Sermons

A Rose of Christian Love by Roger Rohde, Sept. 3, 2017

A Rose of Christian Love

Romans 12:9-21

The rose is probably the most popular flower through which love is expressed.  Our text for today talks about Christian love and as it does so one can see eight petals on a rose that define Christian love.

The first petal of Christian love is that Christian love is genuine.  People in the Christian congregation are not simply to tolerate one another, but they are to sincerely care for one another as would a closely knit family.  This means, as Jesus points out, that when we deal with one another in the church we do not simply wish people well or tell them that we will pray for them, but we will actually do something to show our love for our brother and sister in Christ (James 2:15-16).  This, of course, is not always easy to do.  Some people simply seem more lovable than others.  Yet, sincere Christian love does not distinguish between people.  As the Bible tells us: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him” (Romans 10:13).  In other words, God’s love knows nothing about skin color or nationality.  Christ died for all and all are to be loved in Christ by what we do and what we say.

The second petal in Christian love is that Christian love is pure.  Our text states: “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”  Christian love has two sides: hating evil and pursuing that what is good.

The world often understands love to mean tolerating people and their beliefs.  That is not what God says.  He emphasizes that sincere Christian love hates evil and clings to that which is good.  The determination of what is good and evil is not to be based upon personal opinion or the decision of the majority, but by the Word of God.  Christians are to uphold all that the Bible declares because it is the eternal and abiding truth of God.  Taking our stance on issues based upon God’s Word will not always be popular, but it will be a proclamation to the fact that we love the Lord above all else.  Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount: “No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and mammon” (Mathew 6:24).  Who is it that we serve?  What determines the truths by which we live?  Christian love is always pure having the standard of right and wrong determined by God’s Word.

Petal three in this rose of Christian love is tender affection.  Christian love displays itself in tender affection to all.  Our text states: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with them who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another.”  In His Sermon on the Mount Jesus speaks of having tender affection and sympathizing with one another:  “I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.  He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even the pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as you heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:44-48).

Here the Lord tells us that there is a marked difference between the people of the world and the people of God.  The true children of God care about all people with tender affection and sympathy because they have experienced this love from God firsthand.  God’s people are not to choose who they wish to love and care for, but like Jesus they reach out to all people.  When Jesus took on human flesh, His heart was filled with affection and sympathy for all mankind.  He lived as a man because He loved us, and He died in our place to pay the debt of our sin and bless us with His love, so that we may in like fashion show tender affection and sympathy to all people.  In our relating to one another do we display the likeness of the heavenly Father’s tender heart and sympathizing spirit?

The fourth petal of the rose of Christian love is zeal.  Christian love is zealous for the Lord.  Christian love in our text is spoken of as “never lacking zeal, but having spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.”

God wants zealous, enthusiastic people as members in His church.  No Christian congregation has ever been built with members who are indifferent or lackluster toward the Lord.  In fact, the Lord tells us in Revelation 3:15-16, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one of the other!  So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of My mouth.”  Indifference in attending worship services, studying God’s Word, serving Him or bringing the message of the Gospel to all people are indications that a person is not tied to Jesus Christ by faith.  While works do not save us, James clearly tells us that our actions can be a measuring stick to our faith in and commitment to the Lord (James 2:14-17).  We have many interests in life and are committed to many things, but if what we do does not center on Christ and His will we do not love Christ and our fellowman as God commands.

Patience is another petal in this rose of Christian love.  Our text states: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”  A true believer in Christ lives with the certainty that he will one day dwell in heaven because of the death and resurrection of Jesus for all mankind.  He, therefore, patiently waits upon the Lord through life’s present trials and he lifts up all situations to the Lord in prayer.  Through faith he does not get bogged down with the problems of this life, but he lives knowing that all situations in life have their God-given purpose in leading us to touch other lives and have our own faith strengthened in Christ.

Another petal to this rose of Christian love is generosity.  Christian love practices generosity.  The text states: “Share with God’s people in need.  Practice hospitality.”

Jesus’ ministry was marked by generosity.  In His first recorded miracle He created the best wine served at the wedding of Cana.  He fed over 5,000 men, not counting women and children, with five loaves of bread and two fish, having 12 baskets of leftovers.  Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead when the original request of Mary and Martha was simply to heal him of his sickness.  Most significantly of all, Jesus poured out His lifeblood, dying on the cross to pay for our sins, when He could have rightfully left us to be lost eternally in our sins.  Again and again Jesus displayed His love for all mankind by His generously caring for us and giving us the gift of eternal salvation.

The truth is that if this love of Christ truly dwells within us it will flow through us and touch the lives of other people.  John in his first epistle wrote, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.  If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?  Dear children, let us not love with words of tongue but with actions and in truth” (3:16-18).  God in Galatians 6:10 states, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good, to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

Humility is the next petal on this rose of Christian love.  Our text declares, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.”

This description of humility is best displayed in the person of Jesus Christ.  Philippians 2 tells us, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross” (verses 3-8).

Jesus Christ, eternal and sinless God, took on human flesh and lived like a man.  He humbly served others eventually giving His very life on the cross to pay for our sins and grant us the gift of eternal life in heaven.  During His earthly ministry Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them.  He ministered to those who despised Him in the same way He did to all people.  No one was too insignificant or sinful that the Lord would not minister to them.  The Lord looks for such humility to be within us who know Him and have experienced His undeserved love.  Jesus says to us in His Sermon on the Mount, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you?  Even ‘sinners’ do that.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you?  Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full.  But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.  Then your reward will be great, and you will sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:27, 28, 32-36).

The final petal in the rose of Christian love is peace.  Christian love is peaceful.  Christian love is not about stirring up conflict, making judgments that are to be left to God, or seeking to better oneself by putting others down.  That is anew by the redeeming grace of God and walk by the Holy Spirit.  Those who know Christian love never repay evil with evil.  They don’t try to justify actions and attributes that God says are wrong.  They have God’s peace in their hearts through the saving work of Jesus and they seek to deal with all people by that saving grace.

This truly is a great challenge for all of us.  Yet, this is why it requires God’s

Spirit and not our own efforts.  By our natural flesh we will never deal with evil by ministering to others in patience, humility, affection and sympathy.  We can only do this as Christ’s love rules our hearts and minds, and the Holy Spirit directs our words and actions.

Surely God has laid a lot before us as He presents this rose of Christian love to us today.  With gratitude in our hearts we can see God’s love for us through Christ and the fragrant rose of Christian love by which He has blessed us.  As we receive this rose of Christian love by faith, may we under the Holy Spirit’s power give this rose of Christian love back to God by the way we love and minister to others in His name.  Let us have this fragrant rose of Christ’s love blossom in each of us and the life of this congregation, so that the world will be blessed in Christ through the Christian love we practice.  Amen.

Truths About God’s Grace by Roger Rohde, Aug. 20, 2017

Truths about God’s Grace

Romans 11:1-6, 13-24

Grace is an essential element of Biblical truth.  Grace is one of the key

points that separate Christianity from all other religions.  It became one of the five

solas of the Reformation.  The word “sola” means “”alone” or “only.”  There were

five solas emphasized in the Reformation of the church in the 1500s: Sola

Scriptura – Scripture alone; sola fide – faith alone; sola Christus – Christ alone;

sola Deo Gloria – glory to God alone; and sola gratia – grace alone.  Our text leads

us to consider the importance of God’s grace for ourselves and for the mission

God has given us in our lives.

