Testimony of an Old Saint

If you wrote an autobiography, how would your relationship with Jesus Christ influence the story?

It is a pity that more people do not leave behind a life’s story that at least covers the highlights of their life. This story would help relatives of future generations to understand the stock from which they came. You could give a summary of your philosophy of life. You could mention some of your strengths and a few of your weaknesses.

If your family has a weakness for alcohol, it would be well to tell the younger generation that some of those same genes live in them. If your family has been very critical and judgmental of others, and it has brought much unhappiness to your home, this might make your grandchildren understand how forgiveness and showing love and understanding toward others is the right way to go.

If your family members have been committed believers in Jesus Christ, tell this story, by all means. Your own spiritual awakening, which made you a new person in Christ, would help your grandchildren to have a better understanding of who you are. It would explain the peace and joy that molds your personality.

Let me tell you the story of Anna Fogdall Nielsen. I was twenty-eight years old when I became her pastor; she must have been in her eighties. On one of my monthly visits to her room in a retirement center, we had our devotion together and talked about the joy of being a Christian. That day she said to me, “You’re a young man. Let me share with you a verse in the Bible that means much to me.” She then read these words: “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (I John 5:12).

After reading the verse she made some very pointed comments. Then, with a smile of love on her face, she asked me a question that I will never forget: “Do you have the Son in your life?” I assured her that I did, but was happy she was concerned her pastor knew Christ in a personal way. Mrs. Nielsen did not assume that, simply because I was an ordained pastor of the church, I knew Christ, and she wanted an answer from me. From that day on, we became real good friends.

Then came the day when I was called to her bedside, for the end of her life was near. We thought she was in a coma, but I quoted John 3:16 to her. “Mrs. Nielsen, do you understand that verse?” Out of her mouth she replied, “No, I don’t, and neither do you. But I believe it.” What a testimony to leave with her family and friends. Soon she left this world, but her testimony lives on in my heart and I am sure in the hearts of her family.

Now, let’s turn to Scripture and listen to the testimony of St. John. He had walked with Jesus in person, and then in prayer. The teachings the Lord had left behind, he carried both in his heart and in his head. It was between 85 and 90 A.D. He was an old man, the only surviving apostle on this earth. He was writing to give this generation of believers assurance and confidence in God and in their faith as he pointed them to the Lord Jesus.

He writes, “We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater, because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.” Many people had given their testimonies about Jesus, and John says we accepted them as containing some truth. But the testimony we should be concerned about is the Word from God Himself as spoken through the Scriptures. And this is the testimony of His Son.

Listen to verse 11 of our text: “And this is God’s testimony. God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life, and he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

“Eternal means far more than lasting forever. Eternal life is nothing other than the life of God himself within us. What we are promised is that here and now we can have given to us a share in the very life of God.” I borrow this quote from William Barclay. Barclay goes on to explain that within eternal life are other gifts, such as:

1. Peace, which brings serenity. Fears are eliminated, which haunt the human situation.

2. Power, which means the defeat of frustration.

3. Love, which includes the end of bitterness and hatred.

4. Eternal life, which means the defeat of death.

Understanding these gifts goes far beyond my comprehension. Let me illustrate. A few weeks ago I sat beside a woman in her late 60s. Once we knew her as a very attractive person. Now her physical features showed the wear of battling a malignancy. It was only natural that her family pleaded with her to try to buy some extra time on this earth by going through treatments for this fatal disease. But Marilyn refused. “Help them to understand that I trust Jesus’ promises, and I want to go to my heavenly home.”

We talked about this real problem, and I told her that I sided with the family. We all wanted her to say with us for a while longer. “But pastor, just see where I am going,” she said.

She was right, but as much as I believe there is the eternal home with God, I still enjoy staying here. Eternal life and the joy of being with the Lord had so grabbed her life, she didn’t want to hang on any more, so I was convinced and joined Marilyn’s side. Today she lives with God forever.

Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. It is experiential knowledge.

