"No Selfies Needed"#85-06
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on October 8, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Reflections on Martin Luther)
Copyright 2017 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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This week on Action in Ministry Q&A MP3
Text: Philippians 4:4-14
Gregory Seltz: Our text for today is from Philippians chapter four, and it says this: "Not that I have already obtained all this or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which I've already been laid hold of, by Jesus Christ. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it all yet, but this one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind, reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Christ is risen!
Audience: He is risen indeed. Hallelujah!
Gregory Seltz: A few years ago, a graduate student wrote this. He's a grad student from San Diego State. He approached a prestigious finance firm to ask for an internship.
My name is Matthew Ross, and I am an undergraduate finance student at San Diego State University. I am writing to inquire about the possible summer internship in your office. I have no qualms about fetching coffee, shining shoes, or picking up laundry, and I will work for next to nothing. In all honesty, I just want to be around professionals in the industry and gain as much knowledge as I can.
"I won't waste your time inflating my credentials, throwing around exaggerated job titles. The truth is I have no unbelievably special skills or genius, eccentricities, but I do have a near-perfect GPA, and I will work very hard for you."
With that kind of honesty, what do you think happened? Oh, they took it, and they threw it in the trash, right? No! In fact, with that kind of honesty, investment firms from New York to Houston to California shared the letter, and here are some of the comments: "This might be the best letter I have ever received." Others said, "Read the cover letter. No joke; I think we should consider this guy."
What was so refreshing and disarming about Matthew Ross' cover letter? You know, why did it make such an impression on the people of that day? It was brutally self-aware, and it understood that an internship would be a pure gift. You see, we Lutherans, we Christians, we understand that kind of same mentality; we understand what Matthew Ross understood. When it comes to our credentials, we generally don't deserve special preferences in the world.
But when it comes to our relationship with God, our resumes don't count at all. We deserve nothing from the One who is, above all, holy and perfect and righteous. We're sinful, broken people.
What does God do with people like you and people like me? He still wants to show you His love. He still wants to show you His gift of life and salvation. The hope we have and the life we get to live-these are gracious gifts of God through Jesus Christ. Jesus lived our life; Jesus died our death; and Jesus gives us His life as a gracious gift.
So be honest with God today. See yourself as you are and then see who He is for you and me. Let me say it this way, ready? No selfies allowed. How does that sound? No selfies allowed.
Now, wait a minute. We live in a selfie generation. What do you mean, "No selfies allowed"? What is a selfie? Anybody know? You know what I'm talking about. I have a selfie stick. Sticks way out there. Yeah, that's me. I'm walking down the street.
What are selfies? Selfies are these: you take a photo of yourself, and it's telling the world where you've been, what you've done, how great your life is and, listen, selfies can be fun. I mean, because you're sharing things with friends and neighbors and stuff like this, but do selfies really tell the truth?
No, very often selfies are "This is how great my life is." And they really don't tell the other side of life. They don't really tell it, deep down; we don't tell the truth honestly about ourselves. We tend to pick the selfies that put the best construction on everything.
See, today, we're talking about grace, and the question is what is grace? Because the Lutheran church and the Christian church are out there saying, "That's the only way you can live again is grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ."
You and I, if we're honest, we know we need grace-not just for jobs. We need grace for life; we need grace especially for eternal life, and that's what Paul is talking about today in Philippians 4. What is grace?
If you were to define it, what would you say?
Yeah, undeserved love. That's exactly right: undeserved love. Now in his book What's So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey defined it this way-he said, "Grace means that there's nothing we can do to make God love us more and grace means there's nothing we can do to make God love us less."
Wow! Grace is a powerful word that demands attention in a world that demands performance and perfection from broken people. Wow! We need grace alone. All of us need grace alone.
How many of you've got an HDTV in your house? Yeah, I think everyone's got one now, right? But you know, that HDTVs actually ... they're not so good for certain folks, okay? You know what I'm talking about? Actually, it's good for me, when I watch golf. If you like watching golf, now you can actually see the ball! You can actually see where it's going. You can see the blades of the grass, and there's something for golfers, there's something like, "Wow! Look at that!"
But actually, for actors and actresses and sportscasters and all the folks that are in front of a TV, HDTV is really terrible, because they found out that it exposes all of their flaws, all of their wrinkles and, in some ways, they're now packing on makeup even more to kind of hide all that stuff. Yeah, when we're actually exposed for who we are, what's our natural reaction?
Our natural reaction is to veer again into ourselves, to try to cover it up with our works, to talk about what we do, to talk about how we look, to talk about what we've accomplished, but that's a hazardous place to go when it comes to who you are as a person. Because you can either develop an inflated self-interest, or you can easily also become artificially overwhelmed by your inferiority as well.
