Who Am I?

I walked into the hospital room of a dying woman early one morning. The sleepless night had been long and hard. Her beautiful face was now only a skeleton draped with skin that was wrinkled and discolored. As I sat there holding her hand, I asked, “How’s it going?”

She replied, “I am well but my body is worn out.”

Within a few hours she died and three days later her body wasÊburied in the family plot. I had to ask myself, “What has happened?”ÊI got my answer from God’s Word. The Bible says, “The body returned to the ground it came from, and the spirit returned to God who gave it.” There are many mysteries in these inspired words which my mind cannot solve but two basic truths are taught that tell us we are an immortal soul clothed in a mortal body.

The Scriptures teach, “And the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7) I am indeed thankful that I have not had to spend the last 75 years wondering who I am. The relationship between the Creator and me was broken when I sinned but He sent His Son to pay the price for my sins and through faith in Christ, I am forgiven. Now the relationship between God, the Creator, and me has been restored for all ternity. I am blessed daily by His presence, offering me His grace and forgiveness. I am even more blessed with the assurance that when my earthly stay is over, I shall leave my worn-out body behind, and clothed in a new body I shall stand in the presence of my God who has created and redeemed me. That’s who I am.

Let’s take a look at the body and what God’s Word says about it.ÊThe Bible pictures God as a potter shaping the body from the dust of the ground. Such a statement is open to much study and debate regarding its meaning. What a marvelous body He has given us. The intricacies of the body continue to challenge the most brilliant of our medical research people. Three thousand years ago the psalmist wrote, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14). Recently a neurologist at the famed Mayo Clinic told me that while they are beginning to understand how to work on the heart to prolong life, the brain remains a mystery to them.

While Plato called the body a prison from which the soul desires to be free, St. Paul referred to the body as the “temple of the Holy Spirit.” As believers in Christ we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is He who dwells within our bodies. But the body is mortal. St. Paul refers to the body as a “tent.” He writes, “We know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” (II Corinthians 5:1-4)

Paul talks about the body as a tent. It is not going to last too long and while we live in this tent we groan and are burdened, but the day will come when we will have a body, not made with hands, that is eternal.

Many of us have trouble accepting this truth that our stay here on earth is very temporary. As we get older, and the body begins to fail in one way or another, we wrestle with the thought of dying. It is common to hear an elderly person say, “I can’t understand what is wrong with me. I never used to have all of these aches and pains. I tire so quickly. My memory is failing me.” I wonder if we do know what is wrong with us, but it is just hard to accept the fact that the body is wearing out. Medical science can keep us going for a while by cleaning out the veins or removing one organ and replacing it with another made by human hands. OneÊfriend has a valve in his heart that came from a pig, another has new hips, knees, ankles, and still another tells how the specialist was able to clean out some of the fat that has clogged the vessels through which the blood flows. For all of this we are thankful for it prolongs our stay on earth with those we love, but eventually we receive the word, there is no more that we can do for you.ÊEnjoy the days you have left and put your house in order. The body is mortal.

Not so with the soul. It is immortal. While the body is important, the soul is of much greater worth, according to Jesus. He said,Ê”Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) On another occasion he tells the crowds,Ê”What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”

As the body needs to be fed, so the soul needs to be nourishedÊon God’s Word.

As the body needs exercise, so the soul needs spiritual exerciseÊby reaching out to others and doing something great for God by serving people.

Above all, the soul needs to be prepared to meet God whenever He calls us from this world. This preparation is made when Christ is received as Savior and Lord.

Do you know who you are? Life helps us to answer this question as we honestly examine our thoughts, words, and actions. But God’s Word gives us the basic answer. We are a body in which we live for a while. We are a soul that has been created to live with God forever and this eternal home can be ours through faith in ChristÊJesus. That’s who we are precious and important in God’s eyes.

The Day of Great Opportunity

In spite of its wickedness, this is a day of great opportunity. This is a day where we can do great things for God. To make us aware of these opportunities the Bible says, “Open your eyes and look at the fields. They are ripe for harvest” (34). Let this truth register in your soul and great changes will take place in your life.

These words were spoken by Jesus to His disciples who were so self-centered and concerned about the less important matters of life they lost sight of what was going on around them. Jesus was trying to give them a broader picture of what He had in mind for them. Here is the setting in which Jesus confronted His disciples with this mighty challenge.

