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Sermon Text for December 22, 2013
"Use What You've Been Given" #81-16 Presented on The Lutheran Hour on December 22, 2013 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Ephesians 6:10-17
And Jesus said, "When you pray, pray, 'Father, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.'"
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you in the power of faith in the Christ of Christmas, the power to live life in the face of all challenges. Amen.
The Holy Days of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter, are not merely days of preparation and celebration for those who believe in Jesus Christ. They are times of proclamation of a new way of life by the grace of God, a life of God's forgiveness, life, salvation, power, and peace; a life that is lived prayerfully by grace with God through faith, with fervent Christ-like love towards one's neighbor.
The last several weeks we've been studying the power of the Lord's Prayer in our lives, and today, on this Sunday before Christmas day, we have the wonderful opportunity to speak about the spiritual protection and power of the very Babe of Bethlehem, made possible for us all; God's strength to deal with our temptations, God's protection from evil and the evil one.
The Jesus who is teaching us to pray is the One who entered the world to suffer, to die, and to rise again so that evil would be vanquished, temptation would be set at bay, and life and salvation would again become a real possibility in a world full of sin and death. That's why the Christmas Babe and the resurrected Lord of Easter instructs in this petition of the Lord's Prayer, to say, "Father, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil!"
Evil, temptation, it's all around us, isn't it? Destructive seductions seem to be so inviting, don't they? As sinful people, we seem to go down those paths even when we know that they are deadly morally, ethically, and spiritually. We can't seem to lick the easy challenges in our lives, let alone the spiritually destructive ones.
In this broken world, amazingly, it seems that even good things can become a problem sometimes. For example, have you heard that sitting may be the new smoking? Let me say that again. Sitting may be the new smoking. That's right, the time we spend sitting these days may be as harmful to our health as smoking has been.
But that's what Travis Saunders, a Ph.D. student says; and who is Travis Saunders? Well, he's a certified exercise physiologist at the Healthy Active Living Group at Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. He says according to research: "Sitting increases your risk of death and disease, even if you are getting plenty of physical activity. It's a bit like smoking," he says.
"Smoking is bad for you even if you get lots of exercise. So is sitting too much."
How did this happen? Easy, it seems that we are a people who don't like doing the things that are good for us. We live in a world of great new discoveries that tend to get us off our feet, demanding our time and attention while slowly stealing our health and vitality. We live in a culture that sits too much! We sit to drive. We sit to work at the computer. We sit to talk on the phone. We sit to watch TV. We sit to play video games. We sit to read the paper. There's a whole lot of sitting going on!
And all that sitting isn't good for us. Instead of being a time of relaxation and refreshment, sitting has become destructive. A battle is going on and we don't even realize it. We think we're taking it easy and in reality, it's silently killing us.
Deliver us from evil; lead us not into temptation; that's so hard when we can't even overcome the little challenges in life, right? It seems so impossible when merely our misuse of even good things is killing us. How are we going to deal with the big issues of life when we can't even handle the sitting issues of life?
And that's the point. Temptation happens when anything in this world commands our attention more than God and the things of God in our lives.
Temptation may feel more like a time of testing, where we fill our lives with everything else but the things of God. It may be a time of trial when we're challenged to sacrifice things we'd rather hold on to for that which is truly precious. Or, it may come as a time of seduction to evil, when God's Word and our desires are at odds, and we are challenged to affirm again the One in whom we trust. Temptation can overwhelm, and evil can seem so insurmountable.
Temptation, trial, evil; in all these things, the ultimate challenge is to our first love, Jesus Christ. It does seem like there is a never-ending battle going on in our hearts and our minds, doesn't it? And when we give in or are overwhelmed by it all, our hearts and souls feel like they are being ground into the dust, don't they?
