“Remember the Lord’s Grace” | Deuteronomy 8:10-18 | Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving was one of my favorite holidays when I was growing up. Every year my family would pile into our car, drive three hours up to Minocqua, WI and visit with Dad’s family. My father is child eleven of twelve, and nearly everyone from his family would come. We’d get to my uncle and aunt’s house and there would be kids running around, the adult would sit upstairs and talk. I got to hang out with about 30 of my cousins, eat delicious food, including famous Heise deserts like suet pudding. I remember years when we had talent shows, when we had we played pool in the basement, watching my uncles ice fish when the ice wasn’t nearly thick enough, and even more. It was a grand time. But, let me be honest with you. Thanksgiving was a holiday, and that’s how I thought about it. I don’t remember many times when I actually had the sense to take the word apart to realize the day was about giving thanks. Sure, we went to church, but it was just church to me. I did it, but I didn’t sense that this was a special day.

What are you going to spend time remembering this Thanksgiving? I know that we all want to look back on what we did and think about how blessed a year we had—how good things were and how happy we are to be where we are today. But, there’s so many ways that this might go wrong. Someone, for instance, might like to look back with pleasure at things that ought never be done. They are people who give thanks by saying, “At least, I was never caught.” There are some who might look back and think about the good old days. They are the ones who give thanks by saying, “At least, it was good while it lasted.” There are those who might look back and see only the bleak disappointments, the losses, all the sorrow. They are the ones who give thanks by saying, “It could be worse, I guess.” There are those who look back at this year with a sense of accomplishment, and maybe even arrogance. They are the ones who give thanks by saying, “At least I got what I wanted.”

What is it that is missing behind these attitudes? Maybe some of you are already thinking, “Well, we’re forgetting God.” And you’re partly right. God should not be forgotten among us—he doesn’t deserve to be forgotten. But we aren’t all the way there even if we are remembering the Lord and his blessings. An attitude that forgets the Lord and his many benefits goes deeper than just our mind. It has penetrated deep into our hearts and taken control. Moses is giving the Israelites a very poignant warning, more than just “remember the Lord.”

Try and feel what these Israelites were feeling and sense what they are sensing. They have wandered in the wilderness for so long that most of them have only ever known that barren wasteland. But, the Promised Land was coming. Soon, they would cross over that Jordan river, right up to the cities of Canaan and begin their conquest. Wouldn’t that be welcome after 40 years wandering? Wouldn’t it be amazing to enter into the land that would be exactly as Moses was describing it? We can eat and be satisfied, no more of this manna and quail. We’ll get real food. We’re going to be able to build beautiful houses, grow our flocks of animals huge, and have as much silver and gold as we can find. Finally. Finally, life will be good. We can leave behind the wilderness, the thirst, the snakes and scorpions, all of that. Of course, we’ll also remember the Lord. Of course, we will. Why wouldn’t we?

If the Israelites thought that the temptations of the wilderness would give way to the ease of the Promised Land, God wants them to know that’s not the case. That just isn’t the way of life or the way of the human heart. The real danger lurked here, where they might praise the Lord, remember the Lord, follow his commands, and yet forget him. He would be remembered in their words, maybe in their minds, but their hearts would be far from them. Instead, they would look at everything they had—their houses, their flocks, the gold and silver, they’d feel their full bellies—and they would enjoy how much they had gotten. Not how much they had been given, but how much they had earned. They, their work, their effort, it was all theirs. Remember the Lord? Sure, they’d do that as long as you didn’t talk about what was in their hearts. Hearts that had forgotten the Lord in their pride.

That is what’s behind our Thanksgiving attitudes, too. We’re here at church, we remember the Lord, but is that what is in your heart? Was worship the part of Thanksgiving you were even looking forward to? Or was it the food and the family? Was it football? Was it pie and turkey? What’s in your heart today? We’re just like those Israelites who remember the Lord, but hiding is ours hearts is pride of accomplishment for all the things that we have. Or, maybe it’s pride that causes us to feel jealous of the things you don’t have, or wish things were the way things used to be, or lamenting the meaninglessness of it all. What are you going to spend time remembering this Thanksgiving? Will it be the power and the strength of your hands, the way the power of your hands has failed, or will it be the fact that you don’t deserve any of this? The Israelites didn’t deserve that Promised Land; they didn’t deserve the good gift, much less the Good Giver. What do you have in your life that you deserve, that you can take pride in as if you earned it?

