Devotional Message, Sermon Prompts

Which Leper Are You This Thanksgiving?

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On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw, them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:11-17
Sigmund Freud had a horrible cancer to his mouth, and in 1926, he also developed heart trouble and spent time in a sanatorium. He returned to Vienna with a yearning for morning drives, and for the first time, he said, he experienced the glories of springtime in Vienna. “What a pity,” he wrote, “that one has to grow old and ill before making this discovery.” Thanksgiving is a great time to stop and think. To reflect on the things God has done for us this past year.

Luke has given us a story from the life of Jesus that helps us think about the importance of being thankful for God’s goodness to me. And this story can help us to grow in our understanding of having a grateful spirit. With the story of the ten lepers, Luke emphasizes this rare gift of a thankful spirit. Luke is the only Gospel writer who tells this story. It is possible that Luke met the grateful leper years later and heard the story from this man’s very lips.

Notice Jesus’ final words: “One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. And Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give God praise?'” Only one had taken the time to thank the person who had made his recovery possible.

Have you noticed how infrequent gratitude is expressed these days? It seems like people have just come to expect everything to be given to them.

A man writing at the post office desk was approached by an older fellow who had a postcard in his hand. The old man said, “Sir, could you please address this note for me?” The man gladly did so, and he agreed to write a short message on the postcard, and he even signed it for the man, too.

Finally, the man doing the writing said to the older man, “Now, is there anything else I can do for you?”

The old fellow thought about it for a minute, and he said, “Yes, at the end could you just put, ‘P.S. Please excuse the sloppy handwriting.'”

How often do you hear people express sincere gratitude? This Thanksgiving season try this experiment. Keep track of the number of complaints you hear each day, and compare that with the number of times you hear people express sincere words of gratitude. And do me a favor and when you read this post record the results in the comment section.

In the account of the Ten Lepers, it is evident that only one was grateful and showed a heart of gratitude. I think it is appropriate to connect the attitude of gratitude to the writings of the Apostle Paul in Romans 12. Paul writes, in Romans,

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. Romans 12:1-8

John Stott in his book on Romans points out that gratitude flows out from an appreciation of God’s grace. Stott says that “there is no greater incentive to holy living than a contemplation of the mercies of God.” So, our thankfulness and our attitude of gratitude flow out of our sense of the mercy God has showered on us. If you struggle with, bring grateful it is possible that you also struggle to receive God’s grace in your life. Maybe you feel you don’t deserve that kind of love and attention from the Father? It is possible there is some unforgiven sin in your past that still haunts you? Could it be that there are just too many broken relationships in your past that you cannot seem to keep and maintain any relationships? Whatever it is that is keeping you outside of God’s grace know this, you are forgiven. You have been forgiven not because of who you are but because of what Jesus Christ has done for you. It is possible those other nine lepers didn’t feel worthy to come back and give thanks. Their past sins may have haunted them also, but look at what they missed out on a chance to have all the pain of the past forgiven.

In the parable of the ten lepers when the one realizes how powerfully God’s grace and mercy has been showered on him, his response is, Jesus I can’t thank you enough. You stooped down and showed me a lowly poor miserable sinner, amazing and all-encompassing grace. Dear Savior, you took time out of your day to reach down and heal me and not only physically but spiritually. When others turn, and run the other way, you stopped and embraced me. Lord, when I think of what you have given me back, all I can do is to you my gratitude and love.

That is our response as well. When we stop this Thanksgiving and reflect on what God through Jesus Christ has given us back our spiritual response is gratitude. Notice I said our spiritual response because I believe our natural response is to take all of this for granted. To assume that somehow we deserve God’s mercy and grace when we deserve wrath and punishment. But our spiritual response understands exactly what we have been given back. Spiritually we know that we are poor miserable sinners in need of God’s grace. Spiritually we realize that God did not need to waste any of his precious time with us.

Spiritually we understand that like the leper we stand before a holy and righteous God covered with the sores and the scabs of our sins. But instead of turning away Jesus comes to us grabs hold of us and tells us that he will take that uncleanness away and make us whole again. He will allow us through his death and resurrection back into fellowship with him and the Father. We give thanks to God for his mercy shown to us through his Son and our Savior Jesus Christ.

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Devotional Message, Sermon Prompts

What are you Hiding in your Closet?

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When you visit someone’s home or office, it’s not uncommon to see certain symbols of success on display: plaques, certificates, diplomas, pictures, trophies, ribbons—it’s only natural for people to show these symbols of their greatest achievements. In my office hangs my two first place bowling trophies. If you have an hour, I can walk you through the frame by frame account of how we brought home the gold.

You won’t find plaques of failures in my office, and there are many I could display. Like, the time I missed that 7-10 split, and we lost the Pastor’s bowling championship game. Or during the championship Intramural Basketball final where I was supposedly called for a phantom foul that cost us the title. Seldom will you find reminders of people’s past failures? Don’t get me started on sermons that bombed. Those are my favorite, you have this great idea, and for whatever reason, it just doesn’t connect with people. These failures are usually hidden away in the back of the top shelf of the closet or a box in the attic.

In one of those places, there might be wedding pictures, painful reminders of a failed marriage; you might find old stationery containing a love letter from a failed relationship or business cards from a venture that went sour; there might be photos and letters from a lost loved one. Those are not the kind of things we keep on public display. We do our best to keep those reminders out of sight, and that’s the way it should be.

In this blog, we’re talking about the forgiveness of God. Admitting we are in need of God’s forgiveness implies that we have failed. We don’t display that failure either or try and pretend it never happened. The failure remains, the pain is still real, the need for reconciliation all the more evident. We need God’s forgiveness because we’ve all sinned and failed God.

Today we will look at a passage from Scripture where Jesus addresses this issue.

THE SETTING

To understand the parable that Jesus would use to teach this valuable lesson, we need to know the context of Luke 7.

Jesus had been invited by a Pharisee named Simon over to his house for dinner. In biblical times, it was virtuous to ask a teacher over for dinner, if they were from out of town, or had just taught in the synagogue. The homes were built around central courtyards in which the formal meals were held. The guests would recline on their left elbows while sitting on low-lying couches. They would eat with their right hands. Their feet would extend away from the table in keeping with the belief that the feet were unclean and offensive by nature.

