Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Sorry Christians, But You Do Not Have Inactive Power Within

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

We live in a time where teachers, parents, coaches, counselors, culture, and even advertising slogans try to convince us that we are awesome and have power within. Consider some of the phrases that are out there:

“You can do it!”

“You have what it takes within you to discover your potential.”

“You can do anything you set your mind to.”

“Be legendary.”

“Redefine the impossible.”

“Activate the power within you!”  

Now, did you notice what all these slogans have in common? They seem to point you inward to your own resources and skills. Indeed, these phrases tend to point a person’s eyes inward - toward their abilities and power within.  

While it may be true that some jobs in life require some good ol’ grit and sweat from within a person or a certain set of skills, it should be clearly noted that this is not how Christianity works. If you think Christianity is about looking inward for greatness, you could not be further from the truth about Christianity. Christianity is the exact opposite. 

You see, when we focus too much on the Christian and not enough on the Christ, we begin to look at ourselves as the center of the Christian faith. And when we look at ourselves, well… we end up fixating on our own so-called spiritual abilities and powers. Looking at our spiritual abilities and powers, though, we begin to collapse inward on ourselves, which results in the destruction of the Christian faith. You and I can never be the center of the Christian faith, for there is no greatness in our hearts but only sin and darkness. 

Tragically, there are thousands of people sitting in pews this morning knowing that they do not have greatness within. They know because they are failing at life. They have failing marriages, struggling jobs, unruly kids, low finances, and poor health – to name a few. Life has beaten them up, and they know it. However, they do not talk about their problems because everyone else around them seems to be doing great. But nonetheless, they drag themselves into the church every single week.  

Once in the church, the preacher-man gets into the pulpit and rightly points out all of their problems. He boldly preaches that families are falling apart; husbands are not listening to their wives enough, wives are spending too much money, kids are not obeying authority, and so forth. Basically, the preacher-man tells the people in the pew that God’s people are not obedient enough. And the people in the pew will agree. But here is the main problem. The preacher-man may have correctly pointed out the problem of the sinful heart in his parishioners, but once he has done this, the preacher-man then points the people not away from their sinful hearts but back to their sinful hearts. The preacher-man points them back to themselves to fix their problems by resorting to one of the many terrible slogans that we hear in our culture. Obviously, the preacher-man will not use secular slogans but will Christianize the pagan slogan to sound spiritual.

“With faith, you can do it!”

“With your faith, you have what it takes within you to discover your potential.”

“You can do anything you set your faith upon.”

“Be legendary with mighty faith.”

“Redefine the impossible with faith.”

“Activate your faith within you.” 

Now, in case you don’t know, this is insanity! This is spiritual abuse! This is wretched theology. This is complete heresy; however, people keep coming back week after week after week to these pathetic and Christless churches! 

Dear friends, your relationship with God – no matter how good or bad you think you have it – cannot be based on you. If it is based on you and not on Jesus, then your salvation is only as good as you can be. And frankly, the scriptures do not paint a pretty picture of your corrupt hearts. And faith? 

Faith without Jesus is not real saving faith. Faith must always have an object; faith must always connect to, cling to, and rest upon Jesus. Faith clings outward to Jesus, not inward upon yourself.   

So, what this means is that we must confess that our Christian faith is not based on looking inward towards our internal abilities, but rather, we look outward to Jesus – our mediator.  

We see this idea of looking outside of ourselves in our Old Testament Reading quite clearly. In our Old Testament Reading, we hear about the Israelites who were bitten by snakes in the wilderness, and many of them died. The poison ran through their veins. It infected them, poisoned them, and brought death to them. 

However, amid Israel’s grumbling, impatience, and poisoned bodies, the Lord told Moses to make a pole with a bronze serpent on it, and whoever would look at it would be healed – the poison would not harm them. In other words, the Lord did not banish the snakes that were biting the Israelites, but rather He had Moses put a snake on a pole. Yes, a bronze serpent was nailed to a cross. It was then lifted, and all who looked to it were healed and lived.  

Take a moment and think about this. 

The Israelites were not told to disregard the snake venom. They were not given a bunch of life principles and life pointers to overcome the snake venom. They were not told that they were overcomers and had the power within to overcome the venom. But rather, they were directed away from their snakebites towards a bronze serpent on a pole that was lifted high up for them to see. Indeed, they were directed to look away from their predicament – they were directed to look outside of themselves, towards a bronze statue for healing and hope and restoration.  (All of this obviously prefigures Jesus who was lifted high upon the cross, as we hear in John chapter three).  

