Presented on The Lutheran Hour on July 5, 2015 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker (Were Our Nation's Founders Christians?) Copyright 2015 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: 2 Corinthians 12:1-10
Therefore, in order to keep me from being conceited, (the apostle Paul said), I was given a thorn in my flesh...to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
In the Name of the One Who is, Who was, and Who is coming again to judge the living and the dead, Jesus our Savior. Amen.
Have you ever had what I like to call a recipe reality check? How about saying it this way? "Have you ever had a baking disaster?" You know what I mean: instead of adding sugar, like the recipe said, you added salt; or you lost track of the ingredients and forgot the baking powder; or you were certain the recipe called for an oven heated to 450 degrees for 60 minutes--but judging by the smoke pouring out of the oven, you must have misread the instructions.
Recipe reality check: cakes fall, cookies flop, brownies burn, and treats turn out wrong when the recipe isn't followed quite correctly. One small miscalculation can cause a baking disaster.
Well, what about life? Your life? My life? What is the recipe for a successful life? Is it going to school, getting a job, getting married, having kids, and retiring to a quiet lake house somewhere? Is it spicing up life with some adventure--traveling the world, taking adventure trips, seeing and experiencing unending excitement? Is it achieving financial success, becoming famous, or making your mark in a profession; even gaining street smarts so that you can navigate the rough world out there? Or, is it closer to home, being dedicated to family, to community? What is the recipe for a successful life?
A man named Saul thought he knew the formula. His family heritage put him in a position to be revered by others. He was schooled by the best teachers. He was qualified for the most esteemed groups of leaders. He was a brilliant young prodigy in his field and admired by his peers and his elders. But this pathway to success grew something unhealthy in him. Saul became arrogant. He started to feel as if he was better than others. He began to look down on people. He lost a sense of compassion and understanding. Patience ebbed from his life. He became judgmental and hateful. You may have heard Saul's story before. He lived in the first century and became part of a group of people who hunted down Christians in order to imprison them, persecute them, even kill them. The seemingly successful recipe for Saul's life turned very sour.
I wonder if you're like Saul today. Even though the best ingredients have been poured into your life, very slowly you've lost your sense of compassion, patience, and love for others. Your temper is short, or your heart has grown cold, or even worse, you feel like you've failed and any second chances seem to have run out. Wasted opportunities....life lost.
But, maybe that's not you at all. Maybe you've had more than your share of bad breaks. Perhaps your level of grief and suffering has been much higher than others. The death of loved ones, the experience of abuse, or the ravages of illness have plagued you. You know this is not the way life should be. You wonder if it's even possible to have a good life, a happy life, a successful life.
What's the recipe? Is a successful life really possible? Today I want to give you a fast and simple, but not simplistic, answer. Yes! Yes, a successful life is still possible for you and for me. If your life is broken, if your heart feels cold, or if what you thought was promising has fallen through, you still have the opportunity to have a successful life. How? The same way Saul did. He met the Author, the Redeemer, the Giver of life, Jesus Christ. Now, his story is a bit unique, maybe you've heard it. Jesus stopped Saul in his tracks as he traveled to a town to persecute Christians. Jesus appeared to him in a blinding light and asked him why he was on such a rampage. Then Jesus gave Saul instructions. He was to go to a house and wait.
Can you imagine what Saul went through as he waited? He was blind. He was in shock. He was probably scared. Was this Jesus going to get revenge? Was God going to zap Saul for his arrogant and violent behavior? Was God going to punish Saul for not appreciating all the good things in his life that were gifts from God?
God didn't do any of that. Instead, He sent a man to heal Saul's sight and to baptize him so he could be filled with the Holy Spirit--forgiven of his sins and renewed in life.
He met the gracious Savior, Jesus Christ, and he put his faith in Him, he followed Him in all things. That, my friend, is the key to a successful life. In fact, that's the definition of a successful, eternal life: one that is forgiven, restored, and renewed in Christ alone.
But, that good life, that successful life wasn't just meant for Saul. This message is for you, for me, for all! That's the life you are given through the death and resurrection of your Savior, Jesus Christ. This is the life you receive when you are baptized and filled with the Spirit of God. This may be simple, straight forward, but it is not simplistic.
It literally took the Son of God coming from His throne in heaven, born in the flesh on Christmas Day, to live your life perfectly, to die your death sacrificially, to take your judgment on Himself, to give you His gracious, eternal, joy-filled life as a pure gift. That's what it means to believe in Him.
In Him, you are forgiven and renewed. In Him, you have a new beginning, another chance, renewed, restored, and at peace forever with Jesus.
