"A Living Hope for a 'Dead as Doornails' World"#84-34
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on April 23, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Isn't the Bible Supposed to "Do Something" to Us?)
Copyright 2017 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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This week on Action in Ministry Q&A MP3
Text: 1 Peter 1:3-9
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Christ has risen! He has risen, indeed! Alleluia!
What a phrase, right? We talked about this last week. It was how Christians of the first century greeted one another at this time of year. They said, "Christ has risen. He has risen, indeed"; and that made all the difference in their lives. I was just talking about this with a friend this last week. We were talking about the power, again, of these words. They still give me goose bumps! Even now, talking about it with you, these words bring a great smile to my face!
Last weekend was Easter Sunday. The church was full, all throughout the service were these words; "Christ has risen. He has risen, indeed." There was singing, celebration, a lot of smiling and rejoicing, a lot of comfort and peace in the midst of the struggles of the day. If you believe in Jesus, you know what I mean. It was the thrill of celebrating Christ's victory over death and the grave on that great day of resurrection. And there's nothing quite like basking in that same glow still today! For Christians, Easter is the greatest day of the church year. In more ways than one, you might say that we live for it! Churches are jam-packed. Choirs seem to hit all the high notes. People are especially joyful. Nobody wears a frown because Easter is all about Jesus and what He did for the whole world when He rose from the grave.
Because of this risen Jesus Christ, this is a day of hope. Living hope.
But here's the problem for today. Churches around the country today, aren't packed like last week. In fact, this Sunday is statistically one of the lowest attended services in the church year. In one way that is really odd. You'd reason that after such a festive, wondrous Sunday, even more people would want to be back for the next week. I suspect that in some congregations, that might be true. Traditionally, though, this is not the case. Maybe one of the reasons is the letdown; the imprint that the world marks on us. And within just a few days after Easter, the world that is still dying all around us can really start dragging us down. Life is hard. Even the strongest of Christians can feel the weight of the world and their shoulders can start to slump. But that's what makes today's Bible passage so great, so helpful. We need a Word that helps us with the let downs of life.
That Word of the Lord comes today from 1 Peter, where he says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
This is hope for the real world. In fact, this is hope for a dead-as-doornails world.
This is a dead-as-doornails world too, isn't it? I looked up the meaning of that phrase because I hear it all the time. It had to do with how the doornails were literal driven into the wood of the door and bent to ensure that they didn't give way. This process, similar to riveting, it was called clenching. This may be the source of the 'deadness', as such a nail would be almost unusable afterwards. It was bent in on itself.
The Bible says that because of our sin we are bent in on ourselves too. We don't look to God because we think that we are the gods of our own lives. But in reality, each one of us is like those dead nails, bent in, unusable, good for nothing else on our own terms. And, our world is pounded in, bent, broken, and there's nothing in this world that can change that. Well, almost nothing. But it would take the God of heaven, who created the world to humble himself and enter the world to be its Savior.
Peter's message was and still is a message of hope in a dead-as-doornails world. It's a message of help in the middle of struggle and it's a message of hope and joy no matter what you are facing today. In fact, this hope in Jesus will see you through death itself to live with God forever in His Name.
Let's remember the people to whom Peter first wrote these powerful words. It wasn't to people living in luxury and freedom like so many in North America today. It wasn't written to people living quiet and peaceful lives. Peter was writing this word to Christians who were sure to suffer or who were already receiving some pretty harsh treatment in society by those who opposed the followers of Jesus. It was written to those who were not merely suffering, but they were suffering for being believers in Jesus Christ, the One Who lived, and died, and rose from the dead so that they might live.
Christians then and now have suffered. I read The Center for Studies on New Religions reported that in 2016 some 90,000 Christians had lost their lives around the world because of persecution. But Christians then and now have also been overjoyed by the good news that they have a resurrection hope that will be the final reality for all who put their faith in Jesus Christ!
That's a living hope right in the middle of a dead-as-doornails world!
That's why St. Peter's letter back then is so relevant to you and me today. It doesn't matter whether we're suffering or in peace, the ultimate assurance of our life now and forever is the resurrection of the One Who lived and died for you so that your very sins, guilt, and shame before God could be removed; so that you could begin to live again by His grace!
I don't know if you are feeling the pressure of being a Christian today. I don't know if you've felt the heat of being one of His. Maybe you're not experiencing the kind of life and death persecution some have faced in Christ's Name. Maybe it's not to that extreme, but there are all kinds of ways that Satan tries to make us feel that believing in Christ isn't worth it. Maybe it's the loneliness of staying home from parties that you weren't invited to, or the vulgar talk at work that makes you feel uncomfortable, or the pain of wanting to do your best only to have your salary cut by those who don't share your same values or value you as a Christian.
