A Lesson From the Kitchen

After spending sixty years preaching and teaching the great truths of the Bible, my greatest challenge is still to give a clear picture of biblical Christianity. I believe that Jesus himself also found this very challenging and discovered that one of the most effective ways to teach these eternal truths was by using parables Ð simple stories from everyday life.

In our text today, Jesus uses a story from the kitchen. He says, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked through the dough” (Matthew 13:33).

Jesus had watched his mother make bread for the family. She would take the meal and add some leaven to it. The commentators tell us this was a little piece of dough kept from a previous baking. It had fermented, and the introduction of this leaven to the dough caused a transformation. Unleavened bread is hard, dry, unappetizing, and uninteresting. However, bread baked with leaven is soft, spongy, and tasty. It is good to eat.

The whole point of this parable lies in one thing Ð the transforming power of the leaven. God’s leaven is the Gospel, which can transform a person’s life. When it transforms many lives, society is changed. Add the Gospel to your life, trust Christ as your Savior and Lord, and you are a different person. You become a carrier of the Gospel, which changes the lives of others.

What the yeast is to the dough, the Gospel is in the life of a person. How does this leaven become a part of a life?

A child enters a covenant relationship with God at the baptismal font. Her parents take her home and introduce her to Jesus Christ over the course of years. She learns at home, at church, and at Sunday school how much Jesus loves her. He died on the cross to pay the price for her sins. Three days after his resurrection, Jesus was raised from the dead and won the victory over sin, death, and the devil.

As this person lives in God’s Word, the Holy Spirit is at work in her. She is taught the Ten Commandments, revealing how God desires us to live. God is supreme in her life, and his name is to be honored, not used profanely. She gladly hears God’s Word and deems it holy. It is the authority of her life in matters of faith and life. God teaches her to obey her parents. She learns that sex is God’s gift to be practiced only between a husband and wife as an expression of their love for each other.

Honesty is an important part of her life as a Christian, for God has said that we are not to steal in any way Ð either at gun point or in more sophisticated ways. God also said that we should not destroy our neighbors’ reputation, but instead speak well of him and put the most charitable construction on all that he does. Neither should we be jealous nor covet anything that our neighbor possesses.

Still, we are sinful people. So what do we do when we break these commandments of God? We go to Christ in repentance and faith asking our Savior to forgive our sins. By his grace, we are forgiven.

This is an example of a life that is lived in its baptismal covenant. Often this person cannot recall a time in her life when she was outside a relationship with God. This means that the relationship with her Savior is one where she can turn to him daily and know he will receive her.

Another scenario of how the Holy Spirit works through God’s leaven Ð the Gospel Ð is when a person has lived several years apart from Christ. This person was either not raised in a Christian home, or else walked away from what she had been clearly taught, saying Christ had no part in her life. However, something happened and, empowered by the Holy Spirit, she turned to Christ. Perhaps a friend talked to her about Christ and her need for him in her life. Maybe she experienced a tragedy and felt all alone realizing she did not have the strength to face life with all its troubles and stresses. Christ received her, her sins were forgiven, and she became a born-again child of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

This is a conversion experience. What joy is in a congregation when someone comes to Christ through such an experience!

The Gospel Ð God’s leaven Ð has worked in a life, and they are changed people. That is what millions of people have experienced in their journey through life.

Can we afford to discard this lesson of Jesus that comes from the kitchen? Where else but in the Christian faith do we learn these basic truths that can make our lives full and assure us we are God’s children forever?

Pray for Yourself

For whom do you pray? As you examine your prayer life, you might say, “I pray for my loved ones,” “. . . the church,” or “. . . my country.”

But do you pray for yourself? If not, you should.

Remember, our Lord prayed for himself in the Garden of Gethsemane. He said to his disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death; stay here and keep watch with me.”

Then he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

If our Lord felt the need to pray for himself, shouldn’t we also pray for ourselves? Let us focus our thoughts on some of King David’s prayer for himself.

In Psalm 86: 1, King David prays, “Hear, O Lord and answer me, for I am poor and needy.” David was financially wealthy. He lived in the palace filled with riches, yet here he prays as a poor and needy person.

When David saw Bathsheba, a beautiful woman who was sunbathing, he lost control of his emotions and ordered his servants to bring her to his bedroom. When they told the King that she was married to Uriah, he still demanded her body. It was because of this adulterous act that God spoke to the King through the prophet Nathan, convicting him that he was spiritually impoverished and needy. All David could say was, “I have sinned against God.”

Most of us are not financially impoverished and needy when it comes to money, but like David we have many spiritual and emotional needs that cannot be satisfied with dollars. Jealousy, hatred, and envy are just a few of the sins we carry with us, and we call for God’s help to control them. Sins such as these are the results of the sinful nature with which we were born. Moralism is a short-term fix Ð if even that Ð but when our souls are cleansed by Christ and our spirits are empowered by the Holy Spirit, some of these ugly emotions can be erased, or at least quieted.

All this points to the need to pray for ourselves.