Why don’t you write an autobiography? It doesn’t have to be more than a few pages long. If Christ lives in your heart, tell readers what he has done to make life a blessing for you. It will be a great experience for you to write the article, and hopefully a blessing for others, especially your loved ones, to read it.

All Is Ready – Now Go!

On Thursday of this week, the Church will celebrate Ascension Day. Though Ascension Day is not celebrated as much as Christmas, Easter, or even Pentecost, it is a day we need to celebrate. It was on that day that Jesus met with His disciples for a commissioning service and was lifted up before their very eyes. It brought closure to His earthly ministry. It was on that day that Jesus said to His friends, “All is ready! Now go and tell the world that there is salvation for them by grace through faith in Christ.”

Because those disciples went, we believe.

Christ’s redeeming work was completed. Thirty-three years earlier, an angel told the shepherds who were tending their flocks on the hills of Judea that their Savior was born in a manger at Bethlehem. Now that Savior was with His disciples commissioning them to go and tell the nations how they could be brought into a living, personal relationship with their Heavenly Father.

It was a time of closure. No longer would the disciples have the privilege of being with Him as they had been. Peter wouldn’t ask his brother Andrew, “Have you seen Jesus today?” And Andrew wouldn’t say, “Yes, I talked with Him earlier this morning. He’s visiting with Lazarus, and Martha plans to serve Him dinner.” Those days were over.

At this last meeting, Jesus commanded the disciples to go and share with the people in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and throughout the world all they had experienced as His disciples. They were to be vessels through which the gospel would flow to people who needed a Savior.

Did you ever ask yourself the question, “What if they had not gone? What if they had returned to their fishing business or collecting taxes?” We would not be Christians today enjoying the assurance that we are God’s sons and daughters forever through faith in Christ.

There is a time to walk with Jesus and learn from Him. Then comes the time when believers are to share this glorious message of God’s redemptive love with all people in the world. Because the faithful have shared the Gospel through the centuries, it has come to us.

Who were those people who told you about what Christ has done for you? If you were born into a Christian home, it was your father and mother. If you were not that fortunate to have Christian parents, perhaps it was another relative or friend, a pastor or Sunday school teacher. Whoever these people may be, do you realize how indebted you are to them? They have brought you the most priceless treasure you can ever receive. No amount of money can purchase this salvation. It is a gift from God delivered to you by a witness from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now it is your commissioning service that Christ wants to preside over. As He challenged the early disciples, so today Jesus challenges us to tell others what He can do for them. All He asks you to do is to share with others what it means to live each day free of guilt because Christ has taken it away. Think of the encouragement it can be for a single mother to know that she has a Savior who will strengthen her to face the future. She will have brothers and sisters in Christ who will be there to help when the hours are long and difficult. I was visiting with such a mother recently. Her children were small, and her husband was sent to prison. “Had it not been for the Lord Jesus and my Christian friends, I would never have made it,” she told me. But what if those friends had not surrounded her with that redeeming love?

It is not just the sermon of nationally known preachers that Christ uses to bring the Gospel to our world, he can also use lesser-known preachers. I never will forget the spiritual awakening and revival that broke out in a very small church neighboring the congregation I was serving. The pastor was not fluent, but he knew the Lord, and the Holy Spirit used him. Only God knows how many will be in heaven because of that man’s faithful witness to what Christ had done for him.

One of my confirmation students of years gone by was recently home to attend his mother’s funeral. He now lives in Baicheng, a city of 3 million people. He is the head of a house church in that Chinese city. This gentleman is an executive for a large company in America, but while away from home, he shares the message of Christ with those who have never heard. He has huge responsibilities for the people who employ him, but he has an eternal calling from the Head of the Church to share His name with others in that far-away country.

And so our text tells us as Jesus was taken up before the disciples’ very eyes:

“They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ÔMen of Galilee,’ they said, Ôwhy do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.'”

He is coming back to receive us, either at His second coming or individually when our days on this earth have ended. Between now and then, we are commissioned to be His witnesses. What an honor to carry the greatest message the world has ever heard, that in Christ we are God’s forever.

