This is the 8th sermon from the "Just One Question Series." What purpose does God have for my life?")
Find Purpose in This


          Lord, what’s the point of this?  I am trying really hard Lord.  I am trying not to question you in this.  I know the promises you give to me.  I know well that you say all things work for my good, and I believe you.  You tell me that you will strengthen me and uphold me as I face challenges in this life, and I believe that too.  But Lord, what is so tricky here is I just don’t see what the point is in going through this.  If you could just make clear to me what we are accomplishing here.  If you could just show me one or two goals that you are achieving with me, I will stop wondering.  I will stop spending my time asking, “What is the point of going on like this?”  I will find purpose in this life.

          Couldn’t you see Paul having days where thoughts like that were bouncing around in his mind?  You see, when he was writing this letter, the letter to the Philippians, he was not in his study in Antioch.  He wasn’t visiting one of the many different churches he had started through Turkey and Greece.  He wasn’t on the road breaking new ground.  No, he was sitting in Rome.  Waiting.  Waiting for his trial to work itself out.  He had been waiting for almost two years now.  The events recorded in the book of Acts show us how Paul ended up where he was.  He had been falsely accused in Jerusalem.  He had been put on the shelf in Caesarea.  And after a long journey involving a shipwreck, he was now sitting under house arrest in Rome.  Waiting.  Don’t get me wrong.  Overall his situation wasn’t horrible.  He was allowed to stay in a house and have people come to visit him.  He had a guard who made sure he didn’t run away, but he wasn’t in a damp dark dungeon, yet.  But can’t you see him growing more frustrated by the day.  Can’t you see him wanting to know, “Lord, what’s the point?  Why am I sitting here and not out on a mission trip?  Why am I here and not visiting and strengthening the new believers like those in Philippi?  What is the point of this?”

          I am sure Paul had days where he felt that way.  But as he writes this letter to the Philippians, doesn’t a different attitude show through?  Paul saw what was being accomplished.  “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.  As a result it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.  Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”  Paul points the believers in Philippi to the awesome things God was accomplishing through his time in Rome.  The Gospel was advancing.  The palace guard who were rotated to guard Paul saw that he was no criminal, but he was in chains for Christ.  The other believers in Rome who saw Paul bravely suffering were encouraged to proclaim the Gospel with courage and in a fearless way.  Paul could look at his life, and while it might have seemed like it was lacking a purpose, he could see what God was accomplishing through him.

          And isn’t that the part that seems so unfair?  Why does Paul get to see that and we don’t?  Why don’t we see the purpose God has for our lives like that?  I mean, none of us are under arrest sitting in Rome and wondering what God is doing.  But that doesn’t mean those thoughts we started out with this morning couldn’t be your thoughts or mine.  Lord, what’s the point of this?  And you and I each have our own this to put in that statement don’t we?  What’s the point of me being in this situation?  What’s the point of me having to continue to struggle against this problem or illness?  What’s the point of me having to deal with these same frustrations?  What’s the point of me doing all these menial tasks that no one notices and that seem so unimportant?  What’s the point of me having a daily life that seems so blasé and redundant?  I mean really Lord.  What is the purpose of all of this?  What, if anything, is being accomplished by my life and what I am doing?

          I am looking Lord.  I’m looking for how what I do is advancing the Gospel or doing anything else important, but I am not seeing much.  I am not seeing any palace guard, or anyone else for that matter, who is learning to know Christ through me.  I am not seeing anyone inspired or emboldened by my life Lord.  Maybe there was a time when I had a lot of purpose and what I did mattered.  Maybe there will be a time, when I am older, that I can actually do something that matters.  But Lord, what is the point of this?  What purpose do you have for me being here?

          What is there to say to this?  Do we live without purpose?  Are our life and our station completely arbitrary?  We are here, but who knows why?  We have this, but God isn’t getting much out of us in it.  How sinfully foolish of us.  How foolish of us to act as though God has no purpose for us, if we don’t see it with our eyes.  How foolish to think that God is just letting us deal with our day to day tasks and none of them really matter.  How foolish it is for me to consider my life to lack purpose, just because God doesn’t show me the same things that Paul saw. 

          Your Lord shows you what your purpose is in this life.  He tells you exactly what he is doing with you and with me.  Paul mouths the words for us, “For to me, to live is Christ.”  You and I live for Christ.  What stopped Paul from foolishly thinking, I am not getting anything done here.  He recognized that his whole life was for Christ.  What is the only thing that will make you and I stop asking the question, “What is the point of this for me?”  For us to recognize that our lives are for Christ.  Your life and my life are gone.  We have been crucified with Christ.  When Jesus died on the cross, our priorities and our purposes, died with him.  We have been crucified and now we live, a life that is no longer ours but is the Son of God’s who loved you and gave himself for you.  Gave himself for you so that you could live.  So live, having been raised from the death of sin.  So live, a life that shall never end, not even when physical death comes calling for you.  So live, a life that is full of purpose because you live for the one who died for you.  Stop acting like your purpose needs to be something that you can pin up on the wall for everyone to see.  Your life’s purpose is someone who was pinned up on a cross for everyone to be saved. 

          Find him in your “this”, whatever that this might be for you.  Your life is Christ.  That means whoever you are and whatever you find yourself in the midst of, your purpose is to live for Christ.  You are to live for Christ, as you continue another day dealing with that same old frustration, never once seeing how your perseverance affects those around you.  How your faithfulness in the midst of heartache encourages your brothers and sisters in Christ.  You are to live for Christ, as you do those mundane things another time, but because of the beating trust in your heart in the one who died for you, you do them to God’s glory.  You live for Christ, as you make the smallest decisions, but you make them with God’s will in mind and so embolden others to live for Christ more thoroughly. 

          Look at two examples Paul points out to you and me how we can live in Christ.  Your life has great purpose in your prayers.  Those Philippians were praying for Paul and how pointless their prayers must have seemed to them.  Yet what does Paul say?  “Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.”  Look at the priority he places on them.  Through those prayers, what has happened will be for my deliverance.  Do not lose sight of how powerful your prayers as God’s people truly are.  If you feel like you aren’t able to do anything that has such results, such purpose, as some of the visible things you see others doing, return to your prayers.  Pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Pray for your church and your pastor.  Pray for your family.  And recognize, that if that was the only thing you did, you would still be living for Christ as you ask the Holy Spirit to be at work in such ways.  Whatever your situation, find purpose in prayer as you live for Christ.

