"Living in God's Choice" #81-24 Presented on The Lutheran Hour on February 16, 2014 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker (What Is The Church's View About Racism?) Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed; so trust Him, dear friend, when life gets tough. Amen.
Use it or lose it. Perhaps you've heard that cliché before. Actually, it's more than a cliché for me right now. It's all too real. Right before Thanksgiving last year, I got in shape and ran a half-marathon with some of you, my friends and listeners; do you remember the "Run With The Rev" race in St. Louis? It was a great day. But, even on the day of that race, I wasn't really in that great a shape, but in decent shape. But guess what, through the holidays, with lots of traveling and speaking engagements, and wonderful potlucks with so many wonderful Lutheran folks around the country; well, I'm back to square one on the training front. If you don't use it, it is true, you can quickly lose it.
Well, in our text it seems to be more like choose it or lose it and it's way more important than something like just getting into shape, or eating right, or fulfilling some New Year's resolution. Moses gets right to the heart of it. He is at the end of his ministry, his leadership of the Old Testament people of God. He's worried about them. He knows how easily they can be distracted to do, to say, to be about things that really don't matter at all, or worse, to do things that could destroy their relationship to God. So he's saying, "I'm setting before you life and death. So do you want to choose life or death, good or evil?"
Now, you might be saying, "Come on, Pastor, that's easy, who wouldn't want to choose life?" Well, you would be surprised. The Bible actually says that human beings, because of their sin are spiritually dead to God. They, and that's all of us by nature, we don't want to choose Him, we don't feel we need to choose Him, and even if we want to, we wouldn't; why, because that's what spiritually dead people do. Have you noticed today how more and more people seem to find joy in not choosing to trust or believe in God? The Bible says, "Don't be surprised; people have always been like that!"
But God still comes in this word for all; making an invitation to you and me, my friend, for us to be able to have His life!
So let me try to paint a picture of this Bible reading today so that you can choose life in His Name, so that you can put His life to use in your life, the life that you've been given by God as a gift.
You see, Moses, he was a great prophet in the Old Testament. He was to lead a people who had been chosen by God to reveal His grace to the world; yes, to all people. But, they found themselves enslaved in Egypt, in bondage, threatened with extinction. But, God keeps His promises. He intervened for them, rescued, and delivered them through the parted waters of the Red Sea and set them on a path to freedom so that they could declare to the world the deeds of a God who saves all people, even those who have no power and strength to do so for themselves.
Now, at this time, they are at another water crossing, crossing the Jordan River into that freedom, that liberty to which God had rescued them. They are at the banks of the Jordan River ready to enter into the Promised Land as people who have already been chosen and saved by God.
You see, in Egypt, in slavery, they were trapped, powerless. When they arrived at the banks of the Red Sea, they were on the run, being chased by the powerful armies of Pharaoh, powerless before their captors, helpless now before the drowning waters of the impassable Red Sea, almost as good as dead; and then it happened. It happened. God miraculously rescued them and brought them to this moment in this text.
Now they're standing on the banks of a trickling brook; still dangerous, yes, but crossable, especially as they trust and follow the God who has already saved them.
So, Moses is speaking to the people who have been chosen by God, saying, "Choose life" and when he says that, he's saying, "God has crossed the Red Sea for you and brought you to life in Him. Now, cross over into the Promised Land, cross over that Jordan River into the land where you can live that abundant life He redeemed you to live.
That's God's invitation to them; but that's His invitation to you and to me too. God crossed the uncrossable for you so that you and I can be saved and in faith, by the power of His Spirit, you can now follow Him wherever He leads. Choose life.
Let me give you another picture of that. One of the most dangerous rivers in the world is the Congo River or the Zaire River. Even when it is calm, there are predatory fish swimming just below the surface and there are places where the river is so deep, so fast, that crossing it would be suicide. One of those places is called, "The Gates of Hell." The river may be 2900 miles long, but the 75 miles of these waters provide more fear than all the rest combined! So, what would you feel like if you were standing at the bank of the "Gates of Hell" and you had to cross to live? Or, what would you feel like if you were laying there helpless with enemies on your tail and you had to cross it to live? Then imagine the joy if someone suddenly came out of those terrifying waters, lifted you, and carried you over a bridge that only he could build and brought you to safety on the other side.
