Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

Sermons, Devotions, and News from Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iola, WI

Monthly Archives: February 2016

Feasting with God #51 – Contributing the Best of It

Feasting with God #51

Contributing the Best of It

Text: Numbers 18:29-32

29“‘Out of all the gifts to you, you shall present every contribution due to the Lord; from each its best part is to be dedicated.’  30Therefore you shall say to them, ‘When you have offered from the best of it, then the rest shall be counted to the Levites as produce of the threshing floor, and as produce of the winepress.  31And you may eat it in any place, you and your households, for it is your reward in return for your service in the tent of meeting.  32And you shall bear no sin by reason of it, when you have contributed the best of it.  But you shall not profane the holy things of the people of Israel, lest you die.’”

The Levites were appointed as the priests of the people of Israel; they made the necessary sacrifices and preached the Word of God.  But while all the other tribes would receive a portion of land to which they were coming, the tribe of Levi received nothing.  While all the others had an income, the Levites were those who served the people spiritually.  Therefore God instituted the system of tithing: 1/10 of the people’s livestock and possessions was to be donated to the Levites to support them.

This generosity could easily have gone to the heads of the Levites, so God made an additional demand: “Out of all the gifts to you, you shall present every contribution due to the Lord; from each its best part is to be dedicated.”  The animals that were brought to the Levites were slaughtered, butchered, divided in pieces, and the choice pieces, the most delicious, were to be burned for God.  The priests then were able to keep what was left over.

Perhaps your parents, like mine, trained you to give to church 1/10 of your income.  It’s a good practice, if the correct mindset accompanies the practice.  Two stories from Scripture illuminate the sort of “tithing” God wants.

First is the story of Ananias and his wife Sapphira.  These two became members of the Christian faith, and so were doing their duty to support the Christian church.  And they were property owners.  They sold some property, and gave some of the proceeds to the church, keeping some of it for themselves.  But sinfully, they reported that they had donated all of their gain.  What motivated the lie?  Probably they wished to appear more generous than they actually were in the eyes of the other Christians.  But as St. Peter said, “You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4).

Second, the story of Cain and Abel.  “Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.  And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard” (Gen. 4:3-5).  Cain brought out of obligation, but Abel brought “the firstborn” and “their fat portions.”  He brought the best.

You are probably familiar with the catchphrase, “God loves a cheerful giver.”  It comes from Scripture: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).  Tithing is a great practice—but it is no longer a command!  Even at the time of Israel’s wanderings through the wilderness, do you think God loved the thought of the Levites begrudgingly taking the most mouthwatering pieces of their income and burning them for God?

God commanded that the best be given to him, not so that the Levites would resent him.  God never commands behavior simply for behavior’s sake.  God wanted the attitude that is connected with the behavior.

Consider the situation of Israel: they were wandering in a desert, living in tents, no place to call home—they were on their way to the place they would call home.  Recall how they complained, virtually every step of the way, that maybe what they had was better than what they were promised.  God had a plan for them, a plan to bring them to a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey, a plan that would lead eventually to the birth of the one who would save all mankind.  God wanted the eyes of these Israelites not to be turned backward, toward their bondage, toward the paltry material possessions that they could earn; he wanted them turned forward, toward their liberty, toward the glorious blessings he would provide.  What better way to cause such a mindset than for the Israelites to give up the best of their material possessions.

That is what our offerings do.  When we put our check in the plate at church, it’s not because the church is a moneymaking industry.  It’s because we are learning to forsake these material blessings in favor of eternal, spiritual ones—a lesson that needs regular reinforcement.  Our eyes are focused on the divine, on the spiritual.  We give, not because we are commanded to, not because we must appease a wrathful God.  We give because we have received something infinitely better than these physical things.  God’s own Son—who was God himself!—died on a cross to pay the price for our sins.  This perfect blessing is ours.  What is there that we would prefer to hold onto other than this?

Lord Jesus, keep our eyes ever fixed on you, and the eternal blessings we have won from you.  Although we are also blessed by you with many earthly blessings, let us view these as only a trust from you, of which we are guardians, until we receive our eternal reward.  Lead us to ever more thankful hearts, and guide us to see your blessings in all things.  In your name we ask it.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

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Feasting with God #50 – Why Not This Other Land?

Feasting with God #50

Why Not This Other Land?

The Destruction of Korah and His Rebellion (Num. 16:31-35)

 

Text: Numbers 16:13-14

13“Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flow­ing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us? 14Moreover, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards.  Will you put out the eyes of these men?  We will not come up.”

It seems like the entire 40-year journey through the wilderness was nothing but complaining, complaining, and more complaining from the Israelites. Now, some from the tribe of Reuben and from the tribe of Levi rose up with a party of 250 men to overthrow Moses.

Notice how they complained. In the first promise God made about the Promised Land, he said, “I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8).  The description of this Promised Land certainly made it sound appealing.  So these Reubenites certainly wanted such a land.  But how they specifically wanted this fulfilled was in the land of Egypt itself.  Moses brought them out of Egypt at the Lord’s direction, and they complained, “you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey”!  Because they didn’t get what they wanted, they complain that they would prefer slavery in Egypt to the promise of God.

