How Do I Find the Lord?

“How do I find the Lord?”

That was the question a woman asked her friend. It is a great question, one I always liked being asked, because God is already at work in the person’s heart when she has such a desire, or else she would not have asked the question.

Though I have never met this person, I believe it is safe to say she realizes God is here in this big universe, but she does not know how to have a relationship with him. I would surmise that she knows her life is incomplete. Something is lacking to make her a complete person, and money cannot buy it. She might have some guilt and not know how to handle it. Perhaps she fights a depression that cannot be lifted by any vacation or new car. Maybe there is boredom in her life that the bright lights of the entertainment world do not change. When the burden of the day is heavy, there is a lack of strength.

Her question – How do I find the Lord? – reveals that she is convinced she must do something to catch the attention of the Almighty, but what is it? Therein lies her problem.

So she asks, “If I cannot take the initiative to find God, how do I enter a relationship with him?” The Bible answers: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8).

What does this mean? Let’s go over God’s plan of salvation, revealed in the Bible.

In Genesis 1:26 we read, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness. . . .” To be created in the image of God means we have been made with some characteristics that God has. God has a mind; the human being has a mind. He has a will; we have a will. He is eternal; we have a soul that is immortal. We are the crowning work of God’s creation. We can think and make decisions. Consequently, we are responsible beings.

When Adam and Eve had the opportunity to use their minds and wills to obey or disobey God, they chose the path of disobedience. In language that we understand, they said, “Get out of my way, Lord. I am going to do what I want to do and not what you have commanded me to do.”

This disobedience is called sin, and from that day on their relationship with God was broken. Paul describes it in this way: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned . . .” Romans 5:12. That is why the woman asked how she could find God. It is a cry of despair – a crying out for the Father she does not know. However, she is fortunate; for although she cannot find him, she believes God is alive. Millions of people have no thought of a relationship with Him and do not seek to find him.

However, God has said that he wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. So what did He do? He sent his Son to take all of the world’s sins upon himself. Then Christ, the God-man, went to the cross and died as a sacrifice for our sin. He paid the price through his sacrificial suffering and death. On the third day God raised Him from the dead, and in that act declared he had accepted the punishment for sin. He offers salvation to all. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Because of Christ’s sacrifice, that relationship with God can be restored, and we can live and die with him.

Now salvation is available for all who will receive Him in faith. But how can we believe? Martin Luther wrote, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him; but the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel . . .”

St. Paul wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

All Paul and Luther are saying is that we cannot make ourselves believe. However, the Holy Spirit will create this faith, which enables us to say from our hearts, “I receive Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord.” When you pray what we have sometimes called “the sinner’s prayer,” Christ comes into your heart. He takes all of your sins away. God sees you, through Christ, as forgiven, spotless, and clean. You are now in a relationship with God. You did not find Him; he found you!

How does the Spirit do this? We read our Bibles, and as we read the Spirit works within us, making these verses come alive. God is speaking to us. While the mind cannot understand what we are reading, the Spirit makes these words living truths. This requires that we expose ourselves to God’s Word through which the Spirit works.

If you are serious about this matter of becoming a believer, I would urge you to set aside a few minutes each day for Bible reading. First, purchase a good Study Bible. This will cost about $50 and will have good notes at the bottom of each page helping you to understand what you are reading. I suggest that you begin reading one chapter each day in the Gospel of St. John. Then read the other Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. This will give you about three months’ reading. After that, read the book of Acts and learn how the early Church was used by God, realizing he has the same assignment for his followers today. Soon you will want to enjoy the Psalms, which relate people’s relationship with God.

It is also very important that you worship in a church where the Gospel is preached each Sunday. You need the fellowship of a worshiping congregation. Do not choose just any church. Make sure you are hearing God’s Word expounded.