The first truth from today’s text is that God’s grace rejects no one.  Previous

to our text Paul noted that the Jews had rejected the Gospel of Christ as Savior,

and hence the Gospel was proclaimed to the Gentiles.  Based upon that fact Paul

asks the question: “Did God reject His people?”  Can the Jewish people no longer

be saved by the Gospel of Christ?  Paul’s response is that God does not reject

anyone from hearing and being blessed by the Gospel.  Just because the Jews

rejected Jesus as the Messiah does not mean that God now rejects them and

doesn’t want the Gospel proclaimed to them.

Paul points to himself as an example of this truth.  In Acts chapter 6 and

following Paul, then known as Saul, had a hard heart with regard to Jesus being

the promised Messiah.  Saul involved himself in arresting Christians and having

them imprisoned or put to death.  Yet, in Acts 9 it is revealed to us that the Lord

spoke to one of His disciples, a man named Ananias and said: “Go to the house of

Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is

praying.  In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands

on him to restore his sight.”   Ananias responded: “Lord, I have heard many

reports about this man and all the harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem.

And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call

on Your name.”  Jesus responded to Ananias: “Go!  This man is My chosen

instrument to carry My name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the

people of Israel.  I will show him how much he must suffer for My name”

(verses11-16).

Paul notes that if God had rejected the Jews after they despised and

crucified His Son, Paul would never have become a Christian, the great missionary

to the Gentiles, and a writer through whom God gave us much of the Bible.

 

God’s grace rejects no one.  Do we?  Do we turn our backs on certain

people because they do not fit into our perspective of being “worthy of God’s

grace?”  If God called you instead of Ananias to go and meet up with Saul, would

you have do it?  For us to answer that question positively would probably be

hypocritical.  The truth is we struggle loving our enemies, praying for those who

persecute us, and ministering to people in Jesus’ name who do not fit into the

way we feel people should be.

The second truth found in today’s text is that God’s grace is an act of God’s

doing and it is for all people.  Paul notes in our text that if salvation is by grace,

and it is, then it is no longer by works.  If it were by works, it would no longer be

grace.

The word “grace” literally means “undeserved love.”  It is not a love given

us because we have been such good people or we were such an obedient people.

No, our receiving God’s grace has nothing to do with us deserving it, for in fact we

are unlovable.

God bestows His grace upon us because His heart is so filled with

undeserved love for us.  His mercy and grace come our way not because of

anything good within us.  The Bible defines our hearts as “deceitful” and

“desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9).  We are told by God that “none of us are

righteous before God, nor do we seek Him” (Romans 3:10-11).  We were like all

people “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).  God’s grace is a pure

gift of His doing.  “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that

whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  Paul

noted in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you are saved through faith and that not

of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works, so that no one can boast.”  The

forgiveness of sins and the sure hope of everlasting life in heaven we have in

Christ solely rests on God’s grace and what He did for us as He offered up His Son,

the Lamb of God, as the only complete sacrifice for sin.

The third about God’s grace in our text is that God’s grace leads to true,

humble, and God-pleasing adoration of the Lord.

In our text God uses the illustration of “some branches” (referring to Jews

who did not trust in Jesus as the Messiah) being removed from the olive shoot,

which is God’s church.  They were removed and Gentiles who trusted in Christ as

Savior were added to the church.  This does mean that we as Gentiles can

personally boast about being God’s people and better than others.  No, Paul

points out that the branches do not support the root, but the root supports the

 

branches.  Our place in the Christian church as God’s people is because of God’s

grace, which has its root in Jesus, the Root of Jesse, the true source of salvation.

Paul, therefore, tells us not to be arrogant about our place in the Christian

church.  It is by God’s grace that we are children of God and heirs of everlasting

life.  We are in humble adoration to sing the praises of God and His grace.  Paul

reminds us in I Corinthians 1:30-31: “It is because of God that you are in Christ

Jesus, Who has become for us wisdom from God that is, our righteousness,

holiness and redemption.  Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in

the Lord.”

The fourth truth about God’s grace found in our text is that God’s grace is

meant to move us to minister to all people.  This brings us back to the first point

in our outline: God’s grace rejects no one.  Paul tells Pastor Timothy and hence all

of us: “God wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”

(I Timothy 2:4).  How about us?  Do we really want everybody to be saved and do

we so relate to others that we show our interest in them being saved?

In our text it becomes quite clear that God has not given up on the Jews

and neither should we.  In fact, God’s so loves and desires the salvation of all

people that we should always look upon, treat, and reach out to others as people

God wants in His kingdom, because He does.  God has not forgotten Jewish

people though many have rejected Him.  In His grace He is still seeking to bring

them and all unbelievers unto Himself that they may be a part of the heavenly

family.  God’s plan for you and me is to be so changed by God’s grace in Christ

that we will become all things to all people that by all means we may save some

(I Corinthians 9:22).

Has God’s grace truly changed us so you that in Christ’s love we are

reaching out to all people?  Jesus’ love reaches out to sinners.  He was time and

again ridiculed for eating with sinners, having Himself touched by them, and

forgiving them of their sinful activity.  Yet, this is precisely why Christ came to this

world.  He said: “I have come to seek and to save that which was lost”

9:11).  Because of this grace we are saved today.  Will we now deny this

grace to others by failing to bring this Gospel to sinners?  Do we in faith embrace

and live by God’s grace in Christ Jesus.?

If so, then we need to stop thinking of ourselves as better than others.  We

need to stop turning our backs on certain people because they don’t meet our

qualifications.  We need to be filled, molded, and shaped by God’s grace in Christ

Jesus and appropriately displaying it in our lives.  That’s what Paul did.  That’s how

 

God’s grace changed his life.  We conclude with these words of the Apostle Paul

which hopefully will be a motto and truth of God’s grace by which we all live: “I

am what I am by the grace of God, and God’s grace was not wasted on me.  I

labored harder than all the other apostles, nevertheless it was not I, but God’s

grace in me” (I Corinthians 15:10).  Amen.

Why do You Doubt? by Roger Rohde, August 13, 2017

Why Do You Doubt?

Matthew 14:22-33

Our faith is like a pendulum that swings back and forth between moments of spiritual triumph and moments of spiritual depression.  At one moment our faith is so great that nothing we experience in life can phase it, and the next moment our faith is so shaken by circumstances it seems as if we’re going to drown.  In today’s text God seeks to deal with our fluctuating faith as He directly asks us: “Why do you doubt?”

The first cause for our lack of faith in the Lord is that we overlook God’s purposes in our lives.

It is no accident that the disciples were in the boat at the time this storm suddenly arose.  Jesus had put them there.  Sometimes we bring troubles upon ourselves by not following God’s direction, such as Jonah did.  Jonah refused to follow God’s will and preach a message of repentance to the people of Nineveh.  As a result he found himself in a terrible storm and in the stomach of a large fish.  Sometimes we bring problems upon ourselves because of our disobedience to God’s will or our great desire to satisfy the desires of our sinful flesh.  But this is not true for the disciples in the historical account before us.

