This past week, a group of teens from Minnesota helped us spread the Gospel in North Carolina They went door to door learning about our community, telling people about our church, and offering them the good news of Jesus. (So far... have a list of 19 families who are interested in learning more about what we stand for. Praise be to God!)
But yesterday something amazing happened.
In the middle of North Raleigh, a somewhat rich area with fancy homes and good ol' Southerners whose family names can easily be traced into the history books of the United States, we came across a small apartment complex.
It was bustling with activity. A few women with burkas walking past a garden. A group of men who had come from Mexico to find a better life. A Nepali family that happily invited me into their humble home. An elderly gentleman from Somalia who explained the personal demons he faces from his own country. Kids of all colors kicking a soccer ball in the parking lot. People greeting one another with "Hello!" "Hola!" "Konnichiwa!" (And a few other phrases that I didn't recognize.)These people were very different from what I had come to know and expect from North Raleigh.
But then again...they are quite the same.
Each one of them is a sinner. Just like me.
Each one of them has a Savior. Just like you,
Each one of them needs to hear the Gospel. Just like the rest of North Raleigh!
How neat to watch a group of teens from Minnesota travel to North Carolina to tell a family from Nepal about the one person who is global.
The One God.
"Go and make disciples of all nations!" How neat to be able to do that by "going" only a few blocks away!
I hope you'll get a chance to join us for church this Sunday. Ask these teens about some of the people they have encountered this week. Their excitement, energy, and love for Jesus is infectious! Please join us in church and say Thank You to them for their invaluable work of spreading the Gospel.
I've noticed that oftentimes it depends on the the time of the day. It In the morning, we think we need to spend time on making Pop Tarts, watering plants, and catching the morning Traffic alerts. At night, we think we need to spend time Keeping up with the Kardashians, Facebook stalking long lost friends, and applying fifteen different kinds of facial washes before we go to sleep.
But are all the things that we 'think we need to do' really things that we need to spend time on?
Think back to Social Studies class back in first grade. There's one major lesson that Social Studies teaches. (Besides that Social Studies is way easier than Math and Spelling.) There is a difference between Needs and Wants.
Needs are things that you need in order to live on this earth. Wants are things you could live without.
When we apply that principle to how we spend time, what are the things that we NEED to spend time on?
For starters, we need to spend time taking care of our basic human needs: Food, clothing, shelter, and sleep. After a long exercise we need to spend time drinking some water. A few times a day, we need to eat meals. We need to sleep. We need to spend time putting on clothing. (Although, how much time we need to spend deciding on which outfit to wear is debatable...)
Then, in order to have these basics needs met, it's true that we need to spend time making money, don't we? This is why we spend time working. 40 hours a week. 50 hours a week. Maybe more. If it is a career job, then we are going to need to spend even more time working than that!
And you might say that we need to spend time on maintenance tasks. By that I mean tasks that directly affect those first two needs. We need to go to the grocery store in order to buy food. We need to install a new kitchen faucet, because the old one spurts out water which we need to drink. We need to spend time fixing a flat tire on the car to make it to work in the morning.
And one of the ways that we perform maintenance, is really something that deserves a category of it's own: Relaxing. We need to spend time relaxing in order to rejuvenate for working for money for basics needs. This logic might explain why we watch old reruns of Saved by the Bell; why we go relaxing at the beach; why we nestle up to a good book. Although, at times this logic can become cyclical: “I need to spend time drinking this Samuel Adams so that I can take a break, relax my mind, and get ready for working hard to make money to buy food to eat and things to drink." (like Samuel Adams.)
Brothers and sisters, I'm not here to argue . Certainly, we need to spend time doing these things in order to live on this earth.
Why then does Jesus say what he says to Martha? Listen again: “One thing is necessary...what Mary has chosen.” Listening to my Word.
Doesn't that seem to fly in the face of everything we just talked about?
Perhaps we need to go back to Social Studies. The social studies book talks about what is necessary for earthly life. Earthly life that lasts 60-70 years if we have the strength. But what the average Social Studies book from Houghton Mifflin forgets to mention is that all of these 'earthly needs” will be of no value in the next life! In fact, when it comes to getting into the next life, none of these things are necessary.
Not at all.
Spending time eating a Subway sandwich will not stop your soul from starving for the forgiveness found only in Jesus. Getting some sleep will not cause your mind to rest from the guilt of yesterday's sins. If you spent 60, 70, 80 hours a week at work trying to make money, even if you had a second job, you would not be able to buy yourself anything that lasts to eternity! Fixing the flat tire may get you to work, but it won't get you to heaven. The weekend at the boathouse may reenergize you physically for the week of work, but it won't reenergize your spirit with the message of sins forgiven, heaven won, and Jesus on your side for the rest of the week!!!
Brothers and sisters, Jesus speaks the truth. Spiritually speaking—eternally speaking---actually speaking, the only thing that we need to spend time doing is learning God's Word.
Think about why that's true.
According to Luke 10:38-42
In a children’s theater play that I saw once, there was a character called Time. Time was an actress dressed in black with a big clock necklace hanging from her neck. Time was a minor character, but made appearances on the stage every so often.
One time she came running across the stage as the narrator read, “Time is running by.” Another time she had wings on. As she flapped across the stage, the narrator read, “Time flew by.” Time even came onto the stage eating a banana, of which she took the peel and tossed it in front of her, only to be “slipping away.”
One thing she never did though was stop.
I bet that’s one thing you wish could happen. Time could stop! As busy people, that would be a pretty neat advantage! Then, we’d be able to get everything done in the day that we’d want to. Or we could stop time, watch an entire season of Survivor, and then go back to work refreshed!
The fact is that time doesn’t stop. It always keeps moving. It moves while we’re sleeping, while we’re working, while we’re playing, while we’re on Facebook! Time keeps moving.
