May 2019 Church Announcements

MARK YOUR CALENDARS

VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL WILL BE HELD
SUNDAY, JULY 14 – THURSDAY, JULY 18

 

THANK YOU TO ALL WHO ATTENDED OUR MAY FELLOWSHIP DINNER: $1,336.00 was raised to benefit the Tartu Academy of Theology’s Home of Hope Capital Campaign.

THANK YOU TO all who participated in our clean-up day last Sunday.

MEMORIAL DAY DINNER planning is underway. You can expect to receive your job assignments in the next few days.

OUR DAILY BREAD DEVOTIONAL BOOKLETS for June – August are now available on the table in the narthex.

BETHANY LIFE ANNUAL REPORT for 2018 is available on the table in the narthex.

THIS MORNING we are be honoring our 2019 High School graduates during our morning worship service and will be holding a special reception in their honor in the Fellowship Hall following the service.  This year’s graduates are Maggie Barten, daughter of Chris Barten and Mary O’Connor; Kaylee Dunlap, daughter of Dan & Angie Dunlap; Kelly Dean Gray, son of Shane & Finny Gray; Claire Skinner, daughter of Dave & Christine Skinner.

WE INVITE YOU TO JOIN THIS YEAR’S CONFIRMANDS SUNDAY, MAY 12 AT 6:00 PM IN THE FELLOWSHIP HALL FOR DESSERT AND PUBLIC EXAMINATION. This year’s confirmands are Parker Becker, son of Brad & Tonya Becker, and Kaleb Gray, son of Shane & Finny Gray.

CONFIRMATION SUNDAY IS MAY 19. A special reception will be held in honor of our confirmands in the Fellowship Hall following our morning worship service.

GRADUATION OPEN HOUSE: You’re invited to celebrate with Maggie Barten on Saturday, May 18, from 5:00 – 8:00 PM at the McCallsburg American Legion Hall.

BACCALAUREATE will be held at 7:00 PM on Wednesday, May 15, at the Colo-NESCO High School in Colo.

MAY 19 IS THE LAST DAY OF SUNDAY SCHOOL until fall.

SUNDAY MORNING PRAYER MINISTRY in the Fellowship Room is  again available to all. We encourage everyone to bring their prayer needs to our prayer team.

WINGS OF REFUGE IS LOOKING FOR VOLUNTEERS: They’re looking for In-Home Volunteers, In-Home Mentors, people to serve on their Development Team, and Board members. All volunteers are required to attend volunteer training. If you’re interested, please talk to Pastor Kathy for more information.

APRIL-SEPTEMBER 2019 SERVING OUR CHURCH booklets are available on the table in the narthex.

GUITAR LESSONS will be held on the second and fourth Sunday of each month in the conference room. Adults will meet at 10:45 and children at 11:45.

CONFERENCE ROOM SIGN-UP: Our Conference Room is in high demand on Sunday mornings, so we’re asking you to sign up in the church office if you plan to use that room for a meeting or class to avoid conflicts. Reservations will be on a first come, first serve basis.

NEEDED: One or two volunteers are needed to oversee the church library. If God is calling you to do this, please talk to Pastor Kathy.

THURSDAY MORNING WOMEN’S BIBLE STUDY is currently doing a DVD study based on John Ortberg’s book Soul Keeping.  All women in the congregation are welcome and encouraged to join us at 10:00 AM on Thursday mornings. Come and grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ and with one another.

SUNDAY NIGHT MEN would also welcome additional men to join them at 7:00 PM.

SUNDAY MORNING PRAYER MINISTERS will gather in the Fellowship Room for a time of prayer following our worship service this morning. If you are presently involved in our prayer ministry, or if you would like to be, join us. Anyone in need of prayer is encouraged to come and receive.

“LOOSE CHANGE TO LOOSEN CHAINS: Our 8th grade confirmands are collecting loose change to benefit victims of human trafficking. All proceeds go toward the work of the International Justice Mission. They have set a goal of $3000.00. So far they have collected $2,387.65.

WINGS OF REFUGE CAPITAL CAMPAIGN continues; donations may be made payable to Bethany. Our goal is $4,000.00. To date, we have collected $3,080.00.

ALUMINUM CAN TABS continue to be collected. Tabs go to the Rochester, Minnesota, Ronald McDonald House, where they benefit the families of seriously ill children hospitalized at Mayo.

Sending

We spent the season of Lent learning about prayer and, hopefully, practicing prayer. Pastor Jim Cymbala talked about the prayer meetings that happen every week at the Brooklyn Tabernacle Church that he pastors; he talked about how powerfully the Holy Spirit shows up. We heard testimonies from people whose lives had been completely transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit—a power that they accessed through prayer.

Some of you who attended those Wednesday night services have shared with me about how meaningful they were to you, about how much you enjoyed them. I’d like all of you who were there to think about what it was that you liked about them. Was it the fellowship that we shared at our tables? Was it the messages on prayer that we heard from Pastor Jim Cymbala? Was it the opportunity to pray together with brothers and sisters in Christ? Was it the snacks?

In January I called for 2019 to be a year of prayer. A year in which we truly become a people of prayer. From all that I’ve heard or read about the Brooklyn Tabernacle Church, it is a house of prayer. And while we are perhaps growing in prayer, we are still far from truly being a house of prayer.

Sometimes when I’ve said this in the past, some of you tell me, “We know how to pray. We’ve always known how to pray.” Others of you say, “We don’t need to come to prayer meetings. We can pray at home. We do pray at home. And God answers our prayers.”

And this is good. Because of course you should pray at other times—the apostle Paul wrote in I Thessalonians 5:17 that we are to “pray without ceasing.”

But if you think that gathering together for prayer and worship isn’t important—really important—you’re missing something really important.

Last Sunday, we saw Mary Magdalene come early on Easter morning to the tomb where Jesus’ dead body had been laid. When she discovered that the tomb was empty, she ran to tell Peter and John, who then ran to the tomb. Peter looked, saw that the tomb was empty—and went home. And John (who’s the writer of this gospel) tells us that he, too, looked inside the tomb and that when he did, “he saw and believed” (John 20:8). And he went home.

Went home? What’s that all about? They discover that the tomb really is empty—and they just go home.

We don’t know why. We do know that by Easter evening they’re together with the other disciples in the upper room—with the doors locked because they’re so afraid of the Jews. The picture we get shows us that Peter and John and the others don’t know what to think. They’re afraid—we’d probably be afraid, too, if we buried someone and then came back a couple of days later and discovered that they weren’t buried anymore. For Peter and John, the grave clothes still lying in the tomb, apparently in the same position they would have been when they surrounded the body of Jesus, was evidence that something more than robbery had occurred.

