The Human Predicament

Do you ever get angry and ask yourself, “Why do I act as I do?” Perhaps you have a temper that gets out of control. You have had it all your life. When you were a child, you might have gotten into a physical fight with a friend. You gave him a black eye, and he sent you home with a bloody nose. The next day the fight was forgotten, and you were the best of friends.

Now you have grown up and learned that such behavior is not acceptable in the adult world. However, words are substituted for physical blows. Lashing out at another person when you are forty is no more difficult than when you were ten years old. Your words are cutting and cause for more pain than what comes from a black eye or a bloody nose. They are long remembered. In fact, some statements are never forgotten.

That old temper never seems to go away. It makes you wonder why you cannot control your temper. You reason that you are a Christian and have resolved to conquer this lifelong sin hundreds of times. Yet, you fail. This is the human predicament.

Our text today gives the answer about why we cannot manage these temper tantrums, but it also tells how they can be controlled.

The Bible teaches that we are born with a sinful nature. This is a basic Christian belief. It is called original sin. Our nature is rebellious and causes us to act contrary to God’s will rather than to follow Him.

When Adam and Eve were created, they were without sin. God told them to enjoy the garden. There was but one law Ð they could not eat of the tree of knowledge. The day they did, the relationship with Him would be broken. The tempter came along and assured them that it would do them no harm to eat of that tree. They transgressed the one law God had given to them. At that time, sin came into the world, and this sinful nature has passed to all people. David writes, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). David is saying his parents were sinful, and he inherited their nature.

Medical people are concerned about our genes. We all know what it is to provide a medical history of our families. From what did your parents die? What diseases did they have? How old were they then they died? Inheritance is very important in making a physical diagnosis of a person. It is also very important when we explain the person’s spiritual nature.

Job affirms this teaching when he says, “Who can bring what is pure from the impure?” (Job 14:4). Jesus also teaches, “Flesh gives girth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to the spirit” (John 3:6).

You may ask yourself why you sin? Why do you have a temper that gets out of control? Like it or not Ð it is our human nature. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

We are also accountable for our sins. Paul is clear when he writes, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Jesus describes the eternal fate of the person who dies outside of Christ: “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). These are harsh words coming from a loving Savior who did not come to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

Such teaching about the sinfulness of the human being is not well received by a society captured by humanistic thought. Humanism teaches that people are basically good, and if there is some evil in us, it has come from the environment in which we live. This hatred evidenced in our lives could have been learned by observing parents whose lives were filled with hatred. Or perhaps a child, who is basically a good person, goes away to a college or university where he joins the wrong crowd and is led astray. This may reveal itself in immoral living or in an attitude of being so self-centered that the only thing that counts in life is what is good for me and mine. This, the humanist would say, is not a nature inherited, but one learned.

However, the humanist says there is hope. Anything that is wrong in the person’s life can be corrected by the person himself or with help from a counselor. According to humanistic philosophy, we are not helpless, nor do we need a Savior.

This is rather comforting, is it not? Is it not it pleasing to be told that you are such a pleasant person, and any wrong within you can easily be corrected? Sometimes you can be tempted to wonder if there is not some truth in what the humanist is teaching.

Look at some people who are so pleasant. They are kind, loving, forgiving, and concerned about others. We live with people who do not confess to be Christians, but live good lives. What about them?

My wife and I have asked that question often. Being disabled she needs much assistance when she is in a wheelchair or using her walker. It is so uplifting to see how people rush to help her. We have especially been impressed with the young people who are quick to offer help. If they have a sinful nature, what makes them so considerate?

Paul says, “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things that are required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them” (Romans 2:14-16).

What does all of this mean? God has written the law on their hearts. Though they claim no relationship with Him, there is knowledge of right and wrong that reveals itself in their conscience and actions.

Nevertheless, while the person who is not a Christian may live a moral life, he or she is still a sinner in need of a Savior. They need to be delivered from the consequences of their sinfulness. This comes only by trusting Jesus Christ. Paul empresses this well when he writes, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

It is Christ who first forgives us. The Holy Spirit then empowers us to fight against these sins that are a part of our sinful nature. We cannot conquer our sinful ways by our own strength, no matter how hard we try. This is the human predicament. How sad it is to see the human being trying to right the wrongs in his or her life when it cannot be done by well-intentioned people. But here stands the Savior ready to help us.

