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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Forgive Us Our Debts (Matthew 18.21-35)

Sermon by: Mariah Woodbury; July 26, 2015
Text: Matthew 18:21-35; Colossians 2:13-14

:: Sermon Audio (link) 
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
Song of Praise: "You Have Been Raised" (Sovereign Grace; Kauflin, Altrogge)
Song of Praise: "Merciful God" (Getty/Townend)
Offering of Music: "Who Am I" (Hall)
Hymn of Sending: "Come, Thou Fount" (NETTLETON)
Postlude: Kelsey Gilsdorf

:: Affirmation of Faith ::
from the Westminster Longer Catechism
What do we pray for in the fifth petition, ‘And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors’?
Acknowledging that we and all others are guilty both of original and actual sin, and thereby become debtors to the justice of God-1, we pray that God would freely pardon all our sins for Christ’s sake.-2 We are encouraged to ask because, by his grace, we are enabled from the heart to forgive others.-3
1-Rom. 3:9-12,19; Matt. 18:24-25; Ps. 130:3-4; 2-Ps. 51:1-2,7,9; Dan. 9:17-19; 3-Luke 11:4; Matt. 18:35

:: Video - "Lord's Prayer Series"

:: Sermon Manuscript: 
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.

   This week we are continuing on with the Lord’s Prayer and we arrive at one of the more difficult verses. Not only is it difficult to obey and follow what Jesus is trying to teach us it is also a bit difficult for me to say. I grew up in an Episcopalian Church and we said trespasses instead of debts. I realize they basically have the same meaning and both refer to our sin or wrong doings, but I still find myself boldly saying trespasses then quickly backtracking realizing where I am and I mumble debts hoping no one has noticed. Whether you grew up saying trespasses, debtors, or have never said it before, it is a verse that takes contemplation and careful thought. If you are familiar with the Bible and Jesus’ teachings then I have no doubt that you have seen the theme of forgiveness show up. One interesting thing about this line is that it is the only one that is expanded on, and for this reason I really find it difficult to say. I think Jesus knew we would have a hard time following it and understanding what we were really praying for, so he added two extra verses to make it really clear. In Matthew 6: 14-15 He says “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others than your heavenly father will not forgive your transgressions.” Why did Jesus have to add in these lines? I really have a hard time  because there have been times when I have not forgiven others. And it isn't that I just haven’t been able to forgive someone but it's that I have gone as far to say that I will never forgive someone. I really thought that I would be able to forgive. So then how can I read this and obey it? When I pray this am I really praying and saying that I will forgive others of their debts against me and if I don't then I am not forgiven? Yes I do think that is what Jesus is saying but we must look at what else he has taught us to better understand it.

   I want to talk about to passages this morning so that we can understand what forgiveness is and how we are to forgive. First I want to talk about the parable that Jesus tells his disciple Peter  to look at what forgiveness is, and then I want to talk about what Paul says in Colossians so we can understand how we are forgiven.

What does Jesus say about Forgiveness?

   Luckily for us Peter had questions about this line as well. He had heard Jesus say it in the prayer and then heard the teaching from Matthew 6 and he still wasn't sure what Jesus was teaching. So he asks the question that I would probably ask as well. Peter, like us wants a concrete answer and to know the number of times that we are to forgive, so that way we will know what is required of us.  Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive a brother that sins against him and Peter thinks he has come up with the perfect number- seven. Rabbi’s commonly agreed on forgiving three times, so seven in Peter’s mind is generous and it surpasses Jewish tradition, making it the perfect number. But Jesus retorts back by saying saying seventy times seventy, which if we are Peter would seem like a ridiculous number. How could we forgive that many times? Jesus wants us and him to realize that forgiveness cannot be limited. To ensure that Peter and the rest of his disciples fully understood forgiveness Jesus employs a parable. Many of you might be familiar with the story of the unforgiving sinner, which was read to us this morning but I want to make a few points about how we should read this. This applies for any parable that we read. There are 3 things we should keep in mind. First, we must take note of who the audience is. In this case it is the disciples. Second we should not get too caught up in the details and make line-by line comparisons because parables are not suppose to be able to be perfectly translated into today's world. They are just stories that Jesus tells to illustrate a point. And lastly parables usually contain something that is surprising. In this parable there are two things that would have been surprising to the disciples. The first is how the King treats the servant. The servant owes the King an unthinkable amount, 10,000 talents which equals around 4 billion dollars today, and the servant begs the king to get rid of his debt and the king had mercy on him.The king cancels the servant's debt!! Not only does he cancel the debt of ten thousand talents but he allows the slave to be free. For the slave to repay the king he and the rest of his family would have had to be enslaved for the rest of their lives. This is so surprising! We see this and we think wow, the king has a huge heart and is full of compassion. This is not something that would normally have happened in this time period, so the disciples would have found this to be an extremely gracious act of the king! But the slave doesn't see it this way. He accepts the king’s forgiveness and grand gift only to abuse it.