Our text begins by telling us: “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side.”  Jesus sent them off in the boat well aware that they would come upon this severe storm at sea.

Jesus had a purpose for having the disciples in that boat at that time.  What preceded our text was Jesus miraculously feeding over 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish.  Following that feeding the crowd desired that Jesus be their earthly king.  While Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, His purpose is not to be an earthly king.  Jesus said before Pontius Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).  The disciples were still too spiritually immature not to follow the incorrect desires of the crowd.  Hence, Jesus immediately sought to get them out of there.  His purpose in putting the disciples in the boat was to get them away from man’s misconceived notion about Jesus.

Jesus had a second purpose for putting them on the boat.  Jesus wanted them in the boat at the time of the storm to teach them about His true identity as the Son of God.  John in the conclusion of his Gospel wrote:  “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31).  The purpose behind all the miracles that Jesus performed was that people would know that the Son of Man is also true God.  That was exactly what came out of this miracle as “the disciples worshiped Jesus saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”

The Lord still works His purposes of strengthening and purifying our faith in Him through the storms of life He places us in today.  I can look at my own life and see how placed me in the midst of storms that my faith could grow in Him in ways it may not have grown had I been spared from those storms.  The Lord tells us that we “may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials so that our faith may be refined” (I Peter 1:7).  As we go through difficulties in our lives, we are not to doubt God’s wisdom in the way He is leading us, but we are to trust in His purposes of developing and strengthening our faith through the circumstances in life He would have us encounter.

The second cause for our lack of faith in the Lord is that we question His presence with us.  Years ago my family and I were driving on an interstate highway in the middle of the night when tornado warnings were issued.  It was too dark to see if any funnel clouds were forming, and there was absolutely no place to get off of the highway.  Jeri and I were becoming a bit uneasy when Joshua, our son, about three years-old at the time, told us that we didn’t have to be afraid because Jesus was with us.  Move forward in time to when Joshua was about seven years old.  We found ourselves in a similar situation and this time it was Joshua who became uneasy.  We told him that he did not have to worry because Jesus was with us.  Joshua’s childlike faith was now gone.  He looked toward the back of the van and on each side and sincerely reported to us: “I don’t see Him.”

The disciples did not acknowledge Jesus’ presence with them during the storm although He had promised to be with them always.  Even when Jesus physically appeared, the disciples thought Him to be a ghost and were terrified.  The disciples lived in fear and doubt, because they did not believe in Jesus’ presence with them.  Their fear was only stilled when Jesus said to them: “Take courage!  It is I.  Do not be afraid.”

Unfortunately, like the disciples of old and my son, Joshua, we don’t always maintain the childlike faith God wants us to possess.  When difficulties come we live in fear because we forget Jesus’ promises to be with us.  In Joshua 1:5-6, God promises: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.  Be strong and of good courage.”  In Isaiah 43, God leaves us with these words: “Feat not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you” (1b-2a).  Shortly before Jesus’ ascension He assured us: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).  We are even assured of the Lord’s presence with us at the hour of our own death: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for You are with Me” (Psalm 23:4).

To cast doubt from our lives and live by faith, it is critical that we constantly turn to God’s Word and hear His voice that assures us of His presence with us.  We may not always see His hand, but through His Word we can hear His voice and live in the blessed assurance that He is with us to work out all things for good to them that love God.

A third cause for our lack of faith in the Lord is that we fail to trust in His power.

Once the impulsive Peter recognized Jesus he wanted to get out of the boat and walk to Him.  “Come,” Jesus said.  This request of Peter spoke to his love for the Lord and his faith in Christ.  All went well for Peter as he exited the boat.  He walked on water until he took his focus off of Jesus and saw the wind and the waves.  Dwelling on the storm rather than on Jesus, Peter quickly sank.

Sink is what happens to us when we take our eyes off of Jesus and no longer trust in His unwavering power and love.  The cross upon which Jesus died for our sins and the empty tomb from which He rose from the dead assure us that we are more than conquerors through Him Who has loved us.  Resting our faith on Jesus allows us to face every situation and circumstance in life with the certainty that Christ will safely see us through all life’s storms and bring us to the shores of heavenly glory.

Faith in Christ does not mean we will be free from experiencing any pressures or difficulties in this life.  Faith in Christ assures us that God has a purpose for all the things we encounter and that He is present with us so that by His power we can make it through all the storms of life and be the better because of them.

Today Jesus reaches out to us as He reached out to Peter in our text.  He is drawing us to Himself and saying: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  By virtue of what the Lord has taught us today may we be strengthened in our faith to know that Jesus pilots our lives that we may be with Him in heaven.  Amen.

The Rallying Point of a Thankful Heart by Roger Rohde

The Rallying Point of a Thankful Heart

Psalm 136

There is no question that one of God’s most challenging commands is for us to give Him thanks.  The concept of thanking God runs throughout the pages of Scripture.  This giving of thanks is commanded of us by God not only when things go to our liking, but He commands us to give thanks in every and all circumstances.  A passage that clearly states this is I Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.”

This concept of giving thanks to God in all circumstances called to mind a Southern Gospel song I have come to love.  It is entitled, “On the Mountain.”  The words of the song go like this: “Life is easy, when you’re up on the mountain And you’ve got peace of mind, like you’ve never known But things change, when you’re down in the valley Don’t lose faith, for your never alone.  For the God on the mountain, is still God in the valley When things go wrong, He’ll make them right And the God of the good times, is still God in the bad times The God of the day, is still God in the night.  We talk of faith way up on the mountain But talk comes easy, when life’s at its best Now it’s down in the valley, trials and temptations That’s where your faith if really put into the test.  For the God on the mountain, is still God in the valley, When things go wrong, He’ll make them right And the God of the good times, is still God in the bad times The God of the day, is still God in the night.”  The point of self-examination in this song is quite clear.  We are people of faith when all is well, but what about when we are in the valley?  Do we still thank God?

The rallying point to a thankful heart is not the circumstances in which we find ourselves, but the fact that the Lord’s love is steadfast.  The Lord loves and cares for us whether we are on a mountain or in a valley, whether the circumstances are bright like the day or dark like the night.

Our God is good.  This is a hidden concept that comes out in the very first line of our text, when it states: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.”  Change that last word ever so slightly and you have this meaning: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is God.  Ironically such a change in translation is not manipulative, because in the ancient language “good” and “God” are derived from the same word.  We can thank the Lord in all circumstances because He is God in the good times and bad times, in the day and in the night.  The rallying point to a thankful heart is the steadfast love of the Lord.

Our text goes on to describe the significance of God’s steadfast love.  First, because of God’s steadfast love we have the gift of life and all the good things that surround our lives here on earth.  Verses 5-9 speak of the creative work of God.  This brings us to remember the significance of the first two chapters of Scripture which speak of God’s creative work in detail.  You, I and the universe in which we live have not come to be by chance or some self-regeneration.  The world we know and the people in it are the result of God’s wisdom and power that created all things.

