Fwd: The Lutheran Hour: September 6, 2015 "God's Grand Opening"

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Subject: The Lutheran Hour: September 6, 2015 "God's Grand Opening"

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"God's Grand Opening" #83-01

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on September 6, 2015
By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(What Does It Mean to Have a Christian Vocation?)
Copyright 2015 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Mark 7:31-37

32 ... some people brought to Jesus a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hands on him. 33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. Then he spit and touched the man's tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, "Ephphatha!" (which means "Be opened!"). 35 At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.........People were overwhelmed with amazement. "He has done everything well," they said. "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."

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

The lines were long. The parking lot was full. Signs for miles around guided people to the right place. There was excitement in the air. What was happening? Was it the opening of a new state park for the Labor Day weekend? Was it the beginning of a new church in a community? Was it a crowd looking for the first tickets to a concert or to a playoff game?

No, it was the grand opening of a hamburger joint! Finally, a restaurant called "In and Out Burger" had come to town! I lived in California for 11 years and let me tell you, people will do almost anything to have an "In and Out Burger." 

Grand openings can be exciting, especially when waiting for something special. That's why it's called a grand opening! It's a new season, a new day, with new opportunities.

It's also what happened in the Gospel of Mark, chapter seven. Verse 31 says, "Then [Jesus] returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis."

What you just heard was a huge development in those days. It doesn't sound like it at first, but this was a grand opening. Earlier in Mark, chapter five, Jesus healed a man who was possessed by dozens of demons. He was a hopeless cause living a mess of a life, rejected by the local community. Nobody was able to help him throughout his life, but along came Jesus. He did the impossible. He brought wholeness and healing to a hopeless and helpless person.

Take note of this because this is Jesus' specialty. He is the Friend of sinners. He is the Great Physician. He is the Burden-Bearer and the Miracle Worker. If you have any sense of hopelessness or helplessness today, Jesus is Who you need. If you've hit the wall of your own weakness, you need Someone who is stronger, wiser, and greater. And that Person is the Son of God, Jesus Christ, Who gave His life for you and who defeated what we could never overcome--sin and death. Today Jesus comes to you with help and with healing.

After the man in Mark, chapter five, was healed, he begged to go with Jesus. But Jesus told him to go and tell his family and friends all that had been done for him. So the man went. Mark, chapter five, tells us that he went into the Decapolis. The Decapolis was a region of ten towns consisting of people who embraced the pagan and immoral culture of ancient Greece and its religions. As far as the true children of Israel were concerned, these people were beyond help. Not only were they lost, they were repulsive, undesirable. Church leaders of the day considered residents of the Decapolis too far gone. They were unclean, thoroughly corrupt. They were Gentiles who worshipped a variety of gods, who lived worldly lives, and who did everything opposed to Jewish religious law. As a result, they were completely rejected by the religious establishment of the day. No one would dare to mingle with people in the Decapolis. Nobody would stoop to venture into such unclean and unholy surroundings. That's what was so radical about Jesus' commission of the formerly demon-possessed man. He was sent to the place of rejection and to people who had been marginalized so he could bring the Good News of God who loved even them with an everlasting love.

Now this was a grand opening. How do we know? Well, look at verse 32 where it says, "And they brought to him a man who was deaf and who had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him." People in the region brought someone they cared about to Jesus with great expectations that He could do something about it. Perhaps these people who brought their loved one to the Son of God had first heard about Jesus from the once-demon-possessed man. Now this band of friends sought Jesus out. The region of the Decapolis experienced a grand opening of life in Jesus!

God's specialty is grand openings. You can watch them in your life.

It has happened the world over. At one time, the continent of Africa was thought to be a region closed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In 1910, only nine percent of the population in Africa claimed to be Christian. Today, sixty-three percent of Africans claim to be Christian. The nation of Nigeria has 80 million Christians--more than Germany, the home of the Reformation. Africa experienced God's grand opening with the Good News of Jesus Christ as Savior.