Did Saul deserve it? Not at all. Did Saul earn it? No. Do you deserve it? Can you earn it? No. But God gives it to you because He loves you and does not want to lose you. He doesn't want you living your life in hopelessness, in sadness, or in eternal meaninglessness. So He sent His only Son, Jesus, to change the ingredients of your life.
What's the recipe for a successful life? It's very simple: the fullness of Jesus and less of you.
That's what Saul talked about to a group of rough-around-the-edges followers of Jesus who lived in the city of Corinth. He opened up his life to them. He told them his story. He revealed his weaknesses. By this time Saul was being called by the name you might be more familiar with, Paul, who was an Apostle of God's grace in Jesus to others!
You see, Paul was no longer persecuting Jesus; he was promoting Jesus. In our reading today, it was to the people in Corinth. They were the most unlikely people to become Christians too. Corinth was the "sin city" of its time. But these people craved a new beginning, and, in Jesus Christ, that's the gift they received. Urging them to grow into a truly successful life, Paul gave them the recipe from his own experience. He said: But JESUS said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me......For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Did you hear the recipe? As Paul wrestled with his affliction and suffering, Jesus let Paul know that the fullness of His grace was the answer. More of Jesus' power would help Paul through. Paul realized that he would be content with his own weaknesses because the less strength he had in and of himself, the more Christ's power could take hold of him. That's the recipe for a successful life: the fullness of Jesus and less reliance on yourself.
Think about it: less of your ego; less of your worrying; less of your efforts to control everything; less of the anger that courses through your mind and heart; less of your guilt and beating yourself up; less of your grief and woundedness welling up inside of you; and more of Jesus, less of you.
What does that life look like in practice? It is more of Jesus' grace and forgiveness in your life as you hear His promises new every day; it is more of Jesus' unconditional love as He leads you out of your failures and connects you with people who truly care about you; it is more of Jesus' peace as you go to Him in prayer and trust in Him to respond; it is more of Jesus' healing as He takes your burdens and wounds off of your shoulders and out of your psyche so you can live as a new creation in Him; it is more of Jesus' leadership and wisdom as He puts you on a new path of life, and guides you faithfully in His steps.
Now that's a recipe for a successful life. Paul knew that the more he tried to be in charge, or the more he attempted to take over, or the more he dwelled on himself and what was in it for him, the weaker he became. But if he acknowledged his weakness, if he confessed his faults, and if he trusted the grace and power of Jesus, the stronger he became.
Scott Barry Kaufman wrote an article in Psychology Today called, "How to Win American Idol." In his commentary, the author analyzed the contestants and winners of the popular television reality show. What was his conclusion about how to win? It wasn't good looks or even talent. It was something he called an "X-factor," a complex blend of characteristics that no one can manufacture, manipulate, or predict. Kaufman said that you can't really win by trying or just by believing in yourself. Essentially, he said, "You either have it or you don't." Trying too hard will guarantee a loss. You need less of you and more of something you can't fully control or even quantify.
Does that sound somewhat familiar? Jesus said to Paul, here's the real solution to real life, "My power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). When there's less of you in the way, the grace and power of Jesus Christ will prevail.
You see, Jesus gave all of Himself for you. He offered up His life and carried all of your fears, failures, grief, and brokenness upon His shoulders. He let it put an end to His life. He let it crush Him in order to lift you up and make you whole. Jesus sacrificed a successful life when He hung on the cross. He let all of Himself be destroyed and separated completely from God for you.
But then God the Father raised Him from the dead. The sacrifice for you and me was accepted. And now Jesus lives to dwell in you completely, to forgive you and renew you, to give you a successful life on His terms: more of Jesus, your living Savior, and less of the broken and burdened you.
Do you remember what John the Baptist said about his life when Jesus showed up? He said, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). John the Baptist understood the recipe for a successful life.
Even Paul echoed that when he shared the recipe for a successful life with the Christians in the city of Galatia. He said, "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 up for me" (Galatians 2:20).
As we remember our freedom this time of year, we see that some of our nation's most prominent and able leaders felt the same way. Abraham Lincoln, for instance, was such a man. When Harriet Beecher Stowe, renowned author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," interviewed Abraham Lincoln for a magazine article in the midst of the Civil War, Stowe commented about the president: "We see evidence in passing through this dreadful national crisis he has been forced by the very anguish of struggle to look upward, where any rational creature must look for support."
Oh that you and I would do that today....more of Jesus, less of ourselves.
Here's some quotes from Lincoln from a website called "Abraham Lincoln's Classroom." You see, Lincoln realized this too. He said this, "That the Almighty does make use of human agencies, and directly intervenes in human affairs, is one of the plainest statements of the Bible. I have had so many evidences of His directions, so many instances when I have been controlled by some other power than my own will, and I cannot doubt that this power comes from above."