          Find purpose in the joy that you bring to others.  Paul knew the Lord had more work for him to do, and one of the things foremost on his mind was the joy that he would bring to the Philippians by being with them.  As you live for Christ, recognize just how purposeful God is in placing you here and now.  How much joy you bring to your brothers and sisters who gather here.  How much joy you bring as you encourage one another to live for Christ.

          When doubts assail you.  When this question is not asked with trust but with worry, “Lord, what is the point of this, my life?”  Look at what your life’s purpose is.  It is Christ.  The one who gave you life through his death.  The one who calls you to now live for him in all that you do, the big deals and the small details.  See your purpose there.  I live for Christ.  When I die it will be great gain for me, but right now, my Savior has work for me.  I am to live for him.  I am to pray for others.  I am to bring joy to others.  I am to live each day, with all that I do for him.  That is the life that he has called me to and restored for me.  That is the purpose that I find in all of this.  To live for Christ.  Amen.

This is the 7th sermon from the "Just One Question Series." The question this Sunday was "How can I cope with the effects of someone's sin in my life?")
What It Takes to Move Forward


          It was the hardest part of the obstacle course.  The chances for disaster were high and for that reason alone, it was the spectators’ favorite.  It didn’t seem like it should be that hard, at least not if you had any coordination.  The obstacle course I am thinking of was a team competition.  You had to race to put together a puzzle.  You would crawl under some low hanging ropes.  And then you came to the boards.  Two six foot boards, almost like cross county skies, upon which you and your teammate would need to stand together, one foot on each board, one person in front and another person two feet behind the other.  And then you would move forward.  Normally, if you got a good start you would get a little ways before anything would happen.  But once a mistake was made, once someone took a drastically longer or shorter step than the other, once someone slipped just a little, then the real challenge began.  With all your adrenaline pumping, you would need to stop, regroup and re-gather, before you would have any hope of actually moving forward again.  That contest, that I am sure I never won and so have buried it deep in my mind till now, came to mind because I see some similarities with it and our question today.  How do you cope with the sin of someone else and that sin’s effects in your life?  If you imagine yourself cruising right along with someone else, whether it is a family member or friend or anyone else, things seem to be going smoothly, until what happens?  Someone makes a mistake.  Someone sins.  And that sin, whether it is a life changing type of sin or a daily occurrence that starts to add up, threatens to bring that relationship to a screeching halt.  What do we do?  How do we react to someone’s sin against us?  What does it take to move forward?

          If we were to ask this question to a professional counselor or even to co-workers at the water cooler, we probably would get a lot of different answers and ideas.  You need to make sure that you talk about the sin.  Don’t deny that it happened or just try to repress it.  If you are going to move forward you need to come to terms with it.  Maybe you need to analyze some of the events and actions that led up to it happening, then you can move forward confident that it won’t happen again.  Perhaps you can make a list of actions that need to be taken to make up for the mistake, to get back to square one before you start moving forward again.  Now don’t get me wrong.  Whether you hear it from a professional or from a trusted friend, there is a lot of wisdom in these thoughts.  But what do you do if none of these things seem to be working?  What if the more you talk about it, the bigger the sin seems?  What if you know there is no magical change that will prevent that sin from cropping up again?  What if you simply can’t form a list that if accomplished then things would be back to good again?  What if none of these things help you to move forward?

          Do our verses from Romans this morning seem to just be another list of options to try?  There are a load of different instructions here, each of which we could apply to our lives in many different ways, but for now, with our question before our eyes, let’s continue to ask, how can I cope and move forward when someone sins against me?  Paul’s list isn’t limited to this, but includes such thoughts as, “Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Practice hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Live at peace with everyone.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Couldn’t all these statements serve as good advice to move forward?  Do these things and you will learn to cope and move past someone’s sins.

          Can’t all these thoughts be summed up in a simple way?  Show love.  The NIV titles this section simply as that, “Love.”  It begins with that command to show real love.  God is calling on us to show love to all, even those people whose actions have hurt us.  Whose words haunt us.  And whose mistakes have changed our lives.  God still calls on you and me to love, because love is the way that our lives will move forward. 

          So will that work?  Are you willing to try it?  Maybe we decide that we are going to give it a shot.  We are going to try to forgive that person out of love.  We are going to lovingly try to put their sin behind us and move on.  We are going to try to be consistent and strong even though their sin has mangled our life.  We are going to try not to strike back for this sin.  How far can you go with this?  How far will any of these thoughts take you?  I am amazed at times to see the strength of certain individuals who simply want to move on from a sin of the past.  It is truly awesome.  But the question I would pose for you, if you are someone who is trying to carry yourself past someone’s mistake, or if you are someone looking for the specific advise or method to do just that, is this.  Will you move this far forward?  Will you move as far forward as God demands of us here in Romans?  Will you really move so far past that person’s sin that you will love that person with a love that meets God’s standard of sincerity?  That is what God calls for here.  Will you move so far forward that you are never lacking in zeal, and I mean never.  That you never have a day where you are just exhausted from trying to move on that you give a little less than your whole heart in that relationship?  Will you move far enough ahead that pride won’t catch up with you?  That you will never stop and think, well I am way better than this person because I dealt with their screw up so well.  Will you move so far that you not only won’t repay them with evil actions, but not even evil thoughts?  Or are you more like me?  That you are excited about heaping burning coals?  That if I bite my lip and take the highroad, than you know what, I am going to make that person look even worse.  That’ll teach them for treating me that way.  Is any of this really moving forward from a sin?  Is any of this really coping with what they did to us?

          We were close to the right answer, but we took a wrong turn.  How do we cope with the effects of someone’s sin in our lives?  The answer is love.  We just looked to the wrong source for that love.  We looked inside of ourselves and said I am going to try and love, and we fall short.  Our love is not enough to move past sin.  Let’s instead look to the love of our God.  The love that he reveals to us as he moves forward past our sins.  You see, God couldn’t just move forward from our sins by assuring himself it wouldn’t happen again, because it would.  He couldn’t just say, I will put this out of my mind and continue with man like this never happened.  Realize what God had to cope with.  He had to cope with people like you and me, whose smallest sin, an oxymoron if there ever was one, is far worse than anything anyone has ever done to us.  You and I are sinful people.  When someone sins against us, while it might be painful, unfair, and yes, wrong, it is still nothing compared to what our sins are against a holy and righteous God, who only wanted to bless the people whom he made in his own image. 

