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4501 Waller Rd E
Tacoma, Washington
INI
The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
July 19, 2015
Ascension Lutheran Church, Tacoma WA
Paul Naumann, Pastor

IT ALL DEPENDS ON GOD
Proverbs 16:1-6

To Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. Our text for this morning is taken from the 16th chapter of Proverbs, beginning with the first verse [NIV]:

The plans of the heart belong to man, But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD. 2 All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the LORD weighs the motives. 3 Commit your works to the LORD, And your plans will be established. 4 The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, Even the wicked for the day of evil. 5 Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; Assuredly, he will not be unpunished. 6 By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for, And by the fear of the LORD one keeps away from evil. Here ends our text.

In the name of our Almighty God, On Whom we rely so heavily, whether we realize it or not, Dear Fellow Redeemed,

Is being "dependent" a good thing or a bad thing? -That depends! I think we usually view it as a bad thing, don't we? For example, being dependent on welfare - it may be better than the alternative, but it's certainly less than ideal. Being dependent on alcohol or drugs, obviously, is a bad thing. On the other hand we take it for granted that independence is a good thing. We admire people who are self-sufficient and don't need to lean on others for support. In fact, that sentiment gave rise to a famous poem, called "Invictus," by William Earnest Henley: "In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud; Under the bludgeonings of chance My head is bloody, but unbowed. I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul!"

That sounds very fine, but there's one or two problems. In the first place, we know that it is not chance that governs the events in our lives. In the second place, no person is truly the captain of his own soul, particularly not a Christian. Paul says, "You are not your own... For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's." I Cor 6:19-20. The kind of independence described by that poem I read is pretty much an illusion. And for a Christian, it's a very dangerous illusion. Maybe you've been feeling the effects of this in your life - trying to be a little too independent, taking on a little too much of life's responsibility, without allowing anyone else carry the load. Maybe you're overwhelmed by the feeling that everything depends on you. If so, today's text will be music to your ears. In it, wise King Solomon reveals that not everything depends on you after all. As it turns out (in the words of our theme):

IT ALL DEPENDS ON GOD
I. Depend on yourself and you're bound to fail
II. Depend on the Lord and your success is certain

Over the past few weeks, events in the news have focused our attention on external threats to our Christian faith-threats from a society whose moral foundation is deteriorating rapidly. This morning we look at another danger, one that comes from within rather than from without, and that's the threat of false independence.

C.S. Lewis once said, "It is pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began." King Solomon was gifted with the greatest wisdom since the world began, and he would have agreed with that sentiment. Many of his Proverbs and much of the Book of Ecclesiastes deal with the trouble that ensues when pride and a false independence cloud a person's judgment. In the series of incisive proverbs that form our text for today, he strikes at the heart of the myth that a proud, independent spirit is something to be desired. You think everything depends on you? No, he says, IT ALL DEPENDS ON GOD. We are all abjectly dependent upon our Lord, and the more aware of that we are the happier and more successful our lives will be!

Solomon begins, The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. Answer meaning "outcome." It's another way of stating the old proverb, "Man proposes, but God disposes." And isn't that true? You can make all kinds of elaborate plans for the future, but if you depend upon yourself for the fulfillment of those plans, you're simply bound to fail. Because IT ALL DEPENDS ON GOD! You can form the question, but He's going to provide the answer. You can make the plans, but God dictates the results.

We so often lose sight of that, it's good to get a reminder from time to time. We had an old seminary professor named L. W. Schierenbeck who would never speak about the future without adding the qualifying phrase, "The Lord willing." As in, "The Lord willing, we will continue this lesson on Monday," or, "The Lord willing, we'll hold graduation on May 18th." It seemed like a tedious habit to me at the time, but he was doing nothing more than following what our God tells us through the Apostle James: Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit"; 14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. 15 Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that." James 4:13.

You see, IT ALL DEPENDS ON GOD! And here's the hard part: in order to realize that, we have to acknowledge the opposite as well, that none of it depends on us! And that's hard to do. There's a pride inborn in each of us that continually seeks to lead us astray. Pride is such a dangerous thing. Benjamin Franklin described it as if it were a repulsive animal. He said, "There is perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive." Spiritual pride seeks to make us depend upon ourselves, but if we do that, we're simply bound to fail! Our carefully laid plans will fail, our ambitions will fail, our dreams will fail. And what's the worst failure that spiritual pride could lead us to? - Failure to recognize our own sinfulness, and our need of a Savior.

The writer puts his finger on this in verse two: All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives. When confronted with his own sin, every human being has the same first reaction: to justify himself. If you don't believe that, just watch a few episodes of "Cops." Did you ever noticed that it doesn't matter what kind of low-life, repeat-offending criminal the police are arresting. It doesn't matter what despicable crime he's been caught red-handed committing, he'll still justify himself. Every time. He'll come up with the most transparent, lamest excuses to explain how he was forced to do what he did, and he's really not a bad guy, and it's not his fault.

Why is that? It's because what Solomon says here is true: All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight. Left to ourselves, we'll do the same thing. We'll be as bad or worse than the Pharisee in the temple who prayed, "Lord I thank you that I am not as other men are..." We rationalize our sin. We justify ourselves. We know we're not perfect, but we feel we're pretty good compared with the next guy. But my friends, God does not grade on a curve. God's standard of righteousness is absolute.

