"What Is Best"#85-52
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on August 26, 2018
By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
(Q&A Topic:What Is Best)
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Philippians 1:9-10
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed. Of all the facts which are known to humankind, none is more clear, more complete, and more confirmed, than that of the resurrection of our Redeemer. The victorious conquest of Christ over death and grave is hope, happiness, and heaven to all who believe. And today I pray the Holy Spirit will lead you to discern faith in Jesus is best because faith in Christ means forgiveness, salvation, and life eternal. Grant these gifts Lord to us all. Amen.
In the first chapter of Philippians, St. Paul says it is his prayer that we be able to discern what is best. Can you? Most manufacturers don't think so. A couple of months ago, Pam was shopping for a hairdryer. She picked up one which said, "Do not use while sleeping." Apparently, the company had run into some people who had tried, and therefore, the warning. On some packages of a nationally recognized brand of soap it says: "Directions: Use like regular soap." Okay! On one of my travels, I stayed at a hotel which provided shower caps in nice little boxes. The box directions said, "Fits one head."
Can we discern what is best? Manufacturers don't think so. On a microwave meal it says, "Warning! Product will be hot after heating." There is an iron which warns, "Do not iron clothes on body." My son ordered one of those TV knives which cuts through anything. It said: "Warning: keep out of children." Understand, it didn't say, "Keep out of children's reach." It said keep this knife out of children." Manufacturers don't believe you can discern what is best.
Paul prays that Jesus' followers can be given the ability to spiritually discern what is best. I hope we can, but I have my doubts. You know, even Christian hymn-writers occasionally gambled that the people who sing their songs will just sing and not think. Do you remember that Christmas hymn which says about Jesus, "No crying He makes"? Where did that come from? Jesus cried at the grave of His friend Lazarus; He cried over Jerusalem. Why wouldn't He cry when He was a baby?
The church has many great mission hymns, but the truth is most people are afraid to do mission work. For them, those hymns ought to be changed. "Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing" ought to be rewritten to read: "Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing, but not with the one I have; someone might think that I am loud, so I don't sing at all." In the hymnal, there is a song that goes, "I Love to Tell the Story," but if you look at the church with a discerning eye, you know that song ought to be, "You say you love the story, but you never tell it at all. That's because you're not pushy, and that's what pastors are for. And you would be embarrassed to speak to someone you knew, so that beloved story, it don't get told by you."
Here's one: "Hark! the voice of Jesus crying, 'Who will go and work today?
Fields are white and harvests waiting, Who will bear the sheaves away?'
Loud and long the Master calls, Rich reward He offers thee;
Almost everybody answers, 'Send them all, but don't send me.'"
One last: have you ever turned a discerning ear on the hymn "Onward, Christian Soldiers"? The second verse reads: "Like a mighty army moves the Church of God; Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod. We are not divided, all one body we, One in hope and doctrine, one in charity. Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, With the cross of Jesus going on before."
Are we an undivided army? The last time the church was united was right before Adam and Eve took a taste of the forbidden fruit. Cain and Abel couldn't get along together; Jacob and Esau didn't get along like a mighty army. Moses, prophet and general of the children of Israel, found his army was constantly in a state of mutiny. When Jesus walked this planet, the chosen people were not a mighty army. There were Pharisees and Sadducees and Essenes and Herodians, and a host of other opposing forces. Jesus' own disciples were not always a mighty army. Before Pentecost, they spent considerable time arguing who was the greatest in the kingdom. Judas didn't remain loyal. Peter denied His Lord. The others slept when He asked them to pray and when the Lord was crucified, all but one was in hiding.
Knowing God's church is composed of sinners, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write, "This is my prayer, that you may discern what is best." No doubt the Lord did that because He could see an age like ours when people would be almost apologetic if they had a faith in which they really believed. He could see a time like ours where nobody was supposed to say: "My Savior, and my Savior alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Believe anything else and you won't get close to the Father, forgiveness, or heaven."
Discern what is best. Years ago, I went to the grocery store with Pam. In the produce department I saw some ladies thumping watermelons. Thump, thump. Move to the next one. Trump, thump. Move to the next one.
"What are they doing?" I asked.
Pam told me, "All watermelons are not created equal. Thumping is one way you can tell if it is a good one."
"There are other ways?" I asked.