          God was confronted with the effects of the sins of the world.  The effects of your sins.  And what did God choose to do?  He chose to move forward by love.  It would take unbelievable love.  Undeserved and unfathomable love to move forward in a relationship with mankind.  And that is what God did.  God the Father loved the world enough that he would give up his only beloved Son so that he could treat you like you never sinned against him.  God the Son would love you enough to die for sins, so that he could make restitution for the thoughtless actions and loveless words we spew out at one another.  God the Spirit would love you enough to convince you that such love that is foolishness, is real, and really for you.  God made up his mind to move past your sins and it took all of his goodness and love to do it. 

          God’s love has moved your relationship with him forward.  You and I were not his people.  We are a people who sinned against him and each other.  Now he has made us his own people.  The love of Christ accomplished this.  We whose sins cheated him of his glory and dishonored his name have been restored to be his children, by his love.  The relationship our sin destroyed with God has been repaired by his amazing love.   This is the love that we need to move forward with one another.  Only this great love equips us to love one another.  Only this great love gives us hope to repair and restore the bridges burned by sin. 

Where do we go with this love of God?  Back to our relationships.  Back to those who have hurt us and sinned against us.  And we let this love of God move us forward.  It moves us forward to love like God loved us.  To be a merciful servant and forgive, even when the debt seems too large.  Take that person’s huge sin and place it next to the forgiveness God shows to you.  The love of God moves us to be patient in affliction.  I know, I know how much pain there is here today, some of it I know clearer than others.  Looking to God’s love for you doesn’t mean you will not still suffer for someone else’s sins against you.  But the love of God will give you the strength to be patient in affliction.  To know you can stand and bear this great pain, because you have a God whose love for you mended your relationship with him.  To stand with confidence because no one’s sin can break your soul, because God has claimed it for himself through his love.  The love of God moves you forward to live in peace.  To lovingly move past hurt and strife in order to make wise decisions.  To know that there can be forgiveness and still be wise change that results from asking the question of how can I live in the peace of God.  God doesn’t tell you and me to look out for ourselves.  That is our natural tendency.  And so God stresses that we show love to those who wrong us, and then make wise decisions acting out of love.

Finally, God’s love calls on each of us to overcome evil with good.  We are called upon to do good to all.  If we do that to those who aren’t sorry for sinning against us, we give God one more reason to carry out his just vengeance.  If we do good to those who are sorry for their sins, God can use our good to turn them from their wickedness.  God can use such good deeds to convict them of wrongdoing when they realize there is a problem with how they have treated us.  God can use our good deeds to lead them to do good because they recognize their sin. They hear the forgiveness we have given them which is God’s forgiveness.  And they see opportunities to show their thanks for that forgiveness.  God’s love will move us forward in these ways.

The best method I saw to move those two person boards after a mistake was for one person to shout out, “Right.  Left.  Right.  Left.”  Normally such a practice got them back on track and moving forward.  When someone’s sin has taken your relationship off the path forward, God calls out to you, “Love.”  And as we hear the command and think how impossible it will be, God shows us what he is talking about.  The love he has for you, that he would mend and fix and move past your sins by the payment of his Son.  He calls out to you, Love.  Love that I showed to you, now show to this one sinning against you.  My love for you will sustain you and strengthen you in the pain.  My love will guide you to make wise decisions.  My love will carry you forward as it leads you to love with sincerity.  Cope with sin the same way your Heavenly Father does.  With his great love, that produces love in us.  Amen.

(This is the 6th sermon from the "Just One Question Series." The question this Sunday was "How do we know whose interpretation of the Bible is correct?")
Take the Word For It


          Take my word for it.  Don’t those words themselves make you a little bit nervous?  It is almost as if the phrase prompts an internal reaction of, “Why do I have to take your word for it?  Don’t you have something to show me?  Some sort of reason?”  If a sales person tells us, “This car was only driven to the food store and back.  It’s in pristine condition.  Take my word for it.”  Doesn’t an alarm start sounding in your mind?  I need to check this somehow.  Or someone tells us, take my word for it, this movie is worth every dime that you pay to go see it.  Do we immediately take them at their word, or do we want some more information, some more reasons why we can be sure that’s a true statement.  We have been burned before and while it may be a friend or family member, we want a little bit more than just, “Take my word for it.”  Do you ever feel like religiously, the landscape of churches is simply a whole bunch of different people saying, “Take my word for it.  This is what is true.  Trust me, that we have what is right.”  The person who asked our question today seems to be thinking this through.  Why are there so many different ideas out there?  Why are there so many interpretations?  And because of all those interpretations are we left with finally having to say, well I am going to take this person’s word for it and not this one’s?  Today we find the answer to dealing with all the different interpretations.  Today we are going to take the word for it.

          One thought that we need to have in mind before we undertake our question this morning, is to realize that the Bible does have a specific meaning.  This is a point that we can agree with and still have some wrestling to do.  When the authors of the books of the Bible wrote their books and letters, they had a meaning in mind.  Paul or Moses or any other writer did not think, “Well, I could mean this or I could be writing that.  I better leave this point open for the reader to decide.”  No, they wrote to convey a meaning.  If I said to you, “I painted in the house,” I could mean I was painting the walls in a house.  I could mean I was painting a picture inside the house.  I could mean I filled in the drawing of the house on a piece of paper with paint.  It’s an unclear statement by itself, but I obviously know what I mean as I say that, and hopefully I am speaking in such a way that the meaning is understood by the one I am speaking with.  The authors of Scripture had a meaning in mind as they wrote the words that we have preserved today.  Now that doesn’t mean it is always easy for us to know what they meant immediately.  We are separated by a lot of time and culture from some of them.  So what can we do to figure out what they meant by what they wrote?  We look at the whole context of what they were writing.  That helps us understand what the author means.  If I just got done telling you about an art class I took on landscapes and I said I painted in the house, you would know I meant on a canvass.  With the Bible, we are wise to let the other parts of Scripture help to guide us to understand an author’s meaning.  We let Scripture help us understand Scripture.

