"How wonderful that Jesus came and paid for every sin..."
Colossians 3:13 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (NIV® 84)
Matthew 6:12, 14-15 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors… 14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (NIV® 84)
How crazy did you go this Christmas? Did you buy more gifts than you ever have before? Did you do what so many Americans do and put those gifts on a credit card? If a person doesn’t watch themselves, they can very quickly get in over their head. That debt can get so large it may take years to pay it off. No debt of money here on earth can even compare to the debt that we owe God because of our sin. We might think that a little white lie, a little bit of gossip, a little lustful look aren’t all that bad, and yet each one means we deserve an eternity in hell to pay for our rebellion against God. Just think about the whole lifetime of sins you and I have committed. This is truly a debt we could never repay.
But how wonderful it is that God has simply cancelled that debt in his Son, Jesus Christ! How wonderful that Jesus came and paid for every sin with his suffering and death on the cross, so with faith in him we are free from our sin and the punishment that we would be obliged to suffer because of it. It’s knowing forgiveness as great as God’s that leads us to forgive as well. The hurt and pain people cause us incur a real debt, but it is nothing compared to the great debt God has forgiven us.
The natural response of our faith is to treat others the same way, so much so, that to purposefully and knowingly persist in the sin of withholding forgiveness towards other people is a sign that a person’s faith would have died out and that God’s forgiveness would have been lost to them. Now we aren’t perfect at forgiving others. Our sinful nature can often make it so that bitter feelings pop up in us about someone time and time again, so that having a forgiving attitude towards them will always be a struggle for us, an area where we lose plenty of battles against our sinful nature. Just like with any sin, that struggle and those lost battles don’t mean we don’t believe in Jesus, or don’t enjoy his forgiveness and salvation.
But what is our ongoing response as repentant, believing children of God when it comes to sin? It is to confess our sin to God and to trust in his promise of forgiveness in Jesus. As forgiven children of God who enjoy his salvation through faith, one of the fruits of faith that Jesus brings about in our lives is to fight against those urges of our sinful nature to not forgive other people and instead strive to truly and fully forgive them from our hearts.
It is one more way that we show our love and gratitude to God for the great debt of sin he has forgiven us. It is what we find great joy in according to our new person of faith. The forgiving spirit towards others that God gives us is evidence that God has brought us from spiritual death to spiritual life and that we enjoy his forgiveness and salvation through faith in Jesus.
No matter how many times we fail in this area, the price Jesus paid on the cross is enough to cover them all. God has forgiven a truly great debt to us. May we continue to trust his promise and revel in the forgiveness he has given us, the forgiveness we continue to enjoy through repentance and faith in Jesus. May we find joy and satisfaction in offering the same type of forgiveness to others.
Your brother in Christ,
Pastor Andy DeGier
Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. (NIV® 84)
“…the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (NIV® 84)
Think about what happens when an athlete, a movie star, or a famous politician does certain things like anything that could be construed as racism. Or when it becomes clear that they have used a power of position to act in a sexually inappropriate way. They are immediately suspended by whoever employs them. Any endorsements they have are dropped. No one wants to seem like they are associated with that person in any way. Now of course, the list of crimes that will elicit this response changes from time to time and between different places. At Jesus’ time in Palestine, being a tax collector or a prostitute was what people especially looked down upon. And yet what did Jesus do? He spent time with people just like these, the notorious sinners of his day that everyone else would have looked down upon. He allowed a woman who had lived a sinful life to show her appreciation to him by anointing him with expensive perfume. He defended her and made it clear to all who were there that her sins were forgiven. He went to Matthew’s house and ate at a banquet filled with tax collectors. He was happy when tax collectors and sinners gathered around to hear him teach. Jesus would not have associated with anybody in a way that supported or contributed to their sin, but as he said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (NIV® 84) And “the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (NIV® 84) He most certainly would have interacted with any sinner, no matter how disgusting they might have seemed to society, to call them to repentance and to share the good news with them. He would have accepted them as a part of the brotherhood of believers if they repented and believed in him.