But hear, even now, more importantly, the Bible's proclamation. Hear why the Christmas, Easter Message is so powerful. Jesus entered the world because there is a battle going on, a battle for our eternal lives, right now! Jesus tells us that "In this world we will have trouble, but fear not, He has overcome the world." In the midst of our struggles and temptations, we don't merely turn to fight; we turn to the Lord who has fought for us. We actually focus on Him and not our temptations. We focus on Him and we pray that He would protect us and guide us.
Now don't take temptation or the power of evil too lightly. Do you want to know how brutal temptation and evil can get? Look at the whole Christmas story; see the evil of Herod murdering 2-year old children to protect his throne, in the midst of the real joy to the world! Or jump ahead and look at the Babe of Bethlehem hanging on the cross for you. There He is tempted to come down, to save Himself and to leave our lives broken and separated from God.
There, the sinless One faces one last struggle, one last temptation, to avoid our judgment. Yet, there He is; one time for all time, our Savior overcoming temptation to bring life and salvation to you, to me, to all!
Because of Him: if we fall, in repentance, we can still turn to God and confess. Because of Him; if we fall, we can stand up again in His forgiveness. Because of Him, if we succeed, overcoming temptation and struggle, we proclaim the grace, strength, and the care of the One who would not let us go.
Because of Him, those who trust in Christ can: "Finally, be strong in the Lord," as Paul says, "and in the strength of his might...we can take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm" (Ephesians 6 ESV).
In fact, because of Him, we can battle our temptations and serve others even in the face of evil. In Him, this is the way to face life head on. You might says that The Lord's Prayer is the gym for your soul, Christ's church is the workout room for your eternal Monday through Saturday life. I love this quote. Can you tell me who said it?
In a recent article titled "The Gym of the Soul," someone said, "No matter what, you can overcome your past. With help, if you look to God, you can overcome your past and be reborn."
But it was not a preacher who was quoted; rather it was someone you might not expect. It was Sylvester Stallone, a.k.a. "Rocky." Stuart Shepard tells the story of the turnaround in Stallone's life. He tells how Stallone surprised the entertainment world by resurrecting his iconic movie hero, Rocky Balboa, for one last film. And while he was traveling and promoting the film, he told how his faith in Jesus Christ and his renewed commitment to the Christian faith was instrumental in his decision to make the final movie. The article quotes Stallone as saying, "I was raised in a Catholic home and a Christian home, and I went to Catholic schools, and I was taught the faith and went as far as I could with it, until one day, you know, I got out into the so-called real world and I was presented with temptation. I kinda lost my way. I made a lot of bad choices." But, Stallone added, he's been going through a change in his life. He's realized he was wrong to place his career and fame ahead of his family. 'The more I go to church,' he said, 'the more I turn myself over to the things of Jesus, listening to His Word, having Him guide my hand, I feel as though the pressure is off me now.' And, making a correlation between physical and spiritual fitness, as only "Rocky" could, he said. 'You need to have the expertise and the guidance of someone else. You can't train yourself,' he said. 'I feel the same way about Christianity and about what the church is: the church is the gym of the soul.'"
Well, we can say that with Stallone and more, can't we? In prayer and service, we begin to exercise our faith in Christ for others. Christ has fought the battle for our lives and in the exercise of prayer and service we get to put the gracious blessings of Jesus to work. Overcoming temptation, serving while being protected from evil, that's stepping into the ring of the greatest match of your life!
In fact, I believe in this petition, the Lord is asking us to turn our prayer attention away from ourselves and focus on our preparation for being His people in this world. The Lord's Prayer is not merely a personal prayer to God. It is also a prayer that teaches us to open ourselves to God's mission and ministry to the world.
To pray, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" is to be fully aware that the world is daily in the midst of temptation; the world is caught in evil. People's lives are at stake. Our friends, our family, our neighbors, they have the same struggles and temptations that we do. So, prayerfully, we face the same pains, the same struggles, the same temptations but with an answer of God's grace as sure as the cross of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of all who believe in Him.
