The Fear of Being Rejected

Life carries with it a fear of being rejected.

I have a friend who was a professional baseball player. One March I visited with him while the team was in winter training. During our visit, I asked him, “What does the future hold for you?” He responded by saying, “I have had many years in professional baseball, and I know the future is not too bright. When the body gets older, you can’t run bases as rapidly and you can’t hit the ball as well as you once did, so you get the pink slip.” I could sense in him a fear of rejection.

God’s Word speaks about being rejected, but it also talks about being accepted. There are two parts to being rejected. The first part is the fear of being rejected by people. All of us know this kind of rejection. The second part is the fear of being rejected by God. We can handle human rejection better when we know that God promises to accept us in Christ.

I would like to read to you some words of Jesus. He says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 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.”

Jesus is saying that if we come to him and trust him as our Savior and Lord, the Almighty God will never reject us. We will be His forever.

Now you notice He says, “Whoever comes to me,” I am interested in that word whoever. That statement was a real bomb for many of those Jews who were listening to Jesus. They were convinced that God was only concerned about the Jews. Then came the day of Jesus Christ, and they got the word that God’s Kingdom is not limited to a particular nationality but offered to all who trust Jesus Christ. Christ and His Church speak to the nations.

The Jews did not understand this inclusiveness, but who are we to criticize the Jewish people of that day. Rather, we ought to look at ourselves. The Church has not understood this inclusiveness very well either. Our congregations become cozy little social groups made up of people with many similarities.

Back in the Ô60s, our denomination had a congregation in Chicago. These 600 people had a beautiful church in a nice, safe part of the city. The members were content in their church home and did not care if the congregation grew. Most of these people were Lutherans who had come from Denmark. They were happy to receive Norwegians and Swedes as members. Germans were questionable, but were acceptable if their spouse had Scandinavian blood; the English should go down the street to the Methodist Church; and those who displayed any emotion in the service should seek out a Baptist Church.

Soon the black population began to buy houses around their church building. So the people said that the two races were not meant to be together. It could end in an interracial marriage, and there had to be passages in the Bible, although they did not know where they were, that spoke against such unions.

In the Ô70s, they sold that church and went to a new location with a white population where they built a second beautiful church building. Shortly after it was dedicated, I received a call to become their pastor. I declined even though the Cubs were close by, but soon they found another pastor and all went well until the Ô80s when they were thinking about another move.

They were nice people, but they had never gotten a hold on Jesus’ words Ð Whoever comes to me I will receive. Jesus wants us as one body. It isn’t race, social or economic status, nationality or education that makes us one. It is Jesus Christ, for he accepts us and calls on us to accept each another.

If God had wanted to reject us, he had a right to do so. Yes, he had a right to say that we had our chance once, but it is over, and he will not receive us. Yes, He had a right to say that we are not qualified to be members of his Kingdom. Who of us are qualified to belong to Him? Jesus tells us that, no matter what our past has been, no matter what we may have done, if we will come to him, he will never cast us aside.

We are in the Lenten season. We remember that day when our Lord was hanging on the cross. On each side of Him was a criminal. One criminal said, “Jesus, will you remember me when you come into your kingdom? He had heard Jesus talk about the Kingdom, and He had a longing to be received by Jesus. What did Jesus say to this man? “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” I’ve often wondered if Jesus did not comfort himself by saying, I was crushed when Judas rejected me, but here this sinner has come to me, and he is mine forever.”

This is the day of grace. If you who read or listen to this sermon do not believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, he is saying to you, “I am anxious to receive you.” That is the Gospel. Jesus paid the price for our sins. That is what this Christianity is all about. It is far more than the Golden Rule, which you can learn in the Boy Scouts. Christianity is about God loving us in Jesus Christ.

The text also has another part. It says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”

These words cause us to wonder why some come and others do not. It is a haunting question. Can’t you just hear a mother and father, who have five children, say, “Why did one of our children refuse to receive Christ while the other four did? Where did we go wrong in the raising of the one who is an unbeliever? What can we do to make amends for our mistake? Is it possible that God gave our other four children to Jesus because they were elected while the other one could not possibly come because God had not chosen him?”

