Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What are the Benefits of Receiving the Lord's Supper?

In my Bible Class we've been going through 1 Corinthians, but recently we've stalled for several weeks in chapter 11, because it has given us a great opportunity to take a closer look at the Lord's Supper.

As we've been going through what the Bible teaches us about the Lord's Supper, a lot of questions have come up, so I wanted to try to address many of those questions in a series of posts.

What are the benefits of receiving the Lord's Supper? 
  1. Forgiveness of Sins
    The chief benefit of receiving the Lord's Supper is receiving the forgiveness of sins, as Jesus said "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28).

    But didn't we already receive forgiveness in baptism?  And in the service itself, don't we receive forgiveness through the absolution?  So, why do we need to receive forgiveness again?

    The very life of a Christian is one of repentance.  One reason God has given these three ways by which He delivers forgiveness so that we can be assured repeatedly of His forgiveness.  We can remember that He claimed us, washed us, and made us His own in Holy Baptism.  We can hear the words of forgiveness spoken to us and know that our sins are forgiven.  And we can receive the Lord's Supper and know for certain that Christ's forgiveness has been delivered to us.

    Our greatest need is forgiveness of sins and through these means God delivers exactly that to us.
  2. Remembrance 
    Another benefit of receiving the Lord's Supper is for the Remembrance of the death of Christ, as Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19).  Just because some Christians see only a memorial meal in the Lord's Supper does not mean that we should ignore this important aspect of the Supper.  Together, we remember what Jesus has done for us, even as he conveys the benefits of his death and resurrection to us in his meal (Robert Kolb, The Christian Faith, p. 238).

    In much the same way that the Israelites were to celebrate the Passover as a remembrance of God delivering them from slavery in Egypt, we too celebrate being set free from slavery...slavery to sin... through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.
  3. Fellowship in Christ and Reception of Christ When we receive the Lord's Supper, we are co-participants in the body and blood of Christ.  So when we receive the Lord's Supper, we receive the very body and blood of Jesus that was given and shed for us.

    As St. Paul wrote, The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
  4. Unity with Other BelieversIn the Lord's Supper we are co-participants with everyone else who receives the Lord's Supper.  We are sharing in true fellowship in Christ.
    When you come to the Lord's Supper you are confessing that you share a common savior and that you share a common confession with the others who are also receiving the Lord's Supper at that altar.  Paul speaks of this idea of "fellowship" in 1 Corinthians 10 as you can see in the illustration below.

    This is a great encouragement to us to seek to be reconciled with our brothers and sisters in Christ and to ensure that what is being taught and practiced at that church is in line with the Word of God.
  5. A Public Witness
    In celebrating the Lord's Supper we are proclaiming to everyone gathered and to the world that we believe that Christ has given His life as our Savior and that He will come again on the Last Day.  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 11:26-27)
  6. Abiding in Christ
    In the Lord's Supper we receive the body and blood of Christ in, with, and under the bread and wine and are therefore doing exactly what Jesus indicated we should do when He said, 

  7. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.  
  8. (John 15:4-6)
  9. Receiving the Bread of Life
    Jesus is the bread of life (John 6:35).  When we receive the Lord's Supper we receive that bread of life because we receive Jesus. And as we receive the bread of life, we receive the benefits won for us by Jesus on the cross; namely life and salvation.

    I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
    (John 6:48-51)
  10. Anticipating the Heavenly Banquet
    In receiving the Lord's Supper we have "a foretaste of the feast to come."  That is to say, we are anticipating the heavenly banquet feast and able to look forward to the great things God has in store for us in the resurrection as we dwell in His presence for eternity.
  11. We Remember Those Who Have Died and Are With Christ
    There is only one church and it is made up of all believers in Christ from all times and all places, including those who have died and whose souls are with Christ.  When we receive the Lord's Supper and Christ comes to us in, with, and under the bread and the wine, we can remember that those who have died and are with Christ are in His presence as well.  As we participate in Christ in receiving the elements, they are with Christ and in His presence. Therefore through Christ, we are still joined together with them.
  12. Jesus Makes Himself KnownAfter Jesus resurrection, He appeared to two of His disciples, yet the didn't know that it was Him.  Not until Jesus does the same thing He had done on Maundy Thursday (blessing and breaking the bread) do they recognize Him.  Jesus was teaching His disciples that He is found in the Lord's Supper.