          The reason that I highlight this truth for you is we are going to quickly throw away some false notions.  The idea that you can make the Bible say whatever you want it to say is a common accusation today.  It’s true you can do that, if you are willing to ignore the context of a certain passage.  If you ask what the author means, you can be fairly certain of what he does or doesn’t mean.  Also, the idea that there are countless interpretations of Scripture that are all valid.  We don’t deny that there are many Christians who have different interpretations of Scripture.  We don’t say they aren’t Christians.  But we do say that the Bible has one meaning and if we have a difference, we need to ask whose teaching is accurate and whose isn’t.

          That gets us into the heart of this question.  Whose word is right?  Whose understanding of the meaning of Scripture is best?  To answer that question, we need to look very closely at what this word we have really is.  We are going to make sure that we are taking the word, and not cleverly invented stories.  That was the struggle facing Peter it seems.  He makes his case regarding what he had been teaching.  “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.”  Peter essentially says to his readers, “Hey, this is not stuff we made up.”  This is not our words or interpretations.  This is the truth of what we saw and heard on that glorious mountain top.  When Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transfigured in his glory, they knew what they were seeing.  They knew what they heard when the Father gave Jesus his approval.  Peter says to these people, this is what we saw.  Peter could tell them that he had seen the source of their teaching.  There was no matter of anyone’s interpretation getting in the way.  He knew his teaching was accurate.  He went right to the source.

            But isn’t that where our struggle comes in?  How do we recognize the difference between the truth and cleverly invented stories?  We aren’t Peter.  We didn’t stand and see Jesus glorified or hear the Father’s voice.  For that matter, we didn’t see any of the events Scripture writes about.  We haven’t had Paul tell us what he meant by his word choice.  We can only read what the prophets saw and taught.  So how do we tell the two apart, clever story and truth of God’s Word?  We could spend a sermon’s time today examining certain teachings and discovering where they are more story than Scripture.  There is a time and place for that.  It isn’t here and now.  What you and I are wiser to do is ask, “How do I know I am not the one who is inventing stories?”  How do I know that my understanding of Scripture is true and accurate?  If we are really asking this question today, shouldn’t we be unafraid to evaluate our understanding of it?

          Before you and I begin exposing others invented teachings propped up by out of context Scripture, we are wise to note the temptations and dangers that confront us as much as anyone else.  We started by saying that Scripture is clear and has a single meaning.  Where then do all the problems arise?  With those interpreting it and that includes you and me.  We have a sinful nature, that tells us that we want to hear is far better than what the Word really says.  And if the word gets in the way of what we want, we should look for another way to understand it.  You and I are more affected by the world around us than we recognize.  A world that tells us what is really wiser than what this simple book has to say.  A world that tells us what is more enlightened or fair than old teaching.  We need to update this stuff to be in line with what we know now.  We need to invent some better truths.  And finally, not to be dismissed the same one who told Eve, you certainly won’t die, is still ready to whisper into your ear, God certainly can’t mean that.  It’s so unloving.  It’s not good what God is telling you here, he must mean something else.  If we want to evaluate interpretations of Scripture, we had better start with the one that we hold. 

          And what is the easy answer to this question?  Who cares!  Eh, everyone is going to find their own meaning.  It really doesn’t matter if someone teaches this and I teach that.  I can’t believe we have heard a sermon that is only focused on how we understand the Bible.  How unpractical?  That last statement is intended to convict you, but first it nailed me.  Is it worth preaching on all of this?  Some people there won’t see any value to this.  But realize how very important all this is.  We are talking about the basis of your faith.  What it is you believe and how it shows in your life.  Are you going to simply say, “I’ll take someone’s word for it?”  Or do you care enough to actually ask, what does God really say to me.

          Because you and I can find the answer to that question.  We might feel like the further we get away from when these words were written the less hope we have.  But look at how Peter views it.  “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”  Where does Peter point our attention?  To the word made more certain!  This is coming from the guy who was there on the mountain.  One who heard the Father’s voice.  But instead of all that he says, the word of the prophets had been made more certain.  Listen to it!  It is a light that shines into the dark places.  The word is what reveals cleverly invented truths.  The word is what shows the truth.  It is the light that shines to reveal what God’s will really is.  It is the light that keeps us in the light of the morning star.  Return to the word for certainty in what you believe.  The word shows us how sin and our enemies have redirected us from the truth.  We do take the word for what it is.  The very words of God.  Not thought up or put together by men, but rather the Holy Spirit’s gift to us as he carried the human authors along.  This word is what reveals truth.

          So take it.  Grab this word for yourself and others.  Don’t think that once you have tasted it you are done.  Peter says, “I will always remind you of these things, even thought you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.  I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.”  Peter encourages you and me to keep remembering this word.  To not let time and schedules cause us to let the word lay fallow in our lives.  Then we will begin to lose the brightness that we now enjoy.  The light that is ours through this great heritage of Scripture.  Make this light your own.  No more settling for this is what my church teaches or this is what my pastor preaches.  Instead this is what the light of God’s Word reveals and I go to this church or listen to this pastor because that is what is taught there.  No more settling for saying the word could mean this or this or this, but instead, return to the light and find out.  Seek the truth where it may be found.  Make it your own, and give it to others.  Teach it to your children, that they may see the Word for what it is.  The light of God’s truth.  Bring them to Sunday school to hear the truths revealed in that word, not the stories invented by men. 

          Why is this so important?  Peter tells Christians in the prior verse.  “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.  For if you do these things you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  You will know what your hope is based upon.  It is based on the word.  And not the word that someone has to convince you is the truth.  Your hope and faith will be based on the unfailing word and nothing else.  The word that prepares you for when you set aside this earthly tent.  The word that testifies to the Light of the World that shines into the darkness of our own interpretations and ideas.  Take this word for what it is.  The testimony of God about Christ that makes you wise for salvation.  Amen.

(This is the 5th sermon from the "Just One Question Series." The question this Sunday was "If God is supposed to answer all my prayers, why does it seem like he doesn't sometimes?")
Aren’t You Listening?


