Sunday, April 25, 2004

2 Timothy 4:6-11,18 - “Get Mark”

St. Mark the Evangelist
Saturday, April 24, and Sunday, April 25, 2004

My dad retired a couple of years ago after working around 30 years in an employment agency, helping companies find the right people to hire. I know from him that a good resume is essential to helping get an interview, getting a foot in the door, and possibly getting that job.

Saint Mark’s resume doesn’t look the strongest. Oh, I know, we set aside a day in the church year to celebrate Mark and his contribution to the Christian faith, but seriously, his resume, his work history is pretty weak. He wasn’t one of the 12 Disciples; he was too young to be part of that group. He was just a young man who watched Jesus be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, fleeing when the soldiers tried to grab him. He was just a young man whose mother hosted one of the early house churches in Jerusalem. And was Mark simply benefiting from nepotism? Was he just a missionary because he was Barnabas’ cousin, Barnabas being Paul’s coworker? It looks like nepotism to me.

Then you come to the worst looking part of Mark’s resume: accompanied Paul and Barnabas on a missionary journey but left them at the city of Perga to return home. Mark essentially quit when the going got tough, and later when Paul and Barnabas are going to set out on another journey, they argue about whether Mark should join them. Barnabas wanted to take Mark along, seeing qualities in him of a missionary and Christian leader, but Paul refused. Paul may have felt like Mark had already let him down; Paul wasn’t going to give Mark a letter of reference; Paul wasn’t going to take another chance on being deserted by Mark.

Mark didn’t have to put the next part on his resume, but still the truth would come out. The argument between Paul and Barnabas led to those two missionaries parting ways. The question of Mark’s abilities as an evangelist led to the dividing of the strongest missionary team. Not exactly the legacy you want to bring to your next job.

However, this meant that Barnabas was free to take Mark with him as he headed for Cyprus, and Paul went to Syria. Barnabas took that chance on his cousin, and Mark continued to develop as an evangelist. Barnabas took a chance on Mark, and now Mark had some strong work experience on his resume.

And it’s with this kind of resume that we find Mark later on getting hired, so to speak, getting called to duty by Paul. Paul, who had been so disappointed in Mark. Paul, who didn’t want to take Mark on another missionary journey. Paul, who ended his partnership with Barnabas for a time over the question of Mark. Now Paul says to Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”

Mark had developed into a missionary that Paul wanted on his team. Mark had the qualities that Barnabas had seen all along. Barnabas took a chance on Mark when Paul wouldn’t, which meant that Mark got to gain valuable skills while ministering with Barnabas. Paul was ready to take a chance on Mark again, even though his resume wasn’t the strongest.

And Paul wasn’t calling Mark to be on the team at an easy time of ministry. Paul wrote 2 Timothy from prison, and we see that Paul is feeling that he is reaching the end of his ministry, the end of his life. Paul says, “For I am already poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Paul is calling on Mark to join him at a most difficult time—in prison, feeling as if death is near, seeing the roadblocks in the way of the Gospel.

This is the kind of situation where you call in your A-team, your top people, your special forces, the well-paid consultants. So it is says a lot that Paul calls on Mark.

But Paul didn’t come up with this idea of taking chances on Mark; it didn’t start in some generous place in Paul’s heart. And it didn’t start with Barnabas. As much as Barnabas showed a generous spirit in taking Mark with him, the idea didn’t come from the heart of Barnabas. No, indeed, the way Paul and Barnabas gave Mark chances only shows more clearly the way God takes chances on all of us.

If Paul shows a generous spirit towards Mark, he learned this generosity from God’s heart, God who took chances on Paul. If Barnabas shows patience and grace towards Mark, he learned this patience and grace from God’s heart, God whose message is grace, giving us the love we don’t deserve.