"Oh, yes," she replied. It should have a flat spot; it should have a certain color."
We wandered into the meat department. When we got to the bacon, the ladies there looked like squirrels digging for an acorn. Deeper and deeper they went into the meat case, head buried in the cooler. I saw them rip open the back of the bacon packages.
"Let me guess," I said to Pam, "there is a difference in bacon?"
"Of course," she replied. "Some is lean; some is not; some is straight; some has an off color." That day I left the store amazed. I was amazed that so many women who can discern differences in watermelons and bacon, see no difference when it comes to religion and where they need to place their faith. Indeed, it is tragic that so many ladies put more time and effort in picking a watermelon than they do looking for a faith which saves.
And it is not just some of the ladies who fail in their discernment. Women don't have a lock on spiritual myopia. Men can be just as nearsighted. No, not about the selection of vegetables and fruit. Men could care less about vegetables and fruit. But give a man the remote control, and a cable system with 120 channels, and you will spend hours watching him search for the perfect program. A man can spend an entire evening seeking out the perfect program which, he believes, is just a few channels from wherever he happens to be. Look at the man who is searching for a new car. He goes from dealer to dealer to dealer. He compares a vehicle's lines and tire size and engines and prices. Men spend a lot of time discerning a fine machine from a lemon. They want to be able to tell their neighbors, "Yup, I just bought this baby. Ain't she fine? Not many cars can catch her on the open road. She tops out at the speed of light. Two-hundred and four miles to the gallon. Never needs a tune up. Traded in my old jalopy and ten dollars for her." But I wonder, when I see these guys, why so many of them close their eyes when it comes to seeing the superiority of the Jesus Christ. I am confused by these men who believe cars and car dealers are different, but who also have concluded all gods are alike.
And let's not forget the younger generation. Go with a teenager to try on a pair of jeans. No, don't do it. You won't believe the choices. The name brands, the number of pockets, the loose-fit, relaxed-fit, stone-washed, pre-shrunk. They may look like jeans to you. But they're not. They're a fashion statement. Teens know. They know the difference. Go with them to buy what older folks used to call sneakers, which became tennis shoes, which became athletic shoes. Go with them. Better yet, don't go. You'll be stunned by the prices and overwhelmed by the selection. You'll find running shoes, walking shoes, jumping shoes, track shoes, jogging shoes. aerobic shoes, high-tops, low-tops. The search is endless. For what? The perfect shoe. But I wonder why would a teenager who knows there is a difference in jeans and shoes believe that all gods are the same, and all redeemers offer the same forgiveness, and all paths lead to the same heaven? These young people need to discern what is best. Their eternal place in heaven depends on them discerning what is best.
All of us need to discern what is best. It is a sad commentary on our generation that so many people believe there is a difference in schools, political candidates, perfumes, underarm deodorant, washing soaps, shampoos, razor blades, beer, and fast food places, but still think all gods are alike, who maintain it makes no difference what they believe. There are millions who think every road is going to take them to heaven.
Which is why we Christians do our best to help people discern that Jesus is best. We say to the world, "Let your eyes be opened. See clearly that the world's religions, every one of them, with the lone exception of Christianity, promotes a god who demands and, more often than not, with fierce anger and fiery threats, expects his followers earn their own salvation." Have your eyes opened. Every other religion says, "You must struggle, and strive, and stumble to work your way up to god." Have your eyes opened. See the truth: only Christianity shows God's grace; only Christianity shows the Lord's love; only Christianity has a Savior; only Christianity speaks of His suffering and sacrifice which have won salvation for all who believe. Have your eyes opened to Him who was born true Man so that He might be our saving Substitute; true God, so He might fulfill the laws we have broken, reject the temptations that have tripped us, and defeat death's damnation which we have deserved. Have your eyes opened to Jesus who has the only Name under heaven, given to us, which can save.
Jesus is the only Name that saves. Wow! That says a lot. Today, it's fashionable to be open-minded. Being open-minded sounds so modern, so sophisticated, so in tune with the times. But have you noticed that open-mindedness seems to be confined completely to things like faith, salvation, and morality?