Since it doesn’t stop, it is important to think about how best to spend our time!
In the lesson for today, Jesus teaches us how he would have us spend our time. Take a look at Luke 10:38-42. “38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.”
Back in my bachelor days, I didn't think that preparing dinner for a few guests took all that much preparation. I'd grab a bag of double cheeseburgers from McDonalds, rent a redbox, and wipe the crumbs off the couch. A grand total of 10 minutes, tops!
Then I got married.
Turns out, having guests over for dinner does take a lot more preparation time. We spend time cooking the meals ourselves. Which is, maybe, an hour process. First, we we spend time researching the right recipe in the recipe books. Then we spend time determining if we have the right food for the meal. Then, we spend time shopping. Then, we notice that the cupboards have a smudge on them so we need to clean the kitchen. And while we have the cleaning supplies out, we need to quickly clean the house. And not just the living room and kitchen area. We have to clean behind the closed doors, because “What if they want a tour of our two bedroom apartment's master bedroom?”
The point: Preparing a nice meal for a friend takes time. That is what Martha wanted to do! It's not so wrong. She wanted to prepare a nice meal for her friend! For Jesus, her Savior! Maybe, she was aware that he had no place to lay his head. (A theme from last week.) Maybe, she knew that he was tirelessly at work in his commitment of sharing God's Word. From other parts of Scriptures, we see that she understood that she owed everything to Him and perhaps she had hoped to give thanks to him by giving him the best five star restaurant treatment that she could.
But in order to do that, she was going to need, some help. An all-hands-on-deck type moment.
Fortunately for her, Martha had a sister. A sister called Mary. A sister, who, according to verse 39, sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.
40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.
You can almost feel the tension rising.
Perhaps Martha tried to make her sister aware that she needed help. Maybe, she walked by mixing batter in a bowl really loudly. Then, maybe she tried sighing really loudly from a distance. Maybe, she even dropped a bunch of pots and pans to mimic the frustration of a busy restaurant on a Friday night.
Finally, she makes her way into the living area. She waits for a chance and asks, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Could you tell her to help me!”
And certainly, in our hard working, go get 'em, busy all the time, always stuff to do, American attitude, Jesus' answer is flooring. “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Is that how you expected Jesus to react? Let's rethink what happened.
Martha thought that she needed to spend her time doing all kinds of things. Cleaning, cooking, flower arranging, floor sweeing, table setting, Parcheesi preparring, general busy being in order to show Jesus a good meal of thanksgiving.
But Mary thought that something completely different needed to be done at that time, with the Lord of Heaven and earth at their house, She thought it was needed to spend time: Listening to what Jesus had to say.
When Martha questions Mary's choice, Jesus agrees with what Mary has chosen...but he goes farther than that. Look at what he says: Only one thing is needed. What Mary chose! Listening to my Word.
What about you? What do you think you need to spend time doing?
The first reason: God's Word deals with eternity. It is the only earthly task that does just that! It tells us that we are poor miserable sinners, confused and perplexed by how to spend time on this earth. With misplaced priorities, we spend time on anything but God's Word. In fact, we spend time living in rebellion to God's Word and this will result in an endless amount of time in the fiery lake in hell!
But God's Word also tells us how Jesus spent his time. How Jesus spent his time immersed in God's Word, perfectly following God's Word, in fact Jesus was God's Word! He spent time being kind, gentle, loving, and all of the things that were mentioned in Colossians.
Then, he spent time in an unfair courtroom. He spent time before a crowd of people shouting for his blood. He spent time hanging from a cross. He spent the last moments of his life's time on earth innocently!
There was never time better spent! Because Jesus spent this time dying on a cross for you! He spent time, three days in a grave, for you! He then spent 40 more days time appearing and reappearing to his disciples. Proof that time he spent suffering God's wrath for your sins of misplaced time management was accepted!
In other words, through faith in Jesus, brothers and sisters, you will not spend an eternal time in hell. You won't even spend any time there. You will spend all of our second life—alive! A life that does not end. A life where time stops! Where time ceases to exist! It is certain. Through faith in Jesus, you will spend your next life in the glorious gates of redemption. With the Lord!
Brothers and sisters, this is what we learn as we spend time studying God's Word!
The second reason time spent studying God's Word is necessary is because it strengthens our faith!
If you don't spend time eating breakfast you won't have as much strength to get through the day. It's a fact. You won't be able to concentrate as much. You'll be more tired out. You may not get as much work done as you want! It's why Tony the Tiger and the Trix Rabbit encourage us to eat breakfast!
The same is true with God's Word. If we don't spend time in it, how can we ever expect to get through this life with faith? To be truthful, you won't! Jesus said it this way, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful lest you fall!”
Instead, Jesus encourages us in today's lesson to cherish time in God's Word. To treat his Word like a well balanced breakfast. To treat it as food. To feed our souls so that we don't grow weaker, lose strength and fade away to spiritual death!
God's Word has more to offer than vitamins and minerals. God's Word contains the Holy Spirit! All powerful. God himself!
But isn't it important to do God's work as well? To go and share his love?
There are few plants outside our house. For a while, earlier this week, they weren't doing very well. I finally paid attention and spent some time watering them.
Guess what? Now they are blooming. Brilliant pinks, royal purples, and dazzling whites. They just needed to be fed in order to bloom.
It's the same things with us. We need to be fed God's Word in order to bloom with our actions. We need to read God's Word to know what those good deeds are that please God. We need to be in God's Word where the Holy Spirit dwells who gives us the strength and faith necessary to do these good deeds in a world full of hatred!
Brothers and sisters, there is nothing else necessary for us than to spend time in God's Word.
But let me warn you. Very soon, if not already, the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh are going to work hard to convince you that there are a host of things that are more important to spend time on than listening to God's Word!
