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Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

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God Helps Those Who Ask

When we hear the first four words of the Sermon on the Mount it seems like Jesus must have made some kind of mistake: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” (Matthew 5:3). Now a person who is poor in spirit doesn’t seem like a good role model. Being ‘poor in spirit’ doesn’t seem like something we should aspire to. Here on Earth we think a happy person is someone who’s self-sufficient, self-reliant, and acts like they have it all together. Poor in spirit just doesn’t fit the bill.

In Jesus’ day there was a lot of religious pressure to look like you had it all figured out; to seem “wealthy in spirit.” But Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit. So, what is he talking about?

When you are ‘Poor in Spirit’ it means you’ve reached a point where you realize you’re broke: spiritually, physically or both. You can’t pay the bills, you can’t dig yourself out of the hole, you can’t take care of yourself. You’re desperately in need of help. Blessed are you when you realize the truth about your situation. Blessed are you when you finally see the truth.

Being poor in spirit means that you have finally declared spiritual bankruptcy. Being poor in spirit means you’ve finally reach the point where you’re ready to ask for help.

We don’t like to ask for help. Too often we’re embarrassed to admit what a mess we’ve made of things. We want to be self-reliant; we want to help ourselves. That’s what we think we’re supposed to do. That’s what we celebrate.

There are no awards for being “poor in spirit”; no one puts that on their resume or rushes to post about it on Facebook. ‘The Message’ paraphrases Matthew 5:3 saying: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”

If you try a “Do it Yourself” approach, instead of being blessed you’ll find that that you’re tired and frustrated. We when we’re pretty sure we can’t do it on our own, we try anyway. That’s the way we’re made.

We‘ve all heard the phrase, “God helps those, who help themselves.” But the problem is, that’s not anywhere in the Bible. Instead, what we do find is this: God helps those who ask for help. All we have to do is admit we need it.

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Time for the 'DTR' Talk

DTR. Some of you might recognize what those letters stand for. If you’re not sure, let me help you out. If you’re a young man in a relationship with a young woman, then chances are these letters strike fear into your heart because DTR means: Define The Relationship. It’s when you sit down and you decide where things are going to go from here.

I think that’s what many of us need to do when it comes to our relationship with Jesus. We need to decide if we’re just a fan, or if we’re ready to be a follower.

Being a fan is easy. Fans acknowledge who Jesus is. Fans are willing to talk about how much they love him, about how much he means to them and even how wonderful he is. But what a fan isn’t willing to do is give Jesus an all-access pass. A fan isn’t ready to let him into every area of their life.

They give him free rein when it comes to worshiping in church on Sunday or when they whisper their prayers at night before going to sleep. But let him in everywhere? Not going to happen.

Things like lust, sex, marriage and divorce, money, stress, work and politics; those just aren’t part of the deal. We want to keep him in a neat little Sunday box and keep him out of the rest of our lives.

But Jesus isn’t satisfied with that. He wants a relationship that’s all inclusive; no holds barred. He wants you to love him the same way that he loves you: with all of your heart. He’s ready for you to define the relationship.

The grace of Jesus doesn’t just invite us follow, it teaches us to follow. Jesus leads by example. We know what we deserve, we know what we have coming. But the words of Jesus are words full of grace.

So how much longer will we live with our regrets? How much longer will we say, “Maybe tomorrow?” When will we let God’s grace replace our guilt and accept a fresh start and a second chance? When will we finally respond to the simple gracious words of Jesus, “Follow me?”

Hebrews 9:27 says, “Man is destined to die once and after that, to face the judgment.” Those are the two guarantees. We’ll all die, and we’ll all stand before God.

When that moment comes to all of us, there is only one question that will really matter: “Have you decided to follow Jesus or are you just going to stay a fan?” It’s time to have that DTR talk.

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Being Humble Means Being Able to Say I'm Sorry

In Luke chapter 18 Jesus is talking to folks who think they have it all figured out; the ones who think they know all the right things that will make them right with God and get them seated at places of honor at the table in Heaven.

He’s talking to those of us who find ourselves consumed with getting to the top of the ladder, with reaching a certain status, with being successful. But Jesus redefines what that means, because it turns out that the way up is down. Here’s how He puts it in Luke 18:14: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.”

He's just challenged everything that we’re told culturally. He says, “Here’s the truth. If you want to be exalted, you don’t make much of yourself.” Don’t try to show that you’re better than other people by the medals, by the way you dress, the car you drive, the house you live in. If you want to be exalted, what do you do? You humble yourself. And then He redefines greatness. He says, “Greatness is not something that you ascend to; it’s something that you descend to.”

We really see that play out in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Both men are in the temple and the Pharisee begins to pray first. He begins by thanking God, but look at how he does it. He says: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

Talk about an “it's all about me” attitude. Can you imagine praying that? “God, I just want to spend a few moments thanking you for some things. First I’d like to thank you that I’m better than everyone else.” Now we might not think of ever saying that, but we say a lot of other things that show that our heart and mind is in the same place.

One thing we might say is, “You’re not going to talk to me like that.” It’s a spirit of pride that says, “You know, I’m better than you. So if you try to confront me on something in my life, I’m going to get defensive and I’m going to be sensitive and I’m not going to be open to correction.”

Another thing that we might say is something like this: “I’m not going to be the one to apologize. If they want to apologize to me, that’s fine. I’m not going to be the one to apologize.” The Bible says that pride only breeds quarrels. Pride thrives on conflicts and makes it hard to say certain things.

Most of us can recognize statements like that. They are the kind of thing that feeds the spirit of the Pharisee that wants to take hold inside us. That's not who we want to be, but it's up to us to change it. We can, if only we are willing to become humble.

