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Repenting in the Present Critical Time February 27, 2016

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Luke 13:1-9

Third Sunday in Lent

February 27, 2016

 

Focus:  God releases us from our pain and suffering through the same in His Son.

Function:  That the hearers examine the present/critical time.

Structure:  Juggling the context.

 

Repenting in the Present Critical Time

 

Admittedly, in some ways, I preached on this text last week.  So, you know, just go home and listen to that sermon on our website again to refresh your memory and we’ll call it good.  So we continue our service with the Prayers of the Day.  Fake walking away

No, really, we did.  In preaching on the later parts of Luke chapter 13, I had pointed to the beginning of Luke chapter 13 because of the difficulty of this subject, the difficulty of Christ’s words, “Repent or perish.”  We covered the topic of repentance, that it’s not a work that we do to earn our salvation, we can’t do that.  Rather, repentance is the gift of God, that He works faith in our hearts, and then forgives us of our sins.

And since repentance is a major theme of Lent, I want to continue our journey backwards today.  To look at, and fully understand, the beginning of chapter 13, we need to look at the end of chapter 12.  Go ahead and grab the Bible’s in front of you and open up to Luke chapter 12.  Hopefully you’re seeing how this works.  Luke’s writing is one letter, one coherent work.  And context is king.

54 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?

57 “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled on the way, or your adversary may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59 I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

 

Now you don’t give me enough time on Sunday morning in a single service to cover this entire letter.  Nor could you.  So just take note that this is continuing a conversation, that “He also said to the crowds.”  Same place.  Same group.  He’s continuing His teaching.

And so verses 54-56.  You can look at the sky, you can see it change colors and you know what that means the weather will be hours from now, days from now.  You can judge the wind and the sky.  And yet, you’re not paying attention.  You’re not able to judge, to interpret the present time.  That is, My ministry right here in your midst.  You can’t even tell what’s going on.  What it means that the Christ has come.  What all the miracles and teaching points to.  You’re missing it.

For the second paragraph, I just need to let you know that the idea of a journey is an important theme in Luke’s gospel.  Christ’s ministry is depicted as a journey.  And here, He’s depicting us on a journey.  As your journeying from the cradle to the grave, from conception to the death, take note.  Look around you.  See whom you’ve harmed and wronged and fight for reconciliation.  Fight for forgiveness.  Otherwise, when the judge comes, he’ll throw you in prison.  And when the eternal Judge comes, that prison has no escape.

So this is a critical time.  You need to be able to look at the life of Christ, to see His inbreaking of the kingdom of God, that He’s on a journey to restore the world to the One who created it.  That all of His teaching, all of His miracles, are meant to redeem you on your journey.  And that is what we see in our text for today.

The first verse doesn’t mean much to us on the surface.  We’re not part of the culture, it’s not easy to understand.  “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.”  Note the phrase, “present time.”  Same group of people as before, same crowd, same sermon.

So here we go, what on earth does that mean?  I even had to look it up.  What’s in the details.  One of our professors at Fort Wayne, Dr. Just, said the only time the lay people would have been sacrificing in the temple area was at Passover.  So here we are in the midst of the Passover celebration, and Pilate came and slaughtered some of the Jews, mixing their blood with the blood of the Passover lambs.

To paint a modern picture, thinking of the increasing divisiveness and hatred of the church in America, it would be like the FBI coming through those doors as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper and opening fire, killing us, mixing our blood with the blood of Christ in the sacrament.  A Savior should be outraged.

And they were hoping to make Jesus angry, to stir up His emotions, to get Him to lash out at the Romans and Pilate in particular.  You want us to believe you’re the Messiah, okay, prove it.  Here’s the wickedness of Rome, save us!  That false idea of the Messiah being an earthly king was everywhere.

But as was often the case, Jesus didn’t respond the way they wanted.

Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.  4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?

5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

 

His comparison likely offended them.  But it was a call to the greater picture, to the critical, present time that is part of their journey, His journey.  That the kingdom of God is at hand, that the ministry Christ has shattered the reign of Satan, and we need to change our perspective.

The people pointed at martyrs.  Christ pointed to a natural disaster.  And He used the same grammar, the same sentence structure, and had the exact same response.  They’re the same.  In other words, Christ is pointing out the depths of our sin, the brokenness of creation, and that it ultimately leads to death for all mankind.