It is often during your times of emptiness that you see the fullness of Jesus' presence. That was true for Paul, true for Lincoln, true for all who put their faith in Jesus.
In fact, Lincoln had seen God's powerful hand many times before in the lives of God's people.
Gilbert Greene, one of Lincoln's colleagues, told a story of when they visited a dying woman at her request, to help her with her will. Now that's a business situation, right? What's faith and Scripture have to do with that?
They arrived when the woman had but a few hours to live. After the will had been written, signed, and witnessed, the dying woman said to Mr. Lincoln, - 'Now, I have my affairs in this world arranged satisfactorily. I have also made preparation for the life to come. I do not fear death. I am glad that I am soon to meet those who have gone before me.'
Mr. Lincoln replied, - 'Your faith in God is strong. Your hope of a future life is blessed.' She asked him then if he would read a few verses from the Bible. Now, again, you wouldn't expect a businessman to be ready to do something like that, right? He began reciting immediately from memory the 23rd Psalm. Then he quoted the first part of the 14th chapter of John where it says, - 'In my father's house are many mansions; if it were not so,' Jesus said, 'I would have told you.' After he had given these and other quotations from the Scriptures he recited several hymns, closing with 'Rock of Ages, Cleft for me.'
On the way home, it was reported that Lincoln realized what was truly happening when he said, "God and eternity were very near today."
During times of hardship and suffering the recipe for a successful life is more of Jesus, less of each of us.
But, you may be thinking....Pastor, it's great to hear about how God's recipe for life works in the lives of others; but how about me? How about you? Will you go forward with this new life today, dear friend? Will you be content with Him alone? Will you even rejoice that in your weaknesses, the strength and the grace of Jesus Christ is in you and for you? Will you show the love of Jesus when antagonists assail you? Will you respond with prayer when pressure builds? Will you follow the ways of God when temptation assaults you? Will you express trust in your risen Savior when hopelessness tries to hold you captive? Will you seek peace when arguments try to prevail? Will you seek to serve others and share your hope in Jesus when your ego seeks its own perks and pleasure? Will you seek to make the eternal impression of Jesus on the world not the fleeting mark of your own fame?
That's a recipe for a successful life because it trusts in Christ alone in all things. By faith in Him, let God bless you with His promises, that in all things, "His grace is sufficient for you. His power is made perfect in weakness."
That's life to live, to celebrate, to share and it can be yours today by faith!
ACTION IN MINISTRY for July 5, 2015 Guest: Ancella Gregory
ANNOUNCER: You are listening to The Lutheran Hour. This is Action In Ministry, a call to action in response to all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Today we're going to hear about something that would probably get someone arrested or maybe hauled off to court if they were to try it here in the U.S. and Canada and that is to talk about Jesus in school. But that is what our Ministry Center in Jamaica is doing. In fact, the school invited them in to talk with students and even start an after-school Bible club. Joining us via Skype is our ministry center Director in Jamaica, Ancella Gregory. Ancella, thanks for joining us.
GREGORY: Thank you.
ANNOUNCER: Sad to say, Jesus has been expelled from our schools here. How was it that you were invited to bring a Bible-based message to students in Jamaica and why are you allowed to do this?
GREGORY: Well, in Jamaica, the schools do devotions in schools and then after that I introduced my Bible club to them and they agreed.
ANNOUNCER: And what is the purpose of your presentation that you make to the general students, those who are part of the whole student body?
GREGORY: A devotion, to bring a message from the Bible; put a regular story of what is happening in Jamaica with that. And then show them how the Lord is involved in that.
ANNOUNCER: And what do you cover in your after-school Bible club?
GREGORY: Okay. We start with the naming of the books of the Bible because some children do not know the names of the books in the Bible or they don't know where to find it. So, that's a basic knowledge of the Bible first and then we start to go through the Bible with stories that will excite them, and then we can bring things that is happening to them in Jamaica or what is happening now that is in the Bible and then we can see how the Lord works with us through these situations.
ANNOUNCER: Does the school put any limits on what you can say in the after-school Bible club?
GREGORY: No. We're just giving the story or just the basic Bible knowledge. That's okay.
ANNOUNCER: And you're also able to share with them the message of Jesus; that it's not just God wanting to make us nicer people but God is wanting to save us through what Jesus has done for us.
GREGORY: Yes. That's what we do.
ANNOUNCER: Now tell us about these students who complete this course. I understand they receive their very own Bible.
