"An Open Mind for the Future"#86-51
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on August 18, 2019
By Rev. Dr. Dale A. Meyer, Guest Speaker
(Q&A Topic:An Open Mind for the Future)
Copyright 2019 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Acts 17:18-32
Lord God, You have called Your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that Your hand is leading us and Your love supporting us. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
What's on the horizon for you? Do you foresee a great and wonderful future? "The best is yet to come," we often say. Usually we apply that optimism to the younger and healthier times of our life—birth, marriage, career, and so on. Is the best yet to come when life starts to narrow down? When age and health and other circumstances seem to close one door after another? Today, I want you to hear that you can look forward to a great and wonderful future.
I have often delighted in a book of devotions edited by Les Bayer and published by Concordia Publishing House in St Louis. It's titled Devotions for the Chronologically Gifted. In one devotion, Herbert Brokering tells about the death of his nine-year-old brother Paul. This happened decades ago in rural Nebraska where Herbert and Paul's father was serving as a minister. He writes, "My brother was whistling 'A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,' as he left the country parsonage. By radio, we had just heard Dr. Walter A. Maier preaching on The Lutheran Hour, and I was happy to hear again that I was saved. The whistling was Paul's last song on earth. The words of the sermon were in his young mind. He fell from a willow tree in winter into a Nebraska Creek. I was nine, and I believed in the miracle at Cana where Jesus changed water into wine. Now I had a larger miracle to believe: resurrection."
I believe in the resurrection of the body, says the Apostles' Creed. The people who wrote the Creed believed that, but many others did not. In the New Testament, a Jewish group called the Sadducees did not believe that our bodies will one day be raised. The ancient Greek stoic and epicurean philosophers didn't believe it either. When Paul spoke in Athens about the resurrection of the dead, some of his listeners made fun of him. So Acts 17 tells us, "In our own time, the growing popularity of cremation suggests that more and more people do not believe in the resurrection of the body." Last April 27th, a column written by Mr. Stephen Prothero appeared in the Wall Street Journal. A religion professor at Boston University who has researched the history of cremation, Mr. Prothero says, "It's not economics that is making cremation ever more popular. It's our current spiritual climate. During the Victorian era," he writes, "practitioners of alternative religions affirmed the immortality of the soul rather than the resurrection of the body. They also embraced cremation as a spiritual means of liberating the pure soul from the polluted body. Where once virtually all Americans saw themselves as intriguing entities in which soul and body are one being, today, many Americans, including many Christians, see themselves as immortal souls."
Many decades ago in rural Nebraska, young Herbert believed that Jesus turned water into wine. But resurrection? That was a larger miracle to believe. Today the Sadducees and the Greek philosophers of old have 21st-century disciples who think bodily resurrection is a silly thing. Those old Christian teachings, what the church calls "doctrine," are repulsive to free-thinkers. They smirk at us Bible-believing Christians. We are, after all, so closed-minded. Do you want to know something? They are right. I've never met a Christian who wasn't closed-minded. I'll admit that we Christians are sometimes closed-minded about the wrong things. We've been known to take little things and turn them into theological confrontations. That said, there is one very real way in which every Christian should show a closed mind. The true Christian's mind is closed to faith based upon current opinion, to faith based upon popular philosophies.
Instead of that eclectic spirituality that is all around us today, the true Christian's mind is locked in on the Bible's words of repentance and faith in the resurrected Savior, Jesus Christ. Going back to those people who made fun of Paul when he preached in Athens, it was when Paul got to the word of Jesus Christ that some of the hearers left laughing. Listen to what Paul said to this cosmopolitan crowd: "Men of Athens, I see that you are very religious. As I was going through your city and looking closely at the objects you worship, I noticed an altar with this written on it to an unknown God. I'm telling you about the unknown God you worship. The God who made the universe and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn't live in shrines made by humans, and He isn't served by humans as if He needed anything."
What Paul said next cost him the crowd. "God overlooked the times when people didn't know any better, but now He commands everyone everywhere to turn to Him and change the way they think and act. He has set a day when He is going to judge the world with justice, and He will use a Man He has appointed to do this. God has given proof to everyone that He will do this by bringing that Man back to life" (Acts 17:22-25, 30-31).
With those words about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, some folks laughed and left. It's just not our natural way to submit ourselves to the words of repentance and faith that are centered in Jesus Christ. It's simply not acceptable to many people today when the church encourages us to confess, "Oh, Almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess to You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your punishment now and forever."