Most certainly today’s world is no longer perfect as God had first made it, because man made a choice to forsake the will and way of God by eating from the forbidden tree.  Yet even though man disobeyed God, God’s steadfast love would not let His creation go down the tubes.  To this day God continues to bless us with everything that supports our body and life.  We read near the end of today’s text: “He gives food to all flesh, for His steadfast love endures forever.”

You and I aren’t always sitting on a mountaintop in our lives, but that does not mean God has ceased to love and care for us.  We have always had air to breathe and food to eat.  We have always had a roof over our heads, something to wear, and someone who cares.  Unfortunately, we don’t always thank the Lord for His creative and providential care, because we lose sight of these truths.  A Sunday school teacher had this brought home to her when she asked her class where they got all the things they needed to live.  Without hesitation the answer rang out, “Walmart.”  Like that Sunday school class, we forget Who is the ultimate source of all the food we have to eat, the clothes that is in our closets, and the roof that is over our heads.  There are so many middlemen between these things we have and the God Who gives them to us that Walmart rather than God is seen as the great provider.

The truth found in the First Article of the Apostles’’ Creed is God is our Creator and Provider, and that we are to give Him thanks all of our days.  His creative and providential hand shows us that His steadfast love endures forever.

Second, God’s steadfast love is the rallying point for a thankful heart, because God’s love is the basis of our eternal salvation.  Our text makes us mindful of this as it refers to how God’s hand delivered the Israelites from Egyptian bondage and brought them safely into the promised land of Canaan.

The Bible tells us that we were in bondage as we were “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).  We had no way of saving ourselves, because we were in such bondage from the time our mothers conceived us (Psalm 51:5).  It is while we were in this state that God demonstrates His love for us.  God sent His believed Son to the cross of Calvary to suffer and die that the debt of our sins would be paid.  He took on our sins and was punished as though He were the sinner, so that through the lifeblood He shed we would be His forgiven children and heirs of everlasting life in heaven.

God now asks us: “If I did that for you while you were my enemies, will I not in My steadfast love care for you until you enter the eternal home in heaven that I have prepared for you” (Romans 8:32)?  The truth is that God in His love cares for us, watches over us, and will be our God in the valleys as well as on the mountains.  Because of His steadfast love, we can give thanks to Him in all circumstances.  Amen.

Rejoicing in Christ’s Friendship by Roger Rohde -June 18

Rejoicing in Christ’s Friendship

Romans 5:6-11

The words of Paul preceding our text find him writing to Christians about having joy and hope in the midst of difficult times.  This makes the message found in our text relevant for us today.  None of us here is immune from heartache, pain, or sorrow.  As we live out our lives on earth, we have to deal with broken relationships, deteriorating health issues due to sickness or aging, and challenges within the home, at the workplace, in the world, and yes even in the church.  Life can be and often times is very challenging.  We don’t always handle these situations as God would have us to do.  We encounter situations and we know restless nights, irritability, impatience, physical problems, and the list can go on and on.  Yet, Paul in speaking to Christians in the midst of struggles speaks to them of dealing with these struggles with joy in their hearts because of Christ’s friendship.  What is it about Jesus’ friendship that can empower us to have joy in times of sadness and peace in times of turmoil?

It begins when we realize the depth of Christ’s love as He befriended us.

It is not unusual to hit it off with certain people.  In Scripture that is referred to as philia love.  It is a bond that we have with people that like the same things we do, have the same values, and live by the same principles.  Philia love is wonderful, but it is not an in-depth kind of love that is endures.  If people are only joined by philia love, they may be friends for a time, maybe many years, but if something happens upon which they disagree that relationship may be severed forever.  Philia love is always tied to what a person can get out of the relationship for himself.  It is self-serving in nature.

An enduring relationship is founded on agape love.  This is the love that Christ has for us as noted in our text.  He befriended us when we were not at all friendly to Him.  Notice exactly how our text describes us when Christ lovingly laid done His life for us on the cross.  We were helpless and ungodly.  We had nothing to offer Jesus that He should befriend us.  In fact, we were His enemies.  We did everything that worked against the very will and purposes of God.

Now some may say, “I know I was and am a sinner, but don’t go too far.  I’m not like other people who don’t go to church and use Sundays to sleep in.”  Maybe our lives are a bit more God-conscience than other people, but don’t forget that God does not call for us to be better than others.  He commands us: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven in perfect”           (Matthew 5:48).

Our love for God and our fellowman is anything but perfect.  Our act of forgiveness toward others is not near what God commands of us: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

The love of Christ that befriends us is what can bring us joy and peace through whatever circumstances in life we are encountering.  The depth of Christ’s friendship is so deep that Paul presents a  question that in the Greek indicates that the answer is to be a positive one:  “God Who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32).  Of course He will.  If He loved us with His life when we were His enemies and gave up His life to pay for our sins, most certainly He will love and care for us now as we are His beloved friends.

Christ’s love has not only befriended us, but we are now His beloved children for all eternity.  We are sons and daughters of God.  We belong to Him as we “have been justified by His blood.”  Hence, we are saved to be with God eternally in heaven.

The concept presented here is of a verdict that has come down in a court of law.  It is God’s courtroom and God the Father declares us innocent of all sin through the blood Jesus poured out for us at Calvary.  The Bible tells us in Psalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our transgressions from us.”  In Jeremiah 31:34, the Lord declares: “For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.”

To know that God the Father has declared us to be His forgiven and redeemed children through Christ’s death and resurrection frees us from the burden or our sins and living in fear that God is going to punish us every time we sin.  To be sure, God does disciple Hi children, but disciple administered in love is far different than being punished under the righteous wrath of God.

What Christ’s friendship offers us can be seen on this Father’s Day in the life of a father whose earthly life was coming to an end.  His children had gathered around his bedside and were singing some hymns of comfort.  Suddenly the father stretched out his arms and said, “The Lord is calling me now.  He is calling me.  I am going home.”  With those words the father passed away.  The Lord had befriended him in his earthly life with goodness, mercy, love and forgiveness.  In the end his Friend, Jesus, called him to the kingdom that had prepared for him and all who would ever believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

God wants us to rejoice today and every day.  We have been befriended by Christ with His amazing love and as Paul tells us: “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).  Let us then rejoice in Christ’s friendship always.  Amen.

Who Are We to Worship? -Pastor Roger Rohde June 11, 2017

Who Are We to Worship?

Isaiah 42:5-12

                  Quite frequently we hear remarks that suggest it doesn’t matter who we worship so long as our hearts are sincere. The Lord in today’s text tells us that such a concept is totally untrue. It does matter who we worship, because there is only one True God that deserves our recognition and praise. On this Trinity Sunday, when we look at the greatness of God, we recall the First Commandment of our Lord: “You shall have no other gods.” Listen to the Lord’s rational for this as presented in today’s text.

We are to only worship the Triune God, because he is the Creator of all things. God through Isaiah declares that “He created the heavens and stretched them out, He spread out the earth and all that comes out of it. He gave breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it.”

