Spiritual Role Models

The first sentence of our text was spoken to people who had been Christians for many years. At least a generation had passed since Jesus walked on earth. It reads, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).

Many people have ministered to us throughout our lives. In preparation for this sermon, I spent some time identifying my spiritual role models. I challenge you to spend a few minutes now thinking about those who have had an influence on your life with Christ. Write their names on a piece of paper and review what they said or did that left you with a lasting impression. Pondering the influence they had on your life is good. They may have come from our families, friends, teachers, pastors, bosses, employees, employers, political leaders, and the list goes on. Now from this list of people, select three or four who spoke a word, taught a lesson, preached a sermon, or performed an act that the Holy Spirit used to make a lasting impression on your life. You have never forgotten what they said or did.

In taking our text seriously, I set aside a couple hours one evening and quietly made up my list of these people who have had a profound effect on my life. Never before had I given these people such serious thought, and I thanked God for the positive effect they had on my life.

The first person who came to mind was a man I met only once. Sixty years ago he was lecturing to people on the assurance of salvation. It was way back in 1943, when I was struggling with the question of where I will spend eternity. I trusted Jesus Christ as my Savior but still had little peace in my soul. In this setting the speaker said, “Just remember that Jesus Christ has paid the whole price for your sins Ð not 99.44% of the bill, but all of it. We sometimes think we must do a little bit, and so salvation is a joint effort. Not so. Jesus did it all.” I am his forever.

This was not a new thought. However, on that particular day God spoke to me through this man, and my soul was at peace. I never had a chance to thank him for his ministry, and he never knew how God had used him to change this young man’s life.

The second leader was not a dynamic speaker. I did not know him very well either, but his life brought me a message that made a deep impression. He had lived fifty years in Japan as a missionary. Then he had to return home. During those war years he was restless, wondering how the people were doing whom he had served with the Word of God. When the war was over, he left again for Japan. Some friends invited a group of us to bid him farewell. In his unprepared comments the old missionary said, “I am going home to my people with whom I have shared Jesus Christ. Are they still living? I wonder how my spiritual son, Inadomi, is.” He spoke with such emotion and warmth that I got a new look at what it means to be a child of God.

The old man died in Japan, and I believe he was buried there. However, a few years later his spiritual son, Inadomi, visited the United States and spoke in the church where I was a young pastor. He brought a greeting from his Father in God and then sang a song during the service: “My heart, O Holy Spirit, the city longs to see . . .”

Then he said, “I long to see my spiritual father, for he promised to be waiting for me when I get to my heavenly home.”

Never before had I experienced the relationship that brothers and sisters in Christ can have as they walk through this life on their way to the homeland, which is heaven. How true are the words, “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).

One more. I visited a friend who was the founder of the Christian Crusaders radio program, Rev. G. E. Melchert. He was not long for this world. I knelt at his bedside to hear what he was saying. He raised his weak arms above his head and said, “Hold high the cross when you preach each Sunday.” That was all the strength he had, but his message continues to ring in my ears as I prepare the weekly messages for our broadcast.

The text says, “Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).

We can point to biblical heroes who gave their life for the cause of Christ. However, today I believe we can add to these people those who witness to the faith in the everyday routine of life. Like you, I have many examples of such people.

Today’s media reveals the dishonesty in the financial institutions of our nations. People were encouraged to buy homes for prices that were far above their means. The lenders’ huge profits resulted in a financial recession in our land. How different this practice was from my banker’s, who sold me a house for $50,000 with a $15,000 down payment. The interest rate was reasonable, and we paid the mortgage off in nine years. Our family had a nice house. The bank earned a fair profit. We were all happy. I believe the banker who helped us get that house was God’s servant, practicing his profession with high moral standards.

In the office of my college president was a woodcarving with one word: Others. He used this decorative object as a constant reminder that it is not self but others who must be given first consideration.

We find some very dishonest people in the world. This is true today as always. However, we also find others who are guided by what is right and wrong. I believe they too are God’s servants. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate them.

God continues to raise up great leaders in his Kingdom. They live in a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. We give thanks for them to Almighty God, who gave his Son to die for the world and for those whose names are recorded on the pages of Scripture. We also thank God for his servants who live at all times in history.

We have biblical leaders, who spoke the word of God to us. They had special gifts that have blessed us. However, we also have hundreds of contemporary leaders who bring us great blessings. Both messages point us to the Lord Jesus, our Savior and Lord.

Spiritual Role Models

The first sentence of our text was spoken to people who had been Christians for many years. At least a generation had passed since Jesus walked on earth. It reads, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).