    When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. (Luke 24:30-31)
*This is not an exhaustive list, but a reminder of the many blessings found in receiving the Lord's Supper.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Study a Book of the Bible in Depth (no commentary required)

As we enter a new year, many Christians make a New Year's resolution to get back into the habit of reading their Bible.  Often, people make it a goal of reading through the entire Bible in a year, which is a wonderful goal and can be a real blessing to those who are able to keep the daily commitment.

Another option Christians sometimes take with the new year is to have a word for that year...or a verse of Scripture.

Let me propose another option.  How about picking one book of the Bible and really getting to know it in depth?

Many Christians say that they long for an in depth study of God's Word, but they aren't sure how to go about it or where to start.

One option is to buy a commentary and use that along side your study.  Commentaries can be helpful resources, but they are also expensive and often times people rely more on the commentary than simply reading what the Bible says.

So let me give you a simple (cheap) way to do an in depth study of a book of the Bible that will help you to get to know a book of the Bible quite thoroughly.

1. Pick a book of the Bible to study.

2. Listen to a recording of the entire book several times.  You can download an app or listen online to several different translations being read.  Why listen?
  • "Faith comes by hearing" and Scripture is meant to be heard.
  • Many of the books of the Bible (especially in the New Testament) were meant to be heard all at once.
  • By listening to the whole book, you begin to get a sense for the major themes in the book and are not as distracted by the meaning of a given word or that phrase.  You see the forest, not just the trees. 
3. Read the entire book in one sitting.  Do this at least twice before moving on to the next step.  If you've chosen a very large book, you can break it up a bit, but the more of the book you can read in one sitting the better. As you read through, lightly pencil in a question mark next to any words or phrases that you don't really understand.

4. Now, read the book chapter by chapter, adding the use of cross reference verses. Cross references verses are listed in the middle of many Bibles and if your Bible doesn't have such a cross reference, you really should get a Bible that does.

As you read through the book again, 
  • look up one cross reference verse for each verse.  Lightly mark the cross references you've looked up so that next time you read through the book you can look up the next cross references.  
  • circle any cross references that you found particularly helpful or that helped to answer any questions you had.
  • read through the book chapter by chapter, then start again and read through it checking the next set of cross reference verses until you've used checked all of the cross references.  
  • Underline any phrases, verses, or sentences that seem to sum up the main point being made.
  • If you're really dedicated, then put those phrases, verses, or sentences to memory. 
Now, after all of this, you should have a very good understanding of that book of the Bible. You'll know the main themes and the small details of the book.  And if you still have questions, then maybe it's time to consult to explanatory notes (if you're using a study Bible), a commentary...or even better, your pastor!

God bless your time in His Word in the New Year!

If you choose to take up this approach, I'd love to hear from you. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Boy with a Name: A New Year's Eve Sermon

This is the sermon I preached on New Year's Eve. We didn't get a recording of it and I thought it might be of benefit to others to hear/read, so I've decided to print it here. God bless you in 2017!

Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The gospel reading appointed for New Year’s Day in our lectionary stands out for one reason.  It’s only one verse long.  Tonight, I wanted to have the Gospel reading for New Year’s Eve read in the service, but I wanted to preach on that shortest of readings in our lectionary.  
From Luke 2:21l;  And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.  That’s it.  That’s the whole reading.
And the verse doesn’t contain a whole lot of action or information either.  And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
According to the Law of Moses, it was necessary for Jesus to be circumcised on the 8th day, and so He was.  Mary and Joseph, being devout in their faith, took Jesus to the temple to be circumcised.  And in accordance with His circumcision, Jesus also officially receives His name.
Interestingly, the naming of the male child at the circumcision on the 8th day is a custom that has continued in the Christian baptismal rite, which is why there is a part in the baptismal rite when the pastor asks the parents, “How is this child to be named?”
It’s not that the pastor doesn’t know what the child’s name is, (it’s printed in the bulletin so he doesn’t forget!), but the naming of the child is important.  The parents have chosen the name for a reason. They have put a lot of thought into the naming of the child, and now, the child with the name chosen by their parents is about to receive a new identity through baptism.  Because the very next part of the service, after asking “How is this child to be named?” is the baptism itself.  The Child’s name is spoken followed by the words, “I Baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
In a prayer that follows the Baptism, the significance of being baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is beautifully described. The first sentence points both to the new identity and to the new reality that it signifies; Listen to that prayer:
Almighty and most merciful God and Father, we thank and praise You that You graciously enlarge Your family and have granted (name) the new birth in Holy Baptism and made him/her a member of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and an heir of Your heavenly kingdom.
Do you hear the words that emphasize the new identity: Father, family, member, heir?
The first emphasis is that we can now call God our Father.  Through baptism, we are made children of God and He is our dear Father. As baptized children of God, we have a heavenly Father, even if our earthly father chooses not to claim us.  As baptized children of God, we can approach our heavenly father boldly in prayer, asking for those things that are good for us and confident, that just as a good earthly father would, our Heavenly Father will give us those things that are good for us.  With our new identity, we can know the comfort that even if we’ve been like the prodigal son, even if we’ve run away from God, when we return in repentance, he welcomes us and greets us with open arms.
The second emphasis is that our new family is the Church--fellow believers scattered throughout the world in every age. Even if our earthly families are terribly broken, as many of them are, our fellow baptized will stand with us. By virtue of their own baptisms, they're obligated to do just that. 
You may have heard the phrase, “blood is thicker than water,” but the truth is, baptismal water is thicker even than blood relations.  
Finally, in Holy Baptism we are made members of God's only Son, Jesus Christ and heirs of salvation. All that is Christ’s becomes ours, for in this Baptism we die and rise with Him as Romans 6 tells us. 
The result is that we are heirs of the kingdom of heaven itself. 
In baptism God has placed His name upon you.  You might remember in the movie Toy Story, how the little boy Andy wrote his name of his favorite toys, and this became a badge of honor among all the toys.  God has baptized you into His name.  You are His, a precious possession.  And He isn’t ashamed for everyone to know that you belong to Him.  Isaiah wrote that God has also written your name on the palm of His hand.  He chose you before the creation of the world and called you by name.  You are His.
And the reason that we can receive the gifts that are delivered through baptism, the reason that we can call God Father, call the church our family, be made members of God’s only Son, and an heir of God’s Kingdom, is because of the boy with a name;  the Christ child, Jesus.
What happens in this text is all about Jesus doing what was necessary to live up to His name.  He was doing what was necessary to take our place under the law.  The name Jesus means Savior, and for Him to be our savior, He had to perfectly keep the law of God, which we could not keep, and He does so in our place.  Him being circumcised wasn’t for His good, but for ours.
Jesus passes his perfection on to us through baptism, He gives us His good name.
Not too long ago, I read a biography of Cesar Augustus.  You probably know him best from the Christmas account from Luke 2 as the guy who ordered that a census should be taken.  But long before he became the first emperor of Rome, he was a nobody.  He was born into a fairly well to do family, but many others were born into the same social class and aren’t remembered at all.  However, through a series of events, he got to know and became a favorite of Julius Caesar, who was the ruler of Rome and just so happened to be the great-uncle of Augustus.  
Things were looking good for Augustus.  He was moving up the military ranks and was becoming a favorite of the most powerful man in the world.  And then his world was rocked.  On March 15th, the Ides of March, Julius Caesar was assassinated.  This was devastating news for the young Augustus.
But soon after the death of Julius Caesar, his great uncle, Augustus received an extraordinary piece of news; in his will Caesar had adopted Augustus as His son.  Though Julius Caesar was dead, the adoption was permissible under Roman law.   The author of the book, Anthony Everitt, writes, The adoption was a personal, not a political, act.  However, Caesar was handing Augustus a priceless weapon: his name and his clientela, all those hundreds of thousands of soldiers and citizens who were in his debt.