Well, that's just a glimpse of the cross of Good Friday. Jesus literally crossed the real "Gates of Hell," to rescue you and me, to free us from the slavery to our own sin, the bondage to our own desires and failures, and brought us to the point of real, full life in Him. He crossed the Congo of life for you, now cross the Jordan and live with Him for others. He crossed the uncrossable so that you could step through the waters of new life in Him, with Him.
So, don't get too caught up on this choice thing as if your choice makes God act more favorably to you. The most important choice is God's choice for you in His covenant, in His promise of grace. Then as now; God knows what He has in you and me, all of us. He knows that the world naturally is in rebellion to Him. He knows that human hearts are focused on themselves, and not the things that really matter. He knows that when it comes to choice, we choose ourselves every time, even when it means eternal death and separation. But, out of His love, He comes with a message that can still warm your heart; that can overcome your rebellion; that can bring you peace in the middle of your turmoil.
There are just some things that have to be done by the one person who can do it, aren't there? We kind of believe this deep down in our hearts already. The movies that really get us are those movies where that one person does what has to be done so that all might be blessed, right? War movies are like that because in war, things always seem to turn on one person's diligence or one person's faithfulness, one platoon's dedication to duty and honor. If you want to see some examples of that, just watch that HBO special, "Band of Brothers." There are some moments in that series that will make even the most hardened man cry real tears. Even as sinners, we know that it is noble for people to die so that others might live!
But when it comes to the price to be paid for real, abundant, eternal life for sinful, rebellious humanity, even our noblest efforts aren't enough. Choosing death so that rebels might have eternal life, that's not what we do. In fact, we recoil at that notion. But, that's the message of the Scripture for all. The Bible proclaims that absolute, infinite difference of God's loving rescue when it says in Romans 5, "Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
So, choose life? It would be better to say since God has chosen you, since God has paid the price for your forgiveness, life, and salvation, since God has made this life available to you, by the power of His Spirit, trust in Him. Yes, and live that life for all its worth!
Like the people in our text chosen by God's covenant promise, people of the promise called Israel; we, too, are being encouraged not just to have faith, but to live life faithfully in God's love and promise, now and forever. They were encouraged to choose good and not evil. And the word for good here includes the notion of both prosperity and salvation - both material and spiritual provisions. That's a lot of good! But, this isn't prosperity theology as if God is some kind of Santa Claus at our beck and call. But, it's also wrong to think that God is somehow stingy, as if He is the One who makes life hard this side of heaven. No, God is an abundant life giver and He promises to be with us, to bless us, to draw us close to Him in all things. We can trust that in worldly abundance or we can trust that in worldly scarcity for He fills His people with good things!
When we choose life in His Name, we are choosing to follow the Lord who has already loved us, just like He loved the people in our text. The Psalmist echoes that material good in Ps. 145:16. He says, "You, Lord, open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing." That's just the kind of God He is.
And I know then that it's hard to imagine but even in the face of the fullness of God's grace human beings still are the kind of people who still seem to love everything else but what God teaches and commands. We are a people still stingy with our love, our forgiveness, our labor, our effort, our resources. God doesn't make us pay, but we often make each other pay. Even believers at times, receive God's abundance and then treat each other very poorly. Moses says, "That would indeed be foolish to choose evil in the face of God's goodness for you."
I'm so amazed today when people blame God for the foolish choices that are so rampant in the world. We say that we are pro-choice and yet that euphemistically means killing the innocent and the helpless among us. We say we are for sexual freedom and sexual liberty, but that has spawned diseases, and brokenness, and hopelessness not just for the choosers but for the children who have to live with such choices. We say we are for equality, but as soon as the powerless get in power, the same degradation of others seems to follow.