   The second thing that is surprising happens. The slave seeks out someone who owed him 100 denarii or 4,000 dollars and demands he pay him. Not only does he demand to be repaid he goes as far as choking the man and then throwing him in jail. How could he do this after what the king had done for him? How could he not extend at least a fraction of the compassion he had been shown?  The conclusion that we are brought to is that the slave must not have truly understood the forgiveness and mercy that was shown to him.  He did accept the King’s mercy but not to the extent that it penetrated his heart. Forgiveness must come from the heart. That is how Jesus describes it at the end of the parable. He says we must forgive from the heart. And that is what I want to talk about next. How we forgive from the heart. In order to forgive from the heart we have to realize how we have been forgiven. To do this I want to look at what Paul says in Colossians 2:13-14.

How to Forgive

Colossians 2:13-14 says “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive together with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having cancelled out the certificate of debt, consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and has taken it out of the way having nailed it to the cross”. Paul is explaining what how we have been forgiven. We must humble ourselves and think about the spiritual debt we owe God. We have sinned against God in more ways than we can imagine, and the price of our sin is death. We owe God our life. But God gives us another way. Paul says we were dead in our transgression meaning that we had no chance of living a free life and having a relationship with God. We let our sin rule us. But by the death of Jesus we are made alive. We are made alive because he takes our place. He pays the price of death and dies on the cross for our sins. That is how we are forgiven. He completely cancels out our debt. And like the slave we are free. The slave owed his life to the king like we owe our life to God. Do we understand what this means? Do we really comprehend that we are forgiven? Our debt was nailed to the cross and Jesus died so we could be forgiven! That is amazing!

   That is grace beyond belief! The fact that God would send his most precious item to us to suffer for every sin that we have ever committed or will ever commit is something I don't think I will ever be able to truly grasp. And not only is God forgiving us of our our debts but he offers us multiple chances to forgive others. Unlike the slave in the parable we arent thrown into a prison to be tortured.The slaves punishment seems harsh to us, but to the disciples that would have been a normal reaction. God is different from the king and our salvation does not rest upon whether or not we forgive someone else. God always gives us the choice of accepting his forgiveness. And we can accept it endlessly.

   Once we let the reality sink in that we received a forgiveness that could never be matched Jesus teaching at the end of Matthew 6 doesn't seems so crazy. What is crazy is the fact that we have first been forgiven! We did nothing to deserve it, nor is it something that is owed to us. It is a gift. This gift has the ability to transform our heart and our actions.  In the same way that we love because he first loved us, we forgive because he first forgave us. It is hard to genuinely love someone until you realize the love you have received just as it is hard to genuinely forgive someone until you realize the gift of forgiveness that you have received. Forgiveness starts at the heart.

What happens when we don’t forgive?

   It seems that it should be easy to forgive after hearing what God has done for us but this isn't always the case.That is what I want to talk about next. I want to tell you about a time when I chose not to forgive, which I mentioned briefly in the beginning, then I want to talk about a women who did forgive.

   Forgiveness is hard. And sometimes it seems impossible to extend. Earlier I talked about a time when I didn't forgive. Not only did I not forgive but I said I would never forgive the person that had hurt me. I thought there would never be a way for me to find it in my heart to forgive. I didnt think that I needed to forgive and I most certainly didn't think that I was in the wrong. I held on to bitterness, resentment and anger for years. During this time I also would have said that it wasn't affecting my relationship with God. It wasn't until I forgave that I realized just how much it had affected me. I realized that even if I didn't think that I needed to forgive it wasn't up to me. It is up to God, because he first forgave us. I also realized that holding on to all the hurt really only hurt me. I was the one who was suffering. I had been self, self righteous and prideful and I didn't understand how I had been forgiven.I couldn't and I am still not able to understand his forgiveness if I don’t know how to forgive. When we forgive it doesn't mean that we forget or change our minds and think that whatever action the other person did was right. It doesn't mean that they don't deserve to be punished. It just means that we leave that to God. Not forgiving robs us of the chance to experience the joy and the freedom of the cross. And it can make it impossible for us to experience God’s peace and harmony.