I can’t say whether a company should keep their endorsement with an athlete who has tarnished their reputation, but I do know how Jesus wants us to respond to the notorious sinners of our day as individual Christians in our daily lives, how he wants our church to respond to them. He wants us to be kind to these people, call them to repentance and tell them about Jesus. He wants us to accept them as our brothers and sisters in Christ if they believe. He wants us to do this even if it might make some people look down on us. This might get pretty hard in certain circumstances. What if the person has been convicted of murder or child pornography or rape? What if their crime is one that a person close to me has been a victim of? But you know, no matter how disgusting their sin is to us, before God’s judgment throne, we are in the same boat. Our sin condemns us to hell just as much. And yet the same Savior who died for all of our sins, died for that person’s too. The God who loves me and wants me to be saved in spite of my sin feels the same way about that person too. Through faith in Jesus, our failures to love others and treat them like Jesus would, are forgiven. Even though our sin makes us sick, our doctor, Jesus, makes us well. Even though we by nature are lost, Jesus has sought us out and saved us. In thankfulness to him, he wants us to treat other people in a similar way, to long for them to enjoy God’s salvation, to do what we can to bring it to them, and to be ready to accept them as our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Your brother in Christ,
Pastor Andy DeGier
“We are so blessed. We have a Savior who has died for the whole world’s sin, including ours...”
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (NIV® 84)
Two men. One thanked for how good of a person he was, that he wasn’t like other despicable sinners. He reminded God how often he fasted and that he gave 10% of all he got back to God. His prayer was really just an opportunity to brag about himself and how good he was. The other “would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’” (NIV® 84) It was the second man who was justified, who was declared righteous in God’s sight, who enjoyed God’s forgiveness and everything that came with it. He humbled himself before God in repentance and faith, and God exalted him with his gifts of forgiveness and salvation in Jesus. As much pride as the first man wanted to take in himself, as much as he wanted to think that things were good between him and God because he was so good, it simply wasn’t the case. He felt no need for God’s forgiveness. He did not look to him for it or trust in his promise about it, and so he did not enjoy God’s forgiveness. He rejected it through his pride, his unbelief, his lack of repentance.
We are so blessed. We have a Savior who has died for the whole world’s sin, including ours, who has lived a perfect life for every single person on earth, including you and me. God has declared the sins of you and me and all people forgiven in Jesus and his saving work. As believers, God has humbled us, led us to confess our sins before him, to acknowledge that we could only deserve punishment from God based on our record, but also to know and believe in Jesus as our Savior, to trust God’s promise that every sin is forgiven in him. Just like that second man who went home justified, we have received God’s forgiveness and live before him with the status of a holy, forgiven child of God. We enjoy the gift of eternal life that our Savior won for us.
But, you know, the pride that lived in that first man. It lives in you and me as well and every single person on earth, because it lives in our sinful nature. By nature, we don’t want to admit that we need God’s forgiveness. We want to be able to stand on our own two feet before him, to have something we can point to that we did that means we are better than others, worthy by our own actions of good things from God. We don’t want to humble ourselves before God, and the devil knows that. He is constantly trying to get us to trust at least partly in ourselves and not in Jesus alone for forgiveness and salvation.
But let’s remember that that is a deadly trap. Let’s remember what it leads to, going home without God’s forgiveness, without his gifts of salvation and eternal life in Jesus. Let’s remember that we are sinners by nature, that each one of us has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, that our whole earthly lives, we will need to continue to humble ourselves before God, to acknowledge our sin and trust in Jesus for forgiveness. But let’s remember God’s wonderful promise as well, that as we continue to humble ourselves before him in repentance and faith that he will continue to lift us up in his mercy, forgiveness, and salvation.
Your brother in Christ,
Pastor Andy DeGier
“What glorious news we have to share with others who don’t know Jesus yet!”
Matthew 28:6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. (NIV® 84)
Can you imagine how surprised the women who went to the tomb that morning must have been? Here they thought that they would go to Jesus’ tomb and use the spices they prepared to give him the burial that they thought was proper. But nothing was the way they expected when they got there. That heavy stone they were so concerned about was already rolled away. When they entered the tomb, his body was missing. A couple of angels appeared to them, and one of them dropped this amazing news on them, “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” (NIV® 84) Those words changed everything. For one, it meant these women could stop mourning over the loss of their dear friend. It meant that they could go and tell the others the exciting news.
