Over confirmation, I hope that these two young people learned a lot from me. But I do have to admit that I learned from them as well. Specifically, I learned some brand new lingo. (Apparently “groovy” and “neato” or no longer “cool").
For instance, I learned about the word “fangirl” or it’s counterpart “fanboy.” Have you heard the word? It's a term used to describe someone who is fanatical for a certain pop culture item or person. You can be a fangirl of Justin Bieber. A fanboy of Harry Potter. A fanperson of the Hunger Games.
This is basically a word to describe "Trekkies" or “Wolfpack fans.”
Today, you confirmands are professing to be "fans" of the Lord. You are professing to be followers of Christ. You are professing publicly to be people of God.
This is why I don't think there could be a better day to start our summer sermon series entitled: People of God. It is important for you confirmands and you (former confirmands) to remember exactly what it means to be a Person of God.
To see what a person of God is we're going to look 1 Peter. Peter is an expert on what a person of God looks like. Peter had spent time with and learned from God himself. He had been rebuked and restored by God himself. He had been given a commission from God himself. If anyone knew what it meant to be a "Person of God"-- it was Peter.
Take then at the first truth he reveals about the people of God in verses 1-2. Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, that's who's writing it. "To God's elect those chosen to be people of God. Believers. That's an expected and important theme throughout Scripture.
But then Peter calls these people of God a strange word: Exiles. Refugees. Strangers. Specifically, in the Greek, the words means "temporary dwellers." They are only passing through and won’t be here forever.
This isn't a physical thing. Peter isn’t saying that they are strangers in south Italy and need to return home to Israel. He isn’t saying that we are strangers in North Carolina and need to return home to the Midwest.
He is speaking to all Christians everywhere and reminding them that they are strangers on this earth.
I. Strangers are Scattered
Maybe you're a positive person. Perhaps you think, "Home is where the heart is." As long as you are with all the people in your family, you're at home.
But the people of God aren't in the same place. They are all over. Look at the words again: scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Asia and Bithynia. This meant that the family of Christians was scattered. They were in small house churches that had to deal with persecutions all around them. They couldn’t even be together and encourage each other. They were scattered.
This is still true today.
It was never more evident just how scattered than this week at the Youth Rally. There were teenage people of God from all over. Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, even Alberta, Canada just to name a few. And it was awesome. Awesome to be with Christians your age from all over the world. Awesome to see 2000 some young people filling up the seats of an auditorium with praise.
But now we're apart. The youth group shrunk. It’s less impressive.
Maybe this has happened to you:
It's hard to be scattered from one another.
That's not all. Remember that word “stranger.” The implication is that there is a permanent place where we belong. This is where our Father dwells. It's heaven.
The history of the world explains what happened. God created earth. He created a beautiful earth. He created a beautiful garden on that earth for humans to dwell in peace with him as his family members forever.
Then, humans sinned. They rebelled against him. They placed a separation between God and them.
This is still true today. We are a part of that sinful, dangerous, guilt filled, hateful, scary world. . We, the people of God, are scattered the perfect presence of our Father on an earth far from perfect.
But there is an interesting phenomenon that takes place when you move away from your hometown. Think about college. At first, you live life just like you did back at home. You love going to McDonald's. You listen to alternative rock. You eat chili the way your mom makes chili -- with the noodles in it.
After time that starts to change. You try different things and your opinions, likes and dislikes, evolve. Suddenly, you love going to Chick-fil-A. You listen to the Country station on the radio. You like your Chili without noodles in it!
Now this isn't necessarily a danger when you are move from one earthly place to another. But it is a danger when you forget all about your heavenly home.
Here's a way for you to see if you starting to get too comfortable with this world. I want you to tally up one for each side after I give you some options. The option listed first is from this sinful world; the option listed second is from God’s heavenly home. Think about which one makes you more comfortable. Are you more comfortable….
...at the bar or at the Lord's Table?
...saying swears in public or saying a prayer in public?
...inviting your friend to an R rated movie or to a Bible study?
...navigating to XXX.com or Biblegateway.com?
…never missing a church service or never missing an episode of Family Guy?
...listening to what CNN has to say about homosexuality or what your pastor does?
...confessing your how awesome you are to your friends or how sinful you to God?
Brothers and sisters, if you are more comfortable with worldly things, there's a problem. You are comfortable with a place that will not last. You are comfortable with a place that cannot exist in eternity. You are comfortable with a sinful world that God cannot tolerate. You are a comfortable with a place that he will simply obliterate.
Repent. Turn to your heavenly home. Ask your Father for forgiveness.
Because He misses you.
II. Strangers are Missed
Your parents will miss you if and when you go to move out. They will call you on the phone. They will email you. They will text message you. Facebook you. Twitter you. Whatever it takes to get your attention and let you know that they miss you and love you.
If you have gone astray, know this: God misses you right now. If you haven't remotely kept up your Confirmation promises, God wants you back!
Look at verse 1-2, "To the elect…you have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of the Father." Do you understand what that is saying? It is saying that God knows you well. He knows you better than you. He has known you longer than you. From before the creation of the world, he knew that you would be born into sin. He knew that you would be born into a sinful world. He knew that you would need a Savior from this sinful world.
That's why he sent his Son. Jesus. The only one who had not left his Father to earth. Jesus, who is divine and out of this world, became a stranger in this world.