How do I conquer my temper, or other sins? Turn to Christ in these hours of temptation and see what a difference walking with Him makes in our daily living. Amen.

Rev. Homer Larsen

Christian Crusaders

In His Image

This is the third in a series of ten messages on the theme, “Biblical Teachings of the Christian Faith.” Last Sunday we noted that Jesus defined who God is in a very personal way. He is our Father. Today we turn to other parts of Scripture that define Him as the Creator.

The Scriptures read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” How it was created is not told in detail. It simply says he did it. That should be enough. This universe did not come into existence by chance. It was the purposeful creation of God.

God’s crowning work of the creation is given in Genesis where the Bible says, “Then God said, ÔLet us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all creatures that move along the ground.'” This verse prompts people to question what it means to be created in the image of God.

Certainly, this term (image of God) has no reference to a physical likeness. Jesus told the woman at the Samaritan well that God is a spirit. He does not have a body. We talk about children being the spitting image of one of their parents. This is a physical image. It is not the same as when we say people are created in God’s image.

From the Scriptures we learn that the image of God means we possess certain characteristics that are also found in God. First, we have a mind with which we can think; God has a mind. Second, we have a will with which we can make a decision; God has a will. Third, we have a soul that is eternal; God is eternal.

The creation story also tells us, “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being (or soul).” Our soul is immortal, but our bodies will return to the dust from whence they came. (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

It is natural that we give much attention to our bodies, as we should. The Bible tells us that these bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and we should be careful with them. While we may have some bad habits (lack of exercise, overeating and drinking, too much work and not enough rest) we still manage to care for our health in the general sense of the word. We get to the doctors for our checkups. We are diligent in keeping our blood pressure and cholesterol under control. We hope to have good health and enjoy the golden years. However, the reality is that our days on this earth are numbered. We are but sojourners and pilgrims on this earth. Then we die. The body, described by Paul as a tent, wears out and returns to the dust from whence it came.

However, the soul is immortal. If we only gave as much attention to the soul, which is eternal as we do to the body, which is so temporal. This soul needs to be fed, and Christ is the Bread of Life. There needs to be time for meditation and prayer that we might find our comfort, direction, and strength from our Father who walks with us.

Let us not forget that God, our Creator, has made us to live here on this earth for a short time, and then we enter eternity. This is where we are different from the rest of creation. Fido, the dog, might live his fourteen years, but then he dies, and that is the end of Fido. Not so with grandma. She will live her eighty-five years, and then her body will be placed in the grave. However, her soul lives on into eternity.

As we walk through this life, it becomes obvious that we exercise a free will, which is a part of the image of God. Think of it! We can even tell God that we do not intend to live according to His will. This we do daily. That rebellion is sin, which separates us from God. The Creator can have nothing to do with a sinful creature. What is God to do? Should He forget us? No, He did not do this, but set up a plan by which He would forgive us our sins and bring us back into a living relationship with Him. This He does through sending Christ to be our Redeemer. We will discuss this basic teaching in the sermon next week.

For those of us who have been brought back into a living relationship with God, the Creator has planned to use us to tell the world that He is not only its Creator, but also its Savior. As only God could create us, only God can save us, and this is done in Christ. As His children, we are called to be His ambassadors, and God, the Creator, makes His appeal to this world through us. (II Corinthians 5:2).

We humans are the crowning work of God’s creation. In God’s eyes we are precious and important, not because of what we have done, but because of who we are. As His servants, we bow in humble adoration and confess, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty; creator of heaven and earth.” Amen.

God, the Father

Forgetting my plan to keep these messages simple on the theme, Biblical Teachings of the Christian Faith, I found myself going to my library and reading what some great theologians of the past and the present have to say about the doctrine of God. Their thoughts are so academic that I am sure most people would soon lose interest.

So I turned to the New Testament to be refreshed on Jesus’ teachings regarding God. His definition of God is very simple. One word gives us a marvelous picture of who He is. The word is Father. God is our Father. This is far more personal than calling God the “Supreme Architect of the Universe,” the “Ground of Being,” the “First Cause,” or “Supreme Power.” Can you imagine beginning your prayers by saying, “Oh, thou Ground of Being, I need to visit with you about a very serious problem in my life.” That relationship would be quite impersonal and cold.

Jesus said, “This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father, who art in heaven . . .” How different! Here God is presented as One who is concerned about us. He is near and listens to our needs. So let’s spend a little time talking about God as presented by Jesus in the story of the prodigal son.