          Isn’t it frustrating when someone doesn’t listen to you?  In the course of conversation, someone might ask you a question and as you begin to give your answer, you notice that the person’s eyes are going somewhere else, perhaps to the game that is on TV.  They give no reaction to any parts of your answer, even the things you feel are very interesting or surprising.  Maybe the person is even so brazen as to pull out his phone and check his new message as you are talking.  You know that he didn’t listen when you get done with what you have to say and he asks another question that you had just explained a second ago.  That can be very frustrating, and you want to just say to that person, “Hey.  Aren’t you listening?”  It sure doesn’t seem like that.  We forgive each other for doing that far too often, and it’s a little understandable when a big play is happening, or you are waiting for a specific message, that your attention is not 100%.  But could you imagine instances where it would be ridiculous for someone to not be listening?  If you call 911 and the dispatch person misses what you said because he is checking his cell phone we would be upset.  If you are explaining to the ER doctor what happened to your hand and he starts a conversation with another doctor, you might be a little peeved.  And don’t our prayers fall into this type of category?  We pray to God about lots of things, many of which are very important and the question today is what do we do when it seems like God isn’t listening.  Is he checking other prayers that popped up on his smart phone?  Is he distracted by everything else that is going on?  We know such thoughts are foolish, but then what do we say when it seems like God isn’t answering our prayers.

          That was the situation that Paul found himself in.  In his second letter to the Corinthians, he shared a very important prayer that he had offered to God.  “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.”  Paul had experienced an amazing vision that he had just shared with the Corinthians in the verses before ours.  Because of how great this vision was, he received a powerful problem, to keep him from becoming conceited.  What type of problem was this?  Well, he calls it his thorn in the flesh, something that continued to be present and painful for him.  He calls it a messenger of Satan.  We don’t know exactly what this thorn was.  Some think that it might have been some sort of problem with Paul’s eyes..  Some think it was an illness that he had picked up on his travels, such as malaria.  It could have been some sort of speech impediment, as some considered Paul less than a powerful speaker.  Whatever the thorn was, we can imagine what Paul wanted in prayer can’t we?  He tells us that he pleaded with the Lord.  He didn’t just nonchalantly ask, he begged God.  And this was not a one time thought for Paul.  He mentions three times, but you could imagine it being more than that.  Paul wanted this thorn to be gone and so he was busy and earnestly asking God for that.

          Can’t we understand what Paul’s reasoning must have been like?  I mean, this was not a selfish whiny person we are talking about.  This is the guy who suffered tons for the Gospel.  Beatings and shipwrecks and imprisonments.  He faced such things with confidence, so I am sure he wasn’t just thinking oh if only this problem was gone, things would be so cushy and easy for me.  No, more likely he had pretty good reasoning.  Lord, think how much more work I could get done for you if this thorn was removed.  How many more people could I have the strength and energy to reach with the Gospel.  It makes all the sense in the world that you would take this problem away from me God.  So why aren’t you listening?

          Our prayers might be different in some content from Paul’s, but overall, can’t you find some similarities between you and him.  When are the times that you really wonder if God is listening or not.  It’s not when you are having your wish list prayers.  You aren’t overly worried about God ignoring you if he doesn’t immediately grant you that blessing that you know you don’t need but would be sorta nice to have.  It’s not when you bring your little cares and problems to God, which is good to do.  He wants to hear all our cares and worries, but if he doesn’t supernaturally fix my brakes or help me drop the ten pounds I am working on, I don’t doubt he heard me.  No, isn’t it the really important prayers that make us stop and ask this question?  The prayers about granting my loved one some healing.  The prayers about helping to mend that fraying relationship at home.  The prayers about helping me succeed in a new school or job.  When those types of prayers seem to go unanswered, is that what makes us scratch our head and ask God if he is listening?

          And our reasons are pretty good too.  We are doing what he wanted us to do!  We know that Jesus is our friend and wants us to bring our burdens and grief to him.  We hear him say to us to cast all anxiety on him because he cares about us.  So we are doing what you wanted us to do, and besides, think about what could be Lord?  There are so many good reasons for you to grant this prayer.  Lord think about what that person could do for you if they were strong and healthy again.  Think about how much happier and thankful our home would be if this problem passed.  Think about what an unbeliever would see if you granted this prayer.  Think about how I could be a better witness for you if things go well in this new setting.  Why wouldn’t you answer this prayer?  The only reason you must not be doing it is because you aren’t listening.  And if that is the case, why bring these things to you?  Why keep praying, if I can’t count on you hearing me when I pray about the important parts of my life, what can I count on you for?  Why does it seem like you aren’t answering me when you promised you would?

          But note what God showed to Paul.  He gave him an explanation why he wasn’t answering that prayer to remove the thorn in his flesh.  “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  God showed Paul what he was accomplishing in him through this suffering.  First, he promised him that his grace was enough for him.  He had all that he needed with the mercy God had showed him.  And on top of that, God’s strength was being made clearer through Paul’s weakness.  Go back to the seeming good reasons Paul gave to take the thorn away.  This would move the Gospel forward Lord.  Instead God says, when you are weak and suffering, when you are persecuted and insulted, that is when the power is clearly seen in my truth in you.  That is when the power is clearly Christ’s and not Paul’s.  The Lord was really answering Paul’s prayer for him.  What Paul thought was the best way to answer that prayer yes was not what God considered the right answer, but God still answered it.

          God gives you this example of Paul this morning because through it he shows us this is true for us too.  He might not make it clear to us the exact same way he did with Paul.  He doesn’t audibly speak to us in answer to our prayers, but he does tell you and me the same thing he tells Paul here.  Sometimes his power is clearer and most visible when we are weak.  When we are holding on in the midst of a problem and are really to fall, his powerful hand that holds us up and continues to help us bear whatever we might be praying about shows his strength. 

          But even more than that he shows us that while we might want to be asking him, “Aren’t you listening?” in reality, we should be asking ourselves that question.  Aren’t we listening to what we say when we pray?  Aren’t we listening to ourselves say, “Not our will be your will be done,” even if that means suffering or heartache?  Did the Father answer Christ’s prayer with a yes in Gethsemane?  He did, because Jesus prayer was do this if it is your will.  And since it was God’s will to save the world, Jesus got exactly what he prayer for.  Part of the problem with our prayers is we only hear what we are saying and not what the Spirit says.  God promises to send his Spirit to intercede for us.  So the prayer we offer might be the last thing in the world we would want since it conflicts with God’s will and so the Spirit speaks up for us. 