Something had changed—Jesus had told them, more than once, that after He died He would rise from the dead. But He hadn’t really told them much about what would happen after that. He’d said some things about sending a Helper and about the Spirit of truth—but they didn’t understand. How could they? So maybe on that Easter morning Peter and John went home to try to make sense of it all. And then maybe they went back to join the others to share what they had seen as they continued to try to make sense of it.

And then suddenly Jesus was there in their midst—in a locked room where nobody had opened the door. Jesus appears saying, “Peace be with you.” He shows them His hands and His side because apparently He looked different enough that they might not have recognized Him otherwise. He tells them, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21).  Then He breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). They still don’t understand. Because when Jesus returns a week later, they’re still in that room and the doors are still locked.

Maybe even more afraid than they were before. Because when Jesus appeared, He said, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21).

For three years, the disciples had followed Jesus. Followed Him, been amazed by His Words and by His power. They’d come to the conclusion that He was indeed the long-awaited Messiah. But they were still far from understanding who Jesus was and why He had come. They’re still expecting an earthly king who will restore the nation of Israel to the Jewish people. In Acts 1:6, forty days after Easter, as Jesus is preparing to ascend back up to heaven, they ask Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

No wonder they’re confused. No wonder at the tomb Peter and John don’t know what to think. Just days earlier, Jesus had raised His friend Lazarus from the tomb—but Lazarus came out still wrapped in the grave clothes. Came out with the same body that had gone into the tomb.

But the Jesus who stood in that locked room was not the same Jesus who’d been laid in the tomb. He still had holes in His hands and His feet and His side, but everything else was different. So different that no one immediately recognized Him.

And a week later when Jesus comes again, they’re still locked in that room. Still afraid. Could it be that a large part of their fear came from the fact that this isn’t at all what they were expecting? They were expecting Jesus to continue to lead them—and not only them, but the entire nation of Israel. To use His miraculous powers to defeat Rome the way that God worked through Moses to defeat Egypt so many years earlier.

Can’t you just picture them on that first Easter after Jesus disappeared from their midst. “Did He really say, ‘As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you’”?  “Do you think He was serious?” “We don’t know how to do what He did.” “Remember when we tried to cast the demon out of that boy and we couldn’t do it? And then Jesus showed up and just did it?” “And remember that storm where we would have drowned if Jesus hadn’t showed up and made it just stop?” “And what about the time when He told us to get food for those 5000 people?”

Send them? To do the things that Jesus did? That would never work.

We shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that they found the idea of doing what Jesus did to be terrifying. We’re just like them. They were just ordinary men and women like you and me. Ordinary men and women whose lives had already been changed by Jesus—but who were now facing the prospect of even more change. Facing it without any idea of where Jesus would be or what He’d be doing.

Most of us don’t even like change—especially when the change is largely unknown. When I talk to you about going to Estonia, the response I almost always get is, “I don’t know what I’ll be expected to do.” Fear of the unknown.

But it’s not just that. It’s also that many of us look at what’s going on in our day-to-day lives right now: raising children, being a part of the lives of our grandchildren, going to work every day often with long hours and stressful circumstances; and then there’s spring yard work to be done and gardens to be  planted—not to mention laundry to do and garages to clean groceries to buy and all those other things on our seemingly endless “to do” lists. And we get so caught up in the busyness of life that we think these are the things that matter, the reason for our lives. Some of us even think that we do all these things, we work our stressful jobs mainly to gather enough resources to not work—to retire.

Now of course we want God in our lives—we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t. But sometimes having a relationship with God can seem like just one more thing to try to fit into an already overscheduled life. Prayer, reading the Bible—these things take time. But there might also be fear—because if we start to really talk to God, He might talk back. He might tell us to do things we don’t want to do. He might say, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21).

Did you know that a study showed that the greatest fear Christians have of giving over control of their lives to God is that He’ll immediately send them to Africa?

So we’re afraid—we’re just like those disciples locked in that upper room. We’re locked in our own little boxes, afraid of what might happen if we really let God take control of our lives—who knows what crazy things He might expect us to do? We’re happy to know that He cares about the little things in our lives—that when we remember to pray, He’ll show us where we put our car keys. Maybe even heal our friend or family member who’s battling cancer or some other serious illness.  But let Him be in charge?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, on that first Easter Peter and John and the rest of the disciples might have been confused about what the resurrection of Jesus Christ meant for them and for the world—but their confusion was temporary. Fifty days after Easter, they’d thrown away their fear and were boldly—and fearlessly—going out to change the world. 

They watched Jesus ascend up into heaven and they knew that now it was up to them. They weren’t sure just exactly what that meant—so they did the only thing they could do. Acts 1:12-14 tells us that “They returned to … the upper room, where they were staying, … and devoted themselves to prayer.”

For ten days they prayed and then God sent the Holy Spirit. When that happened, they understood their mission: “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21). They went out and did all the things that Jesus Himself had done. They preached the gospel, they healed the sick, they cast out demons. And, as we heard in our reading from Acts, “more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:14).

Did they still have things to do? Families to care for, children to raise, food to grow or fish to catch, homes to maintain? Of course they did. But we don’t hear much about any of those things because they were no longer the primary focus of their lives. Because now they understood the purpose of the resurrection.

You and I, however, have forgotten the purpose of the resurrection—if we ever really knew it. We’re forgotten the purpose of prayer.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, It’s impossible to read and study the Bible without seeing that from the very beginning of the human experience, with its fall into sin, our Creator God planned for His Son to take on our human nature for the purpose of preparing us for an unimaginably glorious eternal future. This is what Jesus did in His life, His death and His resurrection. When He appeared in that locked room on that first Easter evening, it was to give His disciples His peace in order that they might then go out to do His work in the world. By definition, disciples of Jesus are people who are sent to fulfill the mission of Jesus. Mission is the activity of the church. The church doesn’t send out missionaries, the church is composed of missionaries.

The book of Revelation was written to remind us that the story isn’t over. Jesus is going to return. If the whole purpose of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ was about granting us forgiveness of our sins, the world could have ended then.

But it’s 2000 years later and Jesus hasn’t returned—why not? Do you ever wonder about that?

In His life here on earth, Jesus was limited to one place. He couldn’t be in Jerusalem and India and China and Russia and Iowa at the same time. But now, by putting His Spirit into men and women, beginning with the 120 who were praying together in that upper room. He could reach many more people to tell them the good news of the Gospel.

Jesus told His disciples in John 12:24 “Unless a grain of what falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Jesus died and was buried, in order that He might bear much fruit. He went on to say in John 12, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Jesus wasn’t saying that we literally have to hate our lives in this world. He is saying that we need to understand that we have been created for much more than just to go through life focused on earthly things—even when those things are good.

“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

We have been given the unimaginably great gift of being representatives of Jesus in the world—and according to Him, our mission involves both telling and caring. For Jesus, word and action went together. Jesus was both a preacher and a healer.

