August 11, 2019 Message

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Aug 112019

Matthew 7:18-23

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Please turn your attention to our Gospel lesson for today, the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus reminds us today that the claim that we are teachers and followers of Christ will be shown to be true or false by our fruit.


My grandfather had two fruit trees in his back yard. When you looked at them during winter, they looked very much the same. Just by looking at the bark and the way the branches had grown, you couldn’t tell what kind of fruit trees they were. As they began to leaf out in the spring you could begin to guess that they were different kinds of fruit trees. But it wasn’t until they began to produce fruit that you could tell for sure that one was a pear tree and the other was an apple tree. By it’s fruit you could recognize what kind of tree it was.

Two times in our gospel reading for today Jesus makes the statement, by their fruit you will recognize them. The first time he says this he is talking about someone who claims to have a message from God. The second time he says this he is talking about those who claim to be his followers, his disciples.

Jesus warns us to beware of false prophets. They are very dangerous. They are more dangerous than criminals, or robbers, or active shooters. They don’t just steal your possessions, or hurt or kill your body, if you don’t recognize and avoid them their false teaching can kill your soul and keep you from spending eternity with Jesus.

We need this warning to beware of false prophets today, not because there are more false prophets than there were in the past, there have always been false prophets as we heard in our reading from Jeremiah. We need this warning in our world today because so many people don’t think there is such a thing as a false prophet. I hear it, and I’m sure you hear it more than I do, even from people who are active in the church, that as long as people are in a church, as long as they believe something, they will be saved, after all, they say falsely, all religions get you to the same place. Such a statement is an example of rotten fruit.

When it comes to someone who claims to be speaking for God, the fruit Jesus is talking about is their message. It’s not how big or small the tree, or the congregation is. It’s not how many or few the branches are, how many congregations make up the church body. It’s the message, the doctrine. We can tell whether a prophet is a true prophet or a false prophet by their fruit, their doctrine. Does it agree with what the Bible says or not?

God told the people of Jeremiah’s day that they could tell who was true and who was false because the false prophets were telling those who were living contrary to God’s commands that they were at peace with God. If they were true prophets who stood in my council, God says, they would have caused my people to hear my words, and they would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds. The fruit of a true prophet, especially in our world today, is calling what God calls sin, sin, even when it’s unpopular to do so.

The fruit of a true prophet, especially in our world today, is also saying what Jesus said about salvation. Just a few minutes earlier in his Sermon, Jesus said that the gate and the path into God’s kingdom and eternal life is narrow. All religions don’t get you to the same place. Jesus is the gate. It is only through him that anyone can enter eternal life. No one comes to the father except through him. Any other teaching is bad fruit, that if eaten, is poison to your soul.

There are some very important questions to ask anyone who claims to be a spokesperson for God, or any religious group or congregation you are thinking about joining. The first and most important question to ask is, “do you consider the Bible to be the inspired word of God without error.” Anyone, or any religious group that does not confess that the Bible is God’s inspired word without error has rot in their tree and cannot produce good fruit. Watch out. Avoid it.

If they confess that the Bible is God’s word without error, the next question is, “do you believe that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus alone.” Anyone, or any religious group that does not confess that salvation is by grace, 100% God’s work, and that the only reason we are saved is because of what Jesus has done for us has rot in their tree and cannot produce good fruit. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Run from them for your spiritual lives!

Having warned us to watch out for false prophets and to make sure we test them by the fruit of their doctrine, Jesus gets very personal. He knows that inside of each of us lives a Pharisee that is thinking, “I thank you Lord that I know the truth. I thank you Lord that my church has the right doctrine. I thank you Lord that we are doing great things in your name- we have missions all over the world, we are reaching 100s of thousands through our newest work in Vietnam. We have wonderful schools like Trinity and NELHS that teach the Bible as your word without error and Jesus as the only way to heaven. I come to worship almost every Sunday and I do all I can to make sure others have a nice place to come to worship if they want. I’m thankful that we are not like so many others.” We are truly blessed. But that pharisee inside us needs the warning my mother used to give – “be careful that you don’t pat yourself on the back so hard that you break your arm.”

