The Lutheran Hour: August 4, 2013

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Sermon Text for August 4, 2013

"Distracted? No, Delivered!" #80-48
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on August 4, 2013
By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Why Can't I Keep Improving My Spiritual Performance?)
Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Luke 12:13-21

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from the God who makes abundant life possible for all who trust in Him. Amen. 

I wonder if you've seen a series of very emotionally gripping television commercials about the issues of texting and driving. One begins by showing the word "yeah" on the screen. Below the word is a line that says, "This is the text message nineteen-year-old Ashley was reading when she flipped her car and died on impact." Then Ashley's sister is shown holding the sign with the word "yeah." The commercial closes by saying: "No text is worth losing a loved one." That ad grabs us. It's shocking. It's heartbreaking.

Another commercial shows the words, "where u at." The line below says, "This is the text message eighteen-year-old Mariah was reading as she drove her car into oncoming traffic." Again the commercial ends... "No text is worth dying over." Powerful, isn't it?

These heart-rending commercials make a very clear point: distraction is dangerous and can be deadly. 

When I look around, it doesn't take much effort to see distracted people like those in the commercials, right? I've seen people doing all kinds of things while they're driving (and I must confess, I've done some of them too). I've seen men shaving and women putting on make-up. I've seen people eating meals, reading the newspaper, holding their dogs. I've even heard of a driver playing with a pet monkey! With the rise of smart phones, the distraction level has reached an all-time high. And for many, the consequences have been devastating.

Distraction is dangerous. It can be deadly, and that's even more true when distracted from what's most important in life, our relationship with God. That's the point that Jesus is making in Luke 12. He wasn't talking about the dangers of distracted expressway driving; He was directing our attention to distractions on the road of faith and life. He was very serious about the devastating results. This is how the scene unfolded:
"Someone in the crowd said to Jesus; 'Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.' But Jesus said to him, 'Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?' And he said to them, 'Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions'" (Luke 12:13-16).

The person in the crowd was distracted. Here Jesus is speaking about matters of the soul. He's talking to a large crowd about trusting God amidst persecution, confessing faith boldly amidst adversity and opposition. He even warned people that distraction from the things of God is dangerous, even eternally deadly! Jesus said, "Don't fear the one who can kill the body, fear the one who can kill the soul." This was serious talk. Yet, in the middle of this serious talk, the person in the crowd brings up a money squabble. Jesus, a bit exasperated I'm sure, issued a warning. He said, "Take care, be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

To the man in the crowd, when things of this world become more important to you than the things of God, you're missing everything. Covetousness, being greedy, is wanting something so badly that your desire leads you to do evil. A coveting heart will make you feel like something is more important than everything else--even though it really isn't. In other words, it's a distraction. 

So think with me for a moment. Think about why distractions are so dangerous. For instance, I was outside last week and the mosquitoes were in full force here in St. Louis. In fact, while doing my outdoor work around the house, I had a few of those pesky bugs constantly buzzing in my ear. That constant buzz commands your complete attention. You can't pay attention to anything else. You look for it; you swat at it; your life is consumed by it. You want to put an end to it! And that's just a mosquito, that's just a gnat with attitude! Now, think about the big distractions in life. Things at your job! Your personal desires! Your habits! Your fears! Such things can distract with even more deadly consequences! 

Why? Because the things in this world can demand your attention, distracting you from the eternal things of God that ultimately matter in your life! Today Jesus tells us that it is dangerous to slip into the trap of equating your life with what you possess, here and now. To the man in the crowd, Jesus made it clear that life is not about wealth. To us, Jesus makes the same point. But He goes deeper. He also lets you know that the essence of your life isn't about those things or anything that you think is in your control. 

Your life is about much more than acquiring wealth or taking your dream vacation. Your life is about much more than your past and the wounds that you carry. Your life is much more than your pain and your current struggle. Your life is about much more than your failures or your sins. Your life is about much more than the world's latest fashions or trends. 