But it did even more than that. It impacted every time that you and I would ever go to a funeral and stand over the casket of a fellow believer. It impacted every time any of us who believe in Jesus would be in a hospital bed facing our own death. Jesus’ resurrection proved beyond a doubt that he truly had paid for all of our sins on the cross, that he truly had won a victory over sin, death, and hell for you and me and all people, that he truly has power over life and death and can keep his promise to you and me: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (NIV® 84)
Because Jesus has risen, we know every promise he has given to us about life in him is true. It means that fellow believer who is parted from us in death continues to live on with Jesus in heaven. It means that when we die, we too will go to heaven to be with Jesus. It means that on the Last Day that our bodies will be raised from the dead in glory and honor, and we will enjoy his glorious kingdom in the way he always intended us to: with eyes and ears and hands and feet. What glorious news we have to celebrate this Easter! What glorious news we have to share with others who don’t know Jesus yet! “He is not here; he has risen,” (NIV® 84) and now so will we.
Your brother in Christ,
Pastor Andy DeGier
“The perfect life that is required of us … Jesus lived it in our place”
John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (NIV® 84)
If I want to go to Wausau, there are lots of options. I can head south on Hwy 107 and then go east on 29. I can take County Road FF east and then go south on County K. I could start out on FF, go south on County O, and then go east on either County F, County A, or County U. Sometimes I might even have a disagreement with my wife about what is the best way to go. Usually when you want to go somewhere, there is more than one way to get there. People might have all sorts of different ideas about what way to take, and yet in the end they will all end up in the same place.
But what about when it comes to arriving at a good relationship with God? What about when your destination is the enjoyment of his forgiveness, having the status of being his own child? What about when you are trying to safely arrive at God’s side in heaven? People want to say that there are all sorts of paths that lead to God or to a good afterlife. Some will seem to have the idea that if you sincerely believe whatever religion you are in and try to live according to it that ultimately all paths will lead to God. Some people might avoid a specific religion and just think that living the best life they can will earn them favor before whatever god or gods might exist. Maybe they give lots of money to charity or spend countless hours volunteering for good causes. People who belong to churches might rest their hope on how often they have been to church, how much money they have donated, or how many prayers they have said. They might think that this effort earns them God’s favor.
The sad news is that all these paths lead to hell. The Bible lets us know that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (NIV® 84) Any imagined path to being on good terms with God and going to heaven that involves us earning our way before him will not work. We are sinful by nature. Every day, we commit sins that mean we deserve God’s eternal punishment. Even our best deeds are tainted by our sin. As Jesus tells us, he is the only path to the Father. That sin of ours we could never pay for: Jesus took it upon himself and paid the full price at the cross. The perfect life that is required of us to be on good terms with God and go to heaven: Jesus lived it in our place. By his perfect life, innocent death, and glorious resurrection, he has won us the right to be God’s own sons and daughters, to have eternal life in his name right now, and to go to heaven and enjoy that perfect bliss at God’s side when this life is over. The only way to the Father is to turn away from trust in ourselves and our own good deeds and to believe in Jesus as our Savior.
As believers, we can thank God that he has led us to do this very thing, to trust in Jesus and be saved in him. We have the joy of knowing that we can serve him and do good not to earn heaven from him, but to thank him for his great love and mercy. We know it is important to be in God’s Word and to pray because of how God answers prayer and because of how he strengthens and preserves our faith through his Word and not because these things earn our way before God. We also have a great opportunity. We probably each know someone who is not on the one true path to heaven right now, but on some other path that leads to hell. We have the opportunity to point them to Jesus, so they can believe in him and enjoy his eternal salvation with you and me.
Your brother in Christ,
Pastor Andy DeGier
“But God out of his grace, his undeserved love for us, found us when we were lost.”
“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” (Isaiah 30:21)
For the past few days I have traveled around Merrill with the purpose of getting lost. I did this in order to see the town and get to know it, and even if I couldn’t find my way back my GPS would have found my way home. But although I am not physically lost, I can feel lost in a different aspect. For the past five years I have served God’s people at my previous congregation and have gotten to know them and become close to them. But now I am here, and I don’t know you yet. I don’t know what you are like. I don’t know what the culture in Merrill is like. Therefore, there can be some nervousness, but I have the confidence that the Lord called me here and he will use me to serve you as your pastor.
Although I don’t know you yet, what I do know is what you have been through the past year and a half. During that time, you may have felt lost. There might have been some nervousness about how to move forward, or even if you could move forward. But look at what the Lord has done for you. The Lord did not abandon you and what you have done the past year and a half he has blessed, and he will continue to bless this congregation through his Word and sacraments.
