Monday, March 26, 2012

Sermon on Mark 10:35-45, for the 5th Sunday in Lent, Children's Sunday, "Ransomed for a Reason!"


Sermon Outline: 
1.      James’ and John’s bold-faced request—sit at the right and left hand. Go-getters, ambitious, passionate; seeking power, glory. Didn’t sit well with the other 10 disciples. Know or learn from experience that a sure-fire way to alienate co-workers, friends, or others from you is to be arrogant and self-promoting—seek to grab power, put yourself over them, etc. Jesus calms the disciples and uses this as a teachable moment for them all.
2.      Way of the world vs. way of the kingdom of God. It’s dysfunctional. Putting our interests and quests for power first, makes for conflict, hurt feelings, etc. And passive-aggressive manipulation is no better, because it just puts our interests first in a “sneakier way.” Jesus compares this self-seeking to the ways of the politicians of His day, who were domineering in their power, or “threw their weight around” to show who’s in charge. Same today. Endless cycle of it in politics and news, as one party blames the other when they’re in control, or they’re not in control, or when everything lands in gridlock. For every finger pointed, three more point right back at you. Rise in the polls by making everyone else look bad.
3.      Happens not just in politics, but in family, in the workplace—we know it’s dysfunctional and it needs to change. Jesus says, “It shall not be so among you.” Kingdom of God doesn’t work this way—reversal of values from the world and our selfish, sinful nature. In the kingdom of God, we’re to put others first—and to lead by humility and service. Greatest will be a servant, the first must be a slave. This is the way of God’s kingdom.
4.      Not James’ and John’s greatest hour—true colors, unflattering picture. But instead of being quick to sneer at their failings, we should see our reflection in them. Good news though! God can work through “characters” like them and us! Don’t have to fit a certain “personality profile”—God has a place too for the rough and tumble, for the go-getters or the bull-headed, for the ones who learn by repeated mistakes, as well as for the mild and timid, the questioner, the intellectual, or the emotional one. God will take the Jameses and Johns and Marys and Marthas, and make them His followers. He loves you already because He made you, and also loves you enough to want you to change for the better.
5.      He can take a James or a John like me or you and know that you’ll be a “work in progress”—even if it’s your whole life long (trust me—we will be!). This is hope for us: freeing us from our sins, shape the new identity. Humility of service & bold courage of faith. Generosity and concern for others instead of selfishness and stinginess. And rest assured that you don’t have to have the right “Myers-Briggs” personality type to qualify! Do you think Jesus didn’t know the character strengths, faults, and flaws of each and every one of those twelve disciples, before He chose them? Of course He knew, and He had a purpose for each of them. And He’s got a purpose for each one of you. “If God didn’t work through sinful people, He wouldn’t get a whole lot done, would He?” Of course that’s the beauty of God’s love for us!
6.      So how’s Jesus going to do it? Many of you are employers who have other people working for you. Most of you here are parents. Everyone here has responsibilities toward a boss, an employee, a parent, a child, a teacher, a pastor, an aunt or uncle, a neighbor. An “arena” to live out our life and practice doing what is either right or wrong, practice loving and serving, or being domineering and selfish. So how does Jesus propose to enter into our lives, our arena, and change how we live? By an unexpected way—by serving us.
7.      “For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many.” [Unpack “ransom.”] “The ransom metaphor pictures those whom Jesus came to purchase as helpless slaves, chained in the marketplace, standing on the auction block with no hope of freedom...Imagine it! There you are, on the slave block, about to be sold into who knows what kind of slavery. You look up, and there stands Jesus, giving Himself for you, standing in your chains, shedding His blood for you, buying your freedom. ‘You are free to go,’ you hear the auctioneer say. ‘You are free!’ The price? the eternally valuable blood of Jesus Christ, the priceless perfection of His obedience in life and in death, the precious treasury of His merit on the cross. This was the payment to buy freedom for the entire world”. (Preus, Just Words, 81, 83).
8.      But probably most of us would say “I’ve never been a slave to anyone; I live in a free country; I’m the master of my fate, I’m the captain of my soul.” Jews had said nearly the same thing to Jesus, when He had suggested that they needed to be set free. “What do you mean? Set free from what?” Sin. Hostages to our own self-will. At our best, we still can’t free ourselves from it—and more troubling, God says that the end result of sin is death.
9.      Sin is more than mere dysfunction. If sin leads ultimately to death, and God judges us after—then our prospects don’t look too good! If we can’t free ourselves of wrong actions, wrong words, wrong motives and desires, then how do we assume that God’s evaluation of us will be that we were “good enough”? Cast in this light, we see our slavery to sin as a truly serious problem. Eternal life is in the balance, and God is always there to remind us, whether through our conscience, through the works of His creation, or through a crisis that drives us back to Him, that He’s still there, even when we’ve forgotten Him. Speaks to us through His Word, the Holy Bible, reveals His love for us and to show His plan for how to get us out of this mess. How His Son Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for us.
10.  No easy fix or solution, because we humans have brought a lot of hurt and evil into this world, and our lives are extensively intertwined with sin. God wasn’t going to go through a “selective elimination” process where He just removed the worst people from the world, and all our problems would be solved. Church is not a “rose garden” where God selected the best and the brightest—but is made up of forgiven sinners of all shapes and stripes.
11.  But what a solution! Nothing we would have imagined. That God would take on and own the problem of sin—which was rightfully ours—and make it His own burden to bear. That Jesus would sacrifice His own life on the cross, getting our just penalty, so that God could count His good and perfect life to our credit. That He’d take the penalty due to us, and grant us His pure record by faith in Him. This means we need not fear death, and have the assured verdict of innocence—that God will evaluate those who believe in Jesus—not by their sins and failings—but by the perfect love and obedience of His Son Jesus.
12.  That is what the Christian Gospel—the Good News about God’s love is all about. Jesus, made a transaction that cost Him His life on the cross—but that purchased ours! He ransomed us from an inescapable slavery, and gave us a new life of freedom. He calls us to be His followers, with all our faults and blemishes, but grants us a new life and a new identity, to start walking and living after Him. To be those who would serve others, and to show His humble love. Those who strive to live by the reverse values of the kingdom, instead of the ways of the world. To turn away from our pride and domineering, to follow after Him. God has ransomed you for this reason, so live and rejoice as the ransomed children of God, in Jesus’ name, Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1. What were James and John seeking from Jesus in Mark 10:35-45? How did their question affect the other 10 disciples? vs. 41  When have we had similar self-seeking, self-promoting thoughts? What is usually the result of “power-plays”, being domineering, arrogant, or self-seeking? What attitude does Jesus direct us to have instead? Vs. 43-45; Philippians 2:1-11. How is this attitude Jesus’ own attitude toward us?