By handing Augustus his name, by placing his name upon Augustus, Caesar was handing him an opportunity.  Obviously Augustus made well on that, otherwise he wouldn’t have become the emperor of Rome.
As we prepare to enter into a new year and make plans for the things we would like to do in the new year, and as we reflect back on the previous year, both the good times and those things that bring us shame, remember this; Our Lord Jesus Christ has placed His name upon you through baptism.  He has brought you into His kingdom and made you an heir.  And as you enter the new year, you do so with His name upon you, with His favor for you, and with His inheritance as your own, all because of what Jesus had done for you.

The boy with a name, Jesus, has lived up to that name and passed on to you the benefits of His good name; the benefits being that God is now our Father, the church our family, we are joined with Christ, and we are heirs of salvation.  Don’t forget the good name that is yours through your baptism.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

How Can I Sing Joy to the World?

The Christmas season often brings out myriad emotions, including joy, peace, love, excitement, and warm and fuzzy feelings of nostalgia.

But the season can also be very difficult for those who have lost a loved one and are facing a Christmas season without that person, for those who have experienced life changing events (health issues, divorce, job loss, etc.). 

One thing that can make the Christmas season especially difficult is when someone has sinned against you in an especially painful way.  That deep hurt and joy and laughter all around seem incongruous.  How can you sing "Joy to the World" while feeling hurt and angry inside?

We know that others will sin against us, but it seems unfair that things like that should happen during Christmas season.  The very time of year might make it harder to deal with.

So how do we forgive those who have sinned against us and hurt us deeply?
Jesus addresses that very question in a parable He told, which is recorded in Matthew 18:21-35. 
(I preached a sermon on this text back in 2008 and you might find it helpful also. Click here to listen to it). 
21Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
23“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

We can find the willingness and ability to forgive others, only when we realize that God has forgiven our debt of sin that is so utterly massive that no matter how terribly someone might sin against us, it will be insignificant in comparison.  Our sin is like the ocean and the sin committed against us like a single glass of water; there is no comparison. The forgiveness given us by God, through Jesus, is amazing and beyond what we can even imagine.  Remember that the name "Jesus" wasn't chosen by Mary and Joseph because they liked it, but Joseph was instructed by an angel to give the baby that name.  The angel said, "you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21)

Of course, knowing how great a debt we've been forgiven doesn't necessarily mean that it will be easy for us to forgive others. We still have to deal with feeling hurt and the anger we have as a result. But the good news is that just as God send His son into the world to be our Savior, God the Holy Spirit has also been sent to us so that we might be able to trust in Jesus and live holy lives.

The Holy Spirit brings healing and peace to our hearts.

So when you struggle to forgive, remember God's forgiveness and pray that the Holy Spirit, who dwells within the hearts of all believers in Christ, would give you a heart of forgiveness.

And yes, you can sing "Joy to the World" because the whole reason there is joy is that Jesus has come and He has established the reign of God in which we receive forgiveness and can grant forgiveness freely.  You can sing "Joy to the World" also because even though you're hurting right now, there will come a day when Jesus returns and there will be no more sin, anger, hurt feelings, or troubled relationships.  When Jesus returns, there will truly be joy and peace.

May the love of God the Father, the Salvation and forgiveness we have through Jesus Christ, and the peace and sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit be with you this Christmas season.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Teaching the Faith to Children

"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.  (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

The most important job parents have is passing on the Christian faith to their children. Christian parents know this of course, but often aren't sure where to start or how to go about this.  I thought I'd pass along some ideas and resources that might be helpful to parents as they go about this most important task. 

  • Put on Christian music at home, as you drive to school, when shuttling kids around to their various activities, and at bedtime.
Music is a fantastic way for children to learn the faith. When children hear hymns, they'll learn them (their brains are sponges!) and then they'll be better able to participate on Sunday mornings, which will make things more enjoyable for them and easier for mom and dad. 