If you're listening in today, if you've been broken in life, if you've been broken by sin, let's say by abuse or poverty, let's say by failed relationships or heartbreaking events, you may think of yourself as someone that cannot be loved, that is beyond hope. But you need to hear today through grace in Christ, God looks at you and He sees His precious son; He sees His precious daughter-even in high definition.
Even though He can see your flaws, your shames, all that baggage, it's gone. Jesus Christ took it to the cross, Jesus Christ left it in the grave, and Jesus Christ says, "I've got a life for you to live in My Name." Grace alone through faith.
So let me just summarize it again: when it comes to what matters, we come up woefully short. The truth is that because of Jesus Christ, we have a new life to live. There's nothing you can do to make God love you more or less. Your resumes don't count. Your selfies get in the way. But God comes with an answer that is wonderful, that is joyful. He comes looking for folks like us-sinful people-so He can redeem and restore us to Himself.
This grace alone stuff means this: there's only one resume that counts: the resume of Jesus Christ for you. That's grace. And it's a revolutionary way to live life, even today.
In October, our church starts focusing on a real big event. What is it?
Actually, this year, the whole world is celebrating Reformation. It's the 500th anniversary of this guy whose name was Martin Luther. And what did Luther do? Luther, 500 years ago, nailed something on the church door because he wanted to get a dialogue started about something. He was not a revolutionary. He wasn't trying to undermine anything, he was just saying, "Hey, folks, I discovered this thing called 'grace' in the Scripture! And it's a whole different way to look at life. It's a whole different way to live life."
I think it was his way of starting kind of a similar dialogue and saying that our resumes and our important selfies are not so important, and they don't measure up. But there's another way to live: grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ. That was one of the hallmarks of the Reformation: grace alone.
And if you think about this, this was a unique message at the time, but it is a unique message today. It's one that we desperately need because people today even are doing things to try to either get God off their back or to find favor with God or to somehow make all this stuff matter. Without Jesus Christ, that doesn't hold together, but in Jesus Christ it's all here for you as a gift.
So Luther began this movement of grace. He took God's gracious proclamation of freedom and salvation in Jesus alone; he took it seriously. He took these kinds of words seriously, too. In Ephesians 2, he said, "Listen, this is by grace alone through faith, and this is a gift."
And then he also discovered that verse, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and are justified by grace as a gift."
You see, the Reformation brought a grace way of living back to the lives of real people. And that's where it belongs-because Jesus died for all people, from all races, from all languages, all cultures. He said the only way you can really live life eternally is by grace, and I've done it all for you.
That's so exciting and you get to be God's people with that incredible message in your life, but also in your life for the sake of others. The Reformation brought it back. And you know, Luther rediscovered we all need patience, understanding, pardon, mercy, and kindness, and that's who God is for us.
We want our life to be full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. That's who God is, and He wants to pour that kind of love into your life and pour that kind of love through your life to others. So again, this brings us back to that disarming letter of Matthew Ross.
He was honest about himself, and he was looking for grace. Paul, I think, actually wrote a letter, too. He wrote a letter about his kind of "cover letter" to the church. And listen to what he said; this is also in Philippians, but it's in Philippians 3.
He said, "I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone thinks he has a reason for confidence, I've got more. I was circumcised on the eighth day of the people of Israel, the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews. As to the Law, I'm a Pharisee. As to zeal, I was a persecutor"-of what he thought was the false church, the Christian church. "As to righteousness under the Law, I was blameless." Man, that's a cover letter. That'll get you into seminary.
But listen to what he said, "But whatever gain I had, I count as loss, for the sake of knowing Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. For His sake, I've suffered loss of all things. I count them as rubbish in order that I might gain Christ and be found in Him." What Paul is saying is "Look, when it comes to resumes-and if you want to compare yours to mine-I had it all. You guys weren't even close to what I had."
But that was nothing. He looked at his lineage, his learning, his leadership, and it was second to none. And then what did he say? "When it comes to what I really need from God and really need in Christ, none of that counted at all. It was unworthy of even presenting before a holy God, but what did God do with me? He poured everything out on me. He poured His lineage out on me. He poured His leadership out on me. He poured out His salvation, all as a gift by grace through faith in Jesus."
When we read the Bible, and I think sometimes people think that Christians are like everybody else, when they read their holy book, they think that our holy book is full of religious things to do, right? And sometimes, when people open the Bible, they have this expectation, "Yeah, God's gonna just tell me to do a bunch of stuff, and then if I do that stuff, maybe He'll bless me." But when you open the Bible, what do you find? You find a God who is there to meet you with a gracious way of life.
He's not this God who's being overly hard on you, demanding, relentless, picky, and controlling? That may be the kind of God we construct, and He would always have us under His thumb. Actually, if He put us under His thumb, it would crush us. And so to those who are really honest with themselves and know they belong under God's thumb, He says, "I didn't come to tell you that. I came to lift you up and renew you again and make you My sons and daughters by grace through faith in Jesus."