Pilate’s actions against the Galilean Jews shouldn’t be viewed as a specific judgment of God for specific sins from specific people.  It’s a judgment of all people, for all have sinned.  And so Christ’s call for repentance is for all people, that we would all repent, lest we all perish.  Our Christian response to suffering and death of any form should be “I deserve the same.  I’m no different than they were.”

When they pointed to martyrs and to Rome, they were thinking too small.  Rome wasn’t the enemy.  Sin is.  Death is.  We are.  And Christ hasn’t come to win a little battle in human history.  He’s come to transform our journey from one of death, to one of life.  Christ has come to conquer sin, death, and hell for us.  And so after we think “I deserve the same. I’m no different than they were,” we should follow that thought with, “praise the Lord that Jesus died in my place, that Jesus forgives my sins so that I can live.”

And our final piece of the text, today at least, is another parable.  But it fits right in, it was said at the same time.

6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ 8 “ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ ”

This is the journey, our journey.  The Father, the judge of the universe, looks down and doesn’t see repentance, He doesn’t see fruit.  And so He threatens to bring about judgment, which wouldn’t end well for us.  But Christ intercedes, He buys us a little more time.  Creation has a little while longer until the last day.  You and I and everyone else have a little more time in this present, critical age.  And that’s good news!  That there’s still time for those who don’t know Christ, for those who’ve rejected Christ, for those who are trapped in their sin, there’s still time for the good news to be shared, to be preached, to be heard.  There’s still time for repentance, and that’s good news.

This isn’t about the sins of Israel, the violence of Rome, or the greed of America.  It’s not about the sins of one man and the punishment he deserves for it.  Christ is inviting us to understand the mercy of God, that through this parable we would see every day as a gift, a gift to us, a gift to our family, a gift to our community.  And in this critical present time, Jesus calls us to repent or perish. Because the day is coming when that time runs out.

He calls us to know that in the midst of our own journey filled with sin, suffering, and death, He has finished His journey.  As the critical time draws to a close, we remember, we rejoice in the sacrifice of Christ, in His body and blood shed for us upon the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.  A gift for everyone.  A gift of comfort and hope.  We are called to the foot of the cross, that in our repentance the suffering Christian meets the suffering Savior, and that’s good news.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prophet vs. People February 21, 2016

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Jeremiah 26:8-15

Second Sunday in Lent

February 21, 2016

 

Focus:  God provides grace through His Son.

Function:  That the hearers repent of their sins.

Structure:  Old Testament/New Testament Comparison.

 

Prophet vs. People

 

Our texts for today, our theme for today, is really the ultimate display of the clashing between prophets and people.  And if we want to be even more specific, it’s the clash of God and man.  In this battle, we see the depths of God’s love pitted against the depths of our sin.

As we look at our Old Testament reading we have one of the major prophets, Jeremiah.  If you don’t know much about his background, God called Jeremiah to serve Him when he was only a boy.  And Jeremiah would then spend the rest of his days delivering messages to the nation of Judah, both prior to their defeat and exile, and also during their exile.  That’s why the book of Lamentations that he wrote is filled with, well, lamenting, mourning the loss of a nation.

We see one example of his work in the text today.  At the beginning of chapter 26 God calls to Jeremiah and instructs him to go to the leaders and the people of Judah, bringing a familiar message for a prophet.  You’re stuck in your sins and God is going to judge you.  But if you turn away from your evil, if you repent, He will spare you from destruction.

The response of the religious leaders is arrogant and puffed up with their own pride.  How dare you say God is judging us?  How dare you say we’re doing anything wrong?  How dare you say God will destroy this masterful city and artistic wonder that is our temple.

Those weren’t their exact words.  It was a paraphrase, but maybe their exact words were worse: “You shall die!”  How dare you say that?  Now we’re going to kill you.  Certainly, prideful.

And so they drag Jeremiah off to hold a quick and decisive trial before their officials that they hoped would result in his death.

There’s so many parallels to our New Testament reading, to our Gospel from Luke.  Here we are somewhere in the middle of Christ’s ministry prior to His final trip to Jerusalem.  He’s in the middle of a series of teaching when some Pharisees tell Him to leave because Herod wants Him dead.  It’s hard to know their intent, if these were some faithful men trying to save Him from death, or if they just wanted Him gone for the trouble He was causing them.

Regardless of their intent Jesus’ response is strong and telling.

“Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. 33 Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.”

 

In other words, if even the demons couldn’t stand against Christ, why on earth would He fear Herod?  Jesus’ face is already pointed towards Jerusalem.  He knows the path that is before Him.  He’s been transfigured.  He’s come down from that mountain to go to Jerusalem and to die.  And He knows it.