What are you going to spend time remembering this Thanksgiving? Here’s what I hope it is. There is nothing in your life that you have earned or deserved. Even the blessings you receive from working hard and not deserved, because you couldn’t do the work if it weren’t for the Lord. That you have good things in your life is not something to pride in. The blessed fact behind everything in your life is that it is all a gift of God’s grace. For those Israelites, it was pure grace that God remembered the covenant he made with people like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God promised a land where his people would live, and he kept that promise. For us, it is pure grace that God remembers the covenant that he makes with people like us. It’s a covenant in which God says, “Because of Christ Jesus, I will look on you favorably and give you every good thing you need.”

It is a humbling fact to look at the people in your life, to think of how much you love them—like your children or your parents, your spouse, your best friend—and recognize that God didn’t have to give you those people. But, he did, because of his grace towards you. This was a fact one of my best friends helped me see. He and I were sitting outside looking at the stars one night. He pointed out as we were talking that God didn’t have to make us friends, he didn’t have to give us the many blessing that he had given us. Things could have gone in a completely different direction. Maybe we never met, maybe we ended up living in different states, or whatever. But, God worked it out everything so that on that one night we would sit and talk under the stars about that small grace he had shown to us. That goes for everything in your life. It’s all grace shown to you. That is the heart of your God.

May your hearts be lowly and humble as you see how your God takes care of you and confirm his covenant to you. Christians are the best at giving thanks because they are the ones who see God’s grace behind every blessing. So of course, when they eat and are satisfied they praise the Lord; this food is from him. Of course, Christians want to follow and observe God’s commands so that they can spend their lives saying thanks to God. Christians spend time remembering the Lord, not just with their lips, not just with their minds, but deep in their hearts where they are so convinced that all of this is his grace—the ability to produce wealth, the covenant he made through his Son, the food, the family, the friends, the good times, the tragedies, the abundance, and the wanting.

I want to finish with a parable. There was a farmer in ancient Israel, after the days of Moses, after the days of Joshua, when the land was settled. This farmer had a horse that he had raised from a little colt. He took care of it, fed, groomed it, and sometimes thought about it more like a friend than like a horse. He was thankful for the horse. But one day, when he walked over to the horse’s pen, he found it open, and the horse gone. Some friends came over and they all made a big scene about how unfortunate all of this was and how sad the farmer must be. But, he wasn’t sad. The farmer was thankful and trusted that God was still being gracious to him. One week later, his horse came back. And, the horse had three wild horses with him. The farmer gave thanks to God for being so gracious to him. The friends came back, and they all told the farmer how lucky he was. They said things like, “It’s because you trained the horse so well, that it came back.” But, the farmer knew it wasn’t about it. It was about God’s grace.

Afterward, he set about trying to break the wild horses so that he could use them on his farm. While he was doing this, his son was bucked off one of the horses and he fell and broke his leg. The farmer was taking care of his son when his friends came back. They talked all about how unfortunate it was that the son had broken his leg. It was going to mean less could be done on the farm. But, the farmer just gave thanks He trusted that God was still being gracious to him. A week after his son broke his leg, some Moabites came into the village. They had come to take men and force them to be in their army. When they came to the farmer’s house, they asked about the farmer’s son who was just the right age to join the army, but they didn’t take him because his leg was broken. All of the farmer’s friends came back and talked about how lucky the farmer was that his son wouldn’t have to go to war. They even said things like, “You must have known the Moabites were coming, that’s why you had the horse throw your son.” But, the farmer knew it was nonsense. He knew that God was gracious to him every day of his life and that he that he always had something to be thankful for. That’s why in every situation, he was content, gave thanks to God and trusted him.

Here’s a simple way that you can have the same attitude, the grateful, humble one, God desires. You’ll probably see friends and family that you haven’t seen in a while. They’ll probably ask you how you are doing or how you have been. When those questions come, say, “Blessed in spite of myself.” Take the credit for everything you have and give it to God. You might get some odd looks, but embrace it. Remember the Lord’s grace. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good and his love endures forever. Amen.