He gives you grace. He gives you His love and His understanding as a gift. So, think about this way. Ready? No selfies. No selfies! Now, how about this? But we can talk about self-lessies?
Is that good? Oh, come on! It took me all night to figure that one out. Self-lessies. Which means we do want to paint a picture of life; we want to actually have a life to live in Christ, but it's not about works; it's not about trying to show off. It's not about trying to market ourselves; it's really about being useful in God's hands for others.
God does not need your works. He already did everything for you. Who needs your works? Your neighbor. So figure out what they need. Figure out and then pray to God, "Give me that strength. Give me that ability. Give me that time so that I can be useful in Your hands to others." Yeah, we Lutheran Christians, we Christians, we want to get to work. But we want to get to work in His grace, for the sake of others. That's a self-lessie. And I tell you what, if we had a few more pictures like that, it would change the world.
So let me close with this thought-God's love; it's a gift for all by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. He is not afraid of messy people. He is not afraid of people who have messy lives. He came for people like you, and He came for people like me. He loves loving the broken, embracing the outcast. He loves seeking the lost. He's glad to tell the thief on the cross, "Today, you will be with Me in paradise."
He loves saying to that lady who was caught in adultery, "Neither do I condemn you, but go and sin no more," and He loves telling people like you and me, broken like everybody else, but forgiven in His Name, "Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you." No selfies allowed because they only get in the way. Today, He wants to paint a picture of His grace for you, and He wants that snapshot to overwhelm you in everything you are and in everything you do.
For it's by grace you live, now and forever. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and all of God's people said ...
Action in Ministry for October 8, 2017
Guest: Rev Dr. Greg Seltz
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.
Gregory Seltz: Mark, we live in a selfie culture, don't we? I mean, "Look at me, look at me!" I hear it all the time. I see it as evidence, though, that people, they're longing for others to see them as valued, as worthy. They may be blessed in many areas of life, but they're still looking for those likes on Facebook to find affirmation in who they are, to find real contentment in life.
Mark Eischer: It seems if we take the time to evaluate how we are blessed, we realize we have much for we can be thankful and little reason to seek contentment in just gaining more stuff.
Gregory Seltz: I like that. Maybe looking at ourselves will never be the answer.
Mark Eischer: You suppose we might have a problem of ingratitude.
Gregory Seltz: I think you're right.
Mark Eischer: We live in our comfortable homes. We have multiple vehicles, multiple electronic devices. It goes on and on, and yet we always seem to be longing for more. With that in mind, this week, we have for you a print resource titled An Ingrate's Guide to Contentment.
Gregory Seltz: I like that.
Mark Eischer: We hope it can help you find true and lasting contentment in those things that really matter.
Gregory Seltz: It is important for us then to take an inventory of our blessings like you said, but we also need to take a look at the source of our contentment. Many of us are richly blessed with material things, but as we've learned very quickly, that doesn't cut it when we're searching for value and worth, which is really what allows us to have a sense of peace and a sense of contentment.
Mark Eischer: In the Bible, St. Paul says he learned the secret of being content in all circumstances. His life was by no means an easy one.
Gregory Seltz: Paul was indeed a man of great ambition. Before he knew Christ, that got him into trouble a little bit, but even after he knew Christ, he got into all kinds of things too, but had a contentment amidst it all. He became a follower of Christ. That ambition suddenly changed. It changed and became a new thing in his new life. He discovered very quickly that, yes, he was discontented with the state of the world. He saw a world living apart from God's grace. That drove him to share the love of Christ with everyone he could. That even led him to being shipwrecked, beaten, and imprisoned on numerous occasions, but still, in the middle of all of that, he had learned the secret of being content.
Mark Eischer: Okay, what was that secret?
Gregory Seltz: Well, to give thanks in all things. Wow! Paul got this. He understood that all the stuff he experienced in relationship to all that had been given him, here it comes-in Christ. He knew that being in Christ was everything. He wanted to live like Him, to suffer like Him, to be like Him. In that, he found great contentment in all circumstances.
Mark Eischer: That makes me think about my own life, how I might be ungrateful at times. How do we change our perspective and adopt a mindset more like that of St. Paul?
Gregory Seltz: What's great about this booklet is it was written by a pastor, Mark. It's packed full of truth that will help transform your thinking, and it offers ways to apply these truths to your life. For example, journaling about those things for which we're thankful, how to live a more generous life, how to get away from materialism. Most of all, how to better appreciate all the riches we have in Christ. This is a great resource on this topic.
Mark Eischer: Do you possibly have a personal example you could share of how God has shaped your life to be grateful and find contentment?