Those who consider evolution to be a theory that is not dangerous to the Christian faith neglect the importance of these words. Recognizing God to be the Creator acknowledges His power and authority, and beholds Him to be the One to Whom we are accountable. The Triune God is the reason for our existence. “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). We did not evolve from a lesser being, but almighty God made us with a body and a soul. He also created all the wonderful blessings of life that surround us. As James puts it: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17).

But God’s involvement with us did not cease with creation. We are to only worship the Triune God because He is the Redeemer of all mankind.

Here we are led to recall that we rebelled against the authority of God as our Creator. While we enjoyed the blessings He gave us, we did not always want to use those blessings as He commanded: “’Eat not from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,’ He said, ‘for the day you eat thereof you shall surely die.’” Man defied the authority of God and was removed from Paradise, experienced pain and suffering, and yes even death. Man brought death upon himself as he disobeyed the authority of the only true God.

Yet, while man forsook God, God came forth to establish a new covenant between Himself and man. Man could not establish this new relationship because of his fallen state. But this did not stop God.

In our text God the Father is speaking when He says of Jesus: “I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness; I will take hold of Your hand. I will keep You and will make You to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open the eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeons those who sit in darkness.”

Yes, Jesus is the Mediator between God the Father and mankind. True God became true man, conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. Sinless at birth, He remained sinless through all His earthly life. Jesus is described as One Who was tempted in every way as we are, but He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). Peter wrote: “Jesus committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth. When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to God the Father Who judges justly. Jesus bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds we have been healed” (I Peter 2:22-24).

Jesus brought us back to the heavenly Father through His body and blood given and shed for us at Calvary. He brought us out of darkness into His eternal light. He set us free from the bondage of Satan so that we can be His beloved children now and eternally.

Nothing else can restore mankind into this covenant relationship with the Father, but His Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior. This is why the Spirit-filled disciple Peter declared at Pentecost: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

People who say that it doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you are sincere are badly mistaken. It does matter! There is only one God Who created us and then redeemed us. He is the Triune God of Scripture – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We are to only worship the Triune God, because there is no one like Him. To make this point, the Lord goes on in our text to say: “I am the Lord; that is My name! I will not give My glory to another or My praise to others.”

These words found in Isaiah take us back in time to when God called Moses to go before Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. “Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should do this’” (Exodus 3:10)? Moses went on: “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I am has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:13-14).

What God reveals to us about Himself through these words is that He is Jehovah, the great “I am.” This name reveals that the Triune God is eternal – not made but the Maker of all. He is immortal, unchangeable – the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is telling us that this makes Him unique, above all that He has created. Hence, He alone is to be glorified. He alone is to receive the worship and praise of all creation. There is no other like Him. There are no other gods to be worshiped. He alone is to receive all honor, glory, praise, and worship.

The Triune God alone is to be worshiped because He is the faithful One. As our text is wrapping up, God through Isaiah notes: “See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.”

God tells us that He is true to His Word. We can live by what He says, because everything He says comes to pass. God does not lie. He does not deceive. He speaks the truth and keeps all His promises. Hence we can in faith live our lives based upon His Word and bring Him honor, worship and praise Him.

Today’s text concludes by admonishing and commanding us to worship only the Triune God for He alone is God. There is no other. “Sing to the Lord…. Give glory to Him and proclaim His praise.”

There is no substitute for the Triune God of Christianity. He alone is the Creator and Redeemer of all things. He alone is faithful to His Word and keeps all His promises. There is none like Him. So we heed the words of the God-inspired

writer Paul: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (I Timothy 1:17).

Perfect Communication – Pastor Neil Wonnacott June 4, 2017

Pentecost Sunday               “Perfect Communication”      June 4th, 2017

Let us pray….the text for our message comes from Acts 2:1-21, which was read earlier for us.

God is a God of communication. He speaks to us plainly. It is because of this that the Bible and other materials are translated into the most obscure languages of our planet. Nowhere do we see this more clearly than at that first Pentecost, which we mark as the birth of the Christian Church. This is now the ongoing work of Christ, to which Luke alludes in his introduction to the Book of Acts: “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). The work of Christ continues now through the Church. And that work would require the ability to communicate Christ to the world in a manner that is clear and direct.

  1. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit delivered the word of what God has done in Christ by miraculously clear communication.

This sets up today’s text for our consideration. Fifty days after Christ’s resurrection, the followers of Christ in Jerusalem, about 120 in number, gathered in a house. Some think that it was the same house where they had celebrated the Last Supper. Our text doesn’t tell us why they’d gathered, but it’s not much of a leap to suggest that this was the Divine Service, most likely including the Lord’s Supper. Otherwise, why would the whole Christian community have gathered?

During this gathering, a special manifestation of the Holy Spirit was poured out on them. Tongues of fire rested on their heads. The sound of a great rushing wind drew the people of Jerusalem to that place. The followers of Jesus, or perhaps just the apostles, were there praising God in loud voices. They were praising God by speaking of all that God had done in Christ. And miraculously, everyone in the crowd heard them speaking in his or her own language.. But what is key is that they had perfect understanding. They were hearing about what God had done through Christ, and they were understanding it perfectly.

It’s important to make clear that the tongues or languages here in our text were existing human languages. This is not some special Holy Spirit language. The text is crystal clear on this point and even mentions several of the languages. V 6: “Each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia’ ” and all the rest. God is not a God of confusion. He does not want to create chaos. His desire is clear communication. This is very different from the supposed speaking in “tongues” that we see in Pentecostal or charismatic churches. This is not a question of interpretation, but the clear reading of the text. Our text is talking about existing human languages and precludes this modern so-called speaking in tongues. The thing we see in charismatic circles was not what was happening here on Pentecost.

  1. This is important because faith comes by hearing the clear communication of God’s Word.

The Church is the people of God—the believers in Jesus Christ. But believers do not exist apart from the hearing of the Word of God. If people are not told about Jesus Christ and what Christ has done for them, they cannot believe it. So while the Church is the people of God, it never exists apart from the marks of the Church—Word and Sacrament. Without the message that Christ died on the cross for our sins, the Church does not exist. And so we see this at Pentecost. The crowd gathered because of the complex miracles that were taking place. The text says, “All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ ” (v 12). But the people do not come to faith until Peter has preached the Word of God to them.

“Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. . . . This is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh’ ” (vv 14, 16–17). Peter starts in the Old Testament and applies the Old Testament Scriptures to what Christ had done. Peter preached Law and Gospel to them in classic, almost textbook, Lutheran fashion. When they understood what God had done and that they, because of their sins, bore responsibility for it, their consciences were cut open, as though they were a blister with sand rubbed into it. They asked Peter what they were to do, and Peter told them: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (2:38). We are told three thousand were baptized that very day.

Meanwhile, we are also told by many to chase after this gimmick or that method, and you, too, can grow your own mega-church. Whole schools and departments are dedicated to this. But what’s all too often forgotten is what we see on Pentecost. The Church grows because people hear the clear, unadulterated Word of God. It is not a matter of some secret process. It is about communication. God communicates to us through his Word, that is, through Holy Scripture. It worked that way for Peter. If Peter, an apostle, brought people to faith using the Word of God, how much more so will this be true for us today, who are hardly apostles! God speaks to us in human language using words and sentences. God speaks in all languages. He is not like Allah, who can speak only in Arabic. Oh, yes, “Arabians,” but also the languages of “Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene” (vv 11, 9–10). All clearly.