Many people have ministered to us throughout our lives. In preparation for this sermon, I spent some time identifying my spiritual role models. I challenge you to spend a few minutes now thinking about those who have had an influence on your life with Christ. Write their names on a piece of paper and review what they said or did that left you with a lasting impression. Pondering the influence they had on your life is good. They may have come from our families, friends, teachers, pastors, bosses, employees, employers, political leaders, and the list goes on. Now from this list of people, select three or four who spoke a word, taught a lesson, preached a sermon, or performed an act that the Holy Spirit used to make a lasting impression on your life. You have never forgotten what they said or did.

In taking our text seriously, I set aside a couple hours one evening and quietly made up my list of these people who have had a profound effect on my life. Never before had I given these people such serious thought, and I thanked God for the positive effect they had on my life.

The first person who came to mind was a man I met only once. Sixty years ago he was lecturing to people on the assurance of salvation. It was way back in 1943, when I was struggling with the question of where I will spend eternity. I trusted Jesus Christ as my Savior but still had little peace in my soul. In this setting the speaker said, “Just remember that Jesus Christ has paid the whole price for your sins Ð not 99.44% of the bill, but all of it. We sometimes think we must do a little bit, and so salvation is a joint effort. Not so. Jesus did it all.” I am his forever.

This was not a new thought. However, on that particular day God spoke to me through this man, and my soul was at peace. I never had a chance to thank him for his ministry, and he never knew how God had used him to change this young man’s life.

The second leader was not a dynamic speaker. I did not know him very well either, but his life brought me a message that made a deep impression. He had lived fifty years in Japan as a missionary. Then he had to return home. During those war years he was restless, wondering how the people were doing whom he had served with the Word of God. When the war was over, he left again for Japan. Some friends invited a group of us to bid him farewell. In his unprepared comments the old missionary said, “I am going home to my people with whom I have shared Jesus Christ. Are they still living? I wonder how my spiritual son, Inadomi, is.” He spoke with such emotion and warmth that I got a new look at what it means to be a child of God.

The old man died in Japan, and I believe he was buried there. However, a few years later his spiritual son, Inadomi, visited the United States and spoke in the church where I was a young pastor. He brought a greeting from his Father in God and then sang a song during the service: “My heart, O Holy Spirit, the city longs to see . . .”

Then he said, “I long to see my spiritual father, for he promised to be waiting for me when I get to my heavenly home.”

Never before had I experienced the relationship that brothers and sisters in Christ can have as they walk through this life on their way to the homeland, which is heaven. How true are the words, “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).

One more. I visited a friend who was the founder of the Christian Crusaders radio program, Rev. G. E. Melchert. He was not long for this world. I knelt at his bedside to hear what he was saying. He raised his weak arms above his head and said, “Hold high the cross when you preach each Sunday.” That was all the strength he had, but his message continues to ring in my ears as I prepare the weekly messages for our broadcast.

The text says, “Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).

We can point to biblical heroes who gave their life for the cause of Christ. However, today I believe we can add to these people those who witness to the faith in the everyday routine of life. Like you, I have many examples of such people.

Today’s media reveals the dishonesty in the financial institutions of our nations. People were encouraged to buy homes for prices that were far above their means. The lenders’ huge profits resulted in a financial recession in our land. How different this practice was from my banker’s, who sold me a house for $50,000 with a $15,000 down payment. The interest rate was reasonable, and we paid the mortgage off in nine years. Our family had a nice house. The bank earned a fair profit. We were all happy. I believe the banker who helped us get that house was God’s servant, practicing his profession with high moral standards.

In the office of my college president was a woodcarving with one word: Others. He used this decorative object as a constant reminder that it is not self but others who must be given first consideration.

We find some very dishonest people in the world. This is true today as always. However, we also find others who are guided by what is right and wrong. I believe they too are God’s servants. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate them.

God continues to raise up great leaders in his Kingdom. They live in a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. We give thanks for them to Almighty God, who gave his Son to die for the world and for those whose names are recorded on the pages of Scripture. We also thank God for his servants who live at all times in history.

We have biblical leaders, who spoke the word of God to us. They had special gifts that have blessed us. However, we also have hundreds of contemporary leaders who bring us great blessings. Both messages point us to the Lord Jesus, our Savior and Lord.

What Ever Happened to Discipline?

Discipline is necessary for an orderly society, and yet it appears that discipline becomes weaker and weaker in every generation. What ever happened to discipline?

The Bible has a lot to say about discipline. In the creation story, God said to Adam, “You are free to eat from any fruit in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16, 17). Adam and Eve broke God’s law, and because of God’s discipline, death passes to all people.