But this isn’t something we deserve. By nature, we are lost and condemned in our sins and trespasses, and we are the ones who put us in this condition when mankind disobeyed God. Not only did we put ourselves in this condition we had no desire to release ourselves from this condition. We were content being lost and we would have remained that way until we were forever lost from God in hell.
But God out of his grace, his undeserved love for us, found us when we were lost. He found us by becoming one of us, not in the sense as a sinner, but in the sense that he took on our humanity to bring us salvation. Jesus lost his life in order to take away our sins. But then Jesus found his life again by rising from the dead. His resurrection guarantees that our sins are forgiven, and since Jesus lives and ascended into heaven, he is watching over our lives guiding us and blessing us. Therefore, as we move forward into a new chapter as a congregation let us have this confidence that we are not lost. And as we turn to the right or to the left, know that God is behind us saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
- Pastor Neal Behm
“…let us rejoice in the blessings that God has given to our nation”
“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Romans 13:1)
On July 4th we celebrated the birthday of our nation. Ever since our nation came into existence God has greatly blessed our nation. God has blessed us as citizens of our nation for we have the freedom to vote for our leaders, freedom of speech, and freedom to practice our religion. Government is a tremendous blessing from our God for God established government for our good and to keep peace and stability to our society. Therefore, God tells us to submit to our government, to respect our leaders, and to pray for them.
But do we always view the government as a blessing? If you watch the news or talk to people it’s easy to hear people critique our government and assume the worst about our leaders. At times we don’t want to submit to our government. At times we don’t show them respect. At times we don’t speak a prayer for them but instead speak out against them. We may do this because we don’t think our leaders deserve it, or because we didn’t vote for them, or because they’re not doing everything we want them to do. And we can feel justified in thinking this way.
But God doesn’t tell us to submit, respect, and pray for our leaders if they deserve it. God tells us to do these things because our government and its leaders come from God. If we only submitted, respected, and prayed for the leaders whom we like then there would be chaos in our nation for no leader is perfect. The only one who is perfect is our God and although there is no authority higher than him God’s Son, Jesus Christ, humbled himself and submitted to his government. Even though in his day the emperors viewed themselves as being divine Jesus still respected and prayed for them and told others to do the same. Even when the Roman government began to persecute Christians God’s message about how to respond to government never changed.
And following Christ’s example when it came to government is the perfect example to follow when it comes to our government. It can be easy to submit, respect, and pray for our leaders whom we approve, but when our government and its leaders do things we don’t approve of and yet we still do what God wants us to do that will stick out to people. And if people wonder why you act the way you do then you can point them to God and how he submitted to government as one of the things he did to save us and how God and his salvation motivates us to do what he asks and to view our government as a blessing from him. So as we celebrate July 4th let us rejoice in the blessings that God has given to our nation and let us rejoice in the government that God has established for our good.
- Pastor Neal Behm
“Christ has set us free from sin, death, and the power of the devil”
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1)
Just recently these words were read in one of our worship services, and it got me thinking of how people can say, “God has given us free will.” Personally when I hear this it bothers me, not because the statement in and of itself is wrong, but because people may misunderstand what free will is. For this reason let us divide free will into three different categories. Category one deals with basic things such as what you will eat today, what you will wear tomorrow, and what job you want to do. When it comes to these things God has given us free will.
Category two deals with what we call civic righteousness. Civic righteousness deals with what everyone decides to do whether good or wrong. Even unbelievers who either haven’t heard God’s Word or reject it can still do what God’s law says. They can do good things such as giving to charity, helping their neighbor across the street, or being kind and polite to random strangers. When it comes to civic righteousness God has given us free will. But even though unbelievers can still do what God’s law says this doesn’t mean that they truly fulfill God’s law. Scripture tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God.
And concerning faith is what category three is about. When it comes to spiritual matters mankind by nature has no free will. This is why asking an unbeliever if they have accepted Jesus Christ into their hearts is a foolish question to ask because by nature an unbeliever cannot and will not accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. None of us can do this by nature because by nature we are dead in our transgressions and sins. By nature we are enemies of God. By nature we find God’s message to be foolishness. So just in the same way a dead person can’t do anything, just in the same way you wouldn’t trust your enemy, just in the same way if you found something to be foolish you wouldn’t accept it, our natural inclination is to oppose God and our natural condition is held in slavery to sin, death, and the power of the devil. So when it comes to spiritual matters by nature we don’t have free will.