But he never adopted the way of this world. He never was lost in sin. Instead, he conquered it. He lived perfectly. He died innocently on a cross and rose triumphantly for you. When it was time for him to go home? He ascended to heaven. He ascended to fulfill his promise from our Gospel lesson, "In my Father's house are many rooms, I am going there to prepare a place for you."
It's as if Jesus is fixing your room. Cleaning it up. Fluffing the pillows. Putting up your favorite posters. Making sure that God's house in heaven is ready for you. Ready for when God brings you home.
But God is also busy preparing you!
It’s similar to a family reunion. As you prepare to go to one, you have to get mentally prepared. You have to memorize names so that you don’t mistakenly refer to your Uncle Joe as Uncle George. You have to remember what it is your Second Cousin does for work again. You have to breathe deeply so that you stay calm when you speak to Aunt Louise –who really upset you last time.
God wants to prepare us for our heavenly home as well. This is why God gives his Spirit. Again, look at verse 2. "Through the sanctifying work of the spirit." Sanctifying. That’s a word we learned it catechism It means "setting apart as holy." It's God's work of changing our lives here on earth.
And it starts with faith. Faith that Jesus is God's Son. Faith that Jesus knows the way back to heaven. Faith that he will bring us...home.
This is why God has given us his Sacraments. The Holy Spirit works through them to bring to faith and strengthen faith. In baptism, God promises that we are his children. Though we are in this strange world, we are his and he will one day bring us home to him. In Lord's Supper, God send us a divine meal. Just like mom sending a care package when you are off in college, God has sent us a divine care package. It's his true body and blood. A promise that your sins are forgiven and you will be in heaven.
III. Strangers Live Differently
So…what now? As People of God, you are strangers. But how does this affect your life now? Here are three suggestions from our text.
1) Live according to your Father’s rules.
As Peter reminds us, “You have been chosen…to be obedient to Jesus.” Obedience to Jesus means faith, but it also means living a life of faith that God and his way of living is the correct way.
Think about this:
Once you leave your parents household, you might feel emancipated! You can live by your own rules. You don't have to follow the rules of your mom and dad.
But then, over time, you realize how good those rules were. You realize that going to bed at a decent hour is a wonderful idea. You understand that it is important to have a clean house. You may even eat some broccoli every once in a while, because it keeps you feeling healthy.
Don't forget the rules of your Divine dad." In preparation for returning home to him, live according to God’s laws. The Ten Commandments? They are there for a reason. Not because he hates you, but because He loves you!
And you know what, nothing will please your mom and dad more than calling them up on the phone and saying, “I am wearing clean clothes. I am eating a balance meal and I am saving my money.”
Similarly God is pleased when he sees you following his rules for life!
This then is a way to say Thank You to the Lord. It’s a way to give thanks to the one who gave up his only perfect Son for the forgiveness of our sins.
And another way?
2) Be proud of your Strange Foreign Heritage.
You can tell when someone is proud of their foreign heritage. They bring lots of reminders of home with them. They have pictures on the wall. Candles lit in certain places. Colors and clothing that express the culture of the former city.
Be proud of your Christian heritage. Proclaim. Be bold. Make sure others don’t just know from your words, but from how you act and live your life.
Be proud of your Christian heritage even down to the soap youuse.
Ever notice that sometimes people from different areas have different soaps. They don’t have Dove or Irish Spring. Nothing like that. They have soap made from honey. Soap made from Goat's milk. Soap made from oatmeal, hemp plant, and even bees wax.
The soap of your heavenly Father is strange too. It's blood. Blood, which stains and doesn't get you feeling Zesty fresh on the outside. But this blood isn't for cleaning the outside. Jesus' blood cleans from within. It purifies us from all sin.
The only thing is you can't see it. You can't look at the mirror and see "Did I wash all of the dirt off the back of my leg?" or touch your face and think, "Did I get all the oil washed off?" There's no way to look and see if you have really been completely cleansed of all sin. Other than God's promise.
So, think about it. Meditate on it. Don’t wash with the stuff of the world. Alcohol, sex, drugs, sports, money. They can’t wash a guilty soul. Only Jesus’ can. His promise of forgiveness. His promise that through faith in him all of your guilt is removed.
Use this soap. Wash daily with the Word. Come to church. Come to communion. Come and wash with the precious blood of Jesus!
3) Surround Yourself with Gifts from Home.
Peter concludes this opening address with the words: 'Grace and peace to you." These are gifts from God to his people. The gifts of grace (forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation for free! By faith alone) and the gift of peace (peace with God -- He has forgiven all sin). These are his gifts to us. Gifts, not to hide in a cardboard box, but gifts to be displayed. Gifts to be remembered. Gifts to meditate on.
I received a cup a gift from my wife about a month after we moved down to North Carolina from the Midwest. It says “Minnesota Twins.” She simply left it with a note be thankful for and always remember where we come from. To remember our parents, the lessons we have learned, and to always be thankful.
Now think of a cross. Brothers and sisters, it reminds you of whose child you are. It reminds you where your dad lives. It reminds you that one day you will go back there.
Surround yourself with this truth. Surround yourself with people who will remind you of this truth. Surround yourself with God’s Word. Never forget it. Never forget where you came from and where you are going.
“Watch out for False prophets!”
That was the theme of today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 7:15.
How high does that passage rank on your list of all time favorite Bible passages?
Did you have it memorized?
Does it hang on your wall?
Do you have it written on your favorite mug?
