1st Sunday in Lent
Be a Hero of Faith
Text: Genesis 22:1-18
The drama is so intense it could be a Hollywood blockbuster. I hope they don’t make it into a movie because they would probably blow it like the Noah and Exodus movies. The pages of Scripture are enough. Every word leaves us hanging with suspense.
First the Lord comes to Abram out of the blue and tells him to pack up and move to a foreign land, a land he does not know and which the Lord would finally show to him. The Lord told Abram he would bless him and that though his wife wasn’t able to have children, one day he would have more than the stars in the sky. Abram simply believed and obeyed. He packed up and left. Incredible!
By the time he was 86 though, Abram and Sarai became a little impatient. Their age and Sarai being barren were too much. So they doubted and concocted their own plan. Abram had a son named Ishmael with a servant named Hagar.
But God was still gracious. Thirteen years later God reaffirmed his promises to Abram and Sarai and changed their names to Abraham and Sarah reflecting that they would be the parents of many. One of those many descendants would even by the Savior of the world. In a year’s time, when Abraham was 100, he and Sarah would have their own child. Incredible!
Sure enough, when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90, they had a son and named him Isaac. God had kept his promise for a son, and this miracle child would be the one to carry forth God’s promises of salvation. Incredible. Read the rest of this entry
1st Sunday in Advent
Be Different. Be Prepared.
“It was good. It was good. It was good. It was good. It was good. It was good,” is the refrain of the creation story. Finally it says in Genesis 1, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Having stretched out the infinite heavens and stitched together the intricate details of our world, our all-powerful God was so pleased. He stopped his creative work, he looked at all that he had made, and it was so good. It was perfect.
Quickly that changed. By Genesis 3 Adam and Eve were changing God’s words, blatantly disobeying, and then denying their destructive sin. By Genesis 4 sin massively manifested itself in murder when Cain killed Abel. In Genesis chapter 5 a stark contrast tolls like a death knell. There it says Adam had a son in his own likeness and not in the likeness of God.
Then we come to Genesis 6 today. The world was much different now. Look again at what it says: “When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.” Very quickly people had little regard for what was God-pleasing. Just like Adam and Eve ate the fruit because it looked desirable to them, so also humans were making marriage choices only based on desires and looks. Verse 3, “Then the LORD said, ‘My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.” These humans were now mortal. They would’t live forever, and God wasn’t going to put up with this sin forever. So he put a timeline on his judgment—120 years.
Just how bad was it? Keep reading. “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” Or look at verse 11: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth and corrupted their ways.”
What a difference! Once God looked at everything he had made and it was so very good. All things, including humans, were perfect, and he was so pleased. Now God looked out at his once magnificent creation and he was disgusted. The humans once made in his holy image now had hearts that were only evil all the time, and it filled God’s heart with grievous pain. So God decided to wipe mankind and animals from the face of the earth with a worldwide flood.
To some that might seem harsh or “mean” that God would come with such a totally destructive judgment. But consider this: First, this judgment was only speeding up the inevitable. These people were filled with evil and had abandoned the Lord. That meant they were on their way to hell. To send this destructive flood was only speeding up the inevitable for these people.
Secondly, this judgment was not without grace. God didn’t send the flood immediately. He could have. But instead he announced the judgment and then gave the people 120 years to repent of their sin and turn from their ways. The ark itself, as it was being built, would have been a gigantic reminder of the pending flood and the repentance that needed to happen. The judgment could not be changed, but where people would spend eternity could be. They needed to turn to the Lord and walk in his ways before their time was up.
That brings us to a man named Noah. Noah was much different than the other people of the world. God looked at the world and was grieved over their sin, but verse 8 says, “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.”
This is not to say that Noah was the only perfect person left or that Noah had been so faithful that he had earned God’s love. Noah was simply a child of God that lived by faith. Noah also had a heart that was all evil all the time like the rest of mankind, but Noah trusted in the Yahweh-Jehovah God of love. Noah lived by faith, and by faith God had forgiven his sin and declared him to be righteous and blameless. This was more of God’s grace, and Noah trusted in it.
Noah had faith in his loving God, and then by faith he obeyed his loving God. The LORD told him to build him an ark that would be longer than our parking lot from end to end and taller than our steeple—and without Black Friday power tools from Lowes. A daunting task. Then the LORD told him to gather two of every living creature into the ark, including birds and the creepy crawlies on the ground. Another daunting task.
How often do you think Noah the man of faith battled Noah the sinner with an evil heart? Maybe the first few weeks of the project were fun, but by the tenth or twentieth or one hundredth year of construction certainly he would have been tempted to stop.
And no one else was building an ark. What kind of peer pressure do you think he received? Being laughed at. Being thought of as crazy. Being called a fool because there’s no way such judgment would ever happen. Surely Satan was working overtime tempting Noah’s sinful heart to give up, to stop, or to give in and be like the rest of the world.
But God’s grace in the righteousness he gave and the salvation he was promising filled Noah’s heart. By faith, Noah was declared righteous among a world of sinners. By faith, Noah believed in God’s coming judgment and believed in God’s deliverance. Thus verse 22 says that by faith, “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.”