  1. And this is what that Word clearly communicates: that Christ died on the cross and rose again to give us forgiveness and life everlasting.

That is the Gospel right there. Yes, generally we must prepare people for the Gospel by teaching the Law, as Peter did. They must see that they’re sinners who need a Savior. They need to see that they, by their sins, participated in the crucifixion of Christ, God the Son. But once they see their sin, they are ready to hear the message that their sins are forgiven. It’s a message we also need to hear on a daily basis. For which of us is less of a sinner that anyone we see on the street? We also need to be constantly reminded that we have a Savior, Christ the Lord. And so, as this message is clearly communicated, the Church is established, built up, and sustained. “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (v 21).

Thus we see, from the beginning, from its very birth in this world on Pentecost, the Church is about the Word. The Word, the Scriptures, are at the center of everything. It is that Word that clearly communicates to us all what God has done for us, that we have a Savior, Christ Jesus, by his death on the cross and his resurrection.

 

This Is Pentecost:

Clear Communication That in Christ

We Do Indeed Have the Forgiveness of Our Sins.

Amen!

Now may the peace of God that surpasses human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life eternal. Amen

 

Understanding God’s Leadership and Embracing It -Pastor Roger Rohde May 28, 2017

Understanding God’s Leadership and Embracing It

Psalm 68:1-10

            Faith in Christ is essential if we are to be the people of joy and praise of which the Scripture speaks. To look around this world apart from faith leads us to see only pain, heartache, hatred, and destruction. We know wars and rumors of wars, senseless killings, murders, and hate crimes. The world is full of drugs, disease, and death. Seeing the world only through the human eye leads us to see life on earth as self-destructive. Yet, beyond and above all this is the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven whereby He now sits at the right hand of God the Father to govern all things for the eternal wellbeing of His people      (Ephesians 1:22). It is only through the eyes of faith that we can behold this truth of Christ’s reign and be blessed with hearts that are filled with joy and praise.

This is what we see in the Psalm that is before us. This Psalm was used in a procession of God’s people as they celebrated the glorious and triumphant rule of God. Let us ponder these God-inspired words of David through the eyes of faith so we may embrace God’s leadership in our world and live our lives in joy and praise to our Savior and King.

We begin by looking at three aspects of God’s leadership in this world. First, He protects us from our real enemy.

We must be mindful of whom are real enemy is. We often confuse this matter because we look at the enemies of the body as more dangerous than the enemies of our soul. Yet, Jesus taught us “not to fear those who can kill the body but not the soul. Rather, fear the One Who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Our greatest enemy is not cancer, heart disease, or Isis. Our greatest enemy is Satan. Cancer, heart disease, Isis can separate us from Christ Jesus. Yet, Satan seeks to do that very thing. That is his goal and purpose.

In his famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” Martin Luther noted that the old evil foe is Satan. He wrote: “The old evil foe Now means deadly woe; Deep guile and great might Are his dread arms in fight; on earth is not his equal.” Nothing can stop us from heaven, except Satan. Praise God this evil foe has been defeated. Jesus fought Satan off during Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Then He conquered Satan upon the cross when He crushed Satan’s head, bringing us the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life in heaven. When we behold this truth in faith we can embrace the leadership of Jesus and sing with Martin Luther: “This world’s prince may still Scowl fierce as he will, He can harm us none. He’s judged; the deed is done; One little word can fell him…. Take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Though these all be gone, Our victory has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth.” Yes, Jesus’ leadership displayed at the cross and through the empty tomb guarantee us that our real enemy can do us no harm. Now that is something in which we can take joy and praise the Lord.

Second, we see that God in His leadership provides us with an eternal family. The Lord is described as “a father of the fatherless, a defender of widows…. God set the lonely in families.”

This reminds us of the beauty of the Christian church God has established. Through Baptism He gives us spiritual birth and we become His children. Through the grace of God received in the Lord’s Supper we are reminded that Jesus became our brother and died for our sins to bring us eternal life. By the Holy Spirit Jesus brought us into communion with other believers in Christ so that we would not have to go through life alone, but we could have brothers and sisters with the same godly values and eternal goals. As is stated in Ephesian 2:19: “Consequently, we are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” Even when death comes we can live in the assurance that we will be reunited in heaven with those who have before us in Christ. Now that is something for which we can be joyful and sing.

Third, we are assured that because of God’s leadership showers us with blessings during our earthly sojourn. The Psalmist wrote: “When you went out before your people, O God, when you marched through the wasteland, the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain…. You gave abundant showers, O God; You refreshed Your weary inheritance. Your people settled in it, and from You bounty, O God, You provided for the poor.”

We all can appreciate this illustration of rain God uses. A week or so ago Loretta and I noticed that some of our perennial plants were wilting. We had a couple of days with warmer temperatures and strong winds that dried out the ground. Rains came and the plants immediately perked up.

In their wilderness journey God showered down His blessings upon the people of Israel. They did not encounter the rain of which we normally think. God rained down upon them His blessings to refresh and strengthen them during the wilderness journey. He provided them with manna in the morning and quail in the evening. He granted them fresh water from a rock. God may have had the people of Israel go through a wilderness journey, but He always provided for them and protected them.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, God provides and protects us too. We don’t always recognize this because we start thinking all we have is based upon our hard work. Famers are working hard these days to prepare the soil and plant the seed for a harvest in the fall. While they work hard, a good harvest is God’s doing. Farmers can prepare the soil and plant the seed, but they cannot make that seed grow and grant a harvest. That is God’s work and the blessing He gives.

All we are, have, and enjoy is because God showers His blessings upon us. His promise is to always care for us, watch over us, and safely bring us to heaven. We are not to worry about what the future holds, but live in the peace and joy that the Lord has hold of the future and that “He works out all things for good to those who love God, to those who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Yes, there is and always will be unrest in this world so long as we live outside the gates of paradise. Racial tensions, rebellion against law enforcement, and acts of terrorism such as was in the news this week will not cease until the Lord returns. That can be frightening. By the same token, God’s reign is supreme and His leadership guarantees us that His Church will know eternal victory, and that He will care for us until eternal glory is our reality.

This is why our text directs us to embrace God’s leadership in faith that we may have joy in every and all circumstances of life. Notice that this joy does not suggest that we are glad about everything that happens. No, we will know heartache, pain, and sorrow. Yet, we sorrow not as others who have no hope, but through the eyes of faith we see beyond the present situations to the Master Who is governing all things for our eternal good. We have joy inside of us during all circumstances because we know we belong to the Lord. He has loved us with an everlasting love, and He governs all things moved by that love. This is why the Psalmist in our text wrote: “May the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.”

May we also be people of praise. We are to honor the God Who has, does, and always will bless our lives. This is why Paul wrote in I Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” True faith in Christ’s redeeming work and governing wisdom reflects itself in our heartfelt joy and the praise by which we and honor His name. Amen.

