"Right on Time, Just When We Need His Grace"#84-18
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on January 1, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:How Can I Have Hope in the New Year?)
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Galatians 4:4-7
4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.
Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed. Hallelujah! Amen!
A blessed, joyous New Year to you from all of us here at the Lutheran Hour!
When a new year begins, it's the right time to do some new things. Sometimes the newness of a new year can't wait. Last New Year's Eve, a competition labeled as "the battle of the babies" developed in New York City. Precisely at midnight two babies were born, rivaling each other for the title of the first baby of the New Year. On Long Island, a bouncing baby boy named Maxim was born. Birth monitors confirm that at the exact same time, in the borough of Brooklyn, little Zayden was born, weighing in at seven pounds, one ounce. It was a tie. No one could stop these little gifts from God from making their New Year's entrance into the world.
That's just how it goes sometimes. When it's time, it's time!
We've just entered 2017. Do you know what that means? Yes, later this year the whole world will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. I bet you hadn't thought about that, right? In 1517, Martin Luther, a pastor, a monk, and professor, posted the Ninety-Five Theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. He was calling for a serious discussion about "getting right with God," salvation by faith in Jesus because of God's grace. He wanted the church to focus on the Good News of the Gospel for the people in their communities. His small action triggered massive changes not only in the church, but in the whole world, all as a result of unleashing the Good News of Jesus to a new generation. It was the right time. And when it's the right time, you can't stop it.
But what about you? Is this finally the right time for real change in your life? What new step in life is getting ready to break through? Is it time for you to start something? Or is it time for you to stop something? Are you thinking about your health or diet? Are you evaluating a habit in your life that needs to change right now? Has the right time come for forgiveness or reconciliation? What is the right time in your life? Maybe you've been waiting, watching, and wondering. Perhaps now is the right time!
You know, there may be a real shortage of really good new news in the world today because even the good news of our world doesn't always last. January may seem like it brings the same old, same old. But what I want you to know today is that God does things differently than we do. God does things much differently than the world does too. The Bible says it clearly; He is the One Who makes all things new in His time.
The Apostle Paul, who had a miserable old life, filled with hatred and destruction, experienced God's renewing work at the right time. As Paul plunged headlong into persecuting and tormenting followers of Jesus, the risen Savior appeared to him personally, led him out of destruction and bitterness, and filled him with the Holy Spirit through baptism. Paul was a brand new person. He had a brand new outlook. He received the love and forgiveness of Jesus and his life was dramatically changed. Paul himself proclaimed to brand new believers in 2 Corinthians 5: "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV).
Suddenly, Paul had the hope of heaven instead of the dread of another difficult day. Right on time, Jesus brought His grace into Paul's life.
God knows all about timing; and that's why, in His Name, I ask you, "What newness is it time for in your life?"
Over the Christmas season you celebrated God's good timing. Paul's letter to the people in Galatia tells us what caused Christmas: "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption" (Galatians 4:4-5).
It was the right time for Jesus to be born. God couldn't hold back anymore as He sent His only Son into our world to make the biggest Christmas purchase ever. The price was high: the purpose of Christmas was that Jesus would ultimately give His life on a cross for the forgiveness of your sins and mine. That gift to the world was too big to wrap: forgiveness of our sins, the blessings of eternal life, hope that lasts forever, and a brand new future empowered by God's Spirit. The result was miraculous. Just as Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, we too are raised with Him through baptism so we can walk in newness of life just in time.
Have you been waiting for a new life, a fresh start, a brand new beginning? Have you been yearning for help and hope? God's Word brings you the good news today that "now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of your salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2 NIV).
The writer of the book of Hebrews calls out to you and me as the New Year dawns. He says: "See to it...that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God...As has just been said: 'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts'" (Hebrews 3:12-15 NIV).
I'm telling you directly then, in the Name of Jesus now is the right time for you to believe. It is the right time to return to God, to repent, to ask for His help, to let Him carry the load, to trust the risen Savior, Jesus Christ.