This has been a big theological debate for centuries. We have many suggested answers to this question, and I do not propose to have the correct one. I am convinced that we will not have the final answer until we get to heaven. Bishop Ryle has said, “Receiving Christ is not a human decision based on convincing arguments. Salvation is not our business.” It is God’s grace that invites us and empowers us to believe. God takes the initiative to invite us to receive Him, and we are empowered by God to respond.

Beyond this answer, I must wait until I see Him face to face. Now I know only in part.

Life carries with it a fear of rejection. Just remember, God has said, “If you will come to me, I will never cast you out.” Humans might turn their backs on you, but your Heavenly Father never will.

I Am the Bread of Life

The sixth chapter of John tells us the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. By this miraculous act, Jesus shows the importance of feeding people’s stomachs. The crowd had listened to him all day, and he would not send them home hungry. This miracle got the attention of the crowd, and the next morning they met Jesus and his disciples on the other side of the lake.

Recognizing these people, Jesus said, “You are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

With these words Jesus confronts us with the truth that our bodies can be well fed while our souls are void of meaning and hunger for spiritual food. With Jesus’ definition of a starving person, do our names need to be on the list?

If the pictures of starving children and adults make us aware of those who are dying from lack of food, does the picture of Anna Nicole Smith symbolize how starved we are spiritually? (For those who do not recognize this name, she was a 39 year-old woman who was prominent in the entertainment world. A few weeks ago she was found dead and left behind a baby. The world will not know who the baby’s father is until scientific testing is completed.)

In our text Jesus reveals how much larger the problem of starvation is than most people realize. Might it not be that the multitudes are starving for lack of food because the world is spiritually starved and are not moved by a love for people to share just a little bit of their wealth to feed the hungry as Jesus told us to do?

As Jesus converses with people by the sea, the conversation becomes very personal. Imagine this conversation: A man shouts, “Listen, Jesus. You did a great miracle yesterday when you fed those 5,000 people, and it impressed all of us. But it doesn’t begin to compare with the miracle that Moses performed when he was with the Israelites in the wilderness. He fed 600,000 men for weeks.”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the Bread from Heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world . . .” Then Jesus declared, “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.”

The Word is clear. Our souls are hungry until they are fed by the Lord Jesus as he speaks to us in his Word. We are a part of the world’s starving population until we are fed both physically and spiritually.

Let’s apply this biblical teaching to our everyday lives. Imagine that, as a member of Congress, you voted for the war in Iraq. Today it is your conviction that this was the wrong thing to do. A gnawing feeling is inside of you, but you are unable to say you were wrong. To make this confession would hurt you politically. You recall the reasons why you voted the way you did, but they give you little peace. Assuming you feel your vote was wrong, why can’t you say, “I am sorry. I was wrong. Look at the loss of so many lives and the destruction of property.”

This is an illustration of how we carry guilt around that Jesus would like to forgive. The Bread of Life says, “If you confess your sins, he is faithful and just to forgive you your sins” (I John 1:9). The soul that is carrying around a lot of guilt is not experiencing the abundant life that God wants them to have. The well-fed soul is a repentant soul who has tasted of God’s grace.

What if you are having trouble forgiving someone who has wronged you? Do you have to live and die with these feelings? The starving soul will say, “Yes, I will go to my grave with these feelings, because I could never forgive this woman who stole my husband away from me.” This is a statement from an unhappy person who is a starving soul.

What does the Bread of Life say? “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14).

To love and forgive those whom we do not like might be an item on the menu that we cannot accept. Jesus is telling us to get serious about the way we are living. What is this intense dislike or hatred for another person doing to us? Is it making us happier people? Is it making us a stronger Christian witness for our families and friends who wonder how a Christian can act this way? Hatred is a symptom of spiritually starved people, because they have not taken God’s Word seriously when it tells us to love those who hate us.

