Pastor's Blog

January 2020

Savior of the Nations

Savior of the Nations: It’s no fun to be on the outside. I’m not talking about being outside in the cold, although that’s not very fun either. It’s no fun to be on the outside. You’re at a Christmas party. Everybody seems to be having a great time. But it’s like you don’t exist. It wouldn’t matter if you weren’t there. You know what I mean? You saw your family for Christmas, but not a single person actually asked how you’re doing. People all around, but you’re still on the outside. You scroll through your Facebook feed, and everyone seems to be doing so many fun things. But nobody invites you. It’s no fun to be on the outside. Instead, there’s a lot of pain and frustration and hurt.

If you’ve been there, then you know what happens next. When you feel like you’re stuck on the outside with the people around you, pretty soon you feel like you’re stuck on the outside with God too. When no one else seems to care, it seems pretty clear that God doesn’t care either, right? When no one else lets you into their circle, it seems impossible that God would let you into his circle. When no one else is willing to forgive, it seems pretty unlikely that God would ever forgive either. Isn’t that the worst kind of “outside”? It’s no fun being on the outside.

It sure seemed like that’s where God’s people were in Isaiah’s day—on the outside of everything. Israel was this neglected little country. It’s like the size of New Jersey. Who cares about New Jersey? When other nations came to Israel, they only came to take. They took gold and treasures. They took people as captives and slaves. And God just let it happen, because Israel absolutely deserved it for their sins. They were on the outside looking in, for every possible reason. Forgotten. Punished. Beaten down. Everybody taking. Nobody giving. Nobody caring. As Isaiah writes his book, it’s like he sees Israel cast off in a heap on the ground, forgotten.

So to that sad heap on the ground, God had Isaiah write this: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.” Did you know that the phrase “rise and shine” actually comes from the Bible? Here it is! Rise and shine! Like an alarm clock—a good alarm clock—for God’s people who were weighed down by trouble and sorrow. The time to lie on the ground is over. The time to feel sorry for yourself is over. The time to feel like you’re an outsider is over. “Arise, shine, for your light has come.” Like waking up to the light of a new day.

Who do you think that “light” is? It’s Jesus! The “light” Isaiah saw was Jesus! Earlier he wrote: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). This is a perfect lesson for after Christmas: “Arise, shine, for your light has come.” Jesus has come. Not to take, but to give. He was born for us and lived for us and died for us and rose for us. There is light in your life. If you get nothing else out of this sermon, remember this: You’re in. No matter how you feel, you’re not an outsider. You are “in” with God through Jesus.

So rise and shine. Jesus our Light has come! But that’s just the first verse. Look at the next word: “See…” The moment you’re “in,” God wants you to start looking around. “See, darkness covers the earth and think darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” The moment you know Jesus’ salvation, God wants you to see all the people still dying in darkness. There are so many people who don’t know Jesus. Who are still scared of death. Who don’t know their sins are forgiven. “See, darkness covers the earth.” Jesus came for them too!

During Advent, we sang one song over and over at the start of our services. Remember the song? “Savior of the Nations Come.” Notice that the title isn’t “Savior of Me Come.” No, it’s “Savior of the Nations Come.” God from way back has wanted his people to know that God’s grace in Jesus isn’t just for them. Who’s it for? The nations. You and I are proof. In Isaiah’s day, no one even knew North America existed. Yet, by God’s grace, the Word has reached to us. Here we are worshiping Jesus and bringing gifts to Jesus. The Savior of the Nations has come! What grace for us! We who were on the outside have been brought into the family of God.

It’s just that once you get on the inside, an interesting thing happens. When you’re on the outside of something, you want it to be easy to get in. But once you’re on the inside, suddenly you want to protect what you have. You want it to be for you. Have you seen this in your life? When you’re not a member of an organization—like the YMCA or the zoo—you hope there will be lots of free days for everyone to get in. But when you buy a membership, suddenly your attitude changes. Now you don’t like free days. They are too crowded. It doesn’t seem fair. You paid. Everyone else should have to pay too! Once you are on the inside, your attitude changes.

Over the past few years, a movement has been sweeping the world. In country after country, voices are calling out: “We need to put ourselves first. We need to close ourselves off from others. We need to do what’s good for us. Us. Us. Us!” Hear that? It’s up for debate whether that’s healthy for a country. What’s sad is how easily that attitudes seeps into Christian churches: “We need to put ourselves first. We need to close ourselves off from others. We need to do what’s good for us. Us. Us. Us!” Can you see the temptation? Many Jews became convinced that God was just for them. That they were better than everyone else because they were in the club.

