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"Here's to Life!"

#84-24
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on February 12, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:What Are Modern-day Idols?)
Copyright 2017 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

And Moses said," I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him."

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

I want to ask you your opinion about something. Do you think that the world is becoming a meaner and angrier place or a nicer and more pleasant place?

Jesus spoke wise and perceptive words when He described what life would be like as history unfolded. He said, "Because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold" (Matthew 24:12). I notice that. Perhaps you do too. When I see the way that people act towards each other, I think, "Man, that's cold. That's harsh."

Tim Adams wrote an article titled, "How the Internet Created an Age of Rage." In it Adams highlighted the psychological term "deindividuation." He said, "It's what happens when social norms are withdrawn because identities are concealed." An experiment, then, was conducted with children at Halloween. Trick-or-treaters approached a house where they could help themselves to the candy. In addition to the treats on the table, there was also some money left there. When children arrived individually with no masks on, only 8% of them took away any of the money. But when the kids were in larger groups and their identities were concealed by their costumes, the number of children stealing money rose to 80%. The combination of personal anonymity and being in a crowd of people led children to break a rule that, under normal conditions, they would not have broken. That's what deindividuation does. People find it easier to do wrong. That's what happens in an Internet world. When people are hidden in a crowd of anonymous bloggers, tweeters, and social media posters, it is easy for them to be mean, to lash out in anger, and to bully others. With no accountability, it's much easier to be mean. In fact, a lot of us, if we would admit it, would welcome that power; maybe even enjoy it at times. Well, that might be true until you are on the receiving end.

Okay, I see it. I know it's all around us and sometimes the increasing meanness in our world is rooted in the tension of being stressed out and anxious. Now, that's not an excuse; it is a reality in our complicated, crowded, and chaotic lives. People are on edge. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says 40 million adult Americans suffer from anxiety disorders.

Has a critical spirit taken hold in your life? Are your family members or friends never good enough? Do you carry strong feelings of resentment in your relationships or even toward groups of people who don't believe or live the way you choose to believe and live? Does the negative outweigh the positive in your life? Does grumbling displace gratitude and grace? Have you joined the growing trend of division and dissention in our culture?

But I've got an even bigger question for you, if you can imagine that? Do you want this trend to continue or do you want to be a part of something much better? God has something much better for you. He has something much better for me, dear friend.

You may be familiar with the Biblical account of God freeing His people from slavery in Egypt. But He didn't stop with simply ending their oppression. God took time to teach His beloved and chosen people what it meant to live in the gift of His freedom. Just think about it for a moment. This entire society at Moses' time had spent generations knowing nothing but cruelty from slave-drivers and captivity in every area of their life. So, God brought them help. In addition to giving them the gift of freedom, He gave them the gift of life. He taught them about healthy relationships, the importance of faith, balanced lives, life-giving ways of handling possessions, the pathway of honesty and integrity, and how to cherish life itself. All of this flowed from the gift they had received. God, their Savior, blessed them with life beyond all they could have imagined.

That's the God Who has been revealed to you and to me in the Bible. In fact, this whole episode of the Exodus and Moses speaking of freedom to these people is for the purpose of giving us all a glimpse of the life that only God can give; the freedom that comes through His promises, especially through His promise of the sending of His Son, Jesus, so that we might all be saved to live as His own.

Moses was giving us a glimpse that in Jesus Christ, we all have been freed from hopelessness. Everything that tries to enslave us is no match for the Savior Who releases you-through His death and resurrection for you-to a new life of freedom, forgiveness, and faith in Him.

Now, with the blessing God's people had been given, they were called to bless others. They were to embody God's presence on earth by sharing His joy, His love and freedom; all which they had received. Embraced by their Savior God and walking with Him, they were to be life-givers for their children, for their neighbors, for generations to follow and for the nations around them.