Has it ever been on one of those pictures of a scenic landscape with a Bible passages written in a fancy font that you post on your wall on Facebook?
Anybody have that as a confirmation verse?
Probably not, huh?
Yet…Jesus spoke it. The Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to write it down. It’s a command and it’s important.
We’ve talked about setting our hearts on things above, using our voices to speak God’s plan, and taking our minds captive to God’s Word. Today we’re going to talk about what Christ would have us do with our eyes. Watch out for false prophets!
I. Why is This a Big Deal?
Now you may be thinking, “Why is this a big deal? Why are we going to spend time talking about this?”
Maybe, you picture a false prophet as some obviously off the wall, loopy guy whom you would never listen to – like David Karesh, Nostradamus, or Lord Voldemort.
But it’s not that simple. Listen to what Jesus says, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing….”
Notice Jesus doesn’t say, “Watch out for false prophets. They’ll be easy to spot, because they’ll look just like wolves.” Not so much. They’ll look like sheep. Innocent. Cute. Harmless.
They’ll smile nicely when you meet them. They’ll wear nice looking suits. They’ll take residence in nice looking churches. They’ll have books in the “Christian” book store. They have a weekly sermon spot on the “Christian radio station.” They wear nice priestly, very religious looking robes. They may even be have a nice, Christian sounded title.
You know. Like “the pope.”
Spotting false prophets is tricky. They look cute, but they are so dangerous. Jesus says, “They are ferocious wolves.”
This, by the way, is long before Looney Tunes came along and gave us this picture of a goofy, cartoonish wolf bungling around as he fails to capture any sheep and gets an anvil dropped on his head. False prophets are way more dangerous than that.
Jesus calls them ‘ferocious’. Vicious. Sometimes knowingly, othertimes, unknowingly, their false teachings rip at the flesh of your faith. They tear your respect for God’s Word apart. They feed on your respect for the truth of God’s Word until there isn’t any left.
This is a BIG deal.
To illustrate how bad a false prophet is, I’d ask you to think about Satanism. It is probably one of the most open and obvious forms of false teaching out there. It’s so bad that even Atheists recognize it as ‘no good.’
Yet, there aren’t that many Satanists. It’s way less than .1% of the population. This means that there are way more unbelievers on the road to hell who listen to leaders that look and act like ‘good’ religious leaders…that look and act like “Christians.”
o Churches that teach “Jesus died, but you need to do good to earn your way to heaven.” Causing people to despair until they no longer have any faith that Jesus can save them.
o Churches that teach “it doesn’t matter what you believe." Then one dangerously assumes it doesn’t matter if you believe in Jesus or not…so he stops. Which is quite different from what Jesus taught.
o Churches that teach, “Don’t worry. That’s not a sin. God didn’t mean it when he had his people write it down.” Leading all kinds of people to ignore and refuses the very words of “Christ” that the leader claimed to support.
Churches that teach: “There is no hell and that sin you’re doing isn’t really that bad and you won’t suffer for it,” People believe it. Live in relief. Stop worrying about faith and Jesus so much. Then, they die…and find out that teaching was false as they are, in fact, in this not so ‘non-existant’ hell.
Do see why WATCHING OUT for false teachers is big deal? It keeps you safe from destructive teachings that will work to try and destroy your faith – which, if faith isn’t there…leads to eternal destruction!
II. How Do I Identify Them?
Now that we see the reason for watching out, Jesus goes on to explain how to watch out for false teachers. In verse 16 he says, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
If you plant carrots, but the plants grow up and don’t produce carrots. They aren’t carrot plants. If instead, they give you painful, itchy sores, they are poison ivy!
This is more than good gardening advice. You recognize false teachers by their works and by their words.
If the Christian teacher you are listening too isn’t teaching ‘Christian things’, then his teaching may be false. If the Christian teacher you are listening to is repeatedly doing non-Christian things in his worship service, then his teaching may be poison.
*If the Christian organization you have joined is doing non Christian things with it’s money…
* If the Christian book you are reading urges you to do non Christian things with your life…
* If the Christian camp you want to send your kid to teaches things that aren’t true to your kids…
Remember: A “good” tree cannot bear “bad” fruit.
III. How Common a Problem is It?
Perhaps you get that false teaching is a problem. But you aren’t convinced that it happens all the often. It seems awful, but…it could never happen to you. You won’t be hurt by false doctrine.
But listen to how common Jesus says it is: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 3 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers."
Look at verse 22 again. Suddenly, false teaching doesn’t sound so uncommon. According to verse 22, “Many…many" will pretend to be Jesus’ followers. Many will teach falsely. Many will believe falsely. Many will say they are Christians, that aren’t. Many will look like believers that aren’t. May will think they are doing the will of the Lord, but that very Lord won’t even know them.
So, Jesus is telling you watch out! False teaching is common. Especially in our hyper information world. It’s so easy to see something or hear something and think it’s good, simply because it has the name “Christian” on it.
Watch out! Watch out! Watch out! False teaching it’s everywhere!
IV. How Do I Combat It?
I don’t know about you, but when I’ve been awake long enough my eyes start to get tired. They sometimes, literally, start burning. Tired of watching.
Defending against false teaching sounds tiring. It’s such a big deal and so common that it seems impossible to defend against it!