You see, that’s the amazing part, based on their resumes, none of these guys deserved to be on God’s team of missionaries. Barnabas, he was nothing special, had his faults and sins. Mark, we’ve seen how he ran away when Jesus was arrested, how he ran away when the missionary journey got tough. And Paul, well, we know he didn’t deserve to be a missionary, I mean, he had been killing the Christians. These guys shouldn’t have been anywhere near God’s mission work, but God says, “Get Mark, he is helpful to me. Get Barnabas. Get Paul, I want these guys with Me.”

And God says the same about you: “Get ______, get _______, get ________, get __________, get the people of Redeemer Lutheran Church, they’re all helpful to me in my ministry. Get the woman who just got done with membership classes. Get the boy who just learned about Jesus in Sunday School. Get the man who used to laugh at Christians. Get the girl who once told her friends that her faith didn’t matter to her. Get the guy who drank too much last night. Get all of the people, no matter what their resumes look like, get all of the people, because they’ll be helpful to me in my ministry,” God says.

Seriously, this is what the Lord is saying about each of you. He knows where you have failed in the past. He can look at your missionary resume and see those times when you’ve deserted him or how you lack experience. And yet, then He still says that He’ll take a chance on you.

Not so sure? Don’t feel like God can take a chance on you? Perhaps you’re forgetting the real resume of the people you see doing God’s work. I look at some of my friends who do God’s work, and I know their resumes, and I realize God can use all of us. My friend who is a pastor is a seminary drop out, didn’t finish and begin as a pastor until 15 years later. My friend who plays in a church band almost didn’t get confirmed and still plays in a bar band. An 8th grade girl in a youth group I worked with was really great at talking about her faith, even though she had only been a Christian for a few months and hadn’t been in church before that. I know a couple of other guys who are active in their churches, sharing about their faith, but they’re both rough-around-the-edges construction guys.

And me? I’m just a guy who didn’t use to make my Christian faith a priority, a guy who’s an introverted, long-haired geek, a guy who listens to loud rock ‘n’ roll, a guy who didn’t think he wanted to do youth ministry.

And yet God took a chance on me, and now I’m an introverted, long-haired geek, who listens to loud music, who loves to do youth ministry.

God is taking a chance on each of you, taking you with all of your faults and sins, taking you with your quirks and different personalities, taking you with your poor resumes, and is sending you out to do His work.

And God’s calling you in when He needs His A-team. Paul called on Mark when Paul felt like he was nearing death, when life was getting too difficult. God calls on us today, now, even while death approaches for everyone around us. The people around us face death all day long; the people around us face eternal death if they do not know Christ. This is a life-and-death situation, and that’s when God calls on you. He’s calling you with an urgent mission to the world. He’s calling you to take part in His work that gives life to all who hear about Jesus Christ.

God is asking you to be on His A-team. No matter what you do in service to God; no matter what you do to make sure that our ministry continues, whether that’s telling people about Jesus or inviting them to church or serving cookies after church or cleaning up the property, no matter what you do, you are a part of God’s number 1 priority: telling the world about salvation that comes through the forgiveness won for us by Jesus Christ.

God says, “Get Mark, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. Get the people of Redeemer, because I will use them to share my Good News with the world.”

Like I said, I’m just an introverted, long-haired geek. Be honest with yourself; how would you describe yourself? An outgoing, unorganized funny girl? Quiet, family-loving, stamp collector? Loud, softball-playing, life of the party person? Grandmotherly, quilter, baker? How would you describe yourself? Jock, nerd, popular, preppy, goth, rebel, auto-shop, farmer?

How would you describe yourself? Because that’s who you are; don’t try to be something you’re not. Don’t hide your past. Don’t pretend you’ve got it all figure out.

Be honest about who you are, but then realize that God is calling on you, calling you to do His work. When you realize who you are, and that God will use you with your personality and history, then you’ll also realize that you’ve got the verbs of the Gospel. The verbs of the Gospel.

We call St. Mark: the Evangelist, because he wrote one of the four Gospels, one of the four accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Wrote the Gospel. That’s one verb of the Gospel. Maybe God is calling on you to write the Gospel, to write and tell others about Jesus.

