Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Sermon on Luke 18:9-14, for the 11th Sunday after Trinity (1 Yr lectionary), "Give me a pedestal, or bring me to my knees?"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today’s parable may be familiar: the Pharisee and the tax collector. Two men are praying to God in the Temple. They stand up before God and before men. But with two very different attitudes and  outcomes.
Jesus approves the tax collector with this phrase: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Jesus approves the tax collector with the word “justified.” That’s God’s verdict—God has declared you innocent; righteous in His eyes—justified. The other possible verdict is “condemned”—God declares you guilty, or unrighteous in His eyes. Justified or condemned, innocent or guilty—these are the two opposite verdicts. The surprise is that Jesus doesn’t justify the man who appears better, more law-abiding, and religious—namely, the Pharisee. But instead, the tax collector, a despised sinner, whose job was identified with crooks—the one who to all the world looks guilty—he goes home justified.
Justified is where we want to be also. That’s the verdict we should want from Jesus. The Pharisee shows us how not to get there. He was the example of those who trusted in their own righteousness. If you trust in your own righteousness, essentially it means that you are trying to pass your own verdict. No matter how a defendant in court pleads their own innocence, that cannot overrule the judge’s verdict. But we still try to play defendant and judge at the same time, and claim that our judgment of ourselves is better than God’s. Whatever tricks we may play, no one can push God out of the judgment seat or avoid His justice. We have to play by His rules. His Law, His court.
But then do we fear the courts of the Lord’s house? No, this parable shows we can approach His judgment seat, (or use the new name given it by the book of Hebrews) the “throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16). We can approach God’s throne of grace “with confidence”.
But the Pharisee had the wrong kind of confidence. His confidence was in himself. He thought he saw a pretty impressive man in the mirror, which also meant that he was stepping up on a pedestal, to look down on everyone else. When he looked at his fellow man, he did not see his equals, or men and women made in God’s image, or even people struggling with the same sins and failures as himself—he only saw the misery and failure and wickedness of others, and “Thank God I have no part in that!” “Thank God I’m not like them!” What a thing to thank God for! He might as well have said: “Thank God that I’m God’s gift to man”.
We’re all inclined to same sort of thing. And the thing is, you don’t have to be wealthy, powerful, or religious to step on that pedestal. Anyone can and will attempt it, to find their own good reasons to trust in themselves, and treat others with contempt. Ironically judgmentalism is an equal opportunity employer. Anyone can wear the suit, and stand on the pedestal—and the number of reasons for why we think we’re better than others, is endless. All that we need, is some difference between ourselves and others—real or perceived—and we step up on that pedestal and declare our superiority. It’s hard not to step on that pedestal. It’s hard to be humble, and to refuse to step on it. In fact, one  of the easiest ways to step into that trap is for our prayer to become: “Thank God I’m not like that nasty Pharisee, or those priggish hypocrites.” And quick as you like, we’ve become the very thing we’ve despised.
They tell stories about one of my uncles who would go around saying: “Humble?!? I’m the humblest man in the world!!” And of course the humor of that and the truth of the matter is that even humility can be pretended, to pass yourself as better than others. We want people to praise and affirm us, and so the temptation is to find one way or another to get on a pedestal. In religious circles, false humility might get attention. But even showy deeds, like the Pharisee’s brag about his giving, can boost you up in some circles. In societal circles, the flashy car, biggest salary, or biggest boasts might get you the attention. Right now there’s a bizarre status structure based on how victimized a person or group thinks they are. The more you can position yourself as being the one who is oppressed, the more right you have to be judgmental and superior, without feeling guilty for judgmentalism. The point is, our sinful human nature can twist and pivot and slither a thousand ways till Sunday to give ourselves the permission to feel that we are above all the rest, or that we deserve to be on that pedestal.
So what is our prayer to God going to be? “Give me that pedestal?” Of course everything would be ok if God would just approve how hard we have worked, or how good we are, or how much we have been put upon by everyone else. All God has to do is agree with our own judgment, and we’ll have the satisfaction of His approval, which is really just an echo of ours. That’s the miserable slog and lie of self-righteousness, of trusting in ourselves. We can hide it deep under a mask of false humility and religiosity, or wear it brash and rude on our sleeves, but it still stinks the same. God has to dash and humble this kind of arrogance if we dare to come this way before God’s throne.
But look at the tax collector. Rather than asking for God to give me a pedestal, we should be asking God, like he did—bring me to my knees. Listen how one prayer does it. On pg. 292 in our hymnal (LSB), there is a short form of private confession, if a person wants to confess their sins before the pastor to receive personal absolution. It reads like this:
I, a poor sinner, plead guilty before God of all sins. I have lived as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most. My Lord’s name I have not honored as I should; my worship and prayers have faltered. I have not let His love have its way with me, and so my love for others has failed. There are those whom I have hurt, and those whom I have failed to help. My thoughts and desires have been soiled with sin. What troubles me particularly is that… and the person may then name the sins that weigh on their hearts.

Like the tax collector’s, this prayer finds no one else to blame; makes no excuses for our sin, but recognizes we stand guilty before God. To approach the throne of grace with confidence,  we must only have a confidence in God’s mercy. The humble confidence that cries out: “God be merciful to me, a sinner!
This humble confidence trusts not in ourselves, but in God who has mercy. It’s a confidence based on the character of God, that He has mercy on those who seek Him. Trusting in His mercy, tax collectors or sinners like you and I—guilty before God of all sins—find an open welcome from God, when we turn from our sin and come follow Him.
Jesus’ mercy is first shown to us in untying those burdens. I have lived as if God did not matter, and as if I mattered most. Jesus draws that poisoned selfishness out of us, and gives us a new heart, beating with the rhythm of “God matters most”, and the desire to live for and serve others. My Lord’s name I have not honored as I should; my worship and prayers have faltered. Jesus takes our defiled tongue, and cleanses and renews it to give praise to Him, to speak blessing to others, and fill our mouths with prayer. I have not let His love have its way with me, and so my love for others has failed. To the humbled heart, to the heart that wants to go home justified by God, not by ourselves and our flimsy self-righteousness—to this heart, Jesus enters in and makes a home. Lord, have mercy and let your love have its way with me! Let your love wash me over and make me clean again! There are those whom I have hurt, and those whom I have failed to help. Again Lord, help me to reconcile and repair those wounds that I have caused. Help me to take responsibility, and Jesus, open my eyes to those whom I need to help!