It's about your relationship with God and the work that He has done to make sure of that reality for you and for every human being in this world. It's true because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, dear friend! The Bible says very clearly that you are not your own. So, don't let anything in this world distract you from the truth of God's Word that says, "You were bought with a price!" (1 Cor. 6:20); the price that Jesus Himself was willing to pay on your behalf and mine. In fact, that's why He came. For He says, "the Son of Man (that's Him) give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).

To overcome our deadly distractions we need real deliverance, not just our best attempts at a solution. In fact, one of our biggest distractions today is that we've been led to believe that all it will take is a scary ad or a "Just Say No" campaign to heal us of our wanton distractions, to deliver us from the consequences of a sinfully, distracted life. Such programs may help to a degree, even being a 10 Commandments type person may cure some public flaws to our character, but they can't make the roots of such problems go away. Our destructive, distracted lives flow from a brokenness that runs very deep, one that flows from our ultimate, sinful distraction from the things of God!

The Bible is clear, because of our sin, we, all of us, were held captive by our brokenness with death, hopelessness and all those things that would possess us, constantly tempting us with distractions from our relationship with God the One who created us and redeemed us! And Jesus' life, death, and resurrection was God at work to give us real life and salvation. When Jesus cried on the cross of Calvary, "It is finished," the consequences of our sin's rebellious distractions, they were paid for. 

Jesus told our parable for today to drive those points home, home to your heart, home to your mind. 

Distraction from the things of God can be dangerous, even deadly. In Luke 12, we hear about a person who has made it then from the world's point of view, but neglects God's view of his life. Jesus ends the parable by saying of him:
But God said to him, "You fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things that you have prepared, whose will they be?"" (Luke 12:16-20)

God called the rich man a fool. Why? First, the man forgot where his riches came from. He didn't produce the bounty of crops. The land did! The crops were gifts from God! But the rich man called them his grain, his goods. He overestimated himself. He took credit for that which wasn't his. 

But, his worst distraction was that he let all the blessings of this life disconnect him from the very God who made life possible for him, now and forever. God gave him a soul lesson, saying, "This night your soul is required of you." All that stuff that appears suddenly, it disappears just as quickly. 

Sound familiar? How often do you feel frustrated because you can't give attention to what is truly important? You don't have time for your kids. Time for conversation and friendships seems to be overtaken by our busy schedules. You can never get around to exercising or eating well. You don't have time for rest, for being quiet, for prayer, or for meditating on God's Word. You're busy! Your calendar is full. But what about time for what is truly important?

And what about the deception of all the stuff in your life and in mine? You can be proud of it, busy with it, do maintenance on it, wash it, dry it, vacuum it, dust it, be ashamed of it, hide it, repress it, regret it, be angry about it, gain it, lose it, and get overwhelmed by it. You can be completely distracted by it! And that's why Jesus warns: "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:36)

But Jesus today, gladly is not making merely a moral point; He's trying to direct us to His offer of grace, the power of a delivered, undistracted life as a gift of His cross and resurrection. One thing is necessary; one thing is needed for life and salvation. It is for you and I to know and to trust in the fact that our lives now and our lives forever are made possible by the love of God in Jesus Christ! Anything that gets in the way of that truth in your life is a distraction to be discarded, repented of because God wants you to know the power of living a delivered, undistracted life of faith, now and forever in His Name!

That's right; we need the power of an undistracted life and it comes through the deliverance and blessing of God in the person and work of Jesus. 

So, this message is not about you and me trying to figure out how we can streamline our lives or hone our attention skills to focus on what is important. No, this is an offer from God, the One who can remove the clutter in your life, redeem you from the brokenness, and literally give you promises that He will ensure, ones that can empower you to live abundantly, eternal lives starting today!

Nothing distracted Jesus from accomplishing all that through His life, death, and resurrection on your behalf. Satan tried to tempt Him away from redeeming us. His hometown friends and family sneered at Him about His teachings. But in the face of all distractions, Luke 9:51 tells us: "When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem." Some translations say, "He resolutely set out for Jerusalem." Jesus would not be distracted. He would not be owned or possessed by someone else's plan, by the promise of material gain, by the criticism of others, or even by the pain of torture and death on a cross. His was an undistracted life focused on one thing, your redemption, your new life in Him. 

