Hang On

It’s a question that gets asked every now and then in our lifetimes. Sometimes it’s during those lighter times of life about things that aren’t so important. For instance, “How long,” Chicago Cubs fans ask, “Ôtill we get to see a World Series at Wrigley Field?” Vikings fans ask, “How long Ôtill the Vikings win a Super Bowl?” The little girl asks her mother in the middle of a long, long sermon, “How long is this sermon going to go on?”

The question also gets asked during some of the more serious moments of life. “How long must I remain unemployed?” “How long must we watch our mother suffer like this in this hospital?” “How long must I live with this chronic pain?” “How long must I exist in this dark cave called depression that I can’t seem to shake?” “How long,” the couple asks, “until we can have a child?”

Sometimes as God’s children who have had a taste of His grace in our lives, we find ourselves asking those questions with our faces turned upward to God.

King David wrote a song, Psalm 13, that asks that same question. It has three verses. Listening to the words of this song, you realize that it could be attributed to just about anyone. Perhaps someone who believes in God but has a lot of questions about what is going on in his life. This guy has got the low-down blues as he cries out about three things that are bothering him.

“How long, God?” he cries out as he feels abandoned and so alone. “You are not there for me.” Instead of singing the hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness, O God my, Father. There is no shadow of turning with thee,” he felt more like singing Hank Williams’ song, “I’m so lonesome I could cry.” He was feeling left behind and forgotten like Kevin in the movie, “Home Alone.” He’s been wrestling with his thoughts, has got sorrow in his heart, and is depressed. He is a wreck, inside and out, and he wonders if the Lord really cares.

As a pastor, I have had moments like that when I felt disappointed, stranded, and alone. Recently I was praying for a friend of mine who was very sick with cancer. He was surrounded by people who had a lot of doubts about God, and I just was sure that God was going to heal him and use this to really glorify Himself.

Well, my friend suffered and then finally died. I remember leaving his parents’ house the day he died, so upset. As I sat in my car, I pounded on the steering wheel and asked God, “Where were you in all of this? Why didn’t you step in? This was your chance.”

In the second verse, King David, not liking what’s going on, looked up and cried out to God, “Look at me! Answer me! You are my God! Make your face to shine on me and brighten my eyes lest I sleep the sleep of death and my enemies rejoice in my falling down.”

An amazing thing happens in the last verse of this psalm. While we find no answer from God that this will soon be over, the tone turns from a minor key into a major key.

The hinge word is but. “But I trust in your steadfast love. My heart rejoices in your salvation for what he has given me in my life. I will sing praises to God, who has dealt bountifully with me.”

Much more upbeat, isn’t it? No answers. The complaining has been done. It’s almost as if it turns into, “But I’m not giving up. I’m going to hang on to your steadfast love, God.”

That steadfast love was as precious a possession to the people in the Old Testament as it is to us. When they thought of steadfast love, it was the covenant God made to be their God and never desert them. They trusted that God would always take care of them and be there for them. Their history showed God’s faithfulness to that promise. Steadfast love meant commitment.

When we think of steadfast love, its kind of like a couple standing at the altar on the wedding day as they face each other and make a vow, a covenant. “I will be there for you. I will take care of you. I will support you. I will serve you.”

Likewise, we find that relationship in this psalm between the writer and God. I’m hanging on to that vow, to that covenant, God. The promises that you have made me. And I am going to rejoice in the help that you have given me. And I know that someday I will sing praises that God has dealt bountifully with me. No answers here, simply an I’m hanging on to your steadfast love.

Martin Luther wrote of this particular psalm, “In it, hope despairs and despair hopes.” This songwriter is hanging on. As he despairs, he asks for help and entrusts himself totally to God’s care.

When we think of the steadfast love of God, we look at the cross. We think of the Son of God hanging there saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He experienced that abandonment so that you and I would not have to. God gave his only Son to die on a cross to pay for our sins so that we could become children of God as we place our trust in Jesus Christ. This is the steadfast love that God has shown us. He is for us; he’s not against us. When you are struggling with the outlook, keep looking up to that steadfast love.