When the Israelites were going to pass into the Promised Land, the Lord took Moses to the top of Mount Nebo and showed him the land He had promised to Israel. Then the Lord said to Moses, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ÔI will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it” (Deut. 34:4). This was Moses’ punishment for being disobedient to God.

Our test for today is this: “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in” (Prov. 3:11, 12).

The Bible makes it clear that God disciplines us because he loves us. His loving hand is at work as much through life’s crushing times as it is in times of joy and pleasure. To put it another way, a mother’s hand is at work as much when she is disciplining her child as when she is comforting him.

Today’s text has advice that shows how personal the relationship between God and his people can be.

“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

It is more important that we understand how God disciplines us. I find it easier to understand his discipline when I think of God using circumstances in my life I have brought on myself. He did not send them. However, when the difficulties came, God used them. I learned that when I live contrary to his will, I can expect to suffer from those decisions.

To illustrate Ð Mary has a poor marriage. She sheds many tears over the relationship between her and her husband. Not knowing what to do, she wonders where God is in all of this. Is this God’s punishment?

God’s hand is in this heartache. He told Mary in his Word that she should not be unequally yoked with an unbeliever. Mary knew before the marriage that Bob was an unbeliever, but she disregarded God’s Word and did what satisfied her emotions. She was in love with Bob and planned to convert him.

God does not remove his counsel and say, I understand your emotions. Go ahead and marry Bob. We all have a free will to go contrary to God’s Word. However, when we do so, we then have to suffer the consequences that go with it.

Understanding God’s punishment, how do people respond?

1. God doesn’t seem to enter into the picture at all. He has no personal relationship with people. Bad marriages are just the reality of our day. So try again; learn from the past and don’t live in it.

2. Mary feels forsaken and has anger in her soul. Why are you doing this to me, God? What kind of a loving Father would not let me get out of this marriage with Bob in some way and feel good about it? Does God not have to adjust his will at times to different cultures? Christianity does not speak to our day.

3. Mary is broken. She is repentant. Yes, Lord. I understand. Now how can I learn from this tragedy in my life? I know you can use evil for good, and I believe something will come out of this failure on my part to make it one of the strongest hours of my life. Regardless, I know you will never leave me nor forsake me.

It is evident that discipline seems to be a forgotten word in our day. We see this in government, business, education, church, and every other part of life. Let us thank God that he still disciplines. Let us pray this biblical truth may somehow find its way into our lives lest we live in complete chaos.

Winning the Race

I love athletics. Though I was never an athlete, my wife and I still find it exciting to watch a good basketball, football or baseball game. We are in our mid-eighties, but we still have season tickets to the University of Northern Iowa’s football and basketball games and enjoy them very much.

One of the attractions for me with athletics is to see how games present such a realistic picture of life. Life is really a game, with many losing and winning experiences.

The writer of the book of Hebrews must have had similar feelings, for he talks about running the race which is marked out for us with perseverance. We’ll see how he builds on an athletic scene.

Seven weeks ago millions of Americans watched the Super Bowl. We were cheering for the Arizona Cardinals because Kurt Warner was their quarterback. Kurt had played university football at Northern Iowa, which is in our town. The Cardinals almost beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. Believe me, they were running a race and took a lot of punishment trying to come out on top. But it was not to be. In the last few seconds they lost the game.

Christians are running a race. Their goal is to live the abundant life here on earth and then to inherit their heavenly home for all eternity. Notice the word “inherit.” We do not earn the victory as the Steelers did. It is a gift to us from God through the atoning sacrifice of His Son on the cross. But our enemy, Satan, is doing battle with us, seeking to destroy our faith in Christ and causing us to reject the gift which God offers us.

Let’s turn from the greatest gameÑwinning the heavenly homeÑand consider one of the most important games we play while walking through this life on earth.

What was your wish when you stood at the altar saying your wedding vows? Were you not praying, or at least hoping, that this would be a lifelong union filled with many blessings? Most people whom I have married wanted it to be the beginning of a great life together where their love for each other would grow daily. But we are not into the marriage long before we find that marriage takes daily preparation. As the athlete must keep in shape physically, so the husband and wife realize the need to be strong emotionally and spiritually in order to make a success of their marriage.

There is a lot of give and take. Only a few realize that it takes a lot of prayer and listening to God speak to us about our relationship to Him and to each other. And then those times may come when the love has grown cold and Satan has sent a friend to say, “Divorce him. You deserve someone better.” You know what it is to fight when it looks like your home is crumbling in defeat and your children will be hurt living with a single parent.