The story begins by introducing us to a son who was tired of living at home. He wanted to get out and see the world to learn what it had to offer. He wanted to live independently of the father. So one day the son went to the father and said, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” So the father divided his property between his two sons.

The days followed with some fast living, which took much money. Soon he was broke and forced to become a hired hand for a farmer. His pay was eating the pods that the pigs ate. What a life! The glories of being away from his father were not very glorious. His eyes were opened, and his soul was repentant of his rebellious nature.

There in the pigpen, the Bible says, he came to his senses. He reflected on life at home. “How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.” So he got up and went to his father.

Let’s stop right here. How often have we played the role of the prodigal son? We have been raised in the church where we were taught God’s will for our life. This way of life was not always to our liking, so we did exactly what the prodigal son did Ð we walked away from God’s will. The end was, or will be, as disastrous for us as it was for him.

Traci Lords has written a book entitled, “Underneath It All.” I saw her in an interview on television. I wanted to know more about her life, so I purchased the book. On the television program she presented herself as a person who had a story to tell that might help someone else. According to her story, she was born to parents who had their own problems. She was raped at the age of ten. At fifteen she was a star in porn films. The story reminded me of the prodigal son. She was a prodigal daughter far away from home. That part of her life story was so tragic that I read only the first seventy pages and then a bit at the end of the book to learn how it all came out.

While she mentions nothing about God changing her life, it is now different. She left this lifestyle and has the courage to tell her story in the hopes it will help some young person not to believe that being a porn star is as glorious as some would paint it to be.

I bet she can identify with the prodigal son. Yet cannot we all in our own way? Remember that day we were wronged by another person. Hatred began to grow in our heart for this person. God told us that this hatred was sin. We defended our actions and told how badly this individual hurt us. We turned our back on God and soon the hatred developed into bitterness. This led to great unhappiness.

God’s Word warns us about greed. We have more than enough of the material to satisfy our needs, but we want more. The longing for more makes us greedy people. Soon that greed affects our sense of values. We cannot answer the question, when is enough, enough? How unhappy we are trying to satisfy that inner craving, but we still turn our back on the Father who alone is the Bread of Life.

Do examples such as these help us find our place in this story of the prodigal son? Life away from the Father is not all that some would make it out to be.

The story does not end here. The prodigal returned to his father who, when he saw his son coming down the street, ran to him, embraced him, and shouted out, “We are going to have a party because my son who was dead is alive; the one who was lost has been found.” The father did not scold him, nor did he remind his son what a fool he had been. He simply accepted him as he was, a repentant young man asking for a place to work as a hired man. He was his son, his forgiven son.

This is Jesus’ picture of God. His heart breaks when we walk away. He rejoices when we repent of our sins and return to him. He is a God of love and grace. Someone has said, “Regret came in the pigpen; repentance came in his father’s arms.”

Now let us not draw some wrong conclusions from this parable. The father did not excuse the son for what he did. He did not condone his behavior. He forgave him, and there is a tremendous difference between excusing and forgiving.

Neither did the father say, “I understand, son. You had to grow up. We all go through these rebellious times.” No, the father did not sit back and say, “Well, it is all over now. We will just laugh about it all. There must have been some humorous experiences while you were spending all of that money I gave you.” No, he simply forgave the son and received him back with no strings attached. This is undeserved love. It is the kind of love God showers upon His children when we repent of our sins and turn to him.

You can be sure that, from that day on, the son lived in a close relationship with his father. So also does the Christian who has learned what it is to be loved and forgiven by God.

If you are sincere in asking what you can believe about God, you will find many pictures of Him in your Bible. This picture reveals God as the Father who loves you. He wants to live in a personal relationship with you. He has given His Son, the Lord Jesus, to die for you that your sins can be forgiven. He stands with you, as a good father or mother would do when you are hurting and going through bad times. He also rejoices with you when you rejoice.

This is how Jesus reveals God to you. There is no better revelation. Amen.

God Is Still Speaking

As I move among people, it is evident that there is much confusion about the Christian faith. I expect to find this among my friends who seldom attend church and make no profession to be Christian. What puzzles me is that people who have sat on the pews of a church Sunday after Sunday for forty or fifty years do not seem to have the foggiest idea of what the basic teachings of the Christian faith are all about. Therefore, I plan to use the next few sermons to present some Biblical teachings of the Christian faith.

