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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Tempted by Self-Reliance (Luke 4.1-4)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
February 22, 2015
Text: Luke 4:1-4

:: Sermon Audio (link)
scroll down for written draft

Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music (Video): "Beautiful Things" (Gungor)
Hymn of Praise: "Come Ye Sinners" (arr. Indelible Grace)
Song of Praise: "Before the Throne?Have Mercy" (Sovereign Grace; chorus, Shane Barnard)
The Word in Music: "Lord of All, Most Holy" (Hopson)
Our Song of Praise: "The Doxology"
Song of Sending: "Lord, Who throughout These Forty Days" (ST FLAVIAN)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

Today we begin a new series, to run through Lent and up to Easter.  We will be focusing on the humanity of Jesus.  To be clear, Jesus is fully God and fully human.  But, the days leading up to Easter are one time when we see so clearly the humanity of Jesus.

Our theme verse for the next six weeks comes from Hebrews 4:14-16, which reads:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
We will be looking at passages that describe Jesus as the high priest who does sympathize with our weaknesses and temptations, but who doesn’t sin.  Today we will be looking at the first of three temptations Jesus faced during forty days in the desert at the beginning of his ministry.  The Devil came to him at the end of that time to try to tempt him into sin.

Tempting Jesus

The first temptation Jesus faced in the desert was that of self-reliance.  It may not seem on the surface like that was the temptation, but I think that gets at the heart of it.  He had been praying and fasting for forty days, something beyond imagination for most of us.  I don’t know if you have ever fasted for spiritual reasons, but it’s not easy.  I have done it several times with the “30 Hour Famine” like the youth group does here.  There were parts of that fast that were pretty tough!  Another time that I’ve talked about before happened after my sophomore year in college. I got Typhoid Fever on a summer-long mission trip, and couldn’t eat for about two weeks (and then another four of only chicken broth).  That wasn’t on purpose, but I did learn some important spiritual truths during that time.

What I think most of you could identify with is trying to do something spiritually beneficial and running up against resistance.  Maybe you decided to start reading your Bible again or praying more regularly.  And it’s like someone slipped you a sleeping pill… you just can’t keep your eyes open.  As Jesus once told his disciples, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Well imagine the intense spiritual discipline necessary to fast and pray for forty days in the desert.  It wasn’t any easier for Jesus than it would be for you or me!  That’s the point of his full humanity.  He didn’t get to try out being human like God dipping His toe in the pool of humanity; he dove completely in.  I don’t know or understand the mechanics of that, but I believe the witness of Scripture that it is true.  God became human in Jesus Christ.  And so, after forty days fasting and praying in the desert, he would have been incredibly weak and hungry.

And the Devil speaks these insidious words, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”  Not, “Here’s some bread; why don’t you have a bite?”  But, “You have the power and authority to satisfy your human needs; why don’t you use them?”  More subtly, the question underneath the Devil’s words, “Why do you need to fast and pray when you are the Son of God?”  The assertion was, “Use your name; use your power; accomplish what you want because you can.”

And listen to Jesus’ reply, quoting God’s Word from Deuteronomy: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”  We heard the rest of that verse earlier in the service, “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” (Dt. 8:3)  Jesus’ point, doubly underscored by quoting God’s Word, was that he did not come to assert his own will, but to serve the Father’s will.  Accordingly, in his humanity, Jesus fasted and prayed to seek the will and Word of the Father, in order to submit himself to that will and Word.

One Woman’s Story

What Jesus faced in that temptation was more common to us than you may realize.  Of course, we don’t struggle with the temptation to turn rocks into bread, but that was not the underlying temptation.  The underlying temptation was to turn to our own plans because we are too impatient or unwilling to seek God’s words on the matter.

Before giving some examples from our lives, my thoughts ran to another biblical story (from John 4).  In it, Jesus encountered a woman drawing water at a well in the middle of a Samaritan town.  She is shocked when he, a Jewish man, appears and begins speaking to her.  A number of significant things come out in the conversation, but the one that is pertinent to our discussion today is how close she came to missing Jesus’ offer of living water. 

It comes out in the story that she has been married four times and is now living with a man who is not her husband.  It is likely that she has chosen the noon hour to draw water so that she will not have to interact with the women of her town, who would have drawn water at dawn or dusk.  In other words, she had tried to make bread from a rock.  The modern version of that is, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  She had messed up or been messed up by multiple failed marriages and in the absence of a healthy marriage, had found something that “worked” for her.  She would just avoid people and get along the best she could. 