Who is your only true hope that the marriage can be turned around? The Christian soon realizes that it is Christ, and your marriage is failing simply because He has had no place in it. But He is always there to help you. That’s what He promised the night you were bound together as husband and wife. He never left you; you left Him. He is eager to come back into your lives and change your wills and attitudes toward Him and each other.

So you call a time-out, just like a football team does. You rearrange your life and find new priorities. You pledge your allegiance to each other. New life begins to appear in your marriage. You see your strengths and weaknesses. And you experience what God’s grace is all about.

Look at the words of our text. These great people of God whom we met in the sermon last week had their difficult times too, and yet the text tells us to look at them as a

“cloud of witnesses.” How did they win the race?

It was necessary for them to get rid of everything that hindered them in their relationship with God, so they could run the race. Think of the temptation as Abraham walked to the top of the mountain to sacrifice his son Isaac. God was testing his faith. God’s command did not make sense. Doubt had to be thrown aside when the little boy asked his father where the animal was for the sacrifice. Then Abraham said, “God will provide.” Read this chapter (Genesis 22). They were hard times, but Abraham looked to his Heavenly Father for the answer and God did not fail him.

In the same spirit God said, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lost heart” (v. 2-3).

The game of life for the Christian is not an easy one. There are many battles to be fought, but our text tells us we do not walk alone. It is generally known that the home team is supposed to have an advantage in winning the game, if the teams are roughly equal in talent. Why are the hometown players favored? Because of fan support. God is our cheerleader, and He uses a host of our brothers and sisters in Christ to assist us in facing the hours when it is difficult to continue the race. He will see us through. He will forgive our sins and strengthen us when we are the weakest.

Yes, we are playing the game of life, the most important game there is. We are strangers on our way to a homeland where together with all who have died in the faith we will enjoy the heavenly mansions with our Lord forever.

We Walk by Faith

To understand the biblical message, it is necessary to have an understanding of the word faith. In Hebrews 11:1 we read, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” William Barclay says, “Faith is hope turned into certainty.”

Abraham was a great man of faith. His life demonstrates what it means to trust God. Abraham lived in Ur of the Chaldeans where he was surrounded by family with some wealth and many people whom he loved and cherished. All this was about to change when God spoke to Abraham and said, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all the people on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3).

Abraham showed faith in God’s promises. Leaving his people, he left security, prosperity, family, and friends. Although this decision made little rational sense, Abraham was obedient to God’s Word. I have to believe that Abraham did not really want to go, nor did his family give their blessing to this move. Understanding what it took for Abraham to leave all that security and go to a land with little security is difficult for us. He was a stranger in a foreign land. He lived in a tent, not a comfortable house as had been his custom.

Those who lived a hundred years ago understood better than we do today. We enjoy a modern transportation system that gets us anywhere in our world in just a few hours. This move, for Abraham, was a permanent farewell to his past.

I have a letter written to my grandmother from her brother living in Denmark. He writes:

April 8, 1932

Dear Sister,

I was happy to receive a sign of life from you again. For we are now old enough that we may expect to be called home any day.

I believe that this will reach you by April 17, your 75th birthday. Receive, therefore, on that occasion my most heartfelt congratulations. May God protect you on life’s way till the sun sets; it shines on the path that God is love.

It has now been almost 50 years since you left for America. It is a very bad time for farmers here. Many lose their farms. The rest of us have fixed incomes and are doing well. Unemployment is also high in Denmark. Age is starting to take its toll on me, but we need to be happy as long as we can walk around and work a little, and for that we should thank God.

When it gets a little warmer we need to get the garden fixed up, but it is still cold outside.

My greetings from my wife and your devoted one.

Your brother in Christ,

Anders

Can’t you feel the strong feelings between this brother and sister, even though the miles had separated them for many years? How he wondered if she were still alive, and how he must have talked about meeting her in the heavenly home! Perhaps he even wondered why she did such a stupid thing Ð to move so far away Ð and how she would have been so much better off to remain with her family.

Separation from family and loved ones is never easy. Nor was it for Abraham. Still, in faith God’s children have the assurance that God walks with us. We, through faith in Christ Jesus, believe the promise of a permanent meeting in the heavenly city whose architect and builder is God. On this earth we have no lasting city.

How do we know this? Faith has turned it into certainty, for Jesus has given us a promise: “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also ” (John 14:2-3).

This promise makes no sense to the unbeliever, but to those in Christ, it is a reality on which we base our lives. Our lives are so much larger when they are built on faith. We are not confined to a few years here on this earth, and then that is the end of our being. No, we are immortal beings. All this goes way beyond our human understanding. However, we live by faith.