In a vault near Paris France is kept a bar of extremely hard metal, made 90% platinum and 10% iridium. It's maintained at a constant temperature. It's carefully guarded, because that bar of metal is important. It's known as the Standard Meter. At the First General Conference on Weights and Measures in 1889, it was adopted as the standard by which every other measuring device in the world would be judged. God's Law is like the Standard Meter. Its a ruler that we hold up to our lives to see how well we compare to God's righteous requirements. It doesn't depend on our opinion, it all depends on God. That's why Solomon says, All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives. God weighs motives in a perfect scale. God measures hearts according to His Standard Meter of righteousness, and His standard is perfection. James says, Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. - James 2:10.

In fact, God hates the sin of spiritual pride so much that he calls it an "abomination": Verse five says, Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; Assuredly, he will not be unpunished. This is the same Old Testament word, by the way, that is used for idolatry, and homosexuality, and human sacrifice. They're not just sins. God calls them abominations, and pride is an abomination to God as well.

IT ALL DEPENDS ON GOD! Have you been guilty of the abominable sin of spiritual pride? I certainly have! It's a sin we all need to confess and repent of. If we depend on ourselves, we're bound to fail! But there's another message in our text, a message of inestimable comfort. Solomon makes plain the fact that, if we depend on our Lord, our success is certain!

The key to this whole section is found in the first half of verse five, "By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for." That passage might seem a little confusing at first glance. Could it be true that, by being loving and merciful to people we can atone for the sins we've committed? It's tempting to think so, but it can't be right. For Paul says, By the deeds of the Law shall no flesh be justified in His sight." No.

Then whose lovingkindness and truth is it that atones for sin? Once again: IT ALL DEPENDS ON GOD. Sin is never purged by man's lovingkindness and truth, but only the Lord's lovingkindness and truth! There's a word in this passage that's been giving translators fits for centuries. It's the word chesed, here translated "lovingkindness." Elsewhere it has been translated steadfast love, longsuffering love, mercy, or covenant love. But I've been studying that word for some time now, and I'm beginning to wonder whether the best translation for it might not be simply "grace." In most instances where that noun occurs, the word grace - the way we understand "grace" - seems to fit perfectly. And there's a striking parallel in the New Testament Gospel of John, which reads, For the Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. --John 1:17.

And isn't grace the best description of what our atoning God has done for us? Grace means undeserved love. And the gift of salvation that God gave us in Christ was certainly undeserved! IT ALL DEPENDS ON GOD! We did nothing to be worthy of God's love, and yet he loved us. By nature we were not friends of God, we did not incline toward good, we did not choose to serve the Lord. And yet he befriended us. He sent his Son down to live among us, and wear our flesh. He chose us over his own dear Son, and not because we were worthy to be chosen-but despite the fact that we were completely wretched and unworthy! Paul writes, For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. Romans 5:6-9.

When you depend on the Lord, your success is certain. And above all things, that means success on the day of judgment. Because if you're not successful on that day, none of your other days matter! On that day, you want to be standing on the right hand of the throne of Christ, waiting to inherit the eternal glory. And the Lord in his grace has made a way for that to happen. He has atoned for you. Instead of punishing you for your sins, God channeled all his wrath somewhere else. He focused it all that wrath and punishment onto his son Jesus, as He hung upon Calvary's cross. The anger was all expended, the sin was completely expunged. And now your name, for Jesus' sake, has been entered into God's book of life. And now God speaks to you the comforting words of Isaiah the prophet, Thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine." - Isa 43:1.

Solomon says in our text, Commit your works to the Lord, and your plans will be established. With eternal salvation already in your pocket, you can make plans for the future with complete confidence. As long as you say "the Lord willing." As long as you close each prayer with the words of Christ, "Thy will, Father, not mine be done," then you just can't lose! When you depend on the Lord your success is certain, for the plans you make that are in agreement with God's will will be carried out successfully, in his good time and with his blessing. Sometimes the plans you make will not be carried out. Not because the Lord doesn't love you, but because in His wisdom He wants to bless you in a different way, with a blessing that's ten times as great as the one you asked for in the first place! Look back at your life, and tell me whether this hasn't happened to you. What you originally prayed for was denied, and you were disappointed. But then God answered your prayer in a different, unexpected way, and the blessing was more than you had ever hoped for. You're thinking of an example from your own life right now, are you? It's not difficult, for God does it over and over in our lives. Our Lord is always finding new and unexpected ways to fulfill the prayers and dreams of his beloved children. Again, it all depends on God! Place your trust in Him and you can't go wrong! Solomon's father David put it even more simply than his son, when he wrote in the 47th Psalm, " Commit your way unto the Lord, trust also in him, and He shall bring it to pass."

During the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864, Union General John Sedgwick was inspecting his troops. He was walking down the front line behind a low stone parapet. However he refused to crouch down behind its protection, as the other officers were doing. His aids warned that he was exposing himself to enemy fire and urged him to take cover, but he refused. "Nonsense!" said Sedgwick, "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance!" And those were General Sedgwick's last words, for in the next moment he was struck down by a confederate bullet. Pride can be a dangerous - even a deadly -thing. I pray that you will carry away from this service a message that is both sobering and comforting. Sobering, in that we recognize the deadly nature of spiritual pride and the foolishness of depending on ourselves. Comforting, in that we recognize and accept the invitation of our gracious God to depend on Him. To depend solely on Him for everything that's precious and important in our life. Most of all may we thank our God daily, in deep humility and fear, for providing us with a Redeemer who was willing to humble Himself that we might be saved eternally. AMEN.