Religious individuals often opened their homes for the poor. In banquets where unwanted people could enter, they were to remain quiet and away from the couches. They were just permitted to observe the discussion of the host and the guests. After the meal was complete, the poor might receive some of the leftovers.

In the midst of the meal, something shocking happened. The Bible uses the phrase, “When a woman,” the literal translation is, “And look, a woman!” It wasn’t worded that way because there was a lady present, but rather because of the type of woman she was. The Bible describes her as having “lived a sinful life.” A sinful life would mean that either she was married to a known sinner or she was a prostitute.

At some point, this lady must have had a remarkable encounter with Jesus. The account makes it clear that she is a broken woman, weeping because of the grace she had found from this rabbi from Nazareth. As she goes to pour perfume on his feet, her tears fall from her face and onto his dust-covered feet, streaking them. She was embarrassed and didn’t know what to do. She didn’t have a towel. So, she used what she had; she used her hair. This action, like many of her actions, was socially unacceptable because a woman was to loosen her hair only in the presence of her husband. The Talmud says that a woman could be divorced for letting down her hair in the presence of another man. The offense is severe, so much so that the rabbis put a woman undoing her hair in the same category as taking off her blouse and baring all. The guests and onlookers were in intense shock as they saw the events unfold before them.

The Pharisee was speechless. He doesn’t say anything, but he thinks it. The Pharisee’s thoughts betray him. Jesus picks up on what is running through his mind. “Does this ‘prophet’ not know who this woman is? Does he not realize that she’s a prostitute? Well, I’d never even talk to her, let alone let her grope me like that. I must be more righteous than he.”

Jesus calmly looks across the table at the Pharisee and says, “Simon, let me tell you something.” Then he begins to tell the Pharisee a short story with a valuable lesson about dealing with the mistakes of our past and moving on, about forgiving and forgetting.

THE STORY
The story is not long. In fact, it only takes two verses to tell the whole thing. In these two verses, a fundamental principle is proclaimed. Jesus said:

“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debt of both. Now, which of them will love him more?”
The denarii were equivalent to a day’s wage. So, one man owed 500 days worth of work and another 50 days. Since individuals did not work on the Sabbath, it was going to take the one 20 months to work off the debt and the other two months. Both of these men were in a bad place financially. Both owed a large sum of money, and neither was going to be able to repay it.

The banker had several options. He could force them into his service. He could have them thrown into the debtor’s prison. Or he could choose to forgive the debt. Now, I recognize that my banking aptitude is pretty small. But it would seem that forgiving the debt would be the worst decision financially for him. Others might hear about what he did and try and take advantage of him. Some of his fellow moneylenders might make fun of him. Despite the risk it was, he forgave them.

THE STINGER

The stinger to the parable was simple: We are indebted to God at a price that we cannot repay, and He wants to forgive us. The parable did not deal with the amount of sin in the heart, but rather the acknowledgment of the fact that there was a sin.

Jesus recognized that we are each coming from different life experiences. Some of us have tried to live a good life for our entire lives. We’ve always sought to conduct ourselves properly. We still make mistakes. We fail to meet the mark all the time. Others of us have lived a hard life. We’ve made glaring errors. Everybody knows it. We can’t hide it from anybody. The Bible tells us that everybody sins, that nobody’s perfect.

“For all have sinned and fell short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

However, we don’t have to end there. God wants to forgive us, and if we come to Him and admit our failures, the Bible promises that He will not only forgive, but He’ll forget.

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. Psalm 103:8-13

Jesus has a message for you today. Go to that closet where you are hiding those boxes of failures, guilt, unforgiven sins, and regret. There are probably dusty. Blow the dust off of them and open the boxes. Look deep inside. The trophies of your broken past pains are gone. Reach inside. Take out the object that is inside. It is a cross and attached to that cross is a note.

Read it. “You are looking for the symbols of your hurtful past. The things you are holding on to that are holding you back from receiving the love God has to offer unconditionally. Jesus took your trophies of regret, your tokens of guilt and replaced them with this cross. It is a reminder that you are forgiven. Your debt paid. Signed Jesus.” Know that God loves you. God has forgiven you. Live in the peace of that relationship with God.

Others probably are only understanding this for the first time, and you still struggle with why would God care so much. Wherever we stand in the process, God wants us to not only rejoice in that forgiven relationship with him but to take that a step further and share a similar relationship with those around us. To those who have hurt us, or who have made mistakes and failed us in life, it is time to give them the same gift God has given us, Forgiveness. I love the quote of E. H. Chapin, “Never does the human soul appear so strong and noble as when it forgoes revenge and dares to forgive an injury.”

Devotional Message, Sermon Prompts

Three Critical Lessons About Life’s Storms

 

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A friend from my days at the seminary and I were catching up on life. We talked about scheduling a “family reunion” of sorts to get back together with some of the others we struggled with on this journey through the gauntlet of studies, fieldwork, internship, placement day and finally graduation. We noticed something rather alarming: many of the classmates are no longer in the ministry and some are no longer walking with the Lord. How can the fire that burned so bright in their hearts back then have been snuffed out in just a few short years?

There are some reasons. Life is hard and many struggles, to keep on top of the storms. Some people crumble under the weight of the ministry of their congregations. No amount of faithful service could overcome; they’re discouraged with the church. Others collapsed because someone close to them died. The pain of that loss was devastating. Still, other people surrendered when their marriage crumbled.

In this post, we will learn how to handle the storms of life. In the first section of this two-part message, we will study the storms of life.  The second post will give you the needed tools to navigate through the storms of life.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE STORMS OF LIFE

  1. Storms happen to everyone.

At a fundamental level, this makes sense.  However, when the storm forms on the horizon logic goes out the window, it is one thing for the storms to happen to someone else but this shouldn’t be happening to me. We rationalize that we don’t deserve this.  Jesus would remind us of a different reality.  He said, “He [God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 5:45

We are all familiar with the wind and waves of the storm.  In life, we have had to endure the storms of life. To be honest, I have tried to reject this concept in my personal life. Does this principle sound familiar? I organized my life a certain way: If I just get my income to a certain level, or if I get a handle on my relationships, and if I manage my schedule, once all those areas of my life are aligned I can prevent the storms. Come closer; it doesn’t work that way. The rain will still come.  The storms will still happen.  And they will happen to everyone.