So Jesus’ mercy is first seen in untying these burdens, laid down in repentance. But secondly, His mercy shines in granting us that verdict of “justified”. We never deserved it. This verdict is that God transfers the righteousness of His Son Jesus, onto you—so that you can stand before His throne of grace with confidence. As a washed, forgiven, loved child of God. Sent joyfully home with the word “justified” stamped over your name. Approved by God, not for what you have done, but for the sake of what Jesus has done for us. This is the mercy of God that the tax collector received, when he humbly prayed: “God have mercy on me, a sinner”.
We began by noticing that these two men—the Pharisee and tax collector, both stood before God and before men. We too, stand in relation to God, and to each other. How will we stand? On a pedestal? Treating others with contempt? Do we give our stamp of approval to ourselves, and expect God to echo it? Or does the Holy Spirit bring you to your knees? Block the sins of others out from your sight—you’re not being judged in relation to them anyway—and make confession of your own sin to God. The only way to God’s approval, to God’s verdict of “justified”—is the humbling of the Holy Spirit, and throwing all your trust on God. You’ve heard me describe faith this way before. Faith is “honesty about dependence” on God. Trusting in yourself, that you are righteous, ala the Pharisee—is a dishonesty about yourself and your dependence.
Not only is our relationship with God transformed when He creates faith in us, or this honesty about dependence on Him. But our relationship with others is transformed as well! We don’t have to be in the constant and pointless game of jockeying for position, trying to determine who’s better, who’s more deserving, what’s fair or unfair, or promoting ourselves as superior in any way. If we’re honest about dependence on God, we can give up that whole silly exercise, and get back to seeing each other as sheep for whom Christ died. Children loved by their heavenly Father, whether they’re in the sheepfold already, or still needing to be sought and found. We can live as the justified do—to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). Only Jesus can keep us humbly on that path, and fill us with His thankfulness and joy. In His Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
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1.      Read Luke 18:9-14. In their own eyes, and the eyes of others, how did these two men stand before others (i.e. what would people have thought of them)? How did they stand before God? Cf Luke 18:9; 16:15.
2.      What does the verdict “justified” mean? What is it’s opposite? Why can’t we pass our own verdict, or have God echo ours? Romans 3:10-23. Who is God? Genesis 18:25; Hebrews 12:23.
3.      Why can we approach the “throne of grace” with confidence? Hebrews 4:16? What is the wrong kind of confidence to bring with you? How do we fall into this trap? What pedestals do we make for ourselves?
4.      Look at the prayer of individual confession, on pg. 292. When we confess our sins before God, why is it important to follow the tax collector’s template, or this template, in excluding all other people and their sins from the conversation? What relationship is this prayer focused on? How did the tax collector find mercy?
5.      How does Jesus show His mercy to us through repentance? Romans 2:4. How does Jesus cleanse our sin, and give us a new spirit?
6.      How does Jesus show His mercy by this (undeserved) verdict of innocence (being justified)?
7.      Consider the definition “honesty about dependence” as a description of faith. How does it explain the actions of the two men? How does true honesty about dependence change our relationships, both toward God and toward our fellow people?

Monday, July 30, 2018

Sermon on 1 Corinthians 10:6-13, for the 9th Sunday after Trinity (1 Yr), "Wrestle with God's Word"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. It’s good to be back with you after a restful vacation! A fascinating book I have been reading has a point that connects to our reading from 1 Corinthians 10. The book is “The Executioner’s Redemption” by Rev. Timothy Carter, and it’s the true story of how he went from being a nonpracticing Christian to a self-righteous and judgmental one, to finally a person who died to himself so that Christ could live through him. This happened under extreme circumstances, working in the Texas state prison where all of the worst and most violent criminals were locked up, and many awaiting execution. Many of his years he worked on death row, meeting both the families of the victims and the victimizers. Years later he became a Lutheran pastor. In that environment and by the Word of God working on him, he underwent a remarkable personal transformation, and witnessed God’s grace at work on countless other people. He saw how prayer and wrestling with God’s Word could teach people and shape their lives.
But the point that applies today to our reading, is some early advice he received. At the time he was struggling with his own anger and judgmentalism, and knew he was supposed to be a Christian every day of the week. He was trying to reflect Christ, even in the darkest of all places, among some of the worst victimizers and murderers on earth, but felt a constant awareness of his failings. A wise mentor reminded him that Christ said we should be as wise as serpents, but innocent as doves. He said that to represent Christ properly, we have to be both, and then added, that Timothy Carter was like most people—we want to follow Christ on our own terms by picking and choosing which Scripture passages support [our] personal views, while intentionally ignoring other passages that are critical and against [our] personal perspective.
Does that sound like you? I know that shoe fits, more often than I’d like. God’s Word, the Bible, is given to us as a whole—and we are told by Jesus that Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). The Proverbs says: “every Word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar” (Prov. 30:5-6). God clearly would have us believe the whole of His Word, and not add or subtract from it. It’s always easy to find passages we like, but when we accept Christ’s word that the Scripture cannot be broken, it leaves us with the challenge of facing and listening to some “tough passages” of Scripture, like today’s reading, where we read things that leave us puzzling and struggling, and maybe wanting to “pick and choose” for ourselves. But if we heed the advice of Rev. Carter’s wise mentor, and more importantly, the advice of Scripture that “all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16), then we will try to listen to and wrestle with this Word from God, and see what it means for us.
So what challenges or questions might the serious reader of this passage face?
6Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

The challenge may be as simple as the recognition that some of those sins are our own. Maybe grumbling is your “pet sin”—always dissatisfied, never content or thankful. Maybe you prefer to ignore God’s Word on sexual purity; thinking if society approves of almost anything, who are we to judge? God’s Word calls us clearly to account in this passage, reminding us how many Israelites paid the price in death, for their idolatry and sexual sin. Or maybe idolatry is the sin we don’t realize we are committing. We build little idols in our hearts—little false gods that we worship and put our trust in—our status, our wealth, our power, our looks, our cleverness. We gladly pay tribute to these “gods”, but neglect to worship the True God. “You shall have no other gods before me” is  the first commandment. We may be challenged by the seeming harshness of God’s judgment, that 23,000 Israelites fell in a single day, because of their sexual immorality. But there it is, in the pages of Scripture, a warning to us, it says.
Or, if not these challenges, we may wonder about the closing verses about temptation. Does God really not let us be tempted beyond our ability? Haven’t there been many times when you felt completely overwhelmed by temptation, and never saw a way of escape? How do we make sense of these? How do we experience God’s rescue when facing temptation?
These are the kinds of questions we need to faithfully wrestle with, when we face Scripture. When we pick and choose, and ignore passages, we don’t hear what the more challenging Scriptures have to teach us. We may even miss a message that is directed to our own personal issues. Just like Jacob, who wrestled with God and received a blessing—so also we are blessed when we don’t turn away from the challenge of God’s Word, but let it search and examine our hearts. Just like Rev. Carter needed to learn to let his personal perspective submit to  and be shaped by God’s Word, when he was a prison guard. We all have different “rough edges”—and we might not like the feeling of having God prune away some branches, or smooth out a prickly part of our sinfulness that we would rather keep protected.
Paul tells us in the reading, that God gave these examples to keep us from desiring evil as they did, and that they are “written down for our instruction”. We don’t need to repeat their hard lessons in order to learn from their mistakes. They degraded themselves by hungering after evil. God had set out a high road for them, a path to rise above the wicked nations of that time, and God wanted them to become a light to the nations. An example of His mercy and the goodness of His Law. But they quickly went astray, and God brought terrible judgment down on them. We too are faced by the same problems of being degraded by evil desires, falling for the traps of sin—whether that be idolatry, grumbling, sexual immorality, or putting God to the test. Sin degrades us when we are ruled by our passions, rather than the higher wisdom of God.
Paul names 5 quick examples from the Old Testament in this reading. One of them is the Golden Calf incident. All of those sins were wrapped up in this one devastating event. It’s described in Exodus 32, just after the Israelites had received the 10 Commandments from God on Mt. Sinai, along with instructions about how they were to worship the One True God. Moses went back up on Mt. Sinai for further revelation from God, and while he was away, they “sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.”
That’s a polite way of saying, that they couldn’t wait for Moses to return and so they took matters into their own hands and made a golden idol of a cow to worship. Their “play” most likely included sexual sin as well, as idolatry and sexual immorality went hand in hand in the ancient pagan religions. God was furious that they so quickly abandoned Him and what He had told them, and had so corrupted themselves. He was ready to destroy them all, and start over with Moses. But Moses, in a Christ-like way, interceded for them, asking for God’s mercy and forgiveness for their sin. He reminded God of His promises. God did show mercy, and lessened the judgment. But still, 3,000 who worshipped the idols died that day. Then the next episode relates that 23,000 died in a single day, for the sin of sexual immorality. This was tied to an episode of Baal worship. Such numbers stagger us, just like we struggle with the mass fatalities of events like 9/11 or modern warfare or tragedies in the news. Mass fatalities often cause people to question God’s justice. But how often do we ignore the grave human responsibility for these evil acts, and turn it instead on God?
But what is Scripture teaching us here? It’s the simple lesson we so often forget—God alone is the One True Judge. We easily accept and embrace the Biblical idea that we are not the judge of others, lest we be judged, But we are mistaken if we think that this means there is no judgment at all. God is the only One with the proper authority and who possess the right measure of both justice and mercy to deal out judgment and punishment for sin. In our American democracy, we have a system of checks and balances, that prevents power from all being consolidated in one person. For example, no one person gets to play “judge, jury, and executioner.” We need to be protected against sinful humans consolidating too much power for themselves. But God alone has the true authority to act as Judge and Executioner. He knows men’s hearts, He shows no favoritism; He is not fooled or led astray.
But God is also the God of mercy. He allowed Moses to intercede for Israel time and again, as a foreshadowing of Jesus. And in Christ, God has secured mercy for all who turn to Him. God has staked His Name on the promise He has made to us, to forgive our sins for the sake of Jesus, His Son, and to give eternal life to all who believe in Him. If we cling to our sin, we won’t be able to see God’s mercy, but will instead view God’s judgment. But for those who believe in Jesus, and lay down our sins at the cross—we see the God of mercy. The Holy Spirit teaches us to repent and ask for God’s forgiveness. And it is ours, as surely as Jesus has died and risen from the dead. Even in a world of wickedness and rebellion against God, God is faithfully working hard to save every person. Even though many will scorn His love, He remains true to His promises for Jesus’ sake. Wrestling with hard passages of God’s judgment also reveals God’s heart of mercy, and how He is ever calling people to repentance and life.
We’ve run short of time to explore all this text has to teach. But I hope you can also commit to the faithful study of God’s Word, and not to turn away from a challenging text. Join a Bible study. Read a study Bible. Pray and live your life’s challenges with a Bible close at hand. The Holy Spirit will aid you in understanding. Don’t be afraid to wrestle with the hard lessons of God’s Word. When you grasp and find peace in a Bible verse, keep that truth close to your heart. When you read a verse you don’t understand, have reverence and respect for God’s Word, and pray that He may teach it’s meaning to you later. And always, faithful wrestling with God’s Word, will bring us God’s blessing. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:
Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
listen online at

  1. Read 1 Corinthians 10:6-13. It describes several events from Israel’s journey in the wilderness to the Promised Land. What specific sins does it name and warn us against? What troubling questions arise when you read a difficult passage like this, describing God’s judgment, or His deliverance from temptation?