Noah would have stuck out like a sore thumb back then. Noah was different but Noah was also prepared because Noah lived by faith.
This true story of Noah and the ark and the flood is several thousand years old now. But things aren’t much different today. God started over with eight people—Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives. God started over with eight righteous people (eight believers). But just like the beginning with Adam and Eve, it didn’t take long for sin and Satan to interfere. Soon, sin was running rampant again.
For thousands of years this world has been growing in peoples and population and for thousands of years mankind has become increasingly violent. Surely today God looks at our world and it grieves him. This beautiful world was once good. Mankind was once perfect. After the flood there were only righteous believers. But it is still true that every inclination of the thoughts of our hearts is only evil all the time. And it is still true that this fills the Lord’s heart with pain.
And it is also still true that God will not tolerate such sin and will not contend with such evil forever. So the Lord has done something similar—he has again declared a day of judgment. He has declared a day when everything will be destroyed—this time not by water but by fire. And this time, it won’t just be living creatures dying and worldwide destruction. No this time around everything will be destroyed including this world. And this time around God is not giving a timeframe for people to watch out for like 120 years. This time God says that this last, final, and complete judgment could come at any second.
To some that might seem harsh or “mean” that God would come with such a totally destructive judgment. But consider this: First, this judgment is only accomplishing the inevitable. The people who are filled with evil and who have abandoned the Lord are already on their way to hell. So if this day of judgment comes before they would have died, it is only speeding up the inevitable.
But also consider this: This day of judgment is also not without grace. God has not come with judgment immediately. He could have. As soon as Jesus ascended into heaven he could have come right back with his angels and ended it all. But he didn’t. He has given a gracious time of grace that is far longer than 120 years. Here we are today living almost 2,000 years after Christ.
At the same time, every war that occurs, every famine, every disease like ebola or AIDS, every church that is built, every time the Word is preached—these are all reminders that judgment is coming. People needed to turn to the Lord and walk in his ways before the time is up.
That brings us to our lives today. We are much different than the other people of the world. God looks at this world and is grieved with the sin and evil he sees. But God looks at us like he looked at Noah. We find favor in the eyes of the Lord. We walk with God as righteous people, blameless among the others in this world.
This is not at all to say that we are perfect people, that we are better than others, or that somehow we have done something to earn God’s love. No, that diagnosis of having heart that wants to do evil all the time—that fits us too. But we are different because we are simply children of God who live by faith.
There are more than a few times—in fact far too many times—that you wouldn’t be able to tell I’m different than the rest of this world. There are more than a few times—in fact far too many times—that I have joined in the sinful evil of the rest of this world. But like Noah, we are different than the rest of the world because of God’s covenant promise to us.
Like with Noah, God has promised us deliverance as well. Peter told us today in the second lesson that just as God saved Noah and his family in the ark through the waters of the flood, so also are we now saved through the waters of baptism. It’s not that flood water itself had the power to save Noah. It was God’s promises attached to the water that saved Noah. And it’s not that water from the sink or in a font or in the ocean has the power to save us. But it is God’s promises attached to the water of baptism that saves us.
That is God’s grace to his people. In the evil days of Noah, God preserved eight people in the ark so that he could fulfill the promise he made to send a Savior. Today in these evil days, God preserves us through the fulfillment of that promise of a Savior.
God sees that our hearts are evil all the time. He sees that this world is no longer very good like he once made it. But he looks at us and he sees us covered in the life and death of Jesus. He looks at us and he sees people who hold firmly to the forgiveness that Christ has won for us. He looks at us and sees people who trust in the deliverance from this coming judgment that he offers.
And so, like with Noah, God sees us as righteous and pleasing because of the promised Savior. Like with Noah and the floodwaters, God has saved us through water—the waters of baptism. Like with Noah, God has showered us with his grace. Like Noah, we simply trust that by faith. And then, like Noah, God’s incredible grace leads us to live by faith and obey God.
That too is a daunting task. How often does your new life in Christ battle against your evil heart of sin? Maybe being a Christian is exciting during certain streaks throughout the year, like at Christmas or Easter, but after a while there is the temptation to stop.
Think of all the peer pressure we face. Everyone else sleeps in on Sunday. They go to the beach on Sunday. They don’t go to church. Everyone else has warm, snuggly family moments on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. They don’t have to go to church on holidays. Everyone else says whatever they want. They live however they want. They live with no regrets. And if they do something wrong, they don’t call it sin. They call it life experience.
Like Noah building the ark, people in this world laugh at us. They make fun of us. They think we are foolish for preparing for some day of judgment they don’t think will ever happen. Surely even today Satan is working overtime tempting our sinful hearts to give up, to stop, or to give in and be like the rest of the world.