          And so dear Christians, silence your earthly minded thoughts for a moment with me this morning and hear what we really are praying by the work of the Spirit.  Lord, show me that your grace is enough for me.  That even if I must face the worst problems imaginable and the biggest heartaches, your forgiveness and mercy in Christ is more than enough to pick me up.  Lord, I want you to do what is good and pleasing in your sight, not in mine.  That is my greatest desire and I plead for you to carry that out, even if I don’t understand it all the time.  Lord, help me to accept your will as what I really want when I come to your throne of mercy.  When we pray in such a way, we know God will always answer our prayers with a resounding yes, because we are asking him to do the very thing he most wants to do, the very best things for us.

          This certainly calls for faith, and there is a reason why we recognize that prayer is a fruit of faith and something that flows out of seeing God’s abundant goodness to us.  Don’t think Paul didn’t have days where he thought, “Lord are you sure it wouldn’t be best this way, with this thorn gone.”  You and I will still have days where we wonder if we really received a yes answer to our prayer, because it sure seems to be a no.  This is why we must always continue to couple our prayers with God’s Word.  Because prayer without the word is just a one sided conversation.  We need to hear God’s answers for us.  We need to see his promises to give us everything we ask for in Christ’s name.  We need to see the amazing child and Father relationship we have with God because of Christ, and that is why we can be confident that our perfect, holy, wise, and all powerful God is not going to fail to give us what is best in his sight.

          We don’t need to worry about God not listening to our prayers.  He promises to hear and answer all of them.  If you find yourself feeling as if he hasn’t been answering, stop and listen to what it is that we are praying.  Each of us has different specifics in our prayers, but we have the same over riding desire.  That God’s will be done.  That we ask all things in the name of Christ Jesus and receive resounding yes’s to the prayers that the Spirit offers on our behalf.  Listen to what you are really praying and turn to the word where God answers your prayers and see how he responds to us.  I have listened to your prayers and here is my answer.  Yes.  Amen.

This is the 4th sermon from the "Just One Question Series." The question this Sunday was "What's the point of going to church?")

"What It’s All About”

It’s About Going, not Coming

It’s About Needed, not Need To

          How often would you meet me?  If I asked you today to meet me with me at Caribou at a scheduled time this week, would you try to do it?  I hope you would.  Now what would you be thinking, if you showed up at the set time and we had a cup of coffee together.  Maybe I told you a funny story or two.  While we sat there you saw a few of your friends walk in and they sat with us for a while.  Maybe we both even went overboard and had a pastry while we talked.  As our time came to an end, I got up to leave and asked you to meet there again next week.  Would you do that a second time?  A third?  Now maybe you really like the coffee that is served there.  Maybe you as so delusional to think I am a funny guy and you really like my stories.  Maybe you like seeing your friends and having pastries.  But the question would need to be asked whether you came once or every time.  What’s the point?  Why are we meeting together if these things are all we are going to do?  How big of a jump do we need to take to ask these questions about gathering here at church?  Why in the world, do you busy people give up time to be here at this place?  Have you asked yourself that question lately?  Is it the coffee and snacks?  The entertainment?  The music or social aspect?   There is nothing wrong with us enjoying any and all of these things, but are any of those answers a good enough reason to be here often?  Let’s look very closely today at why we gather here together.  We are going to see what it’s all about.  It’s about going, not coming.  It’s about needed, not need to.
          The point of church is not simply coming here, is it?  I am sure that none of you would answer the question in that way.  If someone asks you why you go to church, would any of us really say, “Well the point is that I am there.”  No, I don’t think we would.  But is that thought that I just need to get there, sometimes more of a motivator than we would like to admit?  Do we give people the impression that the final goal, the point of worship is simply that I find myself in the pew Sunday morning or Monday evening?  There, I came to church.  Never mind the fact that we went and listened but what we heard that day doesn’t make it to the parking lot with us as we leave church, let alone all the way home and into our weeks.  Never mind the fact that I was there physically, but my mind was everywhere else.  It’s not my fault that pastor was really boring today.  If these things are true, aren’t we essentially saying, all that matters is that I come to church?  That’s all that needs to be done.
          Or is the point of church simply coming here because it’s what we always do?  This is what I have been doing since I was a child.  This is what I have done every Sunday for years.  But stop and ask yourself, when you got in the car this morning, did you think about why you were coming to church?  Did you stop and consider what the point of showing up here was?  Whether you are someone who has been regular in worship for a long time or you are someone who wants to get back into going to church or to try it out, would our answer to why do you want that be nothing more than, I am going to come to church?  Isn’t such a view of worship really silly and pointless.  I am going just to be there.  I am coming to church because that is what I should do. 

          The point of going to church is not about coming here.  The point of going to church is going while you are here.  Don’t misunderstand me.  It’s important to be here in church.  Whether you are someone who is here every Sunday, someone who tries to get here a few times a month, someone who is trying to get back into the church thing, or someone who is trying it out, I am glad you are here.  But being here is not the all important step.  Getting here is just the beginning.  The point of worship is where we go when we come here.  That is what our verses this morning talk about.  “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”  The reason that you come here is not to be here.  The reason you come here is where we go together when we are here.

          It is when we are here that we go to approach the Almighty God of the universe.  It is here where we stand together to enter into God’s presence in a very real way.  You come here to go to meet with God.  And notice what it is that allows us to enter into God’s presence.  It is not a spotless church attendance record that we hold up to God and say look at how many times I was in church.  No, you and I boldly stand in God’s presence today and hold up the blood of Jesus.  We march into God’s throne room, confess our sins together, and plead for God’s mercy, because we have a great High Priest who shed his blood to cleanse us and purify us.  We come to church so we can go to hear from our God his message for us.  A message of law that points out our sins and a message of forgiveness and promises.  

We come here because a new way has been opened to us.  How many times would you come to church if every time you showed up the doors were locked?  For the Old Testament believer, they continued to come to the Temple, but they did not go to stand in God’s presence.  No one did that, other than the priest with great fear once a year.  But understand where you are when you come here today.  You are standing in the holy of holies.  You are standing in the presence of God as he dwells with us and works among us through his Word and his Sacraments.  You come here to meet your priest, and I don’t mean the pastor.  You come here to meet the one who is over all of God’s house, over all of God’s people.  The one who bids you to go and meet with God every time you come and meet here.  The point of coming is so that you can go.  The pew is not your final destination on your journey to church.  It is the first stop as you journey to the very throne of God to hear him declare with joy that you are cleansed and pure through the blood of his Son and the pure water of baptism. 