So God said then to His saved and renewed people, "I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life. He is the length of your days" (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

Choose life! Be about living in His blessing for all who are in your life. Love the Lord your God and let that love lift up everyone else around you. The words aren't just for people long ago. They're for you and they're for me today.

The challenge for life, this side of heaven, is to revel in His grace and love, taking up the challenge of being a Spirit-empowered conduit to others, sharing God's unconditional love and kindness! Are you ready to be that, to receive that, to share that?

Over the past year or so, political arguments and passions have been at an all-time high. Over and over again we've heard and seen how we live in a divided and anxious world. Some say it's never been worse than it is. But a quick glance at history shows that division, anxiety and meanness; they are standard components of life in a fallen, sinful world.

Just think about the 1860s in the United States. The nation was divided over the scourge of slavery. The United States was torn apart by the Civil War. Families found themselves opposing one another. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost in that tragic episode of our history. Today we're not at war, but the divisions are prominent. Racial tensions cause violence, suspicion, and fear. Threats and violence toward law enforcement break hearts and they crush lives. Political views and economic conditions tear us apart. It seems that everywhere that we turn there is a heated argument or an outbreak of aggression. What is the answer?

Simple words from Abraham Lincoln help show us the way. Lincoln, he served as president during the turbulent years of the Civil War. What did he say in the face of massive division, opposition to one another, feelings of being overwhelmed with chaos? He recalled a foundational value and practice in his life. Lincoln said, "Kindness is the only service that will stand the storm of life and not wash out. When I am gone, I hope it can be said of me that I plucked a thistle and I planted a flower wherever I thought a flower would grow."

Lincoln chose life. He understood that all people were precious in God's sight. He encouraged us to bless one another.

The answer to our world's anxiety and meanness is not another new law or a big, expensive program. The answer to anxiety and bitterness in your life isn't to be found in having everyone else change in order to please you. The answer is in the still, small voice motivated by grace in each person who chooses to bless instead of curse, to show love instead of lashing out. The answer is for you to choose life, to bless others as you have been blessed by your Savior Jesus Christ.

But you and I know that this is not easy. Personally, I get tired and irritable. I'm not always happy about my circumstances. I don't like being cut off in traffic. It's no fun to be ignored. It's easy to become defensive when I feel like I'm being attacked. It's not easy to not get my way.

If you're like me, the sin of selfishness and self-centeredness can assert its control with words and actions making that fact clear. Do you notice how it can be much easier to berate instead of bless? Choosing to be irritable can push away the choice to be kind. Because all of us sin and fall short of the glory of God, we do not have a natural reservoir of kindness stored up in us, ready to spring forth when the going gets tough. The fact of our fallenness is that we can't show love and can't choose life on our own. Kindness exists for one reason and one reason only: a good and gracious God brings it to us to be shared.

The Bible tells us: "When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of our works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out in us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we become heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:4-7).

You and I can love only because we have first been loved by God in Christ Jesus. You and I can bless others only because we have been blessed with God's grace and forgiveness through the death and resurrection of our Savior. You and I can choose life only because God chose us as His precious and beloved children in Jesus Christ. Into the emptiness of our hollow hearts and souls, God poured kindness, blessing, and eternal life through the gift of His Son.

This is the overwhelming and attitude-changing gift we receive in Christ. We love because God first loved us. In our bitter and broken state of being, Jesus came to seek and save us. He stepped into our world as the Friend of sinners. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). This is love. Jesus is the life-giver. He is not merely an example; He is the One who gives the gift of life, the gift of love. He suffered the age of rage in His crucifixion and He broke through anger, vengeance, and hatred when He uttered those astonishing words, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing." He didn't condemn. He took our anxiety and suffered death in our place. He rose again to change everything. Jesus fills you with life, with blessing to share. Even when you're drained by anxiety, fatigue, and hopelessness, you have life to share by faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus lives in you. That is how you choose life. That is how you bring blessing.

So I ask you, why not be a life-receiver and a sharer of His life right now? Don't wait. You need it, and others need it through you!