Which can lead to what is probably the number 1 reason for not avoiding false teaching. Not “I don’t know enough about the Bible,” not, “They’re pretty tricky about it,” rather
Too much time? Can making sure that your soul isn’t being poisoned by false teaching which works to destroy faith that, if it is destroyed, could land you in everlasting hell really, ever take up TOO MUCH time?
I don’t think so.
Repent. Turn from the lethargic, "I don’t think false teaching is a big deal”-like attitude to the one in whom there is nothing false. Turn to the one who spoke the truth and is the Truth.
And the truth about the Truth is this: He loves you. He died for you. He rose from the dead. He says that those who trust in him will be forgiven. Forgiven for falling to false teaching. Forgiven for not taking false teaching seriously. Forgiven for not spending the time to defend against false teaching.
Brothers and sisters, this your truth too. Believe it. Turn to Jesus.
He isn’t a wolf at all. Rather he is the precious lamb of God—without blemish or defect. He died to save you. He doesn’t want to tear you apart. He wants to build you. He wants to make you new. He wants you to spend eternity with him in heaven.
Listen to what he says, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”
Brothers and sisters, stand on the rock. Stand on the words of Jesus. Stand on the true promises of his grace.
In other words: read the Bible
The more and more you read the Bible, the easier it will be to defend against false teachings. It will be easier to recognize them. It will be easier to guard against them. It will be easier to speak against them. It will be easier to teach your kids the truth!
This means investing time. More than once a month at church. Probably more than once a week too.
It means immerse yourself in Jesus. Weekly church attendance. Weekly Bible study attendance. Daily Bible reading. Read the Bible and you will stand on the Rock.
And when you’re on the rock, it’s a lot easier to watch out.
This is why lighthouses, and there are a lot of them in North Carolina, are built on rocky cliffs. They are higher up and allow people to look in the distance and watch.
On the rock that is God’s Word, you will see false prophets come. You will be able to defend against them. You will be able to avoid them.
And as you are watching for false prophets, one day you will see the true prophet, Jesus Christ coming into the world. He will return to take us away from the scary world of false teaching. He will, in truth, take you home to heaven to be with him –where there are no ferocious wolves—only the loving embrace of your heavenly Father.
So…keep looking. Keep watching.
He’s watching over you.
In the wake of Father’s Day, it’s always nice to reflect on fatherly wisdom. Dads teach us how to change the oil in our cars, how to open a bottle without a bottle opener, and to always brush your teeth before putting on your necktie.
I saw a Father’s Day card that said, “Happy Father’s Day Dad! Thank you for all the advice you have given me over the years. Today, I’d like to say that I’m finally going to follow some of your advice.” On the inside it read: “I’m not going to waste money on a gift for you.”
Dads are good for all kind of practical, quirky, and useful wisdom. But what about your other Dad? What about your Heavenly Dad? What kind of wisdom has God the Father passed on to you?
In the past two weeks we’ve talked about the Christian heart and the Christian voice. Today we’re going to learn about the Christian mind and the wisdom it possesses.
Our lesson comes from 1 Corinthians 1 beginning at verse 26. “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”
In this paragraph, Paul is writing to a young Corinthian congregation. In the Corinthian world where many types of wisdom were lauded and sought after, Paul reminds them to search foremost for the wisdom of God.
What is that wisdom? Paul starts by identify three things it is not.
1) Christianity is not about BOOK SMART WISDOM.
Paul writes, “Not many of you were wise by human standards…”. That’s still true today. We don’t require that you get a high sore on your SAT. We don’t exclude people from the church until they’ve gotten a Bachelor of Arts degree. And we don’t hold periodic games of Jeopardy with the high scorer being written in as the next Council member.
Christianity is not about BOOK SMART WISDOM. In fact, the teachings of Christianity often go against conventional wisdom.
Today is Trinity Sunday. Do you know what Trinity means? Three in One. Today is a celebration of the fact that we have a God who is ONE and yet is three PERSONS. Three persons who are divine and distinct and yet there is not three gods, but ONE God. In other words, we are saying, “1 + 1 + 1 = 1”
But it’s more than just the Trinity. Scripture says other things that are not reasonable to the human mind.
Jesus is one hundred percent God and one hundred percent man. The world was created in only 6 days and the age of the earth is only thousands of years, not billions of years. Some guy died on a cross. And somehow, that takes away all of the punishment for my sins? If you follow Christian logic, you will fail Math, Science, and possibly Social Studies.
Christian wisdom is not about book smart wisdom.
2) Christianity is not about STREET SMART WISDOM.
Society might agree that book smart wisdom isn’t necessary for success in this world. There are plenty of people who have made it big without so much as a high school education. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerburg are all multibillionaires who didn’t finish college
Is Christian wisdom simply street smarts then?
Paul writes, “not many of you were influential…” To be influential in Corinthian society meant you were a business man. This was a place of the market. The better your business did the more influence you had in rules and laws that were made – even if it were simply through a few extra bucks slipped to the government.
This being said. There was no requirement in the ancient church that prospective members had to have good business sense. They simply preached the Gospel to the rich, the poor, and everyone in between.
This is still true today. To become a member of our church, we don’t have a sit down interview where you prepare a PowerPoint presentation explaining how you think we can maximize revenue and get our brand out into the North Raleigh area. We aren’t a collection of business owners. We aren’t about ‘growing a business.’ When we canvass, we don’t skip the apartments and head directly to the homes that are 1.5 million or above -- because they might have some business wisdom.