He was traveling through Samaria on His way from Judea to Samaria. It was high noon. He was tired and sat down outside the city of Sychar by Jacob’s well. The disciples went off to town to buy food. Sitting there alone by the well a Samaritan woman came to draw water. “Would you give me a drink of water?” Jesus asked the woman. She was shocked that He, a Jew, would speak to her, a Samaritan woman. This led Jesus and the woman into a deeper conversation. In their short time together Christ described her life. She had been married five times and the man with whom she was living was not her husband. This knowledge of her past so astounded the woman and made her so uncomfortable that she began to talk about other secondary religious subjects such as where was the proper place to worship. She finally tried to end the conversation by making reference to the time when the Messiah would appear and all of their questions would be answered. It was then that Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”

The woman was not sure who Jesus was but she knew that He was no ordinary traveler. With the information that He claimed to be the Messiah she was off to tell her family and friends of her experience with Jesus. In the meantime the Lord’s disciples returned and urged Jesus to eat. They were concerned about Him. He looked tired and weak. To take nourishment was necessary if they were going to remain physically strong. Jesus seems to have declined their invitation for lunch and said, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” This was another of His statements which was difficult for the disciples to under- stand. Jesus continues, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish His work. I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest! In other words, the Lord pointed out to the disciples that this was a day of opportunity to do great things for God.

It wasn’t long before the Samaritans arrived to meet this person who claimed to be the Savior of the world. The woman Jesus had talked with at the well had told them about this man who told her everything that she ever did. Then she raised the question, “Could this be the Messiah?” It was the woman’s witness that brought them to Jesus. They needed to see for themselves. At their request, Jesus stayed with the Samaritans for two days and led them to a personal conviction that He was the Savior of the world.

This woman whom Jesus met at the well is more than a person he converted to be one of His people. She is a symbol of the masses of spiritually needy people in every generation who are saying in one way or another, “Give me water that can quench my thirst.” (15). If Christ has quenched your thirst, He is speaking this Word to you, “Go tell your family and friends what I have done for you. Tell them that I alone am the Savior of the world.”

This is the primary message that needs to come from the lips of Christians in our day, whether it be from the pulpit at a worship service or in our individual witness during the week.

Why then do we not use the opportunities better than we do in pointing people to Christ as the Samaritan woman did? Here are a few questions to stimulate our thinking.

1. Could it be that we have not met Christ ourselves? We have belonged to the Church for a number of years, know a great deal about Him, but have not met Him. If that be the case, then it makes sense that there would be other matters more important even in our religious life. There might be very important projects that are essential in making the denomination or congregation run more effectively but they are not the main issue of reaching out to the lost with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. We talk to people about the Christian life before they become Christians and it does not make sense to them. If my friend has lived in an unbelieving home and has learned to swear each time he opens his mouth, what good does it do for me to tell him to stop swearing? Profanity is a part of his vocabulary.

If two denominations working more closely together is a good witness for Christ in our world this is fine but it means very little to the person who does not know Christ. These two denominations mean no more to him or her than the Rotary and Lion’s Clubs. We can have our secondary projects, but we cannot give them top priority. But if we do not believe that only in Christ is a person brought into a living fellowship with God, we will major in minor projects. It is a difficult question to answer but could it be that many who confess Christ as Savior are not sure that He alone is the only way into a living relationship with God? If that be the case then it is understandable that the Church is not fired up in spreading the Gospel.

2. As believers in Christ, have we opened our eyes to see the opportunities around us? Remember from our text, the disciples were more concerned about getting some food into Jesus’ body than worrying about all those Samaritans. Does that describe us? There are many Christian people who are doing some marvelous things in the name of Christ and His Church but never talk to anyone about Christ. They work with the underprivileged people, and certain Jesus told us to do that, but they say little or nothing to them about Christ. We work with Moslem people who come to us from war-torn lands teaching them the English language, providing them with living quarters, and this we should do. Such effort is to be commended but it is also necessary to remember that the Moslem must be told about Jesus. It is true that in some cases we must first provide for the physical needs before we have an opportunity to tell about Christ, but if we never get to the point of sharing the Gospel, we have done little more than any non-Christian group could and are doing. Jesus is telling us to open our eyes to the primary mission of God’s people to share Christ.

3. Have we grown discouraged in telling others about the Savior? We have tried so often with relatives and friends to be used by the Holy Spirit to bring them to Christ, but they will not listen. Often they become offended when we talk to them about their relationship with God.

4. Finally, we grow weary. Listen to Jesus at this point, “One sows and another reaps. I send you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labors” (38). How true it is that we might never see the fruits of our labors in telling others about Christ, but that does not mean it was done in vain. I can personally testify to the truth that I have often reaped where others have planted. During my years in the ministry it was a joy to watch people come to faith in Christ. When you began to share the Gospel with many of these people it was evident that faithful mothers and fathers had been diligent in teaching God’s Word to their children in the formative years of their lives. The parents, with broken hearts, had seen them walk away from Christ and His Church. “Where have we gone wrong?” was their question. Then, years later, something happened and that Word came alive in their sons’ and daughters’ hearts. It is then that some of us have had the privilege of leading these people those last steps and watch them become great people of God. One sows and another reaps. Never forget that. Your labor is not in vain.

