"Looking for a Good Speaker"#84-50
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on August 13, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Dale A. Meyer, Guest Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Confession and Forgiveness)
Copyright 2017 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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This week on Action in Ministry Q&A MP3
Text: Matthew 6:9
Dear God, through Your Son Jesus Christ, You have taught us to call You "Our Father who art in heaven." Teach us through Your Word to know, and lead us by Your Spirit to believe with all our heart that You are our loving Heavenly Father, and that we indeed are Your dear children. How can we thank You for making us Your family in Christ? Help us to love one another. This is what we seek, and we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
It was almost two years ago when Diane, Katie, and I were sitting at the kitchen table. Daughter Elizabeth was off at law school, and Katie had just begun her senior year in high school. Dinner was over, and Katie was the first to get up. "Where are you going, Katie?" I asked. "We have a meeting of the FCA," she answered. FCA stands for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Katie was quite active in our Collinsville High School chapter. "Dad," she said, "tonight we're going to be planning this year's activities and speakers." So, she's looking for speakers, I thought. Since that's what I do for a living, I can guess what's coming next. She's going to ask me to speak to her group. "Dad," Katie continued, "do you know any good Christian speakers?" Well, there you have it, another parent cut down by a teenager.
The story's also the start of a series of messages about how the Lord's Prayer can guide us in our relationships with one another. "Dad, do you know any good Christian speakers?" That set me to thinking about my work, which is speaking, and my relationships with those whom I love. It forced me to see the two in proper perspective, and I invite you to do the same in the next few minutes. I promise that if you properly balance your work and your relationships with those you love, God will give you many opportunities to smile and be glad in your family life.
It's been said that ultimately there are only two religions in the world. The one religion, the most common, teaches in various ways that God approves of you because of what you do. The other religion teaches the exact opposite: what you do can never gain God's approval. But instead, this religion, this minority religion, teaches that God approves of you because of what He has done. Which view do you hold? By nature, we are all inclined to the first, the religion of "works." We are prone to find our ultimate worth in what we do. Do you strive to be a good lawyer or doctor, a good plumber or carpenter, a good secretary or administrative assistant? Do you find your ultimate worth in your efforts to be a good father or a good mother?
Obviously, there are times and places when your works are decisive. Can you imagine what would happen if I told the radio station that we hadn't done our work; we don't have a broadcast for you today? Or imagine telling the auditor that yes, your tax return is a total shambles, but it doesn't matter, because God loves you. And of course, it is very important to do your work to the best of your ability as you strive to be a good parent. But as important as our works may be, "Dad, we're looking for a good speaker" shows that our works recede into the background when you're at home with the ones you love. Katie values me as a father, not as someone who knows how to speak in public.
Now, if you find your ultimate worth in what you do-that is, if the religion of works is how you understand life-then you are setting yourself up for trouble. For example, when the company lays you off, then where will you find your value in life? If your self-esteem is dependent upon your profession, you'll find a layoff disastrous to your self-image. Again, if your approval before God and family is based upon your professional work, and upon your efforts to be a good parent, what happens if you become disabled and unable to work? In my ministry, I've seen many people struggling with their sense of worth because illness had made it impossible for them to work and be active parents.
One more example, this one close to my home and maybe to yours. Our daughters, Elizabeth and Katie, are now both off at school, both very close to being on their own. Less and less they depend upon what Diane and I do, and more and more they live life apart from us parents. Where does this leave us if we've been finding our ultimate worth in our parenting? It would leave us not needed, relegated to the sidelines, questioning our worth. I'm sure you understand the point I'm making. If you find your ultimate worth in what you do, and conversely, if your loved ones value you because of your work, then you and your family are setting yourself up for some great disappointments.
Far better is that second religion, not the religion of works, but the religion that teaches that our approval is a gift of God. This is the religion that Jesus teaches in the Lord's Prayer. In that familiar prayer, we learn that our approval before God does not come from what we do, but it comes from Him and the kindness He shows us through Jesus Christ. And in the Lord's Prayer, He shows us how that relationship to God can bless our relationships to one another, especially those whom we love. "Dad," Katie said. "Dad." It's relationship, not works. "Our Father who art in heaven"-Jesus teaches us to pray on the basis of a special relationship to God, not on the basis of our works.
