Reason or Revelation

In the 8th Psalm the writer asks, “What is man that you (God) are mindful of him?”

While the Psalmist is looking to God for the answer, let’s consider how we humans would answer that question. Our answers would come from pure reason.

Sitting in a football stadium you hear the attendance is 87,000. That’s a crowd, and you are quite insignificant in relationship to the mass of people in attendance. Does one person really count that much? Commenting on a bombing in the Mideast, a reporter reminded his audience that fortunately only 37 people were killed. He did hurry on to say that it is tragic for even one person to die, but he had already left the impressions that, in many parts of society, when we are dealing with people’s lives, we play the numbers game. Numbers are what counts.

Here is another example. If you are pregnant and do not wish to have the child, all you have to do is have an abortion. Does this not show the insignificance of the individual who has been conceived, but now can be legally destroyed? Does the parent have this much freedom? Millions will say he or she does. It’s their choice.

If you are vacationing in Estes Park, Colorado and drive up Trail Ridge Road, you will find you are surrounded by the majestic Rocky Mountains. What do the mountains tell you? They tell you what a small part of creation the human being is.

These verbal pictures can cause us to believe by pure reason that we are very small fish in a mighty ocean. We are not very important and very few would miss us if we were not around. This can lead to a poor self-image. However, it does not have to be that way.

If you ask the same question and look to revelation, that is, God’s Word, you get bigger answers. Look at the 8th Psalm. It says, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. God, when I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, (and here comes the question) what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”

This Psalm relates well to the creation story where God says, “Let us make man in our image, and let this man have the right to rule over the creation.” Man is the crowning work of God’s creation, and in no way is he insignificant! In God’s eyes we are precious and important. This is one of the most important teachings in the Bible, and it affects one’s entire understanding of not only him or herself, but of the entire creation.

“We are not God,” the Bible tells us. We have to remember that. Sometimes we want to elevate ourselves to that position. However, we are the most exalted part of God’s creation. God does not want us to dwell on our smallness. Humility is not self-depreciation. No, we do not have all of the answers to God’s mysteries, but we do have a mind with which we can think, a will with which we can make decisions, and a soul that is eternal, making us the crowning work of God’s creation. God has created us, those trust Christ as Savior and Lord, to carry the message of His Holy Word to the far parts of the earth. He has commissioned us to reach out to human beings, and in the name of Almighty God who has created all people, to assist others in their walk through life. That’s who we are.

Let’s see what our responsibility to each other is in this fallen world. Disease, suffering, and death are a part of the fallen world. But look at what God is doing: He gives to men and women a mind that can treat the human body and begin to conquer some of these diseases. Through the advancements of medical science the sick have been made well. This is God’s gift to us through the ministry of people serving people.

Look at the compassion God has put into the hearts of a certain group of people to organize an organization called Hospice. Visit the Hospice house in your community and see the hand of God working through humans as they minister to people of all kinds in the last days of their lives.

Look at the poverty in our world. In this same world we have built a strong economy. This is fine. People have developed their talents and become very successful in their business transactions. But does it not say to us, who have more than we need, living in a nation that is blessed, to listen as God tells us to feed those who are hungry? We have the ability in America to address this matter of hunger. A very successful agriculturalist told me not long ago that we have the ability, in the state of Iowa, to feed the entire world. God has not only given us the rich soil, but the ability to develop seed and fertilizers that will provide an abundance of food. Now what does this say to us? It reminds us that all people are created in God’s image and are important. We are to minister to their bodies. We have been given the mission to help one another.

Having said all of this, God has given us our greatest mission – to tell the story of Jesus Christ. You remember that we are not only a body, but also a soul, and though the body shall return to the dust from whence it has come, the soul will return to the Creator Who made it. Feeding the hungry, assisting in blotting out disease, and trying to right some of the injustices found in our culture are very important callings for the Church of Jesus Christ. This work will make life much more pleasant for millions of people; but there is yet a greater mission. That mission is to move about in this world telling people about their Savior.

People need to know that, although they are created in God’s image, they have sinned; they have broken His Laws, and, by themselves, are out of a relationship with their Creator. What does that mean? As long as our sins separate us from a Holy God, there is no personal relationship with God. If there is no personal relationship with God, we are walking through this life pretty much on our own strength and the guidance of other people.