That story gets remarkably close to the real-life temptations we face.  Many would praise her for “making lemonade,” for not giving up and for being a strong, independent woman, however she had to do that.  And I resonate strongly with that!  My parents raised me to be self-reliant.  But there is an important distinction between being resourceful, strong, and resilient, and seeking God’s Word in and through life.

So Jesus offered her something more than what she had made for herself.  He offered her “living water” that would mean she wouldn’t have to keep returning to this well again and again.  Did he mean literally, magic water?  No; he meant a way out of the fixed patterns she had constructed for herself – a life of obedience and trust in God’s promises.  It was “living by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”  And she did listen and act; she went into town to those she avoided so diligently, and she brought them back with her to meet Jesus.

Tempted by Self-Reliance

The story of the woman at the well demonstrates the real temptation to self-reliance.  The temptation isn’t to make the most of an education or take care of one’s health, or any number of other GOOD practices.  Rather, the temptation is to relegate God’s Word to the equivalent of a fortune cookie.  If it encourages me, then good enough; if not, I will disregard it as outdated and foolishly superstitious.  The temptation in today’s text is that of turning to oneself in the need of the moment rather than asking God for help and direction.

And here’s the real trap of that.  If we have cut God out of the loop, then what we come up with may well look like the best we can get.  Some are falling behind on bills and it becomes so easy to sweep the dirt of immediate bills under the rug of a credit card.  Some are depressed and despondent at home and “make the best of it” by drinking or staying out more and more.  Some feel out of control and turn to self-destructive behavior to try to create a sense of control.  The Devil has whispered that we can take these rocks all around us and make bread to satisfy our hunger, but like the woman at the well, we keep coming back day after day to something that does not answer our need.  Consider what that may be for you.

There are two really significant things for you to hear from God’s Word today.  For one, God has offered what we need through Jesus – living water, bread of life, real hope and real direction.  And second, Jesus knows exactly what it is to face this temptation to solve the immediate problem without God and to run the risk of getting trapped there.  And as a human being tempted to self-reliance, Jesus made the right decision and put his trust in God the Father.  He has shown us the way and he is the way.

Mercy and Grace

Hebrews 4:16 says, “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” 

That’s the Good News you need to hear today.  God’s help isn’t for those who think they have their act together or those who pretend to be super-spiritual; God’s help is for those who are trapped in debt, in addiction, in depression, in self-destructive behavior.  God’s help is for you because Jesus knows intimately what you are facing and has shown the way of trusting God’s Word over your own rescue plans.

Put your trust in Jesus, the one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet who is without sin.  In doing so, God invites you to draw near to him with confidence, and to receive His mercy and His grace.  Amen.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


“Holy Habits: the Law as Teacher” Series
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church
January 4 - February 15, 2015

This series looks at a number of (mostly) Old Testament teaching on patterns and practices God established for His people. These old practices, fulfilled and sometimes re-explained through and by Jesus Christ, offer us "holy habits" that will cultivate and develop a healthy spiritual life. Just like eating well or exercising benefit the body, these spiritual practices are healthy for the soul. In some cases they are also healthy physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, and relationally!

1 - Shema (One God) (Deuteronomy 6.1-13)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
February 15, 2015
Text: Deuteronomy 6:1-13

:: Sermon Audio (link)
scroll down for written draft

Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Holy is the Lord" (Tomlin/Giglio)
Hymn of Praise: "Be Thou My Vision/Open My Eyes" (arr.+chorus, Youngblood/Austell)
The Word in Music: "Bless the Lord, O My Soul" (Nygard)
Offering of Music: "Be Unto Your Name" (Deshazo/Sadler)
Our Song of Praise: "The Doxology"
Song of Sending, "Behold Our God" (Sovereign Grace: Baird, Altrogge)
Postlude: Kelsey Gilsdorf, piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

Today we are concluding our series on Old Testament laws that serve as gracious blessings in the life of Christians. We have often either misunderstood these laws as pre-Christ requirements for salvation or as non-applicable rules that got discarded when Christ came. Neither is the case! God has always been the one who saves – Old Testament or New. And Jesus himself said he didn’t come to discard the Law, but to explain and perfect it. God’s Law – God’s Word – is for blessing us, for helping us to put our lives in order in a way that serves God, blesses us, and blesses others. So we’ve looked at Old Testament laws and practices like Jubilee, tithing, and Sabbath and how those spiritual disciplines are still beneficial to us today.