Look, there are a lot of places where people aren't open-minded. We aren't open-minded when it comes to paying our taxes. Nobody has ever said to Uncle Sam, "Here's my bank account. Take what you want." Yes, I know it feels like we do that, but the truth is we want to pay what we owe, and not a penny more. We're not open-minded when it comes to medicine. Nobody goes to a doctor and says, "Doc, I've been diagnosed with a liver tumor. Could you give me some of those pretty pink pills? No, I don't know what those pills do, but I like the color and, besides, I believe one pill is as good as another." We don't say, "I'm sick, doc. Just give me whatever medicine you have the most of." We don't want the doctor to treat our diabetes with penicillin, our pneumonia with insulin. We want the right medicine, in the right dosage. We're not open-minded when it comes to medicine. We believe there is a right prescription and a wrong one. Why should it be different when it comes to salvation?
Are we open-minded about education? What parent is going to say, "I don't care if my child thinks 2 plus 2 is 5 or 22. One answer is pretty much the same as another. They're all just numbers." We want our children to know the right answer. We demand they be taught the right answer. Similarly, the Lord wants His people to discern what is best; He wants them to acknowledge Jesus as their Savior, their Substitute, their Redeemer, and their Lord. He wants us to help them discern what God has done for them in Bethlehem, at Calvary, and at that borrowed tomb. He wants us to help them see the Savior. He wants us to witness where we can, whenever we can, to whomever we can, in whatever way we can. Help people see what you see: Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life.
It was a good many years ago that London officer Peter O'Hanlon was on night duty walking the streets of northern London. His progress was arrested when he heard a cry. Investigating, O'Hanlon saw, in the shadows, a little boy sitting on the steps of a house. With tears rolling down his cheeks, the child whimpered, "I'm lost. Take me home."
O'Hanlon began naming streets, as he tried to help the child remember where he lived. When that failed, he listed the area's well-known shops, but that idea also drew a blank. Then O'Hanlon remembered, in that section of the city was an old, well-known church with a great steeple, and a large white cross which towered above everything else. O'Hanlon took the boy to where he could see the cross and said, "Do you live anywhere near that?"
The boy's face brightened, his eyes opened wide with recognition. "Yes, take me to the cross. I know my home's near there."
Christians, Jesus wants you to help the lost. Take them to the place where they can see the cross; take them to the spot where they can discern what is best. Show them the cross so they, too, might say, "My eternal home's near there." And to those of you who are listening who have been brought to that place where you want to know more about Jesus, I offer this encouragement and invitation, please call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
Reflections for August 26, 2018
Title: What Is Best
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. That was Pastor Ken Klaus, and we welcome Dr. Dale Meyer to the studio here. Dr. Meyer, school is starting pretty soon, isn't it?
Dale Meyer: Thank you for having me, and yes, last week our new students got their orientation, and they got their heads filled with all kinds of policies and procedures they have to follow. But, it wasn't all academic.
Mark Eischer: In what sense?
Dale Meyer: Well, one day last week the new students, along with faculty and staff members, got on school buses and went into the city of St. Louis to work in community gardens.
Mark Eischer: Okay.
Dale Meyer: Usually, they're overgrown because by this time of the year they haven't been faithfully tended week after week. And so, the students get in there and clean that out as a community service. I enjoy the time being with students, and getting to know who these new seminarians are, but it's also helpful for them. We want to send them the message right away that you're not only going to be called one day to a church, but you're called to a congregation in a community, and you have a commitment to that community.
Mark Eischer: And to see the role of the pastor as not just someone who is bringing forth biblical knowledge that he's amassed at the seminary, but someone who is leading his congregation in being the hands and feet of Jesus right where God has placed them.
Dale Meyer: Perfectly stated, perfectly stated. Another thing about the orientation week is that they do get a lecture-or maybe more than one, on the fact that the devil is as alive and active at the seminary, as he is other places in the world. In fact, maybe more so, because Satan knows that what these men and women are preparing to do is against his kingdom, and against the evil and sin that he promotes.
So, our students are told that this is the real world here, and Satan prowls around looking for a seminarian whom he may deceive and devour.
Mark Eischer: And you're also speaking about things that are happening at our sister seminary in Fort Wayne, right?
Dale Meyer: Absolutely. We have a wonderful sister seminary, Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. They do the same thing that we do, provide pastors to The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, provide deaconess also to our denomination. The two schools also have graduate programs that are available to anyone in any denomination.
Mark Eischer: That brings us back to the topic of Pastor Klaus' sermon today, when he talked about being able to discern what is best.