To be baptized in His Name then is to be clothed with His righteousness and promises. To read and hear His Word is to be revived not just in mind, but in your soul. To receive His gift, His body and blood at the Lord's Table is to know that God's grip of grace will hold you in a world that not only distracts but destroys. When you know that, living your life amidst all the distractions becomes now a clear, purposeful, empowered life by grace through faith!

Back in 1982, one of the most memorable and controversial football games in college football history took place. Stanford was playing the University of California Golden Bears. With only four seconds left in the game, Stanford kicked a field goal to take a 20-19 lead. Victory seemed certain. What could Cal do with only four seconds left? The game's announcer declared, "Only a miracle can save the Bears now!" And that's when things got very interesting. Stanford kicked the ball to Cal. As the Stanford players tried to tackle the ball carrier, Cal decided to do some razzle-dazzle trickery. Undistracted by the time constraint, the Golden Bears used five lateral passes to advance the ball downfield. Before Stanford could tackle them, each Cal player threw the ball to a teammate! And as they got closer and closer to the end zone, as time ran out, the Stanford marching band, thinking the game was over, they ran out onto the field. You might say that the distractions abounded at that moment... but the game wasn't over! And the Golden Bears were tenacious; they had only one thought on their mind...get into that end zone, period. They fought through the swarming band members until a Golden Bear player crossed the goal line and crashed into a Stanford trombone player. Victory! Victory! Cal won the game 25-20! Undistracted, they claimed the victory.

Well, Jesus says there is a more important touchdown in life, there is an ultimate victory that human beings need for themselves to even be human at all, and it is having that relationship with the God who created and redeemed you to be His heir for eternity. And this is a victory that we can't run to on our own, it's not as easy as running through a maze of defensive players and band members, it can only be received as a gift that comes from Christ Jesus, the One who has done all things well so that we might live again in Him. He fought through everything that would twist your life and crush your life. He won the victory for you--conquering death itself! And now, He hears your prayers. He leads you faithfully. He forgives freely, and His resurrection gives you new life and eternal hope. "Thanks be to God!" the Bible says, "He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:57 NIV).

Faith in an undistracted, victorious Savior is the power then to live an undistracted, victorious life, now and forever! Jesus is clear. Rich towards God, that's the key to life.

So, it's not about wealth or position because those can quickly change; rather, in all these things it's about your relationship with God, the One who can make our struggles victories and our successes purposeful. Being rich towards God means receiving all of God's gifts on His gracious terms and then being God's resource in this world. That's what the man in the parable missed. To be a man or woman of God is to know that even work and money are for the purpose of glorifying God and serving others. One of my mentors, Dr. Guido Merkens, used to say, "Money is just 'coined service." He was right. Money, resources from our labors, they are never at a standstill, never meant to be put in barns for our convenience or to rot from non-use. For our families, money helps put food on the table, the lights on, the water flowing. For the ones we love, it provides clothes, medical care, education. But, for the Christian, it also provides coined service for those in need both in our church and in our community. Jesus invites you to be rich towards God, to be, in all things, God's redeemed, precious child available to others as God's resource for His Kingdom work. 

As God's beloved, don't let your life be wasted. Spend it on showing His love in your relationships. Take your gifts and talents, empowered by God's continued blessings through Word and Sacrament, and let them flow into people's lives for their good--at home, at church, at work, and everywhere in this world that you go.

Distracted? No, delivered! Today, Jesus offers you and me, all of us, in the midst of all the distractions of this world, life dominated by schedules, bills, possessions, past failures, present worries, in the midst of all of life's realities; He offers us real freedom because in these challenges He brings the one thing needed, the abundance of eternal life, His constant care as a gift of His grace. So, with a laser focus, He rescued you, renews you, and still encourages you, so that you can live as one delivered, undistracted, His own pride and joy for those you love now and forever. Be rich towards God, be blessed. Amen.

LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for August 4, 2013
Topic: Why Can't I Keep Improving My Spiritual Performance?

ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer. A listener writes that he wants to grow in his life as a follower of Christ, but he finds that he can't improve his spiritual performance. It's like taking one step forward and two steps back. 

SELTZ: Wow, that's a great question, Mark, and it's the season of Pentecost in the church, a time that we focus on discipleship, which is our walk as followers of Christ. 

ANNOUNCER: And it's also an issue that's raised in our culture: how's your progress, how are you improving?

SELTZ: Right. I think some might call it a modern obsession. Businesses demand it. People are focused on their goals and physical workouts, academics, and in many other pursuits, that's for sure. 

ANNOUNCER: And even in our spiritual lives?

SELTZ: Well, and that's where I think we've got to be careful. It is true throughout history; some followers of Jesus have tried to find a way of life that allowed them to experience a constant improving spiritual performance. The monastic movement was one of those, and even a guy named Charles Wesley, he established "The Holy Club" so participants could strive for a more holy life. So their intentions were good, but remember, an enemy of a sanctified, holy life is our sinful flesh. By God's grace and through the work of the Spirit, we do grow in grace and spiritual maturity, but that progression of that growth is not always a pietistic up and to the right kind of thing.

ANNOUNCER: And even the Apostle Paul knew this.

SELTZ: Right. In fact he says in Romans 7: "I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want to do, that's what I keep on doing" (Romans 7:18-20).

ANNOUNCER: It sounds to me like a never-ending battle.

SELTZ: It's the battle of being a 100% sinner and a 100% saint by grace alone in Christ.

ANNOUNCER: So we have there the frustration of being saint and sinner at the same time. And we'll have that struggle throughout our lives. 

SELTZ: Right, but even there Paul gives us confidence because he closes Romans 7 by saying, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of death?" But then he says this: "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:24-25) So, Jesus won the victory over sin and death; our sin and death; our confidence, then, even in our struggles in Him. Our baptism in Christ means that because of Christ's death and resurrection, we can walk in the new life that He gives.

ANNOUNCER: Even though we're not perfect this side of heaven. 

SELTZ: Far from it. But, like I said, we need to be careful here. We need to have a Biblical balance to this question. On the one hand, we are called to grow in faith. On the other, we need to remember that Christ has done all things necessary for our salvation. So, we need to study the Bible, to be regular in prayer, to love and serve others as Christ serves us. But even there, there may be great successes or even momentary dry seasons of struggle, even seasons of failure. That's why the writer of the book of Hebrews exhorted believers: "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and to good works, not neglecting to meet together....but encouraging one another" (Hebrews 10:23-25).

ANNOUNCER: So, we shouldn't become discouraged if we don't see this constant spiritual improvement?

SELTZ: No, not at all. But we can't use it as an excuse to be spiritually lazy either. 

ANNOUNCER: All right. So, being justified and forgiven-that's not our own doing, that's God's gift. I'm hearing you say that to be sanctified by the Spirit of God-is also God's power at work in our lives.

SELTZ: That's exactly right. The Christian life is by God's grace. So, if we grow in our spiritual strength, it's not an indication of our spiritual skill, it is a gift from God, by His Spirit, through His Word. 

ANNOUNCER: And when we slip, which we will, we fall at the feet of our Savior to ask His forgiveness, to ask for His restoration. 

SELTZ: Right and we also then get to be His church for one another too. So, any striving to be more useful in God's hands, to grow in grace; if you want to do that, my advice would be to develop a relationship with a solid spiritual mentor who shares the ups and downs of life with you, challenging you to a life of faith focused on Christ, His grace, His empowering Word in service to others.

ANNOUNCER: And we certainly thank our listener for bringing that question to us. Thank you, the listener, for making this program part of your day. 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.

"What Is the World to Me?" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission. 

"Oh, That the Lord Would Guide My Ways" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia 
Publishing House)

"Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

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