A little while back, a magazine featured heart attack victims who are alive today because people were on hand to give them CPR. The people who nearly died were described as "survivors." The people who came to their aid were listed as "saviors." Luke was with his girlfriend Kristi when she collapsed. An infection had decreased her heart function five years earlier. When the two were out on a run together, she went into cardiac arrest. As a teacher, Luke was certified in CPR. He flagged down a driver who called 911. Then he began chest compressions. Three days later, Kristi had a defibrillator implanted in her chest. She is alive today because a savior was at her side.

Shawn O'Brien decided to help his daughter's cross-country team warm up before one of their meets. Suddenly, he collapsed. One of the cross-country coaches ran over and began CPR while another called 911. Doctors believe a virus caused the heart arrhythmia that nearly ended forty-two-year-old O'Brien's life. Now healthy, also with a defibrillator implanted, O'Brien said about his saviors, "I love them both. They gave me a gift few people could ever ask for."

They gave life. Will you? Our world has a heart problem. People feel lost and hopeless. They drift into meanness and bitterness. Frustrated and desperate, we tear each other down. If we're going to survive our cardiac arrest, we need CPR. We need people who give life. We need people who bless. Jesus, the Savior, assembles such an army in His grace.

We're forgiven sinners; we're those who have received life as a gift, just as all of you can. So, will you go and save a life today as one of His beloved; maybe not physically, but with His kindness? Will you rescue someone with His words? Will you choose life for others? They may not deserve it. But, filled with the love of Jesus, empowered by His Spirit, will you resist being bitter, self-righteous, and even right? For the sake of bringing the life-changing presence of Jesus Christ to someone in your life, will you refrain from arguing your position and simply be kind? Will you surrender stubbornness and apologize? Will you forgive, be gentle, and build up instead of tear down? Will you be a source of transformation in your personal relationships and in this world by choosing life?

No one else will start this kind of movement. Only those who have been freed from being slaves to anxiety, anger, death, and hopelessness can start the movement of being kind. And that is what Jesus has done for you.

A little while back I saw a sign. It was in an abused children's rehabilitation center. These kids had every reason to be bitter. They could be justified in being defensive, suspicious, even loveless. But the sign called them to something better. It said, "Kindness is not a weakness."

God proved that in Jesus Christ Who gives life to you and to the world. Now He invites you to share that beautiful gift with everyone you meet. By faith, choose life! You'll be blessed and so will those you love! Amen.





Action in Ministry for February 12, 2017
Guest: Jim Arand

ANNOUNCER: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour and this is Action in Ministry. Pastor Seltz, today we heard once again how we receive new life through faith in Christ and also how we share that gift with others.

SELTZ: You know, Mark, there are plenty of opportunities to see God at work in the drama of our everyday trials.

ANNOUNCER: Speaking of drama; it brings to mind a television series from many years ago. It was called This Is The Life and it ran for nearly 40 years.

SELTZ: Forty years, wow.

ANNOUNCER: Joining us here in the studio is Jim Arand, who is the Associate Director of The Lutheran Hour. He's here to tell us about nine classic episodes that we are bringing back in a special re-release. Pastor Seltz, you were also a part of that project.

SELTZ: Yes, I was.

ANNOUNCER: Jim, tell us how this started.

ARAND: It really started decades ago and that's the most interesting thing about it.

ANNOUNCER: Okay.

ARAND: A gentleman called me out of the clear blue about three years ago saying, "Do you know anything about the program This Is The Life? That's how it started. Come to find out that this gentleman was affected by the program 30 years ago. He grew up in a family that was not particularly religious and he attributes the Gospel message that was heard weekly on the This Is The Life program in the formation of his faith. That's where it started.

SELTZ: Yeah.

ANNOUNCER: Okay.

SELTZ: Who is this guy?

ARAND: His name is Gary Hall.

SELTZ: Gary Hall.