It will also help you to find a small group of believers who gather regularly to study and discuss God’s Word. Remember that wherever the Word of God is being read, the Holy Spirit is working, and that is how God is working faith in your life. Being with other Christians builds us up in the faith. Paul wrote to the congregation at Rome and told them he hoped to be with them soon “that they might be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Romans 1:12).

Let’s go back to the point when you ask Christ into your life. He said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). He comes into your life when invited. So you ask Him into your life.

Now you are a baby Christian. You have just been spiritually born. But what would happen to an infant who was born a healthy baby, but never fed after the birth? You are right. The baby would die. So will any person who receives Christ, but is not fed by God’s Word. He is the Bread of Life. That means if you want to grow and become a mature Christian person, you must live in God’s Word through faithful Bible study and worship. Spiritual giants are people who have walked with the Lord through the years in His Word, and he has fed them.

How do I find the Lord?

It is a great question, and God’s Word has the answer.

It is the answer for our own lives, and it is the answer for us to share with those who want to know how their lives can be enriched by a personal relationship with God.

Precious and Important

For thirty years my confirmation class studied a course entitled, “Precious and Important.” I had written the course, and my prayer was that if they take nothing else from the hours we had together, may they leave the classroom knowing how much God loves them.

Let me tell you where this Biblical truth was indelibly written on my soul.

Forty members of our congregation were guests of the Church of Christ in Madison, Tennessee. This church had won an award for its dynamic ministry and was celebrating the honor by inviting churches from around the country to visit its campus and observe its ministry.

When we arrived at their church, they greeted us warmly with these words: “You are so precious and important!” They told us this many times during the weekend. Finally, I got the courage to ask a member of the congregation why they said to us so often that we were precious and important. He shared with me that in one of their Bible classes they had studied the Biblical teaching on the doctrine of man. They had learned that we are created in the image of God. We are the crowning work of God’s creation. We have a mind with which we can think, a will with which we can make a decision, and a soul that is eternal. No other part of God’s creation has these qualities. However, we were thrown out of relationship with God when our first parents rebelled against their Creator’s will and sin came into the world.

Now we are separated from God, but he is not done with us. Instead of discarding us, God sent into this world his Son, the Lord Jesus, who suffered and died at the cross as a payment for our sins. If we will repent of our sins and receive him as our Savior, he will forgive us and restore us into fellowship with God. Having entered this personal relationship with God, he calls us to be his ambassadors in this world, pointing people to Christ as the way back to God.

Then the gentleman said, “If God has created you, redeemed you when you sinned, and appointed you as his ambassador, you are, in his eyes, a precious and important individual.”

These words impacted my thinking, and that phrase, precious and important, became a strong emphasis in my teaching and preaching from then on. It has helped many people, who thought they were worth nothing, to a better understanding of themselves. Their peers, and sometimes even members of their family, had given them the impression that they are of little worth. Now this depressed person can know this is not God’s evaluation of him or her.

Our text is teaching this same truth. The poor woman with her spinal disorder was precious and important to the Lord Jesus, though she was just another crippled woman to the mass of people around her. This was Jesus’ last time to teach in the synagogue. The Pharisees and chief priests, who were trying to get rid of Jesus, were watching him closely. It was in that group of people that this poor woman stood. For eighteen years she could not straighten up. Seeing her, Jesus said, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” The Bible says, “Immediately she straightened up and praised God.”

Jesus had healed the woman on the Sabbath, and this angered the rabbis. This was not an emergency. If she had suffered for eighteen years, what was one more day? Healing on the Sabbath is forbidden! To them the strict fulfilling of the law was of greater importance than freeing the woman from her pain.

It was then that Jesus addressed them and said, “You hypocrites! Does each of you on the Sabbath not untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.”

Jesus is teaching the value of the human being, the crowning work of his creation. This is often not understood. A doctor friend tells me of the pain a fetus can feel in the womb of the mother. Think then of the pain the fetus experiences at the time of an abortion. Yet, little concern exists in the minds of many about this. To them it is just another medical procedure that will make it possible for the mother to be free of raising another child. While this procedure is legal, if the doctor should harm his dog, he could go to jail. This is not the thinking of Jesus.