Here are some music recommendations for kids. 
These are really great because they're hymns the kids will hear in church, sung by kids.  You could also get a copy or two of the "My First Hymnal" book and use that with these CD's as part of family devotions. 

Sung by kids and primarily fairly simple songs that kids will pick up quickly. 

Randal Goodgame does a great job with children's music. His music is always fun, catchy, and often goofy.  There's a mix of funny songs and songs that will be helpful in teaching the faith on his various albums.  

Koine takes hymns, keeps the wonderful words, and gives them a very contemporary feel.  Their music is great for adults and older children, but will also be enjoyable for younger children. 

  • Pray with your child before they head off to school for the day.
This is a great way to remind them of who they are, whose they are, and that they can be praying all day long.  It's also powerful because God hears those prayers and has promised to answer! 

  • Send a note of encouragement with a verse of Scripture in their lunch box.
In keeping with Deuteronomy 6:7-8, why not send a reminder for them along with their lunch? It's a simple thing to do and a good reminder for them.  You don't have to do it every day, but doing it on occasion is a great idea (and my wife's idea, not my own!). 

  • Begin/continue family devotions each day.  
Right after dinner or right before bed time are usually the best times to be able to do this consistently.
What can devotions look like?  Read the Bible or a children's Bible or a devotion together, sing a song or two, and pray together.  

Here are some great devotion resources.

This is a great resource.  It has 130 different stories from the Bible, beautiful pictures with each story, questions to ask children for each story, and a prayer to use at the end.

Too often, children get the idea that the Bible is just about rules. This children's Bible does a great job of showing that the Bible is first and foremost about Jesus coming to be our Savior. 

This is a resource that has been around for a very long time, but it's still a great resource.  We read through a about half of it with Timmy when he was younger, then he took over and read the rest of it all on his own.  It's great for middle school children.

Reading the Bible can be a daunting task for an adult, so imagine how intimidating it could be for a child?  These booklets are perfect for instilling in children the habit of daily Bible readings without that being an overwhelming prospect.  You can read the Bible with them or they can do it on their own. 

Living Planted has some great (free) resources for family devotions. 

Creative Communications has some good resources for Advent and Lent devotions.  Explore the site a bit and see what they have to offer.
  • Set an example by regular attendance of church and Bible class.
This one is so important. If you're not setting an example by being in Church and Bible Class regularly, they won't see those things as important.  If you skip Bible Class while the children are at Sunday School it will plant in the minds of your children that Christianity is for little kids, not adults. If you prioritize other things over being in God's house, the children will pick up on that and see other things as being more important than the things of God. 

I hope these resources are helpful to some parents.  I'd love for you to share ideas you have. Please let me know if you do make use of any of these resources and if they've been helpful for you. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Invocation for the Ohio House of Representatives

Today I had the honor of opening the Ohio House of Representatives in prayer, thanks to one of my college students who is working there part time putting my name in for consideration.  Below are the words of the prayer.  You'll notice that it isn't a sermon, as that isn't what I was invited to do, but an earnest prayer to the Triune God who has promised to hear and answer the prayers of His people. We are commanded to pray for our leaders and today I had the chance to do so publicly, in their presence. If you'd like, you can watch the video of the prayer here. (it's the 11-16-2016)

Lord God, we give you thanks for this day that you have made. Your mercies are new every morning and You have seen fit to grant us another day and all that we need to support our bodies and lives this day. Indeed, this is the day that You have made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Today we pray for all who are in authority, but especially these men and women who have been elected to serve the people of Ohio as members of this house of representatives. 

Gracious Father, we thank You for the gift of government and we pray that you would grant wisdom to these men and women, that the actions they take would always be for the security and good order of those whom they serve. 

Grant to these representatives humility, a spirit of sacrifice for the common welfare, an understanding of justice and a willingness to uphold it, as well as joy in their service.  Grant them the courage to defend and speak up for the most vulnerable in our society, from the unborn to the elderly, and all in-between.

We thank you also for the aids and assistants whose labor is invaluable to the work of this state and this House of Representatives.  We pray that they too would know the significance of their work and find fulfillment in doing their jobs well.