A sermon illustration that has long been a favorite of mine is set in a courtroom. The judge sits in his black robe on the bench. Before him stands a handcuffed prisoner who is obviously scared. He's been found guilty of a crime, and the judge is about to pronounce his sentence. Suddenly, the somber mood is broken. A little boy enters the courtroom, scoots through the spectators, runs right up to the bench, and whispers something in the judge's ear. The judge reaches into his pocket, pulls out a coin, which the boy takes, and then, with a big smile on his face, he leaves the courtroom. The little boy was not afraid of the judge; the judge was his father. Your judge wants you to love Him as a father. Jesus can transform your relationship with God into the relationship of a dear child and a loving Heavenly Father.
The greatest problem with the first religion, the religion of works, is that a lifetime of good works cannot win God's approval. Even the works that are so desirable-being a good father, a good mother, a good citizen in your neighborhood and community-even these admirable works cannot win God's approval. Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, "There is no one so righteous on earth that he always does what is good and never sins." Yes, there's the word, "sin." The problem with the first religion is that we are sinners who cannot possibly satisfy our just and righteous Creator with our works. King David, who, except for a few slips, was an exemplary man, says in Psalm 143, "O Lord, listen to my prayer. Do not take me to court for judgment, because there is no one alive who is righteous in Your presence." But the little boy was not afraid of the judge, because the judge was his father.
Jesus teaches us to call the judge of sinners "our Father who art in heaven." By His death upon the cross, Jesus received the judgment that you and I deserve for our sins. By His death upon the cross, forgiveness is now available. Your sins as a father, as a mother, as a child, as a worker, as a neighbor, indeed, your very self-your sinful self-has complete forgiveness available, not because of what you've done-the first religion-but because of what God has done for you in Jesus-the second religion. For this transformation to happen in your life, for you to be part of God's family, all you have to do is put your faith in Jesus.
St. Peter describes it this way: "You call God your Father. He is the God who judges all people by what they have done, and He doesn't play favorites. The payment that freed you was the precious blood of Christ, the Lamb with no defects or imperfections. He is the Lamb who was known long ago, before the world existed. But for your good, He became publicly known in the last period of time. Through Him, you believe in God, who brought Christ back to life and gave Him glory, so your faith and confidence are in God." That's why the Savior teaches us to pray, "Our Father who art in heaven."
Time flies. It's almost 10 years since I've been privileged to be The Lutheran Hour Speaker. In the early years, some listeners told me that at the end of the program, I prayed the Lord's Prayer, too fast. Perhaps I did. You want it slower? You ought to sit with me at home in the early morning when I have my private devotions. I conclude my morning devotions with the Lord's Prayer, and I go slow. That's because I stop to think about what the words mean. This is what I want to urge upon you now. In your private time, say the Lord's Prayer slowly so that you will think about what Jesus teaches, and how you can put works and relationships in a proper perspective.
Pause to think about what the word "Father" means. It means that God has brought you into His family. Pause to think about what the word "our" means. It's not "My Father who art in heaven," but rather "Our Father who art in heaven." Whether you say it alone or in a group, the Lord's Prayer is about our relationships as children of the Heavenly Father. God's grace, not works, is the basis of relationship in a Christian family. For example, God made Diane and me parents. He gave us authority and responsibility over our children. God, however, does not make parents superior to their children. In the sight of God, our Judge and Father, Diane and Dale and Elizabeth and Katie are equal. We together are sinners, and we all equally have a Savior, Jesus, and a loving Father in heaven.
So also for you. Whether you say the Lord's Prayer in private or in public, pause and ponder that word "our." It's about relationships in the Father's family, relationships based on grace. Good works follow that grace. Works are very important. Being a good father, a good mother, a good child, a good carpenter or plumber, a good computer technician or draftsman, that's important, but such works are no longer your ultimate pride. St. Paul asks in Romans chapter 3, "Do we have anything to brag about? Bragging has been eliminated. On what basis was it eliminated? On the basis of our own efforts? No, indeed. Rather, it is eliminated on the basis of faith. We conclude that a person has God's approval because of faith, not because of his own efforts."
Being a good father, a good mother, a good worker, a good citizen, all this flows from what God has done in your life. Ephesians chapter 2 says, "God saved you through faith as an act of kindness. You had nothing to do with it. Being saved is a gift from God. It's not the result of anything you've done, so no one can brag about it. God has made us what we are. He has created us in Christ Jesus to live lives filled with good works that He has prepared for us to do."