I hope that you've been waiting for this time! Let it be the right time for you. God's Word promises: "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9). You don't have to solve all of life's problems or carry the load of responsibility for everything. You don't have to figure out everything or know all the answers. If you're tired of weariness, your anger, your regrets, your failures, your struggles, let today be the day of salvation for you. Let today be the right time to receive God's grace in your life. Have faith in Jesus, the One Who can handle the load, Who solved life's problems, and Who promises to be with you always. Ask Him to be your help, your peace, your consolation, and your salvation. It's the right time.
Sometimes you do have to wait for the right time, don't you?
The story is told of a group of women that met for Bible study. While studying in the book of Malachi, chapter three, they came across a verse which says: "He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." That verse puzzled the women and they wondered how this statement applied to the character and nature of God. One of the women offered to find out more about the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible study.
The following week, the woman called up a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him while at work. She didn't mention anything about the reason for her interest, beyond curiosity about the process of refining silver.
As she watched the silversmith work, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire, where the flames were the hottest so as to burn away all of the impurities.
The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot for what seemed like entirely too much time; then she thought again about the verse, "He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver."
She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the entire time that the silver was being refined. The man said yes, that not only did he have to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eye on it the entire time it was in the fire; too short a time, still full of impurities; if the silver was left even a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.
The woman sat silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, "But how do you know when the silver is fully refined?"
He smiled at her and answered, "Oh, that's easy--when I see my image in it."
That's right; like the silversmith has a stake in the silver's refinement, God Himself has a stake in your life. He wants all of His blessing, His favor, His grace to be delivered to your life. He literally wants you to be "recreated in His image again" as His dearly loved son or daughter! Haven't you waited long enough to receive this? Are you finished trying to handle life's deep problems by yourself? Are your cares crushing you? Are you ready to live as a blood-bought child of the Savior God?
Galatians 4; let me paraphrase it this way: "Because you are sons and daughters, God has sent his Spirit of his Son Jesus into our hearts, so we can cry, 'Abba! Father!' So you are no longer a slave, you're a part of the family. And if you're a part of the family, you're an heir of God" (Galatians 4:6-7 paraphrased).
It was a just in time right time for little May Lynn. She was a newborn brought to her first foster home in a far away Asian nation. Her parents, her birth parents, had abandoned her and there really wasn't any room for her in the orphanage. And her first foster family, they merely took her in for the money. They neglected her, barely feeding her, not even speaking with her. But just in time, a couple from the United States received the news that they could adopt her.
May Lynn's 2-year anguish was over. This couple's 10-year wait was over. They adopted one child 10 years earlier, and had been trying each year after that to adopt another. They saved money, they prayed, they waited, and finally, God opened the door. It was the right time. They flew across the ocean to pick up their little girl and brought her home.
But just in time love even takes time too. While they were filled with joy as a family, it didn't take long for them to realize the challenges involved in loving little May Lynn. Her 2-year trauma in her first foster home left her terrified of this new reality. She didn't say a word. She suffered from a variety of illnesses. She wasn't well-nourished and had no pattern of dependable sleep. But she was theirs. They loved her. They struggled, day by day, but today, little May Lynn delights in seeing her mommy and daddy with a whole new life ahead of her; life, love, just in time.
Well, that's just a glimpse of what God has done for you through Jesus Christ, sending His Son into this world just in time to save you and me. He adopted you. He made you His own. He paid the price, met the challenges, shouldered your maladies, overcame your neglect and fear, and made you His own. You too now have a new life by the grace of God through faith in Jesus.
So, take a hard look at the old things; the things of yesterday, without God's grace. Are there past things that torment you, present things that plague you with worry, future things that fill you with anxiety? Your living Savior will take care of it. Your life is new. It's a new chapter for you today. Today's the day to be His own, now is the time for His freedom and salvation by grace to be in your life.
