Where Am I in My Relationship With God

A religious person subscribes to specific laws and beliefs. A Christian, as described in the Bible, lives in a personal relationship with the Lord. Don’t confuse the two.

Let’s take a look at three types of people who are members of our churches.

1. The religious person.

He is presented in our text as the person who has no relationship with God. This person believes in a “higher power.” He could be a deist, who believes that some power created the universe, but has no further contact with it. He could have an ethic and be a good moral person who presents himself as a religious person. The frightening fact is that this person can be found in many congregations, and because they are such nice people, they could be chosen for some important office in the church. A good example would be a Sunday school teacher or an administrative leader who feels the message proclaimed should be one that makes people feel good and causes no one to be offended.

This is not a hypothetical case. One reason many of our churches are dying on the vine is that God’s message (proclaiming Christ as the crucified and risen Lord) is not being proclaimed. While this goes on, people in the congregation grow apathetic about the situation and do nothing to correct the problem.

Even the thought of this happening has caused me to believe we should be much more cautious about the persons a congregation chooses to be its administrative leaders and teachers. Imagine what serious things could happen if a person who questioned the basic truths of God’s Word taught a Sunday class for children, youth, or adults. This is not a pleasant thought to entertain. However, it is important that we consider who is teaching in the Sunday schools of our churches.

2. The person with an immature faith.

This person could say, “I was raised in the church and was exposed to the Christian faith. I believe that God created me in his image, that I am a sinner, and that Jesus Christ suffered and died for my sin. Yes, I believe that he was raised from the dead and one day he will return to judge the living and the dead. But I have not committed my life to Christ. My relationship with him is impersonal. I spend little time with my Bible, and I have no prayer life.

This person would not argue with you about the faith. He has an intellectual understanding of the basic Christian teachings and gives assent to them, but he has not received Christ. Thousands of people confirmed in our churches today claim no relationship with Christ. Yet they express appreciation for their training as a youth. We have every reason to believe that one day their faith will become real and living. It often takes some traumatic event in one’s life to see the need for a Savior. That is when the spiritual awakening takes place. In the meantime, we continue to witness to this person and keep them in our prayers.

3. The person who is a Christian.

This person is growing in his relationship with the Savior. This is what Jesus said to his disciples: “If you love me, you will obey what I command . . . He who has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” This person is not saved by his love, but by faith in Christ. However, faith produces love.

Jesus never allows love to dissolve into an emotion. It is revealed in obedience. Love calls for action. For example, the marriage relationship. Love between a husband and wife is not simply saying I love you, it is also revealing that love through actions.

When we know how God wants us to live and see how far short we fall, we join Paul in saying, “Wretched man that I am, who can deliver me. . . . The good I want to do, I don’t do, and what I don’t want to do, I end up doing.” Do you have some of these feelings? Does this guilt cause you to wonder where is the personal relationship you claim to have with Jesus?

Christ has a word of encouragement for us. He says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you. The Spirit of Truth. He will be with you forever.” Remember, this Counselor is the Holy Spirit who lives in you. Jesus continues, “He lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans” (John 14:17, 18)

Jesus continues, “On that day (when we are aware of our personal relationship with Christ), you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him” (John 14:20-21).

Our Lord is giving us a picture of the Christian life. It is a love relationship starting first with God’s love for us. He gives his Son to be our Savior who forgives our sins and brings us into a relationship with God. God then shows us his will for our lives, and the Holy Spirit, who lives in us, empowers us to live this life. When we fail to keep these commandments, he forgives us and we start over. We have not arrived at perfection, but we are working at it. As the years go by, this relationship continues to grow, and we become more Christ like.

The question the disciples were asking is, Where are we in our relationship with our Lord? This should also be our daily question. We need to learn from the early disciples that by living in God’s grace, we grow in our relationship with God. We say with Paul, “Not that I have attained it, but I press on to that high goal of being one of God’s loving and obedient children.”

Trust Me

Every now and then I receive a phone call from someone who is looking for some ministry help. “I have a friend who is dying, and I’m going for a visit. Is there any scripture that I can offer them that might be of comfort?”

An important part of my job is to minster to dying people and their families. One passage that I always bring along with me into situations such as this is John 14:1-7. It is a favorite that I have committed to memory.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God. Believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go to prepare a place for you I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

First, this portion of scripture is powerful because it is a personal word of reassurance from Jesus. Did you notice all the YOUs in this passage? Who is the YOU he is talking to? His disciples. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, he is talking to YOU. He is concerned about your troubled heart.

Next, it is a reassuring word, isn’t it? A promise is being spoken to Jesus’ anxious followers. Death is not the last word for you or for me.