 

Loyalty Not Flattery – Pastor Roger Rohde May 21, 2017

Loyalty Not Flattery

Psalm 78:34-38, 56-59

            Today we are privileged to witness two adults confirming their Christian faith in our 8 o’clock worship service, and two teenage boys confirming their Christian faith in the 10:30 worship service. One might think that this is a good thing and it surely has its place as noted in Scripture. The Lord says in Matthew 10: “Whoever confesses Me before men, I will also confess before My Father Who is in heaven” (verse 32). In Deuteronomy 30, the Lord stated: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that… you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him” (verses 19-20).

The Rite of Confirmation has its basis in the Word of God. In Confirmation one confesses his faith and states his love for the Lord. He commits himself to worshipping the Lord with fellow Christians, studying God’s Word, and receiving Christ’s body and blood frequently in the Lord’s Supper. Also in the Rite of Confirmation, the confirmand promises to serve the Lord and stand up for Christ at all costs. The Rite of Confirmation follows the commitment Christ calls us to in Scripture.

There is a problem, however, a very serious problem. The problem is not found in the Rite of Confirmation itself nor in the biblical instruction that precedes it. The problem is found in the hearts of some who go through the Rite of Confirmation. Statistics from our church body indicate that half of the young people who confirm their faith are no longer active in the church by the time they graduate from high school. The problem that exists is that some people try to flatter God, but they are not really loyal to God.

What we speak of here is mirrored in today’s text. God delivered the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt through the blood of the Passover lambs and the parting of the Red Sea waters. He cared for them in their wilderness journey and promised them a place in the land of Canaan. These people are described in our text as being a people of flattery rather than loyalty. Let us look at the difference between flattery and loyalty in relationship to God the Creator and Redeemer of us all.

First, flattery is a matter of the lips while loyalty is a matter of the heart. The Lord says concerning the people of Israel: “They would flatter Me with their mouths, lying to Me with their tongues; their hearts were not loyal to Me.”

Don’t we dislike it when people say things to benefit themselves but don’t carry through with the promises they have made? This also angers the Lord. This is why the Lord was condemning the people of Israel in our text. They would express their love and commitment to God when trials came, but as soon as God would deliver them they forgot about Him. Many people treat God this way today. Recall 9/11. As our nation was under attack, people came back to church and prayed. Yet, as time passed and danger was no longer imminent, the church pews were again empty and God was forgotten.

If you don’t think that upsets God, listen to these words of Jesus: “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about your hypocrisy; as it is written: ‘These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me’” (Mark 7:6). Later God through Peter warns those who honor Christ with their lips but not their hearts: “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them” (II Peter 2:21).

The Lord clearly calls for the loyalty of man’s heart and not the mere flattery of his lips. We read in Deuteronomy 10:12-13: “The Lord your God asks of you… to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees.”

God can see through us and knows whenever our spiritual activity is merely a matter of the lips but not the heart. God is not deceived. He will not be mocked. Thus David says to Solomon as he is about to become the king of Israel: “Acknowledge the God of your fathers, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts” (I Chronicles 28:9).

Lit is well for us to pray daily: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:11).

A second distinction between flattery and loyalty to God is that flattery abuses God’s grace while loyalty lives by God’s grace.

In our text we see the Israelites coming to God when trials come, but as God graciously delivers them from those trials the people forget about God and go on living as they please. Later they are referred to as an unreliable and faulty bow. A good bow keeps its elasticity and is always useful to the archer.

What about us? Do we come to God when our lives are in the midst of struggles, repenting of our sins and asking God for help, but when His grace pardons us and we are delivered we go on with life, we give little consideration to God until some new problems arise?

God is to be our Rock and Redeemer not only when it is convenient for us, but at all times. Jesus is the Rock because He is steadfast and immovable. He will not crumble beneath the situations of life, but He is the stronghold in Whom we can find safety and strength.

People of flattery will come to God only in times of trial or to gain something for ourselves, but people of loyalty will spend time building their lives on Christ through worship and Bible study even when things are going well. Loyal people do this because they know and believe Jesus, the God of love, has loved them when they were unlovable. They believe He paid the debt of sin while they were still His enemies. When loyal people repent, they look to change their lives and faithfully build on Christ, the solid Rock. They endeavor with the help of the Holy Spirit to be a useful bow in the hands of the Master and accomplish God’s purposes for their lives.

Third, flattery serves God out of fear while loyal people serve God out of love. As we noted earlier, people seek to flatter God when they are afraid, while loyal people are moved to serve God because of God’s love for them. Paul writes: “Christ’s love compels us…. He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him Who died for them and was raised again”            (II Corinthians 5:14-15).

Martin Luther wrote of this Psalm: “Those who seek to flatter God worship Him in slavish fear. As long as they are being punished, they seek Him; but when the punishment stops, they forget. For they do not call on God out of a love of righteousness, but from fear of bodily punishment. This is what many people do even today. In good times they forget God; in bad times they seek Him in order to be delivered. But all this follows upon the preceding. For those who only savor the flesh certainly seek God only because of the evils of the flesh. Hence they love their own things more than God…. If they would have what they want, they would not care about God…. They do not know how to serve God freely out of their own accord, but for the sake of earthly gain. They have no love for spiritual things…. Hence whoever worships God in this way necessarily lies to Him, and his heart is not right with God, but it is curved in on himself.”

Finally, the difference between flattery and loyalty to God is seen in the fact that flattery to God leads to eternal destruction while loyalty to God leads to everlasting life.

Our text tells us that the Israelites repeatedly forgot about God until troubles came. They would turn to God and “He was merciful to them, forgave them of their iniquities and did not destroy them.”

Yet, what man forgets or does not want to see is that God has His limits. The latter part of our text tells us that God tested them and they rebelled against the Most High; they did not keep His statutes…. When God heard them, He was very angry; He rejected Israel completely.”

Here we see the justice of God implemented. God is gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love. Yet, mingled with His love is His faithfulness and justice. God does not want anyone to perish, and yet when people play games with God by trying to flatter Him, He will not put up with it. In the end the Lord will rightly separate the sheep from the goats, the believers from the unbelievers, those who are loyal to Him from those who seek to flatter Him. God will patiently deal with those who are spiritual weak and seek to be strengthened, but He will act with justice upon those who live a life of hypocrisy. Martin Luther noted that those who flatter Christ with their mouth but are not committed to Him with their hearts will know this truth found in Psalm 49:18-19: “Though while he lived he counted himself blessed – and men praised him when he prospered – he will join the generation of his fathers who will never see the light of life.”

This is why as we see people confirm their faith today; we all need to consider how we are walking with God. Are we a people who seek to flatter God or are we loyal to Him? Do we use God to satisfy our own interests, or do we build on Christ in worship and Bible study, and live for Him? We all face the temptation of flattering the Lord for self-gain rather than loving the Lord with all of our heart and soul and mind.

Today can be a day of celebration, but the real celebration takes place as we live our lives daily for the Lord until life’s end. Remember Jesus’ words: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). Now that is loyalty to God not flattery. Amen.

 

 

Dealing With Persecution – Pastor Roger Rohde, May 14, 2017

Dealing with Persecution

Acts 7:54-60

            We live in a world and a nation in which God and His Word are frequently disregarded and man’s sinful desires are the basis of many decisions. People within the Christian Church are pointing the finger at the people of the world and blaming them for society becoming more ungodly. Yet, I must tell you that as I studied this text and reflected upon God’s call to each one of us as Christians, I see the greater problem not out there but in here.

