Fwd: The Lutheran Hour: June 14, 2015 "God's Great Work of Faith"

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Subject: The Lutheran Hour: June 14, 2015 "God's Great Work of Faith"

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"God's Great Work of Faith" #82-41

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on June 14, 2015
By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Why Should I Pay Attention to the Bible?)
Copyright 2015 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Mark 4

Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come"

Christ is risen! Jesus is risen, indeed! Hallelujah. Amen.

Everyone today says that it is important to have faith. Would you agree? Great. The Bible also agrees with that statement, as far as it goes. But, the Scriptures get more specific about this topic saying that the faith that is essential to life is faith in Christ! You see, since what you believe drives what you say and do, it's important to have faith rooted in the right stuff, the right place! 

Okay, but even that kind of faith poses a question. Ready? Is faith your work or God's work? Can you believe in God with your own power and decision or is it all up to Him? Is there a small part of you that can reach out to God or are you unable to do anything to initiate a relationship with Him? 

The answer is surprising and simple: your faith in God is completely God's work, God's gift for you. Whoa! Wow!

Paul said it plainly in Ephesians, chapter 2: "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive with Christ-by grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:4-5).

God wants you to know what a blessing you have when He makes you eternally alive with Jesus. Isn't it a delightful surprise that God saves you by His grace? You can't do anything when you're dead in your sins. But God reached out for you even then!

That's what Jesus was emphasizing when He told a short parable in Mark, chapter 4:"The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how" (Mark 4:25-29).

God's kingdom grows without our knowledge or help. That's what God does. It's His specialty. And like His kingdom God creates faith also and grows it. He blesses us with this precious gift so that we can be rescued from sin, hopelessness, and death. Then we get to live in this new and blessed life that God Himself provides.

Faith is God's work. It's God's gift! Listen to what Paul says about it further in Romans, chapter 10: "Christ is the end of the law so that there might be righteousness from Him for everyone who believes." 

Faith means that God is doing the work and you are receiving the blessings that only He can provide! This is incredible. This is life changing. This is hard to believe, right? Hang in there with me on this. Let God have His say.

Let's start with the Word itself. You see, the Biblical word for faith has as its root meaning "trustworthiness" and "fidelity." If you believe, if you have faith, you are connected with God's trustworthiness, His fidelity. Having faith means having God's trustworthy work in your life.

That is why, in Romans, chapter 10, Paul asked the question, "But the righteousness that is by faith does not say in your heart, "Who will ascend into heaven?" (That is, to bring Christ down) or "Who will descend into the depths?" (That is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? 'The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,' that is, the word of faith that we are proclaiming" (vss.6-8). 

There is no other word like this in the world because it's God at work 100% for you, for your life and your salvation. Then Paul goes on to say that God even put the blessings of this work in your mouth, in your heart, so you can confess it. You can acknowledge it. He makes you alive in the gift that He gives. "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

That is God's grace and the power of His Word in your life. Faith in Him, you'll live forever. 

So, the question I have for you today is: do you believe and what does that mean for your life? Does it matter that faith is God's work, not ours? It does, dear friend. It really does. It matters even more than you know.

Let me tell you a story of why this is important. The very power of this kind of faith in the midst of what seemed like utter defeat! 

Her name is Olive. For those who knew this unassuming grandma who lived in the suburbs of Chicago, they would have never guessed that she had an amazing connection to some remarkable mission work clear across the world.

You see, Olive, at one time, was married to Pete Fleming. In June of 1954, she joined her husband Pete and his missionary partner, Jim Elliot, to evangelize the peoples of Ecuador. She was about to embark upon a journey which she could never have imagined.