  2. The book I referenced in the sermon is “The Executioner’s Redemption: My Story of Violence, Death, and Saving Grace”, by Rev. Timothy R. Carter. It is an excellent read and I highly recommend it.
  3. How does Scripture urge us to take the whole message of God’s Word as truth? John 10:35; Proverbs 30:5-6; 2 Timothy 3:16. What is the benefit of wrestling with challenging Scriptures that “are critical of our personal perspectives”?
  4. We are reminded by 1 Cor. 10 of the simple truth that God has the proper authority and command of justice and mercy to be the Judge of all humanity. Why is that an uncomfortable truth for many?
  5. Why has God given us these patterns and examples in the Old Testament? Why does He relate them again to us today?
  6. How did Moses intercede for the people on numerous occasions? See Exodus 32:11-14. Who does this pattern or example point ahead to?
  7. God promises a rescue route or escape from temptation. Why do we sometimes struggle with this truth also? How does God’s Word equip us against temptation? Matthew 4:1-11; 2 Peter 2:9; 1 Peter 5:8-9.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Sermon on 1 Kings 19:11-21, for the 5th Sunday, "What are you doing here?"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Our Old Testament reading from 1 Kings is a couple of verses short, because someone took out the repetition of a question and answer between God and Elijah. The prophet Elijah meets God on Mount Horeb, another name for Mount Sinai. So what is the repeated question and answer? God asks: “What are you doing here Elijah?” The first time God asks this, Elijah has arrived on the mountain and is staying in a cave. The second time is after God has beckoned him outside of the cave, to witness the tearing wind, the earthquake, the fire, and the gentle whisper. Then God repeats the question, in the gentle whisper: “What are you doing here Elijah?” Both times Elijah answers exactly the same: “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
Loneliness and the sound of defeat echo from Elijah’s answer. You might even consider it self-pity. The question and repetition invites Elijah’s self-reflection. What am I doing here? It’s a question that untold numbers of people have wrestled with in their own lives. In the midst of loneliness or crisis or struggle or seeming defeat, have you ever cried out: What am I doing here? We explore the meaning of our existence, the meaning of the events of our lives, and where God fits into it all. It’s an arresting question for us to ponder. But it’s hard to answer meaningfully when we’re trapped in our own smallish view of life and of our troubles.
Zoom out for the big picture; and from the wide angle, Elijah’s perspective doesn’t quite seem to fit. A chapter earlier, Elijah had a dramatic showdown with 450 prophets of Baal, the Canaanite idol the Israelites had regressed into worshipping. Elijah alone stood for the Lord God. Both sides agreed that the true god would show himself by sending fire from heaven to burn up sacrifices on an altar prepared to that god. Baal, of course, did nothing. But the Lord God dramatically sent fire to consume not only the sacrifice, but also the stones and the water-filled trench Elijah had poured over the sacrifice for good measure. This was a tremendous blow against the false worship of the Israelites. There were few more dramatic evidences of God’s existence than this—at least until the resurrection of Jesus—which of course surpasses it by far. But nevertheless, you would’ve expected Elijah to be confident or pleased coming off that victory. Except the rest of the story had him down.
Because Elijah and the Israelites killed those 450 Baal-worshipping prophets, as a judgment against the outrageous idolatry in the land, the Queen Jezebel had vowed to kill Elijah in return. This was why Elijah was on the run to Mount Horeb/Mt. Sinai, and was in such low spirits. Before the forty day journey, he also was miraculously fed by the angels, God again demonstrating to Elijah, beyond his own belief, that He would provide for him and protect Him. So again, in the wider angle view, Elijah’s own sense of defeat doesn’t quite match up with the facts.
When we are swirling in our own small vision of life and our place in this world, that can consume our thoughts and bring us down to self-pity and a sense of defeat. Even when we have witnessed God’s tremendous care and provision in the past— in the present we often waver in our trust in God, just like Elijah. And it’s vitally important that we don’t surrender to fear or doubt or defeat, when answering that question: “What are you doing here?” That we don’t fall for the devil’s hopeless answers—“Life is meaningless”, “You don’t matter to anyone”, “God has abandoned you” or similar bleak thoughts. The devil is pleased when our perspective is small and distorted, and God is missing from our bigger picture. He would like nothing better than for us to surrender to self-pity, defeat, and despair, like Elijah experienced. We need God to gently raise us to a clearer picture of life.
It’s noticeable how God treats Elijah with “kid gloves”. He gives hope and new information to Elijah that contradicts his loneliness and despair—there are 7,000 faithful followers of the true God preserved in Israel, and you are not alone! Not only was God guarding Elijah’s life, but also 7,000 other true believers in hiding. Elijah’s complaint: “I, even I only am left” was false! Sometimes, when we’re wrapped up in a false narrative about our life, all it takes is some new and true information from God’s Word, to break us out of that dark web of despair. We need God’s loving contradiction to our despair, and the assurance of His love and protection—and that we are not alone. It doesn’t mean that life immediately gets “fixed”—but we are rescued from our despair.
Even with God’s care for the faithful remnant, things were still sliding downhill for the people of Israel. In the years after this encounter between God and Elijah, many more would die in wars, political coups, assassinations, revenge killings, and other needless slaughter between Israel and its neighbors. These were God’s grim words: “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death.” The history in 1 & 2 Kings goes on to record all these events, and that goes beyond this sermon. But note just two things: first, Elijah only anoints 1 of these 3 people before he’s taken to heaven. Elisha, his replacement.