Now hardships still exist, but God opened the door for the message of the forgiveness of sins and the blessings of eternal life in a continent that was once thought to be off limits to the Gospel. Because of God's gracious grand opening, it's a new season, a new day with new opportunities.

There are still a number of challenging regions around the world. Only four percent of the residents of the Middle East claim to be Christians. It is estimated that just five percent of China consists of followers of Jesus Christ. But God is always up to grand openings! You don't have to worry. As you serve Him and lift up His work, you can watch to see what He accomplishes.

But what about your impossible region, the person in your life or the condition of your heart that seems unreachable? Dear friend, God's specialty is grand openings, His specialty for you. By His grace, through the work of the Holy Spirit, with the living and active Word of God, the Good News of Jesus can take root and bear fruit in your life. God opens up regions you never would expect or anticipate! He changes lives. He is near to you today to change your life. He is close to encourage you in your loneliness or depression. He is next to you to give you the gift of the forgiveness of sins and, by His grace through faith in Him, to give you a new start. He is present with you to remove the burdens of grief, and guilt, and pain from your life. Jesus reaches into areas of life that you feel are unreachable. When Jesus broke the bonds of death in His resurrection, that open tomb opened up hope for your life. When God renews you in baptism or steps into your life through His Holy Supper, you're on the receiving end of God's great and gracious grand opening! Suddenly for you, it's a new season, a new day with new opportunities.

But Jesus didn't only open a region; He opened a man's ears. Verses 33-35 of Mark, chapter seven, tell us: "And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting, he touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said, 'Ephphatha,' that is, 'Be opened.' And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly."

A man with an impossible condition was healed by the Son of God. People knew something was different. People knew that a new day had come. Who could do such a thing? Who had authority over illness? Who could restore a man's hearing? The Savior Who created the world! The Word made flesh Who stilled the storms! God's Son Who loved the world so much that He came to save it. Jesus, Who took the sins of the world upon Himself and defeated them through His death and resurrection! That's Who. Yes, Jesus opened the man's ears. It was God's grand opening of bringing hope into a hopeless situation!

How do you need restoration today? Do you realize that, for your struggle, you can trust Jesus to help you too?

A woman by the name of Anne Sullivan faced an impossible situation. She was born to poor immigrant parents who could neither read nor write. They fled a famine in Europe to try to find a fresh start in the United States. When Anne was only eight years old, she developed a painful eye disease that eventually took her sight. Her mother died shortly after that and her father abandoned Anne and her little brother soon afterwards, fearing he could not take care of them on his own. Anne and her younger brother were sent to a crowded poorhouse where her brother died just three months into their stay. 

Anne did her best to cope at the jam-packed shelter. She tried to work as a housemaid, but wasn't able to find success. Finally, she was told about the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston. Anne had no money, had no parents who taught her how to function in the outside world, and had no way out of her current predicament. But then an inspector came to the poorhouse. Anne convinced him to allow her to leave and to enroll in the school for the blind. The school opened amazing doors for Anne. A series of eye surgeries were successful in improving her vision. At twenty years of age, Anne graduated as the valedictorian. 

What did God have planned for Anne? The summer after her graduation, a man contacted the school looking for a teacher for his daughter who was both blind and deaf. The situation seemed impossible and was breaking the father's heart. The school contacted Anne and asked if she would be willing to serve. Anne agreed. What was the daughter's name? Helen Keller. That's right; Anne Sullivan helped Helen Keller experience a grand opening--especially the grand opening of God's love. Helen Keller went on to become the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor's degree. She became an author and a world-renowned speaker. She met every president from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon Johnson--all because God used Anne Sullivan to bring hope into hopelessness.

Look for God's gracious grand opening in your struggles, dear friend. You can trust His grand opening grace as you hear His Word of hope today. Will you watch? Will you call upon your Savior for help? Will you trust Him with what seems impossible to you?

