Anxious Moments

How do we handle our anxious moments? This is a question that is common to most of us. God’s Word speaks often to this question. Today Jesus teaches a mighty lesson on anxiety as it relates to his first miracle, which was performed in Cana of Galilee.

Strong biblical evidence exists that Jesus was a social person. He liked to be around people. Because of that, people liked to be around him. This is one of those times when Jesus was socializing. A friend of Mary was hosting a wedding for one of her children, and she invited Mary, Jesus, and his disciples.

These wedding receptions did not last for only a couple of hours; some of them lasted for days! It was in the midst of this entertainment that the person in charge of food told Mary they had run out of wine and did not know what to do. Mary said she would take care of the problem.

She told Jesus that their friends had a real problem; they had run out of wine. Jesus looked at his mother and said, “Woman, why do you involve me in this problem? My time has not come.”

That was the end of Mary’s conversation with her Son. However, she turned to the servants and said, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Jesus pointed to the six stone jars, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. He commanded them to fill them to the brim with water. When the master of the feast tasted the water, it has turned into wine, and he did not know where it came from. So he commented to the bridegroom: “Every man serves the good wine first, and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus had changed water into wine. This is his first recorded miracle.

Is this not a fascinating story? Do you recall when you first heard this story? I was in my Sunday school class of ten children. Our teacher was a very pious, formal person who was having trouble talking to us about wine. In our church, it was a sin to drink any alcoholic beverage. In addition to this, it was during the prohibition era, and no alcohol was supposed to be brewed. One boy in the class asked, “What was Jesus up to, turning water into wine? Those people who drank that wine could have gotten drunk, and it would have been Jesus’ fault!”

What happened after the boy asked that question, I cannot remember. However, his comments made a lasting impression on me, and I am sure the teacher never forgot that Sunday school lesson.

Back to a more serious note Ð Jesus had two purposes in performing this miracle. First, he solved the practical problem of providing wine for the wedding. Second, those who witnessed the miracle saw with their own eyes that Jesus was no ordinary person. He had divine power to do things that go beyond human understanding except to say that it was a miracle.

Now, to run out of wine at a wedding feast was a minor problem in relation to the many other problems people were facing in that day. Still, it was a major problem for the bridal party. So it is with us. Your problems might not seem very large to me, and you may feel the same about my personal concerns. The point is that we all have our anxieties.

It was interesting to have six of our grandchildren with us at Christmas. Each of them has their own life with its own problems. My wife and I sat back and listened. “What small concerns they have,” we thought. But then we had our own concerns, which are primarily aches and pains that are a part of being four score years old. The point is, all of us have our anxieties. What do we do with them?

The disciples experienced times when they were in danger of being killed by those who were trying to blot out the Christian faith. The religious leaders told Peter and John not to teach in the name of Jesus. Should they promise to refrain from mentioning the name of Jesus? It could save their lives. Those were anxious moments, but God answered their prayers and directed them to be faithful. They received power that was beyond their own strength. Their words were, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Christ had performed another miracle in their lives. He turned frightened spirits into courageous voices for the Gospel.

Regardless of what our anxieties are, this is the lesson: Take your cares to Jesus; he will direct you! The sooner we accept this teaching of our Lord, the happier our lives will be.

How will God help us with these anxieties? Following are three possibilities:

He can take away the problem that is making you anxious. That is what he did when he turned water into wine.

He will enable you to live with the problem and still have peace of mind. Maybe you have real anxieties related to your marriage, but you know how important it is for you to remain in your home for your children’s sake. God will give you strength.

God will direct you to make some changes in your life. Imagine you that a strong conflict exists between you and another person. We are admonished to love one another, but that does not mean we have to bury deep convictions simply to get along. We do not all think alike. A good example is St. Paul and his friend Barnabas. When they were preparing to start on their second missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to take Timothy with them. Because Timothy had left them on the first missionary journey, Paul was not willing to take him along. What did they do? Did they pray about it and each getting a different answer, therefore concluding it would all work out? No. Instead, Paul found a man named Silas, whom he made his missionary partner. Barnabas took Timothy, and each went his own way. Was that God’s will? I think so. Neither one was wrong. It just worked out well this way.

“Cast your anxieties on me.” That is what Jesus invites us to do. What a marvelous invitation to take into the new year! We should listen to our Lord as individuals, as congregations, and as a nation. Do not misuse prayer by insisting that you have prayed about a problem and now have the answer. What if my answer is different from yours? Who then is right?

We are often inadequate, as were the people serving the wedding banquet. However, God is adequate, and he will lead us in one way or another. Amen.