Second, years later Elisha would anoint Hazael and Jehu. These kings were literally bloody rulers and did not fear God. But did Elisha put anyone to death? It doesn’t say that he had a sword, and we never read of anyone that Elisha put to death. We get a clue from the prophet Hosea approximately a hundred years later. It’s the bottom of Northern Israel’s decline into wickedness. One more urgent call to repentance: “Come, let us return to the Lord, for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up…” then God reflects on what to do about faithless Israel, and continues: “therefore I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth.” (Hosea 6:1, 5). From this verse we see the likely answer. The word of the Lord was the sword in the mouth of the prophets, to cut down the injustice, idolatry, and wickedness in the land. The truth is mightier than the sword, as many throughout history have known. Jesus fought with the same sword of truth, instead of violence and physical force. And He called His disciples to do the same to spread his kingdom. Both Martin Luther, the German Reformer 500 years ago, and Martin Luther King Jr, named after him, believed in that same idea that the truth of God’s Word was the most powerful weapon against evil. And Hosea’s prophecy further shows that when God brings about a great leveling, it’s so that He may rebuild, heal, and restore. A doctor cuts a cancerous tumor out of a body not to wound, but to prevent cancer from spreading to the rest of the body. It’s to restore health and wholeness. 
But let’s circle back. God asked Elijah twice: “What are you doing here?” We can relate to how his short-sightedness and limited knowledge led to his defeatism and despair. God makes a terrifying wind tear away rocks from the face of the mountain around Elijah. But the Lord was not in the wind. Then an earthquake. But the Lord was not in the earthquake. Then a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. Finally the sound of a low whisper, or a still small voice. This is how God asks the second time “What are you doing here?” Elijah had seen God’s might in the fire from heaven. Others in Scripture, like Job, got to hear God speak from the whirlwind. Witnesses of Jesus’ death and resurrection would experience two highly specifically timed earthquakes. But in this instance, when Elijah’s faith is at its lowest tide, the Lord is not in any of these terrifying displays of power, but in the still, small voice.
Here we could flip the question and ask God, “What are you doing here?” There’s another beloved prophecy, that speaks of Jesus’ ministry. Isaiah 42:3 says, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.” God does not snap those who are weak, or snuff out the lingering traces of faith in those who are struggling and weak. Rather, Jesus gently infuses new life and His Spirit to those who are weak, like Elijah. If you doubt your place, or wonder at God’s plan, or need the assurance of God’s love, as you ponder: “Why am I doing here?”, Jesus is here in His gifts of Word and Sacrament to give you His life and His Spirit. Here you are loving us, pouring out your life for ours that we may be filled. When we need our narrow angle view of life broadened or challenged to see things from God’s heavenly perspective, Jesus does so with faithfulness and justice. When self-pity and false perspectives creep in and fill our hearts with doubt or distrust toward God, Jesus throws open the curtains and shines the light of His truth into our lives. We’re reminded that however lonely we may feel, we’re never truly alone, when we believe and trust in Christ. Jesus said He would never leave us nor forsake us, and promised His ever present Spirit. And the Holy Spirit calls and gathers us into the body of the church, to be surrounded by other believers to encourage and build each other up in the Word of God.
And God doesn’t leave us to our idleness—just like Elijah, He calls us back into service. Even Elisha was called to serve the Lord, not out of his idleness, but out of a handsomely large farming task in progress. Martin Luther also experienced great bouts of depression, but busyness and work drove away the worries and fears that occupied him in times of idleness. What are you doing here? is not only a question of our existence, but it can also be a call or prompt to action. What would God have you do—here and now—where you are in this place? If we stop to listen to God’s Word, what is He calling and sending us to do? Help and serve your neighbor? Teach and share the love of Christ? Pray for and encourage those who need your prayers? And by the grace of Jesus, we can confidently say to every person, that your life matters and that God has a plan and purpose for you. That there is no reason to give into the devil’s words of discouragement and fear, but every reason to trust that the One who shed His blood for us will still teach, lead, love and protect us all the days of our life. Our existence and all our doings and life find meaning and purpose in Him. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:
Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
listen online at

1.                  Read 1 Kings 19:9-14. What question and answer is repeated? What is God gently inviting Elijah to explore, and how does He draw him out of his defeatism and despair?
2.                  Have you ever reflected on the question: “What are you doing here?” What about Elijah’s answer doesn’t quite fit with the facts/context? Read 1 Kings 18. Why did he have reason to be more confident and trusting? What prevented him from this? How did God approach to remedy this?
3.                  What kind of answers would the devil try to supply us, to the question of “What are you doing here?” What does God have to do to fix that for us?
4.                  Elijah is told to anoint 3 people, but he only ends up anointing 1, Elisha. Elisha then anoints the other two. God describes people falling to death at the hands of all 3—but Elisha is never described as killing anyone. What may resolve this difficulty? Hosea 6:1, 5). What “weapon” did the prophets carry? Cf. Hebrews 4:12. How did Jesus choose this weapon, over against force or violence?
5.                  According to Hosea 6:1-5, why does God sometimes “tear” or “strike down”? What is His purpose or aim?
6.                  How does God’s visit to Elijah compare to the theology of Isaiah 42:3. How does God treat those whose faith is a dim ember?
7.                  How does God’s question: “What are you doing here?” also serve as a call to action? What may Christ be calling you to do?

Monday, June 25, 2018

Sermon on Luke 1:57-80, for the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, "Benedictus"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. If you have young children, or if you watch how parents with new babies behave—you’ll notice that there’s often a delightful dreaming that goes on. Wondering what their child will be like, guessing at how their little budding personality will flower, dreaming about their future achievements in sports or art or music or learning, or things like these. There’s a sense of hopefulness for their child and the recognition that a child is the birth of something good into this world. Trusting God, we release the fears that cloud our horizons to His care and keeping, and His victory over fear and evil.
The naming of a child can be as simple as choosing a family name, as the relatives of Zechariah and Elizabeth wanted to do, for their newborn son John. It’s an honorable and traditional way to give names. Another traditional practice is choosing a name by its special meaning. All around the world, in ancient and modern times, a name often carries special significance and is often meant as a blessing for that child.