“By Scripture Alone” | John 8:31-32 | Reformation Day

Do you think that people prefer freedom or slavery? If you answer the question quick without thinking, I’ll bet that you’ll say, “Freedom.” Of course, we prefer freedom to slavery. We want to be the masters of our own destinies. I’ll bet some of you are itching to throw some Abraham Lincoln quotes at me. And we’re celebrating the reformation, isn’t this a day when we celebrate spiritual freedom? We’re Lutheran, we have the truth. We’re not, as Martin Luther might say, “under the tyranny of the Pope.” We’re free, aren’t we? It’s all well and good that should look at the difference between freedom and slavery, because it’s what Jesus wants us to consider in the Gospel for today. If we look hard at what Jesus says, I think we might see that we’re not as free as we might hope. I think we might even realize that we’re not as Lutheran as we might hope. So, we’re going to talk about that. We’re going to see how when we hold to the principle of by Scripture alone, (1) we know the truth, and (2) we are set free.

Jesus’s words come from the middle of a longer sermon. He’s been going back and forth with his opponents and others. It seems like he’s really coming to a main point in this section, though. Jesus has explained how he has come from the Father to be lifted up to die for the sins of all people. While he’s preaching this, it says that many believed in him. And maybe there was a small kernel of faith planted in their hearts. Maybe that’s why Jesus tells them what he does. Because their response to what Jesus says doesn’t sound at all like a response of faith. Listen to some of the things they say while Jesus is preaching: “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” (8:49), “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid” (8:13), or “Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” (8:53). And you can’t miss how the sermon ends: “They picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds” (8:59).

If there was kernel of faith in their heart, Jesus is trying to protect it. He does that with a warning and a promise. He gives them law and gospel. (It’s almost like Jesus is a good Lutheran.) He said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (8:31-32). They were questioning his teaching, and so he points it out. There’s the warning for them. Are they really holding to his Word? Are they really believing in his teaching? Because that is the only way that they can know the truth. It’s only through his teaching that they can know the truth about themselves and the truth about God. Were they really holding to that? Jesus wanted them to examine themselves and see if they were truly his disciples, to see if they really know the truth, to see if they were truly free.

If they examined their hearts, they would see that they weren’t free. They were in a slavery that was crueler and nastier than we can imagine. Isn’t it obvious from their objections to what Jesus says? It’s like they skip over his point altogether because they’re trying to win the argument. They aren’t concerned with being right, so much as looking right. So, they said, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” (8:33). They can’t see what is false behind their words. They are asserting that what truly matters is their descendancy. Abraham is their forefather, and that gives them a leg up spiritually. It’s was like their get into heaven free card.

They couldn’t see the truth, that they were really enslaved. So, Jesus points it out to them, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (8:34). Here was what they had missed. Here was the truth that they needed. They hadn’t held to Jesus’ teachings, because Jesus wanted them to see their sin. He wanted them to know what kind of lives they were really leading. Or rather, what kind of life they were being led to. Because he was talking to slaves. Their wills, their desires, their thoughts, emotions—even their souls—their entire being was controlled by sin. There was only one way to be free from that, and Jesus would give them that truth, too.

But that truth would only come through him. That’s why he talked about slaves and sons. A slave can’t free another slave. Only someone with true authority could do that. Could they see that truth? “Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (8:35-36). Abraham was a sinful man. You can go to the book of Genesis and read about how he committed one sin after another. How could Abraham set them free from their own sin? Abraham didn’t have that authority. That was authority that only came through the truth, and the truth came through Jesus Christ. So, here he was, the Son, God’s only begotten, with the truth and authority to set them free from their sin.

It is that very truth that we celebrate at the Reformation. By God’s grace, he has given us faith to hold to the teachings of Christ. By this faith, we are Jesus’s disciples. But, we should not think that we can’t end up like these opponents of Jesus. Our hearts are sinful like theirs, drawn to our own understanding of things, and even fighting against Christ’s teachings. We live among sinful people who have no regard for God’s Word and would gladly convince us that God’s Word is untrue. Our greatest enemy still prowls around, longing to take away the truth from us. Christ wants you to know the truth. He wants to be his disciple. And so he takes you and he establishes you in his Word. He roots you in the truth, in himself, so that you will be unshakeable as you trust in him.

