"You're Still in the Game" #81-23 Presented on The Lutheran Hour on February 9, 2014 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker (Can Acts of Kindness Deliver the Gospel?) Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Matthew 5:14-20
Jesus says, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:14-16).
Christ is risen; He is risen indeed and because of Him, we can live life boldly when it really matters most! Amen!
Have you ever suffered the winter blahs? Growing up in Michigan, here in the United States, the cloudy, snowing days never seemed to end this time of year. I always yearned to see the sun about this time; because without that light and warmth, I could easily suffer the winter blues, the winter blahs. Do you feel like that sometimes? I mean, why can't we go right from Christmas to spring? Why this darkness of winter, stretching into February? The snow is dirty and gray. The cars are caked with salt. It leaves a person feeling sluggish and tired. Wouldn't it be great to open the windows and let the fresh air of springtime just rush in? I know that winter can be fun. Sledding and skiing and snowball fights can bring lots of enjoyment. But winter can be long, hard, and draining, too.
I was just thinking about a Pastor friend of mine, Pastor Sol Grosskopf. He's a pastor in Norway. That's right, Norway. And I thought about him, because I read about a town in Norway that has sixty polar nights in a row! That's when the sun does not peek above the horizon because the location is above the Arctic Circle. At noon a slight dawn appears, but from November through February the darkness of winter takes hold. Wow!
I don't think that's happening where he lives, at least to that degree. But, Sol, my prayers are with you, if they are. I don't think I could handle that. One Norwegian town, located in the valley, has installed three giant computer-controlled mirrors on the mountains surrounding the town. The town rarely gets any sunlight during the year. These mirrors will shine a 6500-square foot ray of light directly into the town square. I have a feeling that sunbathing spots in that town square are going for a high, high price.
It's hard for human beings to deal with the absence of light. In fact, when there's an absence of light, when people have to experience the darkness too long, they can suffer something called Seasonal Affective Disorder, aptly named SAD. Symptoms of this depressive disorder caused by lack of sunlight include: fatigue, craving sweets, feeling sad or irritable, and wanting to be isolated from others. These symptoms can also lead to gaining weight over the winter--another reason to feel disheartened by the winter blahs!
But maybe today, it's not the winter blahs of weather that you're feeling. Maybe it's the winter blahs of your heart, even your soul. You may feel sidelined today, immobilized and washed up because of the season of life you're in. You may feel like you're too old or too young to make a difference anymore. At this time of your life, you may feel invisible, as if no one listens to you or hears you. Or, maybe something you've done in your past is hanging over you like a long, long winter night, maybe you're struggling with an illness that's overwhelming, making you feel like there will never be a dawning horizon for you. You had dreams of doing special things in life, now this. How can you make any difference at all?
You may believe that your life is in a wintry season of inactivity, not useful to God or anyone else. You may be experiencing the sadness of thinking you're a non-factor, washed up, out of the game.
If any of that applies to you, then listen up, listen in, because Jesus has something to say to those of us who are experiencing the winter blahs of darkness, either physically or emotionally; to those of us who feel like the game of life has passed us by or left us helpless on the sidelines. In the midst of that reality Jesus incredibly declares: "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:14-16).
Jesus doesn't consider you sidelined. He doesn't think you're washed up. He knows you're not useless. He understands that your failures do not stand in the way of the most important mission on this earth. Jesus knows that His saving work for you on the cross and His life-giving work for you in His resurrection from the grave; He knows that brings you new life right now! Jesus knows that the forgiveness of sins He earned for you brings the springtime of new purpose to your life, the fresh air of being God's shining light in this world!
Jesus says you're still in the game!
Just six months ago, photographers captured basketball great Michael Jordan dunking at his Flight School Basketball Camp in Santa Barbara, California. He's still got it. Last summer, spectators watched another basketball great, fifty-six-year-old Larry Bird; make fifteen long-range jump shots in a row. To top it off, Julius Erving, the famous "Dr. J" of the NBA, is still able to dunk the ball at sixty-three years of age! They're still in the game! But so are you.