Ignore them. They only spend time convincing you that time in God’s Word isn’t important at all, because it is the most important thing of all!
Brothers and sisters, spend time in God’s Word. Embrace the cross of time. Set aside time to be in your Bible. Set aside time to study it with other Christians. Remember how important it is and keep that in mind when you make your decisions on how to spend your time!
Blessings as you spend time in God’s Word this week.
The Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican court that rules on the forgiveness of sins, has said that indulgences may be given to those who follow the “rites and pious exercises” of the event on television, radio and through social media. (from http://www.independent.co.uk)
The official teaching of the Catholic church is that indulgences can reduce purgatory sentences.
In other words, following the Pope on Twitter can now earn you forgiveness of sins and get you closer to heaven.
Anyone else wish this were a farce from The Onion?
Think about what this would have to mean:
Romans 3:23-- “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” really means, “All have sinned, but some lucky people in the 21st century will have the chance to come closer to God’s glory with only the simple push of a button!”
Ephesians 2:8—“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith” should be changed to, “It is by the gracious gift of the internet that God has enabled you the chance to earn yourself forgiveness in a hip, new, modern way.”
John 3:16—“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and Only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life,” would read, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him and subscribes to the new pope on Twitter will be a bit closer to possibly, maybe, having eternal life.”
It’s confusing. Perplexing. Saddening.
Yes, you can certainly read an online devotion that reminds you of the forgiveness Christ earned for us. You can definitely glance at a Bible passage Tweet that strengthens your faith in Jesus, your Savior. You could even receive a quick text message from your local pastor telling you that the Bible says you are forgiven in Christ!
But to imply that it is possible to slowly earn God’s forgiveness by subscribing to some kind of cyber allegiance?
Here’s a quick reminder of what the Bible says:
1) No one can earn God’s forgiveness or heaven! Afterall, God said, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Leviticus 19:2) James added, “Whoever keeps the whole law, yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 4:20) Paul concluded, “There is no one who is perfect. Not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good; not even one.” (Romans 3:18-20)
2) Jesus died to earn forgiveness for the sins of the whole world. God spoke through Isaiah, “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) Paul wrote, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them...God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) John the Baptist cried, “Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29) Scripture also says, “When this priest (Jesus) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” (Hebrews 10:12)
3) Those who believe in Jesus as their Savior are forgiven and will be in heaven. Paul wrote, “Righteousness is given through faith in Jesus to all who believe.” (Romans 3:22) Again he said, “The Holy Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15) Jesus himself said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
The Bible teaches that no one can earn heaven. It is a gift won by Jesus and given through faith in Jesus!
The truth is that the Pope’s new message teaches differently. It says that people can earn heaven by their own work, simply by adding the Pope on Twitter!
Take a look at what the Apostle Paul said about a similar attempt in the early 1st century. Then, a group of people had begun to teach that people needed to do things in order to earn themselves forgiveness. Specifically, they were teaching that people needed to be circumcised in order to earn forgiveness. Paul wrote in Galatians 2:
We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified...I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!
May I paraphrase that last sentence? "If righteousness could be earned through a few simple taps on your iPhone, then Christ died for nothing!"
To those who were troubled by the statements of the papacy, then, may I encourage you to cling to Christ. Because there is "no other name under heaven, given to men, by which we must be saved!" (Acts 4:12) Christ died for you! His work is complete. Your salvation is complete. Put your faith in him, not your own works!
Your going to heaven is not in jeopardy if you haven't added the pope to your Twitter account.
In fact, it probably will be if you do!
Because Paul says, "Watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them." (Romans 16:17) His point: Why negatively influence your faith by reading things that point you away from Christ for your salvation? Why make yourself doubt Christ's power to save? Why make yourself worry that his sacrifice didn't count? Why put your faith in danger? Why act like the work of your salvation isn't finished?
Because it is.
Jesus said, "It is finished." With that he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)
Feel free to Tweet that.
I remember when I was younger. A tween, actually. I came across a foldout in the Sunday newspaper. It was for the BMG Record club. They had a great deal! 12 CDS for the price of a penny. Which sounded awesome! This was my chance to become a hipster music lover just like a few of my friends. I could build my own CD collection of Chumbawamba, Hootie and the Blowfish and Blue Traveler CDs.
But, there was a catch! You had commit to buying just one more CD in the next year.
That doesn't seem like a big deal now. A $10 CD plus $2 shipping and handling would get you 12 more CDs for a penny.
But I remember agonizing over that decision! How could I commit? Was I ready to commit? Could I make that commitment?
Today's question is of a bit more importance than your commitment to popular music CDs. Today's question deals with your commitment to Jesus.
How committed do you have to be to follow Jesus? Come to church every once in a while? Buy a few “Jesus' songs" for your iPhone. Own a Bible (or at least a Bible app)?
In the Gospel of Luke 9:57-62, through three different episodes, Jesus teaches us that following him is not so easy and that it takes total commitment.
1) More Committed to Jesus than Stuff!
Take a look at verses 57-58:
57 As Jesus and his disciples were walking along the road, a man said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Think about that situation. A man wants to join Jesus. He makes what seems to be a bold statement. “I WILL FOLLOW YOU WHEREVER YOU GO!” In other words, “I am committed!”
We might expect Jesus to be excited. To offer the man quick and easy access into following him.
But Jesus warns him.
Think about a fox. He's committed to doing fox stuff. He chases chickens and tricks gingerbread men. But he does get to take a break from this commitment to rest in the comfort of his den. It's similar with the birds. They are committed to doing bird stuff: building nests, finding worms, singing loud songs right outside my window early on a Saturday morning. But in the end, they too get to come home, take a break from their commitment and rest in the aforementioned nest.
Following Jesus? Well, there's no guarantee that there will be these comforts.