He makes you his disciple, and teaches you to treasure the truth. His Word is the one sure place that you can find words that are always right, always true, always powerful. These are the words that carry along with them the promise of the Holy Spirit. These are the words that will show you how great a sinner you are, but how much greater a Savior Jesus is. That’s the truth. It’s why we hold to the Scriptures with all that we are. There is nothing more important than the teachings about Christ. This is a gift he has given us and no matter what another church body or religion or the world says, we will not give it up. Let them try to take it from us. We would rather be Christ’s disciples.

I get the sense that I should quote Luther, since it is Reformation day. Here’s what Luther says about this topic: “From the beginning of my Reformation I have asked God to send me neither dreams, nor visions, nor angels, but to give me the right understanding of His Word, the Holy Scriptures; for as long as I have God’s Word, I know that I am walking in His way and that I shall not fall into any error or delusion” (LW II:268). That’s a confidence that we can have, too. As long as you hold to Christ’s teaching, you are his disciples. You know the truth. Not a truth, not a falsehood, not something that will change like the wind, but rather the unshakeable, steadfast facts about your Savior.

By Scripture alone, when you hold to that truth, you become Christ’s disciple, and he makes you free. He takes you from the realm of slavery to sin and into his realm, the Kingdom of his Word. Friends, this is the only true freedom there is. Picture freedom the way Christ does. It is not being able to do whatever you want, it is not accepting every idea that wind blows in. True freedom from Christ is remaining in one the one place of Christ’s Word and never departing from there.

Abraham could never bring true freedom to those Jews, but the Son could. It was the Son of God who had the authority to set them free from their sins. That’s the whole reason he was talking to them about how he would be lifted up. He would set them free from their sin by being lifted up on a cross and hanging there until he died. Was Abraham lifted up for them? He wasn’t, but Christ would be. That was the one truth they needed to be set free from their slavery. His teaching was the only way it would come to them.

Imagine that freedom in your life. The freedom to call the false things false, and true things true. That is part of the freedom of trusting God’s Word. So that when you hear the devil telling you lies, like “Your God is not pleased with you,” or, “You can get away with doing that, no one will know,” you, O disciple of Jesus Christ, holder of the truth, can show him he is wrong. In the world, when you hear lies all around you, lies like, “You’ll be happy if you can just buy this thing,” or, “Christians are unloving if they point out sins,” you can recognize the lie behind those words. When suffering and heartbreak enters your life and your heart whispers, “God must not love me anymore,” or, “I must try harder to please God,” even then you can see all of that is false. Because Christ’s teachings show you the cross, they show you his unearned grace given to you, they show you that you are free people.

You might be surprised to learn that the Bible has instructions for people who are slaves. The instructions, though, are not to try and run away because slavery is evil, or to begrudgingly serve and make life difficult and unhappy. In fact, it’s the opposite, in the book of Colossians it says, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:22-24). But, maybe that doesn’t surprise you. Those people, even though they were slaves on the outside, on the inside they were free. They knew the truth, that they had an eternal inheritance from the Lord. So, they could serve and work as slaves, confident in the Lord.

One last Luther quote: “You must bear this in mind. ‘Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.’ Both hell and death are his masters. He cannot escape them. How, then, can I become free? Men answer: ‘I will erect a chapel, endow an eternal Mass, go on pilgrimages, fast, become a monk, etc.’ But Christ says, ‘That is [not] the right way! No, let Him who is called the Son of God deliver you from sin; then you are free. If you give yourself to Him and let Him set you free, all is well’” (LW 23:411). Friends, it is by Scripture alone that you learn the truth and are set free. Rejoice in that truth and freedom. Happy Reformation day. Amen.

“The Servant is the Greatest” | Mark 9:30-37 | Pentecost 17

When I was a counselor at Camp Phillip, I once had a difficult cabin. I remember it just because it was so difficult, and most cabins weren’t like that. All ten of my campers were in fourth grade, and they were having a great time the first day. We swam, we sang, we played games—all around fun. The morning of the second day, we had a Bible study about how we were once God’s enemies, but because of Jesus, we are now God’s friends and friends with each other. It was about how Jesus brought us peace. That Bible study was the first thing we did. The next thing was outdoor sports. I don’t remember what the game we were going to play was, but I do remember it wasn’t boxing. Even though that’s what my campers thought it was. Maybe I missed the tension brewing between these two, but by then they were ready to let it out. I had to pull them apart and take one to the nurse. Afterward, I talked with both of them and I asked them if they remembered what the Bible study had been about, and they remembered, but they were too ashamed to tell me.

