Sixty Minutes With Jesus

If you were given the opportunity to spend sixty minutes with any person, who would he or she be?

A musician might like to have an hour with Bach. A professor of literature might cherish time with Shakespeare. To spend time with Abraham Lincoln would be a thrill for the historian, and a psychologist might have a hay-day with Adolph Hitler or bin Laden as they analyzed a mind that cared nothing about killing innocent people. Many of you would join me in saying, “Let me have an hour with Jesus.”

What would you ask Jesus during those 60 minutes? I would divide my time into three parts, and first I would ask, “Help me to understand better my relationship as a Christian with people.”

Here would be His answer, “Don’t let your life be an offense to others.”

“Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves.”

What a bit of counsel for parents and their relationship to the children God has given to them! The home can be the most difficult place to be a Christian. To be socially acceptable we must be “nice” in the public’s eye, but at home we can let down our hair and let it all come out. Jesus warns us not to be an offense to these little ones by our hypocrisy. I recall one of my confirmation students telling me about his father whose religion did not last long enough to get out of the church’s parking lot. When the congregation leaving the first service was met by the people who were coming to the second service, there could often be some traffic jams that would make the tempers fly, and the voices that had just sung their praises to God were now using His name in other ways.

The person who refuses to go to church and says, “I saw enough of your so-called Christianity when growing up, both in my home and church, to last me a lifetime,” must have experienced something very disappointing. We know that the unchurched often use their past sad experiences with Christian people to excuse their indifference to the Church today. Nevertheless, Jesus reminds us how important it is to practice our faith on a daily basis.

Jesus, speaking through the Bible, also reminds us not to be an offense to those who are “young in the faith.” There is a good example of this in Galatians 2. Paul gives Peter a sharp rebuke when his behavior was offensive to the people in Antioch who had been Christians for only a short time. When the Jews were not around, he would eat with the Gentiles. This was a practice absolutely forbidden by the Jewish religion. But when the Jews arrived, Peter began to draw back and separated himself from the Gentiles, because he was afraid of falling out of the good grace with the Jewish people. This was very offensive to the Gentile Christians.

This same danger, of the Christian being an offense to the person who has just become a Christian, is with us in every age. There is no room for a double-standard lifestyle in Christianity.

Jesus continues to give us counsel regarding the Christian’s relationship to other people. It is important that you speak kindly to your neighbor about those things that are so very wrong in his or her life. Jesus says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him.” In other words, our Lord is telling us that we are our brother or sister’s keepers. The counsel we receive from society is quite different. Here we are told, “It is not your business how other people live. He has a perfect right to live as he pleases. As long as he is not hurting you, leave him alone. Who are you to stick your nose into another’s business?” So you know that Bob is unfaithful to his wife, and she lives with the belief that he is her loving husband. What do you do? Jesus says, “Rebuke him, even if it might cost you his friendship.” Our culture says, “Leave him alone. He might view this relationship with his wife differently than you do. Each has a right to his opinion. You don’t want to irritate him and lose a friend, do you?”

Jesus has more to say about our relationship with people. “If a person repents of his sin, forgive him.” How easy it is for us to carry bad feelings toward another person whose behavior has been offensive. The story of King David and his sin with Bathsheba illustrates this matter of forgiveness well. David committed adultery with Bathsheba, and later had her husband, Uriah, murdered. God sent the prophet Nathan to confront David with his sin. Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan hurriedly replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin.” If the Lord had forgiven David, who was Nathan not to do the same?

But then there are some other issues here that make the question of forgiving others more complicated.

How do we know the sinner is repentant? Jesus says, “If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ÔI repent,’ forgive him.”

If a person is repentant, can he keep right on sinning? Is this not letting him take advantage of you? We are counseled by the world to give a person another chance, but if he continues to wrong you, don’t let him get away with it. Jesus’ forgiveness is unlimited, and he counsels you to follow in his footsteps when it comes to forgiving people.

Well, the first twenty minutes with Jesus have ended. Notice that, whether it was walking with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, or sitting in your living room with your Bible and letting Him speak to you, the Word is the same. Jesus’ answers are very specific when talking to Him about our relationship with people.

We will continue this sixty minute conversation with Jesus in next week’s sermon when we ask, “Will you help me to understand better what it means to live in a personal relationship with Jesus?”

Did We Forget to Pray?

If church members are uncertain about the purpose for their congregation’s existence, God is not. His desire is stated clearly in the Bible when it says, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (vs. 4) He has commissioned His Church to preach the Gospel, that people may believe and be saved. This is God’s purpose for His Church. If this is not the mission of a congregation, it is questionable whether or not this group has a Biblical reason for existing.