This is the day of great opportunity in Christ’s Church. This good word spoken by our Lord will change our lives and give us new priorities if we will only permit Him to open our eyes and show us what a day of opportunity this is to be used by God to do great things for Him.

Forgive As You Have Been Forgiven

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come.” In much the same way Peter writes these words: “Once you were not a people; now you are God’s people.” These two Biblical writers with an inspired pen were telling us that when a person lives with Jesus Christ there is a difference in his life, in his attitude, in his or her behavior, in the spirit they carry with them.

What are some of those differences? What are some of the changes that you may see in a person who confesses faith in Jesus Christ? (Notice I mention a person who lives in a relationship with Jesus Christ. I’m not talking about a person who only confesses to be a Christian, yet shows little evidence of that faith.) During the past few Sundays I have been centering our thoughts around the general theme of what a good word from God can do in the life of a person when the Holy Spirit is permitted to make those words living truths. A few weeks ago I used as my text these words from Deuteronomy 33: “The eternal God is your resting place and underneath are His everlasting arms.” These are not words only, but truly a word that will have tremendous security in knowing we do not walk through this world alone. God walks beside us at all times, in sickness and in health, in life and in death, He is that Savior who has promised to be with us always.

Last Sunday I used as my text the words from Isaiah 26: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee.” When the Lord has captured our hearts and our minds and we know that His is always with us, there is what the New Testament calls the peace which passes all understanding. When you live with a security and a peace like this, it is bound to be evident in your spirit, your attitude, and in your behavior. Today I would like to add to that list by including the verse from Colossians 3:13 – “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Those are the words of St. Paul written under inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

If you are acquainted with your Bible and the Christian faith at all, you know that forgiveness is a basic truth. The Bible again and again talks about forgiveness. It is really what Christianity is all about. Christianity talks about the relationship between God and the human being, and the relationship among human beings. We have to have forgiveness because we are always sinning against someone, always hurting someone, and so God’s Word talks to us continually about being forgiven. St John tells us, “If we will confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins.”

If we are willing to confess the things that we have done wrong, first to God and then to others, and place our faith in Jesus Christ who has suffered and died for us on the cross, we will be forgiven. The broken relationship becomes the restored relationship. That has a tremendous effect upon who we are because it takes the guilt away from us. St. Paul writes, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sin.” It is the same truth that St. John talked about. It is not an isolated message that one disciple wants to give and the other one ignores. St. Peter writes, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” That healing is spiritual forgiveness. He is saying you should only trust Christ, then remember that he died for your sins and nailed them to the cross through his suffering, death and glorious resurrection that the Church may announce the Gospel. The Good News is that by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, we may be forgiven. John, Paul, Peter, they all spoke of forgiveness, as well as those in the Old Testament. But time does not permit us to do so. Over and over again Jesus said, “I forgive you.” Once it was to the woman who had been taken in adultery. Her fellow men and women were condemning her. They wanted her to be stoned to death. But Jesus, when he saw her repentant heart, said to her, “I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more.” He wasn’t in anyway trying to overlook her sin, but was willing to forgive it and change her life that she may no longer be an adulterous woman but a real child of God.

Jesus came to Jericho to a man who was accused of stealing. Perhaps it was legal stealing, but it was still stealing. He had over taxed the people. Jesus looked into the face of Zacchaeus and said, “I forgive you.” There was a difference in Zacchaeus’ personality after that. He said to the crowd, “If I have stolen from any of you, I am willing to restore it four fold and half of my goods I will give to the poor.” There was a real change in his person when he began to walk and to live in Jesus Christ. He became a forgiven child of God.

Remember that day on Calvary when our Lord, looking over the mass of humanity from the cross and cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” So first, in this whole matter of forgiveness, we have to say that we are the forgiven children of God. But then the word of God goes on to say that because we are the forgiven children of God, we are to forgive those who have sinned against us.

Listen to the Lord Jesus again. “If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. The Lord is willing to say, I forgive you but then you also have to forgive others. This words are not only those of Jesus. Peter also says in his letter, “Do not repay evil with evil.” Vengeance belongs to God, Paul tells us his letter to the Romans. God will repay. You don’t have to try to get even with a person who hurt you so badly. Leave it to God. You just forgive him. That is what Christianity is all about. St. Paul summarizes it in these few short words. “Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you.”

