Presented on The Lutheran Hour on May 11, 2014 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: 1 Peter 2:19-25
Christ is risen, He is risen, indeed; and loving others His way, with His power, that's the only way that things can really change! Amen!
Today is a special day for many people, but it also may be a day that some dread. Please allow me to explain. Today, it's Mother's Day. That means flowers, dinners out, and celebrations for many people today. But for some it means sadness and frustration.
Isn't it strange that a day meant to be celebrated could also become a day of suffering?
Now, please know that I'm not trying to rain on your parade or be depressing. The hugs and the gratitude of children, the memories of family, and the blessings of self-sacrificial moms are so special and precious. But the very practice of motherhood and the aspiration to be a mom is all about serving. It is about emptying yourself. And that can be painful.
The desire to be a mother is a desire to do something really good in life. But it also means signing up to do something that is not easy. Think about it.
Today, there are many women hoping and praying to become mothers, but infertility has caused heartache and frustration. Wonderful, honorable, and sincere ladies want to start families. They want to raise children. It's a good and worthy pursuit. But it is causing them disappointment and pain.
On this very day there are parents who have been blessed with children, but they're tired. They're worn out. Some are tending to the fatiguing daily needs of their children. Others are adding to those duties the special work of being caregivers for children who are ill or disabled. It's Mother's Day, but some of these weary moms are wondering if they can keep going.
And what about the moms whose hearts are broken today as they deal with rebellion and rejection from children who are going through the stormy years of adolescence and young adulthood? There are plenty of troubled adult children who bring parents to their knees in prayer and tears.
There are also mothers who are walking through loneliness and grief; mothers of soldiers far away clinging to the hope of seeing their children again. Mothers who are experiencing an empty nest for the first time are struggling with a new season away from their children. And there are too many mothers who are grieving the loss of their children, hurting today as they wrestle with broken and unfulfilled dreams.
Motherhood is a good thing, a worthy pursuit. It brings great joy and blessing. But motherhood can also bring pain. Today, you may be someone suffering that pain right now. It is perplexing, isn't it? Why is such suffering connected with such a good thing? In fact, why doesn't God remove suffering from good things, good pursuits, and worthy actions?
Well, the Bible helps speak to this question. In 1 Peter, chapter two, the Apostle says: For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly...this is a gracious thing in the sight of God (1 Peter 2:19-20).
The Bible says that enduring suffering and doing good in times of adversity brings a special gift to the world. It displays the grace of God.
Have you heard of a woman named Mary Jo Copeland? She established the "Sharing and Caring Hands" ministry in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mary Jo works with the homeless, the working poor, and children in need. After spending the first six years of her life with her grandparents, Mary Jo was reunited with her mother and father as a little girl. But it didn't take long for her to discover that her father was an abusive man who was not able to support his family.
Mary Jo recalled her father's rage and said, "I'd sit outside for hours praying that my mother wouldn't die." She said that her mother's main focus in life was to keep her father from becoming angry. But managing chaos and pain didn't work. The house was in disarray, dishes hardly were ever washed, and the bathtub was so dirty that Mary Jo couldn't take baths. This cascaded into more suffering and persecution at school. Mary Jo became a loner. Her unwashed body didn't smell good. Other children made fun of her. She kept withdrawing and her grades suffered. That compounded the abuse at home. Mary Jo's father looked at her poor report cards and called her stupid and worthless.
But one thing kept Mary Jo going. In school she had a religion class. She heard something very special as she studied the Bible with her classmates. Mary Jo said, "I was enthralled with the idea that God loves us all equally and unconditionally." God's grace was shining in the middle of suffering. Mary Jo saw how God sent His only Son to give His life for her and for the whole world. Even when Jesus was abused and rejected, He sacrificed Himself to give us the gift of His love, His forgiveness, and His devotion to us forever.
Then Mary Jo had a new thought. She said, "Soon I realized there were lots of children like me--some even worse off. I began to know that God had some special task in mind just for me." You see, our natural reaction during times of difficulty is to become bitter. It is to turn inward. It is to lash out at God and others.