Being the Lutheran Hour Speaker, meeting Christians like you from all over the world; I've met people who have incredible joy amidst real persecution; I've met people who have real peace in the middle of real struggle; I've met folks like you with a living, lively hope that can only be explained by the fact that you know Jesus as your Savior and that you know that you have eternal forgiveness and life that transcends any struggle.
Peter says, "Don't sweat the suffering." Our struggles to be His people are nothing now compared to the blessing that we have in Him now and forever. But also he says, "Listen, endure it, because often suffering is one of the ways that we can deliver the good news of our hope in Jesus to those who do not yet know Him."
In all these things, though, Peter reminds them, he reminds us, of just Who it is Who provides for our every need. Remember what he said, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He, because of his great mercy, has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead."
That's a born again hope in Jesus. That's a hope that is as sure as His resurrection. No matter how hard the world tries to steal your joy, your faith, you have an identity and an inheritance in Christ Jesus that can never be taken away from you. This faith is a gift to you, not something that you've earned because you were strong enough, or good enough, or suffered enough, or were even faithful enough.
Hear it again. The Bible says, "According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again." Mercy is God's provision for you because it was Jesus Who acted mercifully on your behalf and mine, when He suffered the cruelty of the crucifixion. God demands a sacrifice for sin and sinfulness, there's a just penalty for breaking God's law, for cutting ourselves off from God in the rebellion of our sin. Our sin actually means our death. When you cut yourself off from the oxygen of life, the lifeblood of being connected to the God Who created you to live in Him, that's sin and that sin is death, and that's the reality of our lives on our terms.
The cross of Jesus Christ; that was supposed to be our death. But Jesus took it instead. He died a death He didn't deserve to give us a gift we could never earn; an inheritance that can never be taken away. As Peter says, "...kept in heaven for you." Living hope in a dead-as-doornails world.
You may have heard me share this story before, but it's worth mentioning here again. Louie Zamperini was a former World War II Prisoner of War, who suffered tremendous cruelties in a Japanese prison camp after his plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean. He was brutally treated for 27 months. After his release, Zamperini came back to the States and his life became even more of a mess. Suffering from PTSD, he medicated it with alcohol and he picked fights with people.
Even his wife said that it got so bad that she threatened to divorce him until he heard the voice of God through the preaching of a Christian pastor named Billy Graham. Unlike his wife, Louie wasn't so easily impressed, and he walked away several times, especially when Graham tackled the subject of sin. Then one day he heard this preacher say that people turn to God when they are at the end of their ropes and they've got nowhere else to turn. The Gospel, the power of the resurrection, it suddenly grabbed hold of him. It breathed life into his worn and battered heart. This word of resurrection and hope and new life; it caused Zamperini to give up the drink and get high on Christ. It caused him to let go of his anger and forgive his captors. And it ultimately caused his entire life to change!
The Gospel breathes life into tired bones and struggling souls. Now Zamperini's life wasn't all glorious after that revelation of grace and mercy and hope either. He struggled with the trauma of his war experience because it was real. It would still haunt him. But the difference was found in this: it no longer controlled him. Zamperini was enabled, by the power of God's forgiveness, to live in Christ with mercy and love even towards his captors. He began to live with a living hope in a dead-as-doornails world.
He could forgive now, because he had been forgiven. He could love, because he was loved. And he could face his former adversaries as one who understood the dead-as-doornails reality of life, but now had a living hope in Christ that he could even share with them! And many received that hope from a person who was just like them in so many ways. Persecuted prisoners sharing their hope with their jailers. It's still happening today. That's the power of the Gospel!
Now, this is not a message about Louis Zamperini or others. You and I would be in trouble if we start to worry about whether or not we'd have the same kind of strength and convictions as others. That is unfair to them. That's unfair to you. That kind of strength does not rest in the arms of human beings, but that kind of strength rests in the Lord Jesus. "You are born again" Peter says, "to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead..." and there's even more: "...to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed." Now that's solid.
Let's think about this. What investment in life provides you with a guarantee of anything that is imperishable, undefiled, or unfading? Who or what agency can guard your greatest cares or most cherished loved ones in such a permanent way? Let me help you out on this one. The answer is, nothing, nobody! In fact, whenever we try to guard our possessions from anyone or anything, we probably are hanging on too tight and even then it can be stolen away. When our joy comes from the things of this life, we are prone to disappointment and our hearts are prone to being crushed.