Jesus is saying, don’t just watch out for false prophets, watch your own heart. Make sure that your tree isn’t filled with the rot of selfishness and pride. It’s possible to have a tree and its fruit look good on the outside but be rotten on the inside. It’s possible to be like a whitewashed tomb, Jesus says. It looks beautiful and clean on the outside, it might be very expensive marble, but inside is rot and stench. It’s possible to do all kinds of good things, but to have a bad motive.

Jesus says, not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and drive out demons in your name and perform many miracles in your name?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.

  Jesus elaborates on this statement as he tells the parable of the sheep and the goats. He tells the goats on his left that they didn’t feed or clothe him; that they didn’t visit him in prison. And remember, they object. They insist that they made sure that they cared for the needy and visited the prisons. But what did Jesus say before he condemned them? You didn’t do it for me. You may have done these things in my name. You may even have cast out demons and performed miracles in my name, but you didn’t do these things for me. You did them for yourselves- to be noticed, to win the praise of people, to be able to brag that you congregations were better, or bigger, or faster-growing than others. You did it from the rotten tree of selfishness and pride and so the fruit you produced was rotten in God’s eyes.

Jesus tells the sheep on his right that they did feed and clothe him, they did visit him in prison. Do you remember their response? When did we do these things? And Jesus answered, when you did them for the least. When you did them not expecting anything in return. When you did them not wanting to be noticed or to receive any praise from people. When you did them because of all that you knew I had already done for you. Then you really were doing them for me.

All of us here today say, “Lord, Lord.” We call Jesus our Lord, our Savior. So, it’s a frightening thing to hear Jesus say, not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven. If we are here saying, “Lord, Lord,” only because we want to look good to others, or only because it’s the right thing to do, or because someone made us come, just saying the words is bad fruit. Our worship might look good on the outside, but it’s rotten on the inside.

Each day we need to examine our hearts. Each day we need to recognize that little pharisee that lives inside of us, who wants to tell us that we are better than others, that we deserve to go to heaven because of all the things we do for the Lord. Each day we need to drown him in the waters of our baptism as God’s word reminds us that we needed saving just as much as anyone else, that we were born dead in sin just like everyone else, that no matter how many good things we do in Jesus’ name, we still sin daily and deserve nothing from God except his just decree – I never knew you, depart from me you evildoers.

Then, each day, we need the reminder that in baptism God adopted us as his dear children. The Holy Spirit of God worked through the word to move us to see that God punished Jesus in our place, and that through his blood shed for us on the cross all our sins are washed away. The Holy Spirit enabled us to simply say, “Thank you Lord. I deserved punishment but through Jesus you have given me forgiveness instead. I deserved death, but you have united me to Christ and his resurrection so that, in him, I can live a new life now, and live with him forever in your presence.

As we have this daily reminder of our sinfulness and of God’s undeserved love for us in Jesus, the Holy Spirit continues to enable us to produce good fruit. The fruit of the Spirit is, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

As it was with the early Christians, the fruit of the Spirit will make us stick out and be noticed. The fruit of sound doctrine will bring us ridicule and persecution. But the fruit of the spirit will draw people to us as they see that we have what they need and want, and then we get to tell them about Jesus.

It’s difficult to tell what kind of fruit a tree will produce by looking at the bark and branches. Make sure that you test the fruit of doctrine that any person or group claiming to speak for God produces. Make sure their doctrine agrees with Scripture so that you aren’t exposing yourself to poison fruit, to a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Make sure that your own tree is not filled with the rot of pride and selfishness. Daily confess your own sins. Be reminded daily that you are saved only because of what God has done for you in Jesus. Then you will produce good fruit that brings glory to God.

July 28, 2019 Sermon

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Jul 282019

Genesis 13:10-11

Please turn your attention to our first reading for today, Genesis 13. As we look at this incident from the lives of Abraham and Lot, we learn about consequences that come from our poor, sinful choices in life; but we also see God’s grace in the midst of those consequences.