Here’s the irony: Remember where we started? Being on the outside. What’s the only reason the Jews were God’s people? By God’s grace! God chose them. God saved them. God forgave them. All by his grace. The Israelites were the last people on earth who should have been proud. Who should have been focused on themselves. It had been all God’s grace all the time! Are you and I any different? God chose you. God rescued you. God saved you. God forgave you. It’s all God. It’s all grace. Aren’t we the last people in the world who should be proud or self-centered?

But we are. Would you agree? We too often focus our lives and our church on us. What we like. What we want. Everybody out there? Rise and shine God’s light to others? Not on our radar. At a pastors conference this fall, a Seminary professors put it like this: “We are so turned in to ourselves. We’re blind to everybody else.” Is he right? That really hit home for me. My eyes are so turned in to myself that I refuse to see or care about the nations of people who live in darkness without God’s light. Somehow “Savior of the Nations Come” became “Savior of Us Come.”

Know why it’s so important to know that Jesus came to save the nations? That’s how I know that Jesus came to save me. If Jesus came just for the Jews—not me! If Jesus came just for those who deserve it—not me! But if he came as the Savior of the Nations? That includes me! “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip. Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.”

Christianity is truly world-wide in a way that no other religion in the world is. Islam and Buddhism and Hinduism are confined to certain places and cultures. Where is Christianity? Everywhere. Not everyone. But everywhere! From the Amazon to Iraq, Christianity isn’t defined by culture or language or race. We better not set up those boundaries! Jesus is the Savior of the Nations! Do you know how many languages the Bible has been translated into? 698 languages. Do you know how many languages the Quran of Islam has been translated into? 47 languages. “Nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” It’s true!

God is bringing people from all over the world to his church. Just last year, a group of over 100,000 Christians in Vietnam reached out to our Wisconsin Synod and asked us to train all their pastors in the Bible. Wow! “Lift up your eyes and look around you.” In refugee camps in Africa, people don’t have homes or jobs or a future on earth, but they have Bible studies and worship services with WELS materials right in their camps. “Lift up your eyes and look around you.” In Latin America, over 1,000,000 people follow our WELS Facebook page, and groups are forming churches in their own houses to gather around God’s Word. People all over are coming to Jesus!

“Arise, shine, for your light has come.” You know whom else God is talking to? Us! Shine Jesus’ light. That’s why we’re on earth! You shine like the moon—not with your own light. With Jesus’ light. I heard some cool math lately. Let’s say that on January 1st, one Christian shared Jesus with two other people. Then the next day, those 3 people shared the gospel with just two people each. Then the next day, those nine people shared the gospel with two people each… If that continued every day, telling just two people each, do you know how long it would be before all 8 billion people hear the Gospel? Just 21 days. January 21st. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to let us shine!

“Nations will come to your light.” Is that really going to happen? It sounds unlikely, does it? Except with our God. One day, out of the blue, some kings in strange robes knocked on the door of a humble little house in Bethlehem. When a surprised young lady answered the door, they asked if they could come in. She must have been scared, but they didn’t come to take. They came to give. The wise men bowed before a little toddler, “bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.” The Bible says something different than what we hear in this country. Who you are isn’t a result of citizenship or race or achievement. Being “in” has nothing to do with your heritage or job or skill. It’s all by God’s grace. Who’s God’s grace for? All nations.

Doesn’t that sound good? The greatest joy in life is seeing people come to faith and salvation in Jesus. “Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy…” Like how your heart throbs and swells on Christmas Eve when you sing Silent Night in a packed, candlelit church. That’s the joy of heaven. Here is how the Bible describes it: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb… And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” (Revelation 7:9-10 NIV). Because of Jesus, you’re “in”! The Savior of the Nations has come. So let’s rise and shine!

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. 2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. 3 Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 4 “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip. 5 Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. 6 Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.” (Isaiah 60:1-6 NIV)

We thank Pastor Nathan Nass and https://www.breadforbeggars.com/ for this week's blog. 



0 comments

Keep Reading >>

When the Earth Shakes...

When the Earth Shakes…: Have you ever felt an earthquake? I did this past week. I was blessed to be at a pastors’ conference in Puerto Rico. I felt the earth shake—four times! Thankfully, there was no damage where I was. But it was eerie. Unsettling. To wake up in the dark and have everything moving. Suitcases rolled across the floor. Water swished in water bottles. Just a few seconds of the earth shaking is enough to make you feel completely helpless. Completely out of control.

But it doesn’t take an earthquake to make you feel that way. As proud and self-confident as we like to be, moments in life powerfully remind us that we’re not in control. We can’t do everything. Often, we can’t do anything. We’re completely helpless. Completely out of control. Felt that way lately?