In full view of the battle raging, Jesus, the One who in Hebrews 2 is said to have been made "like us in every way, yet overcoming all temptation," He challenges us to prayerfully "take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm," to live a life of no fear, to live a life of prayerful faith. It's a call to use what you have been given.
It's an invitation to put on the armor of God, not the tattered garments of this world.
Bottom line is this; as believers, we are not defenseless in a world that tears us down and tears us apart. We are not defenseless as we wrestle with our own sin and failures. God gives us a precious gift, flowing from the Babe of Bethlehem, cross of Jesus Christ. Stronger than earthly armor, we have been given a real gift for the real rigors of the spiritual battle that rages.
Paul says, put Christ's spiritual power and protection to use. In Christ, use what you have.
Put on the belt of truth, not only the truth of the Bible, but Jesus, as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. For the new life in Jesus gives you clarity as you face the mixed and confusing messages of the cultures in which we live--even your inner confusion as you wrestle with emotions and relationships.
Put on the breastplate of righteousness. Life seems so crazy and chaotic today. We need hearts that are protected from what is hurtful and destructive. When Christ's righteousness covers us, when His holiness is our shield, then even the crowds of hurried and grumpy people or the inner pain of feeling sad or incomplete is met with Jesus' protection for our hearts and minds.
Put to work feet fitted with the Gospel of peace, says Paul. Even though each day brings another challenge to blend in with the crowds morally, ethically, spiritually; follow Jesus alone, let Him guide you on His pathway of life. His pathway is one of peace through all the broken promises of this world. His path is one that leads somewhere. It leads to eternal life with Him. Put to work, Paul says, the shield of faith. Are you ready for the Christmas chaos? Crying children, an overcooked ham, an under-resourced checking account, all those things can lay us mighty low. Or maybe you've got the year-round type of pandemonium. Take heart. God gives you a shield to repel the fiery darts of the evil one that might lay you low and drain you of hope.
Finally, Paul says, wield the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. You see, my friend, God has a say in your life. His living Word breathes life into you as you face the rigors of life and the challenges of the spiritual battle. His Word is full of His Spirit, His comfort, His encouragement, and His power. Strike boldly the attacks of guilt, of shame, of arrogance, of pride, of temptations large and small; strike boldly with the Word of God that is God's provision for your protection and power. Use this gift to quiet the confusing messages of the world, to empower you to live in God's peace and grace, and to strengthen you in your life that glorifies the Lord and serves others.
When you pray, "Father, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil," you are asking Him to help you use those gifts more effectively, for yourself and for others.
As we continue to deal with our own temptations, as we rely more and more on God's gracious protection from evil, we're taking up the challenge of living in this world as God's agents of forgiveness. Graced people that endure a world that will make us pay, tempt us away, or challenge our peace. We face those things so that others might know that there is another kingdom, there is another power that is still available to those caught in temptation and sin.
That's why Jesus calls us to prayerfully focus on Him; to put on His armor, and use His gifts to live life in this world.
I love the hymn, "Angels We Have Heard on High," don't you? Every verse ends with the angels singing "Gloria!" But, in the second verse, we hear the response of the shepherds, shepherds whose lives were filled with difficult work, with struggles and dangers. Their voice was a humble testimony to the Savior, wasn't it? But the truth is, the shepherds met Jesus and they couldn't contain their joy to the world. They found deliverance from evil in this newborn King. Do you remember the verse that we sing about them? It says: Shepherds, why this jubilee? Why your joyous strains prolong? What the gladsome tidings be Which inspire your heavenly song? Gloria!
Why it's the glory of Christmas. It's the glory of Easter for all of us today. It's the power of God to prayerfully struggle and face our temptations, to serve others even when faced with evil, to put on God's armor, or better, to put His protection and power to use in our lives. That's something that makes the shepherds glad, the angels sing, and it's the reason why in faith, you can boldly pray, "Father, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for November 11, 2013 Topic: What Are God's Greatest Gifts?
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer. Today a listener asks, "During this season of gift-giving, what are God's greatest gifts?"