Introduce Your Child to Jesus

The place of the mother in the home varies from family to family:

¥ Mother is a stay-at-home mom, and dad is the sole bread winner.

¥ Mom and dad both work out of the home and share the domestic duties.

¥ Mom works because two incomes are needed to maintain the family’s standard of living.

¥ Mom works to fulfill a psychological need for fulfillment.

¥ Mom is single and works out of financial necessity.

Which of these plans is the most biblical? I don’t know. I know the one I favor, but that does not make it the most God pleasing. I have to remind myself of this.

Solomon, who had seven hundred wives, describes the wife of noble character in Proverbs 31 in today’s text. Truly she was a mother who worked out of the home.

1. She was a homemaker. “She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and for her servant girls” (15).

2. She was a businesswoman. “She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard” (16). “She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night” (18). “She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes” (24).

3. She does manual work. “She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks” (17).

4. She is a seamstress. “She has a spinning wheel in her parlor, and she makes her children’s clothes” (19).

5. She is a volunteer. “She is out in the community helping the poor” (20).

6. She is a teacher. “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue” (26).

Where is her husband while she is doing all of this work? It seems quite disgusting. “He is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.” In other words, he is down at the legislature, while his wife is home slaving. Wow!

Does this woman have a modern counterpart? I believe she does.

As my reference I use our daughter-in-law and daughters. They prepare healthy meals for their families, visit their friends who have problems and are hurting, and bake cookies and visit the elderly. They attend their children’s extracurricular activities, see that their children apply themselves to their school work, are concerned about a good social life for their families and themselves, and grow in their spiritual lives by attending Bible studies. One teaches school. Another practices medicine, and a third assists her husband in his office. They maintain a home that is not only clean, but has a pleasing decor as well, are the purchasing agents for their families in grocery, clothing, and furniture stores, and serve as the chief financial officer of the family income. And so the list goes on. The woman in Proverbs looks very busy Ð and she is Ð but no more busy than many of our mothers today.

All of the work listed above for the mothers of all generations is important. However, the calling for a mother in every age comes from our Heavenly Father, who blessed us with children and said, “Train up a child and when he is old he will not depart from it.” For the Christian mother, this word must have top priority. When the other activities crowd out this God-given calling, the home is in serious trouble.

This is mother’s job. However, it is also dad’s job. The job cannot be assigned to anyone but mom and dad. Others, like Sunday school teachers, can help the parents in training the children spiritually. Yet, the primary responsibility of introducing these little ones to Jesus is mom and dad.

The job is difficult. Families live with many temptations not known in Solomon’s day. We live in an open society where often no rights and wrongs exist. God’s Word gives us rights and wrongs, and he has revealed them in the Ten Commandments. Telling these absolutes to their children can be difficult for mom and dad. Our society has seen many immigrants moving to our neighborhoods. Some of these people are Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Jewish people. They do not believe that Jesus is the only Savior of the world. Mom and dad have the challenge to teach their children what the Bible says Ð that Jesus is the only way to heaven. Yet, we have to live together and respect the rights of these friends, which our country grants to them. It is not easygoing.

So parents have a right to wipe their brows and ask, “How do we get this all done? The influence of our children’s friends is strong. They are together most of the day. We have them for a few hours at the most.”

I again encourage you to let your children hear the basic teachings of the Christian faith from your lips. Field the questions regarding their relationship with Jesus Christ as they surface. Give them biblical answers. Who knows, these children you love may walk away from the faith, and this will be heart-breaking for you. Just remember God’s promise: “My Word will not return void.” It is not that you have failed if you have witnessed in your home by word and action that Jesus is your Lord. Where there is great concern is when our children venture out into a world filled with temptation and have not been taught what the Word of God has to say. When that is the case, they have no Christian convictions to guide them, and they are vulnerable to follow their own feelings. That is not good, because their feelings are often wrong.