What happens when we do forgive?

   Now I want to tell you about a woman who did forgive. Most of us are probably familiar with the shooting in Charleston and as tragic as it was I think we really saw Christ at work. I am still amazed at how some of the family of those who passed away were able to respond. One woman named Bethane Middleton- Brown said this when she was interviewed “We have no room for hate. We have to forgive. I pray God on your soul. And I also thank God I won’t be around when your judgment day comes with him.” She does exactly what Jesus teaches us to do. And it is hard to believe that she was even able to do it in a situation like this. She did the unthinkable. She forgave someone who took something so dear and so so precious to her. Not only is she verbally forgiving him but she is letting go of the need to seek justice and revenge. She is refusing to carry around that burden. I wonder if I would react the same way? I am not sure that I could have extended the same grace she did. This women could have easily said awful things to the man and said she would never forgive him and we probably would not have been surprised, but instead she choose to share the forgiveness that she herself had received as a believer and she showed Christ’s love. We know that she understands the forgiveness that she received because of her actions and the fruits of her spirit. It makes me believe that her heart really has been penetrated by the forgiveness that God has shown her.

  Forgiveness is not earned nor is it always deserved but it is given to us and we have the choice of whether or not to accepted it. We did nothing to earn God’s forgiveness we just get to accept it. The salve did nothing to earn the King’s forgiveness yet he too got to accept it. We get so caught up in wanting the person who wants our forgiveness to earn and to deserve it, but what if we treated them the way God treated us? We have to continually remember and realize the great gift we have been given, which is a forgiveness that could never be matched!! In the same way that we ask for our daily bread we ask for our daily forgiveness. I said that I was able to forgive and release a lot of the resentment that I had carried around with me, but it doesn't mean that it will necessarily get easier. But I just have to remind myself of who first forgave me. What would it look like if every time we prayed “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” for us to extend the same forgiveness that God has shown us? We have to search our hearts and remember who first forgave us.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread (Matthew 6.25-34)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; July 19, 2015
Text: Matthew 6:25-34

:: Sermon Audio (link) 
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
Song of Praise: "Break Thou the Bread of Life/Come Feed Our Souls (arr. Youngblood)
Song of Praise: "Breathe" (Marie Barnett)
Offering of Music: "The Only Bread I Need" (Jim Terrell)
Hymn of Sending: "His Eye is On the Sparrow" (Martin/Gabriel)
Postlude: Rick Bean

:: Affirmation of Faith ::
from the Westminster Longer Catechism
What do we pray for in the fourth petition, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’?
We acknowledge that in Adam and by our own sin, we have forfeited our right to all the outward blessings of this life.-1 We pray that of God’s free gift we may receive and enjoy a competent portion of those outward and godly blessings.-2
1- Gen. 2:17, Gen. 3:17, Rom. 8:20–22, Jer. 5:25, Deut. 28:15–17; 2- Gen. 43:12–14, Gen. 28:20, Eph. 4:28, 2 Thess. 3:11–12, Phil. 4:6

:: Video - "Lord's Prayer Series"

:: 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.

Last week Mariah talked about finding and following God’s will. One way to do that is by not conforming to the thoughts and values of this world. We will pick up on that very theme this week as we turn to the phrase, “Give us this day our daily bread.” In order to help us understand what Jesus meant by this phrase I have chosen his teaching on worry, which speaks to daily needs like food, drink, and clothing. Interestingly enough, we will see that Jesus makes a clear connection between these daily needs and the Kingdom of God, which is also the focus of the preceding phrases in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in Heaven.”

Three times in these verses Jesus will say, “Do not be worried.” (v. 25, 31, 34) He will also provide three illustrations to help us understand the point he is making. But finally, he will draw our attention to something greater than food, drink, or clothing – something greater even than our worry. That something is the Kingdom of God.