Christ’s purpose for His Church’s existence should be before the congregation at all times, lest we forget why we are in existence; and it is so easy for us to forget.

One could ask, “Isn’t there a paradox in the statement that God wants all people to be saved? If God is almighty and He wants all people to be saved, what’s hindering Him from saving them?”

The answer is clearly taught in Scripture. We have been given a will, and we are free to say, “No, God, we don’t want to have any relationship with you, to say nothing about a saving relationship.” The Bible makes it clear that we are not puppets who have been created to jump when God speaks. We are by nature rebels, resisting God’s will.

It is in this setting that God makes it clear how humans can be saved. First, our Heavenly Father is in pursuit of us. He is the one who takes the initiative in reaching out to us. In His plan to save us, God sent Christ into this world to give His life as a ransom for the whole world. He is our Mediator, pleading our case before the Father. From God’s part, all is ready for sin to be forgiven and for people to enter into a personal relationship with Him. But we have a part in reaching people with the message of salvation. The individual Ð in faith Ð must receive Christ. Paul writes, “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-15, 17).

It is the mission of the Church to carry this message of Christ to the world. In our text Paul is instructing the young pastor, Timothy, as to how he should do his ministry, and what Paul outlined for Timothy is also said to us, the Church, in this 21st century.

First, we are to tell the story of Jesus and His love. This is a day when the congregation must do its best work in teaching our children the fundamentals of God’s Word. What is taught to our children must be reviewed on a weekly basis with all of us as we grow older. In this ungodly society that is indoctrinating our youth to believe there is no one truth, but instead each one must create his or her own truth, we must counter with strong teaching that God’s Word is truth. Jesus said, “I am the truth . . . ” The Law of God still stands, and to disobey it brings punishment. Against the humanistic philosophy that tries to make us believe humans are basically good, we are to emphasize that we are born in sin and commit sin daily. We are sinners. In a society where many teach that favor with God is won with moralistic behavior, we must fearlessly proclaim that there is only one way into a relationship with God, and that is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

As we proclaim these truths in a world that grows smaller and smaller, we must minister in love and understanding. We must work to understand from whence our fellow citizens have come, and respect their heritage, but we cannot compromise on the teachings of our Christian faith.

I have a friend who comes from a pagan background. He never saw the inside of a church building when he was growing up. He had no clue as to whether Moses and Abraham were Jesus’ disciples or not. I was raised in a very conservative Christian home where the Bible was read regularly, and where you were in church on Sunday, unless you were so ill you couldn’t get your head off the pillow. My friend questions some of the basic teachings of our Christian faith. “Dick isn’t a bad person just because he cheats on his wife once in a while,” he tells me. In my friend’s thinking, I am not a sinner simply because I am guilty of carrying hatred in my heart toward another person. For my unbelieving friend, hatred can be explained by psychology. “It is natural for us to hate. It is a form of self-protection.”

Well, I stay with my friend. I eat lunch with him at the round table in our downtown hotel and have some frustrating conversations. I can understand that he has become the victim of this naturalistic philosophy that has little place for God, but I cannot compromise with my friend on what God’s Word has said if I am a faithful member of His Church with a clear understanding of the Church’s mission.

In today’s society, where people are being indoctrinated with post-modern philosophy (there is no one truth), and Christianity is pushed aside as just another philosophy, it is important that we hold onto the basics of God’s Word through which the Holy Spirit works faith in the unbelieving heart.

Are we teaching these truths from the pulpit, lectern, and on a one-to-one basis? Are we faithful to the mission of Christ’s Church?

Second, we are to pray for all people, no matter how indifferent they are to the things of God.

Moses prayed for the Israelites. “But now, please forgive their sin Ð but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” (Exodus 32:32)

Jesus prayed for Peter. “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32)

Monica prayed for her son, Augustine. “Lord, convert Augustine. Make him your child, and use him in your Kingdom.”

Do we pray like that for others?

Is all intercessory prayer effective?

Apparently not. Many mothers have prayed as sincerely for their son or daughter as Monica did for Augustine, and the parent never lived to see her child return to Christ. God still respects the human will, but this does not stop us from praying. We may stop talking to the person about Christ, feeling that another word would do more harm than good, but we do not stop praying. Who knows how God will use our feeble words to make an unbeliever think seriously about his or her relationship with God?

Billy Graham tells us, “To have spiritual revival, we must have earnest, effectual praying.”

Are we forgetting to pray for the spiritual awakening needed in our nation and our churches?

What Makes God Happy?