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When we hear the name Abraham, we tend to think “great hero of faith”. We tend to think that his life must have been much better than ours. But that’s a mistake. His life had its ups and downs just like ours. He made poor and even sinful choices just as we do and suffered some earthly consequences as a result, just as we do. But he also experienced the wonderful grace of God and grew in his faith as he did.

If you read the previous chapter of Genesis, you are reminded of one of those sinful choices Abraham made. When he went down to Egypt he was afraid that Pharaoh might harm, or even kill him, in order to add Sarah to his harem, because she was so beautiful. Instead of trusting the Lord in the matter he chose to lie and had Sarah join him in the lie, saying that she was his sister, not his wife. Because Pharaoh thought Sarah was unmarried, he did try to add her to his harem, but the Lord sent diseases on Pharaoh and his household. When they learned that the reason for their diseases was that Sarah was married to Abraham and the Lord was protecting her, Abraham’s lie was exposed, and he was expelled from Egypt.

Abraham realized that, in spite of being embarrassed before one of the most powerful men on earth and being expelled from Egypt as a consequence of his sin, God was gracious to him. God had not let him be treated as his sin deserved. Sarah had been protected and he was able to keep what he had gained in Egypt. As soon as he arrived back in Canaan, he built a public altar and gave public praise and thanks to God for his grace.

It was shortly after this that Abraham faced the problem of the fact that his herdsmen and the herdsmen of his nephew Lot were fighting over water and grazing land for their flocks. He was rightly concerned about giving a poor witness to the Canaanites after he had just given public praise and thanks to the Lord as the one true God and his Lord. His solution showed that the grace that God had shown him enabled him to show grace to others. As the elder of the two, as the one to whom God had promised to give all the land of Canaan, he could have chosen first and simply told Lot where he could go to graze his flocks. But graciously, trusting in God’s promise to him, he let Lot choose first.

How do you fare when you compare yourself to Abraham? Like him we all make foolish and sinful choices in life. Like him, God has not treated us as our sins deserve. In fact, he has often protected and blessed us in spite of our foolish and sinful choices. He has not only kept us from experiencing the full earthly consequences we deserved, but most importantly, he has given Jesus the eternal consequence we deserve. He gave Jesus the Hell we deserve for our sins.

When you realize what God has done for you, do you give him public thanks and praise as Abraham did? You don’t have to build and altar and offer a sacrifice in your front yard, but do you let it be known to your family and friends and neighbors that God has been gracious to you; that he is the source of all your earthly blessings, and that the most important blessing you have is your forgiveness in Jesus? Are you concerned that strife in your family, or in the Christian family of your congregation, gives a poor witness about the Lord to others? Are you willing to be gracious, unselfish, and to show your trust in the Lord in order to give a positive witness? Are you willing to set aside what you like, or even what you have the right to, for the benefit of others? I think we have to admit that, unlike Abraham, we are all too often more concerned about our likes and our rights than we are about reflecting the grace of God to others. We need to confess those sins and experience God’s grace in Jesus daily so that we continue to grow in our ability to show grace to others each day.

What did Lot do when Abraham offered him the first choice of where to water and feed his flocks? Lot looked up and saw the whole region around the Jordan River as you come to Zoar. (Before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah it was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt.) So Lot chose the region around the Jordan for himself. He didn’t say, “Abraham, you are my elder and the fact that I came with you from Ur is the reason I am so blessed. As God said, I am being blessed through you. You choose first.” No, he not only took Abraham up on his offer to choose first, but he chose what seemed to be the best part of the land, the area that reminded them of what the Garden of Eden must have been like. It was not only a selfish choice, but a foolish one.

We have a hint at why it was foolish as Moses comments that this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. And just after the section we read this morning Moses reminds us that the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD. The sin of sodomy is named after them and we still use that term today.

We know some of the consequences Lot experienced because of his selfish and foolish choice to pitch his tent near Sodom. Peter tells us that he was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard). We know that he was mocked and threatened when he tried to protect the angels who came to see if the cities were as wicked as they were reported to be. We know that he lost his home and everything he had, including his wife, when he had to flee those cities as God rained fire and brimstone on them and destroyed them.