Kathy McCullough recently published her book, Ups and Downs; it's an autobiography of her life as a former Northwest Airlines 747 captain. It's the story of her struggle as a woman to be an airline captain in the field of the elite in aviation. Reading her story, you would discover that there appeared to be many more lows than highs, so many times when it would have been so much easier to quit, rather than to fight the personalities that wanted to keep her grounded. Hers is one story of how the world forever seems to threaten our life, our work, our achievements. In fact, when she reached the pinnacle of her career, it wasn't those crusty old guys wanting to push her out, it was cancer that forced her into retirement. But even that battle was nothing compared to the living hope that she said she had in her Savior. Even today, that is what Captain McCullough has in Christ. It has allowed her to strive and to really live. God got her through the ranks in aviation but even more importantly, her faith in God is what keeps her going still to this day.
That's what God has in store for you and me in this word from Him today. You see, you and I are not able to control or guard ourselves from the destructive nature of this world or people who live for status in this world alone. But ours is a living hope from a living Lord.
No doubt your life has been one of many ups and downs to this point. Life is fun when you are riding at the high point! But even when life comes crashing down around you, it will not crush you because believers in Jesus have His eternal hope through it all. Like Peter reminds them, he reminds us, "In this (and that means all things that might be happening in your life) in this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."
The resurrection of Jesus is a reality of hope for all who believe; but the reality check is that this world is passing away. So, expect trials to come your way. Maybe, expect tumultuous trials and griefs to come here and there; but know that those are just momentary battles amidst the victory. Remember the victory in matters of life and death has already been won in Jesus Christ. Your life is golden, and your eternal inheritance has been made secure in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for you. You've got a living hope in a dead-as-doornails world. Count on it.
Action in Ministry for April 23, 2017
Guest: Paul Schreiber Men's NetWork Work Day
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. Part of our mission here at Lutheran Hour Ministries is to equip men to lead and strengthen their families and serve their community. One way this happens is through our annual Men's NetWork work day. And here to tell us more about that is our colleague, Paul Schreiber.
SCHREIBER: Glad to be here, Mark.
ANNOUNCER: First of all, tell us a little bit about the Men's NetWork, what it is, and why it's needed.
SCHREIBER: Sure. The Men's NetWork is...is really all about men serving their church. It's living out their faith. It's serving their families and their communities. To do that we sponsor events at the Men's NetWork. We produce video-based Bible studies...
SCHREIBER: We encourage guys to make a Christ-centered difference in the world wherever they can. I like the verse in 1 Timothy 6 where the Apostle writes, "But you, oh man of God, pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith."
ANNOUNCER: One of the events the Men's NetWork sponsors is an annual work day. Tell us what that is and what will be happening this year.
SCHREIBER: Well, there'll be plenty happening this year. It's April 29th, this coming Saturday...
ANNOUNCER: Coming right up.
SCHREIBER: ...and it's all about men helping others, hopefully beyond the walls of their church.
ANNOUNCER: All right. That's important.
SCHREIBER: Yeah. We've got groups already set up to do yard work; raking, digging, planting, all sorts of household jobs. Some guys will work in a soup kitchen, for instance, or maybe clean a nature trail. There's lots of ways they get plugged in. The event has really taken off too. In fact, we've had about 800 guys and some girls who participate, but there's always room for more.
ANNOUNCER: Now, if someone hears us talking this and wants to get plugged in to this year's work day, can they do that?
SCHREIBER: Sure. Sure. The best thing is to go online to lhmmen.com and look for events in their area. There will be a list on the right side of the homepage. If you can't find something there, consider calling a local food pantry or perhaps get together with some guys at your church and do something to benefit some pursuit in your community. There might even be a job around the church, in fact, that you can do. But, as much as possible, we like to get guys off campus doing their work so that it keeps that outreach element going.
ANNOUNCER: Serving the community.
SCHREIBER: Yeah, exactly.
ANNOUNCER: Right. Right. Now, it's always good to help your neighbor, but is there more to this than just crossing things off your to-do list?
SCHREIBER: Yeah, that's a great question. There really is. Yeah. It's about helping men basically live the gospel by taking that message and their efforts outside or beyond the walls of the church. If they can get into the community and outreach and speak with others about Jesus and their Christian faith, it's really a win-win. It's about serving others by being the hands and feet of Christ in the world.
ANNOUNCER: With this being the fifth year that we've done this, do you have some stories you could share about things that have happened in previous years?
SCHREIBER: Sure. Sure. There is so much that has been done in the years that we've had the Men's NetWork work day. We've got guys passing out meals to the homeless, they've done neighborhood clean-up projects, they've done remodeling, they've done painting, landscaping, grounds maintenance, some groups have built handicap-accessible ramps, they've rendered service to veterans, shut-ins, widows, single mothers...it goes on and on. Even they've done work on the Habitat for Humanity projects. These guys are busy.
ANNOUNCER: And, to find out more about this year's work day, go to the website lhmmen.com.
