Presented on The Lutheran Hour on February 26, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
(Q&A Topic:GROWN COLD)
Copyright 2017 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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This week on Action in Ministry Q&A MP3
Text: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? ... And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! The joyful news of the Savior's resurrection brings joy to the hearts of all who have been given faith. A Savior Who forgives is peace for troubled hearts and relief for the guilty conscience. Relief from guilt is the good news that God extends. May the Lord grant His peace to us all. Amen.
In the White House Archives there is a letter which a young man wrote to President Grover Cleveland. He said, "...Dear President: I am in a dreadful state of mind, and I thought I would write and tell you. About two years ago I used two postage stamps that had been used before. Perhaps (I used) more than two stamps, but I can only remember doing it twice. I did not realize what I had done until lately. My mind is constantly on that subject. I think of it night and day. Now, dear President, will you please forgive me, and I (will) promise you I will never do it again. Enclosed find (the) cost of three stamps, and please forgive me." That young man did what he did because of guilt.
Now I know it's not very likely that you've been sending in extra money to the government. That's because you are honest and always try to pay exactly what you owe. I did get that right, didn't I? Still, just because you have always played it straight with the governing authorities that doesn't mean your mind, heart, and your conscience is as white as the freshly fallen snow. I wonder, can you ever remember a time when you were minding your own business and not doing anything special when, POW, a thought flashed through your mind. It was not a pleasant thought. It was a remembrance of something you did that was something you shouldn't have done; something you said which you shouldn't have said. Maybe it was a thought which, if it were spoken out loud, would shock and scandalize anyone, everyone who heard it. If you have had that happen, and the vast majority of us have, what did you do next? Did you not look around to see if you had given yourself away? Did your face flush in embarrassment? Did your pulse quicken and your stomach knot? Did you immediately try to talk yourself down with the reassuring words, "Nobody knows about that and nobody is ever going to know!" Does any or all of what I've said sound familiar? Yes, I know, it seems familiar to me, too.
It seems familiar because we are both sinners and when our sins upset our consciences, they let us know and accuse us. Accuse us. That is what a conscience does, unless we ignore its voice for so long that it shuts down and says nothing. Of course, a silent conscience doesn't solve the problem of unforgiven sin, does it? On Judgment Day we may be surprised to find that even though we silenced our conscience, we haven't stopped Satan from pointing an accusing pitchfork at us. Accusing us because of our many flaws and failings, our sins and shortcomings is what the devil does. Accusing us is part of his job description. He relishes those moments when he shows us we are not the perfect people we pretend to be. He delights in the discomfort we experience when we find that he has seen us hiding behind our carefully constructed facades of pretend propriety.
And although we wish the devil would just go away, he doesn't. He sticks around because he loves telling the Lord how bad we've been and he waits around to see that we get every bit of the punishment which has been promised to wretched and miserable law breakers like ourselves. The Bible says the devil can quote Scripture. That's true, and among those passages he loves to quote are ones like: "The wages of sin is death" (Ro. 6:23), and "All have sinned and fallen short of God's glory" (Ro. 3:23), and... well, there's a lot of Bible passages which threaten, promise, NO, which guarantee eternal punishment for those sinners who walk their own path rather than that of the Lord.
My friend, you do know that sentence does include us. We are sinners. Now maybe you are basically a good person and specialize in nice, little, barely noticeable sins. Little sins, my friend, make you a sinner. Could it be that you have very little interaction with other people and you take great pride in being inoffensive? The fact that you are almost a hermit from humanity does not stop the daily transgressions you commit in mind and heart. You, too, are a sinner. Possibly you have become proficient in those wrongdoings which not only offend the Lord, but also make life unbearable for all who know you. The fact that you are not a common, garden variety sinner is nothing to brag about. The reality is, the reality from which you might want to escape, is this: we are sinners and we are going to be punished.
The only question which remains is this: with your future and your fate decided, what are you going to do? In the interest of full disclosure, I can share there are a number of tricks those in the public limelight use when they get caught with their hands in the cookie jar. For example, you can go the route of denial. No, you can't deny your sinfulness, your friends will all attest to that. But you can deny that God is going to judge you. You could say, "My god is a god of love and he would never send anyone to hell." To that I can only reply, "Yes, that has to be your god because he has been created in your imagination. Most certainly he is not a deity who is described in the Bible or any other pseudo-sacred book."
If you don't like that idea, you could try making comparisons. You could say, "It's true, I am a sinner, but I'm not a sinner, sinner. I don't do the kinds of really bad stuff that other people do. In fact I don't think God is really that upset with me." That's a grand argument and it would work if the Lord awarded salvation on a class curve. But He doesn't. With the Lord, it's a pass or it's a fail. And the bad news is this: even the smallest of sins gives you a spiritual "F".