This is not the way God wants it to be. So He says through His Word, to those whom He has created, “Let me take away your sin and restore our relationship.” This restoration has been made possible through the coming of Jesus Christ to this world. He has taken our sins upon Him. He died as a payment for these sins and has offered that all who will confess their sins and place their faith in Him will be completely forgiven. They will be restored into fellowship with God and walk with Him on this earth until He comes to take them to their Heavenly Home.

This is why God made us just a little bit lower than the angels. In Christ we are very important people to this world. We have been created to introduce others to the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus.

In the light of this revelation we say, “No, world. Though pure reason may lead us to believe we are insignificant people – one small fish in a mighty ocean – God’s revelation tells us this is not true. We are created in His image, and each soul is precious and important to Him.” Quite a difference. Amen.

God Moves in Mysterious Ways

In 1774 William Cowper, a man who suffered depression and three times attempted to commit suicide, wrote the hymn, God Moves in a Mysterious Way. Any Christian who has experienced the mysterious work of God in his or her life will agree with the thought expressed in this hymn. God acts in ways and times when we least expect His presence. There is a mystery that surrounds God, which no human mind can understand, but only the Holy Spirit can reveal.

But who is the Holy Spirit? This is a fitting question to ask, especially today, for this is Pentecost, the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit’s coming to earth in a most unique way. You can read about the happenings on the first Pentecost in Acts 2. God is triune, that is, He is three in One. God the Father is our Creator. God the Son is our Redeemer. Christ Jesus is His name. God the Holy Spirit is the One who sanctifies us, which means He works in us, revealing and empowering us to know God in a personal way.

The man who wrote the words of our text today had experienced the Holy Spirit working in his life. His name was Paul, the greatest of the apostles. But Paul was not always a follower of Jesus Christ. In fact, he was the archenemy of Christ and those who followed Him.

As a young man, Paul (also known as Saul of Tarsus) was being trained to be a leader in Judaism. He had the privilege of studying under some of the best theologians, learning about the faith of his people. Among them was the noted philosopher and theologian, Gamaliel. I do not believe it is too much to assume that, during his student days, Paul had heard about Jesus. He had learned that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He was acquainted with the teaching that Jesus died for the sins of the world and was raised physically from the dead. Now he learned that thousands of people were becoming Jesus’ disciples.

This excited Paul, and he was determined to be a part of that group who would blot out the Christian movement. He went to the headquarters of the high priests and received the necessary documents so that, if he found Christians in Damascus, he could bring them back to Jerusalem for persecution. As Paul neared Damascus, a light from heaven flashed, and a voice spoke, “Saul, why do you persecute me?”

To this Paul asked, “Who are you, Lord?”

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what to do.”

It was in Damascus, with Ananias as his teacher, that Paul received Christ and was baptized. It was the Holy Spirit who had brought Paul to Christ using Ananias as His servant. No human being with all his or her persuasiveness could have converted Paul. Paul knew this and never forgot the overwhelming power of the Holy Spirit in his life as he was changed from being an enemy of Jesus Christ to being His most dynamic apostle.

Paul also remembered the role of the human in bringing a person to Christ. Several years later Paul established a congregation in Corinth. In some ways, it was a difficult group of people to serve with the Gospel. Among their many sins there was division within the group. The members of the congregation began to choose up sides as to who was the greatest leader. Here is the way Paul describes this argument:

“One says, ÔI follow Paul,’ and another, ÔI follow Apollos.’ Are you not mere men? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe Ð as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” (I Corinthians 3:5-7)

And that is the way it is today. When great things happen in a congregation, it is because God’s Spirit is at work. The fruits of the seed planted today may not bear fruit for many years, but just remember, that seed is not dead. Let me tell you about Pete.

As a young man Pete heard about Jesus. He came from a nonreligious home, meaning that the family had an inactive membership in the old family church. To please Grandma, he was baptized, but the folks never took their vows at the font seriously. The child did not attend Sunday school, nor were they ever in church more than a couple of times a year. Pete came from a “nice family.” They showed kindness to those in need and lived a good, moral life, according to human standards.

Pete grew up and eventually married. As a young husband and father, he still had no relationship with the church, to say nothing about a personal relationship with Christ. His wife was not a religious person either. Her religious background was worse than Pete’s was. But one day something tragic happened, and their lives changed.