People in the church wonder why the Christian Church doesn’t grow today as it did in the Book of Acts. After all the same God governs all things and the same Biblical teachings are being taught today as they were in the days of Acts. So why is Christianity not expanding today as it did in Acts? Is the world more corrupt and evil today than it was back then? At the time of the growth of the early Christian Church in Acts, Christians were undergoing great persecution for their Christian faith, including being burned as human torches.

Pondering this, these words of Jesus came to my mind: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye” (Matthew 7:3)? As we look at today’s text we see that the Christian Church is not growing today as it did in Acts not because of greater wickedness in the world, but because of lack of spiritual commitment by Christians. Today’s text leads us to see the heart of a Christian back then and how he was committed to share God’s Word with others in spite of the persecution he would undergo for sharing the Christian faith.

In our text we see the first martyr of the Christian Church, Stephen. He is known as the first Christian martyr, but by no means the last. Most of original disciples were martyred for their faith in Christ. Paul was killed for the faith he shared. To this day in other lands people are losing their lives for the sake of Christ. What the Christian Church needs from her members in the United States is a greater commitment to Christ as found in the life of Stephen.

Stephen dealt with persecution because he was concerned about sharing God’s Truth. Our text starts out by saying, “When they heard this.” It is referring to the people who heard God’s Truth from Stephen. They were infuriated by what Stephen shared with them. The word he shared was the sinfulness of man’s heart in the light of God’s Law and the message of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Stephen did not water down the Word of God to fit the social climate of the world in his day. He called sin, sin – a violation of God’s will that can lead to everlasting punishment in hell. He, also, clearly spoke of faith in Christ as the only way to heaven.

Do we find this type of commitment to proclaiming the Word of God in the Christian Church today? Instead of believing that God’s Word will change hearts and lives, people in the church think that the church would better grow by softening God’s Law and being more tolerable and loving. The changing of God’s Word and making it more acceptable to the way people want to live their lives does not magnify the greatness of God’s love but causes it to be lost. The fullness of God’s love is seen in the reality of man’s sin. Paul wrote: “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

For man to appreciate Christ’s love, he first needs to see the cross as a symbol of God’s Law. “Jesus was asked: ‘What is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ He replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’… And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37, 39).’” In other words, the cross symbolizes God’s Law. The longer vertical bar represents the first three commandments as they speak of our relationship with God. Commandments 4-10 are represented by the smaller horizontal bar which deals with our relationship to our fellowman. God’s Law stands as Jesus dies upon the cross to pay for our sins. He did not soften the Law, but showed His love by paying the debt of our sin with His own life.

Dealing with persecution starts as the Christian Church does not change God’s Law to fit society, but upholds God’s Law. God’s love in Christ will only be seen clearly if we maintain the truth of God’s Law and our violation of it. His blood bought sacrifice on the cross grants us reconciliation with Him and nothing else.

Stephen dealt with persecution as he was “full of the Holy Spirit.” This means that Stephen’s life was focused on accomplishing the will of God and not fulfilling his own desires.

A problem in the Christian Church today is that people want to sit comfortably in the pew and have their desires fulfilled. They are interested in being served according to their wishes rather than serving by bringing the message of Christ to others.

The strength of the early Christian Church is found in the fact that people within the church followed the Holy Spirit not the desires of their flesh. The Apostle Paul recognized this as he prayed for the church: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

We see the importance of this hope as Stephen dealt with persecution by setting his sights on heaven. Spirit-driven people like Stephen “look up steadfastly to heaven.” This is not suggesting we have our noses in the air and snob people. No, it speaks to what our goal in life is to be. We will deal with persecution in God-pleasing fashion not by trying to avoid it, but by sharing and living our Christian faith even when persecution comes. As Jesus was talking about people witnessing for Him, He said: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One Who can destroy body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Most church going people today would rather preserve themselves from being ridiculed in the world than sharing the Christian faith and undergoing persecution.

Stephen was a faithful servant for Christ’s kingdom because he looked toward heaven and beheld what was ultimately important in life. Beholding the glory of God in heaven meant more to him than being acknowledged and highly regarded by men. While stones flew all around him, struck his body and brought him severe pain, he knew that enduring such pain for sharing the message of Christ could not compare to the glory of Christ he would behold in heaven.

Remember this when persecution is at your doorstep because of your Christian witness. Be who Christ made you to be and not what people want you to be. Yes, people may mistreat you or shun you as you share God’s Truth, but never forsake the glory of the Lord by seeking to avoid persecution in this life. As the writer to Hebrews put it: “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the Author and perfecter of your faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him Who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2). Look not to the troubles you may encounter as you live the Christian faith, but focus on what glory belongs to you because of Christ, and what glory will be given God as you faithfully live your life for Christ.

How Stephen dealt with persecution is also epitomized by two Christian prayers. In prayer Stephen entrusted himself to the Lord’s care. Stephen prayed: “Jesus, receive my spirit.” In this prayer Stephen is not asking for the stones to stop flying. He does not pray his witnessing for Christ to become easier. In essence Stephen is praying that he will remain faithful to God and not deny Him in this time of persecution. Stephen entrusted the care of his life to Christ as he witnessed.

Do we entrust ourselves to Christ, praying that we will be faithful vessels of bringing the sweet message of the Gospel to others through our words and actions?

In Stephen’s second prayer we see his faith as he remained concerned for the spiritual welfare of those who were persecuting him. Stephen prayed: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” It sounds similar to the prayer Jesus spoke from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”

(Luke 23:34).

To deal with persecution in godly fashion a person always needs to be more concerned about the spiritual state of others rather than his own physical status. Stephen was willing to die for the sake of the Gospel that others might live because of the Gospel. Whenever one looks at those who were martyred or faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ, you will see people more concerned about others than themselves. They lived sacrificially in order to bring the Gospel to others, and they did not begrudge persecution for the sake of the Gospel.

When we look at the spiritual and moral decay of the world today, who is responsible for it? Is it the people who live in darkness and know not the Light, or is it the people who have the Light and yet do not share that Light because of their fear of persecution? The question for us today as God’s people is not whether Christians will be persecuted, but whether we are willing to be persecuted for the sake of the Gospel.

Some might think that Stephen was a foolish man to continue to proclaim the Gospel unto death. But did you notice the spiritual blessing that came from the persecution he encountered. Our text speaks of a man named Saul who was witness to and condoned the stoning of Stephen.   Thirty years after Stephen’s stoning, this man became known as Paul, one of the world’s greatest missionaries for Christ. Stephen’s commitment to sharing the Gospel under persecution had an impact on Saul who as Paul has impacted us through his God-inspired letters found in Scripture.

If the Christian Church is to grow, her people need once again be filled with the Holy Spirit to value eternity more than the things of this life. They need to have as their greatest concern the eternal wellbeing of souls and do everything they can, even encounter persecution, that the Gospel of Christ may be heard and live enriched eternal with His saving grace. Amen.

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