Pastor's Blog

August 2016

Heaven is Impossible

Have you ever faced the impossible?

I'm not talking about the way we use the word "impossible" to talk about really tough things. I really mean impossible. Have you ever faced a task so insurmountable, some problem so thorny or complicated, that it's impossible for you to do?

God thinks it's pretty important for us to face the impossible. So he makes it impossible for us to come to him.

Wait. What?

Jesus said it himself, "Many will try to enter eternal life, but few will make it." (Check out Luke 13 for the whole thing.) Why would Jesus say that? Why would he tell us that you can try treally hard to enter eternal life but you probably won't make it? It's a bit like a teacher handing out a test saying, "Well, you can try your hardest, but probably only one of you will pass this test." Then why bother, right? 

Right! Why bother. Jesus wants us to know a very important limitation we have: we can't get ourselves to heaven. We can't come to him. He must come to us. 

We have a nasty habit of being rather selective with what our relationship with Jesus should look like. And we hate hearing Jesus tell us that it involves self-sacrifice, self-deinal, or pain and trouble. So we avoid those things and pretent that we have an actual relationship with Jesus.

Until that day when we find out we don't, but then it's too late. The gates of hell close around us and we're lost forever. 

But if we accept that we cannot do anything on our own, if we fall at the mercy of God, then what was impossible for us to do happens. Jesus said it himself, "With man, this is impossible, but not with God. With God all things are possible."

So give up on trying to impress God. Give up making excuses to God for your poor spiritual life. Instead, accept the impossible task for what it is. And grab hold of what your Savior has already done for you. Grab hold of his life. Grab hold of his work which forgives your sins. Grab hold of the cross. Believe in Jesus and you will be saved.



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Vanquish your enemies

As we look around this world we see the enemies of God. There are people who reject God’s word, reject us, hate us, or demean us because we trust in Jesus as our Savior. We look at what society calls good or fun or acceptable and we feel terrible at the sinful things that are waved in front of our faces all the time. We have enemies. But worse even than this is we are sometimes the enemy. Every time we give in to sin, every time we disobey God’s law, every time we hurt someone else, every time we are selfish or disrespectful we are enemies of God.

It’s clear that we have enemies. It’s clear that sometimes we are the enemy. So what should happen? No, let’s ask a better question: What did happen? God won the victory over his enemies. And he used his servant, Jesus Christ, the son of God, to do that. He sent his son to live in this world and to be our righteousness. The righteous—the perfect--life that God demands of you and me, he gave it to us in Christ who was put on this earth to live perfectly. And God used his servant to fight against our enemies by taking the punishment for sin. Christ served you by enduring your punishment.

When Christ ascended, we celebrate that victory. Christ has lived a perfect life for us! Christ has died on the cross to pay for sin! Christ rose again from the dead to prove it was all true! Christ’s victory is honored when he was ascended into heaven and put back into his rightful place at God’s right hand to rule over all things. Christ’s ascension is the announcement that he accomplished the work God sent him to do. He was the perfect servant, used by the Lord at the right time and the right place to fight for God’s people and win.

So the enemies of God, your enemies, have all been swept away. Christ came and defeated sin and Satan. And now, having been released from these enemies, God says that you can join the fight. One enemy we fight is human pride. So look at yourself and realize that God has put you right here, right now to trust in him and faithfully serve him. It means you don’t seek your own glory, but instead the glory of God. For instance: say someone says to you, “Hey, nice job on that report,” say, “Thanks. God really blessed it so it went well.” That’s what it means to see how God can use you right there to fight against one of our fiercest enemies—human pride.

But our greatest weapon to use in this fight is to share God’s word with other people. We use the law and the gospel. Use the law to show people their sin and how they need a savior. Use the gospel to point guilty sinners to their victorious savior.

And with the power of God, our enemies will be vanquished forever.



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Why are you afraid?

 

Darkness so thick you can feel it. There you sit, your hands and face covered with thick coal dust. You breathe in the cold dark air. In the distance you hear a drip of water. Your headlamp burned out days ago and now you peer into the emptiness in front of you and you think you see something move, but you can’t even see the hand in front of your face. It’s you and five others, and you’re trapped in a coal mine and you haven’t seen a human being since your light burned out. The passage of time is measured in drips of water, in stilted conversations with your trapped comrades about life in the light of the sun. In the silence though, there is a haunting reality that lurks around every unseen corner: I could die down here. And the darkness closes in around you.