In August of 2017, what happened to Houston is a prime example.  People planned. The residents gathered provisions.  Those Texans did all the hurricane preparedness steps, but no one could imagine the devastation that would occur.  No one could predict the severity of the storm.  The same is true in life.  You can prepare for life’s inevitable storms, but you can’t predict when and how bad the storms will be.

Obviously, some of the storms we face are the result of our sinfulness and our own bad decisions, but many are not.

The first thing you have to remember about the storm is that storms happen to everyone. Now, if your bad behavior has caused the storm in your life, obviously you need to change your behavior. But if it’s not your fault, then you need to accept the fact that storms happen to everyone.  The rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

The second thing we need to know about the storm is:

  1. The pain doesn’t last forever.

If you’re going through the storm of divorce right now, you need to remind yourself that it won’t hurt this much forever. If you’ve lost someone you love, you need to tell yourself that the depth of the emptiness of your loss won’t last forever. If you are battling with depression, that sorrow and the emptiness will not last forever. There may be damage to deal with, you may have to pick up the pieces and move on, you may have to rebuild your life, but the pain that is caused by the suddenness of the storm will not last forever.

There’s another thing you need to know about the storm.

 

  1. Sometimes, in the midst of the storm, God seems to be silent.

In Mark 4 there’s a story about a storm.  Jesus and his disciples were on a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee, and suddenly a massive storm arose, the Bible called it “a furious squall” and began to rock the ship. The waves were crashing against the vessel to the point that it almost capsized, and the disciples were convinced that they were about to die. It was a ferocious storm, and they all panicked.

Where was Jesus in the midst of this? Mark tells us, “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.” Mark 4:38

I love the little detail that Mark adds. Jesus was asleep…on a cushion. In other words, while the disciples were staring death in the face, he was sleeping comfortably on a pillow!

Of course, we know how the story ends. Jesus calmed the storm, and they made it safely to the other side of the sea. But that doesn’t change the fact that in the midst of the storm, he seemed to be unaware of the crisis.

There will be times in your life when it seems like God isn’t paying attention to what is happening to you. There will be times when God is frustratingly silent. During these times, all you have to cling to is your faith.

When we read the story of the disciples panicking in the midst of the storm, we tend to think, “How foolish of them. Why would they be afraid? Jesus was right there with them, didn’t they know he would take care of them?

“The same can be said about us: How foolish we are to be afraid during the storm. Jesus is right here with us. Don’t we know that he will take care of us?” After all, he said,

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

It may seem that God is unaware of the crisis in our lives, but we have his promise otherwise. We have his promise that he knows every detail of our lives, and he is with us every step of the way. The same God who gave His Son as a ransom to save you will never abandon you in your hour of deepest need.  Next Wednesday, the follow-up post, “Three Ways to Navigate the Storms of Life.”

The other post in this short two-part series:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/09/13/three-ways-to-overcome-lifes-storms

 

Devotional Message, Sermon Prompts

How Do We Find Space for Jesus In Our Busy Lives?

 

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“Busyness…can be a way to avoid God, the meaning of life, and life itself.” -Sidney Macaulay

In a Washington Post column by Megan Wycklendt entitled, “Six Reasons to Stop using the Word ‘busy’” she makes six key insights about busyness. In this post, I will take those six key insights and add Biblical insights.

  1. It keeps you from being present.

Not being present hits far too close to home.  I recall when I was young having the mindset; work hard while you can and one day when you are old and gray then you will have time to look back over all your accomplishments and stop and soak in those memories of the past.  The issue with that line of thinking is because I was so busy striving to achieve things, I rarely paused to enjoy the here and now.  There are no memories to reflect and relish.  When we spend so much time being busy we are deprived of the capacity to live in the present moment.

  1. It disconnects you from other people.

Another key observation Megan makes about busyness is that disconnects us from others.  And I would add for us Christians it disconnects us from God and His mission for us. I found this quote and don’t know the source, “Busyness can be a very effective calling blocker.” To add statistics to back up that claim,

  • Approximately only 25% of those who attend church are involved in any ministry/volunteer service in their church.
  • “The average workweek is now up to 47 hours, four more than two decades ago.” A Gallup Poll found that 44 percent of Americans call themselves ‘workaholics.’
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 60% of marriages are dual-career. “Lack of time” is cited in one study as the biggest challenge to their marriages.

Jesus shows by his deeds a better method. In Mark 8:1-2 with the miracle of the feeding of the four thousand,  our Savior is never too busy to be compassionate.  “In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.’”    

How do you schedule compassion into your daily program?  You don’t, what you do is make sure your life is not so regimented that you can’t take the time to be a mercy-giver. Jesus always had time to stop and minister to people.  Whether it was the man born blind in John 9 or the woman with twelve years of bleeding or the ten lepers on the road, Jesus carved out time in His schedule to connect with people.  And no matter how busy our lives are, our mission is not any greater than Jesus’ task to redeem humanity.

  1. It is a choice.

Your hurried life is a choice.  No one is forcing you to run around like a chicken with its head disconnected.  You are making those decisions.  And in most cases, we are putting those crazy schedules on our poor children.  “Sally has to be in sports and dance and music class, while also being a leader in several outside organizations.”  All because this will look good on her college applications.  Meanwhile, Sally has no relationship with you or the rest of the family because Sally is never around.  Your busyness is a self-inflicted wound.

  1. It is a cover-up.

Stop and think for a minute, “why are you really so busy?”  What are you trying to hide or run away from? Some deep-seated pain, or another failed relationship, are you trying to avoid worry?”  Our busyness is masking something much deeper.  Slow down and examine what hurt, or loss, or insecurity you just don’t want to take the time to deal with right now.  My grandmother loved the quote from the Psalmists, “Be still and know that I am God.”  My response was “not now grandma I have too much to do.”  I figure if God wants to talk to me He needs to fit into my schedule.  “God, I think I have two minutes between appointments, will that work for you?” But the issue is I am not sure I want to hear what God has to say.  If I stay busy I don’t have to address the things He wants to reveal.  I don’t have to make the necessary changes God will suggest or demand.  However, God has His way of getting your attention.  He can slow you down. What are you hiding?

  1. Busy is not a feeling.

It is more than just a perception that busyness is a behavioral flaw.  It is an action that needs to be reigned it and monitored.

  1. It can easily be re-framed.

In Luke 12, Dr. Luke gives us a prescription for dealing with our dysfunctional lives. “But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.  ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.’”  Luke 12:31-33

To summarize it, Luke says get your priorities straight.  Put God first and everything else falls into place.  If you place yourself first you run the risk of life getting quickly out of control.  The most important thing we need in this life is not the stuff we are so busy trying to acquire, but the free gift of faith that is so freely given.  Faith is the only treasure we need for the transition from death to life. So, get your priorities in order and everything will make life less hurried.

 

Holy Spirit, Sermon Prompts

Hands Off! Pentecost is Ours.

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This day of Pentecost is a special day like none other. It’s the third biggest celebration of the Christian year, behind Christmas and Easter.

Christmas and Easter have been hijacked by the secular culture. We have reduced Christ’s work of salvation in His birth, death, and resurrection into pagan festivals. In the secularization of Christmas we replaced the shouts of angels in Luke’s Gospel.

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

Christmas’ blatant consumerism and feel good motto of “buy that something special for the ones you love” has watered down its significance.  The message has shifted focus from God’s miracle of the incarnation to trinkets treats and tribal rituals of the season. What gets lost in the commercialism is the Christ of Bethlehem.

Unfortunately, Easter has not escaped a similar fate. Society has turned the shouts of “Christ is Risen. He is Risen, indeed!” and the focus Christ redemption of a world lost in sin to a celebration of the passage of the dreariness of winter and the rite of spring. Lost in that transition is the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. The proclamation from the Savior that, “It is Finished!”, the realization of the soldier, “This truly was the Son of God”, the joy of Easter morning, “the Tomb is Empty. And Christ Is Risen” have been lost.

In the case of secular Christmas and Easter, you’ll have no problem finding decorations and greeting cards. Many of them feature the embodiments of the season, Santa, and the Easter bunny. And symbols of the season, scents of pine trees, or, my favorite, chocolate bunnies (or chocolate of any kind, for that matter). We could celebrate that at least these celebrations have high name-recognition and in the past have lead people who never darken our church doors back to us on these two occasions.

But Pentecost is different. Pentecost still belongs to the church. Pentecost has not gone commercial … yet! You will be hard pressed to find a rack of Pentecost cards in a drugstore. Unfortunately, there are not Holy Spirit dove chocolates. I can’t imagine the Dove ever competing with Santa and the Easter bunny.  It is unlikely that we in the church will ever feel the need to remind each other to keep Pentecost in our heart like we usually have to with Christmas. Pentecost is ours alone.

Contained in this Pentecost story are some powerful images:

  • The significance of the Holy Spirit as wind. That essential breath that seems to be the very life-force itself. The concept of breath points us back to the first interaction man had with the divine. Let me transport you back to the beginning: Genesis 2. The Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. It was there the mighty wind of God gave man life.
  • The Holy Spirit as fire. Fire is an essential element in the world’s cultures. It not only provides light and warmth on the cold nights but it has a consuming nature with it that goes viral. As the Holy Spirit is introduced in the narrative of the birth of the church, it does become a transforming force consuming sin and burning down the stronghold of unbelief.
  • Speaking in tongues. The strange detail of how, miraculously, the disciples are briefly given the gift of speaking in other languages illustrates that God is breaking down the barriers between nations and cultures. I miss how the readings for the Pentecost in some years would have the bookend accounts of the Tower of Babel (language confused and multiplied) with the parallel account of Acts 2’s Pentecost chronicling languages united around the message of Jesus’ death and Resurrection. It puts on full display the brilliance and completeness of God.
  • The Rejection of the Power of God. The resulting scorn sometimes heaped on those who encounter the living God, who are all too often dismissed by those who say of them, “They are filled with new wine!”

Pentecost Is a Community Event

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.”

It is no accident that Pentecost is also known as the Jewish holiday “the Feast of Weeks.” It is essentially a harvest festival. The Feast of Weeks was the time in ancient Israel when the first grain harvest came in.

As we examine the significance of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit fell upon the church, it is this great harvest of new believers. The good news of the gospel brought many to faith and caused them go out into the world bearing these newfound fruits of the Spirit.

The most striking thing about this verse is the phrase, “They were all together in one place.”

So much has happened in a short period to the disciples. They had been all together in the upper room when Jesus broke the bread, shared the cup and gave a new and deeper significance to the Passover Seder meal. We then witness how the news of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion scattered the faithful disciples and all His hundreds of followers.

The disciples’ grief over the loss of their teacher, shepherd, and mentor has now brought them together again.

You have witnessed in your church how funerals often do this. The loss of a loved one connects a once widely dispersed family and gathers them together for mutual support and remembrances.

Then came for the disciples the wonder and comfort of the resurrection. When Mary Magdalene, in John’s gospel, runs back to tell the other disciples the good news notice there’s no mention of her going from house to house in seeking them out. She knows just where to find them. The disheartened group is collected together in one place supporting each other.

They now move from the highs of the resurrection to the uncertain future of Christ ascension into heaven. They may have thought that with that event it was “game over.” Last out of the World Series, time to go home and live in the memory of all we have seen and heard. What more could God possibly have in store for them? It was like the silence following the grand finale of a fireworks display. What could they possibly do at that moment except fold the chairs and go home?

Notice the Optics.

That is most certainly not what the disciples do! “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” Why? What were they hoping for?

Maybe the clue is found in the mission Jesus had left with them before He went to assume His rightful place on the throne of heaven. In Matthew 28, also known as the Great Commission, it says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations ….” The full weight and meaning of this get lost in the English translations. However, in the original Greek the verb “make disciples” is plural. Jesus isn’t commanding them to go out like marbles and individually witness to everyone they meet.

We are so tempted as churches to send out people out with this charge, “You go and make disciples, and good luck with that!” No, Jesus is commanding them to come together and, as one body, the Church is to devise a strategy for sharing the gospel with the lost and broken world. “Go, make me more disciples, but do it together!” We are not just individual church sites, we are the church universal, over 2 billion strong. Strategically placed around the world, yet called to come together and given a charge by our Risen Lord, “Go, make me more disciples, but here is the key: do it together!”

Hands off world, Pentecost is ours. It is the birth of the church, and you can’t have it. But we will share the saving message of Christ with you. That is our charge after all.

SaveSave

Congregational Life and Ministry, Sermon Prompts

Where Did We Come From and Where are We Going?

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Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962), the world-famous violinist, earned a fortune with his concerts and compositions, but he generously gave most of it away. So, when he discovered an exquisite violin on one of his trips, he wasn’t able to buy it. Later, having raised enough money to meet the asking price, he returned to the seller, hoping to purchase that beautiful instrument. But to his great dismay, it had been sold to a collector. Kreisler made his way to the new owner’s home and offered to buy the violin. The collector said it had become his prized possession and he would not sell it. Keenly disappointed, Kreisler was about to leave when he had an idea. “Could I play the instrument once more before it is consigned to silence?” he asked. Permission was granted, and the great virtuoso filled the room with such heart-moving music that the collector’s emotions were deeply stirred. “I have no right to keep that to myself,” he exclaimed. “It’s yours, Mr. Kreisler. Take it into the world, and let people hear it.”  Our Daily Bread, February 4, 1994.

 

When the apostle Paul arrived in the great city of Athens, he did not come as a sightseer, but as a virtuoso of the Gospel.  This famous city was the epicenter of religion and culture.  But Paul did not see a great city what he saw was a people lost in their culture of pride and self-reliance, sound familiar? Athens was described by one ancient writer who said, “it was easier to find a god than a man in Athens.” Paul walked in the halls of the Jews synagogue and debated the Jews, but had little impact on their entrenched legalistic system. He decided when in Greece do as the Greeks do. Paul took his message to the market (agora) where the men assembled to discuss philosophy or to conduct business. In the South that would be the equivalent of going to the local barbershop and holding court.

Two main philosophies controlled Athens at that time.

The Stoics were materialistic and almost fatalistic in their thinking. Their system was built on pride and personal independence. Nature was their god, and they believed that all life was gradually moving toward a great climax. We still have that thinking in our society today.  People are so committed to nature that they place it in a higher place than human life at times.

The Epicureans desired pleasure, and their philosophy was grounded in experience, not reason. Paul confronted these two extremes in philosophy with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Whenever you challenge, the status quo, expect the status quo to push back.  The Athenians despised Paul and tried to discredit him by calling him a “babbler,” which means “a seed picker.” Because Paul’s teaching was so foreign to them, the thought he was introducing two new gods when he spoke of “Jesus and the resurrection.”

The Greek word for Resurrection is “Anastasia” the concept of people rising from the dead was not a part of their daily vocabulary.  So, it is understandable they assumed this for a proper name of an unknown god. The Greeks led Paul to the Areopagus; their official court also called Mars’ Hill. There Paul preached a great sermon.

Paul respected their culture by commending them for their openness to the divine, “I see that you are very religious.” He used their altar dedicated “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD,” as an object lesson. He used this altar to preach about the True God that they were unaware of His existence. Paul presented in his sermon four great truths about God, and that will be the basis of the next two post.  In this post, we will cover the first two.

God is the Creator (vv. 24–25).

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. Acts 17:24-25

The Greeks held different theories about creation and even believed in a form of evolution.

Life poses three questions we must all wrestle with the answers to, “Where did I come from? Why am I here? And where am I going?” Science endeavors to answer the first question, of our existence.  Philosophy grapples with the second, the question of purpose.  But only the Christian faith has a suitable answer to all three.

The Two Differing Views in Athens believed this about the universe:

  1. The Epicureans, who were effectively atheists, believed that all was matter and matter always was. So, there was no creator.
  2. The Stoics said that everything was God, “the Spirit of the Universe.” God did not create anything; He only ordered chaos.

Paul Countered with:

“In the beginning, God!” God made the world and everything in it, and He is Lord of all that He has made. He is not some distant celestial being who is divorced from His creation nor is God

trapped by His creation.  He is too almighty to be contained in man-made temples. 27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built 1 Kings 8:27!  Yet, God is not too majestic to be concerned about man’s most basic needs.  It makes one wonder how the great thinkers and leaders of Athens reacted to Paul’s statement about temples, as they are standing on the grand Acropolis were several shrines were dedicated to Athena.

Here is where Paul lays waste to the flawed Greek religious system.  The Greeks were convinced that in serving God they could contain God in temples.  Paul turns that thinking on its head and says, “God does not live in temples made by man.” In other words, you cannot put God in a box. You cannot contain the power and greatness of God in this tiny temple.  He does not serve at your pleasure like some cosmic genie.  And to take this a step further, He does not need your service, there is nothing you can provide for God that he does not already have.  “Nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything.”  And here is the final twist, not only does God not need us to serve Him but He, in turn, serves humanity, “since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”  This is a radical concept of God is Paul introducing.

It is God who gives to us what we need: “life, and breath, and all things.” God is the source of every good and perfect gift as James points out in chapter 1 verse 17. He gave us life and He sustains that life by His goodness as Jesus points out in.  For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. It is the goodness of God that should lead men to repentance (Matthew 5:45).

 “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”  (Ro 2:4).

But instead of worshiping the Creator as we should, the natural response, and glorifying Him, men turns and worships God’s creation and seek to glorify themselves. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”  (Ro 1:21–23).

Paul points them and we back the God the Creator and reminds us is rediscovering Him answers the question of where we came from? We were created by the God of the universe.  Why do we exist? To give worship and praise to this God.  Where are we going?  For those who believe on His Son Jesus Christ, to heaven to spend eternity with that Creator.

 

Sermon Prompts

How Do You Overcome The Post-Easter Blues?

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Well, the mountain-top experience is over. You came to heard a great Jesus-centered, uplifting, hopeful message. You left feeling you could take on whatever ugliness life will throw at you. The music was moving. Inspired. You have never heard the choirs and bands sound more polished. The fellowship was warming, authentic, and heartfelt, it has you thinking, “I really should come back to church. I need this weekly spiritual boost.” Let’s face it life have been rough lately. Things are not going according to plans. Something profound and meaningful is missing in your life. Could it be that God is calling you back to him? Maybe this Easter service was the spark?