Our gospel reading tells us that “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”

Later, in Acts 1:8, Jesus says to them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Both of these statements make it clear that the primary purpose for which the Spirit is given is for the purpose of fulfilling Jesus’ mission—that we be His witnesses to the ends of the earth.  

Thomas isn’t there when Jesus appears the first time; he’s not there when Jesus breathes on them and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit—nevertheless he’s the first one to confess Jesus as Lord and God, a confession that no one can make without the help of the Holy Spirit. So it would appear that Jesus’ breathing of the Spirit on that first Easter wasn’t just for those present, but that it was instead being unleashed into the world in a new way that begins to bring life wherever faith exists.

And because the disciples continue to remain hidden behind locked doors, it’s clear that this breathing of the Holy Spirit isn’t the infilling that they’ll receive at Pentecost. Indeed it cannot be, because Jesus said that the Spirit could not come until He Himself returned to heaven. Rather, the picture that we see here reminds us of Ezekiel 37, where Ezekiel is called to breathe into the men of Israel in order that they might live. Jesus is mobilizing not just a new people, but a new army.

“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

Christians aren’t called to live just like everybody else, only a little bit better—adding in church on Sunday and maybe a Bible study during the week and perhaps some good deeds or a donation to mission now and then. The Christian life was never intended to be about the business of self-improvement—it has always been about the business of reaching out to others with the love of Christ. 

Jesus’ vision was never of a multitude of inspired individuals each acting independently out of his or her independent encounter with the risen One. It was never about doing life like everybody else but just having some “God time” added in now and then. Jesus’ plan was a community bound together by their common participation in the Holy Spirit, a people sent forth to gather His “other sheep” from every corner of the world. A people living together in community, a people who have “all things in common.”

An encounter with the living God occurs in each one of us individually; this is where faith is born. The Church, the community, of the living Christ is where that faith grows and matures.

God sent His Son, in His incarnate life to show us what the mission looks like. Then the life of the risen Son was to continue through His people. Jesus was commissioning His disciples to carry on what He had started, not to begin something new.

More than 40 times in the Gospel, Jesus is said to have been sent by God and now this is to become the characteristic of His disciples also.

So how do you sit at home and pray and consider that being sent anywhere? How do you sit at home and worship God and consider yourself to be a part of a community?  And how do you look different to the unsaved people of the world if you don’t go into the world? If you think that your relationship with God is primarily a private one, one that you don’t take with you into your world of work or social relationships, you don’t really know God. And you surely don’t understand the resurrection.

In Jesus’ lengthy prayer, recorded in John 17, Jesus says, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (17:20-21). And “that they may become perfectly one” (17:23).

How can God’s people “all be one” if we’re not connected to one another in the Body, the Church?

Certainly Jesus died that our sins might be forgiven, but nowhere does Scripture say that this is the only reason He died. Nowhere does it say that it’s even the primary reason why He died. You have only to read chapter 20 of John’s gospel to see that the emphasis is upon building a new community. It is entering into the community and maintaining the health of the community and its members that is a part of our mission. Because the life of the community is a major aspect of our witness to the world. Even the fact that your car is parked outside a church on Sunday morning is a witness to others. It is through unity with God and with one another that the world is confronted with the truth about the Father and the Son. It is the bond of the Holy Spirit in community that makes us different—that makes outsiders look on with amazement and begin, perhaps, to want to be a part of the community.

All of this only happens when we’re united in prayer—because prayer is the way we access the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s why prayer meetings matter. Jesus, when asked by His disciples to teach them to pray, began with the words, “Our Father.” Not “My Father”—but our Father. And on that Easter morning, when He sent Mary Magdalene to be the very first witness, He told her to tell His brothers, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”  Ascending to “our Father.”

The apostle Paul, when writing to Timothy to advise him as to how to protect his congregation from false teachings and all the other things that can tear them apart, writes, First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life … This is good … and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:1-4).

We are to pray for all people—we are to pray that all people be saved. And we are to do it first of all. Not as an add-in when we have time. First of all. And pray for “all people.” Not just for people we know, not just for our own families—but for all people.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, may we pray without ceasing. May we begin to come together regularly to pray together for all people. May we begin to truly access the power of the Holy Spirit to change the world wherever God has planted us. And may each one of us realize that being born into the world in this post-resurrection era is about the great gift of being invited to prepare others for an unimaginably glorious eternal future. Thanks be to God.

Salvation – Crossing Over – Part 6

And now, O Lord, shine within our hearts with the true light of Your divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our minds that we might comprehend the message of Your Word. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Throughout this Lenten season we’ve been talking about how we can know for certain whether we’re saved. And for the past couple of weeks we’ve been talking about the doctrine of election: the idea that God chooses some people over others before they’re ever even born. We’ve already seen that God chose a man named Abraham to be the father of a people whom God has chosen to be used “to be a blessing to all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:2).  And we see right here the purpose of God’s election—it’s never about loving this person over that person, it’s always about a particular person or people that God intends to use to bless others.

Now Abraham and Sarah are old and when they get tired of waiting for God to give them a child, they take matters into their own hands and Abraham has a son by Sarah’s servant, Hagar. A son that they name Ishmael and Abraham thinks that now he has his heir. But he has neglected to understand that God chose not only Abraham but also Sarah to be the parents of the one through whom God’s chosen people will be descended. We don’t know why God chooses Isaac, the only son of Sarah, over Ishmael—and over the six other sons that Abraham will father after Sarah dies. We only know that He does. And then when Isaac and his wife Rebekah have twin boys, God chooses Jacob over his brother Esau. Jacob has twelve sons, all of whom are a part of God’s people. But of them, God elects Judah, son number four, to be the one from whom Jesus will be descended.

Jacob has known about the God of his father and grandfather all his life. But it is only when he learns that his brother Esau, who had threatened to kill Jacob the last time they saw one another, is now coming with 400 men, that Jacob, afraid not only for his life, but also for that of his wives and his children, wrestles with God all night long and finally comes to know God personally. And God tells gives Jacob a new name—Israel.

Eventually God uses Israel’s son Joseph and a drought to move Israel and all of his sons their families to Egypt—because God wants to use His chosen people to show the world the glory of their great God. Joseph moves everyone in the family to Egypt—seventy people plus the wives of Joseph’s brothers (Genesis 46:26-27). Israel dies in Egypt and that’s where the book of Genesis ends.

We turn the page in our Bibles to the book of Exodus and discover that 400 years have passed. Joseph is long dead and nobody in Egypt remembers him anymore or cares about how he saved the nation. But the Israelite people are still there; we’re told that “they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7). But now they’re in bondage. Bondage to Pharaoh, who’s made them his slaves, forcing them to work long hours under the hot Egyptian sun, making bricks with ever increasing quotas.  

Now there’s nothing really special about these descendants of Israel—they’re just another Middle Eastern people, common laborers. Except, of course, for the fact that they were chosen by God for a purpose. Chosen to “be a blessing to the nations.” Chosen for reasons that have nothing to do with the merits of the Israelites themselves.