If none of those suggestions seem to have any merit, I can point you toward the oldest defense in the book... literally, the oldest. That justification is summed up in four words: "it's not my fault." Read through the opening chapters of Genesis and you can see Adam trying to deflect God's anger for his sin by using the argument: "It's not my fault." Actually he said, "Lord, it is the woman You gave me that put me in this predicament." Considering it's the first time any human had ever used this excuse, Adam did a remarkable job. He blamed two people: the woman, Eve, his wife; and he blamed God. "Yeah, Lord, I never would have been in this predicament if You hadn't introduced me to her." Eve, being the quick learner that she was, also used the "It's not my fault" excuse and blamed the sly snake who had talked her into disobedience. Now if you like this excuse, you can count yourself lucky. You have a lot more things to blame your guilt on than Adam and Eve did. You can say you are flawed because of your parents, or a teacher, or society.
Yes, you can try to pass the buck, but I have to warn you, God didn't accept the defense when Adam and Eve used it a long time ago and He's not going to buy into it now. Use whatever excuse you wish, He is going to take a look at your soul and see it smirched and stained by sins innumerable; He will see those sins which were committed in public and those you thought you had successfully kept to yourself. He will see the big ones and the small ones, the repeat sins and the once-in-a-lifetime transgressions. He will see you with eyes of holiness and He will, no matter how loud and long you protest, find you guilty and order you out of His presence. And that, my friend, is going to be a very dark day. He will do what He will do not because you feel guilty; no, He will do it because you are guilty.
Yes, you may be incredibly gifted in keeping your sins from others, but you are foolish in trying to hide them from the all-knowing Lord. Like King David, another fellow who tried to keep God in the dark, we have to confess, (Psalm 139 excerpts): "O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. .....and are acquainted with all my ways." David discovered God knows us; He knows our sins...all of our sins.
When Jesus knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane, He also saw us and our sins. He saw each of us and everything we have ever done wrong. When He hung upon Calvary's cross, it was our sins which put Him there and kept Him there. Yes, God knows everything about us, and what He knows doesn't please Him. You know, when I look at that sentence, I see no hope, no happiness, no heaven. If things remain as they are, we are doomed, damned, and lost. That is the way it will be if things stay unchanged.
My unseen friends, it is my hope that you heard the word if in that sentence; IF things stay unchanged. I want you to know, you need to know that things have changed. Jesus Christ entered this world, lived in this world, suffered and died in this world to change things. God's Son came to bring light to those who were in the dark, to throw a lifeline to those who were foundering; to extend hope to those who had been desperate and discouraged; to bestow salvation to those who had been destined for damnation. The Redeemer has arrived and done all which was necessary so the Holy Spirit could bring healing to our hurting souls and salvation to our forgiven future.
Do you understand what that means when I say Jesus has done all which was necessary? Let me explain. Take all of your sins and put them in a pile. If you are being honest, it is a pretty impressive pile. Jesus saw that mound of transgressions; He saw the big ones, the little ones, all of them. Jesus saw our sins, and 2,000 years ago He gathered up those sins and, along with His cross, He carried them to the crest of a skull-shaped hill called Calvary. There, when He died, the punishment for our sins died with Him. Now, because of what Jesus has done; because of the guarantee we are given in the Savior's resurrection, believers are given God's mercy and grace. In short, we do not get the punishment that we deserved and we are given the peace, the joy, the comfort, the hope, the heaven that had always been beyond our grasp.
With God-given faith in the risen Redeemer's completed work, things are changed. How changed? Changed enough that the stomach-churning sin we talked about a few minutes ago can be laid to rest. When you are forgiven by Jesus, that sin can no longer weigh you down and the devil can no longer use it to accuse you. Washed in the blood of the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world you have been changed. From now on, whenever your heavenly Father looks at you, all those sins which had once stained your soul have been stripped away. That's why St. Paul could write, no matter what sins you have done, and he lists some doozies in 1 Corinthians 6, he can still assure us: "...you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." It is why, when Paul was asked the question, "What can I do to be saved?" he replied, (Acts 16:31) "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved..." On Pentecost, when Peter and the other apostles were asked the same question, they said, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself" (Acts 2:38-39).
Before this message ends, I have one last duty. I must talk to those of you who have repented of your sins and gladly acknowledge Jesus as your Savior and Lord. There are a few of you today who, having listened to this message, are saying to yourself, "Oh, if it were only so. I know my sins are forgiven, but I don't feel it. I still feel their weight and they still bother me."
If that is what you are thinking, let me introduce you to my son-in-law, James Boren. He is both mentally and spiritually, one of the finest young men I have ever met. But there's something you should know about Jim. Since high school he has been a Type 1 diabetic. Then, a few years ago, he received a kidney-pancreas transplant which meant he no longer had to have insulin injections. That was incredible news. But there was also bad news. Some of the anti-rejection meds he had to take robbed his bones of calcium. Eventually the surgeons had to take his leg. To his credit, and my astonishment, he never stopped smiling; he never stopped being upbeat; he never slowed down. I am afraid that I would not have done nearly so well under similar circumstances.