Among my memories from Sunday school is a teacher who often told her class of seven-year-old children that God was very sad when we were naughty boys and girls. She, and many like her, made an indelible impression on the little ones, because we live with the truth that the sinfulness of humans not only angers, but it is also most disheartening to our Heavenly Father. I thank God for this teacher and pray for a lot more like her. However, today we ask the question, what makes God happy? The text tells us, “There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent.” In this parable God tells us what makes God happy.

The Bible teaches that God has a great concern for the lost. To illustrate this truth, Jesus tells a story of the shepherd and the lost sheep. The best grazing land was on a narrow plateau in the hills. Occasionally one of the sheep would wander away from the flock and fall off the cliff. There the animal would hang on the side of the hill until the shepherd rescued it. It was the responsibility of the shepherd to bring the sheep back to the flock, even though his own life was in danger.

When the shepherd has the sheep back to safety, he lays it on his shoulder and rejoices. Then he calls together his friends and neighbors and says, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the sheep that was lost.” The lesson is clear. Jesus, in John 10:11, takes the title of “shepherd” who is out seeking a lost world that it might be brought into a living relationship with its Creator.

God’s Word tells us that those who live outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ are lost. When Jesus sees this mass of people who are lost, He describes them as “sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Without God, only our vacillating emotions and limited intellects serve us to find solutions for the problems of life, which are far beyond human comprehension.

Charles Colson, in his book, How Now Shall We Live? describes an ever-growing mass of our American population who have no relationship with Jesus Christ. Let me summarize one part of this book for you: “Across this country a generation of college graduates has marched off, degrees in their hands, and post-modernist ideology in their heads. Post-modernist ideology teaches there is no one truth. The individual must create his or her own truth. These people with this philosophy work with words and ideas. They go to work in executive suites, political centers, editorial rooms of newspapers, magazines, television studios, and college and university classrooms. Because they are in positions of influencing millions of people on a daily basis, the viewpoint of there being no objective truth has become the dominant opinion of millions of people. The viewpoint taught in the media and institutions of higher learning since the 1960s has now entered the mainstream of American life. Once it was only a few of the intellects who believed there were no objective truths. It was thought they would do minimal harm, because their witness was so academically sophisticated that few would give it much attention. Not so anymore. These truths are being communicated to us in simple language daily. We have become a confused society, not sure where we are going. No longer is the majority view the outlook of morally, conservative, religious, and patriotic middle-class America. Post-modernism teaches there are no truths that are worthy of our allegiance, meaning that nothing is worth living or dying for Ð not even arguing about.”

This is our lost society, facing huge problems and rejecting God’s help in solving them. Take Christ out of our lives and we are lost, both now and for all eternity. The question is, “As Christians, what should our relationship be with this lost generation?”

There is the pharisaical approach to have no contact with this evil society and live in our own little world. This was not Jesus’ approach. The text says he was criticized because “He welcomed sinners and ate with them” (vs. 2).

Jesus says we are to be spiritually strong and go to this unbelieving world with this clear message of God’s Word: We are a sinful people. Christ died for us, and He is our only hope. If in faith we will receive Christ as our Savior and Lord, He will restore us into a personal relationship with God, and His Word will lead, guide, and empower us to live in peace and harmony.

However, Mr. Colson tells us that our witness will often fall on deaf ears. They will listen politely to what we have to say, and most often will offer no comments. If there is any response at all, it will be very general, such as, “You have some interesting views. They are not mine, but isn’t it nice that we have matured to the place where everyone has a right to his or her beliefs.”

With this kind of response, it is easy for the Christian to be discouraged. It is at this point that Jesus counsels us to not be weary. With our witness goes the Holy Spirit who can reach the hardest of hearts. The plea today is that our churches will hold high the truths of God’s inspired Word, that the colleges of the Church will give students a good academic education with a Christ-centered emphasis, and that Christian families will teach their children Biblical absolutes and support them in difficult times.

What makes God happy?

When He sees His Church about the Heavenly Father’s business faithfully proclaiming the Law and Gospel with authority and conviction.

It is this Word that can change people’s hearts and minds and make them new creatures in Jesus Christ.

Remember, “There is great joy in heaven over every sinner who repents and comes to Christ.”

Is Jesus Appealing in an Undisciplined Culture?

Is Jesus appealing to an undisciplined culture?

If not, should we try to make Him appealing by presenting only those parts of the Christian faith that make Him attractive? Should we give society a distorted presentation of what it is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? If we want to make Him appealing to the masses in any society, we must skip over our text for this Sunday, because for many it is downright offensive. Let’s look at it.

Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem where He would be crucified. On the walk, He tells this parable to help them understand what it costs to be His disciple, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him saying, ÔThis fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus had many distant believers, but so few disciples. It was His prayer that these distant followers would grow closer to Him and become His disciples. He and His Church pray this same prayer today. He needs not only admirers, but also those who love Him so much they will commit their lives to Him.

Mary and Tom were inactive members of our congregation. One day they attended a worship service and were spiritually awakened. When they returned home, this couple visited with me about their experience. They were a bit critical about the presentation of God’s Word in our congregation and asked me when I was really going to begin preaching the Gospel. This led to several conversations, and it was not long before Mary and Tom were not attending worship services. At first I thought they were attending another congregation that could better satisfy their needs than we were doing, but I was disappointed when I heard they were not worshiping at any church.

I inquired from one of their close friends how they could be so enthusiastic about their faith in Christ one day, and less than six months later it had been put aside. The answer to my question was pathetically interesting. “You have to know Mary and Tom. They move from one activity to another. Once they were excited about bowling. They purchased the equipment to bowl, took some lessons, and joined a bowling league. They were at the bowling lanes two or three times a week. Suddenly their interest waned, and they put their bowling balls in the closet.”

I asked, “Are you saying that Jesus is in the closet with the bowling ball?” Mary and Tom’s friends replied, “That’s one way of saying it.”

It is this kind of relationship Jesus is speaking of when He talks about the cost of discipleship. The disciple is well-trained and disciplined. Is that appealing to our culture? He was not trying to interest people in following Him because it was the easy way of life. On their walk, He told them how costly being a disciple could be. A short time later, when they stood beneath His cross, they saw what the price could be for some.

This message must continue to ring in the believer’s ears. The disciple lives a disciplined life. It means time is spent studying the Bible. It means faithfulness in worship. It means sharing the faith in word and deed with others. It means practicing good stewardship. It means being used by God to lift the burdens of others. The list goes on. Is this appealing to a culture that wants no demands placed upon it?

But the text becomes even more pointed. A friend of mine worshiped in his Catholic church a few weeks ago and heard these words, which are also in our text today. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters Ð yes, even his own life Ð he cannot be my disciple.”

“What does this mean?” he asked. “I thought Jesus preached about loving even our enemies. Now He is talking about hating people as close as a father and mother.”

It is a shocking word that St. Luke brings to us. The Aramaic word is better translated “love less.” Matthew tunes down the verse a bit when he writes, “He who loves his father and mother more than me is not worthy of me.”

The message is clear. Christ is saying, “I must be first in your life if you want to be my disciple.” Is this appealing to a culture where the individual wants to be number one?

We know the answer. Shall we then leave out parts of the Christian message? We know the answer. William Barclay says it well, “The Christian calling can have those difficult times and experiences, but He who calls us to be His disciples will walk with us every step of the way and will be there at the end to meet us.”

Life’s Greatest Treasure

Many of my friends, who profess no relationship with God, appear to be content with their lives just the way they are. Youth are captured with their lives unfolding before them. They seem to be excited about their school activities, jobs, social life, boyfriends and girlfriends, and a host of other matters. Even though there are disappointments that come and go, there are few big problems for many in those high school years. That is the way it should be. But there are those in this age group who feel differently about life. Something is missing in their lives, and they search to find out what it is. They watch adults and sense a feeling of emptiness even though they have all the necessities and many luxuries of life. These younger people do not want this void in their lives.

As these people get older, there appears to be the same division. Some of their friends are having a ball. Their marriage is great. Their family is the joy of their lives. They enjoy good health, and their work is challenging. While the kids sometimes give them a few headaches, none of them are in jail. They could always use more money to move in to a million-dollar home, or have the exhorted vacation. They have more than enough. However, the above description does not include one thing in this group. There is a hidden treasure, which they have not yet found.

In the later years of life, aches and pains set in, and the challenges of life are different. I am surprised to see how many in this age group have no personal relationship with God, and yet appear to be perfectly content. I have many opportunities to visit with this group about the future. A common statement is, “I’ve had a marvelous life. My wife is still the love of my life, the kids are great, and a few good investments have made my life financially secure. Now I hope that, when my days are over, I can go quickly. I don’t want to linger in a nursing home.”

When you ask them if they think seriously about life after death, many respond by saying, “Well, our religion, if you could call it that, is practical. There has to be a higher power, and if there is a life after death, I hope my life here has been good enough to earn me a place in what is often referred to as heaven.”

But others have deep concerns about the remaining years of their lives. It is the same concern they had when they were young. There has to be more in life than what I am experiencing. If this is your state of mind, Jesus has a word for you in our text today.