Other words of confession are used by Bible-believing Christians, but they are all expressions of the biblical truth that we are by nature, dead in our trespasses and sins, as Ephesians 2:1 puts it. As you narrow your spiritual focus on that unpleasant teaching, God's Spirit uses the Bible's message to open to you a great future because God sent Jesus Christ to die for your sins and raised Him to give you life in heaven. This truth is demonstrated over and over again as God's Holy Spirit uses the Good News to lead people, to embrace Jesus Christ as Savior.
My friends at the People of the Book Lutheran Outreach shared with me the following story. About eight months ago, a missionary, Amer, and his wife were on their way home from Lansing, Michigan, to Windsor, Ontario, and stopped at a gas station in Lansing. Amer struck up a casual conversation with the two men working at the gas station.
It wasn't long before the topic of religious beliefs came up. The men seemed interested. They were also tied to the gas station, working there every day of the week. Amer left the station, but didn't forget about the two Indian men, Nirmal and Joginder. Instead, he visited them week after week, spending two to three hours with them on his free days. They kept asking more and more questions about the Bible, our faith, and about Jesus. Amer challenged their all-religions-are-okay philosophy and presented them with the truth: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Nirmal and Joginder have lived in the United States 4 and 15 years respectively, and knew nothing at all of Jesus before Amer's visits. After about six months of these studies, both men were ready to leave their former religion behind and profess their faith in Jesus Christ through Baptism.
That story from People of the Book Lutheran Outreach demonstrates why the words of the Bible are so important. As John 20:31 says, "These things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and so that you will have life by believing in Him."
Have you noticed how God turns the tables? Free thinkers accuse us Bible-believing Christians of being closed-minded. What really happens is just the opposite. The work of God's Spirit is to close our minds to shifting popular opinions and lead us to embrace the Good News of Jesus Christ that opens to us a great future. That great future includes a bodily resurrection. Job 19:25-27 is one of the most popular biblical texts on this subject. "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own eyes—I, and not another." Jesus Himself says in John 5:28-29, "A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out."
Statements like those, and there are many others in the Bible, led the church long ago to say, "I believe in the resurrection of the body." They didn't let free thinkers seduce them into rejecting the clear doctrine of the Bible. By the way, the Bible does not teach reincarnation either. Hebrews 9:27-28 say, "Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people. And He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him."
Of course, the question inevitably comes up, what body will we have when we are raised? Such a question is an old trick to try and show that this belief is not logical. St. Paul has a very strong answer to that question. In 1 Corinthians he wrote, "Someone will ask, how do the dead come back to life? With what kind of body will they come back? You fool," he responds, "the seed you plant doesn't come to life unless it dies first. What you plant, whether it's wheat or something else, is only a seed. It doesn't have the form that the plant will have. When the body is planted it decays. When it comes back to life, it cannot decay. When the body is planted, it doesn't have any splendor and is weak. When it comes back to life, it has splendor and is strong. It is planted a physical body. It comes back to life as a spiritual body. As there is a physical body, so there is also a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:35-36, 42-44).
So closing our minds to spiritual fads and embracing the words of Jesus opens up a great future for all who believe. I must stress that. Jesus says, "My words are spirit and life" (John 6:63). Again, "No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). All people will have their bodies raised on Judgment Day, which will obviously be a miraculous thing, something our minds simply cannot grasp, but it's only believers in Christ who will have their bodies raised for an eternity of joy in Heaven.
So what's the way to that great future? Wrap your minds around the words of Jesus Christ. This resurrected Savior opens a great future for those who believe. Herbert Brokering made that his hope decades ago when his brother Paul died. "On Saturdays," he wrote, "40 of us children met with father to study God's Word in the White Church schoolhouse at the edge of the cemetery. I asked father for a seat by the window where I could watch the grave. If Resurrection Day came soon, I wanted a front row seat to see Paul rise. All the graves in the cemetery were positioned so the dead would rise facing east. East was toward Mr. Norbrook's farm. East was really all the way to the Holy City of Jerusalem. I pictured Jerusalem, the golden, even more beautiful than the Nebraska state capital."
What a great future awaits you and me when we embrace the words of the Savior who lives and in whom we shall live. Hebrews 13:14 says, "Here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come." Yes, the best is yet to come. With the Holy Spirit keeping our devotion wrapped around Jesus' words of life, let us together and with great confidence, move into the wonderful future that God has prepared for those who love Him. Amen.