God had a plan, as we talked about last week—a plan that He purposed before He created this world and the universe in which it exists. A plan, that from the very beginning, included sending His Son into the world to live among us and then to die on a cross and rise from the dead.

And God’s rescue of these ordinary Israelite people from slavery in Egypt was part of that plan. Moses, the plagues, the Passover—all were part of God’s great salvation plan.

2000 years before the infant Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem, God sent a sign—a sign like a huge, bright, blazing billboard of a sign—foreshadowing and pointing to the mission of the Christ Child.

I want you to think about this for a minute. If we were somehow able to travel back in time 4000 years and talk to one of these Israelites, after they had been rescued from slavery, crossed the Red Sea and were on their wilderness journey to the Promised Land of Canaan, and we were able to ask them what had happened to them, they might have replied this way: “I was in bondage in a foreign land, under sentence of death, but I took shelter under the blood of the lamb and was set free from bondage and death. Then we crossed over, and now we’re on our way to the Promised Land. We’re not there yet, but God’s given us His law to make us a community. And He’s given us the Tabernacle because you have to live by grace and forgiveness. His presence is in our midst, and He’s promised to stay with us until we finally make it home.”

4000 years ago—Jesus has not yet been born, but already He’s at work in the world setting His people free. Because aren’t these pretty much the same words that we would use to describe what Jesus has done for us?

Salvation is all about getting us out of bondage. That’s what the word redemption means.

So 4000 years ago in ancient Egypt, after a series of plagues that pretty much destroyed the nation, there came that final awful Passover night when the angel of death traveled through the entire nation killing the eldest son in every single Egyptian household—and not a single Israelite son was killed. And finally, Pharaoh told the Israelites to go. To get out of Egypt—now. We’re told later in Numbers 1:46 that there were 604,550 Israelite men plus women and children, so there were likely at least a million people who quickly gathered up their belongings and marched out of Egypt. But instead of heading North, which might have seemed the more logical route, God tells them to go south and they end up in the wilderness.

This wasn’t because they’d somehow gotten God’s directions wrong, but because they’d gotten them exactly right.

Now we’re told by the author of Hebrews that Moses somehow was special even as an infant. Pharaoh had ordered all the Israelite baby boys to be killed at birth, but when his daughter found the baby Moses in a basket on the Nile, she took him home and adopted him. So Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s palace as a member of the royal family. Apparently, however, he didn’t forget His Jewish roots because one day, when he was 40 years old, Moses saw an Egyptian beating a Israelite and he intervened, killing the Egyptian. When Pharaoh heard about it, he wanted to kill Moses, so Moses fled to the land of Midian, where he spent the next 40 years. Living the life of a simple shepherd, “enduring as seeing him who is invisible,” according to Hebrews 11:27.

Moses endured—did he know that God had bigger things in mind for him? The author of Hebrews seems to think so. He could have used the Egyptian’s attack on the Hebrew as an opportunity to stir up a revolt among the Israelite people; with his leadership and their huge numbers, the Israelite slaves would have had a good chance of success. But unlike Abraham and Sarah, who got tired of waiting for God to act and took matters into their own hands to get the son that God had promised them, Moses simply waited; he went to Midian and waited—for forty years. When God finally called Him, Moses was 80 years old. Then he waited through nine plagues—waited and allowed God to work.

And finally, the final plague, the Passover. The Passover, where we see the angel of death pass by every house where he saw the blood of a lamb over the doorpost. Strange as it must have seemed to him, Moses believed God’s promise that this protection would work, and it did. Even Pharaoh’s firstborn son lay dead the next morning, along with thousands of others. But among the Israelites, not a single soul  perished, exactly as Moses had predicted. The Egyptians begged the Israelites to leave, even heaping treasure upon them to speed them on their way.

Pharaoh and the Egyptians had repeatedly refused to obey God’s commands, but that night every single Israelite obeyed God’s command to mark the entrance to their house with the blood of the Passover lamb. The instructions were strange, the demand was difficult (a lamb without blemish), and the ritual was unlike any they’d ever seen or heard—nevertheless, they did exactly as they were told.

It wasn’t that the Israelite people were somehow better than the Egyptians—it’s simply that they were obedient. At least in this instance. Pharaoh had repeatedly—ten times—refused to obey God’s command to let the people go.

So the Israelites headed out—but then the Egyptians changed their minds and decided that they’d made a huge mistake. So Pharaoh called out “600 chosen chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt” (Exodus 14:7) and his entire army and they headed out to either bring back the Israelites or kill them.

Now we’re told in Exodus 13:18 that “the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle,” but when they saw the Egyptian army pursuing them they were terrified. They had reached the shores of the Red Sea and now they were trapped with the sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s army closing in behind them.

What were they to do? What could they do? “The people of Israel cried out to the Lord” (Exodus 14:10)

Then they complained to Moses: “Didn’t we tell you that this was a big mistake? Didn’t we tell you to leave us alone and let us serve the Egyptians?” Now of course they hadn’t actually said any of those things—they were all for getting out of Egypt. Until things got difficult.

“And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord. … The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent’” (Exodus 14:13-14).

And God told Moses, “Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water.” Now again, this must have seemed impossible, but by faith Moses obeyed, and we’re told that the waters were driven back all night by a powerful east wind. And Hebrews 11:29 says that “by faith the people crossed the Red Sea on dry land.”

By faith—what does that mean? A million people are crossing over—and they’re crossing the Red Sea. There are differing views on just how long this took, but pretty much everyone who’s studied this agrees that the crossing took a least several hours and probably longer. So men and women and children are walking between these rolled back walls of water for hours. And as they walked, surely some of them were thinking, “Wow! God is great! When God said He’d fight for us, we never imagined anything like this!” (Those are the people who today would spend their vacations bungee jumping and whitewater rafting and engaging in other extreme sports.) At the same time, there were other people walking between those two walls of water, thinking, “I’m going to die. We’re all going to die. We’re never going to make it.”

Those people crossed over the Red Sea on dry land with greatly varying qualities of faith. But all of them crossed over—they were all equally saved. Because we’re not saved based on the quality of our faith. We’re saved based on the object of our faith—our Redeemer, our God who is fighting for us.

And then when the Egyptians tried to follow them across, Moses stretched out his staff and the waters returned, drowning the entire Egyptian army. Exodus 14:30 says, “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.”

Because the Egyptians tried to cross over with zero faith. Their faith was in Pharaoh—and God is making it known who it is that has a right to claim ownership to the Israelite people. Not the enslaving king who had long been their master—but the divine Lord who had come to Egypt for the purpose of claiming, redeeming and delivering them.

Standing on the shore of the Red Sea with the army fast approaching, the future of Israel was at stake—and the people were in no position to settle the matter one way or another. The Lord God had determined, however, that they were His chosen people and so He delivered them with His mighty arm.