Is Life Not More? (v. 25)

Jesus says, “Do not be worried” for the first time in verse 25. He specifically urges his listeners not to worry about food, drink, and clothing – all what we would consider basic necessities of life, maybe even “daily bread.” But before we get to that, notice how he begins the verse: “For this reason I say to you…” He is building on something that has come earlier. We did not read it, but Jesus has been teaching about money and treasure. He has urged his listeners to store up treasure in Heaven rather than on earth, for heavenly treasure will not tarnish, rust, or be stolen. (v. 20) He goes further, though, saying that our view and understanding of money or wealth is a potential competitor for our worship. He warns, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Wealth (Mammon – a personified ‘god’ of wealth).” (v. 24)

That’s helpful to know as we come into our text for today. Jesus also gets to the same point with a few words in v. 25 – we just might have missed them without knowing what came before. Those words are these: “Is life not more?” (than food…clothing). Easy to say when we have those things in abundance, right? But try asking someone like the homeless some of our mission team served this past week in New Orleans. Those things are essential and not always easy to come by. So is that what Jesus means? Is this a prayer for basic necessities? How or why would you and I pray those words?

Let’s keep that question in mind as we move forward and see what else Jesus has to say about it: “Is life not more?”

Birds and Flowers (vv. 26-30)

Starting in verse 26, Jesus gives several illustrations to make his point.

Birds of the Air – For the first he uses the “birds of the air.” Jesus notes that “they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” (another tie-in to the Lord’s Prayer – and “our Father who art in Heaven”) What is he saying? Those are human things… the planning and planting and saving. They are things that are beyond the capacity of birds. Likewise, he then asks whether our worry can add a single hour to our life. That is something beyond us. Nonetheless, to be clear, planning and planting and care of our bodies are all fine human things to do, but also things we worry and fret over. At some point – perhaps I should ask at what point does planting and planning and self-care turn to worry? At what point does it turn to idolatry and serving something other than God? That’s where I think Jesus is pressing his “Is life not more” question.

Lilies of the Field – He moves to a second illustration, the “lilies of the field.” (v. 28) Like the birds, the lilies are not mindful of the future; they “neither toil nor spin.” And yet God “clothes” the grass of the field with beauty, even though it is of less worth and longevity than human life. God cares about the smallest and the least of His creation! In contrast, Jesus mentions the third illustration…

Solomon in all his glory – Even King Solomon – who was wealthy and powerful by any earthly standard – could not care for himself with the beauty and attention that God gives to the flowers of the field. What a startling statement! Solomon, known for wisdom and success, surely represented the epitome of human achievement and provision for the future. And that’s the whole point! With all that wealth and wisdom, Solomon did not reach the MORE that Jesus mentions. And note that Solomon would be the first to agree with Jesus! The book of Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s reflection on the vanity and frailty of his own massive accomplishments. He concludes that there is MORE to this life and it was not to be found in wealth, wisdom, women, or power. All that, Solomon reflected, was “vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:11) He concluded, “Fear God and keep His commandments”… in other words, seek the Lord. (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

So Jesus repeats (v. 31): “Do not worry then… your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.”

Seek First the Kingdom and His Righteousness (v. 33)

Jesus asked, “Is life not more than food, drink, and clothing?” He illustrated that if the life of the least of creation resides in the loving Father’s hands, all the more human life resides in the same heavenly Father’s care. He now comes to the alternative to worry: “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and His righteousness.” (v. 33) For human life we do need the basics: food, drink, clothing. But there is more to see and know.

I am reminded of the Samaritan woman at the well, whom Jesus told about a kind of water that would quench her thirst and never run out. She responded, “Sir, give me that water!” And he was talking about himself, not earthly water. I am reminded of the people who followed Jesus around the lake after the feeding of the 5,000 to see another miracle with bread. Jesus told them to stop looking for bread from heaven and said, “I AM the bread from heaven.”

We have seen in recent weeks that Jesus was very intent to announce the arrival of the Kingdom of God. It features prominently in the opening lines of the Lord’s Prayer as well as throughout Jesus’ teaching. So here Jesus holds out an alternative to worry: instead of worrying about how you will provide in the future, seek out what God is doing in and around you today. Jesus doesn’t dismiss daily needs; he says “all these things will be added to you.” (v. 33) He is not telling us to live irresponsibly or without concern for consequences or provisions. He’s trying to draw our attention up away from our pre-occupations with money and self and toward God and His Kingdom.