Lord of hosts, we thank You for men and women who work to keep us safe by their service in the military, police departments, and fire departments. Grant them safety as they serve to protect us.
Great Physician, we also ask that you would grant good health to these men and women and to their families.  Where there are health issues, grant them strength for the day and help them to find their hope in You.

Triune God, you have commanded that your people who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus should pray for those whom you have placed in authority so that we might lead quiet and peaceful lives and do the work of sharing the good news of Jesus with all people, and today I am pleased to do just that.

These things and all other things You would have us ask of You, O God, grant us for the sake of Your Son Jesus. Amen.

Monday, October 31, 2016

"God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" A sermon on Luke 18:9-14

Below is a rough transcript of the sermon I preached on October 23rd.  Unfortunately we had technical difficulties that day and were unable to get a recording of the sermon, but I've had several people ask about getting a copy of the sermon.  I write my sermons to be spoken, therefore I sometimes write things in such a way that I know how I'll say it, even though that's not how it is written, so this transcript might be a bit choppy. 

Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.

In my first call, as a missionary pastor to three small congregations in southeast Missouri, I was serving in an area where Lutherans were sparse.  In fact, on occasion the question would be raised, “Lutheran? I’ve never heard of it. Is that some sort of cult?”

Of course, there were a lot of churches around.  And the focus of most of those churches was in teaching people how to live.  People were instructed to look at their lives to see if they were really walking with the Lord or not.  The main focus was on the Christian and Christian living.

Now, there is a place for looking at your life and measuring it against God’s Law to see how you’re doing.  But when we do that, measuring ourselves against God’s perfect standard of holiness, it’s not going to reveal how well you’re doing, but how truly sinful you are.

Just briefly, let’s do that.  Let’s take God’s holy law, which is summed up in the Ten Commandments, and measure ourselves against that standard.

1       1. You shall have no other gods.

Have you feared something more than God?  Been more afraid of losing your job because of doing what God commands than of God’s wrath for breaking His commandments? 
Have you trusted in something more than God?  Trusted that you’ll be okay because of the money in your bank account or your ability to deal with a situation?
Have you loved something more than God?  
Have you skipped church to do something else? 
Has the money God has entrusted to your care been used for your pleasure at the expense of His church?  
Have you spent more time on facebook, upping your image, than in prayer?

       2. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. 
      Have you consistently called upon the Lord for help? 
      Have you failed to speak His name to others? 
      Have you used His name as if it were a curse word?
       4.    Honor your father and mother.  
      Have you always been respectful of your parents? How about your teachers?  Your president? Police officers?

       5.    You shall not murder.  
     You might think you haven’t broken this, but Jesus says that if you’ve hated someone in your heart, even for a moment, that you’ve broken this commandment.
      6. You shall not commit adultery.  
     Have you look at someone who isn’t your spouse and lusted after them? 
     Have you fantasized about what it would be like to be married to someone else?  
     Have you looked at pornography? Or women, have you read one of those books that causes you to fantasize about the perfect man?

We don’t even need to go on, because the truth is, you’ve broken all of God’s commandments.  You and I are lying, blaspheming, covetous, adulterous, murderers in our hearts and don’t even come remotely close to keeping God’s law.

So then, knowing this, what do we do?

If we look to ourselves to try to solve this problem, it will either lead to pride or despair, and often times a swing between the two. 

In Missouri, my church members and my family were surrounded by people who tried to solve this problem for themselves. They would try to cover up the sin.  To try to pretend as if it isn’t there and to work harder to do better.  For those who took this approach, there was great fear that someone might find out about their sin and reveal the fact that they were truly a fraud.

Those who took this approach had to put on a mask to go to church. Not a literal mask of course, but they would put on a false front that everything was okay.  There wasn’t room to talk about struggles they might be having because such struggles would be evidence that you might not really be a Christian. Real Christians don’t do those things or struggle with those things.

Now, when those people who tried to overcome sin on their own thought that they were doing well, they would become very arrogant.  They’d look condescendingly at those who were struggling with sin and essentially say, God, I thank you that I am not like other men, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.