Compare how Jesus was received: on Palm Sunday he rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, and the people shouted joyfully, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9).  They recognized him as the Lord’s true prophet, the Son of David, the one who would bring salvation—much in the same way that the Israelites were pleased to follow Moses, another true prophet of the Lord, in all his directions and in his overthrow of the Egyptian enslavement.

If we track what Jesus did the following week in Jerusalem, he cleansed the temple, cursed a fig tree, made the chief priests and elders look like fools, told parables that called attention to the people’s unbelief and wickedness, stated that the people should pay taxes to Caesar and the oppressive Roman government, demonstrated the ignorance of the Pharisees, pronounced woes upon the Pharisees and Sadducees, lamented over Jerusalem and foretold the destruction of the temple and the end of the world, and declared that judgment would come upon the unbelievers. In short, Jesus made a lot of people angry, because he wouldn’t tell them what they wanted to hear.

Likewise, Moses, under the Lord’s direction, prescribed worship and laws for the people, focused the Israelites away from their selfish wishes and toward lives lived to God. The Reubenites probably had the added complaint that this man from the tribe of Levi (Moses) was leading them, those who were of the tribe of the oldest brother Reuben.  They thought that they should be the ruling tribe, that they should have that right.  They accused Moses of trying to blind them to what was really happening: “Will you put out the eyes of these men?”

We hear the same complaints today. “The Bible isn’t a science textbook.”  “The God of the Old Testament was hateful and unmerciful.”  “The Bible promotes slavery.”  All these complaints ultimately come down to one: “God isn’t telling me what I want to hear.”

We have been promised a greater land than the physical region given to the nation of Israel. Our Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey, will surpass anything we can conceive.  On this earth we are wandering as through a wilderness.  What madness could overtake us to look at what is promised and instead say to God, “Why not give us this as our Promised Land instead?”  Let’s not be so arrogant to think that we know what God should give us.  Instead, simply have quiet, receptive faith.

At the end of the week that began with Palm Sunday Jesus was betrayed by those he had angered and brought to his death. But praise the Lord!  That death was used by God as the means to accomplish the things he had promised.  Although people want certain earthly things (the overthrow of this or that government figure, certain rights or authority, the message and teaching we want to hear), God provides far greater things.  Through the death of his Son, he accomplished our eternal salvation, won for us a heavenly inheritance as sons of God.

Faith in this Savior, the reception of God’s grace for the eternal life won for us, that is the single greatest blessing we should seek from God—Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). Through patient faith in God, he blesses us eternally, and also temporally, in ways we may never even expect.  Have confidence in the blessed fact that God loves us and will care for us as he sees fit in his omniscience and omnipotence.

Dear Lord, we trust in your promises, and we know that you will fulfill them for us. Let us not be distracted by other things, our selfish wants and lusts.  Instead, lead us to ever stronger faith in you, not pride or arrogance of ourselves.  You have promised us eternal life on account of your Son’s sacrificial death and glorious resurrection from the dead.  Give us what you have promised.  We ask it in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #49 – An Exceedingly Good Land

Feasting with God #49

“An Exceedingly Good Land”

Text: Numbers 14:6-11, 21-23

6And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes 7and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy out, is an exceedingly good land.  8If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey.  9Only do not rebel against the Lord.  And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us.  Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”  10Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones.  But the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel.  11And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me?  And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them…?  21But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, 22none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, 23shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers.  And none of those who despised me shall see it.”

“Well, that was dumb.”  I remember thinking that when, as a student in Sunday School, I first learned about Israel’s wandering in the wilderness.  40 years of suffering and yearning and hungering could have been avoided, if only they had trusted in God.  They made a really dumb mistake.  Joshua and Caleb even tried pointing out how little they  had to worry about: “And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us.  Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”  St. Paul repeats this concept in the New Testament: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).  Joshua and Caleb tried to tell the Israelites, “God has promised this land to us: with him on our side, we’ll eat our enemies alive!

But their message of hope was met with intense hostility: “Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones.”  Human nature was taking over.  Rather than trust God, believe his promises, and stop relying on themselves, these men preferred to fear, and, blinded by that fear, wanted escape.  They thought that Joshua and Caleb were leading them into certain death.

But it really was dumb.  As God himself said, “And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?”  These people had seen the miracles Moses performed; they had witnessed the ten plagues firsthand; they had been given water from a rock and received miraculous quail and manna from heaven.  Nevertheless, even after all these things, they thought, “Sure, God did that, but he can’t do this.”  Because of their unbelief, they were cursed to wander through the wilderness for 40 years, while the rebellious generation died out and a new, believing generation rose up in their place.

Think again of Paul’s encouragement to rely on the Lord: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” and as proof, he goes on: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will ne not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31-32).  Like the Israelites, we have witnessed the providence of God already: to them he gave deliverance, nourishment, grace; to us he gave his Son the Deliverer, the Nourishment of his Word and Sacraments, and the Grace of Salvation and Eternal Life.  For the Israelites, what they had already received should have assured them that they would receive what was promised.  For us, what we have already received should assure us of what is promised.