How you answer the question about the role of working mothers and fathers in your home is between you and your spouse. However, your number one responsibility, if you are a Christian, is to train up your child to know the Lord Jesus. He alone will carry them through victoriously in this culture where they live. Remember that God’s promises go with them.

Extreme Makeover: Give Him the Keys

There is a television show that a lot of people are watching these days in our country on Sunday evenings. It is called Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. It’s a feel-good, inspirational, tear-jerking hour of entertainment. What actually happens in the show is you watch a group of talented home designers renovate a family’s home for free. The family that lives in that home is typically faced with some sort of hardship in life, and they have asked for help.

The show opens inside the Extreme Makeover bus with the leader, Ty Pennington, informing his crew of designers about this week’s family and their life situation. The bus arrives at the house, Ty gets out his megaphone and calls the family out into the front lawn. They are then ushered into a limousine and sent off on a week long vacation. Then Ty and his crew go into the home and go to work. First they design some of the rooms, making up ideas for them. Then they start tearing some things down and putting some things up, with a large group of expert volunteers from that area.

A week later the family returns, and, of course, they are awestruck at the beautiful end product. They take a tour of the house, and of course there are all kinds of tears and laughter and expressions of gratitude as they explore their beautiful, renovated home.

According to the Bible, Jesus wants to do something like that in us in our hearts, Jesus is in the business of doing extreme makeovers in people’s lives. The risen Christ who has prepared a place for us in his father’s house of many rooms also desires to reside in us and make our hearts his home. He says that, for instance in Rev. 3:20. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens that door, I will come in to him and eat with him and he with me.”

Or we hear Jesus say in John 14: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

The apostle Paul attests to this in the book of Galatians 2 when he writes his testimony: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

In today’s text we find Paul telling these new Christians in Ephesus that he’s been praying for them. Listen to what he’s been praying for: “I pray that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith as you are being rooted and grounded in love.

Did you catch that? “I pray that” Paul says, “Christ may dwell in your hearts that the spirit may have a chance to work on your inner being and give you power.”

But then he goes on to say that Christ enters in, not just to reside in the believer, but to renovate us as well. Listen to the last part of verse 17. He writes, “As you are being rooted and grounded in love,” he does not say, as you are rooting and grounding yourself in love. It is written in the passive: As you are being rooted and grounded. Christ is at work in us, he is saying, through the working of the Holy Spirit. And when he enters in, he puts up a sign in the front window that says, UNDER CONSTRUCTION.

Isn’t it interesting that one of the images that Paul uses as he describes this working of Christ in our lives is that grounding in love. It is an architectural term Ð that you may be built on a firm foundation of Christ’s love, is what he is getting at.

He then goes on to say, “So I pray that you may have the power to comprehend what all the saints have come to know and experience: Christ’s love for you.

Then he goes on to describe this four-dimensional love.

He says I pray that you will know and experience the width of his love. There we the picture of the out-stretched arms of Jesus. No matter what I’ve been, I belong to him. No matter where I’ve been, he welcomes me home. Those out-stretched arms and nail-pierced hands welcome me and hold me tightly as a child of God.

He says, “May you come to discover for yourself the length of his love.” There we have an image of the long arms of Jesus; the reach of his love. There is an inescapable quality to that love. There is no place we can go that the Lord is not waiting for us. And so with Paul we can say, “Neither life nor death, nor anything in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul says, “May you discover that kind of love.”

May you also discover how deep his love for you is. I am reminded of that gospel hymn:

I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore.

Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more.

But the Master of the Sea heard my despairing cry

and from the waters lifted me. Now safe am I.

Love lifted me.

His love is so deep that he entered into our world on that first Christmas and he stepped into the abyss of our sinfulness. He gave us his life as a sacrifice for our sin in order that we might receive the free gift of eternal life as we trust in him. That’s how deep his love is.

Then finally Paul says, “May you know the heights of his love.” I am reminded during the season of Easter of the resurrection love of Jesus. That love that is going to raise us up, all the way to heaven, as we go to that place that Jesus has prepared for us.