So here are a few thought questions:

It may be that you don’t have to worry about basics – food, water, clothing – what do you worry about? In what way could you “seek the Kingdom and God’s righteousness” in that area?

It may be that you DO have to worry about basics – food, housing, job – those are all important things. In what way could you “seek the Kingdom and God’s righteousness?”

Jesus doesn’t say “don’t pray for daily bread.” He just says “don’t worry about daily bread.” His example in the Lord ’s Prayer is that we, in fact, SHOULD pray for daily bread. That’s the line – “give us this day our daily bread.” His interest is in our ongoing trust and hope in the Heavenly Father whose Kingdom is come among us. His warning is to not let the needs of today – much less the needs of tomorrow – divert our attention from what is “more than life” – a Heavenly Father whose gift to us is living water, bread of life, and a robe of righteousness.

Give us this day our daily bread; I trust you. Amen!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Thy Will be Done on Earth as It Is in Heaven (Romans 12, Philippians 2, John 17)

Sermon by: Mariah Woodbury; July 12, 2015
Text: Romans 12:1-5; Philippians 2:12-13; John 17:13-21)

:: Sermon Audio (link) 
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
Song of Praise: "Let Your Kingdome Come" (Sovereign Grace; Kauflin)
Song of Praise: "Thy Word" (Grant/Smith)
Offering of Music: "Go to the World" (piano and arr. Bobby White)
Hymn of Sending: "Joy to the World" (ANTIOCH)
Postlude: Kelsey Gilsdorf

:: Affirmation of Faith ::
from the Westminster Longer Catechism
What do we pray for in the third petition, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven"?

Acknowledging that by nature we all are unable and unwilling to know and do the will of God1, we pray that God would by his grace make us able and willing to know, do, and submit to his will in all things.-1

1-Rom. 7:18, Job 21:14, 1 Cor. 2:14; 2Ps. 67, Ps. 119:36, Matt. 26:39, 2 Sam. 15:25, Job 1:21; Ps. 103:20-21

:: Video - "Lord's Prayer Series"

:: 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.

We are continuing to talk about the Lord’s prayer that Jesus has given his disciples, and today we are focusing on the phrase “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. Last week Robert discussed what the phrase “Thy kingdom come” means and how God’s kingdom is here now. He explained that even though God’s kingdom is not yet here in all of its fullness and glory, it is still here now and we must seek it. In the same way that we ask for God’s kingdom to be here now, we also ask for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We often say this prayer without thinking about what we are really asking, or at least I most certainly do. I usually pray this line because it is the next one in the Lord’s Prayer, not because I want God to continually do his Will in my life. When you look at this phrase by itself it is actually a pretty bold prayer.

What is God’s Will and how do we find it?

So the first question that naturally comes up when we are thinking about God’s will, is what is God’s will and how do we find it? Oh how nice it would be if there was one simple answer and definition to this question, it would solve so many problems and really ease our worries! God’s will is different for everyone and following it looks different for every person as well. In order to discern what God has told us about his will we must look at what scripture says. In the first scripture reading, which was Romans 12: 1-5, Paul is urging people to seek God’s will and explaining how to do that.  Paul says that the will of God is good, and acceptable and perfect. Not only is it good, acceptable and perfect to God it is also is a blessing to us. In order to know God’s will or plan we must present our bodies as a living sacrifice, as the first verse says, and this means that we have to offer ourselves (both our body and our mind) for the service of God and not for the service of the world. To understand God’s will and find it we must allow God to transform our minds. Even though God is the one doing the transformation, it comes when we renew our minds, which means that we have to continually fill ourselves with God’s word and truth and not the ways of this world. Paul says do not be conformed to the ways of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  So instead of doing what the world says, we are to do what God says, and this happens when we renew our minds and one way of doing that is continually reminding yourself of who you are working for. We are working for God, not the world. He is our king.

God wants us to be set apart in the world and to not conform to its ways. John 17: 15 says “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. Jesus does not want us to be separate from the world. This is an important distinction. Jesus says I do not ask you to take them out of the world, which means that we can live in God’s will even when we are in this world. Jesus wants us to be in the world he just wants us to live for something that is not of this world.