In each case, we’ve noted the numbers involved, really just to help us remember. So Jubilee was one in fifty; tithing was one in ten; and Sabbath was one in seven. Today we are just at “one.” We are down to the one thing that is the main thing and it really summarizes all the other things. It was well-known to all the Jewish people and is known by the opening Hebrew word in verse 4: shema. It means “Listen up!” and is paired here with Israel. “Listen up, Israel” – exclamation point! Here comes something really important. And this is after a bunch of other really important stuff. In fact, what it follows is the Ten Commandments, re-stated and re-upped by the children and grandchildren of those who were delivered from Egypt. This is a generation later, ready to enter the Promised Land, ready to inherit the promise and blessing of God and freshly reminded of those Laws that God will use to bless them. And after that, one summary teaching: “Listen up, Israel!” I want to make sure you get this. This is the MAIN THING.

The Lord is One (v. 4)

What do you think is the main thing? You might quickly jump to verse five, because that’s the one Jesus quoted as “the greatest commandment.” And we will get to verse five directly. But that’s not the main thing. The main thing is there in verse four right after, “Listen up, Israel!” It is this: “The Lord (is) our God, the Lord is one!” This is what was both headline and content of the Ten Commandments: no other gods, no idols, no other worship; order your week, your family, your community around this truth. There is only one God; not the many so-called gods of Egypt. There is only one God, the one who rescued you from Egypt. There is only one God, worthy of all honor, glory, worship, and devotion. And this is not a god made by human hands or intellect, but the self-revealed “I AM who I AM” (YWHW mentioned twice in this declaration!). Listen up, Israel; listen up, people of God! That’s the main thing!

If THAT’S true…. if THAT’S true… the implications are huge! What we’ve been looking at in previous weeks comes from the Old Testament Law, which presumes that it’s true – there is only one God, the Lord our God. And so, it makes sense that we would prioritize and order our relationships (Jubilee), resources (tithing), and daily life and health (Sabbath) around that main thing.

What follows in Deuteronomy 6 are two “so what’s.” There are two examples of the huge implications I mentioned. I’ll divide them this way: if there is only one God, the Lord our God, then LOVE like that’s true and LIVE like that’s true.

So LOVE Like It’s True (v. 5)

Verse five is the part of this that we are most familiar with: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” I’ve spent time on that with you before. For the Hebrew listener in the time of Moses and Joshua, ‘heart’ was where you made decisions, the seat of the will and of choice. ‘Soul’ was the essence of who you are, your very self. And ‘might’ was like a double-exclamation point on the end of it (as opposed to physical strength). I like to summarize all that by saying, “Love God with all you are and all you’ve got!”

Much more could be said about that, about what it looks like in our lives and about how Jesus validated it as part of the “greatest commandment.” But it’s really just the consequence of the main thing. Remember the main thing? “There is only one God, the Lord our God.”

Otherwise, how would that make sense? Who or what is worthy of love that is “all you are and all you’ve got?” I mean that’s a kind of love that involves intellect, emotion, choice, and self, with a double-boost of effort injected. It’s the kind of love that describes a complete re-prioritizing and re-ordering of life and priorities, of time and space and resources. Exactly! That’s why it’s all of one piece. Only “the one God, the Lord our God” could be worth THAT kind of love.

So listen up; the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. If that’s true, LOVE like it’s true. It will change your life.

So LIVE Like It’s True (vv. 6-9)

And if that kind of love changes your life, you’ll know it and see it. You’ll not only love like the one God is your God; you’ll LIVE like it’s true. Verses 6-13 describe that life. The main thing will be so embedded in your heart that you will “teach [these things] diligently” to your children. (v. 7a) You will talk of them in your home, outside your home, morning, noon, and night. (v. 7b) Though later people like the Pharisees would take this next part a little too literally, actually binding boxes to their hands and heads, these words – the MAIN THING – should be as evident in your life as if they were written on your forehead and on the front door of your house. (vv. 8-9)

Is God so important in your life that it is evident IN your life? Is it unmistakable? That’s the picture being portrayed here – not an obnoxious bumper sticker on your car, but a clear witness to a love that is “all you are and all you’ve got.”

