Beauty and Ugliness – A Way to Share the Gospel

Last week, Margaret and I went to the celebration of ministry retreat in San Antonio, Texas. The
seminary organizes these retreats so that our synod’s pastors can be strengthened and
encouraged to continue in ministry. While we were there, we took the opportunity to get our
caricature drawn by an artist on the San Antonio River Walk. It was a fun experience that we
had never tried before. The artist drew Margaret first. As she posed and the artist drew, they
struck up a conversation. It started with typical small talk. The artist asked Margaret what
brought us to San Antonio, what we did for a living, and about family. Margaret reciprocated by
asking the artist about his art, how his day was going, and his other hobbies and passions.
Through this conversation, she found out not only did he have a passion for art, but he had a
passion for literature. He enjoyed writing horror fiction and was working on a novel about
zombies in space. As I listened to their conversation I was struck with an idea about how I was
going to present the gospel to this man: beauty and ugliness. And then Margaret set me up
perfectly to share the gospel with him. She by asked if he knew where he was going when he
died. He said he wasn’t sure. He indicated he was an agnostic. Then it was my turn.
Since Margaret had already laid the groundwork, I got right into it. I asked this man to clarify if
he believed in a god. And he said, “I’m an agnostic. I’m sure being a pastor you know what that
means. I’m open to ideas but I’m just not sure. I often pray and I literally start by saying,
‘whoever is listening out there.’” I responded by asking if he would be willing to listen to a
reason why there might be a God. He said, “Sure, go ahead.” I pointed to the picture he was
drawing and said, “When you look at a piece of art and see how beautiful and intricate it is,
with all its colors and prospective, you automatically assume someone with an artistic sense
designed and created that piece of art. Well, when you look at the beauty and intricacy of
creation you can make the same assumption. You can assume that someone with an artistic
sense designed and created this world.” I then acknowledge to him that it is either that or this
world just popped into existence by itself. Those are really the only two options. Either
someone or something created all this or they didn’t.
From there, I transitioned to talking about ugliness. I said that although we live in a beautiful
world there is a lot of ugliness in it. There is selfishness, hurt, pain, wars, etc. From there, I
asked him if I could tell him a story about Jesus. He seemed a little reluctant at first. But, after I
said, “It’s just a story, you can take it or leave it,” he consented. So, I told him the story of Jesus
healing a deaf and mute man. You can find this account in Mark 7:31-37. I would encourage you
to read it! In the account, Jesus dealt with a man who had never been able to communicate. His
ability to connect with other humans was hindered by his disability. But Jesus found a way to
connect and communicate with this man despite his disability. Jesus took this man aside, so it
was just the two of them. He gave him individual attention. Then, Jesus used his actions to
show this man that he was going to heal him and this healing came from God. Jesus put his
fingers in the man’s ears, He touched the man’s tongue, then he looked up to heaven, sighed
and said, “Be opened!” And the man was healed. He was able to speak and hear from then on.
After Jesus healed this man, the crowd reacts by saying, “He has done everything well.” But another way you can translate the Greek word for “well” is “beautifully.” The crowd said Jesus
has done everything beautifully.
After telling this story, I told this man how Jesus came to bring beauty back to His creation.
Jesus took all the ugliness of this world on himself including all the ugliness we contribute to
this world and he experienced the horrible consequences of the ugliness by dying on the cross
(remember this guy liked horror stories). Jesus did this so that he could give us the most
beautiful thing ever – the privilege of seeing God face to face in heaven.
The artist appreciated me sharing the message with him. He reiterated that he was a “pretty
open person.” The message of beauty and ugliness seemed to resonate with him. After he was
finished with our caricature, I gave him my card and invited him to checkout our social media
content if he ever wanted to learn more about Jesus. Then we went on our way.
I share this story to illustrate that God has given us many different metaphors or pictures we
can use to share the gospel. We often use the justification metaphor in our evangelism. With
this metaphor we explain we were guilty before God. But Jesus took the punishment and
because of that God was able to declare us not guilty and let us go free. This is an excellent way
to share the gospel! But it is not the only message God has equipped us with. When I was
sharing the message of Jesus with an artist I thought using beauty and ugliness as a picture of
sin and grace might be more effective. Maybe you can use this approach with someone in your