But there are lots of verbs of the Gospel. Speak the Gospel. Maybe God is calling you to talk to others about Jesus. Show the Gospel. Is God asking you
to share His love by showing it through your actions?

God may ask you to journey for the Gospel, to travel near or far to help the work of the Church. Support the Gospel, through your time or skills or financial resources, making sure that the Gospel gets shared with others. How about playing the Gospel? Through having fun with people, maybe getting that chance to say, “Hey, come check out church. We have fun there while we learn about Jesus.” God also needs people to run the Gospel—to run the audio-visual equipment, to run the copier, to run the lights and tape recording in a service.

There’s so many verbs of the Gospel, and God has made each of us with different gifts, ready to do different verbs for His Good News. Sing the Gospel. Ring the Gospel. Organize for the Gospel. Draw the Gospel. Cook for the Gospel. Plant the Gospel. Make phone calls for the Gospel. Pray the Gospel. Study the Gospel. Ask questions about the Gospel. Be a leader for the Gospel. Teach the Gospel. Volunteer for the Gospel. Be a family for the Gospel.

Imagine how many different ways that God can use you to share something about Jesus with others. Think of all of the verbs in your life; could God use them for the Good News of salvation? Skateboard for the Gospel. Bike for the Gospel. Throw a Frisbee for the Gospel. Ride horses for the Gospel. Watch NASCAR for the Gospel. Go to a friend’s house for the Gospel. Use the Internet for the Gospel. Quilt for the Gospel. Play bridge for the Gospel. Go up north for the Gospel.

You’ve got the verbs in your life, and God is ready to take those verbs into His service. He’s already decided that He wants you on His team, wants us as a part of His way of telling people about life after death, about forgiveness through Jesus. Now that He has you on His team, now He’s ready to use all of those verbs in your life as ways to serve Him. He’s not worried about your resume, your history or how you used those verbs in the past. He’s not worried about your letters of reference, about your personality or what odd combination of verbs you have in your life. He simply looks at you and says, “Get her, because she is helpful to me in my ministry. Get him, because I need him. Get those wonderful, forgiven sinners, those incredibly unique individuals, get them, because I will use them to tell the world about my Son, Jesus.”

May God bless your verbs for the work of the Gospel!

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Hebrews 10:11-14,18-25 - "Enter the Most Holy Place"

Maundy Thursday
Thursday, April 8, 2004

Frame and curtain placed in front of the altar.

The Most Holy Place was the innermost altar in the temple. That altar was where God’s presence dwelt, appearing as cloud. The Most Holy Place was so sacred that it was curtained off, and only one time per year was a priest allowed to enter. This was the Day of Atonement, and when we understand what it took for a priest to enter the Most Holy Place, then we’ll begin to understand what happened on Good Friday and what happens in the Lord’s Supper.

Leviticus chapter 16 gives the process for the Day of Atonement. John Kleinig, a Lutheran professor from Australia, explains it this way: once a year on the Day of Atonement, God provided a way to cleanse the people of their sins that the other sacrifices didn’t atone for. It dealt with all of the impurities of the people which they brought into the sanctuary, God’s location on earth, and therefore God, through this ritual, could continue to meet His people in that place. It cleansed the people and the sanctuary. It meant that the priests could continue to represent the people in the sanctuary, to offer sacrifices, and to work with the holy things of God.

The cleansing on the Day of Atonement began in the Most Holy Place and moved outward from there. The blood of sacrifices needed to be sprinkled on the altar in the Most Holy Place, but how? You couldn’t just enter through that curtain whenever and however you felt like it. God’s presence was in there, sure to kill anyone who didn’t enter in the right way, who dared approach God’s holiness with the stink of their own sin. So God gave the priests very specific steps to take.

