Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tuesday Tune #4: Someday by John Legend

The longing of every human heart is that goodbyes will end and hellos will be shared all around. God grants that to all who trust in Christ. At least that's what I'm banking my life on.

Tuesday Tune #3: Soul Man by Sam and Dave

Just for fun!

Tuesday Tune #2: It Was Love by Russ Taff

That's Taff on guitar.

Tueday Tune #1: I Cry by Russ Taff

Digging into the wayback machine for this love song to God. Taff does rock, country, and gospel with equal acumen. This is a nice tune.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sunday Song #3: Live Like That by Sidewalk Prophets

Love this song!

Sunday Song #2: Something So Right by Paul Simon

Yeah, it's a love song.

If you wanted, you could sing it to God, because He is relentless in loving us even when we're evasive.

Sunday Song #1: Shine by Newsboys

"Make 'em wonder what you got." (Lyrics by Steve Taylor)

Prayer (Third in a Series)

[This was the prepared sermon for this morning's services with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio.]

Genesis 3:1-7, 22-24
Over the past several weeks, we’ve been looking at the Lord’s Prayer as a model for all our praying. Today, we’re going to look at the sixth petition of the prayer: “And lead us not into temptation.” This petition raises questions like: What is temptation and why should I resist it?  If God wants me to not sin, why does He even allow the temptation to sin happen?

For some answers, let’s go back to the garden of Eden, where the first human beings were subjected to the first temptation to sin. Please turn to Genesis 3:1-7, 22-24, pages 2 and 3 of the pew Bibles.

Adam and Eve were naive. As created, they were without sin, in sync with God and each other. In Genesis 2:25, we’re told: “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” As created, Adam and Eve had desires, like pleasing God, pleasing and loving one another, doing the work God had given them to do. As they would later learn and as we learn when we’re paying attention, sin is nothing but desiring otherwise good things at the wrong times, or in the wrong ways, or for the wrong reasons. The desires of Adam and Eve were altered in destructive and death-dealing ways because of their unwillingness to resist the temptation to sin. The agent who brought temptations to them was the serpent, who we can take as a stand-in for Satan. But the devil didn’t make them do it, any more than the devil or anyone else can make us sin. Caving into temptation is always an inside job. As Jesus notes in Matthew 15:19, it’s from hearts turned from God’s purposes (or corrupted) that that our sins come.

The serpent asks the woman in Genesis 3:1, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" The woman answers truthfully in verses 2-3: "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' " So far, so good. The woman is doing well in this interchange with temptation. Like Jesus, who would be tempted in the wilderness many thousands of years later, Eve is able to resist the serpent because she knows and remembers the Word of God. If you and I are serious about resisting temptation and living lives that express our thanks to God for the gift of new life that belongs to all who turn from sin and believe in Jesus Christ, we will take the time to read the Word of God and so know the mind and the will of God. We’ll also pray and ask God to help us resist temptations to sin.

Unless we keep in prayerful contact with God, temptation can make our brains go fuzzy. We become susceptible to having God’s Word twisted and turning us inside out. We find it easy to rationalize away the seriousness of the sins to which we’re being tempted. Look at verses 4 and 5, please. "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

Notice what the serpent is doing here. First: He’s trying to drive a wedge between God and the woman. In effect, he’s asking, “Why is God such a spoilsport? What pleasure is he trying to deny you? What right does God have to hold anything back from you?” When you and I are tempted to sin, we might be hounded by similar thoughts: “It’s just a little thing. The company (or the government, or the school, or the church) will never miss it.” Or, “I think I’m entitled to a little pleasure after all these years of living with such an uncaring husband (or wife).” Or, “This isn’t really gossip. I’m just passing on information so that my friend will be better informed and know what to pray about.” Rationalizations like these drive wedges between God and us.

The second thing the serpent is doing with the woman is telling the truth in a lying way. It was true that the woman wouldn’t die--at least not right away--for her sin. Eve and Adam, who had heretofore, known only good would, to their regret and shame, know about evil after biting into the fruit and that would, eventually, bring their deaths. But the serpent didn't tell the whole truth. When the sin to which we're tempted offers momentary thrills or pleasures or when it makes us feel powerful or exceptional, we become susceptible to listening to such lies. When we're hell-bent on sin, we don't care about the fine print. We get separated from God, from others, from our best selves, from life.