Calm in the Midst of the Storm

Devotion – Mark 4:35-41

Last week life was a little stormy for me. I don’t mean that there were literal storms in the
weather. I mean figuratively I was going through some storms. My entire family got sick with a
cold and we had to start planning and preparing to move to Vancouver. Anytime you move or
switch jobs things become a little turbulent. Even though my life felt a little stormy last week, I
know there are people out there who are facing much larger dangerous storms. I know people
who are going through the dangerous storm of cancer. I know people who are going through
the dark storm of grief at the death of a loved one. Not to mention the people of Ukraine who
are going through the destructive storm of war. Compared to some of these storms the storms
in my life seem more like a little drizzle.
But whether our storms are big or little the fact of the matter is we all go through various
storms in life. And these storms have the ability to terrify us. How do we make it through the
storms in life? How can we have calm through the storm? Let’s look at a time when Jesus’
disciples were going through a literal storm and see why they could have calm through the
storm. We will see we can have calm through the storms of our lives for the same reasons.
Mark 4:35-41
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”
Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were
also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat,
so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The
disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died
down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves
obey him!”
The disciples were sailing through a literal storm in this account and they were afraid for their
lives. But they had no reason to be afraid for a number of reasons. First, they had no reasons to
be afraid because Jesus was the one who set the course. Jesus had set the course when he said,
“Let us go over to the other side.” When Jesus is the one who sets the course, you know you
are on the correct course even when the storms come. Second, they had no reason to be afraid
because Jesus was with them. As they were fighting the storm Jesus was modeling complete
calm by sleeping in the stern of the boat. He was sailing with them through the storm and he
was not afraid. Third, they were able to reach out to him. Because he was with them all they
had to do was call to him and ask for help. Fourth, they had no reason to be afraid because
Jesus cared about them. When they woke him and said, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown”
he responded with help. Of course, he cared if they drowned! And he was willing to use his
mighty power to save them. Lastly, they had no reason to be afraid because Jesus has power
over the storm. Jesus simply told the wind and the waves to be quite and still and they had to
obey. Jesus had power over the storm.
We can have courage as we face the metaphorical storms in our lives for the same reasons.
First, we can have courage because Jesus sets the course. Jesus is directing our lives so we
know no matter what kind of storms come, we are on the right course. Even if the storms are
furious and terrifying. Second, we can have courage because Jesus is with us through the storm.
The Bible tells us that Christ dwells in us. Jesus also said he would be with us always until the
very end of the age. Third, we can have courage because we are able to reach out to him. Jesus
encourages us to call upon him in the day of trouble. We can go to Jesus in prayer for any and
every situation. Fourth we can be courageous because we know that he cares about us! When
we go to him in prayer he doesn’t treat us with ambivalence. No, he cares about the problems
and storms in our lives. He does care if we drown. And finally, we can have courage because
Jesus has the power to calm the storm. Before Jesus ascended into heaven he asserted that all
authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him. There is nothing in this life outside of
his control. There is nothing in this life that he does not have power over and that he cannot
command to do as he pleases.
So, what is the storm in your life right now? If you are reading this, take a minute to call out to
your Savior. As you pray to him, remember you can be courageous because he has set the
course, he is with you, he cares about you, and he is powerful enough to calm the storm. Amen.


Be Strong and Very Courageous

In the movie Brave Heart, the Scotts are lined up across a plain from the army of the tyrannical British. The Scottish soldiers start to realize that they don’t want to die for greedy Scottish nobles and so they start to leave the battlefield. But then William Wallas played by Mel Gibson rides in front of the ranks and gives a stringing speech, encouraging the men to stand and fight. The essence of his message is that this is their one chance to win freedom! This type of scene is typical in movies. A rag tag group of fighters is facing an army on the battlefield and the hero gives an epic speech to make them strong and courageous. It makes for good television. 

In movies it seems like things always turn out alright for the heroes. But that is not the case in real life. In real life there are very real dangers and the heroes are not guaranteed to win. If you were standing with the soldiers of Ukraine near the border with Russia, what would you say to make them strong and courageous? If you were driving a relative to a surgery or to their first chemo treatment, what would you say to make them strong and courageous? If you were talking with a friend who lost their job and was about to lose their house, what would you say to make them strong and courageous? In these situations, there are ample reasons to feel weak and afraid. Things might not turn out alright. The Ukrainian soldier might get killed. The surgery or chemo might not be successful. Your friend could very well go through financial ruin.