But as the above passage mentions, it is Christ who has set us free. Christ has set us free from sin, death, and the power of the devil. By his Word and Sacraments he has created spiritual life in us, he has reconciled us so that we don’t view God as our enemy but as our friend, he has changed us from viewing his message as being foolish to viewing his message as the truth for our lives. As believers God has given us free will in spiritual matters so that we put our faith in him and live our lives for him.
So the next time you hear someone say, “God has given us free will” may this help you understand what free will is and appreciate that God has given us free will. And may this help us to use our free will to serve God and one another for that is why Christ has set us free.
- Pastor Neal Behm
“Be united as brothers and sisters in the faith as we encourage one another”
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6)
Back in college my friend and I wanted to grill some food. We didn’t have a gas grill but we did have access to a charcoal grill. Unfortunately my friend and I never used a charcoal grill so foolishly we spread out all the charcoal and had great difficulty getting the coals on fire. We eventually realized that what you are to do is put all the coals together in order to get the coals burning and then you spread them out.
In a way this is what our faith is like. We all are different people, with different personalities, from different walks of life, dealing with different problems and issues, but through faith we all are united as one. We were all called to faith by our one God and Father. We all were baptized into the one name of our Triune God. We all have the one hope of forever being united in the one place of heaven.
But until this day happens God in his wisdom wants us to be united as brothers and sisters in the faith as we encourage one another. Once again using the example of the charcoal grill if you removed one coal from the group of coals that one coal will still be on fire but eventually it will burn out. So also if we remove ourselves from the unity that we share as believers, our faith may still burn for a time but eventually faith will burn out.
This is why we come together for worship. As one we all confess that we are sinners. As one we all put our faith in our one Savior Jesus Christ. As one we sing hymns, offer our prayers and offerings, and hear what God’s Word tells us. As one we partake in the sacred meal of Holy Communion which is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that will be ours. The only way to keep the unity of faith and peace is through God’s Word and Sacraments.
So as we resume our Bible classes, Sunday School, and starting this new program called Growing Together In Christ let us come together as we grow in our knowledge of our God that makes our faith increase. Let us come together to encourage and pray for another as we carry each other’s burdens. Let us rejoice in the faith and hope we have in Jesus Christ. Let us keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
- Pastor Neal Behm
“We See God’s Love”
“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.” (1 John 4:16)
Back in 2003 Thrivent Financial produced a movie about Martin Luther. I don’t know how many of you saw this movie, but one scene that stuck out to me is when a young child took his own life. The father asked Luther what God had to say about suicide. The caretaker of the church’s graveyard refused to bury the child, but Luther did. He told the parents that God is mercy. Although, according to my knowledge and education, we have no example of Luther doing this, the scene illustrates a point about the Reformation.
In the very next scene Luther is preaching to his congregation and he says, “Terrible, unforgiving, that’s how I saw God, punishing us in this life, sentencing sinners to burn in hell for all eternity. But I was wrong. Those who see God as angry do not see him rightly. If we believe that Christ is our Savior then we have a God of love, and to see God in faith is to look upon his friendly heart.”
Luther spent the first thirty years of his life viewing God as being angry against him because he was a sinner. If we lived our lives that way we would view God as being hateful since he demands us to follow his law perfectly even though we can’t. Or we may view God as being hateful because he doesn’t do everything according to our thinking. If God only treated us according to his law or didn’t do everything according to our own thinking, then the only conclusion we can have is that God is not a God of love.
We shouldn’t have a God of love, but we do! That’s what this passage from 1 John emphasizes. Think of how we see God’s love in our lives. We see God’s love in simple things. Perhaps randomly out of nowhere something good happens to you and you don’t know exactly why: that’s an example of God’s love. We see God’s love in significant ways. Maybe you have had a loved one who is sick and dying and the doctors tell you that they have done everything for that loved one but they will pass away. But then your loved one lives: that’s an example of God’s love. We see God’s love in personal ways. There are times when we offer our prayers to God and he answers our prayers exactly as we have asked: that’s an example of God’s love. We see God’s love in the ultimate way. He sent his Son to save us from our sins: this is God’s love.
As we view God through faith we no longer view God according to our thoughts but according to his good and loving will. Through faith we no longer see a God of hatred but a God of love who no longer sees us as sinners but as his perfect children. This is the main message of the Reformation; as we celebrate the Reformation this October let us continue to rejoice that we have a God of love and share this God of love to all people.
- Pastor Neal Behm