He describes the kingdom of Heaven when he says, “It is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all that he had and bought the field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-45).

It’s the story of two people who had a void in their lives. They seemed to have everything, and yet something was missing.

One day, when he least expected anything exciting to happen, the first man found a treasure hidden in a field. Immediately he hid the treasure, and went and bought the field. This man could be compared to the person who went to church, and, for the first time in his or her life, met Christ. Let me illustrate.

There was a knock on my study door, and 70-year-old John asked if he could have a few minutes of my time. This man was a faithful member of the Methodist Church, and had been my friend for many years. I could tell something had happened. There was a joy in his face and an enthusiasm in his voice I could not miss. This is a summary of his story:

It was Sunday morning, and, as usual, John and his wife went to church. It was routine. John didn’t expect anything to happen. After church, he and his wife planned to join friends at a restaurant for brunch, but that Sunday he never made it. The pastor gave a graphic presentation of what Jesus Christ has done for us. He talked about the forgiveness of sins and being restored into a relationship with God that would make Him very personal. John had always believed in God, but never thought of Him as One with whom you could walk every hour of the day. The Holy Spirit was at work in John’s life. John had heard this message many times, but it had gone in one ear and out the other. This day it went deeper and into the depth of his soul. At the end of the service, John found himself getting out of his seat and walking to the front of the church to ask for help. There was an inner peace that he had not experienced in his life. He was not an emotional man, but that day he was free to express his feelings about what had happened on a Sunday when he least expected it to happen.

Since then, his life has been different. He hungers to talk about the things of God’s kingdom. Recently, he was in Florida and had an opportunity to worship at the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. The next time I saw him, he described the marvelous experience they had in that service worshiping with others who were brothers and sisters in Christ. He had found the treasure that had been hidden from him for more than 70 years.

If you are wondering if this is a true story, I can put you in contact with John. He would love to tell you that Jesus Christ, his greatest treasure, is the One who met him in his Methodist Church; and he became a new man.

The second man was more aggressive. He knew that there was something lacking in his life, and he was going to put forth great effort to find it. He was like the merchant. He had many pearls, but the most precious one he did not have. Then came the day he made the great discovery. There it was before his eyes. He went away and sold everything he had and purchased that pearl, which made his life complete.

This man can be compared to the person who knows there is something missing in his or her life, and is making a conscious effort to find out what it is. He is a seeker. Tom Philipps is an example of this person.

It was a nice evening in New York City. Tom, the president of a large corporation, had everything, and yet something was missing in his life. He belonged to a church, but his religion had not given him much satisfaction. As he read through the paper, he learned that Billy Graham was conducting a rally at Madison Square Garden. Could it be that religion was what Tom was looking for, and maybe Billy Graham could help him? Anyway, he had read about this evangelist and thought it would be interesting to see him in action.

That night God used Billy Graham to bring about a change in this executive’s life. Tom listened carefully. Billy stressed that, outside of Christ, there is a vacuum in people’s lives. They have guilt, and their sinfulness cannot be hidden from God. Then came the Gospel. “Christ died for your sins. If you will receive Him as your Savior and Lord, He will forgive your sins and restore you into a personal relationship with God.” The words described Tom when Graham said, “You may belong to a church, you might have been baptized and confirmed, and you might know Christ intellectually, but He has never been a part of your life. Receive Him, and your life will be changed.”

When the altar call was given, Tom was among those who went forward and received Christ. He had found the pearl of great price. Is Tom Philipps for real? Yes, he is. You can read the story I have just told you in Born Again by Charles Colson.

There are many who are seeking God today. Some churches have specially designed services just for seekers, and people flock to them as they learn what Christianity is all about and how they can become a part of the Kingdom of God.

I recently worshiped in my home church. There over the chancel are the words, “Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near.” How beautiful is that song which says, “If with all your hearts you truly seek Him, you will surely find Him.” The seeking is done in the Word of God where the Holy Spirit speaks to you. Your eyes are open to the Gospel. The Holy Spirit empowers you to receive Christ, and you are a new, fulfilled person.

Where do you fit in to this parable? Are you like the first man who never expected anything was going to happen, yet discovered the treasure? You hear His Word today, and before you is God’s greatest gift to you Ð Christ Jesus. Receive Him.

Or are you like the person out who seeks the pearl, and wonders if religion is where it is? You have made the discovery. Christ is the greatest treasure. Receive Him.

Or did you make this discovery years ago, and have lived with the conviction that Jesus is your greatest treasure? If so, share Him with someone who is still looking for what is lacking in his or her life. You may be the one who will end his or her search as you point the person to Christ.