Would we need any more reason to gather here together?  Do we need any more purpose than to enter into God’s presence?  No, I don’t think so.  But God provides you and me more reasons to continue gathering together.  What is church all about?  It’s about needed, not need to.

Could you make the case that you can do all this going into God’s presence at home?  God is everywhere, why do I need to go to a certain place to worship him.  I would agree with the line of thought to a point.  You don’t need to come here to enjoy what we have been talking about.  God in his grace allows each one of us to enter his presence through Christ, whether we do that here as a group or you do that personally and privately as you take your sins to God and receive forgiveness from him.  As you study his word and sit at his feet to hear what he has to say.  But this argument really is based on a false premise regarding what church is all about.  Coming to church is not about you need to do it.  It’s really about the way in which it is needed by each one of us.
          God meets your needs when you gather here together.  Look at what God calls on each one of us to do.  “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  Think about the three tasks that you see here and ask again what the point of worship is.  It’s because it is needed.

We are called upon to hold unswervingly to the hope we profess.  God wants you and me to lock onto the truth that we have from his word like a clamp holding a piece of word.  Firmly and relentlessly.  Are you up to that challenge?  Do you grasp with certainty the truth you have learned?  Or do we let parts of our knowledge slip?  Are you as sharp as your were the day you were confirmed?  And we aren’t just talking about memorization and Bible knowledge.  God wants you to hold onto the truths of salvation firmly.  There are so many forces that want to knock such things out of your hands.  The devil wants to pry them loose little lie by little lie.  The world wants to distract you from them so your grip slackens.  Your sinful nature wants to jettison these teachings that get in its way.  Are you up to the challenge of holding unswervingly to them?  We all must confess that we have failed to do this, but look at the blessing that church can be in this regard.  You can gather with fellow believers and hear the truths of God repeated for you and reapplied.  You can squeeze tighter the joy you have of hearing about your forgiveness and receiving it through the word and the Lord’s Supper.  You can confess the truth together.

The second thing we are encouraged to do is to show love and carry out good deeds.  To do good works.  Notice the need that is met here at worship.  Let us focus on how we can spur one another one to such things.  Showing love for God and our neighbor is what our lives are to be about now.  Such love does not come naturally to us.  It is a love that flows only out of seeing God’s love for us, the love that we can enter his presence.  But now we have a chance to spur each other one.  If you can picture a track meet, what a difference it makes for a runner when he or she hears the rest of the team urging them on.  The point of coming to church is not because we need to do it, but because we need the help.  We need one another being examples.  We need one another pushing us to do more great works.  We need one another to help us carry out some works that we couldn’t do on our own.  We need to push each other, not against one another, but toward the same goal, showing love in word and action.
          Finally, we need what is here because we need encouragement.  The challenges that face us are many and the race of our faith fatigues us.  But we can encourage one another.  We need to be encouraged when we grow tired and we need to be encouragements when we are strong.  Think about what you see when you walk through those doors.  You see a host of other people, some similar to you, some very different.  But you see a group of people who struggle with sin just like you do.  You see a group of people who want to hear about God’s forgiveness just like you do.  You see a group of people who want to push one another on to the same goals, growth in holding onto our faith and sharing that message with others.  What can be more encouraging?  Look around you and see why you need to be here.  You have brothers and sisters who need you.  You have brothers and sisters who are needed by you. 

I started this morning by asking you that question, “How often would you meet me?”  Jesus asks you that question this morning.  Notice today you did not hear the magic number of services you need to make in a given year.  God does not command you to come to church.  He simply wants to show you his reason for meeting with him.  He wants you to come into his presence as his cleansed children through the blood of Jesus.  He wants you to be strengthened and encouraged to hold onto the truth you know and to produce love and good deeds.  He wants you to be blessed and to be a blessing to one another.  That is the point in being here.  That is the point the Jesus has for worship.  How often will you meet him here?  Amen.

(This is the 1st sermon from the "Just One Question Series." The question this Sunday was "Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?")
Give the Deliverer His Due

          Do you have a sharp eye for differences?  If you think you do, one way to test it is to play the game photo hunt.  You can find this game in lots of places.  Online, at restaurants, in the newspaper.  The game has two pictures side by side that at first glance seem to be the same.  But as you examine them, you try to find a certain number of differences between them.  Now sometimes the differences are really obvious.  In one picture the sail boat has a sail, in the other it doesn’t.  Sometimes they are very minute.  In one picture the wave by the boat has five drops of water dropping from it and in the other only four.  Those types of differences can only be found by the sharpest of eyes.  What about the differences between the God of the Bible and Allah, the god of the Muslims?  Are there differences?  If so, are they small or large differences?  Perhaps at first glance the differences seem very small because there are some similarities.  Both are viewed as the only true god.  Both are powerful and eternal.  But gave written revelations to man throughout history.  While those things are similarities, when we together study this portion of God’s Word we will watch the seemingly small differences become magnificent and large.  And once that difference is made clear, we will all be more eager to give the deliverer his due.

          The point that we need to focus our attention is pretty clear.  I am sure that you already have a pretty good idea of that from the lessons we looked at and the children’s message.  We want to look very closely at what the Bible says about Jesus.  This section from 1 John is a great one because it leaves no doubt how much Jesus has to do with our relationship with God.  “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.”  What is necessary for someone to be born of God, to be a child of God?  That he or she believes that Jesus is the Christ.  To be a member of God’s family, a son or daughter of God involves recognizing who Jesus is.  The Christ, the anointed one, the one set apart to be the Savior of the World.  And it would only logically follow that someone who loves God would love His Son as well.  John states this as a general point.  If you love a father you love the child as well.  You relationship with Jesus is directly connected to your relationship with God.

          It is important that we hear what the Bible says about Jesus because it makes such a big difference for us.  John also says, “For everyone born of God overcomes the world.  This is the victory that has overcome the world, our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world?  Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”  The difference between victory and defeat is faith.  And notice it is not some nebulous, floaty in the air type faith.  John makes it clear.  Faith that Jesus is the Son of God.  That makes all the difference between being crushed by the world and overcoming the world.  It also makes the difference in what you say about God.  “Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.”  If you stood before God what would you call him.  Maybe my Lord, my King, my Savior.  You who are all powerful and all knowing.  Would anyone here look God in the face and say, “You are a liar.”  If one denies what God says about his Son, that is what he is doing.  One more difference that John points to that Jesus makes.  “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”  Having the Son, having Jesus makes the difference between life and death.  Can we agree that John shows Jesus to be pretty important?