SCHREIBER: We urge men to jump in and join the work any way that they can this next Saturday. And don't forget; if your group can schedule its own work day anytime throughout the rest of the year, simply go back to lhmmen.com to register. One little bonus is that every group that registers, all the participants in that group get a free cap. So, now's a good time to do something yet for 2017 or, if not, plan something for 2018. We certainly hope you do.
ANNOUNCER: Paul Schreiber, thank you for joining us.
SCHREIBER: Thank you, Mark. It's good to be here.
ANNOUNCER: And that's our Action In Ministry segment for today; to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others. Once again, for more information on the fifth annual Men's NetWork work day, go to lhmmen.com or call 1-855-john316. That's 1-855-564-6316.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for April 23, 2017
Topic: Isn't the Bible Supposed to "Do Something" to Us?
ANNOUNCER: Isn't the Bible supposed to do something to us? That'll be our question today for Pastor Gregory Seltz. I'm Mark Eischer. A listener writes, "I have been trying to read my Bible, but it just doesn't seem to make any sense. It really doesn't do anything for me when I read it. How do I know it is true? Isn't reading the Bible supposed to do something to change my life?"
SELTZ: Mark, I think a lot of people are wondering things like our listener is wondering today.
ANNOUNCER: And I think it's important to read the Bible the way the Bible wants to be read, right?
SELTZ: That's right! It is important how we approach the Bible when we read it. If we approach it like a self-help book, looking for ways to improve our life, it could be a great disappointment or if we read it as a novel, expecting it to entertain us and stir our imagination, then, I think, we are even reading it for the wrong reason, ultimately, there too.
ANNOUNCER: The Apostle John tells us something that's important here. He says, "These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
SELTZ: Yeah, and he even goes further and says, "that by believing you may have life in His name."
ANNOUNCER: How, then, should we approach reading the Bible? Is there any certain way we should do it? Should we, let's say, start at the beginning and read through the whole thing in one shot or do you skip around, pick a certain book, and read that first?
SELTZ: I don't think there is a perfect way to read it. I mean, we need to understand even the Bible itself was not written by one human being. It was written over a period of over 1500 years by men whom God chose to write it because He wanted to share His Word with His people. It's the same message throughout, but there are many ways to get at it, to nuance it, so we can all hear that message and believe.
ANNOUNCER: And it's vital to read the Bible as it wants to be read, as God's Word.
SELTZ: Indeed. That is controversial to some, but even the Bible says that about itself. God did, in fact, select men through whom to write this Word, His Word, through the ages. The Bible says the Holy Spirit moved these men to share, in their own style, what God wanted to reveal to us. And Jesus is, ultimately, the heart and center of all the books in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.
ANNOUNCER: When you say that Jesus is the center of all Scripture, we often have encouraged people to start reading one of the Gospels so they might begin with understanding then Who Jesus is and why God sent Him. Once we understand that, why Jesus came into this world, the rest of the Bible falls into place because it all points to Jesus.
SELTZ: You're right. Jesus, Himself, says much the same thing in John 5. He says, "These are the Scriptures, they testify about me." But, Mark, there is another thing we need to know about the Bible. It is objective truth.
ANNOUNCER: What do you mean by objective truth?
SELTZ: It is true whether we like it or not. It is true whether you feel it or not. It is true whether you experience it or not. It has nothing to do with whether you feel it, like it, or don't like it, or whether you want it or don't want it. It still is the truth. Martin Luther said, "The Bible? I don't have to defend it. It is like a lion. All I have to do is set it free; it will take care of itself." It is truth whether we accept it, claim it, or reject it. It can stand on its own.
ANNOUNCER: Today there are a lot of people who are out to disprove the Bible. They want to find ways to discredit God's claim that His Word is truth. They seek to prove that God's Word is not true. Philosophers and critics come and go but God's Word still remains.
SELTZ: That's what I mean by objective truth. It is like gravity. You don't have to like gravity or get excited about gravity. You don't even have to believe in it. However, if you stand on a mountain top and fall 500 feet, gravity will let you know that it is there. So, it is real, whether you believe it or not.
ANNOUNCER: If you choose to deny it, it will only prove you wrong. But the point of the Bible, once again, is to give us life in Christ.
SELTZ: Yeah, I don't want to be heavy handed here. This is talking about the fact that God has a greater work in store for you. He wants to show you His life. He wants to show you His salvation. So, yes, you can read it. It will prove itself to you; it will tell you about Jesus; that He is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.
ANNOUNCER: So, is the Bible supposed to do something to us? We're told that God's Word will not return empty.
SELTZ: It won't.
ANNOUNCER: It's truth that also claims us as its own!
SELTZ: If that doesn't change you, nothing will.
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.
"O Sons and Daughters of the King" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"Speak, O Lord, Your Servant Listens" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)