Pretty soon, however, if you keep reading the book of Exodus, you’ll find the Israelite people complaining again. They complain about the food, about the lack of water … complain, complain, complain.

“We’re going to die in the wilderness—and it’s all your fault, Moses. You and that God of yours.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Israelite people are a picture of us. They were in bondage—but there was more than one layer to their bondage. They’ve been rescued from one of those layer of bondage, their slavery to the Egyptians. But in their hearts, they were still slaves. You can take the people out of slavery, but it’s harder to take the slavery out of people.

God had delivered the Israelite people through a series of miraculous events—the plagues, the Passover, the parting of the Red Sea, the destruction of the Egyptian army. But still the people complained—complained that God wasn’t doing enough. And their complaining was sin. They had been set free from slavery to the Egyptians, but they were still in bondage to sinful habits.

Like us—because even when we accept Christ—even when Christ accepts us—we’re still in bondage to sinful habits.

Moses climbs Mt. Sinai to meet with God, to receive the Ten Commandments, and the people get tired of waiting for him to come back down. They make a golden calf to worship. You might not have a golden calf that you bow down to, but, like them, we’re still in bondage to idols, too. Because if we love anything more than God—even if that thing is our own sense of security or desire for comfort or significance, that thing is a false god—it’s an idol. It’s a power in our life, a power that, like Pharaoh, is continually saying, “Serve me or die.”

When the Israelites are on the banks of the Red Sea, Pharaoh is no longer their master. He said, “Go,” and they did. But now he says, “I want you back.” This happens to all of us. It can be our career, our children, our spouse, our finances—it can even be worry or anxiety that we’re in bondage to. When the Israelites were on the banks of the Red Sea, God said that He would fight for them—but then He told them to “go forward.” They couldn’t just stand there, paralyzed by fear.

If you believe that your value, your worth, is determined by how good you are at doing your job or being a parent or a spouse or managing your finances, those things have become an idol. And when problems occur, we’re paralyzed with fear because our old master is there saying, “Serve me or die. You need me. You can’t live without me.” And even though we’ve given our life to Christ, even though we’ve been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, we’re still terrified.

We know that we’ve been saved—and at the same time, we’re not sure. We know we should be free. We know in our head that there’s no condemnation in Christ Jesus, that by faith we have been saved. But in our heart we don’t fully believe it. And all too often we let what other people think of us, or our success or failure in marriage or our work or other relationships either build us up or destroy us. We do this because our hearts are still enslaved. God has freed us from the things we remain enslaved to, but we just haven’t yet fully grasped that reality.

Many of you have read the book Same Kind of Different as Me or seen the movie that tells the story of Denver Moore, the homeless black man who become a famous artist and speaker after being befriended by Debbie Hall and her husband Ron. Denver was born in 1937 on a southern plantation, and although the slaves in this country had been emancipated since 1863, Denver and his family worked the cotton fields with little or no pay, living in a way that was no different from generations of slaves before them. Denver was an adult before he realized that he was a free man and didn’t have to stay on the plantation.

And even after he knew that he had rights, when a white person yelled at him, he was still scared. He still acted like a slave.

We struggle with a similar kind of bondage. Even though we have been set free from sin by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, the blood of the perfect Lamb of God, we continue to struggle with sin and guilt. Just being told that “If you believe in Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven, there’s no condemnation for you, you are accepted—you have been adopted into the family of God,” isn’t enough. That’s why we go back to trying to earn our salvation, trying to be perfect.

Even though we know in our head that because we have believed in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we’re not in bondage to the law anymore, we’re still in bondage subjectively.

In Christ’s finished work we have already been freed from the penalty of sin. But we’re still in the process of getting free from the power of sin, even though we know that we will eventually be free from the very presence of sin. That’s justification, sanctification and glorification.

Jesus’ salvation is about getting out of bondage. And how do we get there? We get there by crossing over by grace.

In Exodus 14:13-14, Moses tells the Israelites who are crying out, “Fear not. Stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord.” He says, “The Lord will fight for you. The Lord will deliver you.”

This is what grace is: it’s understanding that you can’t do it. You can’t deliver yourself.  You can’t even contribute anything to it. But if you stand firm, God will do it for you—He has promised to do it for you.

Romans 4:5 “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness”—sounds a lot like “Stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord which he will work for you today.”

“Be still and know that I am God.” Receive salvation not by anything you do but by the work of Christ Jesus. This is how grace operates. It operates by crossing over.

On one side of the Red Sea, the Israelites are still within the reach of their old false ruler. Pharaoh is coming to kill them. They’re under a sentence of death. But as they crossed over, they crossed over from death to life.

God did all the work and they just had to “go forward”–they had to cross over. Cross over when God told them it was time. This is how Christianity is different from every other religion. Every other religion is trying to build a bridge to get across, trying to work hard enough to make it to the other side.

With Christianity, however, one minute you’re not saved—the next minute you are. One minute you’re not adopted—the next minute you are. Have you ever been adopted or known someone who was adopted? You either are or you aren’t. You’re not partially adopted. You’re either in the kingdom of darkness or you’ve been transferred into the kingdom of God, the kingdom of light.

There is no in between, no middle ground.

Did you understand this? A lot of people don’t. Some of you probably don’t. A lot of people, when asked whether they’re a Christian, will say something like, “Well, I’m trying.”

Nobody’s a Christian from trying. To be a Christian is to receive a change of status. Once you were not a member of the family of God, now you are a member of the family of God. Once you were not born again, now you are. Once you were not justified, now you are.

Not because you deserve it. Not because you’ve earned it. Not because of your goodness. Look at the apostle Paul. Paul was a Pharisee who killed people—until he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.

The salvation that Jesus offers is the same kind of salvation that God’s people experienced when they came out of Egypt. In both the OT and the NT salvation is deliverance. In its most general sense salvation in Christ is a rescue. And in order for us to be rescued, it is necessary for Jesus to destroy our enemies, just as God destroyed the Egyptians in the waters of the Red Sea. Salvation is never complete until the enemy is destroyed, for while the enemy lives, it continues to pose a threat to the safety of those who have been saved.

As we read the entire story of the Exodus, we find that in one man, Moses, we have a man who so identifies with the Israelites that their guilt is upon him even as, as the same time, he is so identified with God that God’s power is coming through him. We have a foreshadowing of Jesus, Son of God. Moses, like Jesus, is the man in the middle.

In Jesus, however, we don’t have a man who is fully man and close to God. We have a mediator who is fully God and fully man. A mediator who is never, even once, rebuked for sin.

When Jonah was in the boat and the storm of God’s wrath was about to sink the boat, Jonah tells the sailors to thrown him in so they can be saved. They threw him in and they were saved.