Now is the time to live as His child, His heir; not in the bondage and prison of your sin and guilt, but alive in His forgiveness and grace in the freedom that comes with following Jesus through the open door of grace, and mercy, and peace.
And that life can be yours right now. Just like a lady I heard about who was going through some very difficult and trying circumstances. She was experiencing major distress in her marriage; her job was unfulfilling and was causing her heartache. She became so distraught over her circumstances that she just felt like giving up. She felt lonely, dejected, isolated. She had tried everything, but she got nowhere. Finally she came to the point of exhaustion and felt that there was no way out of her terrible circumstances and she even felt there would be no more joy in her life. Have you ever felt like that?
One day, frustrated and lonely, she just sat in her kitchen and began to cry. Just then she noticed a small sparrow had somehow gotten into her kitchen, so she opened the door thinking the sparrow would simply fly out the door. To her surprise the sparrow kept flying into the closed window that was just above the door. She did everything she could to redirect the bird's attention, but to no avail as it flew into the window again and again and again. The bird became weaker and weaker each time as it hit the glass. When the bird got so tired that it couldn't fly, it just started to walk on the ground. As it walked, it made its way right out the open door to freedom. When the sparrow began to regain his strength, off he flew, free again.
It was as though God literally opened up this woman's spiritual eyes. She realized in just about every area of her life she was behaving just like this sparrow. She was trying in her own way to get out of the confining situations she was in, each time being knocked down in defeat. In reacting harshly to her family members - knocked down! Not giving her best at work - knocked down! Paying back evil for evil done to her - knocked down! Saying and doing things that she knew were wrong - knocked down!
She finally realized that all she had to do was do just like this sparrow - to very humbly walk in the power of God's grace and mercy and allow Him to work out all her heartaches and difficulties and walk with Him through the door He would open for her.
This New Year, now's the time! Like the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 6, "In a favorable time, I (the Lord) listened to you, and in a day of salvation, I the Lord helped you." Now's the time. Look for God's gracious open doors; don't miss what God is graciously giving you at the right time. It's the treasure of forgiveness. It's the blessing of a new beginning. Go to God in prayer today even more boldly. Find a pastor, a church, reconnect with a community of faith and be embraced by God's love and filled with His living Word. This New Year is the right time for you. You never know what surprises God has in store yet for you.
In Jesus, you are no longer a slave to your own sin and helplessness. You are God's child, an heir of everlasting life, an heir of eternal hope, an heir of the forgiveness of sins. You are an heir of the great blessing of sharing the light of Jesus Christ in a dark and difficult world. You are God's child. It is today! Right on time, just when you need God's grace for life today and forever. Amen.
Action in Ministry for DATE
Guest: Pastor Gregory Seltz
ANNOUNCER: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour and this is Action In Ministry. As we begin the New Year, we might be pondering resolutions and goals for the year just ahead.
SELTZ: Mark, I know that I plan to tackle a few. One goal is to be intentional about sharing Christ with those I encounter: friends, neighbors, strangers, the people around us.
ANNOUNCER: We have a booklet that we want to share with you this week. It's titled: Live the Six: Learning to Live as an Everyday Missionary. It's about taking the Gospel out to the streets every day and not just taking it in while you're sitting in the church pew on Sunday.
ANNOUNCER: Pastor Seltz, you were a parish pastor prior to becoming Lutheran Hour Speaker and your focus was on urban ministry.
SELTZ: That's right.
ANNOUNCER: Could you share any examples of how you performed every day mission service outside of the regular Sunday services?
SELTZ: The goal of being a missionary, if you will, or a witness of Jesus Christ is be yourself. Be yourself in Christ for others. Again, it's not some plan. It's not some program. It's just how can you be the best you that you can be so that if others get to know you, they get to know Jesus. Now here's one way I did it in New York City, for instance. I like pizza, how about you?