Good. It’s good for us to feel that way, because then God can remind us whom to trust in: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging” (Psalm 46:1-3 NIV).

Even when the earth isn’t shaking, your life doesn’t depend on the strength of the ground or the strength of your legs or the smarts of your mind. It depends on our Refuge and Strength—our Almighty God and Savior. When the earth shakes, God reminds us, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10 NIV). What a promise! Even when the earth shakes, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

We thank Pastor Nathan Nass and https://www.breadforbeggars.com/ for this week's blog. 



0 comments

Keep Reading >>

More Than Watchmen Wait for the Morning

More Than Watchmen Wait for the Morning: My brother is in the special forces of the U.S. Marines. He’s gone through all sorts of strange and unusual training exercises. Like the week he had to go without sleep. There was an entire week in which he was not allowed to sleep at all. He got up on a Monday morning and didn’t sleep again until the next Monday evening. I can’t imagine that! I remember asking him if it was hard. He said, “No, it wasn’t that bad.” But he admitted what the hardest part was—the last two hours of each night. After their activities were done, as the night dragged on, the worst part was struggling through the last two hours of each night, longing for the sun to finally come up.

That makes me think of this phrase: “I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.” Can you imagine an exhausted watchman just longing to see the light? That’s the way the Bible describes a Christian’s longing for God. Maybe you’re not a night watchman, but it doesn’t have to be dark for your life to be dark. I bet your heart is longing too. Maybe you can’t put your finger on it. Maybe you don’t know exactly what words to use to describe it, even when the tears come to your eyes. But your heart is longing. Your heart is longing for something even more than watchmen wait for the morning.

If you ever feel that longing, then you know just what a man in the Bible says today, “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” To put it another way, “God, help!” This man was in the depths. Everywhere else in the Bible, the word “depths” is used to talk about the deepest part of the ocean. That’s where this man felt he was. Drowning in water way over his head. Wave after wave of life choking him, pushing him under. He was completely incapable of saving himself. So he screamed, “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” “God, help!”

Is that where you’re at today? In “the depths”? I bet many of us are. From military bases to high schools in Wisconsin, this week showed how many people are struggling. If that’s where you’re at today—the depths!—know that you’re not the only one. This man was there too. I’ve been there. We’ve all been there. We’ve all hit rock bottom, only to find there’s no bottom. We just go down even further. Maybe it’s a sickness. Or depression. Or a death. Or rejection. “Out of the depths.” Like you’ve been plopped in the middle of the ocean. Waves and wind pounding you. Nothing to stand on. No one to save you. Alone, except for God. Is that where you’re at today?

That’s exactly how this man felt, except he wasn’t thinking about violence or loneliness. There’s an even deeper depths than all of those things. Know what it is? “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” What’s the deepest, darkest place? Our sin. “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” More deadly than cancer. Darker than depression. Sin hurls us into a hole we can’t climb out of. You can’t make sin right. You can’t take sin back. Trying to dig yourself out of the depths of sin is like trying to keep from drowning in the middle of the ocean. “Out of the depths.” All you can say is, “Help!”

If God were to actually keep a list of our sins, how long would it be? I tried to figure it out. Let’s say we sin about five times an hour. I bet it’s way more than that. The sinful thoughts. The harsh words. The selfish actions. But if we sin five times an hour, that’s about 80 sins a day. 80 sins a day equals 29,200 sins a year. The average person lives about 75 years. Do you know how many sins that would be in a lifetime? 2,190,000. To put that into perspective, about 50 lines of text fit onto one page. That means my sins would be a list 43,800 pages long. All those pages would stretch for 7.6 miles. Just my sins. “If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?”

Can you imagine having all your sins unrolled before you? It’s starting to get uncomfortable, isn’t it? You saw that scantily clad woman pop up on the screen, so you clicked on it. You smile every time you see that person, but in your heart you hate them. Can you imagine having all those sins unrolled before you? People love keeping a record of other people’s sins. What if God were like that? Isn’t that terrifying? You talk about depths. Our sins plunge us into the darkest depths from which we could never escape on our own. What can we say? “Help! Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.”

Why would God hear? Because he promised. The phrase “let your ears be attentive” is only used in one other place. When King Solomon finished building the temple, he prayed, “Now, my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place” (2 Chronicles 6:40). The same prayer! Know how God responded? “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place” (2 Chronicles 7:14-15 NIV). Why would God hear? When people repent of their sins, God hears and God forgives. That’s God’s promise!