Joshua had every reason to feel weak and afraid. Moses had just died and now the people looked to Joshua to bring them into the promised land. Joshua was supposed to take a rag tag group of Israelites and conquer the land of Canaan. The Bible tells us the Canaanites were huge warlike people, they had walled cities and iron weapons. How were a bunch of nomad shepherds with no military training supposed to stand up to that? Joshua had every reason to feel weak and afraid. And so God went to Joshua and gave him a rousing speech telling him to be strong and courageous. 

And it is very important to see why God tells Joshua he can be strong and courageous. God Tells Joshua, “No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them” – Joshua 1:5-6. God tells Joshua he can be strong and courageous because God will be with him. God promises Joshua that he will never leave him nor forsake him. And God gave Joshua a special promise that he would have success. Joshua could be strong and courageous because he had the Lord and his promises. 

Now we don’t have a special promise from God guaranteeing we will have victory when we face our trials and troubles. But we do still have God and his promises. And that is why we can be strong and courageous. God has promised us he is with us always. That means we can be strong and courageous because we are never alone. We have a powerful ally who is with us. God has promised us he will forgive all our sins. That means we can be strong and courageous when we face temptation because we are forgiven for the times we have failed in the past. That forgiveness motivates us to resist temptation in the present. God has promised us that he will give us eternal life. That means we can be strong and courageous even when faced with a trial or trouble that might take our life. God has promised he will use troubles for our good. That means we can be strong and courageous even when a trial or trouble weakens us or causes us to suffer. 

Be strong and courageous. Why? Because you have God and his promises.  


Have You Been Tossing and Turning?

Have you been tossing and turning? – Psalm 4 

When was the last time you were lying in bed tossing and turning because you couldn’t fall asleep? What were you thinking about? What was it that was causing you worry and distress? Were you worried because your child had not come home yet from an outing? Did you just get a bill and were trying to figure out how you could pay it? Were you thinking about your health or your career? Did you have some big event the next day that was occupying your mind?

Sleepless nights filled with worry and concern have struck nearly every human being at some point. I imagine King David was having such a night before he wrote Psalm 4. If you read the Psalm 4 you find out that David was in distress. He was concerned about the people’s worship of false Gods. He was worried about the people turning against him. He was worried about sin. He was apprehensive when considering the future, wondering whether the people of Israel would prosper or not. 

So, I imagine David was tossing and turning in bed thinking about all these things. Then, finally, he decides  to get up and pour his heart out to God. And when he pours out his heart to God he finally is able to find some peace. 

I just love the last verse of Psalm 4, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” David to finally able to get some sleep because he focused on the fact that the Lord alone caused him to dwell in safety. David had seen this first hand. God had preserved him when he fought the giant Goliath. God had preserved him when he was running for his life from King Saul. God had preserved him when his son Absalom was trying to overthrow him. It wasn’t David’s own strength or intelligence that got in through these situations. It was the Lord. The Lord alone. The Lord caused him to dwell in safety. And remembering this fact finally gave him some peace and allowed him to lie down and sleep. 

So again, what is it that is keeping you up at night? What is causing you to toss and turn? Whatever it is remember this. The Lord alone causes you to dwell in safety. And here are some proofs: God has preserved you up until this point brining you through every illness trial and trouble; God has provided you a savior to rescue you from sin death and the devil so you could dwell in safety with him forever; God has provided you with his word so you might know him; So that you would know he who watches over you, protects you, provides for you, and Loves you. So, in peace lie down and sleep. You dwell in safety. 


Let Your Gentleness be Evident to All

Last week I had a short time between meetings in the evening and quickly ran to Subway to get
some dinner. As I was standing in line I saw this sign. One of my first jobs in high school was
working at a sandwich shop so I didn’t have to imagine what kind of behavior had prompted
Subway to put this sign up. I remember getting someone’s order wrong and being yelled at by a
customer because of it.
This sign reminded me of a verse from Philippians, “Let your gentleness be evident to all” –
Philippians 4:5. The word all is very significant. We are not supposed to let our gentleness be
evident only to our family, not only to those we like, not only to those who are of a higher
status than us. We are supposed to let our gentleness be evident to all.
You see, our Christianity is not something we only practice on Sundays. Our faith in Jesus is
something that affects every aspect of our lives. We are called Christians because we are
followers of Christ. That means if we call ourselves Christians we are representing Christ in
every interaction of our lives. And Christ would have us be gentle with others. Even toward the
teenager who got your sandwich order wrong at Subway.
Sadly, we all have failed to let our gentleness be evident to all. We have gotten short and
snapped at our family. We have said unkind words to customer service representatives.
Perhaps in our driving we have let our road rage be evident to all rather than our gentleness.
And that is why our Savior came on Christmas. God became one of us on Christmas day. He
became one of us so that just as his mother wrapped him gently in her arms, he too could wrap
us gently in a hug and say, “I forgive you.” I forgive you for all the times you have been harsh
with your neighbor. I am gentle with you. Now go and show that gentleness to others.
It is easy to lose patience in the hustle and bustle of preparing for Christmas. So remember the
gentleness of Christ. He was gentle with you, forgiving you of your sins. Therefore, let your
gentleness be evident to all.