ARAND: And he's had a long and very interesting career, but he, at the time of the call, was the Vice-President of Post-Production at 20th Century Fox.

ANNOUNCER: Okay.

ARAND: So, out of the clear blue, this gentleman with tremendous insight and understanding of...

SELTZ: Good programming.

ARAND: ...of good programming, from California, gives us a call and says, "I'm looking to find out more about this program and see what we can do to revive it."

SELTZ: Mark, he was the Producer of Die Hard, 24; these are excellent programs that people love and here's a guy telling us, "You guys don't realize this thing's got to get back on TV."

ANNOUNCER: And in its day, This Is The Life tackled some very controversial and sensitive subjects, right?

SELTZ: It really did and it tackled them head on. That's what's so amazing about it; I mean anything from divorce, the tragic loss of a child, incarceration issues, war. There was even one on fake preachers and how you've got to watch out for them. So, what was amazing to me is a lot of the topics were really burning issues in the '60s and '70s and they tackled them head-on.

ANNOUNCER: But they're still burning issues...

SELTZ: Well, they actually are. But the goal was, again, to see how the life, the life of Jesus Christ impacts those kinds of things.

ANNOUNCER: And that's the key that it always brought things back to the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ and how that is the ultimate answer in all of this.

SELTZ: It is.

ANNOUNCER: Now, This Is The Life was able to hire some, I guess to us, big-name stars, some familiar faces, and very, very prominent directors and did this at a very reasonable cost. How did that happen?

ARAND: They identified the actors early in their careers where they saw that they had great potential and that's why they were able to get some of these folks. They were not working at the time...

SELTZ: Okay.

ARAND: The first episode has Jack Nicholson in it.

SELTZ: That's right. Amazing. Then Leonard Nimoy was in one too.

ARAND: Leonard Nimoy was in one. Angie Dickinson was in one. Dick Sargent...just a variety of really...

SELTZ: Gary Collins...

ARAND: ...interesting, interesting people that are on these programs.

SELTZ: Well, what was also amazing is that the scripts were good. The program was really good. It was shot...they did incredible ways of shooting. In fact, they did some innovative things as well on the show in terms of how to produce it. It was attractive to people who were trying to get their name out there and it really did help some of their careers as well.

ANNOUNCER: Okay, and what new things, now, did you add to it for this special re-release?

SELTZ: There's all kinds of things in it but one of the things that I enjoy about it is that I get to do the wraparounds, like the American...AMC guide, when it comes out for some of the older programming. He talks about the directors. He talks about how it was done, what the issues were going on behind the scenes, and then you show the digitally remastered program.

ANNOUNCER: Right.

SELTZ: And then I come back on at the very end and talk about what that was all about in a new fresh way. You've got all the new stuff; all the old stuff; all repackaged and it really is exciting.

ANNOUNCER: Jim, why do you think viewers today will be blessed to watch this program again?

ARAND: As you watch these programs, you'll see the same type of problems that are existing in our lives today; which goes back to the problems that existed at that time are still a problem and the answer remains the same. That's the thread. That's the power of these programs.

SELTZ: We were wondering who's going to like it. We thought the older folks would like it; middle-aged folks would like it; and the young would hate it. It was really the opposite. The older folks were like, "Why are we bringing this stuff back? It's old." But the younger folks are saying, "Wow." Meaty topic; they didn't... it was dealt with in a very subtle way, but a very powerful way. They really liked the programming. So, again, same thing. It's the issues. It's the answer. It makes a difference.

ANNOUNCER: Lutheran Hour Ministries has put together a collection of nine classic This Is The Life episodes and as our special gift to you, we're making the first episode available as a free download at our website. This features a young Jack Nicholson. You can also purchase the DVD edition featuring all nine episodes plus special features. So go to lutheranhour.org and click on Action In Ministry.

SELTZ: You know, folks, it's a great opportunity to revive old memories but to also make some new ones. That's our Action In Ministry segment today; to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others.