And I'm not talking about basketball. I'm talking about something bigger. In Christ, because of Jesus, you are the light of the world, no matter what your age!
You, who are believers in Christ, you all are the light of the world. So, it's not about whether you are the most talented, most famous, most connected person in the world! No, if you are a believer in Jesus, you and all of His people are the light of the world. Jesus died and rose again to redeem us from sin, and death, and the power of the devil. Jesus calls us by name in baptism. Jesus appoints us to go and bear fruit that will last. Jesus uses our lives to shine His light! In Him we are the light of the world.
You are the light of the world, He says, and that isn't in the past tense. It wasn't just true of you in your prime. It isn't a statement about the future one day when you get all the right credentials, or when the kids grow up, or when you feel better. You are the light of the world; right now, where you're at, in the current season of your life, you are the light of the world. You shine the life-giving light and love of Christ in just the way He needs it shined right now. Your purpose is important. Your mission is irreplaceable. You don't even know all the ways that Jesus is working through you and for you right now. But you need to trust that this time in your life, where you're at and who you're with, that you are the light of the world, making God's Kingdom impact in more ways than you can imagine.
Do you get the picture? Do you really see the big picture? Jesus assigns you the status of being the light of the world. He lets you know that, while on this earth, you are serving the most important purpose and meeting the greatest need of all humanity. You help vanquish darkness.
Astronauts say that they never realized what darkness really was until they were in outer space. You may have experienced total darkness in your lifetime. Perhaps you took a tour of a cave and they turned the lights out. You couldn't see the hands in front of your face! Maybe you've spent time in a remote place, far away from the city lights, and stumbled in the blackness. Oh how we need light! And it's not just the absence of sunlight that sends us into panic and desperation. It's the darkness of life when the Good News of Jesus is absent. The world is dark with tragedy and violence. People's lives are dark with hurt and hopelessness. They need the light of Christ.
You might remember a few years ago when miners in the country of Chile became trapped in a mine 2000 feet below ground for more than two months. 700,000 tons of rock collapsed, trapping the men nearly one-half mile below. The men spent most of their time in the darkness with 90-degree temperatures. For the first two weeks, they ate only spoonfuls of tuna, half a cookie, and half a glass of milk every two days. But then came the miraculous rescue. After drilling a hole just big enough to fit a man-sized capsule into it, miners were brought to the surface one by one. They were given dark glasses to wear as officials feared that the months of darkness would make light intolerable to their eyes.
As the miners emerged on the earth's surface, crowds of people cheered. A worldwide audience was transfixed on the rescue. Chilean officials greeted the miners by saying, "Welcome to life!" Onlookers commented, "It is as if they have been born again."
After emerging on the surface, sixty-three-year-old Mario Gomez fell to his knees and bowed his head in prayer. He knew the True Light! That's what we need more of today!
Rescue from the darkness is what our world needs. It is what people crave. And Jesus said, "You are the light of the world." Like the rescued miners, you declare to the world God's rescue from the darkness for all people. As His people, you show the world that new life is possible, that being born again through the living Word of God is a real gift and blessing. For a world trapped in the rubble of sin and heartache, you are the light of the world!
Of course you may be saying to yourself, "Me? How can I be the light of the world? How can God use me?" Let me tell you, friend, the devil wants you to feel that way. He wants you to believe that you could never fit into God's plan of bringing the light of salvation of Christ to a sin-darkened world. And, to be totally honest with you, in your own weakness and sin, you and I wouldn't shine any light at all anyway. We would be children of darkness. But God's Word gives you Good News today. You have received the gift of new life! Ephesians, chapter five says, "For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light" (Ephesians 5:8).
You are a new creation in Christ Jesus. By His grace and strength you're still in the game!
Moses was an eighty-year-old man running from his sin, but God made him a deliverer. He was still in the game!
Daniel, in the Old Testament, was an exile for most of his life, even imprisoned for a time, but God used him to shine the light of salvation to the world. He was still in the game!
The Apostle John was exiled on an island, banished from society for a time as an old man, but Jesus used him as a messenger of encouragement for all believers. He was still in the game!