The reason why it was so important to get John the Baptist’s name right, and why this little family tussle over naming him was recorded, is that God’s own angel had directed them to name him John. And perhaps not far underneath that reason, was that his name was prophetic in itself. The name means: “The Lord has shown favor.” Right then, John was just an 8 day old baby, waiting for his circumcision and naming. But some 30 years or so in the future, he would astonish crowds and draw them out to the wilderness, to hear his ringing cry of repentance—to prepare the way, and make straight paths for the Lord. The Kingdom of God was advancing toward them, and the Lord would bring His favor. God was on the move in their day and time, and John was to turn their hearts back to Him. The Lord has shown favor could hang like a frame around the picture of John’s ministry—pointing sinners away from their sins and toward the coming Messiah—John’s own cousin Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary.
When Zechariah confirmed that his son’s name would be John, God opened Zechariah’s mouth from 9 months of silence. From the day that he doubted the angel’s promise to this day of John’s naming, Zechariah was unable to speak. But now that he saw and believed God’s promise, God loosed his tongue, and the first words from his long silent mouth, were praise to God. And his song of praise, often called the “Benedictus” or “blessing”, is more than just the hopeful thinking of a happy parent, but it was the revealed words of prophecy from God Himself. It was the promise of the angel and more—a glorious declaration of how God was now moving for the salvation of His people.
As a preacher, I often tell you that some words in the Bible are “pregnant with meaning” or a “loaded word” that carries a rich treasure of spiritual baggage. A single word may evoke many other vivid Bible passages; a lot of information may be packed into one word. They’re like jewels and diamonds to discover in a passage. Zechariah’s Benedictus, is filled with these word-jewels! Let’s try to briefly take them, verse by verse, to reflect on them in our hands and heart, marveling at God’s love for you. Some  would be worthy of an entire sermon on their own, but here goes a shorter walkthrough of that beautiful song instead.
68. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people…Visited—God has descended, come down from heaven—into our human life to see us for Himself. Not the remote, distant superpower outside the universe, but the intimate, personal God-on-the-scene. Even as Zechariah spoke these words over 8 day old John, God was still marvelously and wondrously knitting together the hidden form of baby Jesus, that visitor from heaven to earth, still safe in mother Mary’s womb. God watched with parental delight and joy, the growing form of His Son Jesus. Zechariah was singing, from God’s prophetic storyline, the future days of Jesus, come to visit and redeem His people.
Redeem…to purchase or buy back. As from slavery and captivity. Its costly to redeem someone. To give them their freedom. How much greater, the price for His people than for just one. 69. [He] has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David. A horn of salvation—power and joy triumphantly announced! God’s rescue is coming from the house of ancient King David. Named here, not as king, but as servant! The Servant that would come from this house would be Jesus, King of the Jews!
70. As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old. Zechariah revered the sacred Scriptures, and the prophets God gave to write them. The Word of God endures forever, outlasting any kingdoms, monuments of men, or anything else of our making. It is true and reliable, filled with ancient wisdom and present insight. 71. That we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Almost all of Israel’s history was dogged by enemies who wanted to destroy them. But God was their refuge, their shield, and deliverer. God’s might triumphs over the might of evil; those who wait upon the Lord will find refuge in Him. We need not fear enemies with God at our side.
72. To show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant. God calls to mind His promises. We also call out God’s promises to Him when we search the holy prophets, and cling to their words. God is not forgetful, but keeps His holy covenant. A contract, an agreement, a promise from Him to us, of what He will do. He will not break His Word.
73. The oath that He swore to our Father Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear. God swore an oath—doubling down on His promise to bless Abraham—and confirming it by His unchanging character and His inability to lie (Hebrews 6:13-18). No higher assurance can be given to us. Why does He rescue us from our enemies? So that we would serve Him without fear. Fearless service to God is not crippled by a fear of failure or God’s judgment, because we know all who repent and believe in Him are forgiven. Our service to God becomes a free and joyful service. We’re not forced or coerced. We’re not cowed by enemies, because God is sovereign.
A service 75 in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. To be holy is to be sanctified or purified—made clean. Only God can bestow on us His holiness. To be righteous is to have God’s legal status, declared innocent and right before Him. Only God declares this verdict, by faith in His Son Jesus, for the forgiveness of our sins. This was John’s message for all to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Clothed by God’s forgiveness, we serve God in holiness and righteousness all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways. Here Zechariah’s song becomes personal to his son John. Prophet or messenger of the Most High God, John himself was the fulfillment of prophecies—7 centuries earlier, John was prophesied by Isaiah. 4 centuries earlier, by the prophet Malachi. Both said this messenger would prepare the way of the Lord.
77 To give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins. 78 because of the tender mercy of our God… How do you know that you are saved? How do you know that the Holy and Just God who made the universe cares for you, and will spare you from an eternity of misery and separation from Him? How do you know if your life was well lived or not? None of us gets to be our own judge. None of us gets to excuse our way out of our own sin. Only God’s judgment will count. And we know that God loves us when we know the forgiveness of our sins, in Jesus, the Messiah. When we believe in Him, we have everlasting life, and we know that just so…God loved the world. Just so, we see the tenderness of God’s mercy, that He has made this pathway of repentance—to turn away from self-destruction, selfishness, and sin, and into His loving arms.
78b whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. The shadow of the grave stretched far over humanity. In all the millennia of human history, none has returned from death, never to die again, save one person. One man, called in prophecy the sun of righteousness (Malachi 4:2), or here, the sunrise that shall visit us from on high. Jesus the Messiah, rose from His grave on the third day. And with the rising of SON Jesus’ light, the shadows of darkness and death were cast away. From the Easter of Jesus walking in His body, out from the tomb, an eternal ray of light is cast that drives away all shadows of fear, and guides our feet into the way of peace. God visited earth in the person of Jesus, to defeat the otherwise undefeated enemy of mankind—death. Jesus took on death and won. And opened to us the way of everlasting life.