ANNOUNCER: For more information on This Is The Life classics, call 1-855-john316. That's 1-855-564-6316.




LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for February 12, 2017
Topic: What are Modern-day Idols?

ANNOUNCER: Now Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. A listeners says, "I hate to admit it, but it seems like sports has taken over our lives nowadays. If we're not making sure our kids get to their games, we're watching sports on TV. It feels as though sports controls everything we do. Have we become modern-day idol worshippers?"

SELTZ: Now that, Mark, is a perceptive connection to make. We don't hear many people talk about having idols these days.

ANNOUNCER: I suppose, for many people, the word "idol" only comes up when they talk about that well-known television show or when you reference a popular entertainer.

SELTZ: There are all kinds of idols in our lives. In ancient times, an idol was an actual statue or likeness of a mythical god.

ANNOUNCER: But, not just in ancient times.

SELTZ: That's true. Statues and images are not relics of the past. There are plenty of people around the world who still worship idols. But, in the West, the idols are a little more hidden.

ANNOUNCER: Before you talk about these modern idols, perhaps you could define how something becomes an idol. What is the symptom of idolatry in one's life?

SELTZ: A succinct definition would be anything that you love, that you devote your attention to, that you trust in above all else in your life. Anything you trust in even more than God.

ANNOUNCER: In that sense, an idol could be a feeling, a fear, an addiction. It could also be a habit or a hobby.

SELTZ: That's right, Mark. It doesn't have to be an object. It could be something tangible, but it could also be your own pride or a preference that you have.

ANNOUNCER: All of which makes me think idols are more common than we think they are.

SELTZ: Exactly. That's probably why God's very first commandment of the Ten Commandments addresses the issue of idolatry. He says, "You shall have no other gods." The Lord knew that we would be tempted to turn away from Him, our source of life and salvation, and devote our lives to what is, at best, temporary, inconsequential, or at worst, completely destructive.

ANNOUNCER: Back to our listener's question. What about sports? You're a great lover of sports. Could sports become an idol?

SELTZ: If it's what you devote your life to, your resources, your attention to; well then, of course, the answer is yes. We live in a culture of excess. If one game on TV is good, ten games must be better. If being part of one basketball league is good, joining leagues that have games every day must be better. You can already see what's happening, Mark. A fun activity is becoming an idol; disrupting your life, neglecting your family, it can lead to an imbalance in your financial life; it can take you away from the things that are essential for your life and even your existence.

ANNOUNCER: What I'm hearing you say is it's not just bad things that can become idols.

SELTZ: You've heard that phrase: "Too much of a good thing." Some very good things can become idols too. You may have a preference for certain things, but if that preference becomes inflexible and causes you to harbor ill feelings towards others who don't share that preference, you may be in a situation of idolatry; elevating your preference above Jesus' calling to love others.

ANNOUNCER: How then can we guard against serving idols in our lives?

SELTZ: Remember the greatest commandment from the Bible.

ANNOUNCER: Jesus said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." And then He said, "That's the first and greatest of the commandments. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-39).

SELTZ: That is the best place to begin for idol prevention. First, ask if what you are doing is allowing you to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. If what you are doing is interfering with your relationship with God, you're in an idolatrous situation or you may be. Second, ask if what you are doing is allowing you to love your neighbor.

ANNOUNCER: Here, by "neighbor," we mean all the people in your life. It could be your family, your friends, your co-workers, as well as the people in your neighborhood.

SELTZ: Yes, and if what you are doing is alienating people, hurting them, and hiding the light of Jesus' love from them, you may have an idol in your life.

ANNOUNCER: In that case, God calls us to repentance.

SELTZ: That means that you examine your life, you admit your fault, and by the grace of God through the power of the Spirit in His forgiveness and love you make changes. You might need to seek counsel from mature Christians, a pastor, or a counselor; but you don't have to stay trapped in idolatry.

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.

"Songs of Thankfulness and Praise" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

"All People That on Earth Do Dwell" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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