2.  Do we ever make the excuse or even fear that we can’t “fit the bill” to be a Christian? The picture we see of the different disciples shows that God can have a plan and purpose for all different “characters” and personalities. All of us are sinners, and God can accomplish much through our lives if we will humble ourselves to believe and follow Him.

3. God gives us many “arenas” in life and in our relationships where we practice the love and the service that He directs us to. In all parts of our life, and in our responsibilities, God is working to bring about godly change in us. Colossians 3:3, and 3:5-17.

4. What is a “ransom?” Unpack the meaning of the word. As Jesus applies it to us—who is in slavery (or held hostage?); what is our slavery; what is the price Jesus paid for our freedom? Mark 10:45; 1 Tim. 2:6; 1 Peter 1:18-20; Rev. 5:9.

5. How is the cross, Jesus’ ultimate act of service for us? Now that we’ve been ransomed, how should we live in this freedom we’ve been given? Gal. 5:1, 13; 1 Peter 2:16. Take a moment to give thanks to God for His salvation, and ask for Jesus’ love to reshape your life for Him!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sermon on Jonah 3:1-5, Lent 5, Jonah, The Survivor Series: Part 5: "The God of the Second Chance"

The following Lenten series I will be preaching on is adapted from Dr. Reed Lessing's series on Jonah the prophet. Dr. Lessing is professor of Old Testament at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO. 


            After a somewhat less than graceful exit from the belly of the whale, Jonah was back on terra firma. And it was no time to rest or to hatch another escape plan—that have proven to be fruitless (267). God had work for Jonah to do, and he was to get right to it. God was persistent in His call, and wasn’t going to let up. Perhaps we can recall times when we’ve had a less than graceful course-correction in our lives, and were humbled, somewhat unsteady on our feet, and back to facing the call that God has for us. Because of God’s grace, we are given a second chance—we are renewed for His service yet again. Jonah obeyed at last the command to “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”
            In verse three, almost all translations describe Nineveh as an “exceedingly great city.” But you have to look in the footnote to realize that literally it reads “a great city belonging to God”. Nineveh?!? Belonging to God? Most You mean the capital of the despotic empire? The city God was going to overturn? This city of pagans, who didn’t know or acknowledge God belonged to God? Yes! God was concerned for these inhabitants too! However wicked their crimes were, they still belonged to Him, and their welfare was His concern. And Jonah enters that great city with a single-sentence sermon that is neither eloquent nor passionate; is not addressed to anyone in particular, and mentions no crimes or precise form of punishment—simply these words: “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overturned!”
            Was the brevity of the sermon because he was afraid of getting stoned? Was this just a summary of a longer message? Was he hoping that they wouldn’t repent? Whatever the case, any possible fears that the people would ignore or reject the message were remarkably unfounded! Far a backlash, the Ninevites, of all things….did what?? They believed in God!!! They called for a fast, repented from their sin, and wore the clothing of mourning and sadness. They humbled themselves before God! All of them! From the least to the greatest—the poorest citizen to the king. Was Jonah prepared for that? No! “Wait, you mean…they get a second chance too? But they deserve to get hammered!” Jonah, Jonah, Jonah!
            Have you ever been a Jonah, wishing some other person or group of “deserving sinners” would “get hammered?” That they would suffer what they deserve? James and John, disciples of Jesus once asked if they should call down fire from heaven to destroy a village that rejected Jesus—and He rebuked them. Don’t we—didn’t they—didn’t Jonah get that the judgment that would fall down on the heads of other sinners would fall down on us too? But God’s judgment fell down on the head of Jesus instead of us. Jesus willingly stood under the judgment of God, so that we could be spared. So that even wicked sinners like the Ninevites could hear the Word and turn back to God and be saved. Didn’t Jonah—don’t we get that his humbling experience was to open his heart to the lost people of Nineveh, not to harden it in judgment against them? That our heart too, like God’s, would ache for the lost, and do everything to bring them back? Do we doubt the same Word of God that is like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces (Jer. 23:29) can break our stony hearts can do the same for unbelievers? That the same Spirit of life who gives a heart of flesh to us (Ezek. 11:19), can do the same for those who haven’t yet heard the Word?
            God was able to work…His Word was powerful and effective, even through Jonah’s sentence-long sermon. God made a nation change its hearts when it couldn’t have been expected. God can certainly do the same today. But His Word and Spirit is the only power that can accomplish it. The Word is God the Spirit’s effective tool, His powerful means of grace to change hearts and make them new. It’s only through His Gospel that we survive and get a second chance, and it’s through that same Gospel that all others who will be saved will likewise get their second chance. And far more than just one extra chance, He’s daily forgiving our sins and the sins of all who return to the Lord, and trust in His Son Jesus—the prophet greater than Jonah who is here and is for us! Amen.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sermon on Numbers 21:4-9 & John 3:14-21, for the 4th Sunday in Lent, "The Cross for you!"