“In my Father’s house are many rooms, and I am going to prepare a place for you there.”

Those preparations are what the cross and resurrection are about! Jesus tells us he will come back for us, and we will spend eternity together.

Jesus doesn’t go into detail as to what heaven is like. All he tells us is that we will be with him. That is the ultimate!

Notice, these personal, reassuring words have an appeal attached to them. Believe! Jesus holds himself up as the object of our faith and says, “Trust me!” Later on, Thomas asks about the way. Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Then Philip says he wanted to see the Father. Again Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father . . . Believe in ME!”

ME (Jesus) holds the key! Jesus, the Son of God, is saying, “Trust me!”

Let me remind you of what HE did for YOU. He died on the cross to pay the penalty for your sin and rose again. He purchased a place for us in his heaven.

The cross is sometimes described as the bridge between God and a sinful humanity. He calls us to trust what he’s done to rescue us.

Last summer the Twin Cities suffered a horrific experience as one of its major bridges collapsed, killing and injuring many people. This collapse put many of us in a panic as we crossed the bridges in our state wondering if we could trust that bridge.

The bridge that Christ made for us will never collapse. It is good for eternity! We are invited to put our whole weight upon it, trusting in Christ.

You see, the one who made this promise and appeals to us for trust rose from the grave! We’ve just celebrated Easter once again. Death has been conquered! God has affirmed Christ Jesus through the resurrection! Trust him!

Death can do a number on us. We don’t like to dwell on it too much. But it is a fact.

Here is another fact: Jesus Christ lives! And because he lives, we shall live also! Death cannot hold the follower of Jesus Christ. In fact, we go through this life with the confidence that the best is yet to come!

I love the story of the dying woman who asked her pastor to make sure a fork was placed in her right hand in the casket. When he asked why, she explained that she grew up going to church dinners. Near the end of her meals, someone would always say that she should keep her fork, for the best was yet to come. Dessert! She told her pastor that when people ask why the fork was in her hand, he could tell that story and then let them know that she knew that by trusting in Christ, “the best was yet to come.” How true!

In verse six, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Typically someone asks me if this seems a bit exclusive and narrow. My response to them is, “You’ll have to ask Jesus about that. He said it. He backed it up when he rose from the grave. He has the words of eternal life. So as for me, I’m taking Mr. Resurrection and Life at his word.”

How about you?

The Shepherd and His Flock

Jesus was the world’s greatest communicator of divine truth. He often used word pictures or parables to give the reader a visual portrayal of what he meant. He spoke in the concrete and not in the abstract.

The parable for today is, “I am the Good Shepherd.”

The people of Jesus’ day were well acquainted with the tasks of a shepherd. The details offered in John’s Gospel help those of us who have not met a shepherd to understand his work.

John tells us that the sheep lived in a pen, which the shepherd entered through a gate guarded by a watchman. The shepherd took them from the pen and led them out to graze. While they grazed, the shepherd alone was tasked with protecting the sheep from thieves and wild animals. Through this, the shepherd built a personal relationship with the sheep.

Jesus uses this figure of speech: “I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters through me will be saved.” Many voices sought to break the relationship with the Shepherd. Then Jesus speaks this great truth: “The thief comes only to kill and to steal and to destroy; I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly.”

Now let’s see how this word plays out in real life.

A personal relationship exists between the shepherd and the sheep. The Bible says they knew his voice. This is the relationship God desires with all his created children. Yet our relationship with God does not become a personal one until our sins have been forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ. Sometimes the Shepherd uses words of rebuke. Sometimes they are words that will direct, strengthen, and comfort us. At other times they are words of assurance that will bring us peace, because our sins are forgiven and we experience comfort in our Father’s love.

We hear His voice when we read, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

These words tell us that we must take the initiative to settle any differences we have with other people. “As we have been forgiven, so we must forgive.” This counsel will bring peace to our lives if followed. We, the sheep, hear his voice and obey. Do we?

The Shepherd says, “There is a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7). The Bible also says, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). All too often we talk too much and fail to listen to the Shepherd. We need to recall his words that “there is a time to speak.”

It is possible to speak too little, as well? Apathy is one of Satan’s greatest weapons. We may know that something is wrong in our government, church, or home, however, we not want to become involved. Silence under these conditions is wrong. The Shepherd tells us that refusing to speak up and denounce wrong is sin. “The sheep hear his voice and they obey.” Do we?