One of the children died suddenly. Pete and his wife were devastated. They took the child’s body back to their hometown, and Pete contacted the church where he had been confirmed. The old pastor who had confirmed Pete was still there. In making the funeral arrangements, the minister asked Pete if he could remember his confirmation verse. It took some soul searching and a visit with his mother to find this verse written on the bottom of Pete’s confirmation certificate. There it was. Pete had stood before the congregation on his confirmation day and recited these words, “Come unto me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Now he remembered. How frightened he was on that confirmation day! He didn’t know the meaning of Jesus’ invitation to him, nor did Pete feel heavy burdened. But things were different on the day of the funeral when, with broken hearts and tears running down the family’s faces, they listened to these same words. Now life had changed. They did have burdens, and they did not know where to go for comfort. The pastor used Pete’s confirmation verse as the text for the child’s funeral.

A couple of days after the funeral, Pete went to the pastor and thanked him for all that he had done to make things a little easier. The pastor told Pete that it was a privilege for him to share with their family the great truths of the Bible. After a long discussion as to why Pete had chosen this verse, the minister spoke words to this effect:

“Pete, that verse was God’s seed planted in your mind and soul when you were 14 years old. You had forgotten about it, but God, on the day of the funeral, spoke through His invitation to you and your family. I was just the servant who had the opportunity in your time of need to share it with you again. Does it speak to you now?”

Well, to make a long story short, God’s Spirit broke through Pete’s indifferent heart. Today Pete will tell you that this was the beginning of his conversion. He now is not only an active member in his congregation, but one of the highest priorities in the week is to teach a group of kids in confirmation class what the Holy Spirit did in his life. Each class hears Pete’s story many times during the year they are in his classroom. Pete knows who he is and what he is doing. He is only the teacher, but he wants to be the best teacher possible. The Holy Spirit is the only one who can reach those young lives. Pete hopes it will not be 25 years, under such sad circumstances for them, as it was in his life.

Now listen to another story. This beautiful young lady has a different story to tell. What makes her story different from Pete’s is that she comes from a strong Christian home. She, too, was baptized as an infant, but introduced to Jesus Christ in her home. We at the church had an opportunity to assist the home in the development of her Christian faith and life, but from a human point of view, her parent’s faithfulness to Christ and His Church were the primary factor in her Spiritual growth.

This is a paper written for a Composition and Rhetoric class in a public high school. Her subject for the composition was “God’s Greatest Gift.” I quote, “For God to have a personal relationship with all of His creations, God protects them. The following verse emphasizes this point: ÔGod has commanded angels to guard you in all your ways.’ (Psalm 91:11) This verse shows that God loves His creations so much that, when they struggle, God sends help for them. I have experienced this protection in my personal life. This occurred only a few months after my birth. I had to go to the hospital in Rochester in order to have a life-altering surgery. My parents and I spent very exhausting and fearful weeks in the hospital, but God carried us through it all. He gave us the inner strength and love we needed. He also sent many angels to us in the form of friends and doctors. One of the many important angels that He sent to us appeared as Pastor Homer Larsen, a former pastor at my church. Pastor Larsen’s visit was not planned by earthly means, but rather by heavenly ones. Pastor Larsen had not known that I was in Rochester. He had visited someone else and had gotten snowed in near the hospital. God took over the situation from this point and led Pastor Larsen to me, so that he could provide profound guidance and support to my family. This example, along with the preceding verse, shows how God provides protection to His creations.”

The only reason for mentioning my small part in the development of this young lady’s relationship with God is to show how God used me when I least expected I was being used. Seventeen years later, this high school student gives testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit in her life as an infant. I planted the seed of God’s Word in that hospital room one snowy night at the Mayo Clinic. Then God took over, and that seed has blossomed into a strong conviction that God will take care of us, if we but trust Him.

God moves in mysterious ways. That’s exciting! And what’s even more exciting for His children is to observe that He uses us. Without the Holy Spirit’s presence, little will be accomplished for Christ in this world, but the Holy Spirit, speaking through His Word, which is often carried by His disciples, can change lives and make people new creatures in Jesus Christ.

Motherhood – Yesterday and Today

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Let me ask you a debatable question. When was it most difficult to be a Christian mother? Was it 1925 or 2002? After giving this question some thought, how would you vote? So that we do not compare apples to oranges, let’s have in mind two mothers whose lives are committed to Jesus Christ.

I might just add that since my wife had a stroke, I have had a peek into the housekeeping world and find it rather fascinating, but I do not have the responsibilities of a mother who works outside of the home with many domestic responsibilities facing her when she leaves her work.

What about washing clothes? That was a chore in 1925. The water had to be heated, and sometimes mother would soak the clothes overnight. The equipment used was a scrub board and the old wringer plus the outdoors clothes line and clothes pins. I remember some of those cold days in Maine when mother hung out the clothes. Dad’s underwear froze as stiff as a board. Washing could be an all-day job. Quite different from today when all that needs to be done is to push a few buttons and add the soap.