In fact, Christian wisdom is not all the smart for business. Think for a moment what might happen if you follow the following business practices in the dog eat dog American business world. “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Mt. 5:39) “Humble yourself – don’t exalt yourself.” (Luke 14) “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” (Mark 10:31) “Don’t be greedy.” (Luke 12:15)
Ever seen Shark Tank? In the show, you get a chance to pitch your entrepreneurial business model to multibillion dollar business sharks. They aren’t too kind if they think you idea stinks.
How do you think they’d react to such Christian ideals?
The point? Christian wisdom is not about influential wisdom.
3) Christianity is not about POPULAR WISDOM
Paul adds one more negation to the type of wisdom that is involved with Christianity. He writes, “Not many were of noble birth.” In the ancient world, these were princes and princess. Governors daughters and centurions sons. While this is, in part, a genealogical position, there is still a certain type of wisdom involved with being royalty. (i.e. Walk with your chin raised and always lift up your pinky finger when you drink tea.)
In America, there aren’t kings and queens as such, but we still have royalty. Musicians, actors, actresses, even reality TV stars garner our constant attention.
These pop culture icons also have their own a wisdom and culture. In fact, if you don’t follow it, you’ll never make it into Hollywood.
I’m thinking about Matthew McCauneghey winning an Oscar for best actor, thanking the Academy to raucous cheers, and then thanking God – to crickets. “Who’s God again?”
Or it leaks into our ‘non Hollywood lives” as well, doesn’t it? Popular wisdom tries to dictate our decisions.
Maybe you already knew this, but God's wisdom is not always (usually) popular.
In fact, the world might not consider Christian wise at all. It doesn’t make rational sense. It doesn’t fit into academia. It isn’t even all that popular. Some might call it (and have called it) stupid!
….That’s, the point.
Look at verse 27-29. God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)
Grasp what Scripture is telling us in that section. God chose things that the world would consider foolish! God looked down at human knowledge of physics, human business sense, and human popular opinion and he chose things that were the exact opposite!
There are some very good reasons why God chose to do things in such a splendidly opposite way of human beings.
1) God is eternal!
His knowledge is way beyond you or me. It’s way beyond some Scientist who’s been alive for 40 years. It’s beyond some politicians who's lived to 50. It’s way, way, way beyond some actress who specializes in Science. Of course, his wisdom is different!
It’s like how a child and an adult tie their shoes differently. The adult carefully bends over and politely and precisely ties the shoelaces into a perfect bow. The child bends over, wiggles his fingers around his laces, and finally stuffs the knotty mess into the back of the shoes.
The adult is wiser because they’ve been around longer. God is wiser than any human being because he is eternal! He has always been!
2) God is holy.
Humans, scripture tells us, are sinful. We are selfish. We are greedy. We are hateful. We worry about ourselves.
Now think about this, it means that our collective thought process will always be sinful. It will always be influenced by this hatred. There will be traces of selfishness in every single attitude we have.
God? He doesn’t have that. This means that it will be naturally the exact opposite of human thought. And he can never support these sinful human thoughts, because then, he’d be sinful!
It’s why State fans are never caught dead into Tarheel blue. They can never support Carolina!
God can never support sin. NEVER. Yet, humans are so stupidly sinful that we look at God’s ways and say, “You’re hateful. Not me!”
3) The final reason is God chose to do things in a way that is so drastically different from human reason?
1 Corinthians reveals it to us this way, “God chose the foolish things…the lowly things…the things that are not…so that no one may boast before him.”
God knew that because of sin, not a single person would ever be wise enough to gain heaven. And he also knew that our sinfulness would affect our thinking such that we wouldn’t even acknowledge it. Instead, we find ourselves thinking, “I’m doing just fine. I’m good enough. I can figure it out on my own.”
Is it any wonder that every religion in this world, why there are shallow differences, preach the same basic doctrine? Buddhism says, “Live a peaceful life and earn heaven.” Mormonism says, “Life a like like Jesus and earn your own planet.” Islam says, “Follow Islamic Law and earn paradise.”
Why are they the same? This is the best that sinful human beings can come up with is to try our sinful best to remove sinfulness by doing sinful things.
Thank God that his plan is different:
This is God’s plan. So different and so marvelous, endorsed by all three persons in the Triune God.
What does all of this mean?
It isn’t about you. Thank God. In fact, it isn't about anyone even remotely similar than you! (Can you imagine a salvation plan enacted by a sinful human being? It will result in sinful people sinful failing to win a sinful result!)
Salvation is about Jesus, our Savior. It’s about the Father our perfect Justifier. It’s about the Spirit, our Sanctifier. Through faith in Jesus Christ, you are saved! And praise be to God for making this plan so different that it sticks out as Divine wisdom!
Otherwise, we’d be stuck in our sinful human head: “I’m awesome. I figured out God. I have the smarts to make it to heaven. I deciphered it with my decoder ring. God, of course, selected me for heaven, because of my wisdom!”
But it’s not about you. Paul said it this way, “It is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (v. 29-31)
Kids love to boast about their dads. “He’s the smartest guy I know.” He’s stronger than your dad. He was awesome at baseball. If only he hadn’t of hurt his leg, he’d probably be more famous than Babe Ruth.”
Why not boast about your heavenly Father?
“My heavenly Father is so wise he planned my salvation before the beginning of the world.”
“My heavenly Father is so powerful he raised my Brother Jesus from the dead!”
“My heavenly Father is so loving he forgives me for my sinful pride and arrogance.”