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Beautifully Broken - Wonderfully Whole

The spiritual leaders of Jesus’ day focused on the outside. That’s what it meant to them to follow God. You keep up appearances; you follow all the right rules, and you keep the rituals. Then Jesus comes along, and He says, “Look, I know you’ve been taught that it’s what’s on the outside that counts, but that’s not what it’s all about. It’s what’s on the inside that matters, and then what’s on the inside comes out. It’s an inside-out way of following God.”

But for many of us, that’s not how we’ve understood it. We learned that what we were doing on the outside was the measure of what was going on inside. We learned to keep up appearances, to make sure everybody knew we had a smile on our face; that everything was good and we didn’t have any problems. But God says, “A man may look good on the outside, but I look at the heart.”

Jesus turned things upside-down, inside-out. He pointed out that rather than just looking like you have it all together and doing all the right things at the right times, He wanted authentic worship. Instead of carefully observing all those religious rituals, He wants an intimate relationship. Instead of acting more righteous than we really are, what Jesus wants is our brokenness.

Brokenness is a word that we don’t use much these days. It is not something we aspire to. You don’t want to write “broken” on your resume because we live in a throwaway culture: when things break we throw them away. We don’t value repairing and fixing, making things new. We just throw them away.

But Jesus has a different view of broken things. He says, “Come here and look at the world through My eyes.” Because when Jesus looks at something broken, He sees something beautiful. He sees something valuable.

That’s a good thing because we’re all broken. Whether we’ve admitted it to ourselves or not, down deep inside, we all know it. So what do we do with it? We try to hide it. That’s what you do with brokenness. You ask any kid who breaks something. They know what to do; they hide it and hope no one finds out about it.

And that’s what we do. We hide it; and that’s why we’re the most medicated, the most indebted, the most addicted people in human history. That’s what happens when you try to hide your brokenness. It doesn’t work.

So that’s the bad news, but the good news is that Jesus came to make things whole again. The good news is that God makes broken people whole through Jesus Christ. And it’s only after being broken that we’re ready to fulfill our purpose and to be used by God.

Chosen by the King

There was an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

I’m so thankful that Luke was inspired to put down Jesus’ encounter with the thief on the cross in Luke 23:37-43 because it’s a powerful reminder that it’s not what I do, or what I have that determines my worth. My worth and value rests firmly and securely on God’s unfailing, unconditional, enduring forever love for me.

We need to believe that and rest in it. God is madly in love with us. Don’t just take my word on it, take His. The prophet Isaiah said: Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. You are precious in my eyes, because you are honored and I love you… the mountains may depart hills may be shaken, but my love for you will never leave you and my covenant of peace with you will never be shaken. – Isaiah 43:1,4; 54:10

God calls me by name. I am precious in His eyes. His love for me will never be shaken. God is consumed by His love for me. I know all that must be true because God said it. But it’s still so hard for me to understand how powerful and strong God’s love for me is.

I’m not alone in this struggle to grasp the love of God. That’s why Paul wrote these words to the church in Ephesus: And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God. – Ephesians 3:17-19

Two thousand years ago, a thief on a cross had an encounter with Jesus that teaches us that we don’t need to prove ourselves by appearance or performance. What we need is to define ourselves radically as beloved by God and recognize that God’s love for us constitutes our worth. We are truly special. We must be; were chosen by the King.

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Up to the Sky, Everywhere and Back!

Imagine you’re standing eyeball to eyeball with the Lord! He looks you straight in the eye and asks you, "How much do you love me?" How do you respond? Whether you know it or not, every aspect of your life is connected to your sincere answer to that question.

When my daughter was little whenever she was asked how much she loved her Mommy & Daddy she’d spread out her arms and say, "Up to the sky, everywhere and back!" What a heart touching answer. She didn't stop to weigh out her answer or to consider what she needed to say to make a good impression. She just spoke from the heart. Of course, when she went through her teenage years we knew better than to ask that question, but that doesn't take away from the unrestrained, heartfelt love that came through in her childlike response.

How much do you love me? In the Gospel of John in chapter 21, Jesus is asking the same question of Peter. Now when we saw Peter immediately after Jesus had been taken prisoner in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was denying that he even knew Jesus, let alone that he loved him!

But instead of condemning Peter for having denied him, here Jesus stands on the shore asking about his love: “Peter, son of John, do you love me?” In fact, he goes straight to the heart of the matter, asking him three times, Do you love me?”

Jesus didn't ask Peter about his profession of faith. Peter had already made a great profession of faith when he said, "I believe you are the Christ, the Son of the living God!" Jesus didn't ask him about the “orthodoxy” of his belief.

I asked you to imagine that you were standing face to face with Jesus, looking Him in the eyes. He isn't asking you, “Are you a card-carrying Christian”. He doesn't want to know if your doctrine is orthodox. He isn't interested in performing an investigation of your sins. He wants to know, “Do you love me, and is it proven in the way you live for me?!” What a difference.

Jesus isn't concerned about our doctrine, or our position in the church. He could have asked Judas Iscariot, “Do you love me?” And Judas could have said, “I'm one of your 12 disciples, and not just anyone, I'm the treasurer! I'm the most trusted one...look at my position!” But that's not the question. The question is, "Do you love Jesus?!"

Jesus is only interested in one thing. He doesn't care about how talented we may be; after all we wouldn't have any talents without Him. He doesn't care about our performance. He doesn't ask whether we're faithfully making our tithe. What he cares about is our heart. What he cares about is our love.

Jesus doesn't care that we may not be able to give millions of dollars for Christ like some great philanthropist. He only cares that we love him as much as any human who has ever loved!

When Jesus asks us, “How much do you love me?” we need to be ready to answer: “Up to the sky, everywhere and back!”

Are you ready to answer when Jesus asks?

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