Ironing, as I understand, is all but passŽ. These new fabrics eliminate ironing. One lady told me she doesn’t even own an iron. Not so in our home back in the late 20s. My mother was a bit particular, and she ironed everything from dad’s white shirts to the socks we wore. Quite a chore!

Baking and cooking were appreciated by the family, but it was no picnic to stand over that hot stove in July when it was 90 degrees outdoors. The automatic oven and microwave have made cooking in 2002 a bit easier, and the packaging of foods makes it possible to get a good meal ready in a few minutes. The deep freeze has also done away with much of the canning and preserving that mom used to do a generation ago.

All these modern appliances have made the household tasks easier. I have to vote that it was more difficult to be a mother in 1925 than it is in 2002 when it comes to the routine duties of keeping the family clean, well fed, and clothed. I am sure that, when some of those mothers went to bed, they were physically exhausted.

But there is more to be said. Being a mother is not just doing the things mentioned above. We must add the number one priority – raising the children. Now it is a whole new ball game. The children have to be educated. That involves more than just going to school a few hours each day. Think of all the extras Ð lessons of all kinds, meetings that are scheduled in the evenings, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, church activities, and many other obligations. We easily forget, but I don’t recall such a busy schedule when I was in elementary school. There really wasn’t too much going on after school. Now, both the kids and parents are involved. Our grandchildren’s schedules are unbelievable. One evening I played chauffeur for our granddaughter. After school she had a violin lesson that was followed by a soccer game. Her father was attending an evening meeting in another city, and her mother was representing the family at the son’s track meet. This is motherhood in 2002 for many women.

Then there is the religious training of the child. You are a Christian mother and have not forgotten that, at the baptismal font, you promised to introduce your child to Jesus Christ. You want to do this, but when do you have time? When is there time for the family to assemble for devotions when children see father and mother reading the Bible and praying? Sunday morning has become a busy time. For many years our children have had to battle a schedule where some of the athletic events are scheduled on Sunday morning. They could, and often have, said, “No, on Sunday we go to church as a family.” Coaches of these 12-year-olds do not take this decision kindly and bench the kid. This causes stress between children and parents.

Then there are those daily temptations. We were no more innocent in the 20s and 30s that children are now. We are born with a sinful nature. The difference is that we had fewer temptations than is the case in 2002. From kindergarten to graduate school, I never had an encounter with drugs. There was liquor around, but it was dealt with a bit more severely when kids became involved with it. Occasionally a girl would become pregnant and have to drop out of school to have her child. However, the sexual activity of kids in elementary, junior high school, and senior high school today is appalling, if what we read is correct.

There is also a cultural change in society’s attitude toward the Christian faith. Some of our neighbors did not go to church, but there was still a respect for the absolutes. The schools included the use of the Bible in their programs, and teachers were permitted to begin the day with prayer. Teachers can do no evangelizing, but they can be very critical of basic teachings in the Christian faith. One such example would be creation. Talk about being created in the image of God and you have stepped over bounds. Talk about the evolutionary process in the creation of the human being and society says this is the reality the child needs to know.

This is what mothers deal with in raising their children today. The washing is easier, but the raising of the child is much more difficult in this wide-open, immoral society in which we live. Concerned about all of these temptations facing her children, mother goes to bed emotionally tired, and often her nights are sleepless.

I personally don’t believe there has ever been a time when it has been more difficult to be a Christian mother than today. If this statement is true, the woman who desires to be a strong Christian influence in the life of her child must be spiritually strong herself. This calls for a daily time-out with God. The first priority of a committed Christian mother is to introduce her child to Jesus Christ. The child needs to hear his or her mother’s verbal witness for Christ; and her words must be supported by her daily walk with the Lord. The words of St. Paul to Christian parents in Ephesus speak to mothers in 2002. Listen to God’s Word:

Paul writes, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the whole armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (10-13)

God is telling us that we face a tough world led by Satan. His purpose is to destroy your relationship with God as a mother. If he is successful in this venture, you can no longer be a strong Christian influence in the life of your child. You cannot give your child something that you do not have yourself. But the positive note is that God is stronger than Satan, and if His Word feeds you daily, you will be adequate to face anything the devil throws at you. This is not theory. Try it for yourself. Let God have thirty minutes of your time each day for one month and experience the added strength you have in being adequate to put Satan in his place. One mother did this, and when her little girl prayed at bedtime she said, “Thank you, God, for giving me a new mommy.” Great mothers spend time in their prayer closet with God’s Word.