But when those people who were so prideful about how good they were found themselves sinning, they were left with two options.  They either tried to cover it up, because they couldn’t face what would happen if anyone else found out about their sin…or they despaired.

They would despair that they must not really be a Christian.  How could God love me when I’ve sinned against Him again?  I’m not as good as everyone else and I don’t think I can do everything I’m supposed to do.

Some of those who found themselves despairing would double their efforts and try again.  They’d enter back into that endless cycle of pride and despair.

But some would simply drop out of attending church altogether.  After seeing that everyone else in the church sinned too, but just pretended that it didn’t happen or tried to cover it up, these people would finally throw up their hands and say, “They’re all hypocrites.  The whole thing is a bunch of bologna.  If that’s what Christianity is all about, I don’t want any part of it!

This was the situation that surrounded us in Missouri.  People who were filled with pride and thought they had it all together, or at least who pretended that was the case, and people who were despairing and burned out on the church.

But, you know, I’m sure you’ve seen the same things with people around you here in Ohio.  I’m sure you’ve run into people who say, “Christians are all a bunch of hypocrites.”

And sometimes you might think they’re right.  Sometimes we act like we’ve got it all together. Sometimes we put on false fronts.

But that never works with Jesus.  He sees right through the false front. He sees your heart.  He sees your sinful heart.  And that might be terrifying.

Except that Jesus, knowing your sinful heart, knowing you are broken and don’t have it all together, but instead that you daily sin against God, invites you to come to Him with all of your sin, with your broken heart, and to receive from Him mercy.

But the tax collector beat his breast saying, ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner!’

Christianity, you see, isn’t about teaching you how to become better so that you can show God how good you are and that you deserve to enter into His kingdom.  Christianity is first and foremost about Jesus, the very Son of God, coming into the world to save sinners.

Therefore, the church is a place for real sinners.  Here, we gather together with others who also haven’t kept God’s holy law, but have sinned against God and we confess to God and to each other, “I have sinned, in thought, word, and deed.”  We cry out to the Lord, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

And we hear God’s response, “The punishment for your sins have been taken by Jesus in His cross and passion.  Your sins are forgiven.”

We don’t have to put up a front and pretend like everything is okay.  We can come to the Lord just as we are and receive His mercy. 

You see, Jesus didn’t come to earth to save good people.  Jesus also didn’t come to teach us how to clean ourselves up so that we can be right with God.  Instead, Jesus came to call us to repent of our sin and come to Him and receive full and complete forgiveness.  He came to clothe us with His holiness and take our sins and pay for them on the cross.

So now, when we do sin, there’s no point in covering it up, because God already knows of our sin and our brothers and sisters in Christ know that we’re sinful too.  Instead, we confess that sin.  We do then seek to do better, to live a holy life and keep God’s law.  But we know we will fail.  And when we do, rather than despairing, we can come to Jesus again and again and again and say, “be merciful to me, a sinner.”  And He does have mercy.

There’s a great quote from the first president of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, CFW Walther, in his book Law and Gospel that really sums things up quite well. He says,
"'You are trying to be a pretend sinner and, accordingly, expect Christ to be a pretend Savior.'" I do not want a pretend Savior; that is why I should not be surprised that I am a real true sinner."

Fellow sinners, would you please join with me in closing this sermon with a prayer to our real savior?

Lord Jesus Christ, you know that we are sinful to the core.  You know that even after you’ve called us to faith, even after the Holy Spirit has been at work in us, we still find ourselves sinning against You. 
We break the 10 Commandments daily.  Without You, there would be no hope for us because we can’t overcome sin by our own strength.  But with You there is forgiveness.  You have had mercy on us and given your life for us on the cross so that we can know our sins have been paid for in full.  
Remind us when we do sin, that it is pointless to cover it up or try to fix it ourselves, so that instead we might simply bring our sin to You, confess it, and hear you say, “Your sins are forgiven you.  I’ve already paid for your sin in full.  Go in peace.” Thank You Jesus, for your mercy.  In Your name, Amen.