Today’s scripture text is a lesson taught by our Lord Jesus as he heals this woman. It is a lesson for us to remember as it applies to us. We are important to God. Why should we walk around with a low self-esteem? Yes, we are sinners, but God has forgiven us and wants us to walk as his ambassadors telling the Gospel. We need not have a low self-image.

While we are saddened by the number of abortions that are killing God’s creation, it is a joy to see the efforts being put forth to spare the lives of people who otherwise would die. I recently stood beside the bed of a friend at the Mayo Clinic who was paralyzed from his neck down from a motorcycle accident. The surgeons had done their work to save this man’s life and get him back on his feet. The therapists and nurses were working hard to get him as much movement in his body as possible. It is Christ’s teaching on the importance of the individual that has been the motivation of many great scientists in the advancement of physical healing. Life is precious.

You can be sure Jesus does not place his blessings on suicide bombings! Nor does he rejoice in seeing thousands die in Iraq and other parts of the world. In His eyes all people are important and precious, not because of what they have accomplished, but because of who they are. Think of what a different world we would have if this truth was accepted. However, man’s inhumanity to man will not make this possible while we are citizens of this world. Yet, we must continue to proclaim God’s love for his creation.

A Tough Day for Jesus

Having good days and bad days is a part of life. If we could just arrange it so that every day would be a mountaintop experience, how wonderful that would be. Yet we know that is not so.

The surgeon completes his work and comes out of the operating room to tell the patient’s family that all is well. The tumor was benign, and the patient would be released from the hospital in a couple days. The next day the news is not so good with another patient. The cancer has spread. He was not able to get the entire tumor, and at the most the patient would live six months.

That is an example of a good day and a bad day. Happy days are when we can bring good news to people. Sad days are when we are bearers of bad news. That is the way we experience life, and it is that life that Jesus had – good and bad days.

Perhaps you remember the story of Jesus ministering to Zacchaeus. This man was an unhappy person. He was a tax collector, and the people hated him. When Jesus was able to show Zacchaeus the folly of his ways, he was converted, and our Lord rejoiced. As a changed person, the rich tax collector gave half his goods to the poor, and if he had stolen from any of his fellow men, he restored it fourfold. To see that man change made Jesus happy.

When Jesus was able to change a woman who had fallen into adultery, he was happy. He forgave her past, and the future had a new direction. Her lifestyle had changed.

However, other days in Jesus’ life were not so happy. He was a loving Savior who wanted to unite people with their Heavenly Father and each other. Yet Luke tells us there was also that day when our Lord had to say, “Do you think I came to bring peace? No, I tell you, but division.” Then Jesus describes how a family can be divided because of its relationship to him.

Myron Augsburger, a Mennonite theologian, writes, “Jesus is the most divisive person in the world. You are either for him or against him.” If Jesus captures your heart, he becomes number one in your life. This relationship grows. You gradually grow to the state where you are willing to give up everything for him. Paul writes, “For whatever was profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7).

The lives of the Apostles demonstrate how Christ had first place in their lives. We have that stirring account of Peter and John at the temple where they were telling people about Jesus. Soon they were reported to the authorities, who in turn told the Apostles they could not teach in Jesus’ name. Hearing this Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s eyes to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). Christ came first.

Then we turn to the city of Philippi. Again we see suffering for the cause of Christ. Peter and Silas refused to stop talking about Christ. The authorities beat them and threw these two witnesses for Christ into the inner cell. Christ came first.

Even Jesus’ biological family had different thoughts regarding their half brother. “For even his own brothers did not believe in him” (John 7:5).

Christianity is divisive. We all know that there have been some heated discussions in many homes regarding Christ and the church. Realizing how divided members of the family are on the subject, the group decides that they do not allow any talk about religion. How sad.