Israel’s 40-year sojourn through the wilderness is one inspiration for the season of Lent—a 40-day sojourn through repentance.  At the end of Israel’s journey, they came to the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey.  At the end of our Lenten journey, we come to Easter, the Resurrection, a time of joy for God’s eternal gifts overflowing from the empty tomb.  As Israel’s voyage brought about the death of the old, sinful generation and the rising of the new, faithful generation, our voyage of repentance puts to death the Old sinful Adam of our flesh and gives rise to the new man made in the image of Christ.  Lent should be a spiritual exercise in letting go of our selves and our doubts and our fears, placing our trust wholly into the arms of God.  Humble yourselves this season, and be like the father of the child with an unclean spirit, falling before Jesus and crying out: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).  Our God is faithful to forgive and to give us promised salvation.

Lord, we believe; help our unbelief!  Keep us from being overcome with the weight of the world, and instead help us to cast all our cares on you, and be assured that you have borne all our burdens and will give us every good thing.  Lead us to daily repentance and sorrow over sin, so that daily we might receive your forgiveness, all on the basis of the passionate death of your dear Son, and his glorious resurrection from the dead.  In his name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #48 – To Eat or Not to Eat

Feasting with God #48

“To Eat or Not to Eat”

Text: Luke 7:33-35

33“For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’  34The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him!  A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  35Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”

Hard to please.  That doesn’t just describe the Pharisees.  When it gets down to it, when we’re talking about spiritual things, that describes humanity.  We’re all hard to please.

There are certainly some people who will claim to be laid back in their spirituality—in Christianity or in other religions.  The New Age movement is famous for its all-inclusive, pluralistic attitudes (“Coexist!”), and so those within it would certainly claim that they’re not hard to please.  But they are, just in a different way than they think.

Are you hard to please?  Think spiritually, now.  Think of your church.  Would you complain if your pastor completely changed the current layout of the sanctuary, getting rid of the altar and pulpit, and instead preached from a folding chair?  Or would you feel out of sorts if the service was twice as long with twice as much singing?  Or would you be displeased if the pastor started to chant in Latin instead of English?

Maybe none of these would bother you; maybe they all would.  But if something about your religion or spirituality would bother you, ask yourself this question: Do I dislike it because of personal preference, or because it’s actually false teaching or harmful to the faith?

When Jesus walked the earth, at times he was greeted with excitement.  But once he started to preach, pointing out that he wasn’t going to do just exactly what the people wanted him to do, he was hated.  In his sermon from Luke’s Gospel, he pointed out the hypocrisy that these people were demonstrating: they complained about John the Baptist’s preaching (even though he preached the truth) by pointing out his eating habits and concluding that he was a demoniac.  Then when Jesus came (also preaching the truth), they didn’t like that either and pointed out his eating habits, concluding that he was a glutton, a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.

When you complain about things you don’t like, is it because those things are actually wrong?  Or are they just not what you expected, not what you’d prefer?  Here’s a radical thought: God doesn’t care if our sanctuaries have pulpits and altars or folding chairs and stage lights.  God doesn’t care if we sing something with a traditional German or Norwegian tune or something that sounds like a rock song.  God doesn’t care if our prayers are focused in traditional Latin or in English that everyone speaks at once.  Here’s what God cares about: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).  God wants our worship services to be places where we foster true belief and true confession; and how does that come about?

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).  Let the Word be taught, in truth and purity (and this means, if there’s Latin, let there be a translation into the language of the people; Latin itself is not evil, but “If any speak in a tongue…let someone interpret,” 1 Cor. 14:27).  “Baptism…now saves you” (1 Pet. 3:21).  Let the washing of water with the Word be practiced rightly in the church.  “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…?  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 10:16, 11:26).  Let the Sacrament of the Altar be celebrated in a worthy manner.

The Word and Sacraments—we call these the means of grace, for it is through them, and through nothing else, that God communicates his grace, forgiveness, faith, and salvation to people—these are the marks of the Church.  If they are uncorrupted, then the true Church is there.  If they are there and unimpeded, what can you complain about?

Jesus concludes here with a proverb: “Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”  Similarly, we say, “Time will tell.”  The validity of Jesus and his message was proved as time went on: he was led to the cross, where he suffered willingly, never speaking a word to stop it.  And then, three days later, God raised him from the dead to stamp his divine seal on the salvation Christ won.  We have seen it proven.  Therefore we can be certain in what the truth is, as God has revealed it.

Dear Lord, let us never become distracted by what we expect things to be.  Don’t let our personal preferences stand in the way of the pure, uncorrupted preaching of your Word for the salvation of souls.  Instead, teach us your Word, by your Holy Spirit enlightening our hearts, to create in us ever firmer faith in your Son, Jesus Christ, who died to take away the sins of the world, in whose resurrection we are confident of our own resurrections, and in whose name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.