Sermon Outline:
1.      Most famous Bible verse, John 3:16—back up two verses and Jesus explains His cross in relation to the bronze serpent, Num. 21:4-9. Grumbling against God and Moses > God sends serpents > people repent > God sends a cure. Bronze serpent—likely detestable for them to look at—yet God’s Word attached to it made it their cure. Look to it and live. So why does Jesus match His cross to this story? Look to Him (believe in Him) when He is raised up, and live. Cross is detestable to many. See there our own sin. Romans meant it to be degrading to the crucified, deterrent to the public.
2.      Sin is our poison, burning wounds, consciences. All “snake-bitten.” Poison is fatal—there is only one cure—Christ crucified. Jesus became “snake-bitten” for us. Old-fashioned remedy for snake bite—suck the poison, draw out the poison. But when the “fangs” of the serpent, the devil, struck Jesus and tried to poison the perfect Son of God, He died. He absorbed all the poison of our sin, drew into Himself all the power of the devil’s venom. But out of His wounds flowed the blood that is our healing. If health and healing and medicine are the opposite of poison and death, Jesus’ blood flowed out to us for the healing of the world. Like medicine being spilled out from the cross to purify and forgive the world, so Jesus’ blood neutralized and overcame the poison of sin and death. Echoes back to the first ancient prophecy Gen. 3:15. Bruised heel, crush the head of the serpent.
3.      Medical analogy of antibodies in blood: specialized immune system proteins that fight off foreign and harmful substances. Antibodies give immunity. Jesus’ blood contains the missing “antibody” that fights against sin. We lacked it, yet by faith in Jesus we gain His “immunity.” Sin is taken away when we look to His cross—have faith or believe in Him. His blood is our cure, that pours out of His wounds for us.
4.      From the unlikely match from bronze serpent to cross—Jesus introduces John 3:16. God so loved the world. Isn’t that one universal human need? Everyone wants to be loved? Many suffer from a lack of it (through cruelty, loneliness, bad relationships), but even those who have been loved are still short of the full goodness of God’s love that He made us for.
5.      He so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. God’s love is way beyond whatever is lacking in the human love that we have or have not received in this life. More than enough to compensate the cruelty, the injustice, the hatred many have received in this life. God’s love literally covers every sin, when Jesus pays the price for it at the cross. All sin and guilt, ours, our neighbor’s, every human being’s is acknowledged as wrong and justly deserving punishment, and is punished in Jesus’ cross. We’re left with the forgiveness and the mercy of God, in place of what we’ve justly deserved; of what we’ve unjustly received. God’s love flows down, through the cross of Jesus, through His Word—the good news—to all who desire and believe it. God shows His love for us in this—that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! (Rom. 5:8)
6.      He said: “whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” What does it mean to “perish”? Boxes of fragile items, or containing foods that have an expiration date are often stamped: “Perishable—handle with care”. So also we are perishable; have an expiration date (known only to God). Our lives have a definite end, and our bodies slowly age and become sick as evidence. Not indestructible or invincible. But even beyond death, there is a worse fate for those who do not receive the “antidote”—who do not believe in Jesus, and thus find the cure for their sin. To “perish” is the eternal death of separation from God in hell. But God tells us that our “perishability” does not have to be so. Promised eternal life beyond our “expiration date.” For all who believe in Jesus.  
7.      In God we find the One and only person who cannot break His promises. What He has promised He will surely keep, for it is impossible for God to lie. The amazing thing is that Jesus has freely offered this to whoever would believe in Him. God’s love that we crave and need, the cure of our sin-sickness that is fatal, and the promise of eternal life with Him are all promised us in these words. Open to all! Not just the potential of salvation for you; but everything accomplished, and He’ll deliver it to you by faith! Yours by believing in Him—trusting that He is True; never breaks His promises; sent His Son to be lifted up for you and your salvation. How does this “faith” come? How do you become one of those who believe? Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17)!
8.      God actually delivers the gift and all that is necessary to receive and possess it right in the words themselves! God’s Word is powerful to create faith in you, to make you alive to Christ and dead to your sins. Strip away the sin, draw out the venom, clothe you with Jesus’ innocence, pour out His blood for your forgiveness and healing. Jesus Christ has won God’s victory for us in His cross, and delivered it to us by faith in His Word.
9.      “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Sadly, as simple and as free as the cure is, some will reject it, and have no part in it. Sin is a deadly poison, and we have no resistance to it ourselves, and we’re perishable.
10.  But for all who look to Jesus’, who believe in Him, we have His life and His victory. Yet one more way the cross stands as the great sign of Jesus’ victory. In Isaiah 11:10-12, often read around Christmas time, we hear:  “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious. In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people…He will raise a signal for the nations and will assemble the banished of Israel.” Jesus, is that “signal” for the nations. Signal, standard, or banner. A military flag or standard driven into the ground to show triumph, and claim this land. In the cross of Jesus Christ, God drove His standard into the ground at Calvary, and declared His victory over death, and staked His claim for us.
11.  The hymn Stand Up Stand Up for Jesus describes Christians bearing this banner of the cross, as it leads them from vict’ry unto vict’ry. Spiritual battle, in which Jesus is already the declared victor—but the skirmishes still taking place on the battlefield, and those who abandon the enemy and rally to the cross of Jesus are still received as His followers until His final return, and the battle is concluded. While sometimes soldiers lose their nerve in battle and flee their standard, we are to rally boldly to the standard of Jesus’ cross, and know that under Him we won’t be defeated or ashamed, but all who look to Him will be saved. Cross = signal or standard for the nations, the place for the scattered remnant to gather, the site of His victory. Jesus Christ has won God’s victory for us in His cross, and delivered it to us by faith in His Word. Now rally to the cross, to the standard, the banner of God’s victory. Find in Him your life, your holiness, your God loving and forgiving you. Receive what the Word of Christ even now brings and delivers to you. You who believe in Him shall have eternal life!

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

  1. What caused God to send the serpents among the Israelites in Numbers 21:4-9? What did the burning pain of the bites move them to do in v. 7? How did God appoint a solution for their suffering? What is puzzling or even unusual about the solution? Why might they not have wanted to look at it?