Rev. Homer Larsen

Christian Crusaders

What Makes a Church Grow?

One evening I ate dinner with a friend who was very concerned about his congregation. He was a charter member of the church, which is now forty years old. Last Sunday twenty-five people were at church. His church was a break off from the mother church, which was in the downtown area of our city. The people felt that if they would start a mission church and have a strong nucleus of members from the beginning, they would be in contact with more people. The two churches could share the Gospel with more people in the new neighborhood. However, the congregation has never attracted a sufficient number of people in order to make it strong. Now many of its original leaders are old and the attendance is decreasing. This was the basis of my friend’s concern for the congregation he truly loves.

Many people today are asking the question, What is going to happen to my church?

It was a temptation for me to give my friend a lecture on the question, but what I had to say on the subject would be of little value unless it had a biblical basis. However, I summarized for him our text Ð that the Church has been built from the beginning by one person telling another person about Christ.

Our text tells us about Andrew bringing his brother Peter to Jesus. On this day, John the Baptist said to Andrew, “Look at that man. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” This got Andrew’s attention, and he followed Jesus. Jesus turned to Andrew and asked, “What do you want?”

Andrew replied, “Where are you staying, Jesus?”

The Lord said, “Come and see.” And Andrew had the privilege of being with Jesus for a whole day.

It was about 4:00 in the afternoon when Andrew left Jesus. He went to his brother Peter and said, “We have found the Messiah.” Then he brought his brother to Jesus.

Jesus turned to Peter and said, “You will be called Cephas, which means Peter.”

That is the way the Church has been built from the beginning. One person shares the Gospel with another person and points this individual to Jesus, who is the Savior of the world. This is the way Jesus told his disciples to extend his kingdom.

Yet you might ask if there is any other way. Well, let me ask you this question: How did you become a part of your congregation where I pray you hear the Word of God? Did someone ask you or take you to the church?

You might reply, “I was raised in a rural area. Ours was an old family church. Just about everyone was related to another person in the congregation. I was born into the church.”

Another person might say, “I live in Dallas, Texas, where we have megachurches in our city. These churches with thousands of members are often the topic of conversation in our social groups. I became curious and attended one of their services. It was there that I heard Christ had much to offer me. I pursued the teaching that Jesus was the Savior of the world, through faith in him our sins could be forgiven, and we would live in a personal relationship with God. Soon the Holy Spirit created faith in my heart, and I received Christ. I am now a faithful member of this huge congregation and continue to grow in my relationship with God.”

It might have been one of your friends who was very enthusiastic about their church and invited you to go with them. Soon you found yourself a part of the congregation and were happy you had come to know what it is to live in a personal way with the Lord. He is no longer just a higher power, but the Lord who speaks to you daily in your devotional life with him.

It might be that your children brought you to the church. Neither you nor your husband had come from families who were related to the church. “We had never gone to church, but we wanted something better for our children, so we enrolled our children in the Sunday school. Soon we were invited to attend the worship services while the children were in classes,” is what you say. The message of God’s love for us touched our hearts and we became members of the congregation.

Listen to this story. My favorite theological professor was Dr. George Aus. What a man of God he was! He came from a family who had immigrated from Norway, but had not gone to church since settling in Brooklyn, New York. A neighbor, who also had come from Norway, came to visit George’s father and mother and invited them to church. Mr. & Mrs. Aus thanked the neighbor for the invitation, but told him that Mr. Aus had to work Sunday morning and Mrs. Aus would not attend without her husband.

The neighbor then asked if he and his wife could take the Aus’ son to Sunday school. George’s parents gave their consent. In Trinity Lutheran Church he learned for the first time about Jesus and his love. It was not long before the boy received Christ as his Savior, and as the years went by, George began his preparation for the ministry. After a few years in the pastoral ministry, George received his doctorate in theology and was called to be a professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. While he was at Luther Seminary, he touched the lives of many students, for this man was not only a great theologian, he also knew Christ in a very personal way. All of this became a reality because the neighbor brought the little boy to Jesus, just like Andrew brought his brother Peter to Jesus.

Notice that Andrew introduced Peter to Jesus. It is only a first step to invite people to the worship services or a Bible class. It must go further to the point where they meet the Savior, receive him as Savior and Lord, and then begin to grow in this Christian faith. In our churches we find many people who are members of the congregation, and perhaps are faithful members. However, the church to them is another organization. The meeting with Christ is still on their agendas.