Why is there such an emphasis on forgiveness? The answer is simple. There is within us a natural weakness to carry ill will toward someone who has wronged us. That ill will can go on to become hate. I ask you, as far as you are concerned and you allow the Holy Spirit to invade your soul, how much ill will do you have therein today? Do you harbor any hate?

One may say, No, I just dislike this person very much. I’m hurt and not able to forgive, not yet. That is a natural weakness found in the human being.

I remember so well the story by Corrie Ten Boom who tells about her sister. They were prisoners in Auschwitz. They had been sent there by the Nazis because they defended some Jewish people in their home. Corrie’s sister has been especially mistreated and died in the camp. When the war was over Corrie was released. One day she was in an audience of a large number people when she spotted a former guard of this prison camp. This particular guard had not been very good to Corrie’s sister and had humiliated her in so many ways that Corrie hated him while she was there. But now they were both free people, how could she face him and what would she say if she had to come into contact with him.

The circumstances of the night brought them into contact with one another and he recognized her. He said to her, “I have become a believer in Jesus Christ. Will you forgive me for what I did to you and your sister.” Corrie goes on to explain the terrible feeling in her soul even then. As she spoke there was an intense hate. She could have hit him, spit on him, or turned her back on him. But while the sinful will was working overtime, the Holy Spirit was also working, and Corrie was given the grace to extend her hand and say, “I forgive you.”

This is not just emotionalism. It is not forgiving without any thought at all. It is the Holy Spirit at work. If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. Corrie Ten Boom, Homer Larsen and yourself can never manufacture that kind of forgiveness. It is the Holy Spirit at work. A good word spoken from God at the right time can bring a real change. Corrie was a changed individual. This does not come easy. We are told to forgive those who have hurt us. But I think that there is a lesson for us to learn here.

Some time ago a certain man, Mr. Dennis Prager, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “The bodies of three teenage girls murdered by a fellow class mate at Heath High School in East Paducah, Kentucky were not yet cold before the students of a Christian prayer group announced, ‘We forgive you, Mike” referring to the murderer.” Mr. Prager goes on to say, “It is not biblically correct to say that Christians are to forgive everyone who commits evil against anyone, no matter how cruel, and whether or not the evil doer repents. It is the Christian’s duty to forgive just as Jesus forgave those who crucified Him. Jesus never asked God to forgive those who had crucified thousands of others presumably because he recognized that no one has the moral right to forgive evil done to others.”

I cannot forgive somebody for doing evil to you. I am not involved in that. I can only forgive that person who has personally hurt me and one of those I love thereby hurting me. It has to be that close. It is that intimate. This is not a little bit of emotion. It is really the work of the Holy Spirit. Happy is the person who has been empowered by God to forgive those who have hurt him or her. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, the new has come.” The old is hate and resentment; the new is forgiveness and love.

Beyond the Physical

Two weeks ago I mentioned in my sermon that a good word coming from the Lord can accomplish much in helping people through difficult times. In that sermon we spoke about the word Moses gave to his people before they entered the Promised Land: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27). Today we have another great promise coming from the inspired pen of the Prophet Isaiah: “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3).

These were words that believers sang as they gathered for worship. We do much the same in our churches today as we gather to thank and praise God for His blessings to us. Think of some of our great hymns that have been sung through the ages thanking God for His goodness.

“Immortal, invisible God only wise.

In light inaccessible hid from our eyes.

Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,

Almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise.”

And,

“Give to our God immortal praise.

Mercy and truth are all his ways.

Wonders of grace to God belong.

Repeat his mercies in your song.”

It is an appropriate tradition that in all ages we gather as believers to thank God through music for what He has done for us. But this verse is also a lyric that can be sung in the home or when the believer walks alone with the Almighty. The believer experiences that the more he trusts God for His providential care, the greater his peace will be. But now we must ask a more practical question: Who will find comfort in these words? Is it only a beautiful thought expressed in a poem, or is it truth that brings peace in the heavy hours of life?

Are these words of any value to the person who has no personal relationship with God? Let me be more specific. One beautiful summer evening I played nine holes of golf with two men, neither of whom I had known. They were kind people, and the game was very enjoyable. When we got near the ninth hole, one man asked his friend if they should go out drinking. His friend had to go back to work, so he asked me, “Well Reverend, I don’t imagine you would care to go out drinking, or would you?” I told him this was not my lifestyle and would be going home to have dinner with my wife.