But you have tried this before. You come back to church the Sunday after Easter, and you don’t experience the same energy, the same focus. People aren’t as warm and friendly as they were the week before. The pastor who preached that powerful sermon is on vacation and there is a guest preacher who is not bringing that same energy. And this text is about Doubting Thomas. Boy, does that speak to your heart? You have doubts about all this church stuff. You drift away again, hit right between the eyes with the realities of life. It will take you eight months to get up the nerve to try it again. Once the weather turns cold, and the songs turn from “Alleluia, Christ is Risen” to “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” How can you avoid those wide swings in your connection with God? Here are a few suggestions to overcome the Post-Easter blues.

Connect with Other Believers Outside of Sunday only:

Live in me, and I will live in you. A branch cannot produce any fruit by itself. It must stay attached to the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit unless you live in me. John 15:4

As a believer, you were not created to be a self-contained unit. We cannot exist outside of the community. The network of people who share a common confession, united mission, and deep love for the Savior creates a robust support system for each other. When you voluntarily exclude yourself from that power source, you can see how your spiritual juices get depleted. To take John’s analogy deeper, just as a branch cut off from the vine is separated from its supply of nourishment so it cannot produce fruit, that also applies to the believer. If the Christian is not connected to God and community, they are cut off from spiritual nourishment. The longer a believer is removed from the power source, the more aggressive the efforts need to be to infuse life-giving sustenance into the parched soul.

Taking Spiritual Inventory

If you are unsure of your spiritual condition, John points out that “fruit bearing” is an indicator of spiritual health. We need to be cautious in this area. “Fruit-bearing” has been used to point believers away from work done for them by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Bearing fruit in the life of the disciple is entirely dependent on a direct connection to Jesus. That “fruit bearing” flows naturally out of our faith. Attachment to Jesus or abiding in Him is, therefore, the focal point, the foundation of Christian discipleship.

Receive the Love that is Waiting for You

What most likely moved your heart at the Easter service was that you heard again just how much God loved you. He loved you so completely that He gave you His most precious gift, the life of His one and only, unique son, Jesus Christ. You heard again that God reached into the fires of eternal separation and pulled us out. God values our relationship so much that God will not be satisfied with a twice a year family reunion. God desires to draw all people to himself for eternity, but He also wants an on-going relationship with us. God sent Jesus to bring back all the lost sheep into the Fathers sheepfold. All people of every race, nationality, matter to God. You matter to God if you are so secure in your skin you don’t feel you need the Creator, God still loves you.  If you feel you are to messed up to warrant love, you still matter to God, and you are loved by God.  If you are confused with your identity, broken by life’s circumstances, tormented by the weight of your past mistakes, know that Jesus forgave all of that on Calvary’s cross all because before you were formed in your mother’s womb you were know by God and you mattered to God.

If after that Easter high you are feeling lost, or you are experiencing a sense of spiritual confusion and “emotional disconnectedness” in life, Jesus, the Risen Savior, is seeking you.
Jesus will not stop searching and with relentless grace won’t stop until he finds you.
Don’t just drift away when your spirits are down. Don’t allow the post-Easter blues to give you a feeling of hopelessness. That same Jesus you experienced on Easter is there for you every day of your life. There are power and connectivity in the Resurrection. Resurrection and Christmas joy last not just for a week, but for eternity. The Lord of the Resurrection wants to connect with you. Stop running away from Him. Instead, live in the power of the resurrection.
You have been redeemed and are loved!

Sermon Prompts

The Resurrection Through the eyes of Grief- Mary Magdalene

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Empty tomb with three crosses on a hil lside.

Have you had one of those Murphy’s law type years?  A year where it seems that everything that could go wrong did?  You suffered loss after loss, disappointment after disappointment. It has been so filled with pain that you could not wait to turn the calendar on that year?  Now that you have weathered that storm it is time to deal with your life that was laid waste.  You have survived blow after blow, so much pain, so much suffering all at once.  You are grief-weary.  You have been beaten down by life.  There is no room for joy in your life these days.  “Don’t Worry Be Happy” is not working for you.

As you approach Christ’s tomb after the resurrection, you feel guilt.  You are supposed to come to the tomb to find comfort and peace.  The empty tomb is the place where suffering is replaced by Easter joy, but it is not so with you.  The hard seasons of suffering and pain have left you with a mournful spirit.  You want to put the pain of the last season behind you and find encouragement and happiness in the comfort of the empty tomb, however, the grief is too real.   The pain is still too close to the surface.  Good Friday mourning has replaced all that Easter joy.

We visit another face, standing at the empty tomb.  This time, we find a woman: Mary of Magdalene.  Let me tell you more about this woman: She is a woman from whom seven demons were cast out. Imagine the weight of evil that was released from this woman’s spiritual load. What was life like having that much evil and darkness taking up residency in your body? She goes from that reality to being “numbered among the disciples.” From demon holder to Jesus follower.  She was there ministering to Jesus, ministering alongside Jesus and in his name. She was there at the cross. She watched them as they took him down from the cross after the world rejected him and God forsook him. She was there to see his battered and limp body hurriedly put into the tomb.

When she came to the tomb that Sunday, she had lost a dear friend, her champion, her soul liberator. She knew which tomb he was in. She did not go there that morning expecting to witness a miracle, nor a resurrection.  She went there to mourn, to grieve her loss. She did not go to get a joyful Easter sermon. She wasn’t looking forward to shouts of alleluia. She went to perform His wake.  To take care of the necessary finishing touches, to say her final goodbye and try and figure out how life moves forward now that He is gone. Which path will I take now that my champion, teacher, the rescuer is no more?  How will I stay on the right track?  Life has been so hard, so dark, so scary.  Jesus gave her hope, a new reality, a higher sense of calling and direction. He pointed her to this new kingdom he was ushering in.  She was so looking forward to being there with him.  Now those hopes and dreams are shattered and broken by a mock trial and swift execution.  What Mary is left with is grief and a sealed tomb.  Her resurrection comes wrapped not with beautiful bows and bright spring colors. Instead, they are replaced with a dark, cold, gray stone of sorry and pain. Her grief did not allow her to get resurrection joy because she was wracked with crippling pain.