"Dad, do you know any good Christian speakers?" When Katie said that, Diane and I shot a quick glance at each other and smiled. Diane, who had started to clear the dishes from the table, said, "Katie, you know your dad's not a bad speaker." To that, Katie snapped, "Mom, I'm serious. We need somebody good." That pronouncement made, she left and went to her meeting of the FCA, and they planned the year's activities, plans that did not include me. No matter. When Katie left, Diane and I kept smiling. We treasured that moment, as we still do today. We knew then, as we know now, that our Heavenly Father has blessed us in our family. Our family is His family. "Our Father, who art in heaven." Pray it slowly, pray it thoughtfully, and may God give you many opportunities to smile and be glad in your family life. Amen.
Action in Ministry for August 13, 2017
Guest: Rev. Dr. Dale Meyer
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. This is Action in Ministry, your call to action in response to all that God has done for you in Jesus Christ. And once again, we are honored to have Dr. Dale Meyer with us to talk about some of the thoughts he shared in his message today.
Gregory Seltz: He's currently serving as the president of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and today we're going to talk a little bit more about that. It's great to have you in the studio, Dr. Meyer.
Dale Meyer: I'm wondering what's going to happen now, but I am glad to be back. Thank you for the invitation.
Gregory Seltz: Great to have you.
Mark Eischer: Today's sermon gave us a snapshot of your life and your family back in 1998. You were Speaker of The Lutheran Hour for 12 years, from 1989 to 2001. Bring us up to date, and tell us about your current role as president of Concordia Seminary.
Dale Meyer: Well, in 2001 the seminary in St. Louis called me to be a professor, and I hated leaving The Lutheran Hour, but one of the things I had noticed is at the Lutheran Hour ministries, we strove to connect people to congregations, and I assume that is still the case, but there were congregations out there that you would not want to connect to. I mean and there probably still are. Can I say that? And so much in a congregation depends upon the leadership of a pastor, and the tone, and the tone that he sets, and so I thought you can get somebody to speak on the radio, but we've got to get the pastors out who make for warm, inviting congregations. So that's why the change happened. In 2004, much to my surprise, I was appointed interim president; 2005, permanent president, and that's been an adventure too.
Gregory Seltz: Well, talk a little bit more about that. What's been the most rewarding of this new position?
Dale Meyer: The students, absolutely, the students. It's not an easy position, it's extremely a hard position to fill, but these students have an energy for ministry and a commitment to Jesus and the Gospel-that I don't know the previous generations had it quite in the same way. I mean, we had it, of course, but they've got it, and they've got an idealism that youth always have. But here's what makes their idealism significant. They don't see all the things that have happened in America in the past. They don't see the decline in congregational life because they're young. So we who are older grieve the loss of, quote, "Christian America." They don't. They're ready to go out with the optimism of the Gospel, and that thrills me.
Gregory Seltz: And tell us more about the challenges of your job.
Dale Meyer: The biggest one has been finance. It really was. I inherited a $28 million debt.
Gregory Seltz: Oh, wow!
Dale Meyer: That was $5000 a day interest, and it was killing the morale on campus. The seminary, unlike most higher-educational institutions, is primarily funded by donations, and the people stayed with us, and we were able to eliminate that debt. Today, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, has absolutely no debt. In fact, next year, if students do what they're supposed to do-and most of them will-they will have to pay nothing for tuition.
Gregory Seltz: Well, here's my thing, though, because I know you're a preacher and a teacher, so do you have an opportunity to preach and teach? Because I know that's still the lifeblood of those of us who serve in the ministry.
Dale Meyer: I still teach a course or two every year, and as far as preaching goes, I preach as much as I did during my Lutheran Hour time.
Gregory Seltz: Is that right?
Dale Meyer: Yeah. I was in Washington, D.C., this last week to preach. Right before that, I preached in Collinsville, Illinois, our hometown, and then next Sunday, I'm going to preach in Dallas.
Dale Meyer: So yeah, I'm on the road as much as I was at The Lutheran Hour, and that's been beneficial, because I get to see some dear people that I knew when I was in your role as a Speaker, and I love seeing them.
Gregory Seltz: Well, listen, it's great to see how God is working through you at Concordia Seminary and other areas as well, and it really has been fun to have you in the studio with us, Dr. Meyer. Thanks for joining us.
Dale Meyer: Oh, it's been great to be here. I really treasure this, and I can't say enough of my thanks to God for the Lutheran Hour Ministries, The Lutheran Hour program, and all the people who own it, who make it theirs, because it's a passion for Jesus.