Moses lays it all before them. He says, "This day I call the heaven and the earth against you as witnesses that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life!"
He says, "Don't lay there in your bondage; don't try to choose life on your terms, trust in the One who has done it all for you, and then live the life that He has in store for you too."
God has crossed over the Congo Rivers of our life. We get to cross the Jordan of our fears in faith and hope to live life following the footsteps of the One who always goes with us and goes on before us.
That's why Moses also can say to them and to you and me, "Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven.....Nor is it beyond the sea.....No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it."
It's too hard for us to choose life on our terms; but, it's not too hard for God who is our life to choose us and then to invite us to live that life by His Spirit. As Moses reminds us, our faithfulness is determined by God's faithfulness. He asks 'who's going to ascend to heaven to bring this to us?" The Bible says, "God Himself in His Loving faithfulness actually descended from heaven all the way to us, in Jesus Christ. As the Bible says, "For [God] chose us in him [that's Christ] before the creation of the world" (Eph. 1:4) and then He sent His Son into our flesh to bring us His blessing and salvation.
Luther's famous Christmas hymn "From Heaven Above To Earth I Come;" it revels in this Biblical teaching as he writes, "Welcome to earth, O noble Guest. Through whom the sinful world is blessed! You came to share my misery that you might share your joy with me."
That's a near word from God, a life-giving word, one available to you and to me right now.
Yes, my friend, as incredible as it sounds, you have the promises of God even more sure today than those Children of Israel and Moses himself. You don't need to cross the Red Sea, because Jesus Christ brings the very blessings of that crossing, indeed, the ultimate blessings of the cross of Calvary, all the way to you in the waters of Holy Baptism in His Name. Do you want to experience the blessings of that Red Sea salvation? Do you want to know the certainty that Christ's saving death was for you? Then let Him splash you with His grace with the water that's connected to His Name.
That Word of life that Moses spoke of, it is even more near to you today. When you go to Christ's church, especially of the Lutheran persuasion, you are not going to hear dry sermons about merely being good boys and girls; you are also not going to hear false, empty promise sermons about "living life to its fullness on your terms alone." No, you are going to hear a Word that comes to bring you life, and as believers, you will even come to His Table, His Supper, where you will taste and see that the Lord is good to you personally. Choose that! Choose life!
Jesus has crossed the eternal Congo Rivers of Hell itself, so that we can cross through the Jordan Rivers of promise, living life by His Spirit for one another! We can choose life because Jesus, the Life of the World, has chosen us by His cross and resurrection. Jesus said in John 15:16 "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit." Christ chose us. That is good news. But we see here a connection between being chosen and choosing, between being chosen and bearing fruit, between being chosen and obeying God's ways, commandments, statutes, and rules. Now that's choice worth choosing, right?
Choose life from the One who made life possible for you again. The same God who breathed life into Adam at creation breathed new life into us, by breathing life into us through His Spirit-filled Word.
And we need that new breath of life in Christ. His Word is literally the oxygen mask of eternal life; I like that. Let's say it again. His Word is literally the oxygen mask of eternal life to those who need it more than just a breath of fresh air, but to those who are gasping for breath who need that oxygen of His forgiveness and grace for life. Read His Word, be baptized into His Name, believe in Jesus Christ, the One who fulfilled the very words of Moses for you, and follow Him to the other side of your Jordan River and live life to His glory, by the power of His Name.
Breathe in His life-giving Word today and choose life. Breathe that breath of life and choose good. Breathe that breath of life and choose blessing for others in your thoughts and prayers. The joy of being chosen produces the joy of choosing life so that others might know the One who saved and redeemed you as His own.
Right after these words, Moses brings some encouragement to those who will live life following the Lord in a rebellious world. He says, "Be strong and courageous. Do not fear......for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you. He will not forsake you." What words of encouragement for them and for us; for God sets before you again life and good and blessing. Choose His life for you. Don't lose it. You can do it because it's been done for you. And the One who chose you is with you. And He will never leave you, never forsake you.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for February 16, 2014 Topic: What Is The Church's View About Racism?
