Remember Whose Child You Are

Remember whose child you are!

This is the counsel some parents give to their children to guide them in their behavior. It was also the counsel that St. Paul, sitting inside the walls of a Roman prison, gave to the Christians at Philippi.

When you have entered into a personal relationship with God through receiving Jesus Christ as your Savior, you have been reconciled to God. Christ lives in you and you are a new person. The old has passed away and the new has come. You have an inner longing to live as Christ would have us live. This is an inner change that is quite different from making a decision to change your lifestyle. You can make resolutions to reform. They are usually made with the best of intentions, but quite often produce no permanent changes. As much as we would like to do so, we simply do not have the power to change our lives.

However, the changes St. Paul is talking about are inner changes. The Holy Spirit works these changes in us through his Word. These changes become a part of our new nature. We want our life to change!

And so the Apostle writes, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body” (1:20). He wanted the Holy Spirit to send him a strong reminder whose child he was when there could be a temptation for him to soften his witness for Christ.

Likewise, Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi, “Whatever happens, conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the Gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you” (27). Let your light shine. Remember whose child you are.

Paul prayed that he would be a witness for Christ to the men who were appointed to guard him, and he wanted the Philippian Christians to be that same witness where they lived. This is God’s wish for our lives. Remember whose child you are.

The world has always watched Christians. It is no different today. Note how much time is given to the evangelicals and their influence in society. It is obvious from the writings of these journalists that they have a foggy view of the Christian faith. Some of them praise when they are impressed by the fruits of the Christian faith and are critical when the evangelicals show weakness. It seems that many in the media would be far more comfortable if the Christian proclamation were limited to one hour on a Sunday morning. They could handle that much of Jesus Christ.

It is in this environment that Paul tells us not to be ashamed of the faith and stand firm. Remember whose child you are.

When our lifestyles are no different from those who are unbelievers, the world questions God’s power and presence in our lives. When our actions are positive, and we live as God’s children, the world either responds with admiration and praise or lambasting criticism.

Let me illustrate:

Have you heard of Zach Johnson? If not, either you are not a resident of Iowa or you have no interest in the world of golf. Zach comes from Iowa. On Easter, April 8, of this year, he won the PGA Masters Golf Tournament. Then, on May 20, he won the PGA AT&T Golf classic.

After winning the Masters, Zach said that his faith helped him to keep his composure during an intense pressure situation. From news items since his victory, we have learned that Zach is a committed Christian and not ashamed to tell others about his relationship with Christ. His faith makes it natural for him to give thanks to God for all of his blessings.

Zach’s testimony drew many positive responses. I for one was thrilled when I head him give thanks to God for strength in a very tense situation.

However, Bob Ryan, a columnist for The Boston Globe, wrote, “Zach Johnson won because he played the best golf. He deserved to win, and he did win. But his crediting the Lord was both silly and offensive. Believe me, plenty of people have e-mailed me to object to his irrelevant flouting of his faith. Mixing sports and religion is very bad. One has nothing to do with the other.”

I don’t know how you respond to Zach Johnson’s comments, but I believe that St. Paul would have said, Bravo Zach! That is what I meant when I wrote to the Philippian Christians not to be ashamed of their relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, even if it did cause some hardship.

Zach Johnson let people know that Jesus Christ is his Savior and source of strength. He is willing to let the world know whose child he is. It is in the everyday life that our testimony really counts.

Yes, it was Easter Sunday, and thousands of sermons were preached on that day when Zach won the Masters. However, none were more powerful than the one preached on the golf course by Zach who told the world that Jesus Christ is alive and walked with him during the tense moments of this important game. He did not say that Christ gave him the victory or that the Lord favored him over the other players. He was just testifying that the Savior walks with his own.

That is what it means to let people know whose child you are.

For Me to Live Is . . .

In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul presents us with a thought that has been the text for many sermons. It is a truth that calls for much thought by those who confess to be evangelical Christians. He says, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” Philippians 1:21.