Jesus said, “someone greater than Jonah is here,” speaking of Himself. It means that Jesus Christ, Son of God, was on the Cross thrown into the ocean of God’s wrath. All the plagues came down on Jesus; darkness came down on Him. Jesus was crossing over so that we too could cross over. So that we, too, could be saved.

When God said, “I brought you out of Egypt so you can be holy,” He’s saying that we’re saved by faith alone, but not by faith that remains alone. We’re called to be His people that we can be a blessing to the whole world. And so in His call to be holy, we’re called to do the works that will cause us to be a blessing. We see this foreshadowed in the Exodus story—this is the amazing gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. We’re called to go forward until we really believe that the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, cleanses us from all our sins.

Let us pray.

April 2019 Annoucements

MEMORIAL DAY DINNER is fast approaching. Volunteers are needed to help plan the event as well as to help on the day of the dinner. Please talk to Pastor Kathy if you’re able to help with advance planning.

NEXT SUNDAY, APRIL 28, IS OUR SPRING WORK DAY: Come prepared to help clean up the church, inside and out, in preparation for the summer season.

BETHANY LIFE ANNUAL MEETING will be held on Thursday, April 25. 5:30 pm Social Hour, 6:00 pm Meeting begins.

SUNDAY MORNING PRAYER MINISTRY in the Fellowship Room is  again available to all. We encourage everyone to bring their prayer needs to our prayer team.

THE MOVIE UNPLANNED continues to be playing in Ames. This movie is the true story of Abby Johnson, the youngest clinic director in the history of Planned Parenthood, who, through a life-changing experience, becomes a prolife activist. 

WINGS OF REFUGE IS LOOKING FOR VOLUNTEERS: They’re looking for In-Home Volunteers, In-Home Mentors, people to serve on their Development Team, and Board members. All volunteers are required to attend volunteer training. If you’re interested, please talk to Pastor Kathy for more information.

APRIL-SEPTEMBER 2019 SERVING OUR CHURCH booklets are available on the table in the narthex.

PORTALS OF PRAYER for April-June are available on the table in the narthex.

GUITAR LESSONS will be held on the second and fourth Sunday of each month in the conference room. Adults will meet at 10:45 and children at 11:45.

CONFERENCE ROOM SIGN-UP: Our Conference Room is in high demand on Sunday mornings, so we’re asking you to sign up in the church office if you plan to use that room for a meeting or class to avoid conflicts. Reservations will be on a first come, first serve basis.

ATTENTION MEMBERS: Offering income is not keeping up with expenses due largely to several weeks with little or no offering due to winter weather. Our General Fund is currently in the red. Please prayerfully consider your weekly contributions to help us bridge the gap in collections as compared to expenses.

Give because you trust God.

Ken Meimann and Board of Trustees

NEEDED: One or two volunteers are needed to oversee the church library. If God is calling you to do this, please talk to Pastor Kathy.

NEEDED: One or two volunteers to oversee the church kitchen: keep track of supplies, check refrigerators for food that should be discarded, organize periodic cleaning. If God is calling you to do this, please talk to Pastor Kath.

COLO NESCO HIGH SCHOOL BLOOD DRIVE: Wednesday, April 24, 12:00 PM – 4:00 PM at Colo-Nesco High School Bloodmobile, 919 West Street in Colo. To make an appointment, call the Colo campus at 641-377-2282.

THURSDAY MORNING WOMEN’S BIBLE STUDY is currently doing a DVD study based on John Ortberg’s book Soul Keeping.  All women in the congregation are welcome and encouraged to join us at 10:00 AM on Thursday mornings. Come and grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ and with one another.

SUNDAY NIGHT MEN would also welcome additional men to join them at 7:00 PM.

SUNDAY MORNING PRAYER MINISTERS will gather in the Fellowship Room for a time of prayer following our worship service this morning. If you are presently involved in our prayer ministry, or if you would like to be, join us. Anyone in need of prayer is encouraged to come and receive.

“LOOSE CHANGE TO LOOSEN CHAINS: Our 8th grade confirmands are collecting loose change to benefit victims of human trafficking. All proceeds go toward the work of the International Justice Mission. They have set a goal of $3000.00. So far they have collected $2,266.08.

WINGS OF REFUGE CAPITAL CAMPAIGN continues; donations may be made payable to Bethany. Our goal is $4,000.00. To date, we have collected $3,080.00.

ALUMINUM CAN TABS continue to be collected. Tabs go to the Rochester, Minnesota, Ronald McDonald House, where they benefit the families of seriously ill children hospitalized at Mayo.

ORDER EASTER LILIES NOW:  Cost is $10.00 per plant.

LENTEN SERVICES will be held in the Fellowship Hall at 7:00 PM each Wednesday during Lent. Join us as we explore how to grow in our communication with God. We will be joined by Pastor Tom Poppe  and our brothers and sisters from the McCallsburg Presbyterian Church and Bethel United Methodist Church.

THE MOVIE UNPLANNED is now playing in Ames. This movie is the true story of Abby Johnson, the youngest clinic director in the history of Planned Parenthood, who, through a life-changing experience, becomes a prolife activist. 

WINGS OF REFUGE IS LOOKING FOR VOLUNTEERS: They’re looking for In-Home Volunteers, In-Home Mentors, people to serve on their Development Team, and Board members. All volunteers are required to attend volunteer training. If you’re interested, please talk to Pastor Kathy for more information.

PALM SUNDAY, April 14. Sunday School students are asked to meet in the chapel at 9:15 am to prepare for the Palm Sunday processional.

MAUNDY THURSDAY WORSHIP WITH HOLY COMMUNION: Thursday, April 18, 7:00 PM.

GOOD FRIDAY WORSHIP: Friday, April 19, 2019, 7:00 PM.

EASTER SUNDAY: The Luther League will serve breakfast from

8:00 – 9:00 am; a free will offering will be collected. Worship with Holy Communion at 9:30 am.

EASTER EGG HUNT: 10:00 on Saturday, April 13, at the McCallsburg City Park. In case of rain, the event will be held in the McCallsburg Elementary Gym.

APRIL-SEPTEMBER 2019 SERVING OUR CHURCH booklets are available on the table in the narthex.

PORTALS OF PRAYER  for April-June are available on the table in the narthex.

GUITAR LESSONS will be held on the second and fourth Sunday of each month in the conference room. Adults will meet at 10:45 and children at 11:45. CONFERENCE ROOM SIGN-UP: Our Conference Room is in high demand on Sunday mornings, so we’re asking you to sign up in the church office if you plan to use that room for a meeting or class to avoid conflicts. Reservations will be on a first come, first serve basis.

THURSDAY MORNING WOMEN’S BIBLE STUDY continues their DVD study this week based on the book “God Is Closer Than you Think” by John Ortberg. As we go through this six week study, we’ll learn how to better enjoy a vibrant, moment-by-moment relationship with our heavenly Father. All women in the congregation are welcome and encouraged to join us at 10:00 AM on Thursday mornings. Come and grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ and with one another.