Why does Paul pray for them in this manner? That they may experience Christ’s wide love, long love, and the heights of his love. He goes on to say, “So that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” That you may be filled up with God’s love. That there might be, as he later on describes in chapter four of this letter to the Ephesians, a sort of a spiritual growth and maturity, and you begin to look more and more like the Savior, Jesus Christ in the way you think and act and in the way you speak. You are filled up and brimming over with the love of God within you and the Spirit of God strengthening you to do what Christ has called us to do in this world.

Paul knew that from personal experience, that is why he prayed that prayer. When Christ moves in, and you start living in a personal relationship with him, he will change you in unimaginable ways. As he resides in you and renovates your inner person with his magnificent love and the working of his Holy Spirit, you soon are empowered to love in amazing ways.

There are great implications for that in all our relationships in life. When that kind of change happens in a life, a marriage can be changed. When that kind of change happens in an individual, it can change the work place environment. When that kind of change happens in an individual, it can change a family. It can create a dynamic congregation that attracts people to Christ as they see people loving one another and caring for one another.

Paul knew from personal experience, that when Christ gets in and goes to work, an extreme makeover is going to happen in our heart, Christ’s home.

Listen to this story by author and one-time atheist, Lee Stoble. In a message he gave he said, “How can I tell you of the difference God has made in my life? My daughter Allison was five years old when I became a follower of Jesus. All she had known in those five years was a father who was profane and angry. I remember I came home one night and kicked a hole in the living room wall, just out of anger in life. I am ashamed to think of the many times my little girl hid in her room to get away from me.

“Five months after I had given my life to Jesus Christ, my little girl went to my wife and said, ÔMommy, I want God to do for me what he has done for daddy.’ At age five, what is she saying? She never studying archeological evidence regarding the truth of the Bible, or asked those difficult questions. All she knew was her dad used to be this way Ð hard to live with Ð but more and more her dad was changing and becoming another way. If that is what God does to people, she was saying sign her up! At age five she did give her life to Christ.

“People of God, my Lord has changed my family, he changed my world, and he changed my eternity.”

As you listen to a story like that, you might be thinking, “Man, I’d like to have something like that happen to me. I’d like to have an extreme makeover done in my life. How can I make that happen?” The truth of the matter is you cannot make that happen. Only Jesus Christ can take a person and make that kind of change. But it begins like the show you watch on television, Extreme Makeover. It begins with asking for helping and handing over the keys to the makeover crew.

Likewise, Christ calls us to ask for help and then to give him access to every area of our lives. That’s been referred to as the act of surrender Ð to give it all over to him and say, “Lord, you know what makes life work, and I don’t. Take over my life and make it over.”

We sometimes have people encounter roadblocks to that happening in their lives. They ask the question, Can I really trust him with my life? Or with this religious stuff. I don’t know if I want to get involved like that. Can I really trust Jesus like that?

All I can say to you if you are asking that question is, look at the cross. Jesus is not about ruining lives; he is about saving them. He is meek, and lowly and self-sacrificing and he has your best interests at heart, and he does know what makes life work. He said, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Other people wonder if this Jesus can really make a difference. Can he really make my life better? Well, listen to these final words of Paul that he wrote to the Ephesians: “Now to him, who by the power of the work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than we could ever imagine, to him be glory.”

Did you catch it? He is able; he has the power. And Paul says, “No problem, he can take care of it. He can do far more than we could ever ask or imagine.” As the little praise song goes, “He is able, more than able to make me what he wants me to be.”

So to those listening in today, let me ask you a very personal question: Have you asked him in? Have you heard him knocking and opened the door to him? Have you handed him the keys to every area of your life? Have you said to him, “Lord, you know what makes life work so much more than I do. Come in and take over and make over my heart, your home. I want you to live in me.”

The Extreme Makeover show always ends with this beautiful home, lots of joy, tears of happiness, and a great deal of giving thanks. The risen Christ has come to do just that in each one of us, to lead us in that direction.