A second petition of David in this psalm is found in verse 7 where the King prays, “In the days of trouble, I will call on you, for you will answer me.”

The media informs us of the suffering that goes on in all parts of the world. We sorrow for those who suffer, pray for them, and might even contribute to help lift some of their burdens. However, in the last few weeks, many of us in the Midwest have experienced suffering first hand.

Tornadoes have struck our communities. Within a radius of twenty-five miles, we have seen the power of an F5 tornado. The towns of Parkersburg and New Hartford are our next-door neighbors. Eight people were killed in those communities and many more were injured. About one-third of Parkersburg is gone. With permission from the authorities, my wife and I drove through this area. We had seen many pictures of the destruction, but one had to be there to see what had happened. “Unbelievable” is the word that comes closest to explaining my reaction. All this destruction happened in one short minute.

A few days after the tornado, we witnessed the power of water as Iowa was hit hard with flood waters. The flood stage in our hometown of Cedar Falls is 88 feet. However, the Cedar River crested at 102.13 feet. Again people were told to leave their homes. When they were allowed to return, many of their homes were largely destroyed. Others were badly damaged.

A levee and a thousand volunteers filling sandbags saved our downtown business district. However, seventy-five miles downstream in Cedar Rapids, the damage was much more severe. Twenty thousand people were ordered out of their homes. Seventeen buildings were damaged by flood waters at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, twenty miles away from Cedar Rapids.

It is at times like these that we understand the words of Psalmist, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” We are helpless beings when confronted with the storms of life, whatever form they might take.

Troubles are a part of life. They vary from day to day and person to person. However, in the midst of all the conflicts, the believer understands that God is there and invites us to come to him. Therefore, we need to pray with King David, “I know you will answer.”

A third important request in David’ prayer is, “Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (vs 11). The Psalmist is asking that God will not only enlighten his mind, but also his heart so that he might walk obediently with his God.

I know of no other prayer that I need to pray more often than the petition, “Lord, strengthen my Christian commitment.” How easy it is to give Christ second place in our lives. We just set him aside for a few minutes while we attend to other business that might not be according to his will. It is a real challenge to live the Christian life consistently.

Might it be that the first person on our prayer list should be ourselves? Think about it.

Do We Need an Updated Bible?

In 1938, my home congregation presented me with a Bible. I had been taught that this was God’s inspired Word and it had the power to change my life. At that time, I believed this because it was what our church believed. Today, however, I believe this because of personal experience. What a powerful gift that Bible was! God’s Word truly has changed my life.

Now, seventy years later, some believe the Bible needs updating. To safeguard against such changes, our church has stated in its confessional writings that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and the only authority in matters of faith and life. If this is true, why are we hearing so many strange statements about biblical changes?

Let me give you an example. One day a man, whom I have always respected, asked if I believe all people are saved. He was visibly upset and went on to say that his pastor told him that all people will go to heaven. I told him to read Jesus’ words: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” He replied that he had shared these words with his pastor and was told that there is more than one way to interpret this statement.

A few days later I was having coffee with a group of people when a woman asked me the same question. She told the group that her pastor, fresh out of the seminary, had told her that Jesus was not the only way to heaven. When I asked how she responded to his statement, she assured us that she let him know this was not what she had been taught and believed.

It saddened me to hear this woman, who was so disturbed that her pastor had openly denied one of God’s inspired truths.

Another way in which we see some, clergy and lay alike, attempting to change the Word of God is in the call to ordain practicing homosexuals and bless same-sex marriages. If you ask them why they are departing from what Scripture says about these practices, their answer is simply that the Bible must be interpreted in light of its culture. In other words, we need an updated Bible.

Following one of my sermons, a woman once asked me why I focused on certain sins and let others go unconsidered. When I asked her to explain, she referred me to I Corinthians 6:9-11, which reads, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy, nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. 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.”

I asked myself, Hasn’t the church dealt with all of these sins? None are condoned. We would not ordain a person who was living in adultery. I don’t believe we would ordain drunkards if we were aware of their problem. A person found guilty of stealing would be dismissed from the clergy roster, I pray.

I pointed out that none of us are without sin. But we can be forgiven if we repent and turn to Christ. Notice, Paul says to the Corinthians that this is the way they used to live, but they were washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. The practicing homosexual, on the other hand, does not want to repent; rather, he or she wants to remain in this lifestyle and still be ordained by the church. This is the difference.

It is one thing to fall in sin and be forgiven by God’s grace. It is quite another for the church to say that some behaviors should be looked on charitably because of modern cultural changes.

We cannot condone sin and update our Bible. What, then, shall we do? Listen to the words of Paul: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”

In other words, we use church discipline. Who does the disciplining? In most churches, the documents of the church tell us. Within the congregation, it generally falls to the leaders Ñ people chosen by their brothers and sisters in Christ, deacons and elders. When clergy are to be disciplined, the responsibility is with the bishops and those trusted people of God who are their counselors.