SUNDAY NIGHT MEN are currently studying Kyle Idleman’s Easter Experience. All men are welcome to join them at 7:00 PM.

SUNDAY MORNING PRAYER MINISTERS will gather in the Fellowship Room for a time of prayer following our worship service this morning. If you are presently involved in our prayer ministry, or if you would like to be, join us. Anyone in need of prayer is encouraged to come and receive.

“LOOSE CHANGE TO LOOSEN CHAINS: Our 8th grade confirmands are collecting loose change to benefit victims of human trafficking. All proceeds go toward the work of the International Justice Mission. They have set a goal of $3000.00. So far, they have collected $2,181.76.

WINGS OF REFUGE CAPITAL CAMPAIGN continues; donations may be made payable to Bethany. Our goal is $4,000.00. To date, we have collected $3,080.00.ALUMINUM CAN TABS continue to be collected. Tabs go to the Rochester, Minnesota, Ronald McDonald House, where they benefit the families of seriously ill children hospitalized at Mayo.

Salvation: The Doctrine of Election – Part 4

Predestination, election, calling—three terms that we often hear used interchangeably; three terms that I think are among the least understood doctrines in the church. And when it comes to election and predestination, probably among the least talked about doctrines in the church.

These three terms are related, but they are not the same. This morning we’re going to focus on the doctrine of election, a doctrine that we find throughout all of Scripture, but that has always been considered both difficult and controversial, probably because it is so often misunderstood.

And while we are NOT talking about politics this morning, the biblical doctrine of election is, in some ways, like political elections. Because when we vote, we choose one candidate over others. And the doctrine of biblical election is essentially that God chooses—or elects—some people over others. 

We find this from the very beginning. God chose Noah over all the other people on the earth; He chose  Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Moses over Aaron and Miriam, David over his brothers. He chose the Israelite people over all others.

In the New Testament, Jesus chose—or elected–twelve men to be His apostles, to be the beginning of a new people—a people from whom you and I are descended. God’s people.

Nobody who knows anything about the Bible denies that God does this, that He chooses—or elects—particular people over others. The reason this doctrine is problematic to many is that they don’t understand it.

We heard in our passage from Romans, in v17, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’” Paul goes on to say in v18, “So then He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills.”

Because the Lord told Moses in Exodus 10:1 that God had hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Judas, too, was apparently chosen—elected—to be the one who would betray Jesus. Presumably both Pharaoh and Judas will not be enjoying eternity in heaven.

We read verses like the ones you heard in John’s gospel: “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world” (John 17:6) and “I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me” (John 17:9).  And Romans 9:13, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:13), and we think that God is being unfair. We wonder: “What about all those people that God didn’t give Jesus? What happens to them?”

If the doctrine of election seems unfair to you, however, the problem isn’t God—it’s us. Because while we can very easily see that election is occurring, we have to look at a bigger picture to understand how and why this is happening. And when we understand it, we can see that not only is the doctrine of election not unfair—it’s a very good thing for you and for me. My prayer is that this morning we’ll all gain a much greater understanding of God’s election process.

Thousands of years ago, God chose—or elected—a man named Abram to be the father of His chosen people, and then He chose Isaac to be the son through whom those chosen people would be descended. We don’t know why God chose Abraham instead of someone else; it’s easier to understand His reason for choosing Isaac over Ishmael. Isaac’s birth was the direct result of God’s intervention and was foreseen by a divine promise—a promise that God would give a son to Abraham by Sarah. Ishmael’s birth was the result of Sarah and Abraham trying to come up with their own plan to get a child. Certainly God has a right to choose His plan over theirs.

This is what Paul is saying when he says, in v6-7, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’”

Later when Isaac’s wife Rebekah, like Sarah, was childless, God again intervened. “Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren, and the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived” (Genesis 25:21-22). Conceived twins—was this part of God’s plan? Or was it somehow a mistake?

Well, we know that God doesn’t make mistakes, so clearly it was part of His plan to Rebekah to give birth to twin boys. But even though both sons, Jacob and Esau, are Isaac’s sons, direct descendants of Abraham and Sarah, God still chose between them—and He made His choice before they were even born. As Paul wrote in Romans 9:11-12: “Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’”

And so Jacob, despite being the younger son, receives the promise—and the blessing from Isaac. Now Jacob and Rebekah tricked Isaac into giving the blessing to Jacob instead of the Esau—but surely God could have prevented that.

We know that none of these are mistakes because God tells us. In Genesis 25:23, after Rebekah wonders why the two children within her are already struggling with one another, “The Lord said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.’”

God chose Jacob’s line to be the one through whom His promise to Abraham would be fulfilled. And He did this despite the fact that Jacob wasn’t really a very nice person. There’s no evidence at all that he was any better than Esau.

The choice of one over another is made by God’s grace for reasons that we don’t know and don’t understand—but that clearly have nothing to do with the goodness of the one chosen. Both Jacob and Esau are equally sinners.

Then Jacob has twelve sons, and God chooses Judah to be the one through whom His promise of a Savior will be fulfilled. Why? Judah wasn’t the son of Rachel, the one Jacob loved. It’s clear from the story that had Jacob been able to decide which of his sons would be chosen—elected—to be the one through whom God’s promise would be fulfilled, he would surely have chosen either Joseph or Benjamin. And Judah is the only son who gets his own chapter devoted to showing us just what a sinner he is.

Moses is chosen by God to lead God’s chosen people out of Egypt, but then God doesn’t let him enter the Promised Land—because he’s a sinner. Even Noah who’s described as a “righteous man,” isn’t elected, or chosen, because of his goodness. Noah emerges from the ark and plants a vineyard and the only thing we hear about him after that is that he gets drunk—sin is still alive and well in the world.

1500 years after Genesis is written, God chooses—elects—a man named Saul to become the greatest missionary in the early church. A man who, up until God informed him of the purpose he had for him, was arresting and killing Christians, a man who was putting all of his effort into destroying the early church.

No wonder we’re confused by this doctrine of election.

Paul tells us that God elects some over others for a reason—and then He writes in v 12: “As it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’” And right here, I think, is why we have so much trouble with the doctrine of election. We read this verse and we interpret it to mean that God elects certain people—before any of us are ever even born—to love. And that—before any of us are even born—He chooses some of us to hate. We further interpret this to mean, then, that those God loves go to heaven and those God hates go to hell.

And we wonder why God would create a system like this. We think it’s unfair. We know enough about hell to know it’s a terrible place, a place that no one would ever want to be for even five minutes, let alone eternity. And God is condemning some people to go there before they’re ever even born?

No—He’s not. This is not what the doctrine of election means at all.  How do we know? Well… let’s begin at the beginning.