Yet there are other families who say, “We have good discussions about religion in our family. Our daughter married a Jewish man, and we find his comments on Judaism to be very interesting. In fact, our daughter has joined the synagogue, and we think that is fine. It does not matter where they worship, just that they worship. There is only one God.”

Such a comment simply reveals that Christ has not captured that heart, for if he had, the Christian would have to say, My daughter is lost. There is only one way to heaven, and that is through Christ. However, the parents love their daughter and do not want to lose her, so they accept the marriage. This becomes more common as people are exposed to all types of religions.

We see divided relationships between the husband and wife over Christ. You know of cases where the child comes home with a man who is not a Christian. However, she loves him dearly. The romance leads to marriage. The parents begin to talk seriously with their daughter about Christ and the church, and how that will divide them as the days pass. The daughter becomes irritated and says she is going to make him a Christian. He does go to church with her. In fact, he even joins the church.

Now the honeymoon is over, and the golf course is much more appealing than the worship center. Sunday after Sunday she goes to church as a widow; her husband is another place. They basically have a good home life – no fighting – but lack spiritual unity. While it bothers the wife, she realizes that she made the decision and must live with it. He is good to her and her parents. What more can she ask?

Then the children begin to grow up. Here come the questions one Sunday morning: “How come we have to go to church with you, Mom? Dad never goes. We want to stay home with Dad.” To keep peace in the family, he sends them off. Then comes the day when they are older, and spiritual and ethical decisions need to be made. Dad does not believe as mother does about some of the Christian teachings. He looks at abortion as a practical solution to a serious situation. Mother will not tolerate even a discussion on the subject. Dad has an entirely different set of values than mother about what is important in life and what is not.

In that setting the Christian who is faithful to God’s Word carries a heavy burden. The arguments are more severe and frequent, and the home is divided. Will there be a divorce? In days gone by the answer would have been no. The couple will live with a divided home though it is not a happy relationship. Today the answer is more likely to be yes. The couple decides to separate and be good friends, because they cannot have a divided home. This is the story of thousands of people. Christ was the divider of their marriage.

Quoting Augsburger again, “The Christian who faithfully bears witness to Christ will be the victim of an inescapable amount of misunderstanding and hostility no matter how gentle and tactful he may be.”

I believe it must have been a tough day for Jesus when he had to teach people about the divided family. It still is a tough sermon to preach.

While this text deals with Jesus as the divider, and that is where we have spent our time, it must be said in closing that when two people are united in Christ, they are bound together in such a fashion that nothing can separate them from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus their Lord. Let us remember this: Yes, Christ can be the divider, but He can also be their uniter.

The Well-Planned Life

If there was a weakness in my formal education, it would have been failing to offer me a course in how to plan my life. Perhaps the educators were of the opinion that this was an individual’s responsibility. That could be true, but it is my observation that many people would benefit from such a course.

Our Lord must have agreed that we need to plan for today and tomorrow, because he included this topic in his curriculum when he talked about being ready. This implies there must be preparation to live the well-planned life. Jesus said he came not only to give us eternal life, but that the years lived out on planet earth should be filled with abundance. Remember this promise, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Failure to prepare means that we will not live today to the fullest, and we will be robbed of tomorrow’s opportunities. Hearing this statement, a common response is, “I don’t care to be regimented, even by my own plans for today or the future. I try to live one day at a time, and then let come what may.” Such a reply misunderstands what is included in planning your life. It is not only planning time for work, but it includes time for family, friends, recreation, community, and a host of other activities that will not only enrich our own lives, but others’ as well.

What will be included in this course on the well-planned life? Early in our lives we should address these questions: What are my talents? Where are my interests in life? Millions of people hate going to work each morning. They might not have the least bit of interest in what they are doing. Their work presents them with no challenges. Our daughter, who is a physician, tells me that when medical students are choosing what they will specialize in, their personalities are revealed if they choose wisely. A person who does not care to have much direct contact with people will choose pathology or radiology over family practice or internal medicine where you are with people most of the day. If you do not care to be with children, pediatrics is not the speciality for you.