But if we're suffering for something we did wrong, the pain makes sense. It seems deserved. But to do good in the midst of pain and to suffer for doing good shows that something unique is happening. Something unnatural is at work. Something supernatural is taking place. Goodness displayed in the dark valley of suffering can only be attributed to God's grace and presence. That is what we see on the cross when Jesus cried out, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they do" (Luke 23:34). That is what we see in God's sacrifice to reach each of us in the darkness and rebellion of our sin. That is what we see when God has mercy on us in our messy and broken lives.
You may have heard the expression: "God is good; all the time. All the time; God is good." Psalm 136 declares, "Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever" (Psalms 136:1). That doesn't mean that everything that happens in our corrupt, confused, and chaotic world is good. Far from it. But it does mean that, in the midst of everything wrong, everything evil, and everything painful, God's goodness appears as a light shining in the darkness. God's goodness is present as living water in a barren desert. God's goodness appears as love and hope in the wilderness of pain and suffering.
It's goodness we can see clearly when we look at the Person and work of Jesus Christ in the Bible.
But as Christians, one of the first things we're called to do as Christ's people is to let others see Christ in us for them. God's grace is grace to be seen!
One of the ways that such grace is seen in a sinfully, dark world, is when God's people do good and shine the grace of God in Jesus Christ to the world, even when unjustly suffering for it.
Verse 21 of 1 Peter 2 says this, "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example, so that you might follow in his steps." You are called by God to be a "good-doer" not a "do-gooder." It's one word in the Greek text. "Good-doers" display God's grace. "Good-doers" follow the pattern of Jesus. They follow in His tracks and imitate His example. They know that they are "saved by grace," that theirs is not a "do-gooder' look-at-me lifestyle, but a "good-doer" life of sharing God's love with others, the way He gives it to them!
They don't do good to be saved; they do good because God has already done all things well for them, saving them by grace, lavishing them with the love of God in Christ.
This is your calling; this is your calling from God as you walk through all the rigors of this life.
You see, anyone can do poorly. Anyone can act badly. That's easy! Just watch reality TV!
When the pressure is on, anyone can fight, rant, rave, and be mean. Those are our sinful defaults.
When life is challenging, you can choose to imitate pompous athletes and out-of-control celebrities. You can be like the raving coach on the sidelines or the spoiled child who gets everything he or she wants. Or you can hear the calling of God to do good even when the winds of life are blowing hard against you, even when you feel awful, even when your dreams seem to be dashed for good. And when you do, the world takes notice. When you are a "good-doer" in the face of adversity, in the face of inconvenience, and in the face of disappointment--yes, even in the face of persecution--you walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and you show the world His grace.
You heard the words of the Bible: "To this you have been called."
Mary Jo Copeland heard this call of Christ. Life wasn't all peaches and cream for her after she grew up. After meeting her high school sweetheart and getting married, Mary Jo and her husband started a family. They had twelve children! Twelve children! But even amidst all that joy Mary Jo slipped into depression. She became addicted to prescription medications and then to alcohol. She stayed in her house for three years trying to keep up with the demands of family and going through the motions the best she could.
Finally, her husband said to her, "Mary, you can't bottle up all the love that's inside of you. Look at what you've accomplished with our kids. You've got too much to share with the rest of the world!" So Mary Jo got outside of herself, she started to volunteer. She helped feed street people and served the poor. Mary Jo rediscovered her heart for the hurting. She soon recruited volunteers who committed to serving a meal to the poor once every month. Working through her own pain and need, she bought clothing and shoes for families in need. Finally, she founded the ministry called "Sharing and Caring Hands." It is a "compassionate response to the needs of the poor." It is doing good because Jesus Christ has done so much good for us.
As she washes the feet of the poor, Mary Jo says, "Jesus washed His Apostles' feet. He came to serve, not to be served. Can we do less?"