These sermons are in no way theological lectures. I am speaking to my two junior high school granddaughters and their peers and to those who have graduated from college and are debating what to do with their lives. I also write these sermons for my children and people of their age who are in the midst of raising a family and are at the peak of their work career. I also speak to my wife and me who have grown older and possess all of the temptations of old age.

All of us need to be guided by the basics of God’s Word as we live in a post-Christian world that has little or no idea what to believe. This is the first sermon, in a series of ten, in which we will talk about Basic Teachings of the Christian Faith.

God continues to reveal Himself in creation. The Psalmist writes, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” When we ride through the mountains, sail on the ocean, enjoy the food that comes from the fertile soil, or whatever else the eye may behold from this planet designed for humans to enjoy, we can only say with the poet, “My God, how wonderful Thou art.”

The Almighty continues to speak to us through His Son, Jesus Christ. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. It was He who said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

However, today I would like to emphasize God speaking to us through the Bible. It is in the Bible that we meet Jesus Christ. What is this book that is on the shelves of our homes? Where did it come from, and who wrote it? God’s Word tells us. “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (II Peter 1:21). Paul, writing to Timothy, a young pastor, says, “From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:15-17).

John Stott, the great English preacher and author of the book Between Two Worlds, says, “God speaks through what He has spoken.” Let’s see how this works. Jesus once said, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40).

This statement impressed John. Many years later, he was writing his Gospel, and inspired by the Holy Spirit, John included this promise of Jesus in his book. The book became a part of our Bible, which we have in our homes and churches. It is through this book and this passage that God still speaks. He is telling us the same as Jesus told the people who listened to Him while he walked on this earth.

What is it that God says to us today, right now? “Joe, it is my Father’s will that, if you look to the Son and believe in Him, you will have eternal life. On the last day I will raise you up.” God is still speaking. Through God’s voice these words bring us comfort. They reveal to us the way of salvation through the inspired messages of the Bible.

Now comes a more personal question: God is still speaking; are we listening? Obviously, as a nation, the answer is no. Certain parts of the Church are not listening to Him. The Episcopal Church, voting to allow a practicing homosexual to become the bishop of New Hampshire, is not listening to what God is saying. It is also true that, if we as Christians are honest, there are many times in a day when we do not listen to what He is saying.

The claim that the Bible is God’s Word in which He speaks to us has always been under attack. While most mainline churches in Protestantism have official documents that state that the Bible is the inspired word of God and the authority in matters of faith and life, this dogma is being tested today. Here is one example.

The Bible clearly teaches that the practice of homosexuality is sin (Romans 1:26-27). Yet, high-powered committees are taking several years and spending millions of dollars to study whether or not the church should bless same-sex marriages and ordain practicing homosexuals. If these churches were faithful to the scriptures, such studies would not be made. To look to culture for guidance on ethical teachings is turning away from the practice of sola scripture (scripture alone). The mouth of God is silenced while humans babble on expounding the new research on this subject, which comes from the minds of fallible scholars.

God is still speaking, but we choose not to listen! Therein lies the weakness of the church in our day. Society has little respect for a church that does not have the courage to express its convictions.

When does one come to accept the Bible as God speaking to us? Joseph Sittler has helped me answer that question. Sittler says that when the teachings of the Bible intersect with the facts of life, you will know that God is speaking. Shortly after hearing Dr. Sittler make this statement, I buried a man and used as the funeral text, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live . . .” Following the service a daughter of the deceased said to me, “Your text was the Bible passage I chose for my confirmation verse. Until today this has just been another beautiful statement, which I believe intellectually. However, it has now become a living truth.” The Biblical statement intersected with the facts of life, and it was God speaking.

To hear His voice, we must read His Word. We must hear this Word preached. We need to discuss this Word with brothers and sisters in the faith.

The Bible is the inspired Word of God and the foundation for what we believe and how we act. This is a basic truth that Christians believe. Next week we will learn how Jesus describes God. Amen.

The Bread of Life

Jesus’ popularity was growing! The people were amazed at His teaching, and when he performed his miracles, they went wild. The day He fed 5,000 people from five loaves and two fishes, the crowd wanted to make him king by force. Jesus wanted none of this, so he went into the mountain alone and sent his disciples across the Sea of Galilee to the city of Capernaum. In the middle of the night there was a storm, and the little boat was being tossed back and forth when Jesus came to them, walking on the water. Obviously, this frightened the disciples. Soon they were together in Capernaum where Jesus’ admirers caught up with him. They were a part of the crowd that had seen him feed the 5,000 people.