It takes a certain amount of discipline to ask, Where in life will I best serve others? When our children were in high school, I began asking them what kind of work interested them. By the time they had completed their second year in college, we asked that they give their mother and me a general idea of what their occupational goals were. They did not have to be specific, but if they were going to study medicine, it was important they have some courses in biology, chemistry, and physics.

Some of our family felt we were pushing them a bit too much, but I did not want them graduating from college and not having a clue about what they were going to do in life. Planning is important.

Another important question is, What kind of person am I going to marry, if I do marry? Not every person wants to be married, nor should they be. I am sure there would be fewer divorces and unhappy marriages if this question were studied carefully. Certainly the Christian needs to ask:

Is he a Christian?

Can we agree that Christ will have a central place in our home?

Will we worship together each Sunday as a family?

What kind of priorities will we want to have in our home?

Will there be time for each other?

Can we allow our spouse an opportunity to pursue some of his or her special interests that are not mine?

How will we provide for our children?

Will both parents work and the children go to a daycare center, or will one parent be at home with the children?

As we grow old, our planning confronts us with different decisions.

Do I have the will in good shape?

Do I have a living will that says nothing exotic should be done to keep me alive when there is little or no hope that my life will give me quality time?

Have I chosen the mortuary, the cemetery, the kind of service I would like that will bring honor to God?

Will I be cremated?

When the secular planning from the cradle to the grave is done, many people stop at this point. However, Jesus does not. He wants this question answered: Do you know for sure that you are going to heaven? And if you are going to heaven, do you know how you are going to get there? Hear His words: “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (40).

But when am I ready? The Bible tells us, “Salvation is found only in Jesus; for there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

This text does make reference to the end of the world when the Savior will return. However, it can also refer to that time when Jesus comes to receive us as individuals in death. The warning is the same: “Be ready!”

And what does it mean to be ready? When are we ready? We are ready when we repent of our sins and trust Christ as our Savior. “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourself, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any one should boast.” We contribute nothing to our salvation. However, as a child of the King, we love him and seek to live as he would have us live. This means that as His children, we are always in the process of cleaning up our lives. We should deal now with those things that are not pleasing to our Savior.

Jesus gives us a good example of how we are to deal with sins that are disturbing to him. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23, 24). A part of being ready to meet the Lord is also being reconciled with others when there has been conflict.

Learning how to use wealth is another part of being ready to meet your God. There is something about material possessions that can stand in the way of our being prepared to meet God. Throughout our lives we have built our security around material possessions. Money has provided us with many things and services. It opened doors to places where we otherwise would never have gone. Now we learn that Christ alone is our security. Money cannot buy our way to heaven. Jesus warns us that we can become so preoccupied with all of our earthly gifts that we neglect growing in our relationship with the Lord. He put it well when he said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (34).

Yes, the well-planned life is important if we are going to get the most out of this life. In that planning Christ must have the place of prominence. If that is true then all other matters will fit into their proper places, and we will enjoy not only abundant life promised to all believers, but also included in the promise is the assurance that when these days are over we will have a home with God.

Whether or not there should have been a course in our formal education on a well-planned life can be debated, but certainly as Christians we must heed the words of Jesus when once again he says, “I am coming back. Be ready so that I can bring you into the heavenly mansion, which is prepared for all who confess me as Savior and Lord.”

It’s Time to Count Our Blessings

One of the benefits of getting older is being able to sit back and ask the question: “Did any of the dreams I had in my twenties become reality?” My answer is, “Yes, I have received far more in my eight decades on this earth than I ever expected.”

I dreamt of having a great marriage with children who would be a blessing to many. We have them. I dreamt of a fruitful ministry. I continue to have it. I dreamt of God’s grace to see us through difficult times. I have it. I dreamt of friends who would enrich my life and be my confidants. I have them.