“My heavenly Father is the best. Holy. Incredible. Absolute.”
Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord. Amen.
There are a lot of famous spokesmen in the world. Tony the Tiger. Mr. Clean. Ronald McDonald. Lebron James. The Honey Bee from Honey Nut Cheerios. (Although I have to admit that I have no idea what his name is.)
A spokesman is important. These spokesmen help to sell the product. They tell you to invest in what the company sells. They tell you "you aren’t as cool as Lebron James if you don’t eat the Club Hamburger!”
If you had to name one spokesman for Christianity, whom would you name?
The whimsical and kind words of Max Lucado? The theologically heavy, yet humanly raw writings of Martin Luther? How about the wise, well-known voice of Billy Graham? The Gospel sing-song voice of Reverend T.D. Jakes?
All of these Christian speak and write in very different ways. Which one is the best? Which one is most correct?
What does the voice of Christianity sound like?
I wonder if the post Ascension disciples were pondering that very question. They had just received their marching orders. They were to “go and make disciples of all nations by baptizing them…and by teaching them to obey everything (Jesus) had commanded them.” (Mt. 28:19) Teaching involved talking. They would have to use their voice.
Should they be hellfire and brimstone like the Old Testament prophets? Should they speak mildly in one on one conversation? Should they hire speech writers to help them write the first sermon OR should they just hire someone to preach it for them? Maybe they could buy big rolls of papyrus, make bolded posters with crosses on them and place them all over the Colisseum?
As they sat their quietly in that Jerusalem room and pondered what the Christian voice might sound like, little did they know that God was about to reveal to them exactly what it sounded like.
1. What does the Christian Voice Sound Like?
Suddenly, they heard the sound like the blowing of a violent wind. Think of a hurricane without the rain. A tornado without the wind. Then, they saw what appeared to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. Finally, Scripture says they were filled with the Holy Spirit and then it describes how they went and immediately began preaching sermons. (Acts 2)
Understand what this means. These disciples – ordinary men – fishermen, accountants, untrained, unschooled – suddenly knew what the Christian voice sounded like. It was familiar.
It was their own.
What does it sound like today?
Look at what the prophet Joel has to say about Pentecost and the time after it in chapter two of his prophecy. He says, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants – both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:28-29)
Consider then what the Christian voice sounds like.
Sometimes, Joel says, it sounds like sons and daughters.
If you have older children who have grown up and left the house, you might be nodding your head. But notice that Joel puts no age limit on this prophecy. Meaning that if your kid is still a kid, this prophecy is no less valid.
Now you may be thinking, “My kid? The voice of Christianity? Not so much. She’s inquisitive (always asking “Why?”) to be sure and she’s knows all the words to “Let It Go,” but the voice of Chrsitianity? That might be taking it too far.”
…Think of those Precious Lambs last weekend. They are nothing more than preschool . Not even tall enough to ride the Ferris Wheel at an amusement park. Last week they sang in church. High pitched? A little. Off key? Some. Off beat? Definitely.
But did that change their message? It was the Word of God from Matthew 28: “Surely, I will be with you always to the very end of the age.”
Wonderful. Beautiful. God’s Word.
Sometimes the voice of the Christian sounds like the voice of a child!
But that’s not all the Christian voice sounds like. Joel writes, “Your young men will see visions.” (2:28)
Again, that might sound a little strange. Teenage boys aren’t usually thought of for their responsibility. Culturally, we think of them as talking about the latest cheat codes on a video game, the stats of their favorite football team, and whether Marci Fischer has a crush on them or not!
But Joel tells us that “your young men will see visions.” High schoolers will challenge their public school teachers on the origins of the world. Teens from New Ulm join forces with some of our teens and go door-to-door inviting people to church. In a few weeks, the WELS Youth rally will gather over 2000 teens from across the United States united in singing praises to God. Shortly after that we will have teen confirmation and two young adults will confess their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ before all of us!
Sometimes, the voice of the Christian sounds like the voice of a teenager!
But that’s not all the Christian voice sounds like. Joel writes, “your old men will dream dreams.” (2:28)
Again, you might struggle to think this possible. Especially with a much older man who lives in a retirement home. One might think, “They need help with every aspect of living. They need someone to push the wheelchair. Someone to bring them food. If I want to hear anything they are saying, I have to lean in close and listen intently! How could they be the spokesmen of the Lord?”
Monday mornings I head over Brighton Gardens retirement home. The majority of the residents who join me for worship there have to be wheeled in. They need help finding the page in the bulletin. They need help finding a spot to sit.
They don’t need any help singing Amazing Grace! They sing “How Great Thou Art” at the top of their lungs. Sure, their fingers might write a with a tad more of a crook, but they can still write letters of blessing. Sure, their ways might be a bit old fashioned, but if you listen…really listen, you might learn wonderful lessons about God.
Respect your elders. Because sometimes the voice of Christianity sounds just like the voice of your grandparent!
But young men, old men, and young children are not all that the voices of Christians sound like. Joel tells us "I will pour out my Spirit on all people….even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:28, 29)
In other words, at different times the voice of Christianity will sound like the voice of every believer.
But here’s where you really need to pay attention.
First, make sure no one’s around. Close a door. Breath deeply. Then, hum a bit. Softly a first, then a bit louder.
Did you hear it?
You just heard the voice of Christianity! You just heard the voice of one of God’s spokesmen.
