Friday, August 24, 2012

What Jesus Doesn't Promise

"Jesus...did not offer His disciples a life of prosperity and ease but called them to self-sacrifice and identification with Him."

See here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

'Gilligan's Island' and a Misspent Childhood

File this under "Misspent Childhood."

On Monday, when I walked into the activities room of our local hospital, where I was going to give Holy Communion to interested residents, the activities director was asking trivia questions. "Here's one for you," he said when he saw me. "What were the names of the regular characters on 'Gilligan's Island'?"

I said, "Gilligan, Skipper, Mary Ann, the Professor, Ginger the movie star, and Mr. and Mrs. Thurston Howell III."

"What was Mrs. Howell's name?"

"Lovie," I replied.

"You're right," he said.

What a waste of brain cells! I can't believe I can remember stuff like that and then forget more important things. Too bad you can't clean out your memory the way you can with your computer and only keep what's important.

Too bad too that I spent enough time in front of the TV set as a kid to remember junk like this, but couldn't remember what an Isosceles Triangle is on threat of death.

"Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale..."

Monday, August 20, 2012

"Lunchtime Churches"

This concept is exciting to me.

It's good for Christians to remember that the first church building wasn't built until the fourth century, some three hundred years after Jesus' death and resurrection. Church isn't a building, it's the people of God gathered in Christ's Name and sent to spread the message that all who turn from sin and believe in Jesus Christ have everlasting life.

Church can happen anywhere!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Prayer (Part 3 of a 4-Part Series)

[This was shared during the 10:15 worship service with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, this morning.]

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.” (Or, "Lord, don't allow us to be led into temptation.)

The earlier petitions of the Lord’s Prayer may find us wanting to raise objections. But this petition causes us to raise lots questions, like:
  • What exactly is temptation and why should I resist it? 
  • If God wants me to not sin, why does He allow temptation to sin happen? 
Questions like these are almost accusatory in tone, indicting God for perceived unfairness. But are they fair to God?

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 our first lesson for today, Genesis 3:1-7, 22-24.

Before delving into that passage, let your eyes go up to Genesis 2:24-25 for a moment. In verse 24, where we’re told that, “...a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” One man, one woman, one flesh united under the blessing and guidance of God: This is God’s definition of marriage and it’s one that, according to both Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:8, Jesus, God in the flesh, would underscore thousands of years later.

The first human beings were naive and guileless, without sin, and totally 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.” Mark Twain once said, “Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.” As created, Adam and Eve had no need to blush. They had desires, of course: to please God, to love and please one another, to do the work God had given them to do. But they knew nothing about sin, which is desiring otherwise good things at the wrong times, or in the wrong ways, or for the wrong reasons. Soon though, the desires of Adam and Eve are going to be 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.

The serpent asks the woman in Genesis 3:1, “Has God told you that you can’t eat of any of the trees in the garden.” The woman, whose husband we’re told in Genesis 3:6, was right there with her, answers truthfully in verses 2-3: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you 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 all temptations to sin.

But, unless we keep in prayerful contact with God, temptation can make our brains go fuzzy. We become susceptible 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 verse 4. “Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day 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. The woman wouldn’t die...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 it would, eventually, bring their deaths.

But the serpent didn't tell the whole truth. He left parts of the truth out of the telling. 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 develop spiritual amnesia, forgetting that all unrepented, unforgiven sin will always leave us dead and separated from God, from others, from our best selves, from life.

Third: The serpent is 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.” It was for us that God took on flesh, died on a cross to take our punishment for sin, and rose from the dead to open up eternity to all who believe in God the Son, Jesus Christ. But we are not God and, contrary to the teachings of some religions like Mormonism, 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: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.”

Adam and Eve rebelled against God and through the inheritance we all receive from them, ensured that, at birth, each of us is a sinner with an inborn love for doing what we want to do.

We’re born knowing all about evil, which is why maybe the first concept every one of us understands as babes in the cribs is: “I, me, mine!”

Self-centeredness is our default mode and we’re born with a love for ourselves that has to be taught by the grace given in Christ to make room for God and others. 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 disposed to kleptomania.

But just because he was genetically predisposed to theft--just because he was “born that way”--didn’t mean that God gave him the green light to steal.

Everyone of us is genetically predisposed to sin and we all 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 all that we need, now and in eternity.

And if we want to resist the temptations 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 and further from the sin.

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. As some of you have heard me say before, God could have created robots who, as He loved them, had no choice but to love God back. But God wanted (and 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 choice 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. “We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves,” we say. Martin Luther called this “the bondage of the will.” Turn to Romans 7:15, please. 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...” A few verses later he confesses that it’s sin that dwells within him. Paul would throw up his hands in despair, knowing that he would be forever separated from God, consigned to hell for eternity, except for one thing.

Look at verse 24: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank 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!

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. Turn please to 1 Corinthians 10:13. “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 4H 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.

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 in the face of multiple temptations.

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 more as the people God made us to be, we know more of the true joy that Adam and Eve experienced before giving into temptation.

“Lord, lead us not into temptation.” Amen