Parents love their sons and daughters very much and want to guide them, but sometimes it is difficult to break free from what our culture teaches. Have you heard the conversation on television that tells us how much unplanned pregnancies are costing our government? One cannot argue with this bit of news. So what is a concerned parent to do? Their children are normal, healthy people. They have been given sexual drives. Should a father say to his son, “Here are some condoms. Put them in your wallet. I hope you have no need to use them. However, if the temptations are too great, they’ll be there.” Should a mother say to her daughter, “I don’t want to give you these pills, but I know how difficult it is to control your emotions when many of your friends are sexually active. Take them, and don’t sacrifice your future with a child who, at this time in your life, is unwanted.”

The Shepherd says, “Thou shall not commit adultery. Any sexual activity outside of the married state is sin.” And so the sheep are obedient. Are we?

You have had a tough day at work so you stroll over to your neighbor who is mowing his lawn. You unload on him and he says, “You need a good stiff drink. A couple of martinis will lift your spirits.” Sounds good, and your neighbor wants to be helpful, but it’s not the answer. His remedy could help you on that particular night so much that it becomes a habit, and it soon leads to addiction.

There is no question that, at times when the problems of the day are so heavy, you need to talk to someone. Wouldn’t it be better to walk into your family room, shut the door, and listen to Jesus as He says, “Come to me all of you who are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). You can give Him your cares and ask Him for strength and direction. The Shepherd has promised to be there to assist you. Whose invitation do you follow? The sheep hear the Shepherd’s voice and follow him. Do we?

The Lord Jesus wants to be your Shepherd. When He saw the crowds, the Bible says He had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Doesn’t that pretty much describe our day Ð people without a shepherd, or maybe a shepherd who is inadequate to lead us?

But there is help, people. There is help. We, who know the Shepherd, need to share him with our world.

So the Lord gives us another verbal picture of the relationship he wants to have with us Ð just Savior, Lord, Master, and Friend, but also . . . Shepherd.

How we need to pray,

“Savior like a Shepherd lead us,

Much we need thy tender care.”

Walking Through Life With Jesus

It takes a lifetime to comprehend a great experience.

To understand the meaning of this statement, apply it to marriage. I was married my last year in seminary. Before this, I lived in a dormitory, where I was free to come and go and could make my own decisions. But then I was married. They have been sixty wonderful years, but I am still learning that married life is different from being single.

The two of us, my wife and I, have become one. This does not mean that we cannot still be our own persons. We can belong to different political parties, have our own opinions on social issues, or differ on which is better Ð steak or pork chops Ð but beneath these weighty issues is a oneness. We encourage, correct, assure, defend, love, and share with each other. Our responsibilities are for each other, and we are willing to put the other’s welfare above our own.

As the years have rolled on, I gain a greater appreciation each day for the meaning of our marriage vows. I do not agree with a bride who once asked if we could change her wedding vows from “until death separates us” to “until love runs out.”

The point is, life changes after you are married, and it takes a lifetime to fully comprehend this. The point of this sermon is, life changes when you walk with Jesus.

The two men who were walking to Emmaus, a little town seven miles from Jerusalem, would have agreed with that statement. One was named Cleopas; the other man’s name remains unknown.

It was Easter, and they were talking about the news that Jesus had risen from the dead. It was then that Jesus joined them, but they did not recognize him. Their conversation went this way:

Jesus asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning, but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

The same experience can be ours. Jesus told us in John 14:26, “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything that I have said to you.” When Christ is part of our life, things change.

Jesus is always with us. A good friend of mine, who is highly educated, was telling me of a recent experience as he lay on his bed one night. His wife was sick. Things were not going well in his business, and he was growing older and was not strong enough to start over. Then he began to rethink the Easter message Ð Christ lives! How does this message relate to his situation?

Bible passages he had learned through the years popped into his mind, especially Jesus’ words to the disciples “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). So he turned to the Lord and said, “Here it is. The load is too big for me.” Then he slept peacefully until 8:00 in the morning.

“Tell me,” he asked, “How do you explain it?”

“I can’t,” was my reply. If only we would take Jesus at his word. Might he not say to us, as he did to the two men in our text, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe”? How enjoyable it is to sing, What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer. Yet, how difficult it is to put these words into action.

Life is changed when we walk with Jesus. If you do not believe it, ask St. Paul in Rome as he is awaiting martyrdom, Martin Luther in Wittenberg as he is waiting to be tried, or George Washington at Valley Forge in the midst of battle.

Ask Clarence Thomas, who wrote while waiting to be confirmed by the United States Senate, “The more hopeless things appeared, the more vulnerable I felt, the more I turned to God’s comforting embrace. Over time my focus became primarily God centered. The words of the Apostle Paul were never far from my mind: ÔTherefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecution, and in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong'” (II Corinthians 12:10).

Jesus has changed the lives of millions of people. Has he been given the privilege to change yours?