This is not an easy command because following the ways of the world is often easier than following God’s will. It is our natural instinct and inclination to look to the world for direction. I often have trouble not conforming to the ways of the world when it comes to school and working in general. The world would tell me to do whatever I can to make the best grades and preform the very best that I can, even it comes with the price of little sleep, no rest and lots of stress. The world would to tell me to ignore God and his ways so that I can have my ways. I often listen to the world and tend to push myself hard in school so that I can make good grades. While I am doing this I usually hear God saying to slow down and to realize what is important and to take a step back, but often I don’t listen. The thing I needed most during this time was rest and time with God but I choose to believe that I have to conform to the ways of the world. You probably can guess how it turns out for me most times. Most of the time I end up being extremely burnt out after exams and so exhausted that I can barely function. I was not doing God’s will. It can be really hard to listen to God and believe his truths, and the more we fight it that harder it becomes to hear it. In our heart I think we all know that God’s will is best and I am sure we have all had an experience when striving to conform to the ways of the world has not been in our best interest. The best thing is that we always get a choice whether or not we will follow God’s will or the worlds.

God has given us ways to discern what his will is and it happens when we renew our mind and obey his word. Once we have renewed our minds, or refilled ourselves with the truth, we then must humble ourselves and discern what is good and pleasing to God. It is by faith that we are able to have sound judgment and humble ourselves. Likewise, as it says in Philippians we need to take a posture of humility and realize God is king. It says when we work out our fear with salvation and trembling it is God who is at work.  When we are figuring out or realizing what it means to have been saved by Christ we are to have reverence for God and to tremble. Trembling is not really a feeling we like to have but here it is used to highlight the fact that we are human and frail in comparison with God. And I think it is also to make the point that the fact that God is pleased to work in us should cause us to tremble. The fact that God could gain pleasure from working in our lives is amazing and it causes us to stand in awe! It is very humbling to think that the God who reigns over the whole universe is pleased to work in us!!

Obeying God’s Will

Now the question comes up of whether or not we will obey God’s will as scripture tells us to and also how we are able to obey it. When we are praying thy will be done it requires obedience on our part because we don’t always think that God’s will is best, or at least I know I often tend to think that my will might be better than God’s will. But of course that isn’t true and God’s will in the end is what is best for us. As C.S. Lewis says “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done."  We have to ask ourselves which person we want to be here. I want to be the kind of person who says thy will be done and actually mean it; this requires both obedience and humility. We must recognize and admit that God is supreme and that we should obey him because he knows so much more than we do.

We obey because we believe that God’s will is better than ours and that he knows what is best. When Jesus is talking to God in John 17, on the night before his crucifixion, he asks God to sanctify us in the truth, which is his word. In order to be sanctified in the truth we must obey the truth so that we know it. Sanctification is the process of making something holy or set apart. It is a continual process that takes time and it most definitely is not an easy process. If we hope to be set apart for God’s purpose then we have to ask for it and want it. We find God’s will when we align our view with Christ’s and use him as the model of perfect obedience. Christ is the only who is able to obey God perfectly.  I am not saying that we could ever obey God like Christ does but with Christ in us and with the help of the Holy Spirit we can strive to obey God.

I often think of the process in terms of sports. I played field hockey throughout middle school and high school and went to practice pretty much everyday and sometimes I loved practice and found it really fun and other times I hated and prayed that it would thunder and rain and that practice would be canceled. I knew why we practiced and that we needed to if we were going to improve and play well in our next game, but sometimes that motivation just was not enough. Practice was tough and it commonly involved lots of sprints, scrimmages, and corrections from our coach. You would think each practice would get a little bit easier and over time I wouldn’t mind it, but it was always difficult. That is kind of the way sanctification is. The purpose of sanctification is to set us apart for God’s use, I realize this is different than my field hockey practice because I was being set apart to become a better player, but I think you can see how to two are similar. Just like going to practice everyday and running the same drills and plays, we have to continue the set yourself apart. If we stop trying to renew our minds and listen to God we run the risk of not obeying God’s will and it becoming harder each time we try. If I had stopped practicing I most likely would have gotten worse and practice would have been even more difficult. I could not become a great or even good field hockey player overnight just in the same way we cannot become sanctified just by saying we believe in Christ. I also would not have been benefiting my team if I had stopped practicing and trying to improve, so not only would it have had detrimental effects on my performance but also on the teams. In the same way it helps us become stronger as a church and a body of believers when we each are trying to follow God’s will.  Just as I had to obey my coach and go to practice, we have to obey God’s word and truth. My coach was there to help me along the way and continually offer encouragement and Jesus is there to do that for us to. We often think that the “will of God” is just a set of really strict rules, but it is actually God just wanting to help us become the best player we can be.