The other day, as I visited with a person in a coffee shop, she shared with me some of her health problems. She was being treated for an illness that had affected two other members of her family, and she expressed a real fear of what the future might be like for her. She had seen her father suffer for several years before he died.

I could hardly believe it when, in the midst of our conversation, another member from our congregation who was taking treatment for lymphoma hurried by. When I asked her how it was going, she looked at me with a big smile and said, “Just fine. I had my last treatment yesterday. The people who are treating me are so thoughtful and caring. I am in good hands. I hope to live and enjoy more time with my family, but if that is not to be, I will go home and be with the Lord.

As this lady went on her way, my friend with whom I was talking asked, “Who is that bundle of joy?” I quickly replied, “A committed Christian who feeds on God’s Word and believes his promise when he says, “The eternal God is your resting place, and underneath are his everlasting arms. She is being well fed on his eternal promises.”

Yes, the world is full of starving people. Who are these people? We learn from Jesus that millions of these people have satisfied stomachs but empty souls.

And now the important question needs to be asked: Are we a part of this starving population? If so, remember Jesus’ words, “I am the bread of life, and I would love to feed you.”

Do Not Be Afraid

Today’s text is the story of Jesus walking on the water. For those who question the miracles of Jesus, this story might be hard to swallow. It is sometimes used in general conversations when a person is prone to boast about his accomplishments and he is described as a person who “thinks he can walk on water.” Let me quote a part of our text.

It had been an emotional day. Jesus had preached to 5,000 people telling them who he was and why he had come into this world. This caused the audience to raise many questions. Soon it was time to go home and the people were hungry. It was then that Jesus performed the well-known miracle of feeding the crowd with five loaves of bread and two fish. When the people had left, Jesus put his disciples into a boat and told them to go to the other side of the lake. He went up into the mountain to pray. John writes,

“When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed three or three and a half miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were terrified. But he said to them, ÔIt is I; don’t be afraid.'”

Jesus got into the boat and the waters were quieted as they arrived safely on the other side of the lake. This is a beautiful picture that teaches us a challenging lesson: As we are being tossed to and fro by the fears and cares of the world, and we are terrified, let Christ into our lives.

One of my greatest joys has been to see what peace these words have brought to the lives of people who trust Him and take these words literally Ð that He is with us, speaking to us each day in his Word.

I visited with a dear old friend a few days ago. It has been a rough year. His wife of sixty some years passed away a few months ago. He was adjusting to this loss when a daughter was diagnosed with a very serious malignancy. Now two of his closest golfing buddies have passed away.

He looked at me and said, “Death is real, but I thank God that we do not face it alone.” This gentleman is on a rough sea. Then Jesus comes walking in and says, “Don’t be afraid; it is I. Remember what I promised: a home in heaven is awaiting all who trust me as their Savior. Until you get to heaven, I will hold you by the hand.”

Let’s take another example. I was visiting with a young man who will graduate from a university in a few weeks. Academically he is well prepared for life. However, as he is confronted with decisions that will shape his future, he has many questions, and he expressed his concerns freely. Still, a smile was on his face when he said, “As long as I commit my life to do God’s will, I know he will direct me.” The waves are sometimes frightening as he lives in a wild sea of uncertainties and temptations, but the Savior assures him with the words: “Don’t be afraid; it is I.”

Think of the thousands of parents or spouses who have had to say goodbye to their loved ones reporting to active duty in Iraq and other frightening places in our world. How will they come home Ð alive or dead, healthy or crippled? I am sure the sea is rough as they lay on their beds at night and wonder what is happening to their loved ones so far away. Are they safe? There are no answers to these questions, but there is a promise from God, “Don’t be afraid; it is I.” It does not take all the fears away, but they know Jesus is in the boat with them on that rough sea; and as their day is, so their strength will be.

This word from Jesus is a reminder of who is in control. He has said, “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).