When I asked how long these drinking episodes lasted, he responded, “I should be home in about three hours.” His answer surprised me, and I asked how his wife felt about him being gone that long. His response showed little concern for her feelings. He was going to call and invite her to go along, but if she did not accept his invitation, he would go alone. He went on to explain that the last few days had been very difficult in his business. He needed some relaxation and peace, and this was one of the best ways he could find it. Tomorrow would be better.

I wonder if this was true. He might be able to drink his problems away for a few hours, but would tomorrow really be better? Now what about this man’s spiritual life? When I asked if he belonged to a church, he told me he did and that his family attended worship services regularly. He was appreciative for all the congregation was doing for his 16-year-old son and was concerned that his son be well rooted in Christian values, which would guide him through life. It appeared to me this person had some understanding of the Christian faith, but had no personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Had I quoted this passage, “You will keep in perfect peace him who mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you,” what would his response have been? He was a member of the church, but I question if he read his Bible regularly. He probably would not go searching for a passage in the book of Isaiah for his peace. Alcohol was a quick fix.

What if I had quoted this passage to him? Well, I did not and I felt some guilt in my soul as I left the parking lot. I asked God in my prayer, “How do you minister to a person like that? He attends worship regularly and hears the biblical truth that only God can give him lasting peace. So why hadn’t he taken the word more seriously? Had he resisted the Holy Spirit working through the Word to assure him that there was a better way to help him over his tough days than nights of drinking?” Maybe I lost an opportunity to share a great promise from God with this new acquaintance.

Most people experience times when things are not going well. Health is broken or families are separated. Personal wealth does not quench the thirst for something more. I remember a man in his mid-forties who was having a lot of problems. He had two failed marriages. While he had many possessions, he had no children to crawl up in his lap to hug and kiss him. He had a host of friends, but when the parties were over, his friends went to their homes and he went to a cold apartment where only his dog greeted him.

It was my privilege to share a word with him from the scriptures. It was the right time, and the Holy Spirit was able to take that word and work through it to get this man’s attention. In faith he later received Christ as his Savior. He now has a wife who loves him. They have two children who greet their daddy when he comes home each evening. Things are different. Now he is studying the Bible for promises that are his source of strength to meet the new day victoriously.

Will the believer listen to this word, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in you?” Strange as it may seem, many times we who confess faith in Christ have not experienced the truth of this promise. We cast our sins on Christ, but carry our own burdens. In other cases, we experience God’s presence with us at certain times, but this promise seems to be of little help under other circumstances. Our peace is directly related to our faith in Christ. Faith is never perfect, therefore peace is sometimes found lacking.

As believers in Christ, we are not exempt from difficult and depressing experiences. We confess our faith in Christ and are assured that God has forgiven our sins, but still have trials. Where do we go with our burdens? Are we not strong enough to carry them ourselves?

I know from my own life, and the lives of many committed Christians, that this promise of peace for those who trust in Christ is not given the attention it needs. Our faith is imperfect and the peace that God gives us, are directly related to us trusting Christ. Some days we leave it all with Him. Other days we seek to carry the load alone, wondering what the future will bring to us.

I recently had lunch with a dear child of God. I often have thought of him as my father in God. I know of no one who has walked more closely to the Lord than this person. As we shared the noon lunch, it was evident that he was troubled. He told me that a few days earlier it was necessary for him to put his 92- year-old wife into a nursing home. He was very much aware of the blessings God had given them through the years. They had lived a long time, but now the day had come that their home was broken.

The emotional impact was very difficult, as it would be for all of us. I know that this verse is deeply embedded in his mind and it is a truth with which he lives. But for the moment, other feelings are pushing it aside. Perhaps today if I were to visit with him, my friend would talk about the marvelous peace God is giving him concerning this adjustment in the last days of his life.

A few weeks ago I visited my home community in Maine. It was a wonderful trip. We enjoyed it all, but I have to admit it was also heart-rending. One afternoon my wife and I visited the cemetery where the bodies of relatives and friends are buried. It was emotional as I recalled days of the past when we played together as kids. The next day we attended a dinner with forty people present. It was very noticeable that many had lost their spouses. As we visited, they told me about how their husband or wife had died and the lonesome hours spent in adjusting to the reality of death, which dips into the family and takes the loved one. I looked at others and saw the years were taking their toll on our appearance. It all adds up to the fact that nothing here is stable. Change is disturbing, and so we must look beyond the human for perfect peace. We must look to Christ.

Will our peace on this earth ever be perfect? No, because our faith is not perfect. However, if we live with God daily in His Word and the Holy Spirit is able to change words into living truths, we will get a good taste of what this verse is saying to us about peace. Then we can join the people of Judah who sang their hymn of praise, “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in you.”