Like Father, Like Son

I was doing some exercises in my home last week and my daughter came and started watching me. Then, she started imitating the exercise I was doing. She was excited that she and daddy were “getting strong muscles together.” Scenes like this are a common experience with every family in the world, because children imitate their parents. That is how they learn. They are constantly observing and imitating. So, it is no surprise that children often end up with behavior patterns and outlooks similar to their parents. And it is because of this that we have phrases such as “Like Father, like Son,” “Like Mother, Like Daughter,” and “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Often this similarity can be a joy for parents as they see their children acting just like them. Other times we wish our children hadn’t picked up a habit from us. I hope my daughter doesn’t pick up my propensity to worry or some of my other sins and flaws!

Thankfully, there was one Son who was like his Father in every way. And there were no bad habits for this Son to imitate. When Jesus spoke of his relationship with God, He spoke of it like the relationship between a father and a son. Jesus says in John 5:19-21 “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. In this verse Jesus says he imitates the Father perfectly. In fact, the son “can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing.” This means it was the Father’s will to save you. Jesus is the perfect expression and manifestation of the Father’s will. So by looking at Jesus’ work, we know it was the Father’s will to save us. It was his will to rescue us from death and give us life. We know that was his will because that is what the son did! And after all, “Like Father, like Son.” 

So, if you are ever wondering about how God feels about you or what his will is for your life, all you have to do is look at the Son. Because the Son is God and is the perfect manifestation of the Father’s will. And when we look at the Son, we find out that it is God’s will to love us, give us life, and to use us to glorify his name. Amen.


You’re a Zombie! But you won’t be forever.

You’re a Zombie! But you won’t be forever.

Our culture (or at least a subset of our culture) is obsessed with zombies. This point is easy to prove when you look at the list of movies, TV shows, and books about zombies that have come out in the past two decades: World War Z, The Walking Dead, iZombie, Zombiland, I am Legend, etc. This is just a short selection of the Zombie entertainment available! Considering our culture’s obsession with zombies, I thought I would use zombies as a metaphor for different states of a human life: your life before Christ, your life with Christ, and your life at the resurrection. 

First, we have your life before Christ. Without Christ your life is like that of a zombie. Think of a zombie in The Walking Dead. In The Walking Dead, the zombies are alive in a sense. But they are only alive because a virus has reanimated their corpse. These virus infected beings have no real will or consciousness of their own. They are driven only by an instinct to kill and consume. They are an object worthy of contempt and disgust and the best thing to do with these zombies is to put a bullet in their head before they hurt anyone. This is similar to our state of existence before coming to faith in Christ. The apostle Paul says in Ephesians chapter two that before Christ people are dead in their transgressions and sins. They are Zombies! The walking dead! their only desire is to “gratify the cravings of their flesh” (Ephesians 2:3). And in this state people are “by nature deserving of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). Is there any hope! Yes. 

Despite our wretched zombie state God loved us. Like Dr. Robert Neville (Will Smith) in I am Legend, he worked doggedly for a cure. And a cure was created by Jesus the son of God. This cure is delivered to us by the Holy Spirit using the syringe of the Means of Grace, God’s word and Sacrament. Once we have been given this cure we are made alive! God says this in Ephesians 2, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” 

This brings us to our second state of human existence, being alive in Christ. By giving us faith God has made us alive. For this state of existence think of the zombie “R” in the movie Warm Bodies. R is a zombie who begins to regain his humanity. He starts to like and desire good things like love, beauty, and music. He fights against his zombie nature to become more and more human. This is what our life in Christ on this earth is like. Christ has made us alive and out of thankfulness for that gift we desire to live a life according to his word. We desire good and godly things. However, we are still plagued by what we call “the flesh.” We still have our old sinful zombie flesh that desires to be its sinful zombie self. And so, we have to fight against that nature. To fight against that nature we need to keep getting doses of the cure. We need to return to God’s word regularly so our sinful nature doesn’t take over again. This struggle doesn’t stop until we pass away. But that is when our life as a zombie ends. 