The church is in serious trouble. Part of it is because we have given in to diluting the Scripture in order to satisfy the culture of our day. This is the easy way; however, Jesus never said that the way will be easy. Culture is not to shape the church; the church is to shape culture. We are the salt of the earth, according to the Word of our Lord.

Do we need an updated Bible? Absolutely not. Instead, we need to take the teachings of God’s word seriously.

Are All People Saved?

In his book, Life Beyond Measure, Sidney Poitier describes the religious faith of his mother: “My mom had grown up in the Anglican church and attended services every Sunday where the priest talked about life through the vision of the church.”

It was these words Ð “vision of the church” Ð that caught my attention. Does the church where you worship have an affect on your vision of life? What group or philosophy is affecting your vision of life? This is an important question.

What are your beliefs about life after death? Do you believe that all people are going to be saved (and by that I mean that all people are going to spend eternity in heaven)?

I had four very close friends when I was in school. I can’t say just how old we were, but I will never forget a conversation that we had walking home from school one day. This conversation was prompted by seeing a crape on the doorpost of a house. These flowers told us that someone in this house had died. Following a common custom of the day, the body had been embalmed, placed in a casket, and then returned to the home until the day of the funeral.

The question came up in our group: What happens to people when they die? The details of this conversation I have long ago forgotten, but I know there was no agreement among the four of us.

One boy in the group said, “Everybody goes to heaven, because there is no hell.” He went to a Universalist church. I did not agree with this statement, and I voiced my Lutheran teaching that those who believed in Jesus would go to heaven. However, if they did not believe in Him, they would go to hell.

We were having quite a theological debate when Ray said, “You’re both wrong. All people will eventually get to heaven, but they have to spend some time in purgatory being cleansed of their sins before they will be good enough to go to heaven.” He was a Catholic.

The fourth boy laughed and said, “There is no heaven, but neither is there a hell. When you die, that is the end of you.” He did not go to any church at all.

Now, of course, this story must be seventy years old, so do not take the language literally. However, the way the conversation got started is true. The four different opinions were spoken with strong conviction, yet in the way children would express themselves.

Why do I remember this story? Because these answers would be about the same if the question were asked in a group of adults today. A cross-section of people in our society would still have no agreement on what happens after you die.

That being true, I ask the question, what does the Bible say about life after death?

John 3:16 tells us that God is love. Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Notice the passage says that God loved the world so much that he gave his Son to die for us. However, this is not the entire verse. It goes on to say, “that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” From that verse we learn that only believers in Christ will be saved.

In Luke 19:10 Jesus says, “For the Son of Man (Jesus) came to seek and to save that which was lost.” The Bible often refers to the lost. Jesus’ mission was to save the lost.

Do you recall Jesus’ story of the prodigal son in Luke 15? The son took his share of the inheritance, went away, and squandered it on unrighteous living. Finding himself destitute, he decided to go home and ask for a job on the farm. However, when the father saw the son coming, he ran out to meet him and said, “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So they began to celebrate (Luke 15:24).

The parable teaches that as long as we live, a chance exists that a person will repent of his sin and return to the Father. However, if he dies outside this relationship, he is lost.

These are not isolated passages put together to teach a doctrine; it is the teaching of the Scriptures. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

In my sermon last Sunday, I mentioned that an entirely different gospel has entered many mainline Protestant churches. This theology has been couched in traditional Christian language, but otherwise bears little resemblance to the Gospel passed down to us through the ages.

One component of this new gospel says that although God is love, he is only love. Wrath, judgment, or condemnation for sinners does not exist.

What does that sound like? It is universalism, which teaches that all people are saved. We expect this message in Universalist churches. However, we do not expect it in churches with strong doctrinal statements Ð statements telling us that God loves us; however, he is also righteous and those outside a relationship with Jesus are lost.

As much as we would like to believe that all people are saved according to the Bible, it is simply not true.

If we turn to Luke 16, we find the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Let me quote a portion of this account.

“The time came when the beggar (Lazarus) died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ÔFather Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ÔSon, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'”

The story goes on, but is it not enough to learn that after death there is a separation of people? Those who die trusting in Christ are in heaven. Those who reject him go to hell. Were these simply fairy tales taught to us when we were children, but now that we are old they are no longer a part of God’s Word?

If we deny this teaching, then the Church must find another mission. It cannot be proclaiming God’s justification of the ungodly because the gospel of universalism does not believe anyone is lost. So the Church finds another message to proclaim, and this has become known to us as the “social gospel.”

In a redemptive theology, people go into the ordained ministry of the Church to proclaim the message of salvation to those outside of Christ. Of course, the Church is concerned about the social, physical, and educational needs of humanity, so we have built schools and hospitals. We have fought wars so all people would be treated justly in society. However, such acts of mercy come from hearts and minds touched by the love of God in Christ’s Church.

This returns us to the question: are all people saved? No, only through faith in Christ Jesus is there salvation.

Although this proclamation does not have the appeal of the theology of acceptance, which says all people are saved, it is the teaching of Jesus.