St. Paul wants his audience to know that their salvation is all important. Where we will spend eternity is the number one question. He clearly states that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and receiving Christ puts us into a personal relationship with him. However, Paul never allows anyone to get away from the ethical demands of life set forth in Jesus’ teaching.

R. C. Sproul, in his book, Getting the Gospel Straight, writes, “For two thousand years the Church has understood her mission as involving the preaching of the gospel and the care of the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the oppressed, and so forth.”

While the length of our years on earth is significant, in comparison with life in eternity, this is an important time for us. Living for Christ is an exciting adventure. How different our world would be if we would accept this challenge. Just think of it: if each of us who claims Jesus as Savior would live for him, what an impact it would make in this world!

The first command that Jesus gives to his church is to share the Gospel. Think of what a difference it would make in our society if believers in Christ took this word seriously Ð to simply tell people what Christ has done for them. How simple this can be.

Two young men came to service our television set. I was visiting with one of them about his work, and when he was about to leave, he asked, “What did you do before retirement?”

I told him that I had been a pastor. Then I had a chance to ask, “What church do you attend?”

“Well,” he said, “I used to attend the Methodist Church, but I do not go to church now. My live-in and I use Sunday to sleep off Saturday night. When I marry and have children, I will get back to church. Knowing the Christian values will be important for the children.”

What an opportunity I had to tell this young man how much Christ loved him and He had not come just to give him a set of values, but to let him know that He wants to be his Savior. That He would give him a new look at life, forgive his sins, and bring him into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

He said, “Maybe some day it will seem more important to me.”

The seed was planted. That is all God has asked us to do. Now, if he heard this same message at least another half-dozen times in the next week, it might really make him ask what this Christianity is all about. That is the way it works. That young life could be changed.

Recently I conducted a funeral for a man who took his own life. A relative described this person in a newspaper article in this way: “He was smart and friendly. Most people genuinely loved him for what he was. Being successful was important for him, and I believe it all caught up with him. I think his illness and greed for money took over.”

The pressure of life became too great for him, and so he took his own life. I had to wonder if any of us had ever talked to this person about his relationship with God. He had been around many people who belonged to the church, but had they shared God’s love for him? Might it have made a difference in those depressing moments?

“For me to live is Christ.” How does this apply to God’s teaching about the sanctity of life?

How can the church be quiet when the subject of abortion is being discussed? That fetus is God’s creation. How can we let this slaughter of lives continue in Iraq? Can the Church sit idly by and say nothing? I know these are complex questions, and the average person does not have all the facts, but must we not become involved? Is there not a time when we say enough is enough? Time has taught us that guns and suicide bombings are not the answers. Why can’t quiet minds work out some solution diplomatically, and perchance some of these representatives at the table, who confess to know Christ in a personal way, be guided by his will, even if it is not allowed to mention his name? That is a part of living for Christ.

What about the sanctity of the environment? The creation story tells us that after God created the good earth, he said, “Man is to rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” We are to use this creation, but not abuse it. We are to enjoy it, but not destroy it for personal gain or financial benefit.

The transition to the heavenly home carries with it many mysteries that we can ponder while we are here. But live with the security that Christ has prepared a place for us. How do we know? He says so. Isn’t that enough?

Life Inside the Walls

One of my favorite books in the Bible is Paul’s letter to the congregation in Philippi. Paul started this congregation and its people were dear to his heart. I often turn to this book because the message has a way of lifting my spirit. For example, in chapter one, verse six it says, “I am confident that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ” (1:6). What an encouragement when you are at an all-time low spiritually speaking!

Even more inspirational is to remember that Paul wrote these thoughts from prison. He was not out living it up with his friends on a Mediterranean cruise. Paul was incarcerated most of the last five years of his life. His political freedom had been taken away. Living in confinement, his life was controlled by others. Sometimes he served under house arrest. Roman soldiers guarded him, but also permitted him to have visitors. It was a great chance for Paul to share his faith with those who came by. Tradition tells us that Paul’s teachings also converted many of the guards. At other times, however, his imprisonment was more difficult. He served time in a dungeon where his followers had difficulty finding him. All of this was for the cause of Christ.