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer. Today, the question is, "What is the church's view concerning racism?"
SELTZ: What a timely question, Mark. I think it's crucial for the church to be heard about this issue, leading the way in creating an environment of love, acceptance, people who share the same faith in Christ, no matter where we come from, what language we speak, or what color our skin happens to be.
ANNOUNCER: And it's a serious issue not only for us in society, but also, I think, in the life of the Church.
SELTZ: Right, it is; but we don't take the lead on this because of the world's opinion or even the pressures of our own society. No, we seek to be a people who are open to others because we serve a Savior who died for every person on the planet, for all nations. Remember what Jesus said as He prepared His followers for His ascension into heaven: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." He said. "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:18-19 ESV).
ANNOUNCER: And He didn't say make disciples of only a favored few or a certain ethnic group.
SELTZ: No. No way, He mandated that the Gospel message is for all nations. Any racism or oppression based on the color of someone's skin is absolutely unbiblical and not Christ-like. It is totally counter to Jesus' love for us and His calling for our lives.
ANNOUNCER: The Bible is very clear on this. We read in Colossians, chapter three, "Here there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free; but Christ is all, and in all" (Colossians 3:11 ESV).
SELTZ: Wow! Isn't that great? God's Word does not compromise when it comes to treating all people not only fairly, but generously and graciously. In fact, God doesn't treat us fairly, He treats us graciously, loving and forgiving us even though we don't deserve it.
ANNOUNCER: Sadly, we sometimes do the opposite.
SELTZ: We do. Even as Christians, we're still weak and broken sinners. It is easy to prejudge, to discriminate, to harbor fearful feelings for people who look different, speak a different language, or do things differently than we do. Even the Apostle Peter himself had problems with this, remember?
ANNOUNCER: God confronted Peter with it through a vision.
SELTZ: That's right, Acts, chapter ten. Peter was a Jewish man. He believed that Gentiles were unclean and unworthy to receive the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus. But God sent Peter a vision of unclean food.
ANNOUNCER: And in that vision God commanded Peter to eat things that were forbidden according to Jewish law.
SELTZ: That's right; and right after that dream messengers from a Gentile leader, Cornelius, came to ask Peter to come to their home. God overcame Peter's false superior attitude, and a humbled Peter went to Cornelius' home and said something that set the pace for the Christian Church for the ages. He said, "Truly I understand now that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him" (Acts 10:34-35 ESV).
ANNOUNCER: So Peter understood that God's love for all people meant sometimes putting his feelings, his habits, and his fears to the side.
SELTZ: And God's heart, then, is for all people. In 2 Corinthians, chapter five, the Apostle Paul describes this new vantage point we have. He says, "For the love of Christ controls us.... he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him. So, from now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh" (2 Corinthians 5:13-16 ESV).
ANNOUNCER: So as Jesus fills us with His love, He also changes the way we look at others and how we treat them.
SELTZ: That's right. There's a new life that's been given, that's how we get to live. But I have to be honest. The church, God's people, not always done this very well; and, to be completely honest, we still don't. There are plenty of racial divides still out there. It's been said that Sunday morning is still the most segregated time in our nation.
ANNOUNCER: How can we help the church to become more in line with the Spirit of God?
SELTZ: The first thing I would recommend, Mark, is that every one of us falls on his or her knees in prayer, repenting of any hatred of that kind, asking God to make every church a reflection of its community, a unified, loving gathering for all nations and people. We are the people who get to welcome the stranger, the foreigner, as God welcomes us. The second thing I would recommend is action. As God's people, we need to be, by the power of His Spirit, the best at befriending people around us, putting aside the foolishness of racism and shining the love of Christ to those that God gathers in our midst.
ANNOUNCER: 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.
"Lord, 'Tis Not That I Did Choose Thee" (public domain)
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