Is that all bad? It means that within a congregation are those who are not Christian in the biblical sense of the word. If these people will continue to hear God’s Word, we have every reason to believe that the Holy Spirit is at work, and in good time they will receive Christ.

However, neither are we to delude ourselves and believe that all people in these congregations are saved. We cannot preach as though all are Christian. Only God knows who the believers are. For safety’s sake, I prepared my sermons believing that half the people hearing it were Christian and the other half were still seeking to know what this Christian faith was all about. Our task is twofold Ð to call the unbeliever to repentance and faith, while we are feeding the believer with the word that he might continue to mature in his relationship with Jesus.

The primary way that God builds his Church is to have the believer share his or her faith with someone else.

Is your church growing? We are not talking about a number game. We are talking about winning the unbeliever for Christ. Are those in your congregation who personally know Jesus inviting others to Christ on a regular basis? If they are, your congregation is growing. If it is not growing, you have learned the reason from the Bible.

When Jesus Was Twelve

What was Jesus’ life like when He was ten years old?

Assuming that boys in His day were much like children are today, did He enjoy playing games? Did He get excited about going to a party? Did He have some very good friends?

The Bible tells us that Jesus was human but also divine. Paul tells us that while He lived on earth in physical form, He emptied Himself of His complete Godhead. (Philippians 2:4-11) Therefore, the writer of Hebrews says that He was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. If Jesus could not have fallen into sin, which He did not, could He then have experienced temptation as we do?

Obviously, we do not know what life was like for Jesus when He was ten, but the Bible tells us about an experience Jesus had when He was twelve.

It was the Passover. Jesus went with His family and friends to Jerusalem to celebrate this religious festival. They remained in Jerusalem for several days and when it was time to return home, Jesus was not with His group. The parents were unaware of His absence for a day before they discovered their Son was missing. I am sure there must have been some real disgust in Mary and Joseph’s hearts that they now had to return to Jerusalem to find Him. After searching the city, they found Jesus in the Temple. There He was, sitting with the Biblical scholars. Certainly this was not usual behavior for a child his age, but this was an indication that He was not only human, but a spark of divinity was still there.

Seeing her Son, Mary ran to Him with a mild rebuke. “Jesus, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been worried.”

Jesus replied, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

The truth was that Mary and Joseph didn’t know that Jesus had to be in His Father’s house. They thought that at twelve years old, they could expect Him to act like any boy his age.

With Jesus by the hand, the confused parents started home, and the Bible says that Mary treasured all of these things in her heart and wondered what the future was going to be like as Jesus grew older. Simeon’s words to the parents were beginning to make sense, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your (Mary’s) own soul” (Luke 2:34,35).

Now let’s ask the question in a different way. Did Jesus know, at the age of twelve, He was God who had been sent to this world to save humans?

He did not have this knowledge completely at twelve, but by the time He was thirty, our Lord announced to the people in His home congregation in Nazareth that He was the promised Messiah. Yet He struggled with His mission until the end. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that Jesus was still praying, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Matthew 26:39).

The key question for us is this – Do you and I know that Jesus is God?

Do you believe that Jesus is God?

Do you believe that He is your Savior?

Do you believe that He died on the cross for your sins?

Do you believe that He arose on Easter Sunday?

If you don’t, Jesus was just another baby, and we have just celebrated the birth of another great historical person. You might think that He is a great teacher, and you should study His writings more diligently and become a better person. The problem is that you get discouraged because you have tried this, and it doesn’t work. You don’t have the ability to keep His teachings. It is much easier to be self-centered than to live for others, much easier to receive than to give, much easier to follow the crowd than to tell others of what the Savior has done for you.

In other words, if Jesus is only a moral influence and not your Savior, you do not live in a personal relationship with the Lord. Today, Jesus knows and proclaims to us in His Word who He is. His Word is very specific on this teaching. Jesus is God, the One who died for the sins of the world and gives salvation to all who will receive Him as their Savior and Lord. If Jesus is your Lord, be secure and know that you are in your Father’s hands, and all is well. If Jesus is not your Savior, then life is frightening, and all you can say to the question – What does the future hold for me? – is, I hope all will turn out well.

Jeff is the producer of Christian Crusaders. As a child, Jeff trusted Jesus. But as he grew to manhood, he walked away from Christ. According to what I have been told, as Jeff worked producing this program, the basic truths of his childhood came alive, and he is back in a living relationship with God.

In early December, Jeff had a serious stroke. We do not know if he will live and regain full health, or live with some impairment. We do not know if God will choose to call him home. What we do know, is that God has Jeff in His care, and that is sufficient.