This is a sermon on looking back. If you will join me in this sermon I believe you too will agree it is time to count our blessings.

Do you know who also liked to reminisce? It was St. Paul. Our text catches him in one of those periods where he was sitting on his porch in Ephesus, writing a letter to the congregation at Corinth and marveling over the work God had done within that congregation.

It had been five years since St. Paul had established the church in Corinth. There had been some rough going in the early years of the congregation’s history. Each Saturday the apostle would meet with the Jews in the synagogue and share the message of Christ. Soon he met with a lot of resistance, and the Jews became abusive to him. He then left the synagogue, but Paul did not travel far. In fact, Titus Justius, a worshiper of God, lived next door and invited Paul to do his teaching in his home. One of the big surprises came when Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord, and became Christians. This influenced many others to receive Christ, and the church grew.

Paul stayed for a year and a half in Corinth. However, when he was brought to court by angry Jews, Paul went on to other challenges. Thinking back on his experiences in Corinth, he writes a letter to this church and begins by saying, “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.”

There are two meanings for the word grace. First, we talk about grace in relationship to our salvation. When Paul began to talk to the Corinthians about their relationship with God, whether Jews or worshipers of one of the pagan religions, it was always dependent upon their works of appeasing an angry deity. Now they were basking in the grace of God. God reached down in his love and through the merits of Christ. His atoning sacrifice and glorious resurrection forgave their sins and restored them into fellowship with him. Once they thought of God as only being concerned about the Jewish people. Now they met a God who loved all people and wanted them to be saved. How spiritually enriched those Corinthians were!

Second, the word grace also refers to God, who gives them strength. We see this when God said to Paul, “No, Paul, I am not going to take away your thorn in the flesh. But my grace is sufficient for you.” He was simply saying, You will have enough strength to endure every hardship that comes your way.”

When Paul saw the hardships these Christians in the young church at Corinth had to endure for Christ, he gave thanks that God’s grace was sufficient. They had received strength to be faithful and continue in the faith.

Look back! This grace continues to bless us. See what blessings we have received in Jesus Christ. We live with the assurance of our salvation because of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. We live knowing that the journey to the grave can include some grievous days, but God’s grace will be sufficient. And think of the many other blessings.

Thank God for enriching our lives through other people. What a fellowship we have in the church – people with whom we can share great times. These brothers and sisters in Christ come to rejoice with us when a son or daughter is being married. They come when some tragedy had entered our family. These friends can encourage us when we are depressed. They can confront us when we are making some bad decisions. Good friends have the right to encourage and reprimand us.

Think of that Christian home to which you can return each night. Here, as husband and wife, you can share the good and bad things of the day. You can love those children and become a part of their lives. You can watch your little ones grow in the faith and rejoice in the kind of friends they are enjoying. You have the thrill of taking them off to a church camp in the summer time – their first trip away from home without mom and dad. This is a part of growing up in the baptismal covenant.

Then comes that day when you receive the telephone call that dad has only a short time to live. You stand by his bedside and hear him tell you of his longing to be with the Savior. Sure, it is difficult when the eyes close in death. Those visits will be missed, but he has gone home to be with God through Christ his Savior. The money he left behind will help with the kids’ education, but it is not nearly as rewarding as the memories of having been raised in a Christian home with mom and dad.

Shouldn’t we thank the Lord for broadening our vision? He gives us a new sense of values. He shows us the value of life. We receive the same promise that Paul reminds the Corinthian church was theirs: He will keep you strong to the end that you will be blameless at the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul looked back over those five years and saw what a difference Christ had made in their lives. So he bowed his head and thanked the Lord for the Christians at Corinth. Shouldn’t we do the same? If you are one of those people who is not a part of the church, but you have some interest in knowing more about the faith, I pray these sermons preached over Christian Crusaders the past two months have been of help to you. Christ can put your life together.