The team's goal was to locate and reach out to the Waodoni Indians, also known as the "Aucas" or the "savages." That was the name that their enemies gave them because the Aucas were known for brutally killing one another-men, women, and children. In her book, Unfolding Destinies, Olive said that the Waodani's described their own existence as "a life where everyone did as they pleased. They explained how they threw babies away when they weren't convenient to care for. They talked about how people begged to be buried alive when they knew that they were dying so that their spirits wouldn't wander without solace when freed from their decomposing and unburied bodies" (p. 249). This tribe was brutal. They speared families and strangled their own children. But these were the people that Pete wanted to reach.

In late 1955 Pete, Jim, pilot Nate Saint, and fellow missionaries Roger Youderian and Ed McCully made friendly contact with the Aucas. For weeks they exchanged gifts and they established a friendly connection through airdrops. Then they were able to land their plane, make camp, and personally exchange gifts and gestures of kindness. The relationships seemed to blossom, and on January 8, 1956, Pete, Jim, Ed, Roger, and Nate radioed this message to Nate's wife, "Looks like they'll be here for the early afternoon service. Pray for us. This is the day! Will contact you next at four-thirty." Pete and his friends, they were never heard from again.

Four days later Olive found out that Pete and the other men were speared to death on that beach that day. The Aucas, after seeing a Polaroid photograph of themselves, feared that the missionaries were stealing their spirits, so they attacked and they killed them all.

Olive was stunned. A 24-year-old bride, now she was a 24-year-old widow. She said, "The sense of loss overwhelmed me. I knew the truth, but couldn't accept the reality of what had happened to my husband, Pete. Whether I felt God's presence at that point I cannot recall; I do remember the assurance from His Word, however. During the week of waiting and hoping she read 2 Corinthians 5:5 where it said: 'He who has prepared us for this very thing is God.' Somehow God was preparing her and Pete for this. Nevertheless, my emotions swung from one extreme to another in the days that followed: grief over my loss, trust in God's sovereignty, anger at the men for taking such a foolish risk, confidence in God's Word, and fear that He was punishing me for my lack of faith. My dreams turned into nightmares" (Liefeld pp.15-16).

Olive experienced crushing hurt and defeat. Now she didn't know what to think or feel. Faith? What good was faith then?

If faith is your work, it's probably pretty useless at a point like that. Put defeat in your life, struggle, loss, disappointment, illness, hurtful people, thoughtlessness, death, and you're pretty immobilized, sometimes bitter, sometimes hopeless. What you and I do--our work--is so temporary and weak, even at our best! So much can lay us low and put an end to our strength and resolve. We're frail sinners, after all; even when we're saved. You know that, be honest. We often can't do the things we even think are important, let alone God's things. But we're also flawed sinners. Even our best work can also be terribly corrupt. Our actions as people in this world, can be hurtful. We can do things that drain life from people--even take life from them, as Olive experienced herself. 

But if faith is God's work, what can that mean, what can that mean as you experience hurt and defeat? If faith is God's trustworthiness, His fidelity to you, His passionate work to help and save you, what does that mean for your life then? That changes everything! Because God, He can be at work even then!

In Olive's hurt and defeat, faith in God's work meant that she didn't have to ascend into heaven or descend into the deep to conjure up some help. No, in her crushed spirit, the Word was very near her. God's passionate help was in her heart-even though she didn't feel it. God's passionate consolation was in her mouth; even though she couldn't say it. She couldn't make it through these days and years under her own power. But there was a Savior who walked the way of suffering before her. There was a Savior who was crushed for her on the cross. There is a Savior who brought life to her from the darkness of death as He arose from the dead. This was God's work; His gracious, loving, merciful, and helping work. God the Father sent Jesus for Olive and for you so that even in momentary defeat and hurt you have God's grace and the power of His Word to carry you through it all. That's why it is so important to know that faith is God's work too.

Jesus said, "With what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of seeds in the earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade" (Mark 4:30-32). When God does the work, the growing and the giving, the Kingdom strength He provides is beyond all we can ask for or imagine. God's staying power is in the faith He gives and creates. That's God's gift to you, my friend. Believe today. And that was God's blessing for Olive too. No matter how weak you feel, no matter what assaults you, no matter how great you fall or fail, you cannot negate the love and forgiveness of God in Christ for you. As the renowned children's song goes: "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so; little ones to Him belong; they are weak, but He is strong." Faith says, "Amen to that."