GREGORY: Yes, they do. That was given to us by Pastor Scheer, who passed a few months ago. His church donated those Bibles to us. And each student who has gone through a certain limited time through our Bible class, we award them with a Bible and a certificate that they have done well. And some of them, they have received the Bible for the first time. So, you know, that is exciting to them.
ANNOUNCER: What does that mean to them? What do they tell you?
GREGORY: They appreciate the Bible and they said now they can now find the books that we already have taught them and they know where they are now. For instance, a child went to school and the teacher asked her how many books are there in the Old Testament and she was the only one hand that was up and she was so excited about that because she was the first child who did that in class.
ANNOUNCER: And how can our listeners help you?
GREGORY: They can tune in to our blog on our Facebook to see what we are doing and give us some feedback. And if there is any need for any help that they can assist us, I'll greatly appreciate it.
ANNOUNCER: We've been talking with Ancella Gregory, the Director of our Ministry Center in Kingston, Jamaica and we'd also like to take this opportunity to greet our listeners in Jamaica. The Lutheran Hour is carried there. Ancella, thanks for being with us.
GREGORY: You're welcome!
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for Jul 05, 2015 Topic: Were Our Nation's Founders Christians?
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, a listener wants to know about the founders of the United States and their faith. Were they Christians?
SELTZ: Mark, there are a number of misconceptions about these leaders. You've probably heard some of the modern myths.
ANNOUNCER: Yeah, some say that they were deists, some say they were atheists.
SELTZ: Atheists, of course, are people who do not believe there is a God. And, Deists claim that there is a natural knowledge of God apart from religious sources and that God is not closely involved with the world. I've heard it described this way; that that kind of belief is God wound up the world like a wind-up toy and then He let it go on its own.
ANNOUNCER: Well, are those assessments true?
SELTZ: None of these people were atheists, that's for sure. And, while it may be true that some of them were not devoted orthodox Christians or endorsers of the whole Bible, maybe even organized religion, even that group was a very small minority. The fact is that more than half of the signers of the Declaration of the Independence had degrees from seminaries or Bible schools. Many were very devoted and outspoken believers in Jesus.
ANNOUNCER: How about some examples?
SELTZ: Let's start with some of the more controversial figures. Benjamin Franklin, well, this is what he said, "He who shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world." And he meant that for good. And then there's Thomas Jefferson. He promoted the study of the Bible and endorsed Christian education as the best defense of our nation.
ANNOUNCER: Now, for many, these men weren't anything close to devoted Christians in any orthodox sense.
SELTZ: And they'd be right! But many others, like John Quincy Adams, connected the birth of the United States to the birth of the Savior, Jesus. He said that "the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer's mission upon earth..." and that "it laid the corner stone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity."
ANNOUNCER: To varying degrees, these men were immersed in Christian faith and some were even more direct in their testimony.
SELTZ: For example, Samuel Adams is fairly well known. In his will he said, "I rely on the merits of Jesus Christ for a pardon for all my sins." Many others gave great testimonies to their faith in Jesus in their wills. Benjamin Rush, he's a signer of the Declaration of Independence, he also founded a Bible Society. He said this, "My only hope of salvation is in the infinite, transcendent love of God in Jesus Christ. I rely exclusively upon it. Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly!"
ANNOUNCER: Now, why is this discussion important for our listeners, especially those who are not in the United States?
SELTZ: The point, I think, is that it shows how committed faith, and politics, and freedom...they are not at odds like people say so much today. In fact, the Biblical worldview has unleashed not only spiritual, eternal freedom onto the world....it has even blessed many with political and individual freedoms not known before in history.
ANNOUNCER: So, it sounds like faith and Biblical principles guided much of the thinking behind the freedoms they established.
SELTZ: That too would be true. But let me say it this way....what needs to be understood about the uniqueness of many of these leaders is that they knew that the establishment of a state religion, or even a secularized public religion was not the way to go for real freedom. In fact, they wanted to limit the state's power and set the religious citizen free to do what was right, motivated by faith! That's the first amendment!
ANNOUNCER: So as our listeners in the United States celebrate freedom this week, people around the world can think about the Biblical foundations of freedom, not just in politics, but in our lives now and forever in Christ!
SELTZ: And that might be the best thing about what these early leaders set in motion. They knew that the Christian faith is to be proclaimed and believed freely. And to guard freedom, it should be lived out boldly, freely in service to our neighbors.
ANNOUNCER: The Bible is also clear that the church has its job in the world, and the state has its particular job as well.
SELTZ: Yes, for more on that, our TV special, "The Intersection of Church and State," is a great resource. Folks can call in and get that DVD if they wish!
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. We acknowledge the faith of our founders, but we also understand our calling as Christ's church to believe and confess this precious faith in Jesus Christ. 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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