  1. How does this anticipate or look forward to Jesus’ cross? Why might we (or others) not want to look to the cross for our cure? What do we see there? How is Jesus’ cross similar, and yet different from the bronze serpent in Numbers? John 3:14-15

  1. How does the cross relate to the first prophecy ever given in the Bible, to Adam and Eve, about the defeat of the serpent (the devil)? Gen. 3:15; Rom. 16:20; Heb. 2:14

  1. Jesus says that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life. What does it mean that we are perishable? Psalm 103:15. Is there proof of this? What is God’s simple cure for this “fatal weakness”? To whom does He offer this cure? John 3:16. Is it God’s desire that anyone will go without it? John 3:17. Will some refuse that cure nevertheless? John 3:18

  1. How is the cross of Jesus like a banner or a standard raised in battle as a sign of victory? Isaiah 11:10-12; 49:22. How do we as Christians “rally” to that standard, and of what does it assure us (in terms of the spiritual battle that we are in)?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sermon on Jonah 2:1-10, Lent 4, Jonah--The Survivor Series: Part 4: "Praying in the Belly of the Great Fish"


The following Lenten series I will be preaching on is adapted from Dr. Reed Lessing's series on Jonah the prophet. Dr. Lessing is professor of Old Testament at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO. 

One tribe of Native Americans had a unique practice for training young braves. On the night of a boy’s thirteenth birthday, he was placed in a dense forest to spend the entire night alone. Until then he had never been away from the security of his family and tribe. But on this night he was blindfolded and taken miles away. When he took off the blindfold, he was in the middle of thick woods. By himself. All night long. Every time a twig snapped, he probably visualized a wild animal ready to pounce. Every time an animal howled, he imagined a wolf leaping out of the darkness. Every time the wind blew, he wondered what more sinister sound it masked. No doubt it was a terrifying night for many. After what seemed like an eternity, the first rays of sunlight entered the interior of the forest. Looking around, the boy saw flowers, trees, and the outline of the path. Then, to his utter astonishment, he beheld the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow. It was the boy’s father. He had been there all night long.
Jonah also found himself in unfamiliar surroundings, and that is putting it mildly! He had reached the depths of his downward path away from God—and there was no further to go than the roots of the mountains underneath the depths of the restless sea. Rock bottom is the same destination of those who persistently flee God. Jonah was on the verge of death because of his rebellion. But Jonah was not alone in the belly of the great big fish. He realized that the LORD cast him into the depths, and therefore only the LORD could get him out (213). Jonah’s prayer echoes the language of the Psalms (p. 210-11), as he truly evaluated his desperate condition, saw the hope of deliverance that rests only in God, and then worshipped Him. Jonah, throughout the book, is like us, both saint and sinner. He is inconsistent, like us, moving from weak faith and even ignoring God, to sudden awareness and humility before God (219). Yet both Jonah and us are saved, not by our consistency or strength, but by our LORD who is always steadfast (219).
Jonah’s experience foreshadows the story of Jesus Christ. Jesus would call His own death and resurrection the “sign of Jonah”—and His One conclusive miracle. Just as Jonah faced the judgment of God, so did Jesus on the cross. Just as Jonah experienced separation from the LORD, so did Jesus. Just as Jonah was carried down in the belly of the fish three days and three nights, so also Jesus would be three days and nights in the heart of the earth. Just as Jonah was vomited out by the fish on dry land, so also the grave could not contain Jesus, but He rose from the dead. But here is the point; just as Jonah prayed from the psalms, so did Jesus (Matt 26:30; Ps 22:1). And God heard and answered that prayer. When you are in the belly of the great big fish you are not alone. God’s Word in the psalms is with you—a cry in your distress.
Did you ever look at the Psalms in that way? That God even gives us words to pray to Him in a time of trouble—and still more, that Jesus prays them together with us?! God’s final Word, Jesus, is with you. In apparent loneliness, despair, in the depth of trouble, Jesus is there beside you, watching over you. His prayers become your prayers in the Psalms, and God’s answer to Him becomes yours. When the final and greatest enemy of death stares you in the face, and the yawning mouth of the grave stands open—remember that Christ has cast a light into its depths, and burst the grave from the inside out! As God delivered Jesus from the heart of the grave because of His innocence, so also Jesus promises you deliverance from your grave by His innocent suffering and death on the cross. The grave is no longer to be feared! We can shout this cry of triumph: “Death, where is your victory? Grave, where is your sting?” One greater than Jonah is here, and He has defeated you! His name is Jesus, and I am His and He is mine! This is how we survive in the belly of the “great big fish” that is our grave!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sermon on Exodus 20:1-17, for the 3rd Sunday in Lent, "A Sinner's Prayer and Hope"