Listen up – the Lord is our God; the Lord is one! So LOVE like that’s true and LIVE like that’s true. That’s the MAIN THING!

And Don’t Forget (vv. 10-13)

The text ends with a caution, which is also a fitting caution to our whole series. These Laws of God – this Word of God – is meant for your blessing, to lead you toward life and health and knowledge of God. Should you find yourself experiencing the gracious blessing of God, as those described in vv. 10-11, don’t forget the source of the blessing. It is so easy to let the main thing stop being the main thing. Maybe we start to think I did this on my own. Maybe I start to think that “all I am and all I’ve got” is a little too much and I can get by with a respectful nod of the head from time to time.

“Don’t forget!” warns the text. “Don’t forget the Lord who [delivered you].” And we end with a reminder of the main thing: only fear or reverence the Lord your God. Worship God alone. There is no other – “the Lord your God, the Lord is one.” Remember that one thing; it’s the main thing. Amen.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

1 in 10 - Tithing (Deuteronomy 14, Matthew 23.23-26)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
February 1, 2015
Text: Deuteronomy 14:22-29; Matthew 23:23-26

:: Sermon Audio (link)
scroll down for written draft

Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Linda Jenkins, piano
Hymn of Praise: "God Whose Giving Knows No Ending" (BEACH SPRING, arr. Austell)
Song of Praise: "The Beauty of Holiness" (Robin Mark)

In the beauty of holiness we see You, Son of righteousness
So we bring all that we possess to lay at Your feet.
In the place where Your glory shines, Jesus, lover of all mankind
You have drawn us with love divine to make us complete

So I pause at Your gates once more as my heart and my spirit soar
And I wish I could love You more, my God and my King.

Is there tribute that I could bring; was there ever a song to sing
That could ever express, my King, the work that You've done.
Could I ever conceive of this, all the depths and the heights and breadth
Of the riches I now possess because of Your love.

Offering of Music: "As I Trust" (Sarah Klute, singer/songwriter)
Hymn of Sending, "We Give Thee But Thine Own" (SCHUMANN, arr. and chorus, Austell)
Postlude: Linda Jenkins, piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

Talk about sermon re-writes… I had a few this week! As you know, I do not hesitate to tell you when I have to change course on a sermon – sometimes even right in the middle of a service!    Well, I thought I had a handle on today’s topic coming into it. I picked it out at the end of December as part of this series on how God continues to bless us through the Old Testament patterns of worship and obedience. And we’ve all heard of tithing. Really, what more was needed than to describe it and make the connection to how God blesses us through it today. No shaming or guilt – just a great practice that really is God-given for our benefit.

And all that is true, but I sure learned much more than I expected along the way. Let’s take a look!

Woe to You! (Matthew 23)

First, let’s look at tithing gone wrong. In Matthew 23, Jesus is getting onto the scribes and Pharisees about a number of hypocritical behaviors. And he uses tithing to highlight one of those behaviors. Jesus presses, “You tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.” In other words, the scribes and Pharisees put a lot of time and energy and attention into setting aside a tenth of everything… even the smallest and most insignificant herbs; and they miss the great big whopping command of God to show justice, mercy, and faithfulness to those around them.

Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t dismiss tithing. He says, “These are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” But they have missed the forest for the trees, as the saying goes. And I think as we dig into the passage in Deuteronomy 14 about tithing, we will see exactly what that “forest” was that God had in mind with this spiritual practice.

Tithe for Worship (v. 23)

Let’s start with WHY God commanded the tithe. There are some practical and logistical reasons, such as supporting the Levites – the priests who did not hold or farm land. But vv. 22-24 are even more foundational spiritually: “You shall surely tithe… so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always.” It is an act of obedience that results in proper reverence of the Lord. That’s what “fear” means with respect to God. It’s not cowering in the corner afraid, but is a healthy reverence and respect for the Lord of all. And it makes sense, right? If you make a regular practice out of setting aside a tenth of everything you make or produce to give to God, that acknowledges the authority and Lordship of God.