Do you relate to Mary? Whether male or female? Are you there at the tomb this season of your life? Maybe you have been at one too many tombs this year, one to many hospital beds, or received one too many rejection letters from love interests or employers. All this talk of alleluia’s, Christ is risen, and Sunday celebrations are difficult for you because you are carrying a boatload of grief. Maybe someone precious recently died, and you are still stung by the anger and severity of that pain.

It is possible your loss was job-related, you can’t find full-time employment, and you are feeling the sting of that loss. You could be dealing with a relationship that’s died and a dream of some different future that went with it. Maybe your health has gone south.  You have a routine doctor’s appointment, and she finds a spot, now you have nine months of painful cancer treatment.  In your mind, you believed if you ate enough pine bark, loaded your body with the latest vitamin supplements, swore off red meat and replaced that with bean sprouts and exercised you would just go on living forever. But then your doctor said, “This is going to kill you.” Now instead of planning for that dream vacation you are planning a funeral.

So as you grieve the loss of something very special at this moment, grief can blind your vision and coat your heart so thoroughly that you, like Mary, can’t see Jesus standing right in front of you.

If this is where you are today, Jesus has a message for you.  Know that you have a Savior who is familiar with your situation.  You have a Messiah who understands sorry and suffering.  Peter writes about those trials you are facing, “These things show that the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from their trials…” 2 Peter 2:9.  And Moses reminds us in Deuteronomy 7 that in these moments of trails and sorry God shines the brightest, “…don’t be afraid of them! Remember, instead, what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and all Egypt: the great trials that you saw with your own eyes, the signs and wonders, and the strong hand and outstretched arm the Lord your God used to rescue you.”

Though this season may be rough with grief and pain all you know right now, remember God Almighty is with you, and he will shine through your pain.  He is your rock and your fortress.  He is your strength when you have no strength.  Rest in Him, find strength in him and joy will return in the morning. We live in the power of the resurrection.

Other faces on the first Easter, Peter and John.
https://revheadpin.org/2017/04/07/the-resurrection-through-the-eyes-simeon-peter

https://revheadpin.org/2017/04/10/the-resurrection-through-John

 

Sermon Prompts

The Resurrection Through the Eyes of Struggle-Simeon Peter

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Spring has always held a special place in my heart. Even more so lately, now that I have moved from the deep south to the frigid north where the season between late October to around April never seems to thaw my old bones, and I yearn for the warmth of spring.

My memories of spring also take me back to Easter morning in my little household. My mom would go all out, Easter bunnies, dyed hard-boiled eggs, which I never ate but loved to make a mess dyeing. She would take me out to get a new Easter outfit every year. I would usually pick a pin-striped double-breasted suit coat, either gray or black with a matching vest. With some new wing-tipped shoes and argyle socks to match. I got decked out in my Sunday best. You had to look cute for Easter worship service. After getting up and putting on that new suit, it was off to sunrise service at 6 am. We had to be there to see the sunrise. Sometimes the service was planned just right so that the sun rose during the pastor’s sermon. What an event!

After that was the Easter breakfast, fresh eggs, pancakes, grits (we were in the south, after all, and had to have grits) smoked sausage and orange juice all while trying not to mess up my new suit. All that ended with the Easter egg hunt with children in an all-out sprint knocking each other over to gather eggs we would never eat, but it was about competition.  At least, it was for me. When all that was said and done it was time to rush home to dig into that huge chocolate Easter bunny. The ears went first, and then on to the chocolate eggs, all the while trying to pace the high sugar intake. It was a beautiful time of year. But is that all there is to Easter? Is it just about bunnies, bonnets, and Easter baskets? How are you approaching Easter this year? Has it lost some of its magic for you?

When the sun comes up Easter morning, it dawns on people in different ways, and the shadows fade from your faces in a variety of ways. And so this series comes to an end.  What you have here is the last post in this series on the resurrection.  I pray that it has been a blessing.  It was my Easter sermon from six years ago.

Struggling Faith

The Apostle John leads us one last time to the tomb to meet our last face, Simon Peter.  Peter is approaching the resurrection like so many before him with a struggling faith.

In John, Chapter 20, Simon Peter runs to the tomb, but unlike John, he needs to take a much longer peek into  Jesus’ final resting place. Peter walks in. He takes a good hard look at the evidence and comes away even more confused.  Peter, the disciple, often know for putting his foot in his mouth at the most inopportune time, walks home scratching his head. Peter questions what he has witnessed. “I don’t get it, what happened?” he must have said to himself. He did not believe. We need to give Peter a break here.  He is facing a ton of doubt. He struggled to accept the power of the resurrection.  To me clear, Peter heard the same promise of the resurrection of Jesus. Like the beloved disciple John, he examined the same evidence. Peter came away with a very different emotion.  He came away joyless.  Maybe you can relate to what Peter is experiencing.  It is possible that Peter is you.  You know you shouldn’t have doubts, but you do.  For other believers you know, faith seems to come quickly to them. Not so for you.  For you, faith is a struggle.  You are bombarded with far too many questions. Faith just doesn’t seem logical to you.  You look at the resurrection and while others react with shouts of Christ is Risen you are thinking in the back of your mind but did he?

You sympathize with Simon Peter.  Are you Simon Peter?  If this is where your faith has led your, fear not you are not alone.

Like Peter, you will wake up on Sunday and attend church, or maybe you will be tempted to skip the whole scene.  The doubt is keeping you away.  Somehow you just don’t feel worthy to be there. You just keep running time and time again into resurrection joy.  It doesn’t make sense that the alleluias are not flowing from your lips.  You do everything in your power to find it even if it means taking a “fake it till you make” approach. However, Jesus’ resurrection comes with too many questions. You are dealing with too much doubt, so much so that your Easter joy is simply not there.