First of all, only one priest would enter, the high priest. He would begin by washing his entire body. Normally priests would wash their hands and feet before offering a sacrifice, but entering the Most Holy Place required an entire bath. Then the priest would put on special vestments, special priestly clothes reserved for this one day, this one act. And for this ritual, no one could be in the temple. He did this completely alone.

With the animals ready for sacrifice, the high priest was then ready to go behind the shielding curtain, as it was called. This curtain shielded the Most Holy Place, and really shielded the priests from God’s holiness. With his body washed and his special robes, the priest had to do 3 things behind the curtain.

First he carried burning incense to create a cloud of smoke which gave him protection from the full holiness of God. (light incense, take behind curtain) The idea is that the aroma of the incense is more pleasing than the stink of our sins.

Next he took in blood from the bull sacrificed for the priest’s own sin. He sprinkled blood on the altar for his personal sins. (take cup behind curtain) If the high priest was going to approach God on behalf of the people, he first had to make sure God would accept him despite his own sins.

Third, he entered the Most Holy Place and took blood from the goat sacrificed for the sins of the entire congregation, the entire people of God. (take second cup behind curtain) This made atonement for the sins of all of God’s people.

Meanwhile, all of the people might be at home, they couldn’t be in the temple, but they also couldn’t work or eat that day. They had to fast and pray as their participation in the Day of Atonement.

After the high priest had done these three things, he took the blood and sprinkled it on other parts of the sanctuary, bringing out the blood from the Most Holy Place and using it to cleanse the parts of the sanctuary that they used on a daily basis.

When he completed the sacrifices, he took off his special vestments to be set aside until next year, and then took another bath. This bath was kind of like washing off the super holiness that he had come into contact with in the Most Holy Place. And then no one would enter behind the curtain for another year.

This act ensured that God would allow His people to meet in the temple, would continue to accept their sacrifices and worship, would allow the priests to continue to represent the people before Him, and God would continue to forgive
the sins of the people through the other sacrifices.

But then the temple curtain, the shielding curtain was torn in two from top to bottom, torn in two the moment Christ died on the cross. (pull curtain open) Knowing now what you know about the Most Holy Place, you can imagine that there might have been panic. With the curtain torn, the people were no longer protected from God’s presence. But really there was no need for panic, because through the death of Christ, there was no need for the curtain, the annual Day of Atonement, or for any fear about approaching God.

But why? What has Christ done? He has once and for all fulfilled the goal of the Day of Atonement and all of the other sacrifices. In one act, He atoned for our sins, paid for, made up for our sins.

John Kleinig describes the Day of Atonement this way, “On this most holy day, the most holy person in Israel performed the most holy rite in the Most Holy Place with the most holy blood from the most holy animals, so that the sinful Israelites could have safe access to their most holy God.”

Now take that same description and see how Christ fulfills or completes what took place on the Day of Atonement. The most holy day is now Good Friday, not an annual ritual which we must repeat, but a single day in history. The most holy person offering the sacrifice on Good Friday is the most holy person of all time, Jesus Christ, perfect as a human, our true high priest. He performed the most holy rite, the sacrifice for atonement, a sacrifice which completely outweighs all of the other sacrifices.

He offered this sacrifice in the Most Holy Place—not in the temple but in God’s heavenly throne room. Yes, the physical sacrifice took place on Golgotha, on that cross on that hill outside of Jerusalem, but Christ offered up His blood in God’s throne room. He offered up the most holy blood, His own, from the most holy sacrifice, His own life on the cross.

He did all of this so that sinful people could have safe access to their most holy God. The writer of Hebrews shows us how day after day, year after year, the priests offered sacrifices which could never really take away sins. Now, though, Christ, the true high priest, offered one sacrifice which takes away all of our sins. Through that sacrifice, we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place, to draw near to God, to approach His throne without fear. Through the blood of Christ, through His own body, we enter through the curtain into the very throne room of God. That’s why the temple curtain was torn on Good Friday; that’s why there’s no need to have a curtain in our sanctuary; that’s why we are not afraid to approach God’s altar.