Do note that it’s not automatic. Tithing is not equated with proper reverence and respect for God. Indeed, the Pharisees had turned it into a hypocritical form of legalism that missed the heart of God for justice, mercy, and faithfulness. But, it is a spiritual practice that TEACHES us reverence and respect for God; it is “so that you may learn.” It teaches us how to prioritize and arrange our life and time and finances in order to put God first. And that was the gist of my understanding of the tithe and what I was going to talk about this morning.

Setting aside 1 in 10 (the tithe) is like setting aside 1 in 7 (the Sabbath), which we’ll talk about next week. For a while, you can get by on sheer rules and duty and law, kind of like a no-carb diet or most New Year’s resolutions. But for these spiritual disciplines to really stick, like anything else, they need to become a lifestyle and part of who you are. That’s what a discipline is – it is something that teaches or trains us… in this case to respect God. How does that work? Well, setting aside a tenth of what one makes or sells is hard to do. It requires thought and commitment and more than a few hard decisions. It invokes priorities – is it more important to buy this or to set aside the tenth? Is it more important to eat out here or grow in this discipline? And I know it gets hard sometimes. It’s like that decision at 1am to go on to sleep or study one more hour for the big test. Which do I need more – the extra cramming or the night of sleep? Early on, I always thought cramming was the answer; I’ve come to realize the significant value of regular sleep (esp. if one has been keeping up with class!). Sabbath is kind of the spiritual equivalent of good, healthy sleep. Likewise, tithing is kind of the spiritual equivalent of good, regular exercise. I also remember thinking, “I don’t have time to exercise.” I have come to realize that I can’t afford to NOT exercise! So it is with tithing; it teaches and trains us… shapes our life and priorities and decisions toward knowing, loving, and respecting God.

But wait, there’s more…

Enjoying the Presence of God (v. 26)

Verses 24-26 describe how to tithe if the distance is too far to bring the actual produce from the field. One is to exchange the produce for money and then go to the place of giving the tithe and spend it for an offering of “whatever your heart desires.” This is extraordinary! It tells me that the tithe is not so much about checking off a ritualistic action, but about the enjoyment of God. The list even includes wine and strong drink – can you imagine? That’s about as far from the Pharisees (or modern legalism) as I can imagine. Can’t get a tenth of your crop to the Temple because it’s too far? Go sell it, travel to the city, buy some fine wine and go toast to the glory of God! Now certainly that sort of thing could also be abused, but do you hear the amazing idea behind it? The tithe is not a tax; it is a habit that is supposed to be wrapped up in enjoying the presence of God.

I’ve done some traveling lately and we’ve hosted some travelers. One of the conventions of travel is giving your host a gift. That’s kind of like the tithe. So my friend Kelly comes once a year to take a class at the seminary and he stays with us for the week. He loves our family and DELIGHTS in bringing us gifts of chocolate or coffee. It’s not a tax given in exchange for room and board; it’s something he delights to give and share with us as he “toasts” our time together.

Think about tithing and ponder THAT for a bit!

Love of Neighbor (vv. 27-29)

And close in to that is one other amazing dynamic of tithing. Look in v. 27: “Also you shall not neglect the Levite who is in your town…” and in v. 29, “…and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town.” Not only does the tenth of what we produce and make honor and reverence God, it also leads us to enjoy God, and it is one of God’s provisions for the priests and those in need. This is one of the connections between tithing and the local church. It’s why we support the local church with tithes and offerings. But even more noticeably, it is the tangible expression of the Great Commandment. Not only does the tithe reverence or love God; it is directly intended to care for – to love – our neighbors.

And that is precisely what the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were missing. They were carefully counting out a tenth of their smallest herbs and spices, but they were missing the connection with showing justice and mercy to those in need. That was one of the foundational purposes of the tithe. They were missing the whole point!

So, put all this together and you truly get a holistic picture of this particular spiritual discipline. Far from being a legalistic spiritual tax, giving a tenth was intended to teach the reverence of respect of God, the enjoyment of God, and to provide for those in need. And that’s not something that went away with the Old Testament laws. It is a spiritual practice given by God for the blessing of His people. Both the Micah passage and the Deuteronomy passage end on that note, that through this discipline, we come to know God better, and through that to be blessed by God. That’s not winning the lottery, but it is where we need most to be – in line with God’s will and Word and following after Jesus our Lord.

So, two takeaway questions: