Rev. Greg Seltz, Speaker for The Lutheran Hour, interviewing a Missionary to America
I will be in Bronxville this weekend for the installation of Rev. Dr. John Nunes as the ninth president of Concordia College. President Nunes has asked a few of us to participate in a discussion about cross cultural mission – also, I will be preaching in chapel on Friday (If you are around, why not attend?).
In place of the usual blog this week I am sharing with you a recent sermon by the Lutheran Hour Speaker, Greg Seltz. Greg has been a big supporter for Mission Nation Publishing: he did the first interviews with Missionaries to America while we were at Concordia, Irvine, California. In this week’s lesson he shared part of the story of the evangelist, Gagan Garung (you can see Gagan’s video and other videos of Missionaries to America at https://missionnationpublishing.com/the-missionaries-to-america).
Here is Rev. Seltz’s sermon from Sunday, October 16, 2016:
“Know This Word — Your Life Depends on It”
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on October 16, 2016
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Hope Amidst All the Terror?)
Copyright 2016 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: 2 Timothy 3:16
(The Scripture is) able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia.
Have you ever wondered why Christian pastors and church leaders put so much emphasis on reading the Bible? Well, I can’t speak for all of them, but I can tell you why I think it’s vital for you and for me. Read the Bible, really get know the Bible. Why, because your life, now and in eternity, depends on it! A real issue today is that even Christians don’t know God’s Word like they should. Several years ago George Barna conducted a survey of self-pronounced Christians and found that the majority of them were woefully biblically illiterate. So, 20 minutes on Sunday in a sermon is good, but you need to dive into the Word of God for yourself because Paul reminds us that these words, these truths, knowing this Savior equips us to live life boldly, abundantly, and eternally with Him.
The lesson for today is a word from a person who’s at the end of his life and is telling all those he loves; this is it, this is the big thing, this is the one thing to hold on to no matter what. St. Paul is sitting in a Roman prison cell waiting for Emperor Nero to order his execution and he writes a letter to Timothy, a young man who has been a faithful partner in sharing the Gospel to both Jews and Gentiles. This is one of those letters to your leaders; those who will serve when you are gone!
So Paul says it straight to Timothy. He cautions Timothy that ministry in Christ for others; it is not going to be easy. In fact, his words of warning fly easily off the pages of this letter into our 21st century ministries as well, as he paints a picture for Timothy that looks much like what we are facing today. In the context around this passage, he speaks of the reality of pain and struggle when a nation turns its back on God, when its people become lovers of money and lovers of themselves rather than lovers of God. His description of people then sounds a lot like people today. He says ministry in Christ for others is going to be tough because, “people will be proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than being lovers of God.” He even reminds Timothy that when it comes even to religion, they’ll just find people who say what they want to hear or tell them to do what they already love doing, no matter if it is evil or not, to live any way they choose as long as it makes them happy. Sound familiar?
It looks like a snapshot of today. But Paul, ever the realist, goes on. He even warns Timothy that “Things are going to get worse. ” It is like he is saying to Timothy and to us, “Buckle up! Don’t be naïve and think that everything is going to be okay.” Paganism, belief in everything but the true God, is going to grow bolder. As Christians, believers and followers of Jesus alone, we are going to be persecuted, silenced, harassed. Our persecution may not involve imprisonment, beatings, and torture as we have seen in Sudan, parts of China, Indonesia, and in many Muslim countries, however, Christians are already experiencing persecution in more subtle forms even in North America, persecutions that include ridicule, public embarrassment, being made the butt of jokes, being passed over for a promotion, ridiculed in media and movies, being shunned, and even ostracized from friends and family because of one’s faith.
There is an old story about the man who was told “Cheer up, things could get worse.” So he said, “I cheered up, and, sure enough, things got worse.” That in a nutshell is the message that the Apostle Paul is sharing with Timothy and with us today.