After we die our souls go to be with God. Then, on the last day our bodies are resurrected by God. And God will not resurrect zombies. He is going to resurrect us and restore us to our full human state. We will be resurrected the way God intended humanity to be all the way back at the garden of Eden, created in his image glorious and beautiful. 

Until that day, my zombie brothers and sisters, keep fighting against your zombie nature. Come and keep getting doses of the cure, Jesus. That cure is only found in God’s word. 


Americans demand their rights, but Christians yield their rights.

Americans demand their rights, but Christians yield their rights

We are guaranteed certain rights under the Constitution like the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, and the freedom to assemble. In the Declaration of Independence, the founding fathers declared that we have certain unalienable rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The thirteen colonies felt they were justified in rebelling against the British government because, in their view, these rights were being trampled upon and taken away. 

Still to this day, we Americans like to talk about our rights. We like to exercise those rights and we demand those rights. And we still have this sense that it is right to rebel if our rights are being taken away and trampled upon. This spirit of demanding our rights has prevented the U.S. government from becoming too controlling. And I will be the first to admit that I am glad I live in a country where certain freedoms and rights are guaranteed. It is the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech that allows me to publish this content on Facebook!

However, as Christians, we have to be careful that this spirit of demanding our rights doesn’t creep into our individual outlook and our interactions with our neighbor. Because after all, we are followers of Christ first; we are Americans second. And Christians don’t demand their rights; they yield their rights. 

Let me prove that point with a few Scripture passages. 

Romans 12:10 – “Honor one another above yourselves.”

Romans 12:17 – “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.” 

Ephesians 5:21 – “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” 

All of these passages encourage us to consider others before we consider ourselves. And that includes honoring and submitting to others rather than demanding our rights. The apostle Paul provides an excellent example of how this is carried out in daily life. He wrote to the Corinthians:

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. – 1 Cor. 19-23

In that section the apostle Paul talks about yielding his rights for the sake of sharing the gospel with others. When he was around Jews, he became like a Jew. That means he would do things like not eat pork, refrain from working on the Sabbath, and offer sacrifices at the Temple. Paul had every right to eat pork, work on Saturdays and abandon the Old Testament sacrificial practices. But when he was around Jews, he yielded his rights so that he could “win the Jews” and “possibly save some.” He yielded his rights so that the Jews would be comfortable around him and so that he could share the gospel with them. On the other hand, when he was around “those not having the Law” (aka Gentiles) he became like one not having the law. So, when he was with Gentiles he felt free to eat pork, work on Saturdays, and refrain from offering sacrifices. Paul’s example shows that Christians do not demand their rights and throw their freedoms in the face of others. Rather we put others first and yield the rights and freedoms we have if it will help us share Christ with someone else. 

For example, If I was trying to share Jesus with a group of Muslim people, I might refrain from drinking alcohol. I have every right to drink alcohol – it is not a sin. But in the Muslim religion drinking alcohol is forbidden. So, if I insisted on drinking alcohol while I was with Muslims I would probably offend them. And that offence would become a hindrance in sharing the gospel with them. In order to show I love them and make them feel comfortable, I would refrain from drinking alcohol. Christians yield their rights for the sake of the gospel. 

Ultimately, we have this yielding spirit because it is the same spirit Christ had. Jesus did not win us salvation by a show of force, by rebelling against the authority, and demanding freedom from sin. No, he won us salvation by yielding all his rights. Let’s look at three rights we hold deer that Jesus gave up to save us: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

When Jesus came to this earth he yielded his right to pursue happiness. His mission on earth was not to win himself an enjoyable life. Rather his mission was to live perfectly keeping all God’s laws so that he could give that perfect life to you and me. 

When Jesus was on this earth, he gave up his right to liberty. Although he could have called down legions of angels to defend him when the soldiers came to arrest him, he allowed himself to be unjustly arrested. He yielded his right to liberty. 

Then he yielded his right to his body and his dignity. He allowed himself to be insulted, spat upon, and stripped naked. He allowed himself to be beaten multiple times. He gave up his right to justice and a fair trial, saying nothing when they brought false accusations against him. And finally, he gave up his right to life. He gave it up by allowing them to crucify him. 

Jesus yielded all these rights so he could save you and me. He did it so that God the Father would yield his right to wrath and justice – and instead say, “Your sins are forgiven.” 

Americans like to demand their rights. But we are Christians first, Americans second. Christ yielded his rights, and so do we. 


We Won


Alright, I need a little bit of audience participation to get us started. I want you to remember back to February 2011 when the Packers last won the Super Bowl. After the Packers’ victory raise your hand if you heard someone exclaim, “We won!” Maybe some of you exclaimed “we won” after the packers won. But isn’t that interesting? I don’t see any Packer players in the pews this morning. So, I doubt any of us contributed any more than our moral support to the Packers victory. But still, because the Packers are our team, the victory gets applied to us. Because this team represents the state of Wisconsin, their victory is our victory. And this happens at other levels as well. I bet some of you parents have been sitting at a high school sporting event and after a Brillion victory you exclaimed, “We won!” Even though you were just sitting in the stands. We even do this when talking about our country. Back on September 13, 2003 American special forces captured Saddam Hussain. After the operation, America’s chief administrator in Iraq walked up to the podium at a press conference and said the now famous words, “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him.” I imagine back when America made it to the moon back in 1969, people would say we beat the Russians to the moon. Those astronauts’ victory is our victory. We won.

Sadly, the reverse also applies. When one of our representatives loses whether it’s a sport’s team, our military, or a politician we can say we lost. We feel the shame and the effect of the loss as well. The loss applies to us. Their loss is our loss. And so, brothers and sisters I have to tell you about a big loss that applies to you. We lost, brothers and sisters. We lost to a powerful and evil enemy named Satan. And this loss happened thousands of years ago. We heard about it in our reading for today. Our ancient foe, the devil, came to Adam and Eve, spoke his lies to them, and they rebelled against God. They lost. And brothers and sisters, because they lost, we lost. St. Paul explained that in our second lesson for today. Let me just reference one verse from that lesson, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—.” What that means brothers and sisters, is Adam’s loss is our loss. We lost because Adam lost. Team humanity was defeated all the way back at the beginning by Satan. We failed to be the wonderful creation of God. We lost.


            But even if Adam’s loss didn’t apply to us, we wouldn’t be doing any better because Satan has beat each and every one of us individually as well. He has beaten us with the same tricks he used at the beginning with Adam and Eve. Why would he use anything else? They seem to work pretty well. This is how he does it: usually when Satan attacks us it starts off with creating doubt. Back in the garden, he said to Eve, “Did God really say you couldn’t eat from the tree? You won’t die. God is holding out on you.” Satan starts by getting us to doubt the goodness and love of our God. Now for us, often this happens when something isn’t going quite right in our lives. It can even be something little. Let’s say an appliance breaks down in our house. We begin to think, “Come on God, what is your deal? Why me? Why today.” And with something as little as an appliance breaking, Satan sows the seeds of doubt in our minds and gets us to question our good God who provides.


            Then this doubt can turn into some arrogant testing. We say, “Alright God, prove it. You say you love me and care for me. I’d like to see some good things happening here in my life, God.


            And when we are in that state, Satan goes in for the kill. He says, “Hmm, seems like God isn’t good. Seems like God doesn’t care for you. You should choose something else to serve. Why not try money? God can’t seem to fix all your problems. But if you just had more money, they would go away. God isn’t good, but money is. Go and dedicate your life to money. Or how about pleasure? God doesn’t care about you. He is not easing the discomfort for you. But if you choose pleasure at least you can be soothed and comforted for a little while. Or how about entertainment? There’s is an endless stream of content on Netflix. hey are coming out with new videogames every year. God will leave you and forsake you. But Netflix and video games never will.” And by this process Satan gets us to bend the knee to something other than our God. And when we submit to these things, really we are submitting to Satan.


            We lost, brothers and sisters. We lost at the very beginning when Adam was defeated for team humanity, and we have lost in our own lives when we fall for Satan’s lies and schemes. We lost.  Humanity’s score is zero wins and billions of losses. Satan stands at the undefeated world champion.


            Or rather I should say he stood as the undefeated world champion. And now I have another story to tell you. A story about the contender God picked and trained to defeat the undefeated Champ. You know his name. His name is Jesus.


            Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.


            This account from Jesus’ life happens right after his baptism. At his baptism God marked Jesus out as the contender for all humanity when he said, “This is my son whom I love. With him I am well pleased.” So right after that, Jesus is led by God out into the wilderness to fight the devil. And can we appreciate the condition that Jesus is in? It says he had been fasting for 40 days and forty nights. Not only that, but he is in the wilderness. This is a picture of the Judean wilderness. It’s nothing but dry rocks and dirt. No one lives there because it is uninhabitable. I don’t know about you, but I find it much easier to resist temptation when I am well fed, comfortable, and surrounded by people supporting me. Well, when Jesus has to face the devil’s temptations, he is starving, in a hostile climate, and he is all alone. Things seem stacked against our champion from the start. Let’s see how he does.


            The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” So, in the first round of the fight, Satan comes at Jesus with his age-old tactic. He tries to get Jesus to doubt God’s love and providence. Jesus is starving, so Satan tells him, “Well, aren’t you the son of God? Your heavenly Father certainly isn’t providing for you, so why don’t you serve yourself? Tell these stones to become bread.” But the champion is not tricked. He tells Satan that he will trust in his Father to provide when he says, “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Round one goes to Jesus.


            So Satan tries a different tactic. Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” In his second attack, Satan tried to get Jesus to test God. Satan says, “Oh, you trust God so much. Well let’s see. Why don’t you jump off of this cliff let’s see if your loving and gracious God will rescue you. Didn’t he say he would?” But the champion of humanity overcomes this temptation too. He says, “Satan, it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ I don’t need to put God to the test, Satan. I simply take him at his word and trust that he will protect and provide.” Round two goes to Jesus.


            After being beaten back twice, Satan goes for the kill in his third attempt. Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” This is Satan’s strongest punch; his most deadly weapon. Let’s remind ourselves what kind of life is in store for Jesus. Well Jesus is going to be a traveling teacher. Jesus once said the son of man has no place to lay his head. He lived without many of the blessings of home. For a while he will enjoy some popularity. But then the people will turn on him, and he will die the most shameful death the Romans could come up with: crucifixion. What is in store for Jesus is a life of pain, rejection, and shame. So now Satan says, “You don’t have to have any of that. You can have a life of honor, glory, and fame. You do not have to die on a cross. You can live as a king. All you have to do is bow down and worship me.” Up until this point in history every human being has fallen. The fate of humanity rests on this moment. Will God’s champion fail?  Away from me, Satan! for it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only,’” and with those words the devil is defeated. He has to leave the Son of Man and angels, come and applaud the new champion and humanity’s savior.


Brothers and sisters, Jesus won. Jesus won where all of us have failed. And his victory is your victory. The apostle Paul explained it this way in our second lesson for today, Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. Brothers and sisters, we won. We won because our champion won. He defeated the devil for us. We are not the defeated. We are now the victorious. We won. Brothers and sisters, today is the first Sunday in the season of Lent. And the reason we ponder this story at the beginning of Lent is because during Lent, Jesus fights the devil again. And it is going to seem dire. Jesus is going to look like he is defeated. It is going to look like Satan has won when the son of God is put to death. But spoiler alert. Just like in this account, during Lent Jesus is going to win. So, let’s revel in that victory for just a second. Repeat after me, “Get away from me Satan.” (repeat) “Jesus won” (repeat). “You lost” (repeat). Amen.


What do we do with our sinful thoughts?

During seminary, just about every seminary student gets a part time job. And there are a few places around the seminary that will regularly hire Seminary students. One of these places was called Scott Pump. They assemble water pumps. So, I called them up and asked if there were any positions available and if I could up an application. They said sure. So later that week I drove over and one of the foremen gave me a tour. And after the tour he said, “Well, that’s the place. When do you want to start? And I was a little taken aback by that I hadn’t even filled out an application. I was expecting to go through all the rigmarole. Where you fill out an application, and then you have an interview, and then the human resource person calls all your references. But there was none of that. It was just, “Here’s the place when do you want to start.” Now the reason that happened is because Seminary students who had worked there over the years had built up a good reputation for the Seminary. When considering seminary students the company assumed that these were hardworking, dependable, young men who told the truth. And so when I asked for a job I was given one with pretty much no questions asked.