Do you have questions about Jesus and your relationship with Him?

If so, walk with Him in His Word – the Bible – this year, and He will make clear to you not only who He is, but what He has done for you and how He can make your life so much more abundant.

Amen.

Do You Ever Wonder Where God Is?

Sometimes we have trouble making sense out of God’s plan for our

lives. I believe that the Virgin Mary and Joseph would have shouted a

loud “Amen!” to that statement. One day Gabriel brought Mary a message

from God that said, “Mary, you are going to have a baby.”

Mary replied, “This is not possible. True, I am engaged to Joseph, but

I am a virgin.”

Gabriel continued, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power

of the most high will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will

be called the Son of God.”

There could well have been much more to the conversation between the

angel and Mary. But she finally said, “I am the Lord’s servant; may it

be to me as you have said.”

When Mary talked to Joseph, her fiancee, about the angel’s message, I

could imagine she said, God’s plan does not make sense, but I can only

receive it in faith. He has told me not to be afraid, and who am I to

question God’s promises?

Joseph did not understand God’s plans for Mary and the birth of Jesus.

I believe Joseph was very frustrated when the inn keeper said, “I have

no more rooms, but you can go out in the manger and sleep.”

Would it not have been reasonable for Joseph to ask himself, if no one

else, If the baby is immaculately conceived and destined to be the

Savior of the world, why doesn’t God provide Mary with a suitable

place to have her child? But God had spoken, and these two young

people trusted Him.

The child was born, and soon Joseph received another message from God.

“Get up, take the child and his mother, and escape to Egypt. Stay

there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to

kill him.” Again, it would be understandable if Joseph said to Mary,

Why does God permit a crazy man to order that all male children in and

around Bethlehem two years and young should be killed?

From a human point of view, Joseph had a right to ask, Where is God?

What is he doing? Those were questions that Jesus’ parents could

legitimately have been pondering as Jesus grew up in the household.

But Luke tells us, “His mother treasured all of these things in her

heart” (Luke 2:51).

The Christian can have many questions regarding the acts of God. We do

not have to feel guilty because we ask, Why God? We simply ask the

question trusting the promises of God. Even though we cannot

understand what is happening, we believe God is on the throne, and one

day we will understand. These answers may come while we are on this

earth. However, they may have to wait until we get to heaven.

Let’s talk about this question – Where is God? – as we too wrestle

with it, because all of us do from time to time.

In June of 1985, on a Sunday afternoon, an Iowa highway patrolman was

killed by a motorist. I received a call that evening asking if the

family could have the funeral service at our church, and if I would

officiate at the service. I told the patrolman who was calling to make

the arrangements for his friend, that our congregation would be happy

to serve them in any way. However, the family should feel free to have

their own pastor officiate at the service. He replied, “They don’t

belong to any church and would be appreciative if you would conduct

the service.” I agreed to conduct the memorial service.

It was the largest funeral I have ever had in my fifty years of

ministry! Thirteen hundred and fifty people filled our nave! I had the

marvelous opportunity of preaching the Gospel. Many people listened to

a message that had little meaning in their lives. My prayer that day

was that the Holy Spirit would use my words to touch the life of at

least one person, and that he or she might receive Christ as their

Savior.

A few days after the funeral, I visited the widow in her home and

found she was anxious to learn more about Jesus. This woman had her

own health problems. She had no children and was wondering what life

would be like without her husband. Two ladies from our congregation

invited her to a Bible study. The widow not only came, but brought her

80-year-old mother along. It was in this Bible study that the Holy

Spirit spoke to her, and she became a Christian. She lived and died in

a personal relationship with the Lord, who, until her husband’s death

had been a complete stranger in her life.

Did God cause this accident so that the woman might become a

Christian? Was the accident predestined? Of course not, but we must

always remember that God can use evil for good.

Four years later this lady died. During this time, the Holy Spirit had

created faith in her heart, and she received Christ as her Savior. She

lived in a personal relationship with Him and knew that he had

prepared a place for her in heaven.

In one of my visits with this woman, I assured her that Christ would

strengthen her and walk with her if she would but trust him. There was

no place in the Bible that told her specifically how God would do

this, but it was a promise He had given to her, and she could trust

him. It is in retrospect that we sometimes better understand where God

is, and what he is doing in our lives.

Mary and Joseph had their questions. Some of those doubts, I am sure,

they carried to the grave. Yet they never doubted for a moment that

the promises of their heavenly Father were sure.

His promises for us are true too! Isn’t that the good news we need to

hear? This is our source of comfort.