But, hear me clearly and I mean this sincerely. Hear me clearly today; this message isn’t a feel sorrow for believers message. It’s not a depressing message of hopelessness. It’s just dealing with the reality outside of Jesus so that you can see the power of faith in Jesus. You know, there is a radio host who calls himself the mayor of “realville.” Well, I’m not the mayor of realville, but like the Apostle Paul, “I’m the pastor, the preacher, the herald of the Gospel” of the city of realville!
There is a message of hope in for the city of realville. There is a strategy, not just for survival, but to thrive in the midst of the chaos of the things of this life. So, if you are asking today, “What can we do? How can we survive? Where can we turn for help?” that’s a question that Paul says you can be sure of right now in your life!
He says it this way, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
So, let me say this up front. The answer you really need when your life depends on it; is not going to come from politics, from the economy; it’s not going to come from your strength or giving it your best. More is demanded than that. More is needed than that. Trust me on this. History is clear on this and of course the Bible is clear on this too. We need to have strategies not just to survive life’s chaos, but to thrive amidst it, even then.
Just in our everyday world, people are beginning to see through the empty promises of progress, to see through the empty promises of living life on our own terms, our own way, as if we ever could. In a whole host of ways, people have been made aware then of the possibilities of our modern day’s lifestyles and inventions, as well as being made aware of the new inherent dangers too. But more and more, people are seeing the need to prepare ourselves for the things to come, the parts of life that can’t be measured with a ruler or reduced to an email or a Facebook post!
There’s an answer and it pertains to the things that really matter; life, faith, love, joy, and peace, and the answer to those questions is in the Word of God; the things of life that come in Christ by faith, through faith, with faith in Him.
Today we can proclaim loud and clear, “Do not despair, we have the manual to life and the proof that it works. Here’s not just a survival guide to all that you face, here’s a thriving life guide, a grace life power to tackle life head on!”
The Apostle Paul says. “Listen up. Here is a Word from God for your very life and salvation.”
To Timothy and to us, Paul says, this is nothing new. Like the survival literature that’s time tested and true this is for you too. He reminds Timothy, your mother had it, your grandmother had it, and now you have it. Trust it!
The Holy Scripture, the Bible, has the plan of survival, but also a plan for abundant, thriving life laid out for all who hear and believe what it shares. Since the beginning of time, God’s plan for His people has been clearly explained in the Holy Scripture. The Scriptures are the words which will save you. Paul says, “They will make you wise for salvation.”
You know, I’ve been traveling a lot lately and every time I get on the plane, the flight attendants do what? Yes, they go through that whole thing about seat belts, oxygen masks, escape doors, lighting on the floor, etc. I find myself saying, “Why this again. Why this again.” But then I remember there might come a time when every word they are saying will matter so I’d better pay close attention. There are those words that you need to hear over and over again, right? Those are the words that you usually need to hear when all hell is breaking loose in life. St. Paul says, “The Bible, it’s that kind of Word and more!” But not only for survival and thriving; this Word offers real armor and protection for life.
Wouldn’t you like to have a word that deals with those questions that you are asking yourself right now, deep inside; the kind of questions that you don’t want anyone to know that you are asking? Questions like, “Does anyone love me? How can I even love myself, knowing what I know about me? Do I have purpose in this world? Can my work, my life, my leisure, can it actually mean something? Who can protect me from the wrong answers to all those questions?”
In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul explains the armor of protection one needs to be wearing in the midst of this battle in life. He encourages, “Wear the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith and the helmet of Salvation.” Then, he reminds us to take up the greatest offensive weapon we could have, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. It’s a Word that tells us of God’s love, His care, His concern for people just like us.
The Bible, the Christian’s sword, is the only weapon available to fight the battles of life and faith. A sword, however, is absolutely useless if it is left in the scabbard. You have to take it out and use it. A Bible left on the coffee table or on a bookshelf is useless too, unless you pick it up and read it.
But even more, in this Word, the Sword of the Spirit, there is a word of hope over hopelessness; peace over strife; forgiveness over guilt; and life in spite of death!