Dear Baptized Saints, when you look inward to yourself, what we see are lives full of sin.  In other words, looking inward at yourself does not lead to forgiveness, life, and salvation but leads to sin and everlasting darkness. Bluntly stated, Matt Richard is not the solution to Matt Richard’s problems and sin. Jesus is.  

Listen to Martin Luther on this, 

“The Gospel commands us to look, not at our own good deeds or perfection but at God Himself as He promises, and at Christ Himself, the Mediator.”[1]

Dear Baptized Saints, the nature of the Christian faith is that God has snatched you not only out of the darkness but has snatched you away from yourselves and placed you outside yourself so that you do not depend on your own strength, conscience, experience, or works. 

You are not anchored to yourself and your abilities in this Christian faith, but you are anchored outside of yourself to Christ and His Gifts. You are anchored to the promises of God, which cannot deceive. [2]  Hope is not found in the Christian but is found in and delivered by the Christ. Christianity is not about you, but it is about Christ who is for you.    

So, dear Baptized Saints, when the devil sinks His teeth into you, do not go looking for preachers, books, or spiritual fads that point you within but instead look outside yourselves and behold Christ Jesus, the victor over evil.  

When the world sinks its teeth into you - look outside of yourselves and behold the Lamb of God, who was lifted up and sacrificed for you and the sins of the entire world!  

When your sinful nature sinks its teeth into you – look outside of yourselves and behold Jesus Christ, who died your death and is your resurrection.  

Yes, look outside of yourselves to Christ Jesus, the one who is completely righteous – the one we all benefit from. 

Never forget that God works from the outside in, not the inside out. It is from the outside that He places His Word into your ears. It is from the outside that His blood is laid upon your tongues and His body placed in your mouths so that you may know with certainty that you are forgiven.  

Baptized Saints, do not be deceived; looking inward to your sinful hearts only results in sin yielding more sin – sin upon sin. But the One outside of you, Jesus Christ, is the fountainhead of grace, life, and truth – grace upon grace for sinners like you and especially me. 

You will have troubles in this life, but take heart, look outside yourself.  Do not look to the serpent on the pole but look upon Christ – He was lifted up for you!  You are not left to yourselves but have unfathomable goodness and mercy in Christ Jesus, who intercedes for you and reconciles you to the Father.  He is a Savior that came for you and comes to you this day – from the outside.   

In the name of Jesus: Amen.   

[1] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 26, p. 387). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

[2] Ibid, 387. 

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Monday, April 26, 2021

When The World Freaks Out, The Christian Knows It Is Only A ‘Little While’

Text: John 16:16-22

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Life is tough. It is not a leisurely walk in the park. We struggle to get along with our neighbors. We struggle with our health. People die around us. And to make things worse, sprinkle in the Corona Virus, Riots. Political unrest, and cyber warfare from China! Again, life is tough.  
And for us Christians? It is tough for us as well. Along with the rest of the world, we suffer. We have no choice in this matter.  
You see, Jesus never promised you and me that this Christian life would be easy. Contrary to what those pastoral frauds on late-night religious television programs say, we do not consistently experience spiritual victory over sin, death, and the Devil. Contrary to what those hip and cool celebrity pastors say, we Christians cave to sin time and time again, even after we promise God that we would never do a particular sin again. And those arrogant Christians who smile a lot and walk with an appearance of holiness, claiming that they have complete spiritual victory in their lives? Well, they are lying to you and themselves. Again, Jesus never promised you and me that this life would be easy.

However, with that said, keep in mind that Jesus did promise you and me that this tough life would only be a little while. Yes, you heard that correctly, this life under the sun - with its suffering, toil, and heartaches – will only be a little while.  
Now, there is a lot for us to consider in Jesus’ words from the Gospel of John, where he speaks the words “a little while” seven times. Today, though, we will not consider these words according to pastoral frauds, celebrity pastors, and arrogant Christians for they deny the suffering, toil, and heartaches of the little while. More often than not, the Devil has these people so blinded, dumb, and na├»ve to their sins that any attention given to them is a waste of time. And so, we pray that the eyes of these individuals would open to the reality that they are poor miserable sinners, like the rest of us Christians. 
So, considering all of this, how are the rest of us, Christians, to understand Jesus’ words of “a little while?” 
Today, Jesus is speaking to us that the sorrows of this life under the sun last only a little while, while the future joys of eternity will last forever. This should strengthen our faith, give us joy and contentment.
But, as you already know, we Christians are often not encouraged. We do not have the joy down in our hearts. The reason why this is the case is that we often get sucked into the ways of the world.
Keep in mind that the world does not understand that this life under the sun is only a little while. In fact, most non-Christians do everything possible to deny the fact of death. Seriously, just listen to the news and listen to our leaders. Many of them talk as if they are going to live forever. 