Whatever the treatment was behind the walls, Paul had an inner peace, which was a dynamic witness to his faith. He used the word “joy” or “rejoice” fourteen times in his letter to the Christians at Philippi. He had great joy in knowing that this church was ministering with the gospel to the people in this prominent city. Great evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit existed in the lives of people when God’s Word was clearly taught.

The city of Philippi had not been kind to Paul. The Bible tells us that one day, while on his way to the place of prayer, he met a slave girl. This girl had a spirit that gave her the power to predict the future. The girl followed Paul and his party saying, “These men are servants of the Most High God who are telling you the way to be saved.” Finally, Paul drove the spirit out of the woman, and she no longer could tell fortunes.

When her masters realized what Paul had done, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them before the magistrates who ordered them to prison. There they were beaten and put into an inner cell. Then, about midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly, there was a violent earthquake and the prison doors were opened. The jailer awakened and saw what had happened. He was about to kill himself when Paul shouted, “Stop, we are all here!”

The story continues with the jailer taking Paul and Silas to his home and feeding them. There, in the jailer’s home, Paul led the jailer and his whole family to Christ. The next day, after a session with the Roman authorities, Paul and Silas were on their way out of Philippi (Acts 16:16-40).

Paul’s absence did not stop the church in Philippi from growing. God continued the work He had begun through Paul and Silas. And for this fruit of the Gospel, even behind the walls of his prison, Paul was a happy person giving thanks to God for his work in the hearts of many people. He was a partner with the Philippians in the Gospel.

Does this text speak to us in America? How can we look at the Church in America today? (Remember that I am not talking about secular America now.) Philippi was not very kind to Paul, nor is America very kind to biblical Christianity today.

Many tolerate the faith out of obedience to the law of the land. Others want us to have a culturally-motivated Christianity. (As culture changes, so the Christian faith should adjust the Bible.) To be specific, two of the changes that millions of Americans are demanding now are the legalization of same-sex marriages and the insistence that one religion is as good as another. Jesus, according to this culture, is not the only way to heaven. Without these changes, they believe Christianity is divisive, and that is bad for our country.

Some people in our nation would be happy if the Bible and the theological writings of 2,000 years ago would be retired to the shelves of our libraries where they would have a respected place in our traditions, but little or no place affecting our thinking today. Like Europe, our church buildings could become museums where people might visit and recall how their families once worshiped.

However, another part of America exists that is enthusiastically involved in bringing the Gospel to our communities, nations, and the world. The Holy Spirit is using these people today as he once did in Philippi. We have a great partnership in the Gospel today. The evangelical Church is not dead, though other parts of the church are very sick.

Look beyond denominations or individual congregations to the whole Christian Church in our land. After attending early service one Sunday, my wife and I had brunch with some friends. As I drove to our home, we passed seven churches. All of their parking lots were full! Isn’t that wonderful? People were inside hearing the Word through which the Holy Spirit works.

Christ is present on our college campuses. Not only on those of church colleges, but also on those supported by the state and private corporations. At the University of Northern Iowa, 800 to 1,000 students gather each week for worship and Bible study. Young people are traveling on mission trips all over the world. Prison fellowship is doing a great job with those sitting behind the walls of our prisons today. Many are leaving the prison as born-again Christians. Isn’t that great? Does that not thrill our hearts and fill them with joy?

We often get discouraged and wish for the good old days. Still, if Paul could rejoice inside prison walls, shouldn’t evangelical Christians who are free rejoice and be involved in sharing the Gospel?

We will get acquainted with the book of Philippians during the next few weeks. God will strengthen your spirit as he speaks to you through this revelation.

What Is Your Image of God?