We are so weak, but He is so strong. Sometimes we think we do not need him, but eventually we learn differently.

The more we can turn our lives over to the Lord Jesus, the more peace will reign in our souls. We are able because He is able.

Why Don’t You Believe Me?

One of the Church’s greatest mission fields is among those who belong to the thousands of Christian denominations but do not live in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They have never received Christ as their Savior and Lord.

About a month ago, one of my best friends asked me, “How do so many people with little biblical insight and a meager understanding of the Christian faith rise to responsible positions in the congregation?”

My answer was very personal. “Bill,” I said, “do you remember those days when your wife brought your children to church alone?”

“Oh, do I ever? It is one of my greatest regrets,” Bill replied.

“Well, I remember those days too,” was my response. “I felt so sorry for your family. However, you were honest enough to say that you were an agnostic.”

Then I asked Bill, “Remember how I pleaded with you to attend some of my adult instruction classes? After just eight weeks of instruction you could then become a member of the congregation. How I would have loved to have had you as a member of the congregation. Many would have thought that you had become a believer in Jesus Christ, because you stood with a group of people, said that you believe in Christ, and promised to serve Him.”

Bill responded, “Homer, it would not have been right to have received me as a part of the congregation. I could have treated our church as just another organization and become active in it. Who knows what harm I could have done? I could have become a part of the church council, perhaps even taught Sunday School, and still have been an unbeliever.

“Yes, you answered my question. Perhaps many of our members are not agnostics like I was, but maybe not all of them have a personal relationship with Christ. Some might never have received Him as their Savior. Yet these friends can hold places of responsibility in our congregation.”

I remember the day when, after a year of Bible study each week with four men, Bill received Christ and became a member of our congregation. Now he is not only a member of the congregation, but a part of the one, holy catholic and apostolic Church. The Church is one and knows no denominational lines. Within the visible church there is the Invisible Church. This teaching – that people belong to churches possessing no clue about what they believe and what the Church’s mission is – is an old teaching of the Church that should be given much emphasis in our day.

In our text, Jesus was announcing to the religious people of his day that he had been sent by his Father to be the Savior of the world. He said, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

Can’t you hear our Lord ask them, Why don’t you believe me? Your life would be changed. He was talking to people who were in the synagogue each Sabbath. They were those who appeared religious but had no relationship with God.

The people had been given many evidences that Jesus was the Messiah. Some of them were:

. The great preacher, John the Baptist, pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Jesus said, “John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy the light.”

. Jesus performed miracles. He changed water into wine. He healed the paralytic. He fed 5,000 people from five loaves of bread and two fish. These miracles were not only performed to relieve suffering, but to show that Jesus had been given power by God and was more than a teacher.

. They had the Old Testament Scriptures, which pointed to Jesus. They studied these prophecies, which told of Christ’s coming – where he would be born, that his mother would be a virgin, that he would die for the sins of the world, that he would be buried and resurrected.

These were some of the evidences that Jesus was the Messiah. Bishop Ryle has written well, “Unbelief does not rise from the want of evidence as much as from the want or will to believe.”

This same question, “Why don’t you believe me?” is asked today.

The world is not without evidence that Jesus is God, and the day will come when He will return to judge the living and the dead.

. We, too, have our great preachers. A few that we have been able to hear in the last century are George Butrick, Walter Maier, Oswald Hoffmann, Fulton Sheen, Dwight L. Moody, Billy Graham, Charles Swindahl, and Charles Stanley.

Let us not forget the faithful preachers who, Sunday after Sunday, have held up Christ. The Holy Spirit has used them to bring us to faith in Christ. I will never cease thanking God for V. R. Staby and C. C. Kloth, who was used by the Holy Spirit to point me to Christ. And you have your favorites.

. We have the Scriptures – the Old and New Testaments – and gifted teachers of the Word who can open the Bible for us.

. We have the miracles all around us – the gift of life, physical and spiritual healings – where we have seen the impossible made possible.

Jesus asks, “Why do you not believe me?”