What are the implications?

What happens when we obey God’s will? First it enhances our lives and it pleases God. In the scripture from John Jesus says “these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves”. Christ wants us to experience a life full of joy and everything that he instructs us to do is for our ultimate good. When we are living in God’s will we are seeking what is good, perfect, and acceptable.

Let's go back to the phrase thy Kingdom come. When we pray that we are asking for God’s kingdom to be here now and for God to reign. Well if God is reining then his Will also reigns. So asking thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven is an extension of God’s kingdom. When God’s will is done and we align ourselves with it and try to live in it then we become one with Christ. At the end of the John 17 it says “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” When God’s will is done we all become one and are connected and the world sees who we are living for. The world sees the image of Christ.  When we are living in God Will it radically changes our life and how we see the world. When says to God Thy Will be done we are declaring that we believe God’s will is better than our own and that we choose for him to have the control in our lives. God has the power to dramatically change each of our lives and the first step is giving him the reigns and asking him for thy will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. So I challenge you to think about what you are asking for the next time you say this prayer and ask yourself whose Will you want to be living in, your own or God’s?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Thy Kingdom Come (Matthew 4.12-17, Luke 17.20-21)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; July 5, 2015
Text: Matthew 4:12-17; Luke 17:20-21; Psalm 145:8-13

:: Sermon Audio (link) 
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
Song of Praise: "Build Your Kingdom Here" (Rend Collective)
Song of Praise: "We Fall Down" (Chris Tomlin)
Offering of Music: "Let Your Kingdom Come" (Sovereign Grace; Kauflin)
Communion Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Sending: "Jesus shall Reign" (DUKE STREET)
Postlude: Kelsey Gilsdorf

:: Affirmation of Faith ::
from the Westminster Longer Catechism
Q.191 – What do we pray for in the second petition, ‘Thy Kingdom come’?-1

Acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan-2, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed-3, the gospel propagated throughout the world-4, the Jews called-5, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in-6; the church furnished with all gospel-officers and ordinances-7, purged from corruption-8, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate-9: and the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted-10: that Christ would rule in our hearts here-11, and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him forever-12: and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends.-13

1-Matt. 6:10; 2-Eph. 2:2-3; 3-Ps. 68:1,18, Rev. 12:10-11; 4-2 Thess. 3:1; 5-Rom. 10:1; 6-John 17:9,20, Rom. 11:25-26, Ps. 67; 7-Matt. 9:38, 2 Thess. 3:1; 8-Mal. 1:11, Zeph. 3:9; 9-1 Tim. 2:1-2; 10-Acts 4:29-30, Eph. 6:18-20, Rom. 15:29-30,32, 2 Thess. 1:11, 2:16-17; 11-Eph. 3:14-20; 12-Rev. 22:20; 13-Isa. 64:1-2, Rev. 4:8-11

:: Video - "Lord's Prayer Series"

:: 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 continue our summer series on the Lord’s Prayer as we look at the phrase, “Thy Kingdom come.” God’s Kingdom is a natural thing to address right after “Our Father who art in Heaven; Hallowed be your name” because it is the fact of God’s great power and rule of Heaven and earth that lead us to next consider what it might mean for God to rule over all that as King and Lord.

I’d like to briefly summarize what the three scriptures you’ve heard today have to say about God’s Kingdom. Then, I’d like to offer an extended analogy to try to explain what might be a confusing part of Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom. Finally, I’d like to end with the challenge Jesus gives as well as the prayer he taught us.

The Scriptures Say…

Psalm 145 – In the call to worship this morning we heard that the Lord is gracious, merciful, and good. God’s works (the things God does in history) demonstrate (“speak of”) God’s power to rule… that is, God’s Kingdom. In addition to His other traits, God is powerful, and (like God) the kingdom is everlasting and amazing. One of the tasks of God’s people is to bear witness to God’s glorious reign.