ANNOUNCER: Sure. Yeah.
SELTZ: Okay, New York pizza on the corner, you've got to have it. I used to go to this coffee shop and get coffee and doughnuts. Well, one of the things we used to do in the neighborhood is we would say we're here to bless. Our job is to bless and pray for the folks in the neighborhood and so I'd tell people that. I'd bring my business card and say, "I'm Pastor Seltz. Every Wednesday we pray about the businesses in our community. I just want you to know we pray for you. Now here's my card. If you want a specific prayer, write it on the back and give me the card when I come see you tomorrow because I'm going to get coffee no matter what..."
ANNOUNCER: And more pizza.
SELTZ: Right, and more pizza. But I said, "If you don't want the card, just throw it away." Every month I would give them a new card. Every month I'd give them a new card. Over time, they'd start asking questions like: "Why'd you do this? Do you really care? Do you really want to... I've got some questions. I've even got some prayer requests." Be yourself in Christ for others.
ANNOUNCER: And you build that relationship over time.
SELTZ: Absolutely. Absolutely.
ANNOUNCER: Yeah. Now how does God's service to us in worship prepare us for that kind of service the rest of the week?
SELTZ: I think that's the key. People think that going to church is you having to do something so that God will actually love you. It's the exact opposite. It's God coming on His terms, yes, but with His grace. So He's actually serving you. So the whole action being in worship from a Christian point of view is that God comes with this incredible grace and He actually reconciles you to Himself. He serves you back into His kingdom. That's a whole different way of looking at life and looking at your friends and neighbors as you serve them like God serves you.
ANNOUNCER: People might say though, "Okay. You're a professional. You're a pastor, so this is your job." Do you have some examples of how people outside of the clergy live as every day missionaries and use those opportunities?
SELTZ: Well, I've got to tell you right now, my wife's the best evangelist of the two of us. She's way better than I am. In fact, I only get to close the deal when she makes friends. She's intensely interested in people and she has this real love for people and people trust her very quickly and then they start to see that that's a special gift that comes from a God Who loves her the same. One of my best examples was one day she got a ticket, and I don't want to get into a whole thing, but she never gets tickets. My wife always seems to be able to talk her way out of it. This time she gets the ticket and she goes to traffic school. Who goes to traffic school and comes back with five new friends? And they call themselves to this day The Violators. The Violators, if you're listening, you know I'm what I'm talking about. These have become our friends from all over the world, but they're our best friends and we've had a chance to share our faith with them. In fact, every year we have The Violators Christmas party where we sing about the good things of God. Through that whole process we've met friends, we've been able to share faith, we've grown in faith together with some of those friends. It's just one of those things. But who goes to a traffic court and comes back with new friends who then you can share the Gospel with?
ANNOUNCER: Yeah. Yeah. Do you have examples also of ways that you've reached people...
SELTZ: Oh, yeah.
ANNOUNCER: ...where they didn't know you were a pastor?
SELTZ: That's the thing. It's actually harder when you're a professional because they assume you're going to tell them something. So when I'm on a plane, for instance, and people ask me what I do, I usually... what do you say? If you say, "I'm a pastor," that's the end of that conversation. But I talk about some things and occasionally... finally when someone says, "You seem to deal with something spiritual," I go, "Yeah. Here's a card." And I give them Luther's prayer; morning and evening prayer. And they start to read that and they go, "Wow! This is pretty powerful stuff." And I go, "Yeah, actually I am a pastor and if there is more that you'd like to know about, I'd love to talk to you or if not, I'd love to talk about the Lions. I think they're going to win this year."
ANNOUNCER: And this booklet that we're offering, Live the Six; I think it's one you'll want to read. It will help you see your circumstances, your opportunities, in a whole different way. Pastor Seltz, thank you for sharing your experiences with us today.
SELTZ: It's been my pleasure.