Reflections for August 18, 2019
Title: An Open Mind for the Future
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour, and we just heard a message originally heard in June of 2001 from Dr. Dale Meyer. I'm Mark Eischer here in the studio once again with Dr. Meyer and our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you, Mark. So I can't remember the exact time of the semester, but I think it was in 2007, I went into my preaching class, which was Homiletics 2, and all the students, we were sitting in the classroom, and the president of the seminary walks in, and he puts a couple of desks together, and he lays down on the desks, and he says, "I'm dead, preach my funeral sermon." And we just sat there stunned, and he would later call us his "preacher creatures," and he was our preacher commander. And he made preaching a lot of fun, even if it was a little intimidating. And clearly Dr. Meyer, you took joy in that class. Where did you find joy in serving as Speaker of the Lutheran Hour?
Dale Meyer: In meeting the people. And that gave me more joy and stimulation, I think, than almost any book I've read, short of the Bible itself, because people testify to the truth, that's the Gospel. My predecessor, Dr. Oswald Hoffmann said, "Where the Gospel is present, the Spirit is present to work faith." And that was my biggest blessing to be at The Lutheran Hour, those 12 years.
Mike Zeigler: What did you learn about God's people through those interactions as Speaker of The Lutheran Hour?
Dale Meyer: I hope I learned to hear their questions before I give answers without hearing their questions. You know, one of the things that's said about pastors is we sometimes answer questions that nobody is asking. I'm afraid too often we preachers can be like goldfish swimming around an aquarium and, and here's a good thing we open our mouth about on this side of the aquarium and then we'd go off to another topic, but when am I going to take home? What's the good word from God that's going to be in my pocket for today and tomorrow and the next days of the week?
Mike Zeigler: Something else you did was, you wouldn't let us use a manuscript, and that caused a lot of anxiety among my classmates and I, but you had a point, it wasn't simply just to artificially memorize something, but you said, "You got to get it into your heart, and you got to preach from the heart." And that's something that I've watched you do, and something that I've tried to do. How is getting God's Word in your heart, not just as a preacher, but as a follower of Jesus, how has that affected you as you've walked with Him?
Dale Meyer: Well, about memorizing the sermon, there are, as you know, techniques to do that; every trade has its tricks. And one of the driving reasons for memorization in my own mind, is that that forces you to have a simple sermon so that at the end of the day, a little child can say, "Oh yeah, this is what pastor talked about." But the more important question you ask is about the Word of God in our hearts. And I don't know if I did it in your class, but this is a physical transaction. The preacher speaks a word and somehow disturbs the air and that disturbance of the air reaches the listener's ears and is somehow miraculously translated into words, okay.
Those words then, blessed by the Spirit, will go down into the heart. It's a very physical thing. It's not some kind of spiritual dah, dah, dah. It's not a nirvana-type thing, it's just a very physical transaction. So, when those words get down into the heart, one of the things that happens is that the Holy Spirit, through those implanted words, starts to change us. Not only leads us to faith, but takes us along the path of the sanctified life. And so there are many times when a Christian, with the Word of God in his heart, will react differently than a non-Christian or a nominal believer. And that's because the Word of God changes people—for eternity, but also for time.
Mike Zeigler: We've talked about learning the Word and I was reading, I think it's Revelation 12 or maybe 10, where the apostle John, the angel commands him to eat the book. And he says he ate it and it tasted like honey in his mouth, but then when he swallowed it, it was bitter. It gave him a stomach ache.
Dale Meyer: Yeah, that's a good point. The Word of God challenges our natural instincts so that it does become a bitter word to us. Looking back over my years, in addition to memorizing Scriptures and getting them down into my heart, one of the greatest blessings has been affliction: troubling times. Because that's when you realize that our sufficiency, as St. Paul says, is not of ourselves, but it comes from the God of all grace. I thank God for the trouble times I've had in my life. I don't welcome them. I wish they wouldn't come, but in hindsight, and remember, today we're talking about the best is yet to come. In hindsight, those were the times when the spirit refined me more and more so that I looked more to Jesus and less to myself and the things of this earth.
Mike Zeigler: Last week we listened to a message from Dr. Hoffmann, and he said that prayer arises out of the furnace of human experience, and this is where the Holy Spirit does His work in that affliction, and this is what drives us to prayer.
Dale Meyer: And that's where a pastor becomes a pastor, through the broken heart that he sees in other people and he experiences in himself. A pastor doesn't become a pastor because he's read all these theological books and passed the tests. He becomes a pastor when he sees the hurt in this world and applies the Gospel.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)