Now here is what I wanted you to know: the other evening we were together and his foot started to itch. No, not the foot he has, but the foot he doesn't have. When I asked, he told me, he had a 'phantom limb'. Even though he knew, he could see his leg was gone, his brain told him it was still there. Sometimes the leg itched like from a mosquito bite; sometimes it hurt and he said there has been more than one time he caught himself trying to stand on the leg which he knew no longer was there.
To steal a page from my son-in-law's lesson book: if Jesus is your Savior, your sin, like his leg, is gone. Completely, totally gone. When you feel that sin is there; when the devil tries to convince you that it is there, we're talking about "phantom sin." The devil does not have the power to put back a sin the Savior has removed. So, the next time Satan comes creeping around to make you feel differently, explain to him about "phantom sin and guilt." He won't like it, and eventually, after a while he'll stop trying to convince you otherwise.
Now, to all of our listeners, once more, this reminder: sin is real, God's punishment is real, but so is the forgiveness and salvation which comes in Jesus. Know it, believe it, live it. And, if you need reassurance that all I've said to you is true, we are ready to help. So, please, call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
Action in Ministry for February 26, 2017
Guest: Rev. Jay DeBeir
ANNOUNCER: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour and this is Action In Ministry. It's a call to action in response to all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Pastor Gregory Seltz joins us now.
SELTZ: It's good to be here, Mark. Thanks.
ANNOUNCER: It seems unbelievable some people would be sending money into the government in order to ease these pangs of guilt they felt over something so small as a postage stamp.
SELTZ: Don't pay taxes out of guilt. Well, look, it might seem like a trivial thing but guilt can weigh us down. It can wreak havoc in our lives and sometimes people will do almost anything to have a clear conscience.
ANNOUNCER: With that in mind, today we're offering a booklet titled, Unlocking the Prison of Guilt and here to talk with us about that is The Rev. Jay DeBeir, Vice President of Lutheran Hour Ministries. He has a background in psychology and counseling.
SELTZ: Jay, thanks for joining us.
DeBEIR: Glad to be here.
SELTZ: Look, if we really think about it, we can find ourselves guilty about something all day long; guilty about what I said to my spouse, guilty about what I ate, about not exercising (which is overwhelming me right now), or the money that I spent. We get the picture. Sometimes we haven't really even done anything wrong. So, the question, why do we struggle so much with guilt?
DeBEIR: We all have a conscience. The law is written on our heart, but guilt can have a good purpose.
ANNOUNCER: What might that good purpose be?
DeBEIR: Guilt can motivate us to change our behavior to do what's right. It can motivate us to make amends to those we may have sinned against. Even the anticipation of guilt can also keep us from sinning. That anticipation really can be seen as the Holy Spirit working in our heart.
ANNOUNCER: All right. So sometimes guilt can be undeserved, but there are times when someone should feel guilty; they've cheated on their spouse, they've committed a crime, they've actually done something wrong. What about then?
DeBEIR: Yeah, there are those times and that's appropriate. But this booklet tells the story of King David in the Bible. He's remembered for a lot of great things. But like us, his record is flawed; his affair with Bathsheba, the murder of Uriah. Indeed, we all mess up. We should feel guilty at times. It should remind us that we need a Savior. Sometimes we also need friends like David had Jonathan. I have my wife. We've been married twenty-five years and she's done a remarkable job of just letting me know things that I may be blind to that I may need to confess.
DeBEIR: But the guilt shouldn't be the end of the story. That's where people get into trouble.
SELTZ: Yeah, and that's the best part of the booklet; that it shares the amazing story of forgiveness which is the real power to actually face all these things. How was David able to go on not carrying around the guilt of his failures, which were large, for the rest of his life?
DeBEIR: Like I said, David came to acknowledge that guilt. Jonathan certainly helped him with that; in how God's forgiveness through Jesus Christ enables us to deal with our guilt. That's the power of the Gospel. Salvation isn't a reward for the righteous; it's a gift for the guilty. Luther encourages us to return to our baptism on a daily basis.
SELTZ: Yeah, it's echoed through his morning and evening prayers. It's how he focuses his life. It's the life of a Christian; one of daily repentance, reconciliation, redemption, and renewal for the sinner and for each other.
DeBEIR: Yeah. That's the dynamic unfolding of His kingdom for us on a daily basis.
DeBEIR: Conversely, if our listeners continue to be haunted by guilt, I'd really encourage them to speak to their pastor. There is something fundamentally powerful about verbally confessing our sins and hearing, literally, that we are forgiven. His grace is here for all and He wants us to move on to be healthy, to live an abundant life in His mercy and grace, day in and day out.