Matthew 4:12-17 – In Matthew 4, Jesus is just arriving on the public scene. John the Baptist had been preaching and announcing the coming of God’s Messiah, and this passage highlights the transition and the fulfillment of prophecies like Isaiah about the Messiah, understood here to be Jesus. As Jesus starts speaking publicly, he teaches often about the Kingdom; in fact, he talked more about that than just about anything else. He told parables and illustrated time and again what God’s Kingdom is like. Here he picks up John’s theme of repentance and Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy about a light in the darkness and announces “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The time is now!

Luke 17:20-21 – Matthew 4 was at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, but Luke 17 comes much later. Jesus has taught frequently about the Kingdom, such that we find the Pharisees here asking him about the Kingdom. They want to know when and how it is coming and Jesus replies that it is not off in the future with signs to be observed, but is already “in your midst.”

It’s one thing to read that God’s Kingdom reflects God’s authority, power, and reign over creation. It’s another to understand what Jesus means by saying it is already here among us. It gets even more confusing when Jesus indicates it is also not yet fully realized here; there is still more to come. We get a short illustration in the Isaiah quotation: like the dawning of the light, the day of the Kingdom has dawned, but there is still more to come.

But let me offer a more extended analogy to see if it can help us understand how God’s Kingdom is at once here among us, but also not yet fully here.

An Extended Analogy

How could Jesus say (again and again) that God’s Kingdom was “at hand” and “in your midst” when there is still more to be done? Revelation tells us that there is still a future day when God will set all things right, when there will be no more sorrow or suffering or tears or death. Revelation describes Jesus sitting on the throne, not the Jesus hanging on the cross of the Gospels. How can we make sense of that?

I’d like to suggest the analogy of acceptance into college.

Sometime during the senior year of high school, a student makes an application to college. If all goes well, at some point usually in the spring, a college will send an acceptance letter more or less guaranteeing a spot in the freshman class the following August or September. While there are some exceptions (analogies aren’t perfect!), a senior who has received that acceptance letter can count on a place the coming fall. They are already accepted as a freshman, but not yet in their new college home.

Do you see how that explains the Kingdom? Everything leading up to Jesus was just getting ready, but when Jesus came and lived and died, he secured our acceptance by the Father into the Kingdom of Heaven. We are not yet with God in our heavenly home, but our place with God is secure in Christ. We are living in that between time, with the assurance of what is already reality, but also awaiting the new life that is to come.

And there are other helpful parallels with this analogy. Often, the senior who has been accepted starts to wear the colors and letters of the school to which they have been accepted. They start living as one with this newly declared identity, though they still have to finish out their senior year and summer.

And while this is a little off our path this morning, I couldn’t help but think of baptism as a promise that your acceptance in Christ has already been provided. It’s like the college fund set up for a child; they didn’t earn it, it is theirs if they accept it, it represents a family and household committed to college education. But there are others who don’t have that privilege who nonetheless seek and are accepted into college, just as there are those who do not grow up with the privilege of hearing the good news of Christ in the midst of the community of faith. Their acceptance is no less real or effective and often more deeply appreciated.

All this really is to offer an everyday explanation for how God’s Kingdom can be both here and in our midst now, but also out in the future as not yet fully realized.

A Challenge and a Prayer

So here in Matthew 4, Jesus has one challenge to offer regarding the Kingdom. It’s in verse 17, where he says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent means to turn around or completely change one’s mind and direction. To stick with the analogy, it’s like the talk with the student starting their junior or senior year in high school who is heading the wrong direction: “College is a good thing and an important thing, but if you don’t turn things around and take your studies seriously, you are going to miss out on something really important.” Similarly, Jesus was preaching, “There is nothing more important than God’s Kingdom; some of you are heading the wrong direction and need to turn around so you can see and participate in what God is doing.” That’s what ‘repent’ means.

Finally, back to the Lord’s Prayer. When Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” there is a bit of that now and not yet in those three simple words. Does he mean us to pray it as an acknowledgement that the Kingdom is here: like “Thy Kingdom (is) come.” Or does he mean us to pray it as a petition for that future day to arrive, “(Let your) Kingdom come?” Since he regularly taught both – the Kingdom is come and is yet to come – I think he must have both in view. So when we pray, let us not miss the presence of God’s rule and reign in our midst like the Pharisees did. God’s Kingdom IS come. But let us also long for the Day when God brings all things to completion and rules in perfect peace. On the cross Jesus has defeated sin, death, and evil; but we are in the in-between time waiting for that dawning victory to come to completion. So we repent and we pray, “Thy Kingdom come.” Amen.