Lot experienced grave consequences as a result of his selfish and foolish choice. But he also experienced God’s grace. God sent angels, not just to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, but to rescue Lot and all who would listen and flee with him. The Lord even spared Zoar in answer to Lot’s prayer to be allowed to flee there for safety.

We don’t hear much about Lot’s later life, but as he replayed in his mind the fire and brimstone falling on Sodom and Gomorrah, he must have realized God’s grace. He must have realized that he did not deserve to be rescued. He deserved much worse than being destroyed with Sodom and Gomorrah. He deserved the eternal fire and brimstone of Hell. God had not only rescued him from physical destruction, but through his promise of a Savior given to Abraham, a promise which Abraham must have shared with him, he realized the grace of forgiveness for his selfish, foolish choice, and for all his sins.

Like Lot, we all too often fall for the lure of the world. We tend to think that we can pitch our tent near temptation and not suffer any consequences. It might be a group of friends or neighbors we enjoy being with, but whose attitudes and actions we know are contrary to God’s will and word. It might be choosing to live in a place where we can make a lot more money, but where there is little or no opportunity to have our faith fed through a church that is faithful to the Lord and his word. It might be thinking that the kind of music we listen to, or the kinds of movies or TV shows we watch, or the kinds of games we play, won’t affect our relationship with God or others because “our faith is strong and we know better.” Jesus says, remember Lot’s wife. Apparently, her heart longed more for the physical things she was losing than for eternity with the Lord.

When like Abraham and Lot, we tell lies because of our lack of trust in the Lord, or we make selfish choices and we pitch our tent next to evil, there will be consequences. They may not be as drastic as those Lot experienced, but there will be consequences. When you experience those consequences, let them remind you of your sinfulness. Let them move you to repentance which includes turning away from that sin. Be reminded of God’s grace, for in the life, death and resrurrection of Jesus you see that God has not given you what your sins deserve. Each of us deserves the fire and brimstone of Hell for even just one sin. Then, as you recognize God’s abundant grace to you in Jesus, be moved like Abraham to be gracious to others because you know that you are in God’s gracious hands for this life, and for eternity.

July 14, 2019 Sermon

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Jul 162019

Luke 6:36-41

Please turn to our Gospel lesson for today, Luke 6:36-41 where Jesus encourages us to be merciful toward one another, as merciful as God is toward us.

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Is God serious about his commandments? Yes, he is. They are commandments, not suggestions. James reminds us that if we were to keep the commandments perfectly, and then just once in our lives speak even one curse, or even one unkind word in anger, we would be guilty of breaking his commandments. You are either perfect or a sinner. There is no such thing in God’s book as 99.9% pure. 99.9% pure is still impure in his eyes. God is serious about his commandments; about everything he commands us to do and everything he commands us to avoid.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day understood that God was serious about every one of his commands. So, they thought, “It is our job to point out to others when they have broken any of God’s commands.” When the disciples were walking through the fields on a Sabbath and picking grain, they pointed out that the disciples were breaking the Sabbath. Or when Jesus called Matthew to be his disciple and then went to the party Matthew gave to which he invited some of his former fellow tax collectors, they pointed out that these people Jesus was eating with were liars and cheats. They felt that they were doing their God-given job by pointing out sin when they saw it and making sure people understood that God is serious about his Commandments.

But on both those occasions Jesus reprimanded them with words from Hosea. He told them that they were wrong in what they were doing because they had not learned the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. God’s is serious about every single one of his Commandments being kept. He wants people to bring the sacrifices he has commanded and keep every Commandment. But, because no one can keep every Commandment perfectly, mercy is even more important than sacrifice.

Jesus begins this section with the words, be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. What does that mean? How is our Father, our heavenly father, merciful? Jesus says in the previous verse that the Father is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. He is kind, not only to those who don’t deserve his kindness. He is kind to those who deserve just the opposite, to those who deserve his judgment, who deserve to be cast into the eternal fires of hell because they have disobeyed even just one of his commands.