Think of it! We do not know what is before us. The days are uncertain. The loss of our material possessions that have taken a lifetime to accumulate, and upon which we have built our security, causes us fear until we hear Jesus say, I am with you. I will provide.

And in faith we reply, I do not know how God will do this, but I trust him.

What about the world we leave for our children and grandchildren? As people of faith, if we have bathed them in the truths of God’s Word climaxing in Jesus Christ, all is well. They too will inherit God’s eternal promises.

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is called the Spiritual Hall of Fame. We will not make that list, but our names are written in the Book of Life through Christ Jesus our Lord in whom we place our faith.

Hope Turned Into Certainty

I Corinthians 13 is the great chapter in the Bible on love. In Hebrews 11 we find a great chapter on faith.

The first verse of Hebrews 11 defines faith as being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. William Barclay says faith is hope turned into truth.

Faith has three parts: knowledge, assent, and trust. All three parts are needed if faith is to work. Let us see how these parts apply to faith as the Bible uses the word.

First, we have knowledge. I learn about Jesus Christ. He is God, who came to earth and lived as a human among us. He lived a perfect life and died on the cross as payment for our sins. On the third day he rose from the dead, and forty days later he ascended into heaven with the promise that he would come again to judge the living and the dead.

The Church fathers put these biblical truths into creedal form, and in many Christian churches they are confessed aloud at each worship service.

Second, we give assent to what we know about Jesus. We must not only know these facts, but we must also intellectually believe they are true.

Third, we have to trust Christ. That is, as the Bible teaches, we must receive him into our hearts. This is far more than just knowing about Jesus. It is trusting in him and living with him as our Lord Ð not just the object of a creedal statement we repeat in a congregational setting.

When she was small, I used to place my daughter on the counter in our kitchen. Then I would challenge her to jump into my arms. She knew I was strong enough to catch her. She also knew that I loved her and would not let her fall and get hurt. Nevertheless, she lacked the trust that allowed her to jump. One day she said to me, “Let the ends of my fingers touch your fingers.” I walked closer to the counter and she then jumped into my arms. Soon I could stand several feet from the counter, extend my arms, and say jump, and she would throw herself into my arms. This is a leap of faith.

We not only sing the hymn, “Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” we must also walk with him daily.

Life often deals us difficult experiences. When we have exhausted our ability to deal with these experiences in a mature way, we ask where we can go for help. The answers evade us and human resources lack in their ability to comfort us. In that hour Jesus invites us to come to him. We respond in faith, and he helps us answer some of these problems that could otherwise destroy us.

What do you do when you feel forsaken after losing a loved one who had been your comfort and help? Your health is poor. Your children are busy and have enough to deal with in their own lives. Your life savings dwindles as the stock market goes lower and lower.

Turn to Christ in faith and claim his promise. He will never leave you, and you will find that, in his care, you have strength for all things.

Faith is hope turned into certainty. One of your hopes may be that someday you will no longer let the words and actions of other people bother you. You fear the judgment of humans. It is true that people, including ourselves, can be very judgmental.

I thought of that when listening to President Bush’s remarks upon leaving office and returning to Texas. He has come under the judging gaze of millions in America and the world. History will clear up some of these misunderstandings and be kinder to him than is true right now. Still, the former President’s speech seemed to reveal that he is handling the criticism well. If not, and if he is a man of faith, God has a word for him: “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. . . . It is the Lord who judges me” (I Cor. 4:3-4). Receive God’s promise and all is well.

Do you remember what Jesus said to Martha in John 11 when he was comforting her after her brother’s death? Hear these words: “Your brother will rise again” (vs 23). Receive this comfort and the sting is taken out of death.

Then we ask, What about our investments? Will I have enough money to see me through this life? The stock market went below 8,000 today.

Your broker shrugs his shoulders and says, Your guess is as good as mine.

Yet people of faith hear the Lord saying through his word, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). Trust Christ, and let your hope be turned into truth.

How do we get this faith? I have tried hard to create this faith in my life, but I must be a natural-born skeptic. It just does not come.

St. Paul tells us how one becomes a person of faith: “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Live in your Bible. Store up its truths. Hear the Word preached in your church, and discuss it in small groups with your friends. Through this means of grace, the Holy Spirit will create the faith you long to possess.

Living without faith in other people is terrible. Yet it is much worse to live without faith in God. Imagine walking through this scary life alone. I hear people say that we should trust no one. How sad that must be. But then to hear them say that they have no faith in God is evidence of an empty and narrow life.

Next week, we will let God use Abraham to demonstrate what happens in the life of a man of faith.