And so, if you get wooed into believing like the world, you can easily forget that you are mortal and that this world you live in is a little while. You can easily believe the myth that you are immortal and that this life under the sun will go on forever, which results in becoming easily overwhelmed with the sufferings, toils, and heartaches of life.  
Let me try and explain this as simply as possible. Suppose you do everything possible to deny the reality of death and believe that this life under the sun will go on forever. In that case, each additional hardship is like an additional weight that pushes down upon you. Without the reality that the hardships of life are only a little while, every little thing in life becomes one big crisis. Instead of hardships pointing you outside of this life under the sun to future joy, the hardships can turn you inward, which results in even more pain. 
Let’s think of it this way.  A mother in labor for the first time may feel like the pain is lasting for an eternity. But if you talk to that same mother when she is pregnant with her fourth child, she may say, 
“Childbirth is not fun, but it only lasts a little while.”  
And so, the point being, the pain is the exact same in both scenarios, but in the mother’s fourth birth, she knows that when the baby is born that the new baby immediately wipes out the memory of pain. She knows that the pain is only a little while.  
The point being, the world does not believe in Christ or in the fact that Jesus is coming back to make all things new. And so, the world lives like it is in constant labor with no end in sight. The world freaks out with each additional contraction. Every hardship becomes a crisis. Every sorrow becomes an opportunity to break down. Every pain becomes a disaster.  
Dear friends, God will often deliver us from various sufferings, toils, and heartaches of life; however, there are many times where He does not. For those times where He does, God be praised. We are blessed. But for the times He does not, we can easily feel like the-little-while-of-our-suffering is an eternity. If not careful, we can go the way of the world and forget that our struggles are only a little while, and then in our pain, we can begin to turn inward on ourselves. That is right; in pain, we turn inward. And once we are turned inward, our vision becomes nearsighted. We lose the perspective of eternity. And soon, hope turns to hopelessness, joy turns to bitterness, and assurance turns to fear.  
Beloved Baptized Saints, hear this! No matter your suffering, no matter you toil, and no matter your heartaches, Jesus says it does not last forever. You are not stuck forever in this world with its traps, struggles, and anguish. You will not be in a battle forever with a devil that taunts you. You will not have to live forever with sin that plagues your conscience. You will not have a raincloud of sorrow hovering over your head forever. 
Suffering beloved Baptized Saints, your Jesus calls you to look outside of yourself to Him, for He is your forgiveness, life, and salvation. He calls you today to look outside your sufferings, toils, and heartaches to hear right now that this life under the sun does not last forever. There is an end. There is an end to your tears. There is an end to your suffering. There is an end to your persecution. There is an end to your sin, pain, and the Devil himself. It is only a little while. 

Baptized Saints, never forget that your joy as a Christian is not anchored upon the circumstances of this life under the sun. Your assurance as a Christian is not dependent on your feelings in this life under the sun. Your hope as a Christian is not in the amount of money, material goods, or riches you have in this life under the sun. Heaven’s no!
Indeed, as a Christian, you live outside of yourself in the reality of Christ and His unbreakable promises for you. Sure, you have emotions, feelings, suffering, and anguish. Yes, you will continue to live life under the sun in the here and now. However, the Lord will continue to drive you away from yourself to the reality of your identity, hope, assurance in Christ, as well as your future with Him in a new heaven and earth.
This is the reason why there is never an emergency for the Christian or the Church. As a Christian, you know the end of the story. It is already set. No matter if you bask in the sunlight of glory or are shattered on the rocks of sorrow, Christ is the end. He holds you. He will not forsake you.  

And so, patiently endure misfortunes in this life under the sun. Comfort yourself with Jesus’ Word that this life is only a little while. Know that as tough as it gets in this life, the Lord holds the beginning and the end.

It is just a little while, and then you will see Jesus face to face, and your sorrows, sadness, and pain will be turned into joy - a joy that no one will be able to rob from you.

Be patient. Take courage. Wait it out. You are not alone.  It does not last forever.  It is only a little while. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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