Almighty. Faith in Christ forms that nexus. For in Him God and man met. In Him they were joined together. And since He surrendered Himself to and for us, thereby giving us God’s grace, we need to surrender ourselves entirely to Him to truly receive it and become genuine disciples.

III

The rest of our lesson speaks of human examples about counting the cost behind this nexus. The first example of the tower tells us to avoid any part-way, half-baked, take-it-then leave-it attempts at faith. It’s all or nothing with God. He’s in it for the long haul and we should be, too. The second example of the two armies tells us to avoid spur-of-the-moment, purely emotional Christianity. For when emotions turn because great enemies oppose us, we’re left with nothing but fear. And then comes the conclusion: “any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”

Is it really worth it? Is giving up your pride, your sense of self-esteem, your competitive value system, your very life worth discipleship? Well, it is if you recognize the nexus between unconditional surrender and unconditional grace. Imagine yourself as an old wreck of a car. God comes to salvage your from the junkyard—and to overhaul and repair you as well. At first, after you’ve been salvaged, you realize what He’s up to. He’s removing the rust, bumping out the dents and patching the holes. You knew all along that these jobs had to be done, and so you’re not at all surprised. But suddenly He starts to tinder around in a way that may not make sense. He puts in a new motor, installs a larger transmission, adds on bigger fenders, and slaps a lot of chrome on you. What on earth is He up to? Well, you thought you were going to be an ordinary compact. And instead God is making you into a luxury car. A car which the King Himself means to occupy! Folks, that’s the point of our lesson in a nutshell. You and Christ meet, discipleship meets, at the nexus of surrender and grace. Amen

September 9, 2007: Christian Competition?

Let us pray: Dear Savior, we know that You have come to save our souls. We know that You have done everything to insure our heavenly future. And for that we thank You. But, since we still live in this world of doubt, we often take its weight upon us. We apply its principles to our relationship with You. And then human doubt begins to undermine our Christian confidence. Lord, today resolve that conflict in our minds by centering our thoughts on You, alone. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE SAVIOR OF SOULS!

TEXT: Luke 13: 22-30

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

Being human means being conflicted. Think about it. We’re mortal humans who possess an immortal soul.—There’s a source of conflict. We’re American citizens who owe allegiance to our nation, but we also belong to families. And if forced to choose between the two, usually our family ties would win out.—There’s another source of conflict. Our jobs take time away from our children. But we have to provide for them.—Another conflict. Money is needed to survive. But money doesn’t buy true happiness. In fact, often it compounds our troubles.—Still another conflict. Whoever said: “Life ain’t easy,” had it right, didn’t they?

In the religious realm, our human side struggles with the reality of our pride, or take credit attitude, alongside God’s grace, or: give Him all the glory approach. Is the common human adage that: as long as you try to be a good person, God will reward you, is that correct? Or, is Christ correct when He caused Paul to write: “By grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not from yourselves, it is a gift from God, not of works, so that no one can boast.”?

Today Christ addresses this inner/often outer conflict. And we’re going to examine it a bit more in depth. So,

WHICH COUNTRY DO YOU LIVE IN—SPECULATION OR CERTAINTY?
I

There’s a reason that the 1st commandment is first. That reason being: all humans want to shape and mold God to conform to their image of how He should be and how He should act. Our pride causes us to super-impose our views about life unto God Almighty. And one of the most insidious ways we do that is to subscribe to the common view that “good, moral people” will obviously go to heaven. It is the common view that: I’m a good person because I work hard, don’t steal (at least blatantly), don’t sleep around, don’t use really bad language, am nice to kids and animals, and so God should reward me with glory because that’s what I’d do if I were Him! Folks, that is pure, human speculation. And it is the basis behind the question posed to Jesus in our lesson when some people asked Him: “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”

Then, as now, there were those who were intrigued by Christ, but still clung to their prideful views of how He should act and how He should treat them. They were attempting, like many today, to hedge their bets, to straddle the fence between total allegiance to Him and His ways and their own human notions about life. Jesus comes down hard on them. “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking, and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers.’”
Allegiance to Christ is an all or nothing proposition. Merely hanging out with Christ and having a nominal relationship with Him isn’t enough to insure heaven. He wants your heart, your mind, your soul. After all, He saved all of you with His blood and righteousness on the cross. The broad door is really no door at all. He’s not a God of speculation, but certainty. He’s not a God Who is content with a few good intentions, but a God Who demands total perfection. And the door of perfectibility is extremely narrow. It is built upon His grace, allegiance to His perfect love for lost sinners.

II

When judgment day arrives, when He finally closes the door to heaven once for all time, human religious speculation will give way to absolute certainty. That’s the import of His final words. “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed, there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

What country are you living in?—Speculation or certainty? Well, Jesus lives in perfect certainty. He, not us, has ordained how He will save souls from every point of the compass. He will do it by grace alone. Grace, which He purchased and won on a cross, and now gives to us through the gift of faith. God’s way of saving us is really quite wonderful when you think about it. He doesn’t play favorites. He doesn’t look at certain human achievements and then overlook the lack of others. He doesn’t weigh percentages. He simply says that His love for you and His forgiveness won for you is the only thing that matters. Human speculation doesn’t matter. No, only the certainty of His love matters.

One final thought. That last little sentence about the first and last being included into heaven is also a comforting one. In this world everyone wants to be first. It’s a point of honor for us, isn’t it? But God doesn’t use a human ranking system. He’s divine. He’s loving. And His Godly love extends to all His faithful believers in the exact same way. Think of a cruise ship that you’re on which is sinking. There is only one serviceable lifeboat. Most passengers are blissfully walking around the deck speculating when the Coast Guard will arrive, or talking about how unsinkable the ship is due to its safety features, or just living in denial. But a few begin to board the lifeboat. The first one on board is grateful, so is the 2nd and 3rd. But are they any more grateful than the final passenger who boards that small lifeboat? And when the giant ship sinks and they are saved, aren’t all equally happy and relieved? Well, right now you and I live in two countries, one of speculation and one of certainty. We can walk with the multitudes through the broad checkpoint, or go through the narrow one. So, who will you trust to lead the way?—Christ, or the prideful masses living in speculative delusion? Amen