Gregory Seltz: It sure is.
Gregory Seltz: And that's our Action in Ministry segment today, to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others.
Mark Eischer: And for more of our conversation with Dr. Dale Meyer, go to lutheranhour.org and click on "Action in Ministry."
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for August 13, 2017
Topic: Confession and Forgiveness
Mark Eischer: And now Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, 1 John 1, verse 9, says, "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
Gregory Seltz: Mark, that is a big verse. I'm glad we're talking about key verses again today. As a matter of fact, for those who attend Lutheran church, or any church that follows the ancient liturgies, we often use that verse on Sunday as we confess our sins and receive God's forgiveness through His public ministry.
Mark Eischer: I'm sure many would find it familiar, but they may not know it's from the Bible, or where they'd find it.
Gregory Seltz: Well, actually, most of the liturgies, the things that we're led to hear and respond to in public worship in church, those things are taken directly from the Bible. That's one of the treasures of the history of worship. It's a gift, I think, from the church to the church. In fact, that's one of the challenges every church is called to meet, to confess the words of God in her liturgies and in her public worship.
Mark Eischer: Now, back to this particular verse: the church felt it was vital to include that in its public worship, and it seems to say that we receive forgiveness for our sins because we confess them. Is that true?
Gregory Seltz: Well, you're going to laugh at this, but the answer is no and yes.
Mark Eischer: Well, of course, it is. Okay, what's the "yes" part?
Gregory Seltz: Well, yes, we're to confess our sins. If you look at verse 8, it says, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, the truth is not in us." So to deny our sinful condition is to call God a liar and to deny the reality of who we are and what we have done.
Mark Eischer: What does it mean to confess our sins?
Gregory Seltz: To confess our sins means that we acknowledge before God and each other that we have failed to be perfect; we've failed God's righteous standards; we have sinned in thought, word, and deed. We've failed to love God perfectly; we've failed to love each other as God intends.
Mark Eischer: That sounds kind of generic. What about mentioning specific sins?
Gregory Seltz: Well, it's good to confess specific sins, but it's even more important to remember that specific sins are not what makes us sinners. Actually, it's the other way around. We sin because we're sinners. So to confess before God, it's not just our specific sins-that's good too-but the reality that there's something even deeper wrong with us, that we're fallen, that we're in need of His forgiveness and mercy completely.
Mark Eischer: Does our confession earn forgiveness?
Gregory Seltz: That's the "no." God does not forgive us because we confess our sins. Actually, we confess our sins because God forgives them, and He wants us to receive His forgiveness as a gift. So we confess our sinfulness because that's just the reality of who we are; we're born sinful; we're going to struggle with sin throughout our lives.
Mark Eischer: If God doesn't forgive us because of our confession, why does He forgive us?
Gregory Seltz: Here's the big answer: God forgives sins because of Jesus. It's only because of Jesus' death and resurrection that God forgives sins. So we don't earn His forgiveness; we don't deserve His forgiveness. It's only by God's grace that He forgives our sins because of what Jesus has done for us.
Mark Eischer: In this passage, it goes on to say that God is faithful and just to forgive sins. What does that mean?
Gregory Seltz: God is faithful and just because He paid the price for our sins. Jesus suffered the wrath of God's punishment for our sins. God is just. The wages of sin is death, so Jesus dies in order to pay that wage, and now God the Father counts as righteous all who believe in Jesus as their Savior and trust in His death and resurrection. So God is just, and He's faithful to provide His forgiveness.
Mark Eischer: And is that what it means that God cleanses us from all unrighteousness?
Gregory Seltz: I think it is. In fact, 2 Corinthians 5 goes on to say it more clearly, that "Jesus became sin for us, even though He knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God." So God doesn't just remove sin from us, He also gives us His righteousness as a gift. He gives us what Jesus earned: righteousness, holiness-that's God's gift, and with those gifts, we receive His eternal life.
Mark Eischer: So we confess our sins because God forgives our sins.
Gregory Seltz: No and yes. We confess our sins because God forgives us, not in order to make God forgive us. We confess our sins because God loves us so much that He sent His Son to die and rise for us so that, indeed, our sins might be forgiven, and we might have His life.
Mark Eischer: 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.
"Eternal Father, Strong to Save" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"Baptismal Waters Cover Me" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)