I want the word of God to encourage you. I want you to know that Jesus Christ not only came back, but he came back for you, he also came back for Simon Peter. And Scripture reminds us that Jesus came back –especially for Simon Peter. In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 16, when this account is recalled, the angel says to Mary Magdalene,  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you...”. Tell Peter especially. Simon Peter believed that if anybody had been dropped off God’s invitation list, it was him. And he did deserve it. Jesus sends him a special message; you are forgiven, you have been restored, there is still an important place for you in God’s Kingdom.  Note to all the Peter’s out there; there is a place for you in God’s kingdom.

Easter shouts to the very ends of the earth that Jesus is raised from the dead.  This compassionate Savior comes back with his scarred arms reaching out to Peter, but not only Peter, but he also came back for all of us who are struggling with doubt, a simple yet powerful message of forgiveness and restoration.

Dear brothers and sisters, you are loved. I have come back to say your failure wasn’t the end. You cannot dig a ditch so deep; you cannot run away so far, you cannot accumulate any amount of sins and guilt or denials that can place you out of reach of Jesus’ love. If death can’t stop me, if they can’t nail me down with real nails, you can be sure that you can’t get far enough away that my nail scarred hands can’t reach you. Simon Peter, I came back for you. Brothers and sisters who are struggling with faith, I came back for you. It may take you a while to get that, but I came for you!  I died and rose again for you.  The Holy Spirit will keep pointing you to that fact so live in the joy and forgiveness of the resurrection. Amen

And here is the rest of the story:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/04/07/the-resurrection-through-John

https://revheadpin.org/2016/10/12/the-resurrection-through-grief-mary-magdalene

 

Sermon Prompts

In A Broken World, We All Need Grace

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On October 31, 2017, it will be the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It was a world shattering movement that began with Dr. Martin Luther and his 1517 work The Ninety-Five Theses. Luther began by criticizing the selling of indulgences. That transaction on the surface sounds like a great idea for the sinner. You get to buy forgiveness for an act you are going to commit or have committed. Luther was also insisting that the Pope had no authority over purgatory, which I would describe as a spiritual waiting room. The Catholic Catechism teaches that in purgatory one “undergoes purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven”[1]

The Catholic doctrine of the merits of the saints was another major sticking point as it had no foundation in the gospel. The Protestant position would come to incorporate other critical doctrinal changes such as sola scriptura, (Scripture alone). Scripture alone is the belief that God’s word as contained in the Bible has supreme authority in all matters of doctrine and practice. Every other writing is secondary.

And Sola Fide, faith alone. Faith alone is the key to the foundation of our Christian faith. We believe and confess that God’s pardon for guilty sinners is granted and received through faith alone, and not based on good works.

The movement started by this monk is still a vital change today. God continues to bring new people to faith and transform the lives of His followers.

Today I want to cover two fundamental concepts with you. God used this massive shift in Luther’s understanding of how God operates to transform Luther and thus transform God’s Church.

The Weight of God vs. the Grace of God.

You can hear in Luther’s words just how deeply Luther felt the weight of God. How deeply he was tormented by his sins and how that sin weighs on the heart of the sinner.

“Though I lived as a religious leader without reproach, I felt, with the most disturbed conscience imaginable, that I was a sinner before God. I did not love. Indeed, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners.” Dr. Martin Luther

The quote points to just how deeply Luther felt conflicted with God. How Luther was keenly aware of his sinfulness and the impact of God’s judgment on him for his sins. According to the Roman Catholic Church, Christians had to earn the merits of Jesus’ forgiveness. Nothing was free. Christ’s death for them was only a starting point; there was much more the sinner needed to do to achieve salvation. That need to earn forgiveness lead to a deeper faith crisis.  Now Christ’s death and resurrection are not enough.  If that were the case, this uncertainty left many good faithful Christians feeling the weight of being inadequate.

You can hear Paul’s frustration with the Galatians who were eager to abandon the biblical foundation of grace. The Galatians like Luther were falling prey to the trap of looking to be saved based on their good deeds.

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Galatians 3:1-4

When we approach the throne of God with only our good works to offer as a sacrifice, we quickly realize just how inadequate that appears before a perfect God. To offer our pitiful gifts to the God who created the universe seems quite small. So, Christians were never confident they ever could work off all their sins.

Deep down the human heart knows that we are born in sin and have no legitimate way to earn the forgiveness of those sins. The frustration that humanity has when attempting to earn favor with God through works is the feeling of being treated unfairly. Unfair treatment angers a lot of people, especially people like Luther who desperately want to play by the rules.

The Roman Catholic teaching struck a much deeper chord in Luther. It is part of human nature to long for the attention and praise of our fathers. This same desire extends to our Heavenly Father as well. According to the Church, Luther could never be sure he would receive that acceptance and love of the Heavenly Father.

The Grace of God.

The weight of God leads Luther to discover the grace of God. When Luther was hopeless, God opened the Scriptures to show him he was saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ. Luther came to understand, Jesus restored him to a right relationship with God. In this relationship, Luther was unconditionally accepted by the Father. And the beauty of the message of Jesus is so are we.

Hear Paul’s words to the Ephesians,

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace, you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast. Eph 2:4-9

Here is a moving illustration to further explain God’s grace.

During the building of the Golden Gate Bridge over San Francisco Bay, construction fell badly behind schedule because several workers had accidentally fallen from the scaffolding to their deaths. Engineers and administrators could find no solution to the costly delays. Finally, someone suggested a gigantic net be hung under the bridge to catch any who fell. Finally, in spite of the enormous cost, the engineers opted for the net. After it had been installed, progress was hardly interrupted. A worker or two fell into the net but were saved. Ultimately, all the time lost to fear was regained by replacing fear with faith in the net.

God loves us deeply and sent His son Jesus Christ to be our net. He values our relationship so much that God does not want us living our lives with the fear that Luther had for so long.  God will not be satisfied with a surface connection. God desires to draw all people to himself for eternity. God sent Jesus to bring back the lost and straying sheep into the Father’s sheepfold.

If you, like Luther, are feeling the full weight of God in your life, know that Jesus took that pressure to Calvary’s cross on your behalf. If you still feel that something in your past is too big even for Jesus to forgive, know that nothing is too big that the blood of Jesus will not cover. Know this; Jesus will not stop searching for you. And with a relentless grace, he will find you.

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1030