Intro: This sermon is a reflection on how we might examine our lives according to the Ten Commandments. Not every sin may be your own, or my own, but as Luther reminds us: it is not hurtful to acknowledge and confess our sin, but rather we should say from our hearts “O Lord God! I’ve done this sin.” Although you may not have committed a certain sin that another has done, neither have they committed the same sins as you. Any cry of superiority from one to another is cancelled out. So as you hear this sermon, reflect thoughtfully on your own sin, acknowledge and confess it before God, gladly welcoming His forgiveness, knowing that in Christ your sin is no longer counted against you. But don’t be deceived to think God won’t know if you harbor sin in your heart. Self-righteousness has no place before God. Also reflect on the goodness of each commandment—and the yet-still-greater goodness of our Savior Jesus Christ, who nailed our every debt to the tree of His cross, that we might be forgiven before God.
1st Commandment: “I AM the Lord your God...You shall have no other gods before me.” Oh Lord, I recognize in this commandment my need to fully acknowledge You, and You alone as the One, True God. So often my greatest blindness is to the idols that I put in your place. Anything that I set before you or even alongside of you is an idol that I must cast down. I confess that I’ve made an idol of my money and possessions—desperate for what I don’t have, or desperate to keep what I do have. I’ve forgotten that it all is yours, and that you bless according to your pleasure and will. I confess that I’ve made an idol of popularity. I’ve been unwilling to stand by you and confess you as Lord, when it might cause others to laugh at me. I’ve sacrificed my integrity when I thought it could gain me the temporary admiration of others. I’ve sought what pleases me, and not what pleases you. I’ve fallen down and served the idols of my heart, and for all this I am sincerely sorry and beg your mercy, on me, a poor, miserable sinner. Topple all the idols in my heart and before my eyes, that I know that you alone are my Lord and master, that my heart, mind, and strength might be undivided for you. Teach me to fear, love, and trust in you above all things, that I might be committed to willing and joyful obedience.
2nd Commandment: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” Oh Lord, I recognize in this commandment that your Name is Highest and Holiest above all things. It is more precious and valuable than anything. And yet I’ve treated it lightly and carelessly, thrown it in among common dirty language to express my anger and frustration. I used it to make promises that I didn’t intend or wasn’t able to keep—as though you would vouch for me that I always keep my word. Lord, I realize it’s been far too rare for me to take your Blessed and Holy Name on my lips in prayer, for blessing on a friend, neighbor, or even an enemy, and for praise and thanksgiving. For all the times I’ve treated your name lightly, I confess my guilt, and plead for your mercy. Fill my lips with the worshipful praise of your name that you deserve above all else. Let me honor and glorify your name, and may my life reflect the privilege and honor of bearing it.
3rd Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” Oh Lord, I recognize in this commandment that all worship is due to you alone. I also recognize your great love for me, that you’ve desired that I not exhaust myself in endless work, but commanded a day of rest. An ordered break from my work, that I might be refreshed to again praise and glorify you. It is in vain that I rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; (Ps 127:2), for I try to build and provide without you—the Maker and Provider of all things. I’ve forgotten to acknowledge you. Your Word is precious and teaches me the Way of Life, your Son sets before me a Table that overflows with your goodness. Too little have I sought and glorified you in worship, and too often has my work become my all-consuming passion, instead of you. Grant me your mercy Lord, and bless me with your rest and refreshment, and awaken my heart to worship you for all that you are worth.
4th Commandment: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” Oh Lord, I recognize in this commandment that you’ve given authority for the preserving of order and peace, beginning first with my parents. I confess that all too often I’ve despised my parents and other authorities. I’ve laughed at the wisdom of my elders, and listened to my irresponsible friends instead. Instead of making their leadership a joy, I’ve filled it with groaning (Heb. 13:17). I’ve not been ready to listen and obey, but have been quick to “mouth off.” As a parent or leader, I’ve been unnecessarily harsh or even abused my authority. I forgot this great trust that you’ve given for the good of others, and not for my own pride or power. Oh Lord, have mercy. Thank you for providing for our order and protection. Teach me to listen and obey willingly and without complaint, knowing it pleases you. Help me to honor and support authority, except when it contradicts your Word and command.
            5th Commandment: “You shall not murder.” Oh Lord, I recognize in this commandment that all human life is precious in your sight. You’ve said that we must not shed the blood of others, because we’re made in your image. I’ve only begun to grasp the depth of value that gives to each human life, that your own imprint is traced on each of us. Truly we’re fearfully and wonderfully made. Your Son has taught that even anger and hatred in our hearts is an assault on your image, and a breaking of this command. My thoughts have been soiled with bitter anger and jealousy toward others. I confess that there are times when I’ve been so angry with others or so depressed with myself, that I’ve counted our lives as not worthy of living. I’ve given little thought to the unborn neighbor who still lives in the womb, and written them off as disposable, inconvenient, or even as a disease. I shudder to think that my own thoughts have grown so dark that the plague of human deaths around me leaves me careless and untouched. Oh Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner! Teach me your paths Oh Lord and guide me in your truths! Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (Ps. 51:10). Help me to see the goodness of life, to rejoice in my own life and the life of my neighbor, and do whatever is in my power to help and protect their bodily good. Help me to be a voice for the voiceless, and to speak for the weak and the vulnerable. As you’ve guarded my life, help me to guard that of others, and teach them of our sacred value and humanity.
6th Commandment: “You shall not commit adultery.” Oh Lord, I recognize in this commandment the goodness of the gift of sexuality, and where you’ve given it to be used—within the bounds of marriage between a man and a woman. I recognize the goodness of family for our well-being and society, and how you’ve planned that husband and wife should remain in our vows for life. Yet I confess that I’ve not honored marriage as I should. I’ve looked with lustful intent on my neighbor’s spouse, or another not pledged to me in marriage. I’ve thought to take the gift you’ve given without the responsibility that is attached, and have placed my personal enjoyment before the commitment of marriage. I’ve delighted in impure images and laughed at jokes that make your plan seem quaint or backward—while doing nothing to stand up for the worth of marriage, which should be cherished and honored by all. There are those whom I’ve hurt with my words or my deeds, and my own sin makes my conscience ache. Oh Lord, have mercy on me! Fill my heart with godly sorrow so that you might empty me of sin and fill me again with the joy and gladness of your salvation! Teach me self-control that I might honor you with my body and keep the marriage bed pure. Teach me to love your commandment and to live faithfully in my calling, whether in chastity as a single person, or in faithfulness as a married person.
7th Commandment: “You shall not steal.” Oh Lord, I recognize in this commandment the good of earthly possessions, and how you’ve designed to guard and protect them against theft. Yet I confess that I’ve casually turned a blind eye while someone stole from my neighbor, the store, or my employer. I was only concerned to protect what was mine. I’ve cheated and taken what I didn’t rightfully pay for. I’ve stolen from my employer by laziness and idleness. I’ve dishonestly turned my own loss and fault into someone else’s loss, by taking advantage of them. Lord, I humbly ask your forgiveness. I never considered myself to be a thief, but confronted by my own actions, I admit that it is true. Help me to defend and protect what belongs to my neighbor, and grant that they’d do the same for me. Teach me integrity to do what is right even when I think I can get away with things. Help me to be honorable in how I treat other’s property, and generous with what you’ve given me.
8th Commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Oh Lord, I recognize in this commandment the goodness and value of our reputation. I recognize that a reputation is too easily destroyed, yet takes great effort, time, and integrity to build. As I would not want my reputation hurt through a careless or unfounded rumor or gossip, so also I would not want to slander another. Yet I confess I’ve freely spread what I don’t know to be true, or heard from someone else. What I did know to be true was often not my place to say, and often I didn’t speak to that person first, or attempt to explain things in the kindest way. Often their motives laid completely hidden from me, yet I portrayed them maliciously or hurtfully, without knowing the full story. I confess that I too have damaged someone’s reputation. Lord, I know I cannot take my words back into my mouth—but I pray that you would give me the humility to seek the forgiveness of those whom I’ve wronged. Grant me boldness to stand up and oppose lies or harmful gossip. Give me the silence to bite my tongue when it’s tantalized by a tasty bit of gossip. Lord, let me use my words for the building up and encouragement of my friends, family, neighbors, and even my enemies. Enable me to defend and speak well of them, even when it might seem more satisfying to let out a “piece of our mind.” Let truth always be on my lips, and to answer in kindness and love to those who speak harm against me.
9th & 10th Commandments: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” Oh Lord, I recognize in these commandments that your commands not to steal or commit adultery extend also into my heart. My heart is the source of those sinful desires, and only you, O God, can create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me (Ps. 51:10). I confess that I’ve coveted or sinfully desired much that isn’t mine. I’ve schemed how to get something in a way that only appears right, when in my heart I knew it was dishonest. I’ve been satisfied to cover my actions with the appearance of goodness while deceitfully manipulating things to my own advantage. I confess that I’ve looked with lustful intent on my neighbor’s spouse, imagining unfaithfulness to my own spouse. I admit that I’ve tried to sow distrust or dissatisfaction among my neighbor’s employees, hoping to draw them to my own business. I confess that I’ve tried the shortcuts of politics and manipulation to advance myself, rather than by honest hard work and dependability. I’ve not found satisfaction in what is my own. For all this Lord, I humbly beg your mercy. Help me to rejoice my neighbor’s goods and blessings. Help me to encourage my neighbor’s spouse and workers to remain faithful, as I also intend to be faithful to my own spouse and employees.
Oh Lord God, as I look over the whole of your commandments I see and acknowledge that they are holy, righteous, and good. They promote undivided love for you, and unselfish love and service to my neighbor. They guard what is precious to you and me. Yet these commands also reflect my own sin and failing. I see that I’ve justly deserved your present and eternal punishment. In myself there is only sin and death. But Lord, you’ve shined an even brighter light into my life. You’ve shown the light of your Son Jesus Christ.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, I plead for the forgiveness of all my sins, even as I am assured that it is so because of His blood shed on the cross. Lord I cling to this solemn promise, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Ti 1:15). Truly you are for sinners. All my guilt and shame has become yours in the cross, and I am forgiven and free! In Jesus I see obedience to the last detail—He loved you with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength, and who loved each neighbor as Himself. Lord Jesus, your obedience is deep, full and perfect enough, that the Father has counted it for me. Your sacrifice encompasses all my sin, and of the whole world, taking that full and awful penalty to your grave. What wondrous love is this, O my soul, that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul! (LSB 543) What is left but to thank and praise you, for you’ve done wondrous things for me? What is left but a song and life of service to you, who have left nothing undone for me—but did it all out of your pure and unchanging love. Truly you are compassionate, forgiving, slow to anger and merciful. Morning by morning you reveal your mercy and faithfulness to me. Great are you Lord! Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

