What Shall I Do?

When we ask the question, What shall we do? it comes with a feeling of desperation. As we read our text for this Pentecost Sunday, we find people asking this question: “What shall we do?” Does this text have something for us today? Let’s take a look at it.

Three thousand people had gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the festival of Pentecost. It was a celebration thanking God for the harvest and for his goodness to them as a people.

The Bible describes the events of that day. Peter’s words to those present is the message of Pentecost Ð the third major festival of the Christian Church. This was the day the Church was born. Now we ask ourselves what message God has for us as we celebrate Pentecost this day.

Like those on that first Pentecost Sunday, we too have to be convicted of our sinfulness to the point where we ask the question, What shall I do?

Hearing Peter’s words, the world can ask if this is not a dangerous teaching. Is it not better to bring words of encouragement by teaching the philosophy that we can do anything we want if we set our mind to it?

Look at the changes that had taken place in Peter’s life. A few weeks before he preached his fearless sermon on Pentecost, Peter did not have the courage to identify himself as one of Jesus’ disciples. Three times he denied Christ saying he did not know him. Then came that moment in Luke 22:61 when Jesus looked straight at him, and Peter remembered the Lord’s prophesy that he would disown Him. That did it for Peter; he was crushed. He was the one disciple who had told Jesus that, even if all the other disciples left Jesus, he would remain faithful.

Days of deep spiritual depression followed. Peter was a desperate man until Jesus met him on the shores of Lake Galilee and asked the broken disciple, “Do you love me?” When Peter said, “You know that I love you, Lord,” the Savior replied, “Go feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). Peter was forgiven, and the Lord could use him.

This is the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of all who belong to Christ. The Spirit must lead us all to that spiritual place where we have to say, Lord, what shall I do?

How does God bring us to that place? One way is through the law. Paul centers our thoughts on the purpose of the Law. It is to reveal the will of God, but it is also our schoolmaster to lead us to Christ. When I examine myself in the light of that revelation, the Law causes me to say, “Woe unto me for I am undone. What shall I do?”

When we think of the first commandment Ð Thou shalt have no other gods before me Ð we realize that we are guilty. How many times do I find myself putting some thing or some one ahead of God. Then he has to crush me, only to lift me up again, convict me, and forgive me. This is the work of the Holy Spirit Ð God using his law to cause us to realize that only in him are we spiritually strong.

This is more than an intellectual exercise. This is the Holy Spirit taking those commandments and using them to show us how to live. It allows the Holy Spirit to see us in the light of the Ten Commandments. When He has done this, we have but one question: What shall I do? The answer is the same: repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be forgiven.

While God uses the Law, he also uses life’s circumstances as we become desperate. When sickness, terrible disappointment, death, or financial chaos hits, we wonder what we should do. A stiff drink of some kind, a shot of some illegal drug, or a defiant attitude that hates life is not the answer. We must come as broken people to the throne of grace and ask the question of Pentecost: What shall I do?

Peter was faithful. He told the story of what they had done. “You, with help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross, but God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:23-24).

Peter’s main joy came when he could answer their question Ð “What shall we do?” His were the words of the Gospel and the words spoken to us when we are left only to ask, What shall I do?

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). This is the Good News, and 3,000 people responded. They received Christ and were baptized, and the Church was born.

The Church continues to preach this good news, but so often it falls on deaf ears, for we intellectualize our spiritual condition. We want to do something about it but do not have the power to do it. All the time that we are living in this state of turmoil, the Holy Spirit continues to work in our souls. He doesn’t quit until our last breath is taken. He wants our name, together with those who became his on the first Pentecost, to be written in the Book of Life.

Don’t give up. I wonder if perhaps some people did not join the 3,000 who were baptized on the first Pentecost, but then went home wondering if they should have done so. Then, later on, they too repented, received Christ, and became a part of the Church Ð Christ’s Body. Never quit on the Holy Spirit. He is not quitting on you. And He will never be done with us until we leave this world, for it is not only to become a Christian, but also to grow in that faith that is the work of the Holy Spirit.