Here are a few other good suggestions, which have a Biblical base. If your husband is a Christian, spend some time each day with him in prayer and Bible study. Be sure to worship each Sunday in a church where God’s Word is preached with an evangelical emphasis. Read some good books on being a good Christian mother. Any Christian bookstore can help you choose these books. Attend a woman’s conference each year with other Christian women.

This is a big assignment for a woman who already has the responsibility of a house with all of its tasks and perhaps works out of the home. However, you have to eat, sleep, and exercise if you want to be physically strong. The same is true if you want to be spiritually strong.

It has always been a major calling to be a Christian mother. God makes this clear in His Word. It was a big assignment in 1925, it is a big challenge in 2002, and nothing will have changed if this world is standing in the year 3002. No matter what happens in this world, God’s Word will always be adequate to make you a faithful mother whose children will rise up to call you blessed.

Love Can Be Tested

Love cannot be defined, but it can be tested! This is what Jesus is telling us in our text today when he says, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (15)

You can test God’s love for you.

Look at His creation. What a beautiful place He has made for us! As one friend said to me, “This world is God’s living room.”

But there is more than that to testing God’s love. It would be pretty frightening to live in this beautiful world, which is broken because of sin, were it not for Christ. Our Heavenly Father, out of love, has given us His Son to be our Savior. When we sin, Christ forgives and restores us into fellowship with our Creator.

Because He loves us, God has given us the Holy Spirit who will comfort us in our hours of despair and strengthen us when we are tempted.

These are the promises that Jesus first gave to His disciples and today offers us. Because He would not be physically present in their lives any more did not mean Jesus would abandon His disciples. Nor does it mean that He has deserted His children in this present age. “I will not leave you orphans,” is His promise to us. He sent the Holy Spirit, who will counsel us each day in His the Word. He will reveal what truth is, so that we need not walk in darkness, but live as children of the light.

How often, as His children, have we not experienced the truth of this promise? One young widow left with two teen-age children answered my question, “How’s it going?”

“I would be lying to say it’s going fine. My son is angry at God for taking his dad away, and my daughter lives in her shell, but through it all I am experiencing how adequate God’s promises are as I receive strength and guidance in piloting them through these turbulent waters.”

But now there is a second question, which is spoken to those who confess Christ as Savior and Lord, “Can our love for God be tested, and if so, how does it reveal itself?” Jesus says our love for Him can be tested by keeping his commandments.

Obviously this means keeping the Ten Commandments that God gave to Israel. But there are other commands given by our Lord. By example, as we live in a relationship with Christ, we take His last recorded words seriously, “Be my witnesses . . .” The person who loves Jesus is anxious to point others to Him. Can a person say, “I love Jesus,” and not let his children know what Christ has done for him? When Jesus teaches in the parable of the Good Samaritan that we are to love those in need, will we not want to be obedient to Christ’s teachings and reach out to the human and spiritual needs of those in need? If we know what He wants us to do, will we not be anxious to do it?

When Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” can we continue to let feelings of hate live in our souls as we continue to find ways to get even with them? Loving Jesus is more than singing, “Oh, how I love Jesus” or “My Jesus, I love You.” Love is action.

Love for God can be tested by our obedience to His Word. Love for people can be tested as we reach out to tell them about Christ and to help them in their times of need. And love for people can also be tested. This needs to be repeated. Love shows itself in our relationships within the family. The husband who loves his wife, and she her husband, reveal their love by being sensitive to the feelings of the other. If I tell my wife (a physically disabled person) each day, “I love you,” it means that I will adjust my daily schedule to make sure I am around when she needs me.

The citizen who loves his country will show it by true patriotism. I recently had the opportunity to hear General Norman Schwarzkopf deliver a lecture. He began by saying, “I love the United States of America, and therefore I am willing to do whatever my country asks me to do.” The General had the credentials to say, “I love America” because of his willingness to risk his life, not only in the war Desert Storm, but also Viet Nam. His love for country could have been tested by his obedience when called upon to serve this land.

One of the refreshing characteristics of Christianity is getting rid of some of the phoniness in our behavior. We can sing about love. We can write emotional letters expressing our feelings for another person. We can philosophize as to what love is, but when we have said all of this, Jesus says, “Thank you. Now prove it.”

Just remember, love can be proven.