  1. The Ten Commandments begin with God’s announcement that He is the Lord God who delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. How does God’s deliverance of us form the foundation for our obedience? What slavery have we been delivered from? John 8:31-35
  2. See Martin Luther’s explanation of the commandments in his Small Catechism (instruction booklet) (pg. 321 in the hymnal). How is each commandment connected back to the first—that we fear, love, and trust in God above all things? Why is disobedience to the other commandments first of all a rejection of God and His authority?
  3. How do the first three commandments direct our relationship between us and God? How do the remaining commandments direct our relationship to our neighbor? What good things are guarded and protected through each command?
  4. Conduct your own meditation and reflection on each command. What sins of thought, word, or deed have you committed? What is the wrong that you’ve done? What is the good that you’ve left undone? Knowing this, what good should you commit to doing?
  5. The latter commandments draw concentric circles of protection around our life/the life of our neighbor; our spouse and family; our possessions; our reputation; and against schemes to undermine or deprive us of those blessings. How are God’s commands “holy, righteous, and good?” Romans 7:12. How does Jesus’ teaching on the commands show their inward focus as well? Matthew 5
  6. How does the sinner “die” to the accusation of the law against us? Rom. 6:1-4; Gal. 2:19-21. How do we then live again? How has Jesus perfectly fulfilled and obeyed each commandment for us? Heb. 4:15; Rom. 5:19-21. How has He taken away the penalty of all our guilt? Rom. 6:23

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Sermon on Jonah 1:1-17, Lent 3, Jonah-The Survivor Series: Our Providing God


The following Lenten series I will be preaching on is adapted from Dr. Reed Lessing's series on Jonah the prophet. Dr. Lessing is professor of Old Testament at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO. 