Which brings us to Maundy Thursday and the Lord’s Supper. The first thing we realize from understanding the Day of Atonement and Good Friday is that the death of Christ is the ultimate sacrifice needed for sins. There would not be any need for future sacrifices. The writer of Hebrews points this out by saying, “But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” Normally a priest would never sit down in the sanctuary, never sit down while offering sacrifices, in order to show that the work was never complete. Christ, however, could sit down, because the sacrifices came to end in that one act, in His death on the cross.

So when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we participate in this one sacrifice from Good Friday. We do not repeat the sacrifice as the Catholic Church has taught. There is no need to repeat the sacrifice. We do not kill Christ again. There is no need for the annual, repeatable Day of Atonement. There is no need to continue killing Christ. His one death on that Good Friday is sufficient, is the death that covers over all sins. So when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, do not think of it as a repeated sacrifice. Think of it as a continuation of the one sacrifice that Christ offered on Good Friday.

But if the sacrifice isn’t being repeated, you may wonder where the body and blood come from. Well, just as the priest brought out the blood from the Most Holy Place to then cleanse other parts of the sanctuary, so, too, Christ offered His blood in the heavenly throne room of God and then brought out that blood to us, brought it out to cleanse us. So when we eat His body and drink His blood in the Supper tonight, He is offering us this meal from the sacrifice made on Good Friday. In fact, through Holy Communion, we enter the heavenly realm; we come in contact with heavenly things, heavenly food and drink.

And it is this heavenly blood that marks us to be saved from death, cleanses us from our sins, connects us with Good Friday, gives us forgiveness for all of our sins. Christ has done this so that you could have safe access to your most holy God.

Enter the Most Holy Place. Tonight you can approach the altar with full confidence. Jesus Christ opened up a new and living way to the Father. We enter through the body of Christ. That’s why the temple curtain was torn in two. There doesn’t have to be a barrier anymore. Christ pulls back the curtain through His death, opens wide the way into heaven. Jesus said, “I am the Gate,” meaning the Gate into eternal life, but here we see that He is also the Open Curtain.

So enter the Most Holy Place; enter through the Open Curtain. Where the curtain shielded people from God’s presence in the temple, now you are shielded from God’s holiness through the blood of Christ. Where the priest had to take a bath before he performed the ritual, now you are fully clean through the waters of Holy Baptism. Where the priest first made a cloud of incense to protect him in the Most Holy Place, now you have the aroma of Christ, His pleasing fragrance.

Enter the Most Holy Place. Tonight through the Lord’s Supper, you are being invited into the Most Holy Place, into God’s heavenly throne room. The curtain stands open. The altar is in plain view. The body and blood offered up for sacrifice are actually offered to us, the sinners, to eat and drink.

Enter the Most Holy Place and receive the body and blood of Christ, the forgiveness of all your sins, and the promise of eternal life.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Deuteronomy 32:36-39 - “Where is Joe?”

Palm Sunday (Confirmation Day) (Year C- LCMS Revised Readings)
Saturday, April 3, and Sunday, April 4, 2004

(entering from the rear of the sanctuary with rock in hands)
All praise to Joe! Joe, the Great Rock! Joe, our wonderful god! All honor and praise to Joe! Way to go, Joe! We will follow Joe. We will worship Joe. He will always help us. Rise, stand up in the presence of Joe! Come on, how can you not give honor and respect to Joe the Rock, Joe the god?

(if some stand up) OK, sorry, you failed our little test. The Confirmands helped me put together this test to see if you’d break your own Confirmation pledge and worship this rock that we call Joe. So if you stood, I’m sorry, but you will have to come see me after church and go through confirmation study with me again.

(in pulpit) OK, not really, because it’s not really fair for me to come in here as your pastor and trick you into worshipping a false god. Actually, though, in working with this year’s Confirmation class on preparing this sermon, that’s what we want you to know from the Old Testament reading today: you don’t need any false gods, because you can trust that God, the true God, is always there for us.