The third thing the serpent is doing is this: Effectively telling the woman that she has a right to be just like god. Listen: Human beings are the pinnacle of creation, the only of God’s species made “in the image of God.” But we are not God and according to the Word of God, we never will be. But all temptation, in a way, tries to feed us this lie. We see what happens when we forget the Word of God and allow temptation to get in the way of our relationship with God in verse 6: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”

Because we’re born in sin, self-centeredness is the human default mode. We’re born with a passion for ourselves that has to be taught by the grace given in Christ to make room for God and others. We have to be forcibly displaced from the thrones of our lives so that as we and our inborn selfishness are crucified in repentance, Christ can rise in us and make us new people each day. That’s why we need the Savior Jesus to bridge the gap between us and make it possible for our fellowship with God and with others to be restored through a bond of love borne of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Now, it would be easy for us to say that since we’re born as sinners who want to sin and God loves us so much, it must mean that God approves of our sin. Pastor Erwin Lutzer  once knew a kleptomaniac, a person with a compulsion to steal. He told Lutzer, “I’ve always wanted to steal as far back as I can remember. There’s no question in my mind that it’s genetic.” He may have been right; he may have been genetically predisposed to kleptomania. But even if the klepto was “born that way,” it wouldn’t mean that God gave him the green light to steal. Everyone of us is genetically predisposed to sin and each of us like some sins more than we like others. Yet every one of is told to obey the ten commandments and to repent when we violate them. And all of us are commanded by Jesus to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” And we’re all told to turn from sin and to trust in Christ alone for life with God and for all that we truly need, now and in eternity. The good news is that if we want to resist the temptations to which we feel ourselves subjected, the God we know in Christ can help us resist temptation. In James 4:7-8, we’re told: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” When tempted by sin, move closer to God. The temptation to sin will lessen.

But, if God wants us to stay away from sin, why did God allow temptation to come to Eve and Adam...and to us? Think of things in this way: God intended for you and me to have a special relationship with Him. God could have created robots who, as He loved them, had no choice but to love God back. But God wants a true relationship of love with us. God wants us to choose to love Him. And the only way we can choose to love Him is if we have the option not to love Him, not to obey His will for our lives. Without our having the option to not have faith in the God we know in Christ, our confessions of faith are meaningless. That’s why God allowed (and allows) temptation in this world.

Now here’s the scary thing: Because of the genetic predisposition to sin you and I have inherited from Adam and Eve, we do not have free will when it comes so sinning or not sinning. “We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves,” we say. In Romans 7, the apostle Paul writes about his own bondage to sin: “...what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate [sin], that I do...” He then confesses that it’s sin that dwells within him. Paul would have thrown up his hands in despair, resigned to being forever separated from God, consigned to hell for eternity, except for one thing. He says in Romans 7:24-25 (page 786 in the pew Bibles): “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Whenever we repent for sin--turn away from it, renounce it--and trust in the crucified and risen Jesus as our God, God forgives our sins and gives us the power to resist temptation today and to look forward to eternity with God!

Temptation doesn’t come from God. James 1:13 says: “No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and He Himself tempts no one.” We are tempted instead by the desires that come to us from the devil, from a sinful, fallen world, and from our own corrupted DNA. But, when facing temptation, we have a great promise from God. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to [all people]; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

What temptation are you facing today? It could be the temptation to fudge on your taxes or Medicare forms, to lie about the work you did on the school project, or something else. We can be infinitely creative in finding ways to violate God’s moral law, the ten commandments. Whatever temptation you face, if you’re intent on living a life that thanks God for the cross and empty tomb of Jesus, God will give you a way of escape from both temptation and sin. Keep your eyes on Jesus and He will divert your attention from death to keep you on the pathway to everlasting life with Him.

Pray, “Lead me not into temptation, Lord. In Jesus’ Name and by the Holy Spirit’s power, help me to resist this temptation.” If you’re like me, you probably have to pray that prayer hundreds of times every day. But, I promise that when you pray that prayer sincerely, with a heartfelt desire for God above all else, God will lead you in the right direction. Your relationship with God, the most important relationship you can have, will grow stronger, your character will grow stronger, and you will move closer to being the person God made you to be in eternity. And, as we learn to live in greater dependence on God, we know more of the true joy that Adam and Eve experienced before giving into temptation.

“Lord, lead us not into temptation.” Amen

Read the Bible in a Year (Days 16-21, January 22-27)

Genesis 46-50
Exodus 1-20
Psalms 16-25

1. Genesis 46-47: Joseph brings his family to Egypt, where he functions effectively as the Pharaoh's prime minister. The wisdom of the Pharaoh's decision to make Joseph second-in-command after himself is vindicated when, "the first recorded rationing in history was a hit," saving Egypt and the Egyptian treasury was fattened as people, like Joseph's family, came from throughout the region to buy food stored in Egyptian granaries during the "fat years."

2. Genesis 47-49: Jacob dies in exile, just as generations of his people would. Before dying, he prophesies about his sons and their descendants. He also blesses his family.

3. Genesis 50: This contains one of the most poignant passages in all Scripture. Joseph's brothers obviously find it hard to understand things like forgiveness and grace. Joseph had long before forgiven his brothers. But when Jacob died, they were certain that Joseph, no longer needing to show deference to his father, would act vengefully against them. They even appear to fabricate a lie, telling Joseph that Jacob had instructed them to tell Joseph not to do anything against him after he had died.

Joseph ignores the lie and responds in an extraordinary way.

First, he weeps. It saddens Joseph to know that his brothers have so little faith in the forgiveness he offered because of his trust in God. Thousands of years later, Jesus wept when considering the utter hopelessness of those mourning for his friend Lazarus in Bethany. It saddened Jesus to know that they had so little faith in His power over death and life. ""I am the resurrection and the life," Jesus said there. "He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." (John 11:25-26)

It grieves God and it grieves believers like Joseph when people are so hardened by sin, so resigned to the grim realities of life, that they can't trust in God or in His grace or in His power to help ordinary people--like Joseph--to forgive.