Sometimes people just miss the point like those campers. It didn’t make sense for them to hear about God’s peace for their lives, and then to take their fists and punch each other. But they did. They missed the point. And the disciples in our Gospel do also. They’re going through what you might call their “seminary training.” This was a special time in Jesus’ ministry when Christ spend time alone training his disciples, because he knew what was coming. He knew that he would die, rise, and ascend. He was preparing them to take up their ministries after him. We even know what he was teaching them about: “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” Jesus was going to die for the sins of all and rise again. Earlier in his ministry, Jesus didn’t talk about his death and resurrection as much. He was focused on preaching and healing. But, now as his ministry comes to a close, he was very focused. He was very clear about his mission.

The disciples don’t get it. Mark evens explains as much: “They did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.” They had seen Jesus do so many things. He was their friend, their role model, and more. Of course, they would respond with distress and sorrow, but it led them to fear and not to understand. They didn’t even want to ask Jesus more about it. They didn’t ask Jesus what it meant that he was going to die. They didn’t ask Jesus what it meant that he was going to rise. They didn’t ask what it meant for them. Instead, they tried to figure it out on their own. They stepped out of this grace-filled conversation from their Lord, and into one driven by selfish ambitions and pride. They started arguing about which of them was the greatest. Was it Peter? Was it John? What is James? They all had good points for why it was them.

Jesus knows what they are arguing about. So, he asks them. I bet the silence was deafening. It was less embarrassing for them to say nothing to say, “Well, Jesus, we just heard about what you came to accomplish for the entire world, and we were trying to figure out which one of us would be the most important after you were gone.” So, they say nothing. They sit there in shame. They didn’t get it. Shouldn’t it have been obvious to them that being the greatest was not the point? They had just heard how Jesus had come to serve the entire world, but they weren’t willing to serve. Instead, they wanted it to be seen how important they were. Forgotten was the great act of service by their great Master, so they could figure out who had the highest rank.

But, we shouldn’t think too little of the disciples, especially not before recognizing that we do this same thing. We miss the point too. Jesus tells us, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all,” and we give his words lip-service before going home or work or school and contradicting it. Or what else is behind the argument of a husband and wife, except that one believes they are more important than the other? What else is behind an attitude of a student who takes his ball and goes home because the other children won’t play the way he wants, except that he believes what he wants his more important? What else is behind that irksome feeling you get when something at church is not done the way you want, except that you believe what you think is better? What if they took a poll at your work place about who the hardest worker, the most well-liked, or whatever, wouldn’t you want the results of the poll to be you? So that everyone can see that you are the greatest.

If you want to see an example of how convinced people are that they are the most important, just look at what happened in the NFL last weekend. If you didn’t know about this, there was a controversy about whether NFL players should stand for the national anthem. Some players chose to kneel as a form of protest. But, take a step back from that and consider the responses from different people. No matter what their position was on it, people have been willing to get into other people’s faces about it on the news. People have been willing to go on Facebook and Twitter and say just what they’re thinking. Can you sense how convinced people can become they’re ideas are the most important, that their ideas matter more than the other side, or my neighbor, or my country’s leader or the NFL commissioner? In all of that, do you get the sense that people are doing what Jesus says, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all”?

Admit it. Sometimes people just miss Jesus’s point. Sometimes, you miss Jesus’s point. You want to be first, and you want to show that you deserve to be there. You want to be the greatest, and you want to convince everyone else that you are. How does Jesus respond to this? He responds in the best way. He doesn’t point to himself, and say, “Guys, don’t you realize that I am the greatest?” Then, he would be doing the same thing they are. Jesus doesn’t start posturing. He doesn’t pull rank. Instead, he says, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” The disciples attitude, and ours, toward what it means to be great must be changed, in fact, it must be radically reversed. The person who is first, is not the one who towers over others with intelligence, position, or ability; the one who is the greatest is the one down in the dirt, who sympathizes with others’ needs, who helps everyone in any way possible, who isn’t out for themselves. The servant is the greatest.