As a young man I was given a copy of Luther’s catechism and learned the meaning of the third article: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel . . .”

I also had to memorize the verses in John 15 where Jesus says, “I am the vine and you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5).

We need the Holy Spirit to not only bring us to faith in Christ, but also to empower us to live the Christian life. We are like Paul, who after much experience with Christ wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God Ð through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:15; 24-25).

We have come a long way spiritually when we ask, Now what shall I do?

We Have Peace With God

We live in a world filled with mystery.

I know the basics of the computer. I can use it as a word processor, send e-mail to my grandson in England (and know that he has the letter as soon as I send it), or find a bundle of information on any topic under the sun. Still, the computer is basically a mystery to me. I watch my grandchildren using a little laptop while sitting on the davenport, and I am amazed at all the information they could possibly find on any particular subject.

However, we have been surrounded with mystery long before computers or cell phones showed up. Turn to our text for this day and read, “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1). Where is the mystery in this text?

Our theme is, We Have Peace With God, and we have to ask what it means to have peace with God. This is a mystery we cannot completely explain, only experience by one living in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, says, “To talk about peace with God seems nonsense to many people today. How ridiculous to think that God might be concerned about these millions of people and still be watching me tie my shoelaces . . . The absurdity lies in our picturing God just like us, only a little bit bigger. He is the Creator of all and yet because his nature is to love, it is possible for him to establish a personal one-on-one relationship with every single one of us.” This is a mystery.

How can God Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, be in a personal relationship with us that gives us peace that passes all understanding?

This is not knowledge that we can understand rationally. We accept it in faith and experience it daily. God wants to live at peace with us in a personal relationship. My friends, not to accept this revelation is cheating ourselves out of God’s blessings.

Hold a baby in your hands. He is created in God’s image and will grow into a strong physical body. He is not only endowed with many talents, but has also inherited a sinful nature that puts him out of a relationship with the Creator.

According to Jesus, the child must be “born again” (John 3:3). Hearing this mysterious teaching, Nicodemus asked, “How can a man be born when he is old?” In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to the Spirit” (John 3:4-6).

Jesus has died for our sins. When we receive him as our Savior, God accepts us and gives us this peace mentioned in our text. Pull the mystery out of the Christian faith so that it can be understood and you no longer have Christianity. At best it is only moralism.

Yet there is more. When we live in this relationship with God, he calls us to be his children, to bear witness of him throughout the world.

Living at peace with God does not mean that we will be free from suffering. Paul says in our text, “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given to us” (v.3-5).

This suffering is as real to the Christian as to anyone else. The difference is that the Christian endures the suffering with God’s peace.

For example, watching someone die is difficult. It carries much suffering with it. However, the Christian finds his peace in the promises of Christ. The Savior’s words ring clearly: “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:2-3, 27). The hours can be long and lonely, but Christ is with you.

This is Christianity in depth. With all of its mysteries, in faith we believe.

Isn’t it a bigger mystery than the computer or any of the other great inventions that we see now? They are interesting, but nothing is as great as the peace of God that we have through faith in Christ Jesus alone.

I Want to Be Your Friend

What is the basic word Christ wants to bring in this marvelous text?

I wrestled with this question for a long time in the preparation of this sermon, but finally settled on this theme: I want to be your friend. Most people do not already know that Jesus loves them and wants to be their friend, and as a result they don’t know what they are missing.

It is very clear in the Bible that Jesus wants to live in a personal relationship with us. However, some people fear this word Ð personal. They feel it is improper because, after all, God is the Almighty and we are sinful humans. To place ourselves in a relationship with God takes something away from the dignity of God.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus is the sinless Son of God. Before him every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that He is Lord. But this same God wants us to draw close to Him, and He wants to be our friend.