For Jesus, these comforts didn’t exist! He left his home. He traveled from city to city. He didn't make reservations at the local Super 8 either. He didn't always know where he'd be sleeping.
If this man was going to follow Jesus, he could expect the same thing. He would have to be more committed to Jesus than his own stuff!
What about you? Are more committed to Jesus than stuff?
Are you committed enough to give up tickets to the 11pm showing of Man of Steel in order to not miss worshipping Jesus the following morning?
Would you give up the pictures on Facebook of you partying hard with in order to be a better witness for Jesus?
Would you give up the next episode of The Bachelorette in order to attend a Bible study with Christian friends?
Would you give up your internet access in order to keep your eyes from sinful images and better follow Jesus?
Would you give up your bottle of Jack Daniels in order to better focus on pleasing your Lord?
Are you committed enough to Jesus to give up stuff for him?
In fact, sometimes we are more committed to the thought of stuff, than Jesus. “I'm committed to my job every Sunday and late into the night. I need to keep this job so that I can one day buy myself a better home. That’s the only reason I’m not more involved with my church and in personal Bible study. I’m working hard. Trying to save up for my retirement home. I'm committed to it!”
Certainly this isn’t the kind of commitment that God was talking about when he said, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Luke 10:26)
Thank God for Jesus.
Even though we haven't been more committed to him than stuff, he was more committed to us than stuff. All stuff. All his stuff.
Think about what he said, “no place to lay his head.” Meaning, Jesus, true God, creator of the Universe, who owns all things (trees, stones, mountains, valleys...and everything that humans make we these resources) gave all of this up! He didn't care if never laid on a memory foam mattress. He didn't need a Buckwheat stuffed pillow. He didn't care if he never had his own man-cave!
Jesus wasn't committed to any of his stuff, because Jesus was committed to you! You, worshipper of stuff, entrenched in sin and destined for hell, were the object of Jesus' desire. This is why he gave up everything to come to earth for you!
Although, maybe, he didn't give up everything. He did have one place to lay his head. A place that he was committed to. A place he was destined for:
An old, wooden plank. The cross.
Jesus was committed to this cross, because he was committed to you! Committed to save you from your sins! He forgives you for valuing stuff more than him!
And having done so, think about this, God promises you eternal rewards. Heavenly stuff. Other worldly stuff. Stuff without tarnish and beyond battery life. Bodies--imperishable. Ruby lined streets—remarkable!
A room in our Father's kingdom. Your own room. Never foreclosed. Never run down. Always warmed by the love of the Lord.
Brothers and sisters, commit yourself to the LORD more than the stuff of this earth, because he was commited to you!
2) More Committed to Jesus than To Do Lists.
But Commitment to Jesus means more than being willing to give up stuff to follow him. Listen to what he says to another man in verse 59. 59 Jesus said to another man, “Follow me.”But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
This seems kind of harsh. If the man's dad had died, why wouldn't Jesus let the man go and say his good byes?
But the truth is that he hadn't. If his father had died, culture would have dictated that he would be engrossed in funeral arrangements already.
So it seems that this man's father hadn't yet died. But he was getting older. Ready for hospice. Death was at the door.
This changes what the man was saying. In essence, “Jesus. I'll give you my promise. I'll follow you. Just not now. First, I need to wait for my father to die. That'll be a whole process. Then, I give you my word, then I'll be committed to you.”
Interesting. But what do you suppose would have happened when his dad did die?
“Jesus, I know I said I'd be committed to you now, but I've really gotta work on my career first, then I'll follow you. And I need a family, so can you wait until I'm married with three kids? But...wait, before I do that I'm gonna want to see the world, have all kinds of fun in college, make mistakes, and enjoy earthly life. So...can I get back to you after I retire? Then, I'll commit to you! I promise.”
It's what we so often do! Instead of viewing Jesus as more important than anything else on our ToDoList, we put him on the ToDoList....and he's at the bottom!
Even in the Day-to-Day! We get up. “Ok today's the day, that I start the day with a morning devotion. But first, I'd better go work out, because it's nice out.” Then, “I stink, so I need a shower. I can't possibly read God's Word while I stink.” Then, “I better eat breakfast now. Jesus wouldn't want me to be distracted from his Word because of an empty stomach.” Next, “Shoot. I better leave for work in order to beat the traffic.” Then, “Jesus wants me to work hard. So I better work hard and not focus on anything but work for now. I can do the devotion later.” Then, “I got a quick break. It's probably only enough time to check out Facebook. But hey God, maybe they'll be a devotion on there.”
Brothers and sisters, here's the truth: Often, we aren't more committed to Jesus than our own ToDoLists! That's not any commitment at all!
Instead, Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their own dead, (a great play on words) Let the spiritually dead, bury the physically dead. But you go and proclaim the kingdom of God!” Meaning: make this your most important thing on the ToDoList!
This is what Jesus did. There wasn't a single thing that he found more important to do than wining us the kingdom of God! He didn't pursue masters in carpentry. He didn't gather a following to become king of Judea. We never see him talking about retiring in a small country shack by the Sea of Galilee.
To Jesus, there was nothing more important than gathering into the kingdom of God!
And, on a personal note, there is nothing more important to him than gathering you into the kingdom of God.
This is why he's worked on you throughout your life. He opened the door to God's kingdom with his death and resurrection. Then, he brings us through that door with his Word. By the power of his Holy Spirit! He does this through friends who spoke God's Word to us. Devotions that empowered us. Baptism which washed us clean! Communion which empowers us! In other words, God is still working tirelessly on the number one item on his ToDolist: Bringing you to heaven!
Brothers and sisters, make him number one on your ToDoList. Make him greater than your ToDoList. If you don't get all your work done each day, so what? As long as you are sharing Jesus with your words and actions, you are accomplishing the most important goal!
Didn't get to retirement as quickly as you wanted? So what! As long as you were a faithful witness to the one who made you his number one priority, you will have done all that’s needed.