That’s what the students have been learning for three years in our intensive program we call the DJs, the Disciples of Jesus. These students have been learning that there is no other god besides God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They’ve been learning how anything else that we trust in more than God Himself will let us down. So when we went away on our DJ2 Retreat a few weeks ago, they decided they wanted today’s sermon to be about Deuteronomy 32, because they want you to know and remember what they pledge today: they trust in God above all other things.

Some of the students looked at this passage and thought about an infomercial. The infomercial is selling a false god, maybe a false god like Joe. This god will give you refuge, protect you from life’s troubles. This god will eat and drink your sacrifices, and that will make you look good in this god’s eyes. This god will rise up and help you. This god will be your shelter in the storm.

But then when you call the toll-free number on the screen, when you give them your credit card number, and when this god gets delivered to your house, it turns out to just be a rock, a rock that doesn’t do anything, a rock that you could easily smash. This god named Joe that sounded so good on TV turns out to be nothing. That’s what it’s like getting tricked into believing in a false god—it sounds good, but it turns out to be nothing but a lie.

But now in Deuteronomy, God reminds us that with Him, these things are true. With Him, we have do a refuge; He will rise up and help us; He will give us shelter and protection from life and death. With Him, it isn’t about our sacrifices; He gave His Son, Jesus Christ, to be sacrificed for us, to die in our place, one sacrifice to pay for all of our sins. With the true God, we have a lifetime guarantee.

On our retreat, we were looking through magazines for pictures and words that made some connection to this Bible reading from Deuteronomy. You can see many of them on a bulletin board in the lobby. Someone found a line from an ad that says, “Lifetime guarantee? What do you think this is, GM Goodwrench Service Plus?”

Mr. Goodwrench says that his work is guaranteed for the life of your car. Well, when I say that God gives you a lifetime guarantee, it is much more than Mr. Goodwrench’s guarantee. This is a lifetime guarantee to watch over you all the days of your life. This is a guarantee to give you an eternal lifetime, an everlasting life after death. This is the kind of guarantee that a false god can’t give you.

But the students also looked at this passage, in the questions that God asks, and it seems to be about people who have left their faith, have started to follow other gods, to trust in other things, and now, when there’s troubles, now, they’re wondering where the help is. The god arrived in the mail, but now that you want to use the god, Joe’s not doing much. Where is Joe? Where is Joe when you need him? Why isn’t he helping? Why isn’t Joe speak comforting words? Why doesn’t Joe forgive? Where is Joe?

And then when you have forgotten about the true God, when you have started to trust in an idol like this rock, or trust in another person as the biggest source of help, or trust in things, your money and possessions, or trust in something to make yourself feel better—food or alcohol or drugs, then when you have followed your false gods but find yourself struggling in your life, you begin to ask, (play Pink Floyd clip - “Is there anybody out there?” – starts at 0:27)

Is there anybody out there? Where is Joe? Where is this god right now? Where is the hope I need? Can anyone help me? (clip) Can anyone help me when a loved one is dying, when I am struggling at school, when my friends get mad at me, when my family is fighting? Is there anybody out there to help me? (clip) Where is Joe? Where are all of the things I trusted in? (pause music)

At that moment, God comes again in these words from Deuteronomy, saying, “See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me.” God is saying that whatever help we were looking for, whatever we thought we needed and could get from someone else, whatever promises Joe gave us, those are the things that only He can give us. You were looking for refuge and shelter; God Himself is your protection. You were looking for someone to forgive you and accept you; God Himself takes you as you are.

So is there anybody out there? Yes, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is here and out there; God walks with us each day. Trust in God to always be there for you. The false gods will fail you.