God indeed loves to open ears and eyes, but most of all hearts! After the deaf and mute man was healed, hearts began to be open to Jesus. Mark, chapter seven, continues: "And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, 'He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak'" (Mark 7:36-37).

Isn't it strange that Jesus healed a man, causing him to speak, but He asked for silence? This tiny incident shows that Jesus, He was no show-off. He wasn't trying to start a religious movement. He wasn't vying for popularity. He cared about people. He wanted to rescue them from helplessness and hopelessness in a broken and sin-tattered reality. Jesus asked them to keep things quiet, but they couldn't do it. Not only did they talk, their proclamation overflowed. It couldn't be stopped. They were grateful, amazed, and transformed. The lost and pagan citizens of the Decapolis lauded Jesus. "He has done all things well," they shouted to everyone.

God's grand opening happened again, for God opened the hearts of these people to praise Him and to trust in Him. And, as you know, opening hearts is not easy business.

On October 3, 1930, Dr. John Gibbon, a young doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, he watched a patient take a terrible turn for the worse after what seemed like a routine operation. A blood clot formed blocking circulation to the patient's heart. He was in real trouble. Dr. Gibbon stayed at the patient's bedside through the night watching and hoping for a recovery, but he was helpless. He was also frustrated. At that time, there was no way to operate on the patient with his heart beating and blood flowing. Finally, the patient died.

This experience, it changed Dr. Gibbon's life. He was thinking there had to be a way to help. He wondered if a machine could be developed to substitute for a patient's heart and lungs while a surgeon administered life-saving care. So Dr. Gibbon, he began his quest to develop, to create such a machine. He faced insurmountable obstacles, but he kept at it. He fabricated pumps to test his theory. He even had to postpone his research when he served in the military during World War II. But when he returned from the war, he made his rounds in the morning and he did his work in research in the afternoons and he did it all on his own time, at his own expense. Boy, this was important to him. He kept at it for twenty-three years!

Then in May of 1953, Dr. Gibbon performed the first successful open-heart surgery using his newly developed heart-lung machine. Not long after that, Dr. John Kirklin, of the Mayo Clinic, made refinements to the device that allowed successful open-heart surgeries to become commonplace and routine in the 1950s and early 1960s. His quest was complete. A new generation of lives was able to be saved through effective cardiac surgery; but Dr. Gibbon never performed an open-heart operation, himself, again. But because of his pioneering work, hearts were opened to hope and new life for family members and loved ones even to this day.
It seemed impossible, but Dr. Gibbon opened hearts. But the One Who does that for eternity, that's God. That's God's specialty! What looks impossible to you these days? A person in your life who brings you pain, a wound in your spirit that won't stop hurting, the news of a world in disarray and tragedy, political arguments that fill the airwaves with anxiety, issues that seem impossible to solve? What seems impossible?

When Jesus was nailed to the cross and breathed His last, His promises of hope and life seemed impossible. His healings and miracles seemed moot and meaningless. But when Jesus died, the world as we know it was shaken. When Jesus gave up His Spirit, the temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom--a dividing wall between God and humanity was brought down. When the Son of God's heart stopped beating, people who died were raised to life and appeared to families and friends. Something totally unique was happening. Then on the third day, Jesus' tomb burst open and the Son of God emerged alive! He was raised from the dead. Death's grip was broken once and for all. The sins of the world--our sins-they were paid for. The impossibility of perpetual brokenness and hopelessness was overcome. God's grand opening opened new life--eternal life--for you and me.

In Jesus Christ, then, God opens hearts. By faith in Him, God can open your heart and your life today. Life is not a closed door when God is your strength. You're not sealed off from hope and help when God is your hope. It's a new season, a new day with new opportunities in Him. Will you watch for it? When hope seems to have disappeared and life seems impossible, that's the time to look to God and His grand openings for your life, now and forever! Count on Him!


LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for September 6, 2015 
Topic: What Does It Mean to Have a Christian Vocation?

ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. Today a listener says they are not a pastor or a church worker, but they've heard this word 'vocation' used to describe their life as a servant of God. What does that mean to have a Christian vocation? 

SELTZ: Mark, that is an important word, especially today. I'm hearing more and more people embrace the truth of vocation. Now I don't mean vacation; like take time off from life, but vocation-that we get to work. And people need to understand that God has purpose for their lives. 

ANNOUNCER: And what is a vocation?

SELTZ: Well, back in the 1500s, Martin Luther re-examined the word "vocation"; and it meant calling or station. At one time it referred only to serving in religious roles or church jobs, but after Luther left the monastery, he realized that our true vocation can be found serving God in our daily lives. Now he was alerted to that broader meaning when he read 1 Corinthians 7:20. In that verse, Paul was giving counsel to Christians as they faced times of adversity. He said this, "Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called" (1 Corinthians 7:20). That word "condition" in the Greek is a word for "callings," which means "vocations."

ANNOUNCER: So Luther realized each person has a calling in life--a vocation.

SELTZ: Yes, a person's callings or stations are a gift from God allowing people to help and serve others in God's Name right where they're at. Let's bring it down to earth from the Greek and Latin. If you're a man or a woman, a dad or a mom, a son or a daughter, those are already worthy and important Christian vocations or stations in life; places in day to day life where Christ's love can be shown to his or her neighbor.

ANNOUNCER: So if Luther were with us today, he might say you don't have to be a rocket scientist, a TV star, or a famous pastor in order to have a meaningful purpose in life.
SELTZ: I think he would have said that too, Mark. But, let me be clear. If you're any of those things, those can be worthy and meaningful vocations as believers in Christ as well. The beauty of vocation is that a Christian has a number of places in life, a multitude of stations from which he or she can bring the love and self-sacrifice of Christ to his or her neighbor.

ANNOUNCER: And each person could have multiple vocations. For example, son, father, husband, employee, employer, neighbor.

SELTZ: Yes and what unites us in all of those things is that God has purpose in all of those things. There's a common goal of sharing Him with others. Like you just were talking about; Luther lauded the parent who cares for her children or gets up early to go to work in order to support the family. He emphasized those as acts of love; and even though we don't those always perfectly, God can forgive us and renew us and help us to continue serving in those worthy vocations given by God. 

ANNOUNCER: That brings up the next point; are there vocations or places in life that are sinful? 

SELTZ: Luther talked about that, too. There are activities and roles that hurt people or withhold God's love from others. Being a bully, an abuser, engaging in the sale of illegal drugs, being a criminal, a gossip, or taking advantage of others; those are examples of places in life that cause harm. These types of actions violate the love and service of vocation. 

ANNOUNCER: It's like any other gift from God; you could abuse it or turn it to your own purposes.

SELTZ: That's right, so the goal for any vocation is faithfulness to God and service to others in His Name.

ANNOUNCER: And that's where God gives each of us purpose in life, isn't it?

SELTZ: Right, the right understanding of vocation; it recognizes that this is God's creative work for His people and that God is actually doing His work through us for others. If a factory worker is helping to build an automobile, the worker is participating in God's provision for care for human beings. When a doctor administers care or a farmer grows crops, that's God working to bless and care for people through those folks. That means you and I get to be a part of the divine work of God for the people that He loves.

ANNOUNCER: And in fact Luther once praised the work of a farm girl who carried milk in from the barn. She was serving God and her neighbor even in that simple task.

SELTZ: And that's the beautiful thing about vocation, Mark. Every listener can find worthiness in the humble actions or the lofty responsibilities that serve others and show God's goodness. From the praying elderly person in a nursing home, the assembly line worker, to the stay at home mom, to the CEO of a corporation, the truth of vocation fills their lives with God's purpose and love as it's carried to others.

ANNOUNCER: And when we see our lives in that way, there can be real blessing for us and for our neighbors! 

SELTZ: Absolutely.

ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.