First of all, we know that God is good—all the time. And just before writing these words about election, Paul has reminded his reader at the end of chapter 8, that: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). And: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? …. I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Then we read: “‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”

Now stop for a moment and think back to Jesus’ words in Luke 4:26: ”If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” This is the same Jesus who commands us to love one another. So Jesus isn’t telling us that we are to literally hate our parents or our spouse or our children—He’s telling us that we must prefer Jesus over them.

So Paul, as he quotes the prophet Malachi, isn’t saying that God literally hates Esau. God is good—all the time. And God doesn’t hate anyone or anything. Jesus, in John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” He doesn’t say, “For God so loved some of the world,” or “For God so loved the people that He elected”—“For God so loved the world.” All of it. Every single one of us.

What Paul is saying is that God chose—or elected—Jacob over Esau to be the one through whom His promise to Abraham would be fulfilled. God made a deliberate choice in favor of Jacob—before Jacob was ever born.

This is important for us to understand—really important. Because what we see is that God’s choice of Isaac instead of Ishmael and Jacob instead of Esau doesn’t have anything to do with them or with any works they might have done or not done. God’s choice is entirely about His mind and His will, as He is the one who chooses or elects.

But then we come to another potential problem: does this mean that God is just arbitrary? That He just chooses one person over another for no reason? No—Paul’s not saying that God doesn’t have reasons. He is saying that the reasons aren’t in us. He’s saying that believers can have no sense of superiority over unbelievers.

But if God is choosing people for no reason that we can know, doesn’t that mean that He’s rejecting other people for no reason? When He chose Jacob over Esau, for example, wasn’t He rejecting Esau? Again, the answer is no. God does not reject anyone.

Ephesians 1:11 says that “We have received an inheritance from God, for He chose us in advance, and He makes everything work out according to His plan.” We don’t live in a world of random happenings. We constantly hear about all the problems of the world and about climate change and about how things are spinning out of control and we need to do something. But the Christian can rest in the knowledge that God has everything under control—we may still need to do something, but He’ll show us what that is if we let Him.

You and I and everyone else might not have expected a lot of things that have happened—but nothing ever takes God by surprise.  Proverbs 16:33 says, “We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall.”  Even the flip of a coin is part of His plan. This should be tremendously reassuring. Especially when bad things happen.

God is good—all the time. The evil of the world wasn’t part of God original design. Death, disease, sin and decay are a temporary result of sin. Psalm 56:8 says, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” God is distressed by our distress and grieved by our pain. But because we know that God is good—all the time—we can be certain that even our troubles and sorrows and pain will be used by Him in a way that in the end will result in God’s glory and in “good” for His people. The good that’s promised in Romans 8:28: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Let’s look at some specific ways that God uses this doctrine of election in people’s lives:

Twelve men were chosen to be Jesus’ apostles—one of them, Judas, was chosen to betray Jesus, chosen beforehand.  In Acts 2:23, Peter, in his Pentecost sermon, put it this way: “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Judas delivered Jesus into the hands of those “lawless men” and on that Friday as the Son of God was nailed to a wooden cross, it seemed to be the worst possible thing imaginable. Everyone involved, from the high priest to the Sanhedrin to Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers, engaged in actions that were wicked beyond belief—and yet God used their evil intentions to carry out the crucifixion exactly how and when He wanted it. So Peter says in Acts 1:16, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.” Was Judas nevertheless responsible for his decision to betray Jesus? Absolutely. Did he suffer the consequences of his bad choices? He did. But God was still in control.

Jacob deceived his father and robbed his brother. He was forced to flee his home as a result of his own wrongdoing. But in traveling to the home of his uncle Laban he met and married the love of his life, Rachel, and had the children through whom Jesus would be descended (Genesis 27-28). This wasn’t some accidental happening—it was all part of God’s perfect plan for him. God was in control even when Jacob wasn’t.

Moses was chosen by God to lead the Israelite people out of Egypt. It was no accident that he was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter as an infant. He was perfectly positioned as both a Hebrew and a member of the royal family to go before Pharaoh on behalf of his people.

Then we have to wonder: do we really have free will? Or, as some people think, are we really just puppets controlled by God? People who just think we’re making our own choices?

Theologian J. Gresham Machen answers these questions this way:

“What we learn here is that God somehow brings about the actions of people in a way that at the same time fully preserves their freedom and responsibility. If you struggle to understand that, consider this: all of us have at times tried to persuade someone to do something that we want them to do. When they choose to do what we ask them to do, they’re doing it of their own free will. Is it so hard to believe then that God is able to do with certainty what we with our little power do with uncertainty? Does God who made the soul know how to move it in accordance with its own nature so that its freedom shall not be destroyed?”

So … what about the really important question: our salvation? Does this doctrine of election say that God has determined in advance who will be saved and who will not? Absolutely not. People who choose God do so only because God has opened their hearts. People who fail to choose God do so only because they have closed their hearts to Him.

Romans 3:11 says “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.”  

All of us have free will. Yet none of us will ever seek God on our own. Because of sin, all of us have lost the ability to see truth and the desire to serve God. We are completely incapable of choosing God unless He breaks in—and that’s what He does. We don’t initiate our salvation—we don’t even want it. God wakes us up, He unlocks us from a helpless state.

If any of us are saved, it is entirely because of the mercy and choice of God. At the same time, if any of us is lost, it is entirely our responsibility.

Jesus says, in Luke 7:30, “the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves.” In John 8:37, Jesus tells the Jews, “You seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you.” And in John 8:43, He says, “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.”

God is good—all the time. The Bible tells us that He desires that all people be saved. But some people refuse to come to Him. Some people choose to reject Him.

When we understand this doctrine of election we can know that salvation truly is by grace alone and God alone—not on the basis of anything in us. The real question isn’t why God doesn’t take all of us, but rather why He takes any.

Imagine that five of your friends make a plan to rob a bank. You find out about it and you try to stop them. You beg them not to do it, but they refuse to listen. They push you out of the way and head off. You, however, tackle one of them and wrestle him to the ground. The other four rob the bank, killing a guard in the process. They’re caught and arrested, convicted and sentenced. The man you held down goes free. So whose fault is it that the four men died? And can the fifth man claim that he’s free because he made a good decision? The only reason he’s free is because you restrained him.

So those who go to hell have no one to blame but themselves. God didn’t choose for them to go. And those who go to heaven have no one to praise but Christ Jesus. So salvation is, from beginning to end, totally about the grace of God.

And, brothers and sisters in Christ, this is good news. Because electing love is ultimate love. If God loved us because He found something good in us, we’d always have to be afraid of losing His love. And we’d never find His love a total miracle. The good news is that God doesn’t say “I love you because you are useful to me” or “I love you because you are more humble than others.” He says, “I love you simply because I love you—love you with an everlasting love.”

This is perfect love. From our great God—who is good. All the time.

Let us pray.