The point is that he is kind, he is merciful, to you and to me. What Jesus wants us to see is that there isn’t one of us who have kept all his commands perfectly. He wants us to see that each and every one of us are ungrateful and wicked in God’s eyes. And yet, he is kind to us. We grumble about the food we have to eat, but he still gives us food to eat. We number ourselves among those who are considered wicked when we curse, or tell lies, or disobey those in authority, or gossip, or lust, or covet. And yet God doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. He is merciful and he proved it in the most amazing way possible. While we were still sinners, while we were ungrateful and wicked, Christ died for us. He didn’t say, “first clean up your act and be perfect from now on and then I will think about saving you from your previous sins.” No. While we were sinners; while we were his enemies; even though we still are not keeping his Commandments perfectly; Jesus came to earth to live perfectly in our place, to take on himself the punishment we deserve, and to rise in victory from the dead. That’s the kind of mercy God has shown us.

The point that Jesus is making in Luke 6 is that, as those who know the mercy God has shown us, we are moved to be like him in our dealings with others. He says that if you show love and mercy and kindness to those who show love and mercy and kindness to you, that’s no big deal. Even people who have no use for God do those kinds of things. But God shows love, mercy and kindness to the ungrateful and the wicked. He sends sunshine and rain on both the evil and the just. Jesus prayed that the father would forgive those who were crucifying him. He loved those who hated him and did good to those who persecuted him. The disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. We will never be above Jesus, but, as we grow in the knowledge of his word, and as we grow in faith, we become more and more like our teacher who prayed that those who were causing him unbelievable pain would be shown mercy, and be forgiven.

So, as you look at others and compare their words and actions to God’s commands, do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Jesus even uses an example to explain what he means. Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but fail to notice the beam in your own eye? Or how can you tell your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck in your eye,’ when you do not see the beam in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck in your brother’s eye.

Jesus is not saying that we can never point out a sin. He is saying, before you attempt to point out something sinful someone else is doing, look in the mirror. First make sure that you clearly understand that you are not perfect and that you need the mercy and forgiveness of God just as much as everyone else, just as much as the worst sinner you can imagine. Only when you have experienced God’s mercy will you be able to be merciful to others. Only when you see how much you have been forgiven will you be able to forgive others. Only then will you be able to talk to someone about what God says without having a judgmental attitude. As Paul says, Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Unless you have seen the beam in your own eye, and had it removed by seeing your undeserved forgiveness in Jesus, you will just be a blind man trying to guide a blind man.

Jesus had pointed out that the people of the world give in order to get something in return. They invite people to their dinner parties so that they will be invited in return. But as we grow to be like our teacher, we show that we are sons of our Heavenly Father when we give to others not expecting anything in return. When you consider all that God has given you, and the fact that you can’t take any of it with you when you die, you are moved to be very generous in your giving to the Lord and to others. And God does promise that the measure you use as you give to the Lord and others will be used when things are measured back to you. If you use a skimpy measure, if you try to make sure that there is a lot of air in the cup along with what you are measuring out to others, instead of shaking it and packing it down and even letting it overflow, that’s how it will be measured back to you. Or the Bible puts it another way, you reap what you sow. If you sow sparingly, skimping on the seed, you won’t reap as much as if you sow the seed generously.

Probably the best illustration of this principle is the one God uses in Malachi. “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, `How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings.  You are under a curse– the whole nation of you– because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the LORD Almighty.

When you know how generous God is to you, giving you much more than you deserve, and when you know his promise to always provide what you need for your body and life, you are moved to be generous in return. You are moved to put God first, others next and yourself last. And God promises that he will use the measure you have used when he gives back to you.

None of us will ever be as merciful as God is to us. None of us will always avoid judging others more harshly than ourselves or avoid thinking that others deserve God’s condemnation more than we do. None of us will be as generous as we could be. So, none of these things earn us anything from God. Yet in his grace and mercy, he forgives our judgmentalism, our failure to forgive, our lack of generous giving to him and to others. He forgives us, only because Jesus did all those things we fail to do perfectly. He forgives us, only because Jesus took on himself the punishment we rightly deserve.

Having seen your own sins and having experienced God’s mercy and forgiveness in Jesus, be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

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