He knows all about our sins.  Their sins, that is the people of Judah and Jerusalem.  And our sins.  He knows the depths of it all and He knows there’s only one response.  That our sin, the punishment for our guilt must be laid upon His shoulders.

But that doesn’t stop Him from saying what He says next.

34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

 

It is Him who is going to die, and yet He weeps for them.  He mourns for them.  He wishes that they had heeded the words of prophets, indeed even the words He Himself just spoke at the beginning of this same chapter when two separate times Jesus said, “Repent or perish.”  He’s downtrodden that their destruction is upon them.

And not unlike Jeremiah, the time was short before the religious leaders would drag Jesus off for a quick and decisive trial before their officials that they hoped would result in His death.

That’s what this really is.  That we would love our own sins so much that we would even kill the one who speaks of forgiveness.

Jeremiah lived it.  Jesus lived it.  That the very nation that was once faithful to God and the crown of His creation had now abandoned Him and sought to kill any messenger He sent them.

We live it.  How many times have you heard a Christian accused of being judgmental?  How many times have you been accused of hatred?  How many times has Matthew 7 been quoted to you that you should take the log out of your own eye before you take the speck out of theirs?  Their wrong, but that’s another sermon.

That’s what this is.  That we would love our own sins so much that we would even kill the one who speaks of forgiveness.  That our pride would be so powerful that we reject the Word of God spoken to us.  That we reject the idea that we are sinners, that we’re broken and in need of a Savior.

That indeed the master would send messengers to his vineyard, to his workers, and time and again they would beat them.  And ultimately that he would finally send his own son, for they surely won’t harm him.  Hmmm…that’s starting to sound like one of Jesus’ parables.  That no matter how much God works through His prophets and even through His Son, many will love their sin and reject their Savior.  To the point where we would kill Him, by nailing Him to the cross.

It’s the depth of our sin against the depth of God’s love.  That the Judahites could be told that their idol worship was a sin and they would laugh it off.  That the Pharisees could be told their love of themselves, their pride was a sin and they would laugh it off.  That I could tell you that your speeding habit is a sin and you might laugh it off as though it didn’t matter.

And God would still love us so much to offer us grace.  That in the midst of our rejection and pride He would continue to offer a way out, a way to have a relationship with Him, a way to live, through the very body and blood of His own dear precious Son Jesus Christ.  If only we might heed the words of Jeremiah, “Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that He has pronounced against you.”

This is the part of the conversation I wanted to be sure to have today.  Jesus, multiple times in His ministry, says “Repent or perish.”  The prophets often said it.  But, salvation is not our doing right?  We can’t earn it, we can’t do it?  So why are we being told, do this thing, repent, or you won’t be saved?  It makes repentance sound like a work we do to save ourselves.

But let me give you an illustration.  Let’s imagine that every day for the rest of Lent I am going to break into your home, steal something, and then auction it off on eBay to the highest bidder.  Destruction, theft, false gain, harming my neighbor.  Lots of sin.  I’m sinning against you, I’m damaging our relationship without a doubt.  And for a while, I just don’t care.  And then come Easter, the good news of Christ’s resurrection from the dead stirs me.  He works within me to cause me to realize my sin, that I’ve harmed you.

And that leads me to your doorstep.  But this time, instead of with a lock pick or bat in the cover of darkness, this time, with repentance.  Asking you to forgive me for what I’ve done.

I’ve stopped.  I’ve repented.  I’ve turned away from my sin.  I’ve turned myself in.  But have I earned anything?  Have I gained anything?  Has my apology earned back your trust?  Has my repentance repaid the cost of damages to your home and to our friendship?  Has my ceasing to steal from you restored the possessions lost?  Have I made restitution for the wrong I’ve done?  The answer’s no.  I can’t.  There’s no power in me to fix this.  I can only stop and ask forgiveness, and even that is a gift that God has worked in me.

In that example, you have the power to restore, to choose to trust me again, to waive off claims of vengeance against me, to ignore damages.  Those would be gifts, and only you can give them.  And in the greater picture, taking away our sins from us is a thing of grace.  We can’t earn it.  We don’t even participate.  God does it.  It’s by His grace alone.

Each of our texts had gospel, good news.  Sure, Jeremiah came with the message that they were sinners and they were bringing about their own damnation.  But he also came with the promise of God, the very grace of God, that if they would turn away from their wickedness, God would restore their relationship and remove their sins and destruction.