2. How does a Christian Voice Speak?
Now I’m sure you are immediately objecting:
“I’m terrible at speaking.”
“I freeze up and say silly things.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“If I can’t convince my kids to eat their broccoli, how can I convince others to believe in Jesus?”
I’m sure the disciples might have had similar objections. In Jerusalem that first Pentecost was a United Nations of the Ancient World: Parthians, Median, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, Pontians, Asians, phyrgians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, Libyans, Romans, Cretans, and Arabs!
Yet, Scripture tells us that they heard the message of Jesus – clearly—and each in their own language.
This was long before the time of the Rosetta Stone. How could the disciples have been able to speak all these different languages so quickly?
Were they studying in their off time? When? They had been following Jesus for over three years. Were they naturally brilliant? Not necessarily. Some of them were fishermen and farmers. Were they drunk? Not at all!
Peter answers by pointing to the words of the prophet Joel: "I will pour out my Spirit on all people….I will pour my Spirit in those days.”
In other words, the disciples weren’t in it alone. Their voices didn’t speak by themselves. They had the Holy Spirit of God guiding them.
The same is true for you.
Now you might not have a tongue of fire on your head. You probably can’t speak in tongues and I don’t want you to even try picking up a poisonous snake.
Yet, if you are a believer, know this: You have the Holy Spirit with you!
How do I know this?
Scripture says, “No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3) You can’t be a believer unless the Holy Spirit is with you – in your heart.
This is comforting isn’t it? You, dear believer, are an instrument of the Holy Spirit. As you speak his Word, he is using you for his purposes.
Which means that there is no reason to worry!
I imagine that a rickety old violin might feel a little worried in the way that he will sound as a concert approaches. But, if that old violin hears that it will be played by a world renowned violinist, all that worry fades away!
You are an instrument that is in the hands of the Holy Spirit of God! He is world renowned for the faith that he works and strengthens through the Word. Though you may be broken and rusty in your speaking skills, that does not mean that He can’t use you to beautifully share God’s Word!
Scripture tells us, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)
This is true. It’s true even when you, yes, you, speak God’s Word.
3. What Does a Spokesman Say?
Now about the only objection you might have left is to ask the simple question, “what does the Christian voice say?”
Take a look at Peter’s speech in Acts 2 and you see that answer. Peter continues in his Pentecost address to speak of the past. Specifically, the past 50 days. He tells how Jesus lived. How Jesus died. How Jesus rose again. He tells them of how they sinned and how Jesus save them from their sins.
You know this. You know it well. So speak it. Speak of how your Savior lived perfectly, died innocently, and rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of sins.
Then, don’t just speak the past, but speak the future.
Now, you might be thinking, “The future? How am I to do that? I don’t own a crystal ball. I don’t get visions. I can’t read palms. My magic 8 ball is broken. How am I to speak about the future, if I don’t know it!?!”
But, dear Christian, as a believer in Jesus, might I add that you do know the future. Look at the words of Joel for a reminder:
God says, "I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood on the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” (Joel 2:30-32)
In other words, you know the Law. The end is coming. It comes as death for many of us. For others, it will come as Judgment day. And without Jesus, it will be dreadful.
But, you also know the Gospel. Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance! (Joel 2:33)
Don’t shudder in proclaiming comfort for the future. Confidently and boldly speak the good news of Jesus!
When Peter and the disciples had finished their work on the first Pentecost, Scripture tells us that over 3,000 were added to their number that day.
Brothers and sisters, you may not see thousands of people coming to faith as soon as you start sharing your faith, but don’t be surprised to start seeing results. The LORD is at work! He will cause people to think. He will cause people to ask questions. He will be at work as you share his word!
So, be a spokesman!
Just about the only time that a spokesman doesn’t do his job is when he doesn’t speak for the product he represents.
You represent Jesus. Do your job. Speak of him. At home, at work, on the job, with your neighbors, at the dog park, in the coffee shop, online. Be a spokesman for Jesus! Amen.
What do you think the disciples felt after watching Jesus ascend to heaven?
Jaw-dropping awe? Certainly.
But I also wonder if they didn't feel a sigh of relief?
Matthew, the tax collector says, "Phew. Now that he's gone, I can finally get back to work. I've fallen behind on my work and I gotta catch up on my collecting."
Peter might have chimed in, "You guys have no idea how long my wife's 'honey-do-list' is. I need to get to work on that."
James says, "Hmmm. That speech ran a little long. Now I gotta book it in order to get little Avram to swim practice at the Sea of Galilee on time."
Simon the political Zealot says, "I can go back to devoting my time to politics. There's a protest at Pontius' Pilate's palace tomorrow and I need to get a few witty signs painted before then!"
I think it's a fair assessment that they had thoughts like this. After all, the disciples were human. Humans struggle to stay focused. In our age of hyper-busyness and attention span shortening SmartPhones, this couldn’t be more true. Even (or perhaps “especially” is better) with spiritual things!
Now we can’t go the Ascension mountain to test this theory out, but...consider for a moment how well you focus on spiritual things for an hour in church on a Sunday morning.
Listen to what it says in Colossians 3:1-3 "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God."
Hidden. That word jumps out at me. This section explains that when our hearts are set on Christ above, then we are hidden with him.