Second, Joseph says that it isn't his place to judge his brothers. "...Joseph said to them, 'Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God?'" (Genesis 50:19).

Joseph insisted that while he forgave his brothers, it wasn't his place to judge them for sins. That is God's place.

This is jarring for us. When others hurt us, we feel entitled to judge. In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis talks about how Jesus went around forgiving people for their sins, as though he were the one chiefly offended. The fact is, whenever we sin against another person, whenever we hurt them, it's God Who is chiefly offended. Why? Because He made us. Because He is fully invested in every human life, having lived as one of us in the person of Jesus and having died and risen so that all who throw in their lots with Him have everlasting life. In His great parable of the last judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), Jesus says that whatever we do to "the least of these," we also do unto Him.

Even before God took on flesh, Joseph understood this fact: The One Who breathed His very Spirit into us to give us life, was always the one chiefly offended by sin. 

Third, Joseph saw that God's "unseen hand" had been at work even in the midst of his pain. He's unflinching in acknowledging that his brothers had been the agents of that pain. Forgiving is not the same as forgetting.

But Joseph thought that God even used his brothers' selling him into slavery for God's good purposes because had he not been sold into slavery, he never would have been in a position to save millions, including God's people. Joseph says: "
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." (Genesis 50:20)

Finally, Joseph committed himself to caring for his brothers and their families (Genesis 50:21).

The grace and forgiveness Joseph displayed aren't virtues that come naturally to human beings. Only God can give us the power to live as he lived. Joseph's is a story of faith in the God ultimately revealed to the world in Jesus Christ.

4. Exodus 1: It doesn't take long to become "yesterday's news." God's people, Israel, once provided for in Egypt, become slaves. They live in that condition for 430 years, to the point that many had given up on God. A hard lesson for the person of faith is that just because God doesn't answer all our prayers, or even most of them, with the immediacy we want, it doesn't mean God hasn't heard or isn't answering. 

5. Exodus 1-12: In these chapters, we're introduced to Moses, a man God saved by extraordinary means, for His purposes. As Christians, we should remember that God saves us from sin and death by His grace through our God-given faith in Christ, but God never saves us just to save us. He saves us so that we become His agents in saving others. 1 Peter 2:9-10 says: "...you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."

6. Exodus 3-4: Moses offers one excuse after another for not taking the mission God was giving to Him. They come in 3:11, 13, 4:1, 10, 13. But 4:13 probably best conveys Moses' attitude about doing what God wanted him to do: "...Moses said, 'O Lord, please send someone else to do it.'"

Many of the reasons we Christians give for not taking on ministries we're invited to prayerfully consider is we want someone else to do it. It may be fear. But any time we take on ministries that fulfill our mission as Christian believers or fulfill the promise the lives God gives to us, need not fear. The Holy Spirit will enable us to do God's will. 1 Timothy 1:7 says: "God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline."

7. Exodus 3:14: God gives His Name to Moses. "I AM WHO I AM," He says. In Hebrew, the Name is Yahweh. Its exact meaning is mysterious to us, though to me the name suggests that in God, we meet the foundational personality, the Is Who from Whom all existence comes.

The fact that the infinitely powerful and holy God of creation makes Himself accessible to us by revealing His Name is an incredible privilege. Reverence for God explains why many Jews refuse to speak God's entire name or shortening it to avoid presumption, as when only the first syllable of God's Name, Yah, is used. (As in Hallelujah, which means Praise to Yah.)

We post-modern Christians would do well to adopt a similar reverence for the Name of God, to recognize that it's a privilege of eternal dimensions to be able to address and know the God revealed to the world in Jesus. In The Small Catechism, Martin Luther teaches that God's Name is to be used for three purposes: prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.

Jesus identifies Himself as the God Who spoke to Moses at the burning bush. "Before Abraham was born, I am!" He says in John 8:58.

8. Exodus 5:1-10:29: The succession of plagues from God were designed to demonstrate to the Pharaoh, whose people were taught to regard him as a god, both what real Deity was and to "convince" Pharaoh to relent and set God's people free.

In the meantime though, we're told that God hardened Pharaoh's heart. This could be easily understood. I think that we shouldn't see this as God playing a cat and mouse game with Pharaoh. Rather, because of Pharaoh's arrogance and presumption, God allowed him to live with the consequences of his spurning of God.

9. Exodus 12: The blood of the Passover lamb was the method designated by God as the means to protect His people from the angel of death. Today, the blood and body of Christ give life to God's people.

10. Exodus 15-20: God's people begin their journey to the promised land. What took them so long? The same thing that keeps us from living the life of peace with God that God wants to give to us: Our insistence on doing things our way rather than God's.

11. Exodus 20:1-17: These verses, conveying the ten commandments are the "fine print" of God's great commandment: Love God; love neighbor.