The song ends by saying He guides our feet into the way of peace. Biblical peace, or shalom, is a wholeness, a well-being of body, heart, mind, and soul. It’s all encompassing. And as God is the only giver of holiness and righteousness—so also He alone gives peace, as the world cannot give. The peace of sins forgiven. The peace of a heart and conscience at rest with God, because guilt has been taken away on the cross. The peace of facing life or death with the confident knowledge that God our Refuge has not and will not fail us. The peace of serving Him without fear, because what enemy can frighten us, if even death has been defeated? The way of peace because serving Him and not ourselves, gives us the greatest joys and freedoms of a live lived well. May we always sing with Zechariah: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel!”, and as the life of his son John confessed: “The Lord has shown favor!” Amen. Now may that peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:
Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
listen online at

  1. Why was it so important to Zechariah and Elizabeth to get the name of their son right? Luke 1:59-64. Why did was the name that meant “The Lord has shown favor” fit John’s life so well?
  2. Why was Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1:68-79 more than just the hopes and dreams of a loving parent? What great themes fill this song, the “Benedictus?” (“blessed”).
  3. What does it mean that God has “visited” His people? John 1:14; 3:31; Luke 7:16; Exodus 4:31.
  4. A “horn” is a symbol of power or victory. How has God raised up His power and victory, in the time of John the Baptist? How is this connected with His “redeeming” of His people?
  5. How does Zechariah reverence the Word of God? Luke 1:70. How did Israel face their numerous and powerful enemies? When and why did they suffer defeat (or victory)?
  6. What is God’s “holy covenant?” How does God assure Abraham that He will keep His covenant? Hebrews 6:13-18; Genesis 12:1-3.
  7. What is it to be “holy” or “righteous” in God’s sight? Romans 4:2-3. How are we clothed in that righteousness and washed pure? Romans 6; Galatians 3.
  8. How was John foretold in prophesy? Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1. What title was given for the coming Messiah? Malachi 4:2; Isaiah 40:3, 5.
  9. Describe the many facets of the word “peace.” Which “jewel” or word in this Benedictus is most precious to you this day?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Sermon on Luke 15:1-10, for the 3rd Sunday after Trinity (1 yr lectionary), "The Faithful Retriever"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Luke 15 has three of Jesus’ most recognizable parables. Sometimes called the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son, though perhaps the parables would be better identified by pointing to the “Finder” or “Retriever” in each story. But in any case, our reading was the first two. The Pharisees and scribes didn’t like Jesus receiving sinners and eating with them. Jesus shouldn’t be mixing Himself up with that crowd, they thought. The three parables point to God’s powerful love for the lost, and what He does to bring them back. Each parable gets sharper in its application, until in the last one, the Pharisees and scribes are confronted by their own unwillingness to welcome back the lost, in contrast to the redeeming love of God the Father.
But back up to today’s parables and reflect. Thankfully, God’s love for the lost has long been on record in the Bible. But we’re ever forgetful, and so constantly need to “rediscover” that truth, both to appreciate it and to let it transform our lives. When we forget God’s love for the lost we take it for granted, or worse, ignore it and act against God’s love for the lost. Think about the alternatives. If God were purely a God of justice, and not of mercy and love for the lost, there would be no point of return to God. There would be no pathway to repentance, no road home, no return to God’s good graces. God could be entirely just—punishing sin, and rewarding obedience, but never allowing the lost sinners to return to Him. That would be His prerogative.
But wonder of God’s love—that’s not how He deals with us. From the very beginning—from Adam and Eve’s first fall into sin—God has mercifully and lovingly made a pathway of repentance for us. There is a road home, there is a return to God’s good graces. These parables show us how eagerly God desires it!
100 sheep and 1 lost. 10 coins and 1 lost. In a day like ours, of such privilege and excess and waste, you could hardly know whether any given person would have the same drive and determination to retrieve their lost property. When we possess so much, it’s easy to be casual or careless about our losses, as though they are insignificant. By contrast, someone who is as determined as the shepherd with the lost sheep, or the woman with the lost coin, is someone who truly values what is lost, takes responsibility for it, and keeps a careful accounting of all that belongs to them. There’s a big difference in how someone cares for what is theirs, when they value it, take responsibility for it, and keep careful track of it. It’s easy for things to get lost, mistreated, or broken, when we don’t value them and take responsibility. God takes the maximum value, responsibility and accounting for all that He has made. He’s not careless, irresponsible, or inattentive. There is no loss that is insignificant to Him. The persons in the parable drop everything to find what is lost. That only happens for someone who cares deeply and considers it their responsibility to retrieve what is lost.
God is, if you will, “the Faithful Retriever.” In other words, God doesn’t sit back and complain about what is lost, or leave it to someone else, or pass the blame. Jesus, our Good Shepherd goes out hunting in the wilderness for even one lost lamb. Jesus, like the woman, gets down on hand and knees, and goes sweeping and searching through a peasant’s dirt floor house, to find the lost coin. God is not afraid to get His hands dirty, because He is the Faithful Retriever, who will not rest until He recovers what is lost and is precious to Him. God got His hands dirty, through the blood and water of Jesus’ human birth, entering on our level in the most fundamentally human way. He lay in a straw manger, bedded beside farm animals. He was circumcised in the flesh, according to the Law. He washed in a sinner’s baptism, to the surprise of John the Baptist, though Jesus had no sins of His own. He embarked on a teaching journey of dusty roads and forsaken villages, of forgotten lives and lost causes, bringing the light of salvation to those dwelling in darkness.
He found lost sheep and lost coins everywhere. Teaching on lonely hilltops, eating with tax collectors and sinners, conversing with disciples who were trying to wrap their heads around the kingdom of God. He was patient, He was determined—He met people in their suffering and agony and distress, and brought His healing touch, His authoritative Word to drive back evil, illness, and lies. And His determined search for the lost took Him all the way to the cross. Where the Shepherd laid down His life for us sheep, and took on Himself the awful curse of our sin.
How much more responsibility could God take, than to bear the very curse of what we ourselves had done in our lost-ness and rebellion against Him? He truly took maximum responsibility for all of us, His creatures. And our value—however we measure it, or others measure it—He alone sets our value. He created us. And whatever value we lost through our fall into sin—God has restored and even increased by redeeming us in Jesus’ death on the cross. You are precious to God—this is the unmistakable and heart-healing discovery of God’s love for the lost, in these parables. It’s that God spared no price to redeem you.