Consider Fallon, Nevada. The EPA has found that Fallon’s water system delivers more arsenic to its customers than any other large town water system in America. Folks there even joke about it: “Arsenic? It only bothers you if you’re not used to it.” One resident who has lived in Fallon all his life, jests, “Arsenic is no biggie. I’ll die of something. It’s called life. Once you’re born, you start dying.” The arsenic levels remain high, not because people like drinking arsenic, but because they don’t want to pay for the solution, a $10 million treatment plant. One local official said, “This is Nevada. They don’t want to feel government is intruding in their lives.” Talk about being obstinate! These people would rather serve arsenic-laced water to their children than allow the government to “intrude” into their lives with a water treatment plant. Their stubborn choice to dig in their heels is repeated time and again by humans across the country and throughout the globe.
What is God’s response to stubborn people like us? Need an example? The prophet Jonah! The LORD sends the storm and the wind, and now the great fish or whale to put Jonah’s runaway plans to a screeching halt. Have your runaway plans from God ever met with frustration? God seemed to hem you in behind and before? (Ps. 139:5). Or have you tried digging in your heels like a donkey, and fought mightily against being pulled where you did not want to go? And then finally your stubbornness was overcome by God’s persistent calling on you? “We can either do this the hard way, or the easy way…” One of the biggest realizations we come to about God from the book of Jonah, is that God “has not retired from the world” (143). He’s still active in creation, working things to accomplish His plan and purpose, despite our futile efforts to thwart His purpose. But as we’ll learn, God is not after mere resigned, reluctant compliance. This would be of no advantage. He wills to create joyful obedience in us, and to have a heart that follows after His. For Jonah, He was working toward the point where Jonah would be filled with a compassion for the Ninevites, and desire their salvation. What is God working to accomplish in your heart? Where is He moving to turn your heart from stubborn resistance or even reluctant compliance toward joyful obedience? What compassion for the lost or needy is He awakening?
Such a change could not happen apart from God’s gracious providing. While we are running from God, the futility and frustration that we run into shows us the emptiness of all the poor substitutes that cannot provide for us, love us, or satisfy us. But then in a paradox, it drives us back into His gracious arms. To bring us back to the giver of all good gifts (cf. Hosea 2). The great whale or fish that swallowed Jonah was a miraculous provision for his life—not his death. The process was pretty gruesome and unpleasant, if you can imagine the suffocating and cramped quarters of the belly of a whale. But in those distressing days and hours, beneath the turmoil of the deep sea and hidden within the groaning darkness, Jonah was moved to call out to God in prayer. This was one of the greatest turning points in Jonah’s story. At times in our lives, we are cast down to the depths, and feel as though we are hidden in a swirling darkness. And we’re moved to call out in prayer. In those turning points in life, God alone is able to answer.
“In, with, and under” the provision of the storm and the whale (and later in the story through other provisions) the LORD is delivering law and gospel to Jonah. Law to break his stubbornness and disobedience, and Gospel to soften his heart and show that God had appointed Jonah for life and for His calling. God’s provision for us includes gifts of creation, just like the feeding of the 5,000 involved a square meal. His provision can come through events in our life that turn us back to Him. When we’ve run out of His loving arms, the return, though humbling, is filled with His grace. His provision for us also includes gifts of redemption—the Word of His gospel and the sacraments of Baptism and Communion. In, with, and under ordinary earthly gifts of water, bread, and wine, God delivers His care and provision for us. He works forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. In these He further works our sanctification—making us Holy by His Holy Spirit—producing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. Did Jonah deserve his provisions? No! Do we? Absolutely no! But the cross is God’s greatest provision of all for our disobedience and waywardness—because one day we’ll need deliverance from the narrow chamber of our grave—and that is promised to us in Jesus’ cross, His three-day rest in the grave, and His rising from the grave!
When we are angry, frustrated, depressed, or even “thrown overboard” for our behavior, it is God who provides. A fall from favor in our human relationships, and even from our relationship with God due to our disobedience can be the turning point of humbling and repentance that God uses to bring us back into His favor. It is by His undeserved gifts and love that He draws His humbled children back into His loving arms and puts them back into His service. And so His “means of grace” are the key to survival, because they bring us His forgiveness and favor. Jesus takes on our guilt, and washes us in innocence in return. For all this we can give thanks that our God will never cease to be a providing God! (Philippians 4:19)

Monday, March 05, 2012

Sermon on Mark 8:27-38, for the 2nd Sunday in Lent, "Savers become losers, but losers gain a Savior!"