Others simply do not want a relationship with Jesus. They say, either in word or action, that they don’t want to give their life to anyone. Perhaps they would give a part of it, but not all of it. They do not want anyone, even Jesus, to possess them. Yet this is precisely the kind of relationship Jesus wants.

A concerned mother came into my office one day, concerned about her daughter. The daughter was nearing her thirties and not married. The past few months she had been dating a man who the mother believed was nearly perfect for her. But when the mother asked her if he might be the man for her to marry, she quickly replied, “Tom is a great person and I can see how you might enjoy having him in the family. However, I could never marry him.” When asked why, she said that he was too possessive and wanted to own her. She was not ready for that.

I assured the mother that when the right man came along they would have a wedding in their family.

Many people want Jesus, but on their own terms. They do not want Him to possess them, yet that is the only relationship with us Jesus wants. Hear his words: “I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master’s business. I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (v.15).

How is this relationship created?

God spells it out for us in his Word. First he reminds us that we did not choose him, he chose us. He is the one who is creating the relationship. He paid the price for our sins at the cross so that we might enter the presence of God as spotless and clean. Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (v.13). The cross is necessary in order to pay the price for our sins. God the Father cannot receive us unless our sin is removed and the Father sees us through his Son. It is what the Christian calls imputed righteousness. This is not a righteousness we provide for ourselves, but one that is given to us by Christ.

God has then given us the Means of Grace Ð the Word of God and the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. When we avail ourselves of these gifts, the Holy Spirit works through them and creates faith in our hearts. Then we enter into a personal relationship with God through faith in Christ. (If you want further details on the creation of faith, read Romans 10).

This relationship leads us into the Kingdom of God, where all believers trust Christ and seek to love God and one another. As citizens of God’s Kingdom, we have been given one commission: Go and make disciples of all nations, by baptizing and teaching them (taken from Matthew 28:19).

Once more the Lord says that he wants to be our friend and bind us into one eternal Kingdom. However, a relationship with any person, including God, is a two-way street. God has loved us and his work is finished. Now we are to receive this love and live for Christ.

Some of you know what this relationship is all about. To those who have not received Christ, or who only want Christ on their own terms, the Savior has a last word: I wait for you to come because I want to be your friend.

The Power of the Home

What is the greatest threat to America? Is it a failed economy or a broken home?

My answer is a broken home. Yet we as a people spend much more time talking about a failing economy than we do about broken homes, which are also in big trouble. On this Mother’s Day let’s visit about the power of the home.

The home is being attacked by divorce, same-sex marriage, and cohabitation. According to the teaching of God’s Word, all are enemies of a godly marriage. Living in our postmodern culture, what impression from our homes are our children carrying with them into life?

Let me point you to the home of the prodigal son, referred to in Luke 15. This story told by Jesus is filled with great sermon themes. It wasn’t a perfect home. None are. Something must have happened that made the younger of two brothers rebel and want to get away. After visiting with his father about wanting to leave home and the father was unable to convince him to stay with the family, the prodigal son left with his share of the inheritance. He left behind a father (and I believe a mother, although the story doesn’t mention her) with a broken heart. While they were broken-hearted, there was still a glimmer of hope that this rebellious son would come home. And that day came.

After leaving home with his pockets full of money, he went to a large city where he squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a famine in the area, and he could not find a job. Finally a farmer employed the prodigal son to care for his swine, and his pay was that he could eat whatever the pigs ate.

Now comes the important part of the text for this sermon. His miserable condition brought this young man to his senses, and the Bible tells us what happened. “When he came to himself, he said, ÔHow many of my father’s hired men have food to spare and here I am with nothing to eat! I will go to my father and say, Father, I have sinned against heaven and earth. I am no longer worthy to be your son; make me one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father” (Luke 15:17-20).

Those days when he was wondering what his next step would be, he came to himself, and the impression of his home brought him to his senses. There you see the power of the Christian home! The witness of the home turned the prodigal son around!