Action in Ministry for September 6, 2015 
Guest: Dr. Carol Geisler

ANNOUNCER: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour and this is Action In Ministry, a call to action in response to all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. What is it about the Bible that makes it so different from other books? Joining us now is Dr. Carol Geisler, author of the booklet The Bible. What? When? Why? 

SELTZ: Dr. Geisler, it is so great to have you and one of the things that jumped out at me in your writing here; you called the Bible a "quiet miracle." What do you mean by that?

GEISLER: Well, it seems that so many of the sacred writings, the scriptures of other religions, often come down in a more spectacular, I guess what we might think of as a more spectacular way of being engraved on golden plates that are discovered and translated; or, perhaps, an angel dictating the message; but with the Bible, it was people who were eyewitnesses of events; in many cases, especially the New Testament, who wrote down the story of what they knew and what they had seen and they just used their own human language. God spoke through them in their own words and their own experiences. It is a quiet miracle very much like the fact that our Lord being born in Bethlehem, a little Baby. A very quiet miracle. A great miracle of all time. 

SELTZ: And it seems, like you said, as you read throughout the Bible; the Bible, the power of God always seems to come in servant form, which for most of us, makes no sense when it comes down to how God should act.

ANNOUNCER: How else does the Bible differ from other so-called holy books? You talked about the quiet miracle aspect of it, but also in terms of its structure and how it came together. How was it different?

GEISLER: It is a collection of a lot of different books written over something like fourteen centuries of time. It didn't come down all at once, all at one time. And it was written by many different authors, not just one, although, of course, God is the Author of all of it through His inspiration. In that structure, it tells the history of God working with His people from creation all the way through the time when our Lord was born and then through the growing early church. Unlike just a collection maybe of wise sayings or how to live your life, or something like that; it's the story of God in action in history and His plan of salvation for us in Christ.

SELTZ: And then, of course, like you were talking about already, it has a unique message. And so, how does it, even by its character, how does it seem to point to that unique message throughout?

GEISLER: The central message is God's grace for us in Jesus Christ and Jesus is present in Holy Scripture from beginning to end. He is there at creation. 

SELTZ: Right.

GEISLER: He is promised as a Savior right at the beginning at the fall into sin. He is present in the very end in the last chapter of Revelation; that He promises He is coming soon. So He is the central focus of all of Scripture. It points to Him. It tells the story of our salvation in Him and His death and resurrection for us.

ANNOUNCER: And Dr. Geisler, what are some common misunderstandings that you hope will clear up by reading this? 

GEISLER: One of them; that if they don't understand that it is all about Jesus from beginning to end, they may miss what is most important in it. And that may lead to a misunderstanding that, perhaps, it's just a book of rules, what we should do or should not do. It might be taken as, I think, many people today take it as a sort of guide to lead a spiritual life and how to be kind to others. All those sorts of things are in Scripture, of course, that's true; but its main point is to teach us how we receive the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. If they're not seeing that, they're missing the main point. Another misunderstanding that I try to address in a brief way that someone, maybe a group of church leaders or bishops at some point in history, got together and voted on what books should be in here and what should not. And that's just not how it happened. It came together, maybe, in the sense of a quiet miracle. It came together quietly over time as the Christians recognized that these were the authentic books of the Apostles, of the prophets, and read them and used them in their church services. 

SELTZ: It was so clear they couldn't decide against it, if you will, because it was so recognized on its own authority, in its own power at work. I think that's what I see in this, again, too, that people, when they come to grips with the Bible, they're really coming to grips with Who Jesus is; and, again, how you show that for us in the uniqueness of the book and the uniqueness of the message. 

ANNOUNCER: The name of the booklet is The Bible. What? When? Why? And for your free copy call The Lutheran Hour toll-free at 1-855-john316. That's 1-855-564-6316. Or go online: lutheranhour.org and look for the tab that says Action In Ministry. Our email address is: info@lhm.org

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"Praise the Almighty, My Soul, Adore Him" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

"How Clear Is Our Vocation, Lord" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)




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