What a marvelous model and example of love for our earthly fathers to imitate. The way God values what is His, is the way earthly fathers should strive to value all that is entrusted to our care—our children, spouses, our family coins or finances, and everything else. The responsibility that God places on what is His, is the way that we as earthly fathers should take responsibility. God is sinless, and we are not. He was not at fault for our sins, waywardness and rebellion. He nevertheless took responsibility to retrieve what was lost, to sacrifice Himself for our restoration and reconciliation. Earthly fathers, and men in general—we need to take responsibility—even the greater share of responsibility, and to sacrifice, to lay down our lives for those whom we love. Whether you have children or not, a godly and positive sense of masculinity drives us to protect, to lead, to see what needs to be done and to get it done.
It’s a heavy load of responsibility. Many men today are glad to shirk responsibility. In a society where people are purposefully blurring the distinctions between male and female, and in some situations even hating the difference between male and female, we have a real crisis. Youth, boys and girls, need good, positive male role models just as much as positive female role models. But men face the temptation to abdicate that responsibility. And as men, it’s all too easy and natural to our human nature, to give up the masculine responsibilities of leadership, protection, and self-sacrifice. That’s not to say that women don’t often do some of those things—but we have a real crisis when men step away or are chased away from the positive, godly roles that God has called men to. And we have a real crisis when we cannot see the positive good in what is masculine or feminine, and the uniqueness of how God made us male and female. The world needs both godly men and godly women, in all that each uniquely brings to God’s created order. The world needs young men and women who are not conformists to this world, but who are transformed by God. The June issue of the Lutheran Witness just arrived in the mail, and is an excellent exploration of biblical manhood, and I recommend all of our congregation to take a half hour or so and read the many valuable articles in it that help to faithfully interpret our world. Also, some statistics about absent fathers, (not in the magazine) are that children raised without fathers are 5 times more likely to end up in poverty, 9 times more likely to drop out of school, and 20 times more likely to end up in jail. That doesn’t mean that no child can overcome the odds, but that the cards are stacked against them. Fathers have huge impact on their kids.
God is our Father because He leads, corrects, and shapes us in what it means to be godly men and godly women. He pulls us back from falling in on our own selfishness, irresponsibility, or envy of the opposite sex. God reorders our desires from jealousy toward a joyful love and appreciation of what makes us unique and different, so that we can see His plan and purpose in life as male and female. We can find joy in blending our complementary gifts into joint service to God. What beautiful things can happen when we put our love into service of God’s goals, and not first our own? What goodness in life can we discover when we walk in harmony with God’s pattern and intent for our life, rather than kicking against it or walking away from it?
Perhaps you know how you’ve fallen short of praiseworthy goals. A heavy load of responsibility weighs on fathers, on boys growing into men, on mothers, on girls growing into women. We have a high and lofty example in the love of God—but the burden is not ours to carry alone. Scripture says His commands are not burdensome. God’s redeeming love was not shown to us by a crushing load of responsibility that we could never carry, but it’s shown in Jesus taking up the crushing load of sin’s curse on His cross. He bore with all our waywardness, sin, and rebellion, carrying that awful guilt to its dreadful conclusion in His death. And there sin’s guilt is concluded. In His death. We daily drown our sins in repentance and returning to our baptism, where our sins meet their conclusion in Jesus’ death. They go no further than His cross. Sin’s wage is paid in full in His death. He gives us a light and easy yoke, a joyful responsibility to follow in His footsteps. He sends His Spirit to accomplish in you all that He desires.
No one says being a father or mother is easy. It’s not, and the responsibility that one either carries or drops, is not easy. God, the Faithful Retriever, is alongside every Christian disciple—father, mother, son, or daughter. The God who is filled with wonderful, redeeming love, is ever at your side, and carrying the burdens of your sin and failures. How many times, without knowing it, were you joyfully carried home on His shoulders? Lost and trapped away from the safety of the sheepfold, but our Good Shepherd faithfully searched and found us, and tossed us lightly upon His shoulders, wrapped us close around His neck, safe again in His warmth and embrace, a child on their father’s back? And not only do we experience the amazing mercy and love of God in these parables, we also discover His joy at retrieving the lost. 1 lost sheep, 1 lost coin, FOUND, is worth calling in friends and neighbors for a party, God says!
I don’t know when the last time you called your friends and neighbors and threw a party for recovering your lost wallet, phone, or maybe even a lost pet—but God and all the angels in heaven thrill with rejoicing when the lost repents and comes home. Heaven’s great joy is for the lost to be found. We began by thinking about the alternatives—God could have left no way of repentance, no road home. But gloriously and to His eternal credit, He has. The path of repentance is the open way for the lost to return home. He has traveled out to us and found us, to carry us and lead us back in. Everything aimed at recovery and retrieval, because our God is faithful, because our God is Love. Because He is a Good, Good Father, who took maximum responsibility to seek and to save the lost. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:
Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
listen online at

  1. Luke 15 is a remarkable series of three parables that portray God the Father’s redeeming love for the lost. Read in its entirety, it’s clear that God loves and longs for both the lost sinners, and those, like the Pharisees, who think they are righteous, but need to return to God’s redeeming love. What qualities of God are shown in this parable? How do they relate to fatherhood?
  2. How might a “hired hand” treat sheep differently than a good shepherd? John 10:11-16. What does the shepherd do for the lost sheep?
  3. How does our society experience confusion over the differences of what is positively masculine and positively feminine? How does society try to erase, blur, or otherwise treat these differences negatively? What is lost by failing to appreciate the distinctiveness and uniqueness with which God has made both sexes?
  4. God was willing to “get His hands dirty” to recover what was lost, as depicted in the parable. How is this combination of taking responsibility, loyal love, self-sacrifice, and determination a perfect role model for earthly fathers to imitate?
  5. What creates profound joy in heaven? Luke 15:5-7, 9-10. What does it mean to “repent?” Joel 2:12-13; Jeremiah 3:12; Acts 3:19-20. What follows after repentance? Acts 3:20; 22:16.