What if his father had been a hard, hotheaded alcoholic? What if his parents had fought daily? What if the home could not even afford the necessities of life? He would probably have left the pigpen, but not to go home. He had enough of that environment while he was growing up. But such was not the case.

From the story, we see his parents were loving, kind, and more than willing to forgive. They knew how to have a party, and so they celebrated, because their son who was dead was alive; was lost and now was found.

Memories from the prodigal son’s childhood turned him around.

You who know the rest of the story remember there was an older brother who was jealous and not willing to forgive his brother (Luke 15:25-32). He may have told his friends that his father condoned the sin of his brother. They even had a big party for him! Such was not the case. The father did not condone the prodigal’s sin. He forgave him, and there is a great difference between condoning and forgiving.

The jealous brother wouldn’t come to the party. What happened to him? We do not know. Jesus didn’t say, but wouldn’t it have been tragic if they never reconciled?

Now what about our homes, which today are impressing on our children for good or for bad? Here are a few important questions for us to consider:

1. Are they spiritually strong? Is Christ present, and do we live in a personal relationship with Him? Does the church have an important place in the life of your family?

2. What about your marriage, mom and dad? Do your children see a love and kindness which they will want in their own marriage? Have you reminded them of the Bible’s counsel to not be yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14)?

3. What is your relationship with your siblings?

4. Does your home focus its attention more on giving than receiving?

5. Does your home major in criticizing or forgiving?

If your children are still at home, remember these are exciting but challenging days in molding those sons and daughters to be great people of God. If you are now older and the children are gone, and you would like to have another chance, how about telling them what happened after they left home? Tell them how both of you came into a personal relationship with Christ and He has blessed your marriage.

Mothers, remember what a powerful influence you have been in your home. We thank God for those of you who daily bring your children and their families before God’s throne of grace in prayers.

Just remember, humans might be able to fix a broken economy, but only God can prevent a broken home.

Death Has Been Conquered

Wouldn’t you like to be alive when the news comes that the cure for cancer has been found and the disease is now curable? Remember when we learned that we had a vaccine for polio? No more iron lungs and crutches. How we thanked God!

Today we have the greatest announcement that will ever come to humans: Death has been conquered!

Notice this word sting in today’s text, taken from I Corinthians 15. The dictionary defines sting as a wound that causes great pain.

When death comes, it brings a sting Ð first for the person who is dying, then for those who are being left behind. Even though the dying person has the assurance of salvation, there is a hurt that goes with leaving this world. Even Jesus felt the sting when he said, “My God, why hast thou forgotten me?”

Many good things have come to our age that ease the physical pain of death. Doctors can promise to keep a family member comfortable. However, the patient will still experience the emotional pain of leaving loved ones and dreams for the future.

My seminary classmate was experiencing emotional pain. He was to be ordained in just a few months. He then planned to marry and go to the mission field. Yet we stood by the bedside and heard him say words such as these: “I know I am going to heaven, but I so wanted to be married and go to the mission field to tell the good news of Christ. While he was saying this, both he, his fiancŽ, and all who were in the room, were in tears.

Tears also were in a young mother’s eyes, and rolling down my face as she said, “I don’t want to die. I know Christ will receive me into heaven, but I do not want to leave my two little girls and husband. I know that I can raise those two girls better than anyone else. I bore them.”

Death also leaves pain in the hearts of the relatives and friends left behind. The loss of the loved one is unexplainable. We often hear people, after losing a husband or wife, say they feel like a fifth wheel and don’t belong any where.

That feeling was borne out at a singles’ group in our church. One evening I was invited to speak to this group in our church. As I sat beside a stranger who had driven 75 miles to the meeting, I asked why he had made this trip in the evening. He answered, “I get something here that I haven’t received any other place. We share our hurts and see how a personal relationship with Jesus brings great comfort.”