SELTZ: Great, A gift question, asked with that joyful, Christmas spirit! I like that, Mark!
ANNOUNCER: And you sound like someone who enjoys holiday gift-giving.
SELTZ: I do, Mark. But more than that, this is a question that gets to the heart and meaning of Christmas. It's always refreshing to remember the reason for the season.
ANNOUNCER: And I'm thinking the number one gift must have something to do with the Baby Jesus born in Bethlehem.
SELTZ: It sure does. Christmas is indeed about God's greatest gift to the world. Christmas is about His complete self-sacrifice in the sending of His One and only Son Jesus to be born among us, to live a perfect life, and to die in our place for the forgiveness of our sins. There is no other gift in this world that compares by far.
ANNOUNCER: And that's a gift that brings other gifts, doesn't it?
SELTZ: Absolutely, it truly is the one gift that keeps on giving. So, for this one gift comes even more gifts like forgiveness and eternal life from God Himself. As John chapter one says, "For from [Jesus'] fullness we have all received, grace upon grace" (John 1:16-17 ESV).
ANNOUNCER: An amazing, life-changing Christmas gift!
SELTZ: Right, and wait, there's even more. That's the beautiful thing about God's grace; along with His blessing comes many other great blessings. Something like a Christmas stocking stuffed with more good things.
ANNOUNCER: It sounds like here you're talking about God's means of grace.
SELTZ: I sure am. The "Means of grace" are special gifts from God, tools that the Holy Spirit uses to bring the forgiveness Christ earned on the cross, to us personally. So, baptism is a gift from God. It washes away our sins and fills us with the Holy Spirit. Holy Communion is a gift from God. It's Christ's "real presence" in, with, and under the bread and wine for our forgiveness and strength. The Word of God, the words of the Bible, are living and active, bringing the life and salvation of Jesus Christ to us. Precious gifts of the Most Precious gift of all, Jesus.
ANNOUNCER: And Jesus wants us to receive these gifts.
SELTZ: He sure does. He attaches His grace to words, water, bread, and wine because He wants us to hear, to see, to touch, and even taste the Good News that He has earned for us through His cross and His resurrection.
ANNOUNCER: And all these gifts of God were given to us in order to create and sustain that life of faith.
SELTZ: They sure are, and these gifts empower one's life of faith, even one's faith communication with the Lord. Remember our sermon series these past two months talking about that dynamic life of faith as it prays "the Lord's Prayer." So, because of the main Christmas gift, we not only get to receive God's life-giving gifts, we also get to prayerfully communicate with the God who loves us and even answers our prayers for our good! Another gift that flows from His gifts of grace!
ANNOUNCER: All of which brings to mind Philippians chapter 4 where St. Paul says: "....In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7 ESV).
SELTZ: And let's not forget that God's gifts even create the gift of the church, too. The church is the fellowship of God's people created by God for faith, for fellowship, for encouragement, for service, for worship, and for sharing the Good News. Gifts, gifts, and more gifts!
ANNOUNCER: And let's not forget the gifts of God's people within the church.
SELTZ: That's Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 where he says: "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; ... To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:4, 8 ESV). So, God gives spiritual gifts to His people. Each of us has been gifted by God to bear His grace to others. The Bible lists all kinds of gifts that were given to build up God's people and to shine His light in the world.
ANNOUNCER: And, is your gift list complete?
SELTZ: No way; in fact, I've barely started. In addition to the blessings of salvation in Jesus Christ, the gifts of life with God, and the gifts that equip us to serve as Christ's Church, there are loads of blessings for our daily lives. You see, once we see life through the gift of God's grace, received by faith through His grace-giving word and sacraments, all of life, even things like house and home, spouse and family, clothing and shoes; they become gifts received from Him lived to give Him glory and to serve our neighbor. The list of gifts just keeps on growing.
ANNOUNCER: And we pray for all our listeners a gift-filled Christmas all made possible through God's grace and love. Thank you Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
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