And even Christ wept for Jerusalem.  And if they had only repented, He would have gathered them as a hen does her chicks.  He longed to call them family.  And in the end, whether they wanted Him to or not, He even paid the price, gave up His own life, that they, that we, might live.

Repentance can’t earn your salvation, but rejecting God’s grace will certainly lead to your own destruction.  And so we are thankful that God gives us the gift of repentance, that we can turn away from our sin.  We are so thankful that He sacrificed His Son to pay for our sins and to restore our relationship with Him.  We are so thankful that He continues to send us His Word, whether it’s in the form of the prophets of old, of pastors and elders, of daily reading the Scriptures, or the accountability we have as brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are so thankful for the grace of God.

The Devil’s Temptations February 14, 2016

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Luke 4:1-13

First Sunday in Lent

February 14, 2016

 

Focus:  God sent His Son to reclaim us.

Function:  That the hearers worship and serve Yahweh alone.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

The Devil’s Temptations

 

Today’s sermon is going to be a little different.  We’re going to walk through our gospel reading verse by verse and just break it down.  You hear this text every year, it’s in multiple gospels, you know it well.  So let’s look at in a deeper way today.  So go ahead and open your bulletins back up to the gospel reading.

To first put it into context, our text from Luke chapter 4 immediately follows Jesus’ baptism.  Chronologically at least, as there’s a genealogy in between those two sections.  Christ has just been baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.  The Spirit has descended on Him like a dove, and the Father has proclaimed, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”

1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,

We’ve talked about this before.  Christ came, Jesus came to be Israel reduced to One.  That is, to fulfill everything God commanded, to live as God’s people should live, and ultimately to then restore and reclaim God’s people.  This is Christ’s mission.  This is what Matthew means in his recounting of the baptism and temptations when he says it was to “fulfill all righteousness.”  Jesus is doing this on our behalf.  He’s enduring all these things for us.

2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

The Jordan River, led by the Spirit, wandering a wilderness, 40 days, tempted by the devil.  Is this starting to sound at all like Israel?  The people who only had to cross the Jordan River to enter the land God had promised them?  A people led by God as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night?  A people lost wandering the wilderness for a period of 40 years on account of their disobeying God?  A people who bought the devil’s temptations that they could not trust God to care for them?

And then we have Jesus eating nothing at all for 40 days.  So, yeah, of course He was hungry!  He was fasting.  Fasting is a huge topic as we started the season of Lent this week.  If  we want to get technical, Jesus fasted.  He gave up food for a period of time.  Now days, the word fasting can be applied to anything we give up, usually done within a religious context.

Catholics give up meat, thus all the fish fries and even Culver’s putting a fish of the day on their sign.  In another faith outside of Christianity, Muslims fast during the season of Ramadan.  But for them it’s a matter of eating and drinking nothing while the sun is up.  So you wake up in the dark, eat a large meal, and eat another large meal after the sunset.

Christians are certainly divided on the value of fasting.  So where do we stand?  Do you fast?  Should you fast?  Martin Luther wrote in the section on the Lord’s Supper in our Small Catechism that “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training, but a person who has faith in these words, ‘given for you’ and ‘shed for you for the forgiveness of sin’ is really worthy and well prepared.”  He was also known by many to fast long enough periods of time that he would look frail.

If you want fast for Lent, by all means go for it.  The purpose of fasting is to focus on God and your relationship with Him.  Perhaps you’ll give up something like Facebook or TV so that you have more time to spend with God in His Word.  Or maybe you’ll give up sweets and desserts so that every time you see one or are tempted toward it, you’ll bow your head in prayer instead.  For this reason, you can’t fast from coffee if you never drink the stuff nor can you fast from a pet sin of yours since you shouldn’t be doing anyway.  Fasting is a sacrifice.

And then we see the three temptations that we know of.  It certainly sounds like Satan was tempting throughout the 40 days, but this is what we have recorded.

3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

What’s the trouble here?  He is the Son of God.  He can command the stone to become bread.  He’s fully capable.  So what’s the issue?  The issue lies in His fast.  That by eating bread He would break His 40 day fast and He would be disconnecting Himself from being Israel Reduced to One.  He had to see it through from start to finish.  He’s fasting to take our place!