ANNOUNCER: And that's our Action In Ministry segment for today; to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others. For your free copy of the booklet Live the Six go to lutheranhour.org and click on Action in Ministry. Or call 1-855-john316. That's 1-855-564-6316.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for DATE
Topic: How Can I Have Hope in the New Year?
ANNOUNCER: Now Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. Many people felt last year was very challenging for a number of reasons. How can we have hope for the New Year?
SELTZ: Well, Mark, first let me wish our listener and everyone a Happy Blessed New Year.
ANNOUNCER: Happy and blessed is a good way to start the New Year.
SELTZ: Indeed it is. Sometimes it's easy to become downhearted and even cynical about the future. The longer life goes on, Mark, the more trouble we do see.
ANNOUNCER: Considering all the challenges faced by the world and the divisions within our country, we can see how people might be at a low ebb of hope. What answer can you give to that very real issue?
SELTZ: Well I'm not going to raise the banner of technology, new products, political leaders, advances in medicine; I'm not even going to talk about rallying around our best sports teams. We do have blessings in all those areas, and they can be wonderful things to a degree, for a time, but I'm sure our listener will agree that they only give temporary boosts in morale and only short-term hope.
ANNOUNER: Right. We need something more than anything the world can dream up or invent.
SELTZ: And that's the real and lasting hope that we find in the Bible. The writer of Psalms 42 and 43, it gives us a key to hope for the New Year. Listen to what he says, "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God" (Psalms 42:5-6 NIV). The Psalmist repeats these exact words three times over the course of these psalms. The answer to hopelessness is in our Savior, our God, Jesus Christ.
ANNOUNCER: Picking up two words there downcast and disturbed; that sort of captures what we might feel at times. What does it look like to put one's hope in God?
SELTZ: Your question makes me think of a group of people who could have felt very hopeless. In the book of Acts, chapter one, Jesus just ascended into heaven. He left His followers with the promise that the Holy Spirit would come, but He was gone. Can you imagine how they felt? Alone, uncertain, frightened, doubting, even hopeless maybe to a degree. What did they do? They went back to Jerusalem, gathered together and, as the Bible says, "They all joined constantly in prayer" (Acts 1:14 NIV).
ANNOUNCER: And that tells me that living in hope means to trust in God, pray to Him, and wait for Him to act on His promises.
SELTZ: I love that. Isaiah 40 says it the same way, "Those who hope in the Lord, they will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint" (Isaiah 40:31 NIV). The problem is too many people, I think, are looking everywhere else for hope but here. God's people have hope in the Lord when we wait for Him and seek Him.
ANNOUNCER: And, if our listener wants to grow in hope for the New Year, the best place to look is at God's promises.
SELTZ: That's why, I think, the Apostle Paul's counsels us in Colossians 3. He said: "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on things that are on the earth" (Colossians 3:1-2 ESV). He goes on to describe a life filled with the fruit of the Spirit and the love of Christ. And then, of course, he says, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly" (vs. 16). That's a wellspring of lasting hope. It's found in the living water God gives through His Living Word. Alone!
ANNOUNCER: Hope is not just having an optimistic outlook because everything seems like it's going to go well. Hope is the result of trust in God even when things look bleak.
SELTZ: Right. Hope is born out of the fire of realizing that this world without Jesus, it is hopeless.
ANNOUNCER: We think here of those wonderful verses from Romans, chapter 5, where it says: "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ... And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God... Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Romans 5:1-5 NIV).
SELTZ: And do you know what Paul says after that? "And that hope does not disappoint." Why, because God poured out His love into our hearts by the Spirit. How can our listener, and all our listeners, face the New Year with hope? God poured His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Jesus gave us access to a new place and a new outlook-one of His grace.
ANNOUNCER: And because of our living God and Savior we have every reason, then, to hope throughout this New Year.
SELTZ: Yes we do.
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.
"Jesus! Name of Wondrous Love" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"O Rejoice, Ye Christians, Loudly" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)