This guy in the depths remembered those words, and he clung to God’s promise. “But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.” All that math about sin that I did? You don’t need to know that. Because God doesn’t keep track of our sins. There is no long list in heaven. “With you there is forgiveness.” When we are in the depths, we need to look outside of ourselves. Forgiveness comes from Jesus! “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 NIV). “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2 NIV). With God there is forgiveness. For you. For me!

Here’s how big God’s forgiveness is. Remember how long a list of sins we have? We said about 7.5 miles long. Experts say that in the history of the world there have been about 107 billion people. So when Jesus died on the cross, how many sins did he carry with him? 802.5 billion miles worth. That’s 430 trips to the sun and back. Jesus piled all those sins on his back when he died for us on the cross. People say, “I love you to the moon and back.” Jesus loves you so much more! It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but Jesus says to you, “I love you 430 trips around the sun and back.” Or, “I love you to the cross and back.” With God, there is forgiveness!

So, “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.” Can you hear this man preach to himself? He’s preaches these words into his own soul: “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.” Even when you’re in the depths, there is hope. Preach that to your soul! Forgiveness comes from God. We wait for the Lord and put our hope in his Word. How much do we wait for the Lord? Remember where we started? “I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.”

When my brother told me about the week he didn’t sleep, he said the last two hours of each night were the worst. But then he added this: The moment the sun started to come up, everything was good again. When he saw the first streaks of light stream across the sky, relief would flood his body, and he would be okay for another whole day. This is what Jesus and his Word do for you and me. When we’re in the darkest moments of life, it might seem like it’s never going to end. But Jesus and his forgiveness and love are new every morning. It’s Jesus’ Word and Jesus’ promises that fill our bodies and our souls with hope for another day. Are you in the depths? You’re not alone. “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.”

Remember the story I told on Easter Sunday? No? Then I can tell it again! A man once told a story about his Navy SEAL training. In the middle of Hell Week, the recruits had to go into the mud. Mud up to their necks. For 15 hours. Cold. Exhausted. Groaning. In the depths. The instructors offered a deal: If just five of you quit, we can stop. The groans increased. Some men were ready to give in. Then suddenly a voice in the back started singing. It wasn’t singing on key. In fact, it sounded downright awful, but it was singing. And then another voice joined in. And another. And soon every single man was singing. The instructors yelled and cursed at them. They threatened that if they kept singing they’d never get out of the mud. But the men kept singing. And as the now admiral later described it, “Somehow the mud seemed a little warmer, the wind a little tamer and the dawn not so far away.” Do you know what that was? Hope.

That hope is what God’s Word calls out to you today. Hope. You might feel in the depths. You might see your sins piling up. The devil is going to tell you to give up and give in. But there’s a voice that’s singing. “With God there is forgiveness. In his Word I put my hope. With God there is forgiveness. In his Word I put my hope.” The devil has tried, but he can never silence that song of hope. “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.”

That song of hope isn’t just for us. It’s for everyone! “Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.” When everything else fails, the Lord’s unfailing love never does. When everyone points out your faults, Jesus points you to his cross. Jesus’ redemption forgives every one of our sins. Let that hope ring out. To those in the depths. To those in darkness. “Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.” There’s hope!

So why do we still have to wait? Why will our lives get dark again? Because we’re not in heaven yet! I hope you leave today on a spiritual high, but I guarantee there will be more lows. You’re going to sin again. You’re going to be in the depths again. That’s the life of a Christian. Sin. Repentance. Forgiveness. Hope. Repeat. So when you find yourself in the depths, remember:

“Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; 2 Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. 3 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? 4 But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. 5 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. 6 I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. 7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. 8 He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.” (Psalm 130 NIV)

We thank Pastor Nathan Nass and https://www.breadforbeggars.com/ for this week's blog. 



0 comments

Keep Reading >>

Boasting in the Cross

Boasting in the Cross: We love boasting. We don’t like to admit that, but we love boasting about ourselves. There’s an NFL touchdown dance living in every one of our hearts. We want to stand out. We want people to notice what we do. There’s nothing worse than doing something great (at least in our opinion!) and not receiving any praise for it. We are so self-centered, aren’t we? We love boasting.

So go ahead and boast, just not about you. By God’s grace, let’s learn to say with Paul, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). If you like boasting, if your heart loves talking about what’s great in your life, then boast about Jesus. “Jesus is great.” “My God is the best!” “Our God is an awesome God!” If you want reasons to feel good about yourself, remember, “Jesus died on the cross for me.” “Jesus forgives me.” “Jesus loves me!” Go ahead. Keep on boasting—boasting in the cross of Jesus.

We thank Pastor Nathan Nass and https://www.breadforbeggars.com/ for this week's blog. 



0 comments

Keep Reading >>

Older Posts >>

 

Archive

he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. ~ TITUS 3:5