What is your image of God? While many people do not give this question much thought, many others have a very impersonal answer to the question. Some refer to God as “the Man Upstairs.” What does that mean? Others call him, “the Supreme Architect of the universe.” Can you imagine praying to the Supreme Architect?

When politicians are questioned about their religious convictions, they will often say they believe in a higher power. Press the person further and he might say, “Well, it is difficult to be more specific, because we just don’t know who and what God is.”

Because we are surrounded by these weird, impersonal definitions of God, I would like to visit with you about the Christian’s understanding of who God is. The Christian is very specific when he says, “I get my understanding of God from the Bible.” The Bible is God’s inspired word. It is not a collection of thoughts from the minds of people, but it is God’s Word brought to men who put it into print, and it became a part of our Bible. St. Peter writes, “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (II Peter 1:21).

The Bible presents God as righteous and loving. If we are going to have a biblical picture of God, both attributes must be emphasized. To emphasize the righteousness of God at the expense of his love gives the reader a distorted picture of who God is. To talk only about His love and not talk about His righteousness is wrong.

Let us talk first about the righteousness of God. We turn to the words written by the Prophet Jeremiah as recorded in Lamentations 3. Jeremiah was called to be God’s prophet. He was to be God’s spokesperson to the people of Judah. He wrote the book of Lamentations where he gives us a picture of God’s nature. He keeps talking about these two attributes of God: loving and righteous.

“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I will remember them and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ÔThe Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him'” (19-24).

Jeremiah saw God’s righteousness as he punished Judah and sometimes he was extremely depressed. God has promised to be with him, and yet he found himself beaten and put into a dungeon by the enemy. They claimed he had turned some of the people in Judah away from the leaders and encouraged them not to be loyal to an ungodly group of leaders.

It was at times like these that Jeremiah would wonder where this loving God, with all of his promises, was. But then he remembers what God had said Ð “I will be with you” Ð and he experienced the love of God. Jeremiah responded with these words: “Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is his faithfulness.” This assurance of God’s grace went with him even to the dungeon.

This is God, very much involved in the lives of people, and not the “man upstairs,” or the “supreme architect,” but a personal God. This God revealed his anger to those who turned away from him and worshiped other gods.

With this truth before us, do you not wonder how long God will continue to bless America when so many believe they can manage without him? The noted historian from Harvard, Arnold Toynbee, pointed out that no world civilization has lasted much more than two hundred years. Is the writing on the wall for America also? Is it unpatriotic to raise this question? Is it not true that we have turned our backs on God as a people? This is not to say that many wonderful things are not happening in our land. The Gospel is being proclaimed clearly, and Christian people from America are reaching out their hands with medical care for the sick and food for the hungry.

When you compare our country today with Judah of the past, might the righteousness of God be visited upon us? Who knows?

Well, Jeremiah saw that God was faithful, and he found comfort in his promises. He is a compassionate God, and his faithfulness is new every morning. What a way to start a new day! Though my past is filled with unrighteousness, God promises that, if we come in repentance and faith, he will forgive us. This is the message of the Christian faith that we have to proclaim today.

The highlight of God’s love is the cross of Christ where Jesus was crucified for us. He does not want anyone to perish, but the person and nation must return to him in repentance. God’s punishment is not a sword to cut us off from him, but a rod to bring us closer to him.

Now please do not misinterpret God’s righteousness and think that, if you are suffering in some way today, this is the wrath of God that is upon you. He is sustaining you. If you are on a bed of pain, let me point you to a God of love. We live in a broken world. Terrible things can happen to us. A dynamic Christian mother with a five-year-old boy dies. That is not a punishment for her sin; it is a fruit of this imperfect world. As much as she wanted to stay with her family, she could say, “I am going home to be with God through Jesus Christ. He is faithful.”

It is very important that we realize when to apply the righteousness of God and when to apply the love of God.

God is not the man upstairs or a higher power. He is the God we sing about in that marvelous hymn written by Thomas Chisholm:

“Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father.

There is no shadow of turning with Thee.

Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not

As Thou has been Thou forever will be.”