Jesus doesn’t point to himself, because he doesn’t have to. If you look through all of history, can you find anyone better described by the words, “Servant of all,” than Jesus? This is exactly what he was teaching the disciples, and it’s what he is teaching us today. Jesus served you by being born as a tiny baby. He served you by living a perfect life in your place. He served you by dying on what should have been your cross. He served you by rising again. Jesus is down in the dirt, sympathizing with our every need, helping everyone in the best way. Jesus is the servant of all. And he’s your servant. He takes care of your greatest need by giving you forgiveness and eternal life.

Then, “[Jesus] took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’” Does it fill you with joy how often Jesus seems to be surrounded by children? Is that so fitting? That he can just pull them into an embrace, and talk to them, and bless them. How fitting is it that Jesus loves children that much! He uses one of them as an example. Jesus wants his disciples to see how much he, the servant of all cares about even just one person, even just this child. They can take their focus off of themselves, and put it onto a little one like this.

You have been served by Jesus, the servant of all, the one who is first because he became last, and now he points out how you can do the same. You don’t need to focus on who is the greatest. Instead, you can focus on the little ones, welcoming them in Jesus’s name and so welcoming Jesus himself—and even the Father. Who are these little ones? They aren’t just children. They’re the weak in the faith who need your encouragement. They’re the sick who need your words of comfort. They’re the ones who have gone astray. I bet you can think of someone who you haven’t seen in church for a while. And of course, they’re the children. Have you considered how they think and feel? Have you considered what example you are setting for them? They are the ones Jesus would have you serve, and by serving them you serve God.

While I was preparing this sermon, Pastor Degner and Pastor Nass reminded me of an excellent motto: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” That’s what Jesus wants you keep in mind, too. He doesn’t want you to think you’re worthless or useless, in fact, he wants you to forget yourself. He wants you to put your focus on serving those who need to be served—to feel what they feel, to know their needs. Who is the greatest? It doesn’t need to be me or you. We don’t even need to worry about the question. We can put our focus on those who need our service and finding the way to help. Spend some time thinking about that this week. Who is someone that needs your service? You serve your Lord by serving them. Amen.


Book Review: Gay and God, by Mike Novotny

On those weeks that I do not preach, and therefore don’t have a sermon to post, I’ll try to post a book review or something else that will be beneficial. This week’s book is the one below:

Gay and God photo.jpg

This book was recommended to me by a friend. It’s a quick read, but one that I think will challenge many people. I certainly appreciated the book’s approach to handling a timely topic and doing so in a way that leaves you with a positive impression. Having finished the book, I did not feel a sense of woe over the direction of society. I felt excited. Novotny, through preaching the law and gospel, showed the opportunities Christians have to preach the Word. That hopeful tone is the first thing that I enjoyed about this book.

The second thing that has stuck with me was the way that he emphasized reaching people caught in the sin of homosexuality. He used the LGBT initialism to signify something else. He summarizes it this way: “LGBT. Love first. Gospel next. The Bible follows. And trust it works” (pg. 33).  I think that this approach can be used for a person caught in just about any sin. Spend time loving and understanding them. Eventually, you’ll have the opportunity to tell them the gospel. After that, when the opportunity comes, share with them what the Bible says about their sin. Then, trust the Holy Spirit who promises to work through the Word.

I’ve considered giving this book to my confirmation students to read. I may also read it with some of my teens in Bible study. I do think that the book is very accessible and beneficial. It will help you face your own sins so that you can see how great a Savior Jesus is. From that position, you can understand how sin affects another person and tell them about Christ.

To finish, here are some quotes from the book I highlighted:

“Christian people have a problem. Sometimes those of us who claim to love a passage the most love people the least. That means we don’t really love the passages at all. We loved our version of the passage, the version that allowed us to be comfortable, to be right, to be bigots” (pg. 14).

“No one will ever be more faithful to you that this God. No one will ever bring you more joy, more comfort, more friendship, more affection, more hope, more peace, more life than the God who says, ‘You’ve sinned, but I won’t let that stop my love'” (pg. 31).