In the midst of these pains we learn that when Christ died at Calvary, he paid the price for all sin. It has been conquered. Atonement has been made for this sin, and the blood of Christ takes away all our sin. So we sing, “O death, where is thy victory? Death has been conquered.” Soon we shall stand in the presence of our righteous God, and we will be received into the kingdom of Heaven where there is no death.

I know we have heard this message many times. We need to hear it. But someone could reply, Pastor, you have to experience these difficult hours before you can speak with real authority. How well I know that is true. Forgive me if you feel I have made light of this subject.

Today, Janet Mennen is sharing the message with me. She is the Director of Christian Crusaders. Janet is still in her 50s, has had two bouts with cancer, and still enjoys a busy life. She has a husband, a married daughter, a married son, two lovely grandchildren, and many relatives and friends. She has the assurance of her salvation through Christ, but does not want to leave this world yet. She knows what this sting is all about. Listen to Janet, a committed Christian, who has experienced the sting of facing death.

Janet Ñ

Like many who have experienced a potentially fatal disease or accident, I tend to think about death more than I used to. So the words of the scripture text for today are especially reassuring and meaningful to me.

I won’t deny that hearing I have cancer for the first or second time is tough, because it is. It’s like a blow to the stomach that takes your breath away. As I recall the moments following the diagnosis, after the initial shock, the emotions I had were based on fear:

Fear of suffering and pain. My mother died of the same disease, so it’s hard to erase the picture I have in my mind of her suffering. She was in much pain, and it isn’t a pretty picture to recall. I don’t look forward to this type of death.

Fear of leaving this world. Most of the time, I am comfortable here, and the thought of leaving this world for somewhere I know little about can be frightening.

Fear of missing out. At the time, our two children were in college, and I was afraid I would miss out on what was happening in their lives. I wanted to spend more time with my family Ð see my children graduate from college, get married, and hopefully have their own families. I wanted to be a grandmother so I could enjoy spending time with them, spoiling them, and telling them about Jesus. I didn’t want to miss out on the rest of my life!

Fear of becoming a burden. I was afraid of how my disease or subsequent death would affect my family. I didn’t want to put a damper on what should be some of the best years of their lives because of their concern for me, having to take care of me, or having to live without a wife and mother should I die. When the second diagnosis came shortly after my daughter became engaged, I agonized this would ruin her wedding plans, and that I might miss out.

I could go on and on about this sting of death, but the more important part of this scripture passage talks about the victory over death through Jesus Christ.

Many people say they hope their death is quick and sudden, so they won’t have to think about it or feel any pain. Even though it’s not for us to choose, I would say I am grateful to have been given the chance for a better understanding of what victory over death is all about. It puts death in a whole new light for me.

I had a wonderful Christian mother, whose faith in Jesus Christ was evident all her life. But her faith was never more evident than when she was faced with death Ð first my father’s, and then her own. What a privilege it was for me to openly talk with her about what heaven might be like, and what being in the real presence of God throughout eternity would mean. She had a real sense of peace. It was something I wanted, but didn’t know how to get. Looking back now, I realize my mother not only taught me how to live, but also how to die.

So it was as I was lying on the gurney, waiting to be wheeled into the operating room, a nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester asked if I wanted a chaplain. I remember telling her that I was okay; I knew my life was in the hands of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Whatever happened, I would win Ð if I died, I’d be with my Heavenly Father, and if I lived, I’d have more time with my family. That was the moment I knew what the peace that passes understanding is all about. It was a gift. And it was mine because of the victory over death through the cross of Christ.

Today, when I begin to worry about the sting of death, the Holy Spirit reminds me of the victory, and I am once again assured of my salvation. All because of the promise that a place in heaven has been prepared for me and all who believe Jesus Christ died and rose so this place can be ours. It is then that the fear of missing out on what is here on earth goes away, and I look forward to the glorious eternity that awaits us.

Having the assurance of one’s salvation is what Christian Crusaders is all about. That is why Pastor Larsen and Pastor Kramer preach the Word Ð so all who hear can know without a doubt the victory over death can be theirs as well.