Be committed to Jesus. More than anything on your ToDoLists!
3) More Committed to Jesus than Relationships
But that's not it. For Jesus commitment to him is greater than commitment above stuff and todolists.
Check out verse 61, Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.”
That's a fair request isn't it? He's asking to go give his mom a hug. His wife a kiss. His kids a high five. Isn't that important enough? Wouldn't Jesus allow that?
“Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
I don't assume that a lot of you have been plowing in your lifetime. But perhaps you've pushed a lawnmower. If so, you know it's important to watch where you are going while you mow. That way you have straight lines and done run into anything.
You ever tried to mow while looking backwards? It's not so pretty. The lines are crooked. You stumble. Eventually you hit a stump.
It’s the same way as we go through life following Jesus. He wants us to remain focused.
I think that we'd like to think that family and friends will be a help to us as we follow Jesus.
But not always:
“Why do you go to church anyways? They just want your money. It's all a big sham!”
“You're telling me that what I'm doing is a sin? You're being judgmental. You're not being loving to me...your own son! Stop talking about it or I'm not going to be talking to you ever again”
“Sins forgiven? Really!?! I know what you did growing up. I know how awful you are. You're going to have to work hard to win my forgiveness and certainly God's!”
How do you react to family criticisms of your faith? If you're like me then, perhaps there are times you've said nothing. You've stayed quiet. Backed down. Tried to preserve friendship at the expense of no longer following Jesus.
“But blood is thicker than anything!”
What about the one who gave his blood for you?
Think about Jesus once more. His own brothers, scripture tells us, didn't even believe in him. They thought him crazy! They thought he was speaking hogwash. (John 7:5)
Did Jesus stop what he was doing so his brothers wouldn't be so embarrassed and would go grab a beer with him at the local pub?
Not so much.
And what about us!?! We, his brothers and sisters, who have denied him, ignored him, pretended not to care about him in order to save our earthly relationships. Has he quieted down in order not to embarrass us? Has he backed down his stance on social sins in order not to turn us into bigots?
Not at all.
Yet, in spite of us. In spite of his brothers. Without their support. Without our support. He marched to the cross. He did what was more loving. He continued his mission to save us. To save us family!
It meant he was alone. On that cross abandoned by family and friends. Abandoned by his heavenly Father!
But none of that mattered to Jesus. What mattered was saving his family.
What mattered was saving you.
So what’s interesting is that by not following his brother’s requests, by making ‘turmoil’ in his family, Jesus was actually showing greater love for his family than ever before! (After his death and resurrection, two of his brothers put their faith in him and probably wrote two books of the Bible: James and Jude).
The same is true for us. Because there is no greater care for family, than care of souls! That means that when we are more committed to Jesus than our family, we are actually more committed to our family than we were before!
It's why we are willing to suffer the ridicule of our brother in order that we might lead them to faith in Jesus. It's why we suffer estrangement from cousins that God might work through your warnings to bring them closing to his family. It's why we are willing to deal with the crying and shouting of kids who don't want to go to church, in order to bring them to church where God takes care of his family!
It was the 1970s.
The Communist soldiers had discovered their illegal bible study. As the Pastor was reading from the bible, men with guns suddenly broke into the home, terrorizing the believers who had gathered to worship. They shouted insults and threatened to kill the Christians. The leading officer pointed his gun at the pastor’s head. “Hand me your bible” he demanded. Reluctantly the pastor handed over his bible, his prized possession. With a sneer on his face, the guard threw the bible to the floor. He glared at the small congregation. “We will let you go” he growled, “but first you must spit on this book of lies. Anyone who refuses will be shot.” The believers had no choice but to obey the officer’s order.
A soldier pointed his gun at one of the men. “You first." The man slowly got up and knelt down by the Bible. Reluctantly, he spat on it, praying, “Father, please forgive me.” He stood up and walked to the door. The soldiers stood back and allowed him to leave.
“Okay, you!” the soldier said, nudging a woman forward. In tears, she could barely do what he demanded. She spat only a little, but it was enough. She too was allowed to leave.
Quietly a young girl came forward. Overcome with love for her Lord, she knelt down and picked up the bible. She wiped off the spit with her dress. “What have they done to your Word? Please forgive them,” she prayed.
It was only moments later that she saw her committed Lord’s forgiving face.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus calls for total commitment. But he does so, only because he is totally committed to you! He proved it in his innocent life. He proved it on the cross. He proved coming out of the triumphant tomb!
May this message of total commitment build you up and lift you up into total commitment for him. Amen.
Luke 4:14-21 “Let Freedom Ring!”
“Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
These are the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior's famous “I Have A Dream” speech. He spoke these words in protest against the awful way that African-Americans were being treated at that time. He spoke these words to support those who were being shackled and oppressed by racism and segregation. He spoke these words hoping to inspire others to join him in his cause against injustice. He spoke these words to all who desired freedom.
This is just one example of the many times in history where people have spoken up and fought for their freedom. Wars have raged and battles have been contested for the sake of freedom, because everyone wants freedom. People seem to have a natural desire to be free from certain things that would bind us and keep us down. We wish to be free to make our own choices when it comes to religion and government. We want to be free to live our lives our own way, and to be considered equal alongside everyone else. We wish to be free from tyranny and oppression; we wish to be free from violence and danger. And perhaps most of all, we want to live our lives without fear. Yes, indeed, everybody wants to have this freedom.
Did you know that this is the very reason Jesus came to earth? For freedom! That's exactly what the Scripture from Isaiah said and exactly what Jesus fulfilled. Luke 4 tells us, The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Jesus. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Did you see that? The whole section is about freedom? Freedom for the poor from their states of poverty. Freedom for prisoners from their chains. Freedom for the blind from their inability to see. Freedom for the oppressed from their oppression!