What if you, too, are inspired to be a "good-doer" in your life? What if, with Jesus as your pattern for life, you set out to do good no matter what the situation--to show that God is good and that He lives in you? What if you took this calling from God's Word very seriously and even pledged to withstand suffering for doing good in His Name? How might your life be different?
How might other's lives be different? What if your attitude changed when life isn't going your way? Would people be blessed by you as you took a genuine interest in them and gave a listening ear? Would your complaints be turned into prayers and your pain be used to grow your compassion for fellow sufferers?
Would adversity become an opportunity to strengthen your calling and grow in displaying God's grace to the world?
This is a challenging calling, no doubt. You can't do this under your own power. But remember what the Bible says in Galatians 2 to all who trust and follow Jesus Christ, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20-21).
In fact, for us as believers, doing good is your way of life. When you do good in the midst of adversity, it is Jesus Christ living in you. And that is His promise. You were baptized into His suffering and death so that you could walk in the newness of life in Him (Romans 6:4). Jesus lives in you by the ongoing and eternal presence of His Holy Spirit who came to dwell within you at your Baptism, who continues to come to you through His Word so you can live as His new creation. 1 Peter, chapter two, says, [Jesus] committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He (Jesus) bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:22-24).
Being a "good-doer" is a gift, not a burden or an impossible challenge. Through Jesus Christ you live in His righteousness; you have been healed. Just as Mary Jo Copeland was healed of her pain, her addiction, and her depression, you have been brought back to the Shepherd of your soul. In Him is your strength.
I remember hearing a young mother exclaim after she had been about the parenting task for a few years. She said, "I've become my mother!" She was saying what her mother used to say and doing what her mother used to do. She was making the same rules and thinking in the same ways. That's what happens as Jesus pours His grace into your life. You become like Him. You shine His light. You share His love even when times get tough.
Dear friend, I know what the world is like. I've served in some of the toughest cities in our country, in New York, in LA. I know this world has problems that seem insurmountable. But, will you pause today with me and just consider the good Jesus can do through you for others? I know there are pains in loving others. I know there is difficulty in being a good friend, a good husband, a good wife, a good parent. But God has put His people in this world for a reason. And reason number one is to be His people for others; good-doers in His Name, His power, so that others might be blessed as well. By the power of His Holy Spirit, let the goodness of God wash over you. I pray that it renews and blesses you today with the joy of eternal life in the life you live, with the people you serve. By God's Spirit, rest in the grace of God and be comforted by the friendship of Jesus and let that grace and love be expressed through your words and actions so others can be blessed too.
What a world this would be if mouths were filled with blessing instead of deceit, if insults were returned with God's grace instead of more abuse, if people would trust God to be in charge of life as an opportunity to serve others in His Name!
Mary Jo Copeland was given an award a few years ago. She was celebrated as one of America's ten most caring people. The award lauded "those exceptional few who by their selfless acts ennoble the human race."
Isn't it amazing that selfless acts can ennoble the human race? But it's true, isn't it?
That's why the Apostle Peter said, "For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people" (1 Peter 2:15). And Jesus said, "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 5:16).
What if believers in Christ were known best for doing good; God's good for others? And what if you, as a follower of Jesus, found purpose and strength even in the midst of your adversity by doing good and serving others in His Name? That would change things. Such love in action endures! And remember, when all is said and done, all that we have in this life is the grace and love of God in Jesus Christ, and the good we do for others in His Name.
That's an attitude that can live boldly in this world of real sin and death. That's an attitude that can turn all of our suffering inside out. It's God making everything--yes, everything-good for it would unleash the power of the cross and the power of the Resurrection in our lives and in the lives of those we love, to call all people to life in God's grace in Jesus Christ. That's a life worth receiving, that's a life worth sharing, that's "doing good" God's way and that makes all the difference in our lives, in the world, count on it. God bless you.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for May 11, 2014 Topic: What Does It Mean To Be "Redeemed"?
ANNOUNCER: What does it mean to be "redeemed?" Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, we often speak of Christ as our Redeemer, but what does it mean to be redeemed?