But what about those days when it really seems like even the true God isn’t there? The students and I talked about how their Confirmation Day is April 4, the day when Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot and killed. (This, of course, gave me one more chance at making sure the students knew the difference between Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights leader in the 1960s, and Martin Luther, the theologian from the 1500s for which our denomination is named). More importantly, though, we talked about how in 1968, King’s assassination left people really without hope about the Civil Rights Movement. King had been the leader, the one who was causing change, the one who was helping the country to begin granting equal rights to blacks, and now this great man had been shot and killed. “Is there anybody out there?” people must have wondered.

So too, the students and I talked about the difficulties and tragedies in their lives. The times when they find themselves doubting whether God is with them. The times they find themselves putting trust in a false belief or false god. When any of us hit those dark days, when the tears flow and when the world just seems like a burden, the days when anger flares, when doors slam, when there is shouting and name-calling and threats of violence. (start clip again 1:01) When we face pain or death. When we are sad or depressed. When we can’t see direction, when there’s little hope, (clip) when every door seems to be closed in our face. Then we too ask, “Is there anybody out there?”

But today the students and I also want you to hear the God’s Word: “The Lord will have compassion on His servants when He sees that their strength is gone.” When you are sapped of your strength, physically, emotionally, or mentally, or perhaps all three, when your strength is gone, God promises to have compassion on you. He stands with you in those times. He guards you, lifts you up, walks with you, gives you hope—even if that hope is somewhere deep inside your heart. Even when it appears that God is missing, that He has withdrawn from your life, do not doubt His ability to save and protect.

When it appears that God is missing, it is about our experience in this broken world, our experience in a world where we cannot see clearly. However, God remains the great and powerful One, the One who comes to grant healing and life, the One who brings forgiveness and salvation.

So what are the idols in your life? (flip over poster of Justin) Is Justin from American Idol your idol? Because I’m afraid that even Justin, a finalist from American Idol, can’t live up to the challenge from God: “Let him rise up to help you! Let him give you shelter!” I’m not sure that Justin can do that for all of us.

What are your idols? Who do you trust above all things? Are there people or things or beliefs that might become more important than God Himself? One example might be a belief that you hold so dear that it affects the way you read God’s Word. For instance, I had a friend who felt that the most important thing in life was to be happy. It sounded wonderful, especially considering that her mom wanted that for her, and her mom’s mom believed that too. This was a family belief, a family motto, the goal of life is to be happy.

But then that ran into trouble when I talked to my friend about what God said about sin and judgment, about Jesus saying that the only way to the Father is through Him. When we talked about living the Christian life, giving up what we wanted in order to serve God, then she started to say that it didn’t match what she believed. She believed that everyone should be happy, and talking about sin, talking about Jesus being the only way, seemed to be ways to get people unhappy or mad. She didn’t think that was how it should go.

My friend’s false belief was more important than what God actually teaches. Yet, my friend’s false belief is just like Joe; it will let her down. When times are difficult, when it is hard to see hope, then it is also hard to believe that you’ll be happy again. If all of your hope for life rests on being happy, then in those difficult times, you will lose hope. You’ll say, “Where is Joe? Is there anybody out there? Where is my happiness? Why won’t my happiness come back and help me?”

But again, the students and I want you to realize when you have a false belief, a false god, because we want you to trust the true God will always be there for you. Your happiness may be gone, but we have an eternal hope in Jesus Christ that goes beyond our happiness. God rise up and helps you. God gives you shelter. God’s hope lies in your heart, built on Jesus Christ, built on the forgiveness of sins, and that hope is protected against happiness failures, power failures, health failures, life failures. Your hope is surge protected in God, because all of the troubles and evil and clouds of this life cannot destroy the hope that comes through Jesus Christ.

So put down your rocks; stop worshipping Joe. Put away your false beliefs. Turn to the true God. The Confirmation students stand up today to say that they are committed to the true God, saying what was said at their baptisms, saying what we pray they will say all of their lives. Today, though, let us also renew that pledge, standing here before God saying that we trust in Him above all things. For He is trustworthy, worthy of our trust, lives up to our trust, and He will give us hope above all the trouble of this world.