“You shouldn’t publicly share your views on gay marriage. You shouldn’t try to convince gay non-Christians to start living like they are. There’s a time, after lots and lots of love and lots and lots of gospel, when you can talk to LGBT friends who claim to be Christian about biblical sexuality” (pg. 32).

“The core of a Christian’s being is Christ. This passage says it best: ‘Christ…is your life’ (Colossians 3:4). Jesus Christ is the core of my being. Nothing else. He is all I need. I can deny that desire, the one Jesus says is sin, and I still have my identity” (pg. 47).

Gay & God is available here from Time of Grace. Let me know if you read it, or have read it, and what your thoughts are.

God’s peace be with you.

“Jesus Does All Things Well” | Mark 7:31-37 | Pentecost 14 Sermon

I’m glad that I’m here to be able to tell you my story. I think that Mark did a great job explaining what happened to me, but I always like to give my own perspective. First, I really have so much appreciation for my friends. If it weren’t for them, I never would have met Jesus, and I never would have been healed. I hope that everyone has friends like I did—friends that really care, even in the face of a terrible situation like I was. I think it must have been especially bad for them before Jesus came. We communicated, but it was very basic. They would point at things, and make gestures, but I didn’t often understand. When I tried to communicate with them, it was just as bad. It was hard enough for them to communicate there was food or that we were going somewhere, much less the truths about God.

My friends first heard about Jesus from a man who lived in the same region as us. We lived, as you already heard, in the Decapolis. That’s a region just east of the Sea of Galilee that has ten cities in it. In fact, that’s just what Decapolis means, “ten cities.” Jesus had met that man and had driven a legion of demons from him into a herd of pigs. I think that man had been in a worse place than even I was. He was completely controlled by those demons before Jesus came to him. Afterward, he went throughout the Decapolis and told everyone about Christ and what he had done for him. He told my friends and when they heard Jesus was coming back to the area, they thought he could help me.

Then, Jesus was in my town. That whole day was a rush. People from other cities, from the countryside, from all parts of the town came out to where Jesus was. I don’t know if I have ever seen so many people. Of course, I had no idea what was going on. How could my friends tell me we were going to see Jesus? We didn’t have sign language or anything like what you have now. They just got me dressed, pulled me out the door, and led me through the crowds. I didn’t know where we were going, but I was used to that. I could tell me friends were excited, though, and I trusted them.

After fighting through waves of people, we could see where the crowds were coming together most densely. I saw a man talking to people, placing his hands on others, and meeting person after person in the crowd. It seemed like everyone wanted to get near him. When my friends pushed me in that direction, I figured out that was where we were going, too. It took a little bit longer, but we made it through the crowd. In front of us was a little clearing, and Jesus was going around and talking to people. His face seemed kind, and the people he met seemed so enthused.

So, he came to us. My friends must have communicated with him why they had come. Jesus looked at each of them, nodded, before he looking me in the eye. He said something to them, and started walking off, away from the crowds. We went into a small alley between two houses, and then my friends stopped leading me, and I went a little further with this strange man, Jesus. It was private there. I’m sure some people could see us if they wanted, but for that moment it was just the two of us. But, I still wasn’t sure what was going to happen. How could he have communicated what he was about to do to me? I couldn’t hear his words. And how could I have responded? I couldn’t speak.

But, he found a way. For a moment, every single one of my senses was overwhelmed by Jesus. His eyes looked directly into my eyes. I could feel him touching me—he put his fingers into my ears. He spit and touched my tongue. I could feel Jesus touching me. I could taste him in my mouth. His scent like washed over me. I knew what he was trying to tell me then. He knew I was deaf. He knew I had a speech impediment. But, it was more than that. I bet it might seem a little gross for you to think of someone spitting in your mouth, but it wasn’t that way for me. That was the way healers did things. Like a mother that licks her finger to rub a smudge from a child, many healers at my time did similar things. Saliva might seem weird to use, but I understood exactly what it meant for me. Jesus didn’t only recognize that I was deaf and unable to speak well, but he was going to heal me.