SELTZ: What a great question to hear, Mark. Sometimes "church words" seem strange or unfamiliar, but this word is one that we still use today, one that Christians need to understand.
ANNOUNCER: We redeem coupons and gift cards. I'm wondering if that use of the word is consistent with the Bible's meaning.
SELTZ: It is. In fact, to "redeem" means to get possession of something in exchange for a payment. So, if you have a coupon, you receive the discount in exchange for the printed piece of paper. You may have heard of "Groupon," right?
ANNOUNCER: Right. That's an online promotion company.
SELTZ: Right, Groupon sends out the deal of the day. You can purchase the deal of the day coupon. Then you go to redeem it by going to the store or restaurant or exchanging that coupon for the discount.
ANNOUNCER: And how does that relate to the use of the word in the Bible?
SELTZ: The Bible says, "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed, but with the precious blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:18-19 NIV). Instead of talking about coupons and products, the Bible talks about Jesus' blood and our lives. We were trapped in sin and headed to eternal death. But God got possession of us by paying for us with the blood of Jesus. He purchased us from death so that we could be in His possession and live eternally. We've been redeemed.
ANNOUNCER: In a sense, you could say that Jesus' blood was the "coupon" that gives us the blessings of forgiveness and eternal life.
SELTZ: You sure could, Mark. But, as you can see, exchanging His life for us was a serious and tremendous sacrifice. The word "redemption" becomes one of amazing meaning and gravity in the context of Jesus' sacrifice. For instance, do you remember when people collected S&H Green Stamps?
ANNOUNCER: Well, I'm probably dating myself here, but I do remember as a kid, I helped my Mom paste those stamps into the books and she could exchange them, then, for a toaster or something.
SELTZ: Yeah. That's exactly how it worked. It took a lot more effort than just buying a Groupon or getting a Groupon. When you bought gas at a gas station or at certain stores, they would give you some of these stamps. And then you would save them, you would fill little books full of them. Once you got to a certain amount of stamps, then you could redeem them for cool prizes like a 13-inch black-and-white TV set, or a picnic basket, or a lawn chair. If you wanted a big item, you could even add money to the stamps to purchase the product. Where the redemption comparison, though, breaks down is that God sent His only Son into the world to die in our place as an exchange for sinners! We weren't cool prizes or nice items for God's house. We were sinners--rebellious and broken people. God didn't get any discount on us. He paid the whole bill because He loved us enough to redeem us; 100%.
ANNOUNCER: All of which illustrates why God's love is the most amazing love this world could ever know, even though it doesn't make sense to us sometimes.
SELTZ: That's why the Biblical word "redeem" is so powerful and moving. There is an account in the Biblical book of Ruth where a man named Boaz serves as a "redeemer" for Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. These women were helpless and in great need when Boaz stepped in to care for them, provide for them, help them. In fact, Boaz and Ruth fell in love, got married, and had a baby who would become King David's grandfather. So, this legacy of being what was called a "kinsmen-redeemer" pointed to the coming Savior, Jesus Christ.
ANNOUNCER: By the way, the book of Ruth is found in the Old Testament. It's only four brief chapters long; so our listeners could very easily read that and get the whole story.
SELTZ: Wow, what a great idea, and by reading that book of Ruth, listeners would see that the concept of a redeemer was well known in the Old Testament. There's even a famous verse in the book of Job that says, "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth" (Job 19:25 ESV). Even in suffering Job had faith that God would rescue him and pay the price to get him back from his suffering and pain--even if he had to wait until he reached heaven.
ANNOUNCER: That passage also inspired the much-loved hymn, "I Know that My Redeemer Lives."
SELTZ: Yes; and the message of the Redeemer in the Bible has given comfort and hope to people throughout the centuries. Perhaps as our listeners use coupons in their daily lives, they can recall the price God paid for us and the love He showed us by redeeming us.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. And we thank our listener for that question and we hope you will 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.
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