Sermon Outline:
1.      Today’s Gospel, Peter learns what it means for Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of Man, God’s chosen Savior. Jesus sets out the way of the cross; suffering, sacrificial living. Peter has a thing or two to say about this, rebuking Jesus. We think very much like Peter most of the time. Peter wants to shape Jesus’ mission to align with his thinking—manmade thoughts, and gets a sharp rebuke. We also have our preconceived ideas of how our life should turn out.
2.      Jesus challenges all of His disciples (us included) to accept the way of the cross both for Himself and His followers. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life?”
3.      Peter’s/our view: save Jesus’ skin, a friend/teacher; self-preservation. Jesus dying? What would that accomplish? It sounded like foolish talk to him. Jesus was young, vital, compelling, popular, if somewhat polarizing as a figure. Surely there was much yet to be accomplished! Death couldn’t factor into the plan anywhere, certainly not anytime soon! Jesus’ “career potential”—what would happen if His life were abruptly cut short? Everything would be lost! No, the thoughts of men would not allow such a puzzling and illogical statement as this: “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected...and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
4.      But the foolishness of the cross is the power of God for salvation, and His “foolishness” is wiser than man’s wisdom. The thoughts of men wouldn’t allow it, but the thoughts of God were precisely these—that the Son of Man should suffer, die and rise. This was in fact how Jesus would fully realize His role as Christ. Only at the cross and empty tomb would His work be “clinched” so that the pronouncement: “It is finished” could be made. Only through this death and resurrection would the rightful reign and universal proclamation of the gospel be sealed and established. Suddenly the teachings of a Jewish rabbi with an unlikely following of fishermen-disciples, in a backwater region of the Roman empire would be launched onto the world stage. With incredible speed, and without the benefit of the internet, television, or radio, Jesus’ teachings would be spread to the distant ends of the Roman Empire. Far beyond in the centuries to come. Far from being the event that “ruined Jesus’ messianic prospects”, the death and resurrection was concrete proof that Jesus was no ordinary prophet or rabbi, but a man unlike any the world had seen before or would see since. Turned people to Jesus in remarkable numbers. God used His cross to accomplish His will.
5.      His power to gather followers to Him wasn’t His willingness to please people or give them favors or temporal rewards; not in the easy life it promised; not in military or brute force; not in the allure or deception of secretive teachings for the initiated, but it was through open and public statement of the truth. Even when it ran up against treasured religious traditions, against the pride and presumption of authority, against the lack of morality of the generation, against the selfishness in mankind’s own heart that would pursue personal gain and pleasure instead of God’s kingdom and His righteousness. Despite the fact that He chafed so many because of what they believed, despite the fact that He wielded no earthly power to compel it, His voice rang out with the Truth, and combined with His resurrection from the dead, turned even hardened objectors over to Him.
6.       And the followers who joined themselves to Him, often risking everything, even life—were loyal even till death. The disciples, all but one, were eventually martyred for their faith in Jesus, one by one. None ever renounced what they had heard, what they had seen with their own eyes, what they had looked upon and touched with their own hands concerning the word of life (1 John 1:1), Jesus Christ. Weak and cowardly men were made bold and fearless beyond recognition (Acts 4:13). Far from being ashamed of Jesus and His words, they became His boldest missionaries. God used the cross to accomplish His will.
7.      Peter thought he saw the logical way for Jesus to fulfill His mission, and whatever that was, it didn’t include suffering and a cross. We too sometimes “see” what we understand to be the logical way for God to carry out His will and work in our lives. We’ve got a neatly defined plan where things go according to our wishes, and it doesn’t involve suffering or sacrifice. Certainly almost none of us are planning on martyrdom--dying for our faith. Those thoughts are far from us. We have goals that we aim to accomplish, a future to secure, and objectives along the way. We don’t factor in any sidetracks due to suffering. That’s not part of our personal discipleship plan. But are our plans are not God’s plans, and our ways are not His ways. Taking up the cross and following Jesus means that sacrificial living and even suffering for His sake are part of His discipleship plan for us. They shape His love in us. He will use the cross, both Jesus’ cross and our crosses, to accomplish His will.
8.       It’s worth examination here to consider: what ways has God called us to sacrificial living? Why is sacrificial love the greatest love? What of the danger to define sacrificial living only in terms of the calculated sacrifices that I am willing to make, versus the unexpected, un-calculated sacrifices that God calls me to make? We are learning about Jonah in our Lenten midweek series, how he was called to make a sacrifice, to go to the feared and hated city Nineveh, capital of the military super-terror Assyria. He was not willing to make that sacrifice God called him to. It was more than he was willing to bear. Jonah had “bad-luck” trying to escape this calling, however. But in the end, God worked it out for good.
9.      Sacrificial living is not caught up in trying to save our lives, preserve our goods at all costs, and trust in self rather than God. Sacrificial living is not calculating how much of the cross am I willing to bear--but rather discovers that God has placed a cross on me and asks: “How am I to bear it faithfully?” Even Jesus stumbled and fell on the road while carrying the heavy  beams of His cross, and Simon of Cyrene came to shoulder it with Him. So also Jesus does not leave you crushed under your own cross, but He bears it with you. Lean heavily on Him in faith and you’ll find your burdens relieved, though not gone. Peter’s initial vision was the way of a cross-less life. Jesus’ call was not so. It included a cross. But it included far greater reward than Peter could have imagined. To lose our life, to give it over to Christ in sacrificial living is to find our life in Him. All is lost through trying to keep our life. Yet paradoxically, all is to be gained through losing our life. Those who try to save their life end up as losers. They can’t hold onto it. No matter if it takes 60, 80, or 100 years, there is nothing in this life that we can hold onto that we won’t eventually lose—except this one person—Jesus Christ. If we hold on to Him, all that we lose we gain in greater measure. Those who lose their life for Christ’s sake—letting go to take up our cross and follow Him—they are the ones who gain a Savior. Savers will be losers, but losers gain a Savior! God accomplishes this through His cross as well!
10.  And what do they gain in return? Those who were not ashamed of Jesus or His words, Jesus will not be ashamed of them when He comes in His glory. Jesus stands up and commends us to God the Father, and calls us His faithful disciple. If we are not ashamed to humbly take up His calling and bear our cross, He will not be ashamed to say of us, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into your father’s glory!” Jesus’ glory and His kingdom will be our certain inheritance and reward. Losing everything for Him, we gain all through our Savior. Trading earthly things that spoil for heavenly things that never perish.
11.  Finally, consider how Jesus displayed sacrificial love and forgiveness in the face of death. Hanging on the cross and calling words of forgiveness to His tormentors. We are so easily shaken, unsettled, irritated, provoked by the slightest of troubles. A snappy answer from our spouse or child, an inconvenience that delays us on our way to work or out of the house, a stubbed toe or banged elbow boils our blood and makes us howl out God’s name in vain.
12.  How little tolerance we have for even the thinnest forms of difficulty. And yet how astonishing Jesus’ love from the cross? It seems to us to transcend what is possible for human nature. That it could not possibly be human. And it is very true from the perspective of our sinful nature, that this kind of sacrificial love is beyond what we’re capable of. And yes this truly was Jesus’ divine love, as the very Son of God. By it Jesus purely expressed forgiveness and divine love beyond what we knew as possible. But even more than this, we must know that Jesus’ actions and love, shown here on the cross was the truest and purest expression of humanity as well! Our human behaviors, anger, jealousy, etc are the aberration, not His great love. His sacrificial love is was God intended to live in all of humanity.  
13.   If we want to understand what true humanity is, what God is shaping us to be in Christ—then we should study and know Jesus—because He is true human, in every way as we are, and yet also true God, in every way equal to God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Our crosses in life are God’s way of accomplishing His will in us, and transforming us to have the true humanity, the genuine sacrificial love of Jesus Christ. And we will find in this love of Christ a deeper and more satisfying love than any of its poor earthly shadows. Because we are His disciples, His love is alive in us as well. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1.      What was Peter’s objection to Jesus’ description of His own mission? Cf. Matt. 16:22. What aspect of discipleship (following Jesus) would we like to avoid as well? What does God accomplish in suffering? Rom. 5:1-5

2.      How did God’s seemingly “illogical” plan for Jesus work out for the salvation of all, and the monumental spread of the good news about His salvation? 1 Cor. 1:18-25; Acts 2:41, 47

3.      What compelled people to believe in Jesus, even despite the fact that His teachings often chafed the people? John 6:60-69; 7:25-31; 18:20

4.      How did the disciple’s witness of Jesus’ resurrection transform their fear to boldness and seal their loyalty to Him? Acts 4:13; 1 John 1:1

5.      How has God called you to sacrificial living? What does that look like for you? How are we challenged to sacrifice not only what we are willing, but what God calls us to? Why is sacrificial love the greatest love? John 15:13; Rom. 5:6-10

6.      Even though we lose our lives in Christ, what do we gain in return? Why is it impossible to save our lives here and now? Matt. 6:19-20; 25:23; 1 Pet. 1:3-5.

7.      What is the joy and satisfaction of being embraced in and learning to live a Christ-like, sacrificial love? How does this reflect the “true humanity” that God wills to produce in each of us through the cross?