If fear had a picture, would it be six men trapped in a mine some 1800 feet below the surface of the earth? If fear had a picture, what would it look like to you? Perhaps it would be waking up in the middle of the night to the screams of your smoke detectors and a hurried, half-dressed escape from a burning house. Perhaps fear is gripping the steering wheel of your car because that’s the last thing you can do when your tires lose traction going down that icy hill. Perhaps fear is not knowing when the next paycheck will come and what to do about the bills. Our minds can conjure up a hundred images of what fear looks like, and we each have our list of what we fear the most.

Fear is one of our greatest enemies. The devil tries to use every trick he can to get you to deny your faith and fear is one of the best because it’s part of our sinful nature. Jesus says do not fear, but we fear all kinds of things. 

When we’re afraid, we’re really saying to God that we don’t trust him, we don’t trust his plan. We think something different should happen. We lack trust and so we fear.

Fear, if left unchecked will gradually shift your focus from God’s kingdom and turn your focus inward to your own efforts. Soon it’s too late and your life is consumed with your own efforts and God’s love is a distant memory. What follows is finally despair and then eternal death.

But there is a better way. In the darkness of your fear, when you seemed trapped by it, Jesus calls out to you, “have no fear.” He knows our weaknesses because he is human, too, and he was tempted in every way just like we are but was without sin. He also knows that God has given us his kingdom.

The kingdom means we don’t have to be afraid anymore. We are princes and princesses of God’s kingdom, royal heirs to his inheritance. This is the inheritance which chases away the darkness of our fear because it is the declaration that we are not guilty. The kingdom of God is Jesus hanging on the cross to pay for our sins. The kingdom of God is Jesus rising from the dead victorious over sin, death and Satan on Easter morning. The kingdom of God is the peace of knowing that we are right with God, that God loves us and will never forsake us. The kingdom of God is the eternal peace we have in everlasting life. That is the inheritance that will never spoil, fade, run out or get stolen.

So instead of being afraid, live free. We can ditch our attachment to the things of this earth. We can be generous with our wealth, instead of hoarding it. We can trust that God will give us everything we need. We can live without fear. As Jesus says, "Have no fear, trust in the kingdom."



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The trouble with stuff

Stuff isn't so bad. The vacations, the electronics, the cars, the careers, the accomplishments, the hard work, the inheritance we’re trying to build--if those things were evil, we’d have to go live on the moon or the bottom of the ocean. It’s not the things.

So what's all the trouble?

It’s the value we place on them. We look at this thing and we derive a sense of self-worth from it. We take our career and from that career we want: security, joy, peace and a feeling like our lives are worth something in this world. 

Translation? My sense of self-worth and validation will come from what I’ve done. And all of the sudden, without even realizing it, we’ve elevated this thing up into our life and we have asked—we have demanded--it to satisfy the longings of our soul. We have spiritualized our stuff. We have asked an inanimate object, a career, an accomplishment, to do for us what only the living God can do. And it becomes our religion: the reason we live and what forms the center of our lives. And like a house filled with junk, our souls get so cluttered that we can no longer see the light of God, just barely peeking out from around the window.

There is nothing good except what comes from God. I look into my life and I see the accumulation of things, of accomplishments, and none of that is good for me outside of God. Too much of it distracts. Too much of it tempts. And I suspect you would feel the same way.

And then we come and we sit before the altar of God. Our God, who has every right to destroy us. And instead, from his altar come happy words of forgiveness.  There is no love lost. We hear gracious words from God through Scripture. He reveals his mind to us so that we would know how much he loves and cares for us. We hear Sunday after Sunday, church year after church, all that God did to rescue us from sin and death and slavery to guilt and shame. God takes precious souls and washes them in the waters of baptism to remove the stain of sin and mark that soul as a child of God. Then God does something even more incredible. As if inviting us into his presence weren’t enough; as if sharing his deepest most intimates thoughts of love with us weren’t enough; as if washing our sins away weren’t enough; he invites us to come before him once again so that he can place into our bodies the very body and blood of his son. And as we hold in our hands the bread and the body and taste on our lips the wine and the blood, we are filled with an indescribable hope and joy as we know that we are right with God. And we leave this house of worship renewed, restored and at peace. God has given us from the wealth of his grace and into the poverty of our sin-sick souls he has poured the richness of his everlasting, unchanging love and forgiveness. And finally! Our souls are satisfied.

Satisfied. Not by our stuff. Not by our accomplishments. Not by our work. But by our God who alone can accomplish this in our lives. This is the good that can only come from him. A soul, your soul, is satisfied by God who gives you his wisdom, his knowledge and his happiness.

So what to do with all this stuff? Dump it in the ocean?

No.

Use it. Earn it. Enjoy it. But you can never be satisfied by it.



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All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. ~ 2 TIMOTHY 3:16