When we look at these Scriptures, we see that Jesus was all about freedom.
There was just one problem: the people who heard this message didn't have any idea what kind of freedom Jesus was talking about. They knew their Bible and knew that many of the prophecies of Isaiah spoke of the restoration of Jerusalem and freedom for Israel. So they wrongly took these prophecies to refer to an earthly king that would give them release from a physical oppression.
More specifically, they thought it would mean the release from Roman rule. It would mean that they would stop hearing loud commands barked at them in Latin. They would stop hearing the clanking of Centurion metal as the soldiers marched by. It would mean that they would no longer fear the grotesque ways of Roman punishment -- such as battles with the lions and crucifixion.
But as bad as the Romans were, this was the least of the Israelite's worries. They had a much worse ruler that enslaved them. Sin.
Sin handcuffed their lives. It enslaved their thoughts. It ruined their relationships. And it was too great for them to break free from! Then, sin slapped on another shackle: namely, the belief that their sins weren’t that big of a deal, and they could easily make up for them by following a few laws. Then they were gagged by their own spiritual leaders who promoted and taught such false doctrine and unbelief. Finally they were tied up by their own blindness, unable to see the truth when it was right in front of their face. Oh, how they needed freedom, and oh, how they needed Jesus.
We are the same way. We need freedom from our sins. Just think of how sin infects your day:
You get up and immediately start grumbling because "This isn't the day, the Lord has made; but another day I have to go to work." Already the chain of sin has been attached. Soon more links will be added. You complain about breakfast because it wasn’t what you wanted. You worry about that day, failing to trust in God to care for you. You say something unpleasant as you have to adjust the seat in your car, because the last person to drive was a bit shorter. You pound the steering wheel in frustration at the 'jerk' who cuts in front of you on the way to work. You get to work and bad mouth your boss to another coworker. Then, you spend the next three hours trying to waste time on Facebook and doing anything but work. You take a longer lunch break than allowed, but are sure to sign in that you were there the whole time. When work is over, you come home and ignore your spouse. You neglect your chores. You refuse to do your homework! Then, you watch a few shows that would make your grandma blush, before you drink a few too many shots of alcohol and go to bed before even thinking about saying a prayer to the Lord.
Brothers and sisters, there is just no stopping it. Sins come one right after the other. We are so tied down by our sins that we soon don’t even recognize most of them. And once they are there, what can be done?
"Oh to be released from this bondage and oppression! Won’t someone offer us some help? Won’t someone get us out of this jail of evil?"
And then Jesus speaks...
“He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Do you hear Jesus' message to you? In him, we are free!
Because Jesus became a slave to our sin! He took it on himself and followed our sin to the cross. He was crucified for our sin. Brutally punished. Then, he became a slave to death. Into the grave he went!
And with his death, one by one the links of the chain release, fall to the ground, and disappear.
Then, the miraculous! The Son of God breaks free from death. He comes out of the grave that held him as a slave to death. He comes to the freedom of life and declares, “I release you from the burden of your sin. I declare you not guilty of your crimes against me and against others. I free you from the debt that you owe. It is now on me. Come, taste my freedom! Come enjoy life apart from the guilt of sin! Come, to the freedom of heaven!"
There has been a lot of talk lately about captivity and freedom with release of the three women from their home made prison of 10 years in Ohio! I think that's hard to imagine what it must have been like to live imprisoned in a basement or backyard. Chained to the wall. Unable to see family or friends. Barely even remembering family or friends! How painful to think of!
But how great do you suppose it felt the first moment each woman knew she was free? How awesome do you think that feeling of liberation was when it finally came? I doubt words can adequately describe it!
And yet even as great as that may be, it doesn’t compare to the freedom that we have through Christ. To know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are no longer bound to hell. To know with 100% certainty that our sins have been paid for. To have the ultimate hope of eternal blessedness and happiness with God. Can there be anything better? Not a chance. The words of Martin Luther King seem so appropriate here. “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
Jesus was sent to proclaim the joyous message of freedom to the world. And no doubt it gave him great pleasure every time that he did so. And now he gives us that pleasure as well. We now have the message of freedom from sin and death, the greatest message in all the world, the greatest message for the world. Let freedom ring! Every time that we share the news of a loving Savior with someone else, we get to experience it all over again. How cool is that? God gives us the opportunity for never ending joy while we serve him.
Every time you get to say, “Jesus Christ has died to free you from your sins and rose to life so you could live with him forever.” The Holy Spirit speaks in your heart as well saying, “Yes, and all this he has done for you too.”
So let freedom ring! Let it ring from your homes as you gather around the Word. Let it ring from this church as we worship and celebrate the sacraments. Let freedom ring from you in the workplace. Let it ring from you in the car. Let it ring from the soccer fields and basketball courts to the band rooms and the classrooms. Let freedom ring from North Raleigh, to South Raleigh. From Durham to Cary. To Duke to UNC. Let freedom ring in and amongst these places and everywhere in between and beyond. Let the message of Christ’s freedom be heard again and again as we always say with joy, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
This is Gabby. Gabby is my parent's 8 week old Golden Retriever. Gabby likes to eat, play and mostly...rest.
She rests in the morning. She rests mid-morning. She rests before and after lunch. She rests in the early afternoon, the mid afternoon, and the late afternoon. She rests at supper and at night.
She rests, because she's tired a lot.
Knowing that puppies get tired, my parents bought a really fancy bed for Gabby so that she could get good rest. It's warm. Cozy. Plush. Perfect for a puppy.
Check out this picture. There she is, literally, inches away from the comfort of her own bed, instead opting for the uncomfortable coldness of linoleum.
But I can't help but think that we do the same thing.
For instance, we run from school, to the YMCA, to Taekwondo practice just to keep our kids entertained. We work late into the night to finish deadlines that our iPhones remind us about. Our minds are swirling with deadlines, tasks, and to dos that the mental anguish wipes us out!