He is strong. He creates faith. He gives this precious gift. We live in the blessing of God's great work.

So what was next for Olive? She went home. She wasn't ready for the press and all the attention she was getting. But as the years went by, God slowly knit Olive's life together. You might say that there was faith even in these times of success too. A few years passed and Olive met Walter Liefeld. Walter was a pastor and, later, a teacher in the Chicago area. Olive and Walter fell in love and were married. Olive commented, "As Walt's ministry grew, I got involved in his teaching and with student's wives. Our rich life and ministry together and the gift of three wonderful children filled my heart with thanksgiving to God. I compared myself to Job, who after all of his troubles received from God, received 'twice as much as he had before' (Job 42:10)" (Liefeld p.20). 

Incredibly, God provided even more healing. In January of 1989, Olive went back to that beach in Ecuador, the beach where her husband, Pete, was killed. She went with Walt and their daughter, Holly. Much had changed though. In fact, not long after the men had been killed, God opened the door for Nate Saint's sister and Jim Elliot's wife to go back to the Aucas and share the love of Christ with them. You may have heard about Elizabeth Elliot's remarkable story of redemption and forgiveness. Now, thirty-three years to the day that Olive had learned of Pete's death, she met one of her husband's killers, Kimo, and his wife, Dawa, who actually saw the killings. Dawa described how God worked, even in the midst of the violence, to convince the Waodoni people that God was very real. 

Dawa went on to describe how her people learned from the missionaries that the "Man Maker sent His Son to die for people who were full of hate, and fear, and desire for revenge." She said, "Badly, badly we lived back then. Now, walking God's trail, which He has marked for us on paper [she was referring to the Bible], we live well. All people still die, but if living you follow God's trail, then dying will lead you to heaven. But only one trail leads there. All other trails lead to where God will never be after death." As Dawa spoke, the people were spellbound. Then she asked, "Have you heard me well? Have you heard me well? Which one of you wants to follow God's trail, living well?"

What a complete transformation. What an incredible miracle. Pete and Olive's mission was realized. Actually Christ's mission through Pete and Olive was realized! Olive saw a remarkable transformation, new life among the Waodoni Indians; even their own evangelistic outreach to others. This was more, much more, than she could have ever hoped for.

That's what happens when God is the source of your faith. As we have said many times on this program, nothing is over until He says it's over and the things of God in Christ never end. He can even do miraculous things through our struggles and pain. Why, because His cross and His resurrection are the ultimate words for our lives. Faith in Him brings life that will last!

That's why it's important to remember that faith is God's work, because that's faith that will last. That's faith that holds on to God's things. Faith in ourselves, faith only in victory; that faith doesn't last. But if even faith is God's work, it means that even in the middle of success He is the One to be thanked and glorified, in the middle of struggle, He is the One who can be counted on. Whether in good times or bad, God's passionate grip on your life still holds you, keeps you balanced, and fills you with gratitude. That's how Olive felt. Her heart overflowed with the awe of God's trustworthy work. She knew that in all things she lived by faith. 

Today, I want to invite you to live by the power of faith as God's gracious work in your life. Olive said it best, "Many times I have felt angry, frustrated, or disappointed with the Lord. I don't always feel like rejoicing. And I don't always know what my next step should be. But now I am learning to trust-not in tangible, temporal things, not in what I think God has done or is going to do, not even in God's 'will' for my life. Instead, I am learning to trust in God Himself. Period. Even when I don't know the bigger picture, He does" (Liefeld, p.239).

That's faith, faith that God offers you today in Jesus Christ. Will you receive it? I pray that you will. Continue to join us here at the Lutheran Hour and we'll grow in this powerful faith together. For when you trust in Him, when you realize that even your faith in Him is His gracious work, your life will never be the same again!


LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for June 14, 2015
Topic: Why Should I Pay Attention to the Bible?

ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer. Today a listener says, "The Bible is a very old book. With all the reading material now available, why should I pay attention to the Bible?" 

SELTZ: Let's talk about the Bible, Mark. First of all, it's not an ordinary book.

ANNOUNCER: That's right. In fact, the Bible is inspired by God. The apostle Paul said, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV). 

SELTZ: Yeah, that's powerful. The Apostle Peter, who witnessed Jesus' life on earth, His miracles, His death, resurrection, and ascension; remember what he said about the Bible too?

ANNOUNCER: He writes, "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:20-21 NIV).

SELTZ: It's an incredible book. The history of the Bible, the unity of the Bible, the documented evidence for the Bible that's so unique; also the verifiable prophecies that have been fulfilled in the Scriptures. They all reinforce that this is God's Word; this is His miraculous revelation to us. 

ANNOUNCER: Something to which we must pay attention.

SELTZ: Very much so, Mark. But paying attention to God's Word, the Bible, isn't a chore. It's actually a delightful blessing. God's Word offers more than anything else the world can offer. Test Him on that. I love Psalm 119 where it describes the pursuit of God's Word well. It says, "How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth" (Psalms 119:103 ESV). The Bible is God's gift to us.

ANNOUNCER: And looking just two verses later, the writer says to God, "Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path" (Psalms 119:105 ESV).

SELTZ: That's a good place to start as we discuss the significance of the Bible. A compelling reason to pay attention to it is because it brings us the truth. In a world of rumors, and deception, and passing fads, the Bible gives us the trustworthy, solid, enduring truth of God for our lives. It shows us our sin without pulling any punches. It also shows us our salvation through Jesus Christ. 

ANNOUNCER: And it does this without offering any deception concerning our flawed human condition, it also gives us the remedy for that trouble. 

SELTZ: Yeah, a gracious God, think about it, who came down to us to save us and make us His own. The truth of the Bible shows us this path of life that leads to heaven. That's the primary purpose of the Bible. 

ANNOUNCER: So the Bible is not simply an ordinary book with advice for life.

SELTZ: Not at all. We hear in Hebrews, chapter four: "The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12 ESV). 

ANNOUNCER: God's Word does something. 

SELTZ: Absolutely. It affects change and transformation. It gets into your life, renews your heart with the love of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit. I like to compare it to Vitamin Water. You're not just drinking water; you're getting some vitamins that help your health and well-being. When you hear or read the Bible, you're not just connected with a book or a story; you're receiving the Spirit of God and a message that saves and sanctifies.

ANNOUNCER: And as we read in Romans, chapter 10, "So then, faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ!"

SELTZ: That's right. And that's why it's worth paying attention to. God sends His Word to accomplish His purpose in our lives, the most important of which is faith in Him! Another blessing that the Bible brings to our lives is clarity. It instructs us in right and wrong. It teaches us to be men and women of God, people who live with integrity, people who can bless others. 

ANNOUNCER: The Bible also teaches self-sacrifice. It lifts up care and concern for others. 

SELTZ: It leads us out of our own egocentric existence and it does so by giving us God's wisdom.

ANNOUNCER: What would you say to our listeners who maybe haven't read the Bible all that much?

SELTZ: First of all, I would encourage every listener to try reading the Bible regularly. Read a little bit every day and see what happens. A good place to start is the Gospel of John. If you want to gain an understanding of the whole Bible and you're just starting out, I would encourage you to find a simple children's Bible and read through the whole thing. You can even do that with your family. Once you see the summary, start reading the details. I know you will be blessed.

ANNOUNCER: Even though the Bible is a very old book, it is a unique book. It gives us God's wisdom but it also shows us our Savior and through that the Holy Spirit works to create and sustain faith.

SELTZ: Right now. 

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.

"Creator Spirit, By Whose Aid" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

"Preserve Your Word, O Savior" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)


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