Jesus said to them, “You came looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” As the conversation continued, Jesus made this statement, which serves as our text today: “I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and do not believe. All the Father gives me will come to me, and I will never drive them away . . . It is my Father’s will that those who look to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

The crowd responded with a question Ð a question that has been asked in every age: “What must we do to earn this bread of life?”

Jesus replied, “It is free. God will give it to you!” It is this bread of life that feeds our souls and satisfies our spiritual cravings.

God tells us in the Bible that we are a body and a soul. We must feed the body, and it is enjoyable to eat. While most of us do not walk around hungry, do we not have physical cravings? I do. Having lived in Maine the first years of my life, I was introduced to some very good fish. When I visit my home, I eat little steak. All I want while in Maine is fish, fish, and some more fish. Others of you crave for some dish that is unique to a particular nationality. The Norwegians like lutefisk, the Germans like sauerkraut, and the Danes like aebleskiver.

Like we have physical cravings, we also have spiritual cravings. Questions like these torment us, and they appear to have no answers from humans. Who am I? Why do these terrible things happen? What is God’s will for my life? What happens after death? Is there a life after death? Don’t you crave for answers to these questions? I know many people do.

The great laboratories and universities, who have supplied us with many answers to baffling questions, give us no answers to these questions. However, the answers to these questions, and many more like them, are found in the Bible. They are God’s answers that come to us through His divine revelation.

John Stott, one of the world’s greatest preachers, and for many years the preacher at All Souls’ Church in London, writes, “God still speaks through what He has spoken.” Two thousand years ago Jesus said, “It is my Father’s will that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40). This statement made an impression on Jesus’ disciple, John. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote the words Jesus had spoken in His Gospel. Through these words our Lord answers some of our questions today.

Let’s see how Jesus can give answers to a family who has recently buried their 11-year-old daughter, full of life, with a beautiful personality. I first came to know her when one evening she and her dad rang our doorbell. Katlin, with a big smile, asked if I would care to make a donation to the cancer fund. Then she looked at me and said, “I have cancer, and your gift will help find a cure for those of us who have it.” I wanted to cry. That little girl was dying with cancer. How could it be?

She spent many months in the hospital and had some of the finest specialists who could prolong her life, but were unable to cure the disease. That day was yet to come.

Why does this happen? That is one of our questions. We crave for an answer. Our souls are hungry to know why. Listen to the words God spoke, and through which He speaks today: “Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death came to all men because all men sinned.”

We live in a broken, imperfect world. A part of this imperfection is suffering and death, which comes to us at any age Ð eleven or one hundred eleven.

Hearing this Biblical answer to death, the skeptic responds. “I do not want a God like that.” Well, we are not privileged to make a god according to our liking. So if you cannot accept this answer, you will spend the rest of your life wondering why good people, who are often very young, have to die. However, the Christian has received his answer in God’s Word. Death is here because of sin.

God has a lot more to tell us. Jesus says, “My Father’s will is that anyone who looks to the Son and believes in him has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (40). Katlin trusted Jesus. The answer to her state now is given to us by Jesus. She is in heaven. Christ died for her sins, and through His suffering and death He has paid the price for our sins. Those who trust Christ as their Savior have entered a personal relationship with God for all eternity.

The questions turn to those who are left to mourn the loss of this loved one. How can a dad and mom, siblings and grandparents carry such grief? How much can a person take? This is another one of those difficult questions. God speaks through His prophet: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through difficult days, I will be with you . . . So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10 and Isaiah 43:1).

These words do not take away the hurt, but it gives hope, which makes the pain bearable. Trust Him. Take one day at a time and the sun will shine again. I have seen it happen often in my ministry.

We live in an age that has given us many answers to difficult questions. For this we are thankful. This is not to downplay human answers. It is simply to say there are those difficult questions for which we must humble ourselves and listen as God speaks to us, telling us how it is.

The people of Jesus’ day rejected His answers. “You will not believe,” he said to them. So it is true for many today who walk through life without answers that can make some sense out of life. Do not be among the unbelievers. Trust God’s Word. It is true that now we know in part, but through Christ Jesus in our Heavenly home we will know fully. Amen.