In other words, we're tired as a puppy!
Knowing we'd be tired in this life, Jesus himself says, "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest!" (Mt. 11:28)
We look over at the devotional book by our mantle and pass out half way through thinking about opening the cover.
Paul reminds us that "Our comfort abounds through Christ." (2 Cor. 1:5)
We think comfort comes from a glass of scotch and a marathon of House reruns on Hulu late into the night.
Jesus says, "Take my yoke upon you and you will find rest for your souls." (Mt. 11:29)
We take upon ourselves more and more earthly tasks in hopes that the feeling of accomplishment will give us rest.
So, we're kinda like Gabby the puppy. Our comfort of perfect rest in Jesus is right there, but we stop short. Instead, we choose the cold, hard, un-restful comforts of this world!
Because true rest is only found in Jesus. Only in Jesus can anyone rest from mental anguish of their past sins. Only in Jesus can anyone find the comfort that God loves you even if you don't complete all the tasks on your to do list. Only in Jesus can anyone find the gentle peace of his continual love in the midst of the hurried and frantic events of tomorrow.
True rest is only found in Jesus.
So, even though it can be hard, make it to your spiritual bed. Read that late night devotion. Stop work for that midday prayer. Go to that evening Bible study. Get up for church on a Sunday morning.
Don't miss out on this comfort. Make it to your divine bed. Find some spiritual peace.
Rest. Now. Always. Forever. In the bed of Jesus' forgiving love.
PRAYER: Dear LORD of all rest, I must admit that I do not always turn to you for rest. In fact, I don't turn to you much at all. Forgive me Lord. Forgive me for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, who is our rest. Give me rest in knowing about your forgiveness. Give me strength to turn to you day after day for rest and comfort. In Jesus' name, Amen.
This Thursday is the Fourth of July. A time when we celebrate our nation. A time when we celebrate our Freedom. A time when we the birthday of the United States.
But are we really that United?
Just last week, a monumental decision took place in the Supreme Court about gay marriage. Many people celebrated in the streets, while others took to blogs to express their supreme disgust.
The Presidential election wasn't that long ago. The nation was basically split in half! 51% to 49%. This split wasn't just laxadasical either. Rather, these people were vehemently split in half!
How come? The Economy. Foreign relations. Gay marriage. Tax cuts. Health care reform.. Gun control. Abortion. Immigration laws. These are just some of the many topics that have deeply, ruthlessly divided the nation, emotionally charging people and putting them on polar opposite ends of belief!
It's enough to make the United States feel more like the Divided States.
But, you know what? We shouldn't be surprised. Unity is hard to come by. Rock bands break up because having your name appear first on the CD cover is more important than sharing the message of your music. Championship football teams break apart because money is more important than winning another Super Bowl. Business partnership fall apart because the bottom line is more important than working together to serve the world.
Why is unity so hard to accomplish?
I think the answer lies in what we all have in common.
I saw something a bit comical at the dog park the other day. A woman, who was possibly dog sitting, came into the park with six different dogs attached to these large leash carrying device. Before she entered the park, controlling the dogs seemed to be very easy. All the dogs sat nicely, because they wanted her to open the door that they might get into the park.
But then, things changed drastically. As the gate swung open, the German Shepherd tried to run to the right because he wanted to sniff the trees. The Black Lab ran straight forward to run and greet all his friends in the park. The two collies took notice of the tennis ball that just landed to the left, while the poodle jumped at her knees to be picked up and the big old American bull dragged behind because he wanted to go slow.
Isn't the same true for human beings? We only remain united with others as long as we get what we want. In other words, the one thing we all have in common is that we are all selfish! The very thing that destroys unity!
It's what happens in destroyed marriages. People get married because they want the loving feeling and romantic companionship they feel from the other person. When that feeling is no longer what the person wants or when one decides that he wants a new romantic companionship, the marriage suffers if it isn't over.
Now let's talk church. A church is a generally large group of people united around a system of beliefs that have the same goal. How can a group of people, of all different ages, of all different backgrounds, and of all different likes and dislikes possibly remain united?
I think our text for today, Romans 15:4-6 shares the answer. Listen to what it says:
4 Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Did you see the word unity in there? Notice where it comes from. God. God gives unity.
And it has to be this way!?! How else would a group of sinful, selfish people, of all different background and experiences ever be or remain united?
Afterall, we are sinful, selfish human beings. And it isn't that hard for our sinful selfishness to rear it's ugly head...even when it comes to church matters: “I want the walls painted this color because I like that color. If someone thinks otherwise, they can stick it!” “I think the palm trees up front look better to the right of the pulpit. Grrr! I'm so upset I won't be able to go to church for weeks! “I like this style of music best. There really isn't any other style of music that's any good. Those who think differently than me can leave!” “I love having the Kroger brand Oreos from the store. Plus they are cheap. That's the only thing that should be served at fellowship time. If any thing else gets served, fine. I'll just leave.”
With such a selfish, sinful attitude, we could never be nor ever remain united.
You know what's strange though? This is the very first truth that God's Word unites us in.
For the Bible teaches that we are all the same. Sinful. Selfish. Humans. Deserving of God's wrath. In need of saving. There is no difference among us. It doesn't matter if you grew up in North Carolina or North Dakota. If you speak English, Spanish, or Hindi. If you like Duke, UNC, or NC State. You are a sinner!
But this only gives way to a second important truth: Jesus died to save us all. All of us. The young, single Hispanic mother. The well-off, Arabian Entrepeneur. The older pair of snowbirds who recently moved into their retirement home. The struggling family which is on their third apartment this past year. The African American gentleman. The Asian grandmother. Even...(And this is the hardest for me to believe because I know him too well)...even that 28 year old white guy preacher from Wisconsin. Jesus died to save all of us. We are united in this truth!