Dale Meyer: That's what we try and do at both of our seminaries. One of the ways this works is the culture, the context, in which students live and study. Pastor Klaus' message was based on Philippians1:9-10. Verse nine says, "And this is my prayer that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. Discerning what is best comes where love is present." Now for us, that's the love God that's shown us, especially in our Savior Jesus, and where that love is abounding. I like that word. Where it's abounding. It's not just on the shelf, but it's lively and active. Abounding with knowledge and insight we can then, as verse 10 puts it, discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.
And so, Mark, as we strive to discern what is good from what is bad, we also need to keep examining our own souls so that we be pure and innocent. And it's not that we can be pure and innocent on our own, absolutely not. We continue to be flawed sinners. But in daily repentance, and in embracing God's forgiveness in Jesus we can be pure and innocent in our conscience, and as we deal with other people. That's what we try and do at both of our seminaries, to instill that kind of spiritual heart and outlook into all our students. And not only the students, the faculty and the staff want that as well.
And from that identity, which they have in Christ, in His love, and in discernment, then they go out to serve the church and the world.
Mark Eischer: In addition to our seminaries, what are your thoughts regarding Christian education in general?
Dale Meyer: I was blessed with Christian education in my own life: church every Sunday, Sunday school every Sunday, and the parochial school, St Paul's Lutheran School in Chicago Heights, Illinois. Christian education is important because God reveals His way to us in His Word. And so, we want to study His Word, His Bible. We want to learn how the church has lived and coped for centuries. We want to learn all of this not just for esoteric knowledge sake, but so that we can live in this world, so that we can be discerning as we look at the church in the 21st century.
If ever there has been a time for Christian education, at any level, Sunday school, parochial school, high school, college, seminary, it's this 21st century, because this is no longer Christian America. We need the insights that Christian education gives simply for how to live in a pure and blameless way in this life, knowing that we are going to come before God, and have to answer for how we've lived. Christian education, God bless it. That's where it's at. To know the Catechism and the Bible, from which the Catechism distills the basic truths. So, a 21st-century mandate for the church, as always, but especially this 21st century, has to be Christian education.
Mark Eischer: Dr. Meyer, we're soon going to be welcoming the next Speaker to the microphone here, in the next few weeks. I wanted to take this time to thank you and Pastor Klaus for the great work that you've done here over the course of this past year, serving as our interim Speakers. It's been wonderful to work with you. It's been a privilege to be with you, and I really appreciate the thoughtful messages that you've brought to our listeners. So once again, thanks again for all that you've done.
Dale Meyer: Well, thank you, Mark. I know that this has been a delight for me and for Pastor Klaus. I was privileged to be the Speaker of The Lutheran Hour for 12 years, and then callings moved me on to the Seminary. So, these last nine months have been an opportunity to round out my life. I've thoroughly enjoyed it. Sometime, when I retire, I'd like to sit down and compare the maturity of these sermons to the earlier sermons that I preached. And I suspect that I will see between the lines of the last nine months of sermons a little more hurt, a little more getting beat up by life and the world and, hopefully, a little more love from Jesus and discernment shown in the messages I was privileged to preach.
So, thanks very much to you, and to all the people of Lutheran Hour Ministries. I've been blessed by being able to work with you again.
Mark Eischer: Before we started recording today, you talked a little bit about the difference between the role of the Speaker and being the Speaker. What did you mean by that?
Dale Meyer: When I arrived in my first congregations, New Memphis and Venedy, Illinois, those first months, maybe the first year or so, I didn't feel like I was a pastor. I was fulfilling the role of a pastor, but sometime in that first year or so, the light went off. And I thought, "No, Dale. You are a pastor." I had the same experience coming to The Lutheran Hour in 1989. I followed Dr. Oswald Hoffmann. No one follows Dr. Oswald Hoffmann. And I thought, "Wonderful, man." And I was filling this role, an important role. But some place along the line I woke up and I said, "No, now you are the Speaker, Dale." And that was a wonderful moment, because it's not role playing. This is who you are.
I wish for all of our graduates, from both of our seminaries, that the day comes, and comes quickly when they say, "I'm not just filling a role. I'm a pastor for Jesus. That's who I am." And that's the way I think, that's the way my heart beats. I'm a pastor for Jesus.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Lord, Help Us Ever to Retain" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)