Then, he diverted his eyes. He raised them to look up toward heaven. He sighed—it was a groan like you might give out from exhaustion. I’ve learned in later years that actions like what Jesus was about to do took something out of him. It’s like what the prophet Isaiah once said, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering” (Isaiah 53:4). He certainly did that for me. After his sigh, his lips moved. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but my friends later told me it was a single Aramaic word, “Ephphatha!—Be opened.” And it happened all at once. The dull murmur of the crowd. The voices of my friends talking in the background. Do you ever just stop and think about the quality of someone’s voice? Do you think about what they sound like? For a moment, I did.

That was a moment of pure grace for me. I didn’t deserve to be healed. Up until it was happening, I didn’t even really understand what was going on. Even afterward, it was so overwhelming to be able to hear, to be able to speak to my friends and Jesus without use my hands and rudimentary gestures. I felt like what I wanted to do was talk all the time. To sing, to shout, to talk and talk, and never stop. I wanted to listen to music, to hear the roar of waves at the seashore, to hear my friends laugh. I didn’t deserve any of this, but Jesus still did it. He still gave me my hearing and my speech. Right then, do you know what I was feeling? It’s not hard to guess. I was feeling the desire to tell everyone. I felt like the man who had the demons driven from him. When something that amazing happens, how can you not want to tell everyone?

But, Jesus surprised me. He put a finger to his lips, and told us to keep it a secret. Can you imagine that? He told a man who couldn’t speak two minutes ago, not to say that he could finally speak! But, it he made it quite clear that was what he wanted. It still got out though. I let it slip, and my friends let it slip. Even when we tried not to tell people, those who knew me couldn’t help but be amazed that I could hear and speak. In fact, as we walked back out into the crowd, everyone was amazed. The news spread around the crowd so fast. Soon, it seemed like everyone knew what had happened.

“He has done everything well!” the people said. If you ask me, it was an understatement. Could any of them heal a person like Jesus healed me? Has anyone done something like what Jesus did there? Could anyone do the things Jesus ever did? He has done all things well? What are they comparing him to? I sometimes think that must have just been at a loss for words, but they felt they had to say something. What can you say about a person whose very actions are grace, and beautiful, noble, honorable, and worthy?

The people didn’t stop there though. Somewhere they had heard these verses from the prophet Isaiah, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy” (Isaiah 35:5-6). It’s amazing to me to think that these things Jesus was doing were predicted even hundreds of years before I was born. It just fills me with so much joy. It’s part of the reason I couldn’t keep my mouth shut after I was healed.

I wish I had though. I’ll bet you know the rest of Jesus’s story. He continued to heal people. He continued to preach and teach. But, eventually it led him to Jerusalem. It let him to rigged trial before all of his political opponents—to a death sentence. It led him to the cross. When Jesus healed me, we didn’t know that was going to happen. We thought he was just a healer. We didn’t know he would die for the sins of the world. I hope that through our words, we didn’t give a false impression of why he came. He did heal me, but it wasn’t just my ears and tongue that his grace touched. It was my soul even more. He took away my sin. He gave me faith.

He has done all things well. I believe that, even if it is an understatement, even if there’s nothing to compare it with. Do you view your life that way? Do you confess that Jesus has done all things well? I haven’t always, but the way I think has changed. I faced terrible suffering and afflictions though my disability, but Jesus used those very trials to reach out to me in the exact way that I needed. You’ve heard my story so you know that’s true.

Is it that way for you? Do you see the ways that Jesus brings his grace to you that are personal and powerful? When trials come into your life, do you say, “He does everything well?” Because he does. He heals sickness. He gives you comfort in distress. He takes your fear. He makes you strong.  He forgives your sins and conquers your death. He does it all well. So that the things we face in this life don’t truly touch us. They aren’t harmful to us—to our souls.

When you face life every day, remember that Jesus has done all things well. For me especially I can remember that. Jesus healed my ears and my tongue, so later on I could hear the message of the cross and speak it to others. Can you imagine trying to get across the message of sin and grace to a person who cannot hear? Today, I know you have sign language, but at my time, what could a person do? Jesus gave that to me. He comes to you in a way that is personal and powerful, too. He may not put his fingers in your ears and mouth, but you know the ways that he is working in your life through the troubles, even in spite of the troubles. He’ll use them to show you the cross that he died on and the empty grave he rose from. That’ll be a gift of grace to you, like what did was for me. Because he does all things well. Amen.