            But now I want you to imagine something with me. This is kind of ridiculous but stick with me. I want you to imagine that every seminary student had a big flat screen TV floating above their head broadcasting every thought that they had. Do you think seminary students would have such a good reputation if everyone could see what they were thinking? How about you? Would you like to have a flat screen TV floating over your head broadcasting every thought that goes thought your head? No, I don’t think any of us would want that. Because every single one of us has horrible thoughts. Many times, we can keep these thoughts inside, but sometimes they come out with horrible words and horrible actions. But those words and actions always start with a thought, with a desire, with an intention. Well I have some bad news for you brothers and sisters. We can hide our thoughts from others. We can lock them up and vow to never let them out thought words and actions. But in our relationship with God we might was well have a big flat screen TV floating over our heads broadcasting our thoughts. Here are some bible passages that prove that. Psalm 139:2, Jeremiah 17:10, Matthew 9:4


            So according to those passages our thoughts are as clear to God as if we had a flat screen TV floating above our heads broadcasting our thoughts to him. So what does God see on our TV. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell…


            The shows we are broad casting to God are not rated PG. Our reading says that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgement. In 1 John it says the same thing in even more simple words. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. – John 3:15. Both of these passages equate the emotion and thought of hate with murder. So, on your TV God watches you planning your actions taking the murder weapon engaging in violence and standing over the body of your victim with blood on your hands. God sees murder. And what is God’s punishment for murder? Prison His prison is called hell.


            Murder isn’t the only programing we broadcast to God Jesus goes on to say this: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.


            So maybe outwardly we are perceived as modest and chaste. But our TV broadcasts a different story to God. All our lewd and lustful thoughts are displayed to him in their graphic detail. Even the ones we are too ashamed to even mention. And even if we gouged out both our eyes and cut of both our hands it wouldn’t stop us from having lustful thoughts. And because of that, the labels of modest and chaste don’t apply to us. The label adulterer does.


            You know just this past week I was talking with two different people about Jesus. And both of these people asked the same question just in a little different way. In reaction to my message about Jesus they said, “But Phil, what about the really bad people who do horrible things? will god let them into heaven?” Well I hope God can let people who do really bad things into heaven. Because the way God sees it the murders and adulterers aren’t just those bad people out there who we hear about in the news. No, this room right here right now is filled with murderers and adulterers including the guy up front.


            So how is Jesus going to save us from this one? If even our thoughts and feelings are a violation of the 5th and 6th commandment, how can Jesus save us from our own thoughts? Well in Matthew chapter 5, just a little bit before our reading for today, Jesus said this, ““Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”


            Brothers and sisters, Jesus came to fulfill the law he came to accomplish it. That includes the fifth and sixth commandment. You shall not murder and you shall not commit adultery. The things we have been talking about. He came to fulfill that law, to accomplish it, for you. Because he had no sinful nature, when Jesus was living on this earth his motives and thoughts were kind loving and pure. And those thoughts and motives showed themselves through his kind loving and pure actions. Like when he healed people of their diseases and like when he was willing to associate himself with prostitutes and treat them with love and respect. And brothers and sisters that perfect life has been given to you.


Maybe I can explain the awesomeness of that this way. We have been talking about God seeing your thoughts as if they were displayed to him on a TV screen. Well Jesus hijacked your channel and started showing his episodes and series instead of yours. So instead of seeing your hateful thoughts God sees Jesus kindness and love displayed on your TV. Instead of seeing your lust God sees Jesus respect and honor and his faithfulness to his bride the church. And the best things is this: Even though Jesus is the one who did all that, your name is in the credits. The credits say that this good God pleasing content was directed and produced by you and you are the staring actor or actress.


            So that is good news. Jesus is our savior even from our sinful thoughts and motives. But now I’m sure some of you are asking now what? Thank you, Jesus, for saving me but I still have to live with my own thoughts what should we do about? Should we say, “Well Jesus has pulled a fast one on God the Father so now we can relish all the sinful thoughts we want.” No absolutely not. Jesus did not save you for the purpose of wallowing in your sin. No, he saved you so that you could be his own. So, then what do we do with our sinful thoughts? If we are being perfectly honest brothers and sisters we have to say sometimes it is impossible for us to prevent sinful thoughts from entering into our head. We have a sinful nature that loves to dwell on sinful things. And we live in a world that loves to parade sinful things around and glorify them. So sinful thoughts and temptations are going to occur. However, we can make a decision about what to do with those thoughts. Lets go back to our tv floating above your head analogy. Let’s say a sinful thought pops on the screen whether it is a hateful thought or a lustful thought, doesn’t matter. When that happens first simply acknowledge to yourself what that thought is. that’s lust that hate. And then knowing that you are a forgiven child of God change the channel. Change the channel to something like this. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. That’s the kind of programing Jesus displayed to the Father in your place, so switch your channel to those things. Amen.