Gregory Seltz: I think when you start thinking about life and all of its blessings-and Christ-it changes your expectations. I think sometimes discontentment is when we think we did this. We did this, and we should expect that. We fail to realize that God is always at work. God is always at work to bless. I started to see that just in having a family, my wife, my daughter. There were times that I didn't deserve any of the things that I received, and then suddenly, out of the blue, you receive this joy, this peace-undeserved love. Then you start thinking, God's got to be like that and more. Now I look at your expectations in all kinds of things, and I wonder what does God have in store, even in the middle of this?
Mark Eischer: You can request your FREE copy of An Ingrate's Guide to Contentment by calling or visiting our website, and I'll have that information for you in just a moment.
Gregory Seltz: That's our Action in Ministry segment today, to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ, for others.
Mark Eischer: And this print resource is titled An Ingrate's Guide to Contentment. You can download your FREE copy at lutheranhour.org or call 1-855-JOHN316. That's 1-855-564-6316. Our email address is email@example.com.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for October 8, 2017
Topic: Reflections on Martin Luther
Mark Eischer: And now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions about Martin Luther and the Reformation.
Gregory Seltz: I've been talking about Luther a lot lately, because this is the 500th year. I don't know if you know this, but Luther's a big deal, you know. A lot things you're enjoying today, we should-Lutherans should-get to know this stuff.
There's a good book out there called, What If Jesus Were Never Born? And the Reformation rediscovered a lot of these things. What if Jesus had never been born? Things like universal education, individual freedom-a lot of these things that we actually think are normal, they came from the Reformation. They're byproducts of it.
One of my favorite Luther quotes, though ... you've got to imagine. Here's this monk. Luther was just trying to be a good pastor. He had a bunch of people who thought they could pay God off-like "I can do a bunch of sins, and all I've got to do is put this money in that cup, and that's kind of like my get-out-of-jail-free card."
Luther was saying, "Man, that's what they think the grace of God is? They're living outside of grace." So as a good pastor, he was trying to say, "No, no!" He rediscovered the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
At one point in Luther's life, this rediscovering of grace got him into all kinds of issues, political-and all that stuff, and he had ... there's a lot of people who will say, "We should transform society." Luther could have transformed the whole world at that time. Here's the quote. He said, "At this moment, I knew that I could have the Holy Roman emperor and the pope himself at my feet, kneeling." He had armies that wanted to support him. He had princes who were ready to go to battle and turn the whole Holy Roman Empire upside down. Do you know what he said? "What folly!" He said, "What stupidity. God's not here to just merely transform or make a little bit better a sinful world. He's here to bring a whole different kingdom, and so I just said, 'I'm going to let the Word of God do its work, no matter what it does to me.'"
So here's a guy who could have had everything. It's almost like Jesus. Remember at the temple? "If you will bow down and worship me, I'll give you the kingdoms of the world." Luther could have had the kingdoms of the world. He could have been dressed in the finest clothes and sitting in the seat of the Holy Roman emperor himself, in many ways, and he said no to that. "I want the Gospel to be clear." Literally, he then ran for his life for the next year, because they put a death ban on him for saying it. He said, "I just let the Word do its work."
You're here celebrating the Gospel because Luther didn't take the easy way out. He said, "I'm going to preach the Gospel, no matter what it does to me." Isn't that cool? I think that's a great quote, because a lot of people think, "Well, Luther had it all in his hands," and he said, "But if I have all this, I would lose this, so forget that." Pretty powerful stuff.
Mark Eischer: Another listener asked, "Is the Reformation still relevant? Did it answer questions no one's asking anymore?"
Gregory Seltz: When you look at Reformation issues, it's a lot of similar things today. I'll just say this. A lot of people think that the Reformation was way back then, and it doesn't really have a lot of relevance to us today-like what was the question being asked at the Reformation: "How can I be forgiven? How can I be made right with a holy God?" People are saying, "Nobody asks that question today."
Oh, please. Now, they don't ask it the same way, I'll grant you that. They don't always ask it in the context of a holy, righteous, personal God, but there's a lot of what I call secular Puritans running around today who are asking the same question. "What car do you drive?" "Are you a good person or a bad person?" "Do you pay the right kind of taxes? Because if you don't pay the taxes, you're a bad person or you're a good person." This stuff is going on all over the place. I have people who are telling me what light bulb I should use to be a holy person. The same Puritanism that was back in Luther's day-and it was mean-spirited too-if you didn't abide by these rules, you were "one of those people," and "we're these people."
Luther comes and says, "We're all the same people, and Jesus has to rescue us all." Again, I would just say the bad boys of the Reformation took Luther's good news and still made it Puritanism and religious things. Luther was talking about a proclamation of freedom that comes by grace through faith, and it's a gift. If you learn to live in that gift, it'll change your life. Don't make it some religious things you do for God-whether that's secular or religious. We have secular versions of that today.
Mark Eischer: 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 Love, How Deep" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)