Martin Luther understood the importance of this sword when he said, “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.” From the most educated scholar to the small child, the Bible conveys a message of truth that lays out a way of winning the battle. As we trust this Sword of the Spirit, as we use it and share it in a troubled world; put it to use like a powerful sword that takes over once we use it and share it. It can break hardened hearts of stone and turn them into living breathing hearts of faith. When we share the Word, the Holy Spirit moves it to the heart; it slays our sin-dominated natures and enlivens the hearer. The simple message of grace and peace in Christ alone as a gift is so powerful that it cuts to the heart and soul changing the thoughts and intentions of a person.
And the power of these Words, this Sword of the Spirit, rests not in our own expertise or craftiness, but in our willingness to share it on its own terms in our lives and through our lives to others!
John 3:16 says it clearly. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” God totally understands the battle that you and I are fighting. He knows, as the Bible warns us, that Satan is like a roaring lion walking about seeking whomever he can devour. But the very Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit gives strength amidst even struggles to “Resist the devil; to stand firm in our faith, knowing that the same kinds of sufferings are being experienced by brothers and sisters all throughout the world.” The very Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit gives hope in all circumstances as 1 John says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” And even more incredibly Jesus Himself promises, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31). That’s power, that’s freedom, that’s strength, that’s the Word, the Sword of the Spirit for you!
But one last blessing for being a reader, a knower of this Word; well, in this Word, through this Word there is a strong foundation for life now and forever!
In a world of disinformation and changing values, the Bible gives us a firm foundation upon which to stand. We can depend on it to shape our faith, to guide our thoughts, to direct our actions.
The Word of God, guided by the Holy Spirit, can change the lives of those who have “turned from the truth and even wandered away into myths.” Robert Scudieri, in his blog Mission Nation, tells the story of Garang Gurung, a Nepalese man from Bhutan who lived for twenty-two difficult years as a refugee in a Nepali refugee camp. His life seemed like a house built on a failing foundation, never being settled, never being sure of anything or anyone.
One day a Christian pastor in the camp suggested that he get to know the Bible, even study it at a Christian College. Garang knew nothing about the Bible and had no interest in becoming a Christian, yet he felt he had nothing to lose and it would be a way of getting out of the refugee camp.
At the Bible College, he was taught to read the Bible. As hard as he tried to understand, it seemed like nonsense until what he describes as a miracle happened to him. The head master of the school organized a twenty-four hour prayer vigil, and Garang was chosen to fill the midnight to one a.m. slot. He came to the prayer room but he didn’t know what to say to God. He didn’t even know if there was a god; or if there was a god, would he even be listening? He closed his eyes and he waited. That is when it happened. According to Garang, a white light fell on him – and then he began to pray, and pray, and pray. For the rest of the night he remained there praying as other students came and went. When he finally went back to his room, he opened his Bible, he began to read and now he could understand everything he was reading. As the words of the Bible seeped into his heart, he began to weep. He cried so hard the pages of the Bible were saturated with his tears. It was as if he was now in his heart anchored on solid ground, secure, sure.
Garang returned to the refugee camp in Nepal as an evangelist, eager to tell everyone who would listen about the Good News of God’s unending love. He told how Jesus could even love and forgive a person like him who had no understanding of a God Who would love him enough to give His Son to die for him. Now he had a life to live; not just for himself, but for others. And not just for now, but forever!
So, why should you read this Word? Paul says, “Because it’s God-breathed, full of God’s Spirit and life, able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Secondly, the Bible provides a strategy for survival. It is the only weapon that can defeat the devil, the world, and even the struggles of our own flesh. And finally, it’s able to break hearts of stone and replace them with living hearts open to God’s truth. A word that can anchor you on God’s enduring foundation; one that will hold you no matter what comes your way.
Get to know this Word with me here at The Lutheran Hour. Get to know this Jesus with me. You’ll be glad that you did, now and forever. Amen.”