And what's interesting is that in order to win salvation for us, Jesus had to unite himself with the worst parts of us. He literally united himself with the unruly, selfish, awful, sinful part of us that no one would ever want to unite with. Yet Jesus did. He united himself with our sinful self and took it on as his own. It's why he suffered. It's why he died.
But, because they were united with him, our sins died as well. They were buried in the tomb. The dark door of no return slammed shut on them.
But then Jesus separated himself from our sins. Jesus returned from the grave, but our sins remained. Earlier in Romans 6:3-5, Paul makes that very asseration, “Don't, you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”
Brothers and sisters. This Jesus is our hope. The very hope that Paul describes in verse 5 of our text. The very hope that unites us.
No longer are we completely defined by the words: North Carolinian. Northern. Southern. White. African American. Asian American. Arabian American. Native American. Old. Young. Married. Single. Any of these.
We are Christians. Followers of Jesus. Walking Together.
God's love is greater than that. For not only does God give us unity through the Scriptures, but God keeps us united in this hope through the Scriptures! Look at what verse 4 says, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Look at how Scripture unites us. First, it teaches us endurance.
Moms know about endurance. Say they are taking their child to the Doctor. And the entire way there their child in the back seat is screaming, crying, and pitching a fit! Mom wants to stop. Mom wants to turn around. Mom wants to drop kids off at the corner McDonalds and pick him up later today. But she doesn't. She endures in order to take her kid to the Doctor.
Scripture teaches us to endure just like those moms. But instead of enduring whining and screaming, we endure something a lot simpler. Differences of opinion.
Ever heard the big religious word "adiaphora?" Adiaphora is the neutral zone. It is the zone where something is neither commanded nor forbidden by God.
It is in this zone of adiaphora that Scriptures teaches us NOT to be selfish, but to endure different opinions that are different from ours in order to remain united with Christ! The stuff that IS commanded and forbidden by God? That's untouchable. That remains the same. But anything we endure for the sake of Christ.
It's why UNC fans worship opposite NC State fans. It's why Democrats worship opposite Republicans. It's why people who like modern Christian praise songs worship opposite people who enjoy the classic hymns. It's why people who have no idea how to turn on a computer sit opposite of those that have at least three mini computers with them in this church!
In other words, we endure one another, because in Jesus we are no longer focusing on ourselves, but we focus on others!
Endurance isn't the only way Scripture keeps us united. It also encourages us. For “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Did you know that Wisconsin Synod Conservative Lutheran is not the religion of choice in this area. Raleigh is not Lutheransville. In fact, as our area becomes more and more global (and more and more secular) it's not necessarily Christianville anymore either.
These facts could leave us feeling like Elijah. He was up in a cave—hiding, because he was afraid he was the only one who was left that believed in the LORD.
Just as God comforted Elijah reminding him that he was not alone, but that God had reserved thousands in Israel who had not yet bowed down to Baal, so Scripture comforts us. It reminds us that we are not alone. It encourages by reminding us that we are united with hoards of Christians who have gone before. Disciples. Prophets. Ordinary people.
Finally, Scriptures encourages us that we are united with Jesus—who promises “Surely, I will be with you always to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28:19)
God has blessed us even beyond that. Because there are other Christians in this world. In fact, we even have half a million other people who are completely united in our beliefs. Members of our Synod. Members who are trained by pastors who teach the Word in its truth and purity. Pastors who are trained by professors who teach the Word in its truth and purity. Professors who were trained by professors who teach the Word in its truth and purity.
The common thread? Scripture. The Word. It is the blessing of God that unites us in Christ. As Paul says in verse 5, May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.”
God's Word is powerful! It has kept us united in the past. It keeps us united right now. It will keep us united in the future!
United, we walk together toward a goal. Verse 6 tells us this goal, “so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
What else will glorify God more than sharing the truths of His Word with the world!
This is what we do when we gives 10 percent of our church offering to our Wisconsin Synod. Those funds go to support mission work around the world. Sharing the Gospel in 30 different countries. Serving 150,000 more souls worldwide. Opening 10 new home missions each year. Translating good, truthful Bible materials into languages that do not have good truthful Bible materials. Training pastors and teachers to go and share the truths of God's Word in the world for generations to come!
Blessing upon blessing! We even get blessings in return! Synod dollars from Arizona, Alaska and Louisiana, helped to train me in God's Word that I might in turn train you.
A teen group from Ohio came and delivered 1700 fliers about Precious Lambs to the community. (2 families signed up already.) Another group from New Ulm, MN will be coming in late July.
Walking together in mission work is beautiful!
This is our goal in North Raleigh too.
With that group from New Ulm, we will be getting out into the community. Getting to know our neighbors. Learning about our neighbors. Showing we care for our neighbors that we might have a better idea of how to serve this area with the Gospel! sec
Then, we're going to take that information and dissect it. We'll determine what outreach ministries we can do to best serve the community. We'll learn what worship songs we might include in worship to make this place feel more like home to the community. We'll the people are who don't know about Jesus and we'll 'hit 'em hard' with the Gospel!
Maybe, based on that information, we'll end up doing things in worship and as outreach that aren't our personal favorites! So what! We will be fine with it, because we are united in sharing the true message of Jesus! United, Paul says, with one voice and heart!
It's kind of like a choir. In a big choir, there there are hundreds of different voices singing 8 or more different parts. But what's amazing is when a choir with so many different voice and different parts practices and sings together, the message is beautiful. It's louder than before. It's as if the angels themselves are singing
Brothers and sisters, may this be the way we work together. United...as many different individuals with many different backgrounds...united as one voice. Sharing the Gospel message with our community. Through the Synod, sharing the Gospel message with the World.
May God hold us united in these goals to the Glory of God the Father and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.