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

He’s talking about meat and wine right?  Maybe some cheese and a fresh salad?  Nah, He’s talking about faith, about trust.  About knowing where life really comes from.  True life is in the blood of Christ, the blood that frees you from the guilt and the punishment of your sins.  The blood that washes you clean and makes you pure in the eyes of God.  The very same blood that gives us a relationship with Him, that we would be loved, that we could receive His gifts through His Word and His sacraments.

5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed Him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.

There might be some power here.  For Satan to be able to show Christ the whole earth in just an instant.  The devil’s powers are limited, but they are real.  Maybe they’re on display during the 40 days.

The temptation here is to ask: who’s the king of the world?  Who owns all of this?  When God created, it was all His.  And He willingly and gladly entrusted it to Adam and Eve, like a Father entrusts His children.  So He did.  And we betrayed Him, we handed over the garden to Satan.  This is the fight.  This is what Christ’s ministry is all about.  Who has the power?  Who has the keys?  Who’s world is it?  Christ has come to reclaim it for God.

6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.

7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

So yes, we could argue they aren’t his to give.  But what if?  What would have happened if Jesus agreed?  He could have decided to do this Satan’s way, definitely easier than the cross.  But what would have been lost?  Like the Israelite’s He would have failed and made Himself a golden calf and I don’t know, maybe the universe would implode.  We’d certainly be doomed.

8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

Thankfully, we don’t have to wonder.  We don’t have to guess, because Christ refused.  He stood up to the temptation and stated what Israel should have, that Yahweh alone is God.  And in this sense, worshiping and serving the Lord are the same thing.  Live your life trusting in the Lord, believing in Him to provide for you and to deliver you.  And that’s precisely what Jesus is doing by refusing the devil’s temptations.

9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.

And maybe we have yet another showing of Satan’s power here, lifting Christ up to the high point of the temple.  Maybe.  But regardless, he’s setting the stage.

10 For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully;

11 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ”

Satan quotes Psalm 91.  Here he throws the Word of God right back at Jesus.  You want to quote me Scripture, I can play that game.  And in fact, he loves playing that game.  He loves taking the Word of God and contorting it, twisting into something else.  He did with Eve in the garden, and he’s been doing it ever since.

12Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

But again, Christ denies the temptation.  We are not to put God to the test.  That was rare indeed, for God to allow someone to test Him.  He did it once with Ahab, and Ahab refused.  Thomas got to put his hands in His wounds.  Many people today still ask for a sign.  They want proof.  But then it is no longer faith, it’s no longer trust.

13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

It’s not that Satan had given up…he still hasn’t given up.  But rather, he’s conceding this battle and admitting he’ll have to try again.  And while he certainly works against Jesus over the course of the next three years of His ministry, the opportune time that Luke mentions is likely Maundy Thursday, with the betrayal, the arrest, the torture of Christ.

To each of these temptations, Jesus responds the same way.  He trusts in the Lord, He remains faithful to what the Father wanted Him to do, and He uses Scripture, God’s Word, as His weapon to fight off the temptations.

Martin Luther wrote in his House Postil sermons, “The experience of Christ after His Baptism shall teach us how every Christian after he is baptized is enrolled in the army fighting against the crafty devil, who makes frequent attacks, and stirs up persecutions all the days of our life.”

As followers of Christ, as children of the Lord, Satan attacks us all our days.  It’s so easy to forget it, to get caught up wandering the wilderness of life and not even realize the war is going on.  But that’s just another form of attack, convincing us there’s nothing to be fought.

But the truth is that when you come to the font to be baptized, God looks down upon you and calls you His child.  “You are mine.”  And in doing so, He rescues you from the clutches of the devil, He restores you to His side of this war.  And the devil’s temptations come at you in full force, trying to steal you back, to win you over to the fires of hell.

The way Christ responded to the devil’s craftiness is the same way we respond.  We know that the gifts of God are the very things that sustain our life.  From His death on the cross to His resurrection, those gifts that free us from sin, death, and the devil, to the gift of His Word that we can grow in our relationship with Him each and every day.

And then we also know that we are to serve Yahweh alone.  There are no other gods before Him.  And so we gather as His community, in this place that He has blessed us with.  We receive His gifts in Word and Sacrament.  We pray, praise, and give thanks for all He has done for us.  And then we go out into the lives He’s given to us and we serve Him, we love our neighbors as He loves them.

And lastly, we don’t test the Lord.  We know better than to toy with the fire.  We know better than to wonder how close to sinning can we get before getting burned.  That’s not how you fight a war.  We put our trust in the Lord. We put our hope in the body and blood of Christ, and in the sure power of the resurrection.