But we don’t usually hide in Christ. In fact, this is one of the big reasons that we are so focused on earthly pursuits. We want to hide. We have failures, guilt, terrible past decisions that we cannot get past. So we find ourselves trying to 'cover up' our past sins with earthly solutions:
"If I just finish this bottle of whiskey, then the 'booze fog' will cover up all the things I've done wrong in my life and I won't have to think about it."
"If I just have another sexual experience, it'll be the only thing that makes me stop feeling guilt and shame from the last sexual experience I had."
"If I just get a respectable enough career, then I will no longer be remember in my family as the black sheep that I was in my younger days."
“If I just make enough money, then it doesn't matter that my marriage is a mess.”
“If I just keep myself busy with extracurricular activity after extracurricular activity for the kids, then I can hide myself from the feelings of inadequacy and failure from the early years in raising this child.”
When I went to Wisconsin where I grew up last week, I have to admit that I was doing a lot of this. I caught myself thinking, "I'm a pastor. I'm respectable. I can't wait for my former principal and Kindergarten teacher to see me and comment things like, "How respectable that man is."
But as respectable as I thought I was, it didn’t stop me from feeling guilty as we passed a classroom that I used to cause a ruckus in. It didn’t stop me from struggling to look the teacher in the eye whom I had been disrespectful to in high school. It didn’t stop me from looking down in shame after seeing a former classmate whom I had not been all that nice to.
Here's the problem: Covering up our pasts with earthly pursuits is like taking a blanket and tossing it over your head during a game of hide or seek. It doesn't work. Sometimes, in front of people, yes, it does. But before God? Not at all.
God can see past a blanket. And God can see past your earthly pursuits to the very core of your soul. He sees and knows who you are. Raw. Pained. Sinful. Rebellious.
Do you feel confident standing before the all holy, divine, all powerful God in the cesspool of your sins? Because he can't stand sin and threatens eternal hell for it!
There is a better way. Rather than turning to earthly things in order to set ourselves right before God, Scripture urges us to turn to God himself!. "Therefore, set your hearts on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God."
Note what it says: "your life is hidden with Christ in God." Not "part of your life." Not "the first three years of your life." Not "the smaller moment of your life." Not even "most of your life, but you need to do some good things to help fill in the gaps of this eternal blanket of love."
Your life is hidden with Christ in God. Every part of it. The sins of your youth. The repeated sins of your teenage years. The dark sins that you can't even hide from yourself no matter the amount of pursuit you put in to earthly things.
All of your sinful life is hidden in Christ!
How does that work?
Well, how does it work that a human being could be talking out on a hill. Then, without any wires or tricks of the camera. Without any smokes and mirrors, he is lifted up above the clouds?
For that matter, how does it work that the same man healed people with incurable diseases simply by speaking? How does it work that he stopped storms with his words? How does it work that people died and he raised them with his touch? How does it work that he died and rose again!?!
It worked because Jesus is God! And through faith in Christ, your life is covered with Christ, because you are being covered with God!!!
Sometimes, when I'm getting dressed for the day, I put on a sweater vest. Not because it looks good, but because it covers up wrinkles, a missing button, or a mustard stain. No one can see these things!
Covered with God. Covered with Christ, your heavenly Father cannot see your sins. Jesus completely covers up every sinful stain and every guilty wrinkle. In Jesus God sees you only as “without guilt” and he promises to give you the reward of heaven in the future.
That's one of the biggest problems with setting your hearts on earthly things. You never know if they will come true.
Will I ever get my dream job?
Will I ever get the raise?
Will I ever have the 5 kids, 2 dogs, and a cat that I desire?
WIll I ever retire in the Outer Banks like I hope to?
Maybe. Then, again maybe not. Or maybe you accomplish your goal, but then it isn't what it was cracked up to be or it only lasts for awhile. It's temporal.
With faith in Jesus, God gives you a promise for the future that is CERTAIN and EVERLASTING. "Set your minds on things above...When Christ who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory!" (v.2 ,4)
Listen to the certainty of God's promise! When Christ appears, whether it's at your death or at the last day of this earth, you will appear with him.
It doesn't say, "You might appear with him." Not, "You could possibly appear with him." Not even, "Let's Hope you appear with him." Through faith in Jesus, you will appear with Jesus. In glory!
Brothers and sisters, that's heaven. The eternal escape from the guilt of our sins, the pain of our past, and the struggles of the present life.
And heaven lasts forever! It's not your dream home that one day needs repairs. It's not your dream relationship that grows farther apart from the dream. It's not your dream job which becomes obsolete. Heaven lasts forever! It is yours through faith in your ascended Savior!
So, friends, set your heart on things above!
I have a friend named Georg that I visit on Fridays. He has been coming religiously to a Bible Study that I hold at a retirement close to this church. Afterwards, he tells a joke. We talk about politics and he appreciates the banter.
But not the other day. The other day he had a tear in his eyes. He told me it was an anniversary. The anniversary of his wife’s death.
They had been married over 60 years. He told me how much he missed her. He told me how much he loved her. He told me about what she was like.
Then….then he told me something that I will never forget.
He said, “This is why I come here. This is why I learn about Jesus. Because the only way I’ll see her again, is through Jesus.”
Talk about setting your heart on things above.
Brothers and sisters, set your heart on Jesus. Set your kids hearts on Jesus. Do it this summer when you will be pulled in hundreds of different earthly directions. Come to church. Read your Bible. Listen to devotions. Pray with your kids. Teach them about Jesus. Surround your life with the Lord. Set your heart on the One above. The One who set his heart on you.