As believers in Jesus, you and I have a grand purpose in whatever we are doing in this life right now. You reflect Him to others. You are the light of the world; like Jesus says, so that people "may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:14-16).
That's the goal. That's our goal together, to allow others to see God, to extol Him, to give Him glory as their Helper, their Savior, their Friend.
This coming week, the United States will celebrate Abraham Lincoln's birthday. Lincoln is regarded as, perhaps, the greatest President in U.S. history. He also faced some of the most monumental challenges ever encountered by a president. Lincoln is well known for his periods of melancholy, depression that laid him low and made him feel useless. But Abraham Lincoln was also a man who trusted in Jesus Christ as His Savior. Even when he felt completely incapacitated, Lincoln said: "Nevertheless, amidst the greatest difficulties of my Administration, when I could not see any other resort, I would place my whole reliance on God, knowing that all would go well, and that He would decide for the right (Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, VI:536)."
Abraham Lincoln, by the grace of God--even through all of his struggles, was still in the game. And through him, people saw the love of God.
Jesus made it very clear; He didn't come to let evil have its way as long as everybody played nice together. The Savior didn't say to Satan, "You can believe whatever you want to believe and I'll believe what I want to believe. We'll coexist together." No, no, Jesus didn't come to cancel the contest against darkness. He came to win it. He came to overcome it.
Jesus said, "Do not think I've come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matthew 5:17). Through His perfect life lived on your behalf, and through His death on the cross for you, Jesus fulfilled the law perfectly. He hung on the cross to pay for your failures, your imperfection, your sin. He shouldered your most terrible burdens and conquered them in His resurrection from the dead. People thought that the hope of salvation was over when Jesus breathed His last; but Jesus was still in the game as God accepted His death as an atoning sacrifice for your sin. Jesus won the battle. He pushed back the darkness of hopelessness and gave the gift of light and life and He keeps you in the game that matters most, your eternal, holy life with Him.
Jesus said of Himself, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
How can we be the light, when He is the Light of God? How can we be righteous and holy examples of godliness in this world when we ourselves are sinful like everybody else? 2 Corinthians 5 says it clearly, "For our sake [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV). Jesus says in John 3... "Whoever follows me will have the light of life!"
It's because of Him that we can be God's reflectors in this world. By His grace, you are the light of the world in Him--even now! That is why you are still in the game. It is what Abraham Lincoln depended on too: the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
So, if you think that your life has no purpose, that you're playing the waiting game, doing nothing, in the winter season of your life, don't believe the devil's deception, dear friend. You're still in the game. You have purpose in God's Kingdom. Your prayers bring blessing and hope. Your words of encouragement and witness bring faith. Your kindness brings the love of Jesus Christ. With every heartbeat you shine Christ's light. You're still in the game. Through every trial and struggle, you can say with Paul, "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:14). You're still in the game through your Savior Jesus.
Austin Hatch understands this amazing gift of God. In June of 2011, the small plane his father was piloting crashed. Both his father and stepmother died and Austin suffered injuries that kept him in a coma for eight weeks. This wasn't the first tragedy for Austin. Eight years earlier he was in another plane crash that killed his mother and siblings. But through it all, Austin still has hope and confidence. He said, "I feel like God has his hand on me; I feel like there's a plan for my life."
You see, before his most recent crash, the 6 foot, 6 inch Austin Hatch had just committed to playing basketball at the University of Michigan. Just a couple of months ago, Michigan coach John Beilein announced his 2014 recruiting class. It included Austin Hatch. He was still in the game.
Hatch said, "Beilein told me that he wouldn't offer me a scholarship if he didn't think I had a role on the team that would help them win. He said, 'Austin, whatever you are able to do, whether it be manager, or practice player, or whatever, you're on scholarship no matter what.'" Wow!
Well, no matter what you're up against today, my friend, you're on the team that matters, you're in the game that counts. Austin Hatch, injured, battered, recovering from traumatic brain injury that changed his life, all true; but he is still in the game. So, whatever you face today, you face it as God's child in Christ on His team. By grace, you're on the field; you're on the court now and forever. And as His light in this world for others, you're in the game that lasts; not just for yourself, but for those you love in His Name. To that end, may God bless us always.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for February 9, 2014 Topic: Can Acts of Kindness Deliver the Gospel?
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer. A listener asks, "Pastor, is it possible that showing love for people can bring them to faith in Christ? Can acts of kindness deliver the Gospel?"
SELTZ: Wow, what a good question, Mark! And, it's a very important one, especially as many Christians serve others through mission projects and acts of love in their communities.
ANNOUNCER: I've heard it said, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." So it would seem that serving others is a very important part of the life of faith.
SELTZ: I think that's what Jesus said in Matthew 5, "Let your light shine before others, so they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16 ESV). And the Apostle Peter said, "Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God" (1 Peter 2:12 ESV). And, then I love what the Apostle John says in 1 John, "No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us" (1 John 4:12 NIV).
ANNOUNCER: Clearly, when we show love, it has a big impact.
SELTZ: It sure does, and we can't minimize acts of service and kindness as we share the message of Christ. Even Jesus said, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35 ESV). Anyone who tries to minimize showing Christ's love in actions and words is not really listening to what God tells us.
ANNOUNCER: So you say, then, that sharing the Gospel is not simply an academic or an intellectual exercise.
SELTZ: It never is and it never was, Mark. As the writer of the book of James said, we are not to be hearers of the Word only, but doers. Sharing the Gospel is always a both/and proposition.
ANNOUNCER: Because it's not just an action of love thing either.
SELTZ: No, it is always word and deed. Showing the kindness of God in a sincere way establishes genuine relationships, it displays the character of our merciful and caring Savior, and then it allows for those deeper conversations to develop.
ANNOUNCER: Have you ever heard that saying, "Preach the Gospel, if necessary, use words."
SELTZ: Yeah, I've heard that.
ANNOUNCER: I think that goes too far.
SELTZ: I think it does too, but it is a sobering quote. It emphasizes that our words can be very hollow--and even hypocritical--if they're not backed up by our actions. But that doesn't mean that we eliminate the Word of the Gospel as we reach out with Christ. In fact, the Bible says, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17 ESV).
ANNOUNCER: But, does that mean every interaction we have with people should include preaching as well as acts of love and service?
SELTZ: Well, we should always be thinking about both. If you're doing a mission service project, we should always be ready to give a reason for the hope that we have--to share the Good News of our Savior. If we're going to speak to someone about Jesus, we should always be ready to serve that person according to their needs. We need to be very conscious of the fullness of God's love in actions and in words. But, realistically, not every situation will allow us to do that all the time. We need to trust that God has many workers out there and that He can fill in the gaps.
ANNOUNCER: As St. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3: "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase" (1 Corinthians 3:6-7 ESV).
SELTZ: That's right on target. There are times when we will just be a part of God's work in people's lives. Our loving service may be preparation for another to bring the Word of the Gospel. Our verbal sharing of faith may be reinforced by someone who serves that person with amazing love. God is the One who changes hearts; He grows His Kingdom. We don't control the movement of the Spirit.
ANNOUNCER: But, does that mean that people who are uncomfortable talking about Jesus can just let someone else handle it?
SELTZ: We probably can ask the converse, too. Does it mean that people who don't like to serve others can leave that to others and stay on the intellectual and conversational level? No, each one of us as God's people has unique gifts in the body of Christ. Each is inclined to different ways of sharing the Good News of Jesus.
ANNOUNCER: But a preference is not an excuse.
SELTZ: That's right. Each one of us, according to the Scriptures, then, is called to shine the light of Christ through loving and caring actions toward others--especially the least of these. We need to really get good at that word and deed stuff. And each one of us is called, then, to be ready to tell of Jesus' sacrifice for us. So, it's words and deeds, both, as we share the greatest gift one could ever give.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. And we thank our listener for that question. We hope you'll join us again next week. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"When I Suffer Pains and Losses" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
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