But we’re not like this world and we won’t be. Like with Noah, God’s saving grace and loving promises are simply too great. As the Yahweh-Jehovah God of love fills us with joy, he leads us to be different than others in this world. We stick out like a sore thumb because we gladly give up time on Sunday mornings and sometimes during the week to worship a God we can’t see. We give back of our own hard earned money. We read a book that we believe to be Holy Scriptures. We live careful lives of humility and patience and obedience. This is weird, strange, and very “different” to others in the world. But like with Noah building the ark, we’re different because we’re prepared for judgment.
Imagine if you didn’t do any Black Friday shopping, either in stores or online. Imagine if you never bought any presents at all. Imagine if you didn’t put up any Christmas lights and no Christmas tree. Imagine if you didn’t send out any Christmas cards, hosted no holiday parties, and never wore any ugly green and red sweaters. People would think that’s strange. How can you not prepare for Christmas when you know that day is coming?
Christians do many of those things during Advent to prepare to celebrate Christmas. But all the while we are preparing during Advent and every day for a different day—the Last Day. To others it might seem weird. But to Noah, to you, and to me it is very normal. We’re only different because God has made us that way. He has declared us to be righteous through his gracious promises of deliverance from his final judgment. By faith, we believe in God’s promises through Jesus. By faith, we obey God like Noah and look forward to that Last Day of judgment and deliverance. Like Noah, by faith we’re different. Like Noah, by faith we’re prepared.
In the Beginning . . . Was the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Text: Genesis 1:1-2:3
There are a lot of conspiracy theories out there in the world. There are especially a lot of conspiracy theories when it comes to Christianity. Do a little googling and you will find endless amounts of information about supposed conspiracies and controversies. The problem is that anyone can post anything on the internet these days, and most of these alleged Christian conspiracies aren’t true.
There are many of these conspiracy theories that attack the very core of our belief—who our God is. One in particular is very popular. This conspiracy theory states that the emperor Constantine, who lived in the 200s and 300s A.D., invented the concept of the Trinity. Some say that Constantine wanted to end religious rift in his empire and so he forced and coerced his own beliefs onto the church and crushed those who stood for the truth. They say that since Constantine imposed the teaching of the Trinity, the Church has never been the same.
Please don’t even waste your time googling that. You will only be reading information from unbelievers who only know a few historical facts. The reality is that the story starts with a man named Arius. Arius was a priest in Alexandria, Egypt. Arius staunchly denied the Trinity—that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal. Why would he deny it? Because it had been around and taught for ages already before him but it didn’t make sense to him. Constantine finally called a council of church leaders in 325 A.D. at the city of Nicea. There those church leaders wrote a summary of the true Christian faith. That short statement of faith is called the Nicene Creed. For almost 1,700 years now Christians around the globe have continued to speak the words of the Nicene Creed and to confess their faith as they battle against Arianism (the denial of the Trinity) still today.
Of course, people will always debate about the facts of history. They’ll interpret historical events in different ways. Spin doctors will continue to spew countless conspiracy theories to attack the truth. So when we aren’t sure about something and need to rediscover the truth, there is only one thing for Christians to do and one place for Christians to go. We must go back to the Bible and see what it says. Today we not only go back to Scripture, but we even go all the way back to the beginning. There we see that even In the Beginning . . . Was the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Read the rest of this entry
16th Sunday after Pentecost
Faith Puts Christ First
1. By trusting
2. By following
3. By worshiping
Text: Genesis 12:1-8
Would you have done it? Would you have left like Abram and Sarai? The Lord had come to Abram and said, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” Notice how God dialed up the challenge meter in this test of faith. “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household.” God was being crystal clear about how big of a challenge this was and how much he was going to leave behind. “Oh, and by the way,” God said, “I’m not going to tell you where you are going. I’ll show you where to go and tell you when to stop.”
Would you have done it? Would you have left like Abram and Sarai (who were 75 and 65!)? Would you have left your house, your neighborhood, your favorite Publix store, your local sports teams, your family, and your friends? Would you have left everything behind and blindly followed wherever God told you to go? Maybe you end up in Tallahassee. Maybe Timbuktu. Maybe Tijuana. Who knows? Would you have done it? Read the rest of this entry
2nd Sunday of Easter
Believe the Impossible . . . Or Impossible to Believe?
Text: Genesis 15:1-6
It happens all the time. Something good happens, maybe even something great. A great success. A great victory. A great blessing. You are soaring as high as can be. Your heart is beating with a vibrant faith and trust in God. God is good. Your faith is good. Life is good. You are filled with joy and peace.
But what almost always seems to come next? Something bad. Something disappointing. Something frightening. Suddenly the heartbeat of your faith is nearly flat-lining. The once vibrant faith and trust turns into doubts and worries. Is God really good? Life doesn’t seem very good. Now you are filled with anger, frustration, and those powerful doubts and worries.
It happens to us all the time. Why?
When things are going well, when your faith in God seems to be strongest, Satan knows that is the ideal time to tempt you. When better to tempt than when our guard might be down? When better to tempt than when we might be a little overconfident? When better to tempt than when Satan can make us fall the farthest? And like a fish gobbling up a sparkling lure, our sinful selves love to chomp down on doubts of God’s promises. Read the rest of this entry