          So the question we need to ask is what does the religion of Islam say about Jesus?  How does it compare?  We will put its view of Christ next to the view that John speaking by inspiration of the Holy Spirit puts forward.  A Muslim would not deny that Jesus is important.  But he or she would point to Jesus as being another one of the great prophets.  Someone is who is equivalent to Noah, Moses, or Abraham.  He was another prophet that was leading the way to the greatest prophet, Mohammed.  How would a Muslim react to John’s words that it is necessary to believe in Jesus as the Son of God?  He would say that is a disgrace to the Almighty.  Why in the world would we say something like that about God and make him something less?  The idea that he would have a son is blasphemy.  And there lies the difference right?  Who is Jesus?  The Bible gives one answer.  The religion of Islam gives a very different answer.   

          So we are done right?  We answered the question that we set out on this morning.  Let’s get ready to talk about hypocrites next Sunday.  Not so fast.  We have heard what the Bible says about Jesus.  We have heard what Islam says about Jesus.  What do you say about Jesus?  Well pastor, you must not be a very good listener to ask such a question.  Didn’t you hear what I confessed before the sermon?  We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father.  He who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.  Truly we are right to say “Amen” to such truths.  There is a reason that you are called a Christian, and not a god follower.  Because you confess that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God.  True God and true man.  And you claim him as your Lord and your deliverer.

          Truly we have a beautiful confession together and I pray that you contemplate how glorious these truths are as you confess them.  But what I want you to think about this morning is this.  Do my words and actions match those wonderful truths I claim as my own?  Do we act like those things are true?  And this is not my exercise for you is it?  It’s John’s.  To what does John point us to show we believe Jesus is the begotten one?  “This is how we know that we love the children of God; to obey his commands.  And his commands are not burdensome.”  He points us to obedience doesn’t he?  He says if you are one who believes such lofty things about Jesus are true, than you are going to do what he says.  And even more than that.  You are going to like it.  You aren’t going to think to yourself, “Oh man, I don’t get to do this or that because God says I shouldn’t.”  It is interesting to note what the meaning of the worlds Islam and Muslim are at this point.  Islam means submission and a Muslim is one who submits or surrenders.  The idea is one who submits to Allah’s will.  Do you and I act as though we are forced to submit to Christ’s authority?  That his commands for us are burdensome and heavy and stink and the only difference between a Muslim and us is that Jesus bosses us around and Allah does for them?  Don’t we believe Jesus when he says, my yoke is easy?  What it takes to follow me is simple and brings you rest.  Why then do we act as if his will for us is crushing our lives and it takes every ounce that we have to put up with it?

          Or maybe the more prevalent sin in your life and mine is not that, but instead we often act as though we can take or leave Jesus?  That somehow he isn’t all that important?  Sure, none of us would say that in such words, but don’t we with what we else we say.  When we drop a Jesus Christ as another part of our vocabulary.  When we are willing hear his instruction only when it’s convenient for us to listen to him.  When we spend another day of our normal week just assuming that forgiveness through Jesus is there for us, rather than being amazed that the very Son of God would die for me and to make me his own again?  Do you act like Jesus is a big deal?  We know the Bible says he is the difference between death and life.  We could insert some cute pictures here.  Do you act like Jesus is your life preserving in the middle of the sea or a parachute in a dropping plane?  But let’s leave the pictures behind for a moment.  Do you live, act, and think about Jesus as the one and only person that stands between you and eternal damnation?  If our words, actions, and disobedience say otherwise, shame on us.

          If you are the one who submitted this question don’t misunderstand what I am about to say.  The question is a good one for us to hear and think about today.  But really, this question should be child’s play shouldn’t it?  Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?  Christians believe Jesus is true God and the Son of God, Muslims don’t, so no.  But have we as Christians, as God’s people, treated Jesus in such a way, that someone looking in could ask, well is there really a difference between the Christian’s God and the Muslim’s god?  Jesus, Son of God and son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner.

          And it is there, as we see what we have done with the Son of God, that we find the great difference.  We must confess that we have not loved or treated the very Son of God the way he deserves, but realize what that means.  God has revealed to you who that Son is.  John says, “This is the one who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ.  He did not come by water only, but by water and blood.  And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.  For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.  We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.”  Praise God, because he has given you and me abundant witnesses that this one, this Jesus, is his own Son.  He was anointed and set apart for his work of delivering you in the waters of his baptism, where the Father’s voice boomed from heaven, this is my Son whom I love; with him I am well pleased.  The Father declares to you today, this is the very one who loved me and showed that love by perfectly obeying my commands.  This is the one that I promised to send to rescue you.  Whether or not you perfectly acknowledge that doesn’t change the fact that here he is, just as I said he would be. 

          The difference lies in the one who is declared with power to be the Son of God by his death and resurrection.  The blood of the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world, and that means your sins and mine.  The blood that purifies us and makes us at peace with God.  Here he is, just as the Father promised.  And this great testimony of God is made your testimony, as God’s Holy Spirit crushes our unbelief and our sinful weakness.  As that Spirit testifies to your heart that yes, this Jesus is your deliverer from sin and hell.  Yes, this Jesus is the one that will give you victory over the world and its evils.  Yes, this Jesus is the one who brings you life.  The Spirit brings you the Son and because you have the Son of God you have life.  How joyful can we be that this is the Jesus that we trust in and cling to?

          How big is the difference that you see between the two pictures?  In one Jesus stands as another Moses or Noah, a great example for you to follow.  A great teacher who had a message for you to hear.  A prophet pointing ahead to the one who would tell you how to earn God’s favor.  In the other, you see Jesus, standing as your deliverer.  Standing as one who is declared to be the Son of God by his Father.  Standing as one who died for you and your forgiveness.  Standing as the one who gives you life eternal.  Is there a difference?  Yes, and praise God that he testifies to you and all through his word just who this Jesus is.  His Son.  Your deliverer.  Amen.