ANNOUNCER: Once again, the name of this print resource is Unlocking the Prison of Guilt. We want you to have this booklet as a tool to help combat and overcome guilt in your life.
SELTZ: Mark, the secret... no really, it's not a secret at all, it's the same answer that it was for King David, if you're in this prison today, please know there is freedom available to you. Don't do anything out of guilt. Do it out of guilt removed. This is a great booklet of hope. You can clear out that conscience fund where you've been collecting the fees for your guilt.
ANNOUNCER: Rev. Jay DeBeir, thank you so much for joining us today.
DeBEIR: Thank you for having me.
SELTZ: That's our Action In Ministry segment today; to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others.
ANNOUNCER: To read or download this resource, go to lutheranhour.org and click on Action In Ministry. To request a print copy call 1-855-john316. That's 1-855-564-6316.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for February 26, 2017
Topic: GROWN COLD
ANNOUNCER: Today we welcome back to the Lutheran Hour studios once again our Speaker Emeritus, Pastor Ken Klaus. I'm Mark Eischer.
KLAUS: Hello, to you, Mark.
ANNOUNCER: Pastor, as you know, there are an increasing number of young people who have distanced themselves from the Church.
KLAUS: True enough.
ANNOUNCER: Today, we hear from the mother of one such young person. She says, "When the children were little, we took them to church. We didn't just drop them off at the door. We attended worship and Sunday School together, as a family."
KLAUS: In and of itself, that is impressive.
ANNOUNCER: "In college, each of our three children went through a time when they didn't attend church. Then, after graduation, each of them were re-found by the Lord and they became involved in local congregations. All of them, except for one."
KLAUS: There always seems to be that one.
ANNOUNCER: Our listener continues, "My 26-year-old daughter simply doesn't go to church. She says she loves the Lord, but I sometimes wonder. We've often talked about why she stopped going to church. Her answers constantly change. One time, it's because the minister is boring (well, sometimes he is); another time it's because the people are cold (they can seem that way); and yet another time it is because the church is filled with people who say one thing but do another. Or it's too far to drive or the service times are inconvenient. Do you have any suggestions on how to get her back in church?"
KLAUS: Okay, let's see what we can do. First, congratulations to our listener for talking with her daughter and not shouting. Since she needs to keep those lines of communications open, she really dare not let her frustration get the upper hand. Second, as our listener pointed out, her daughter has a lot of excuses. Most, if not all of them, are probably real. Don't put those excuses down. Instead, what you do is you go around them. They are real excuses, but they are totally unimportant to our purpose.
ANNOUNCER: I should think you would deal with excuses and try to put them to rest.
KLAUS: You can do that, but as soon as you do, another excuse is going to pop up to take its place. No, our listener can avoid her daughter's excuses because they are the symptoms, they are not the problem.
ANNOUNCER: What is the real problem?
KLAUS: Our listener won't like it. The problem is, and the daughter has already denied it, the problem is she doesn't love the Lord. Not really. She isn't angry with God; she doesn't hate God; she just doesn't love Him anymore. Those excuses are just camouflage to keep her from confronting that truth.
ANNOUNCER: That's a pretty strong thing to say. How do you know that's the case?
KLAUS: Easy. Mark, let me ask: before you and your wife were married, did you have to work hard at getting her to spend time with you?
ANNOUNCER: No, in fact, for our first date, we went to see "Gone With the Wind." Later, Deb said the best part was that she could be next to me for the three hours and 58 minutes the movie ran.
KLAUS: Wow. Really. Okay. Okay. Good. Here's the next question. Suppose you were calling for a date and she came up with the excuse: "Oh, I have to wash my hair" or "I'd really rather stay home and watch reruns of Hogan's Heroes" or "I've gotten a letter from the Publisher's Clearing House and they just may show up telling me that I've won a couple million dollars. I need to stay home." Mark, if that happened, what conclusions would you come to?
ANNOUNCER: I think I'd conclude that her love had somehow grown colder.
KLAUS: Yeah. And that would be an incredibly correct evaluation. And that's what has happened to this young lady. For whatever reason in the past, maybe it's just time, her love has grown cold.
ANNOUNCER: Sort of like that church in Laodicea which was neither hot nor cold. So, what can our listener do about this?
KLAUS: A number of things. Her mother can share this discussion with her. Just seeing this, hearing this might help to explain things to her daughter. Next, she should encourage her daughter to find a good church. By that I mean a friendly church, a church where the teaching and preaching is solid and God's Word is taken seriously. Find a place where she will be welcomed when she's there and missed when she's not. Find that church and get involved in the life of that congregation and the daughter is going to be surprised at really how quickly all her excuses vanish.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Klaus. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"O Wondrous Type! O Vision Fair" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"Lord Jesus Christ, with Us Abide" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)