A song like Psalm 13 helps remind us that, as children of God, we are not immune to life’s hurts. There are days when darkness comes. Everybody hurts at one time or another. However, we find encouragement in this song. Hang on, as we are pointed to that steadfast love.

It’s called faith. The song ends with a faith that is hanging on to the steadfast love of God. It is the steadfast love that perhaps you’ve experienced as you look at the cross of Jesus Christ and trust in him. There are days when it is difficult to see Jesus in the dark, but the Gospel is this: Even when we can’t see Jesus in the dark, trust in this: He can see you. Hang on! Hang on!

In 1873, Horatio Stafford put his wife and four children on a ship to Europe while he stayed behind to tie up some business matters. In the middle of November on that ship, as they were crossing the Atlantic, there was an awful noise in the middle of the night. It had been hit by another ship and water was rushing into it like Niagra Falls. Mrs. Stafford watched three of her children get swept away into the sea before the sea suddenly rose and she watched it snatch the baby away as well. That last thing she remembered was reaching to find those children, only to wake up later in an infirmary on a rescue ship.

When Horatio Stafford was contacted about what had happened, he boarded a ship immediately to join his wife. On the way over, the captain of the ship he was on pointed to the place where they believe his wife’s ship went down. He watched the sea a bit, went back to his cabin and wrote a song (or poem) that later became a song. It’s become a great hymn of comfort for many people along the way. It went like this:

♬ When peace like a river `attendeth my way.

When sorrows like sea billows roll.

Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should profit, though trials should come.

Let this blest assurance control.

That Christ has regarded my helpless estate

and has shed his own blood for my soul.

It is well, it is well.

With my soul, with my soul.

It is well, it is well with my soul. ♪

Hang on. He loves you, and His steadfast love is there for you.

Help Them Understand

To communicate or explain the Gospel is very challenging.

The Gospel is this: God came into this world in the person of Jesus Christ, who lived here for thirty-three years. Jesus conducted his ministry during his last three years when he taught, he suffered and died at the cross, and he was raised from the dead. All this was to pay the price for the sins of humankind so that no matter where and when people lived, if they would repent of their sins and trust him as their Savior and Lord, they would belong to God, through faith in Jesus Christ. They would be his both now and for all eternity.

Explaining this doctrine can be quite difficult. Our Lord Jesus Christ explained it by using parables. Matthew chapter 13 contains several of these parables. One of them is today’s text. After the Lord gave the parable, he explained its meaning to the disciples.

Taking a fish off the hook is as common a picture today as when Jesus walked on this earth. Catch them now. Separate them later.

“This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“ÔHave you understood all these things?’ Jesus asked.” That was an important question for the disciples to answer, and it is also an important question for us to consider.

When I read difficult passages such as these, I like to turn to the masters of biblical knowledge for help.

One of my resource people is Bishop J. C. Ryle. He was a bishop in England who lived from 1816-1900. He writes in his commentary:

“It is intended to instruct us on a most important subject, the true nature of the visible church. Within the visible church of Christ, there were to be Christians of various sorts, unconverted as well as converted, false as well as true. The separation of these two was to come at last, but not before the end of the world. It is important to have this lesson deeply graven on our minds. There is hardly any point in Christianity on which greater mistakes exist than the nature of the visible church. There are none, perhaps on which mistakes are so perilous to the soul.”

We learn from this parable that all congregations of professed Christians ought to be regarded as mixed bodies. They are all assemblies containing good and bad fish, converted and unconverted, children of God and children of the world, and they ought to be described and addressed as such. To tell all baptized people that they are born again, have the Spirit, are members of Christ’s body, and are holy in the face of such a parable as this is utterly unwarrantable. It is painfully calculated to promote self-righteousness, and lull sinners to sleep.”

Another great biblical scholar, who taught at the University of Glasgow, was William Barclay (1907-1978). He writes, “The Church cannot be selective and discriminative. The earthly church is bound to be a mixture. That it will contain all kinds of people, good and bad, useless and useful, is not ours to judge. It is not man’s place to say who is committed to Christ and who is not. The Church must be open to all and be a mixture. And that is exactly what the parable teaches. Therefore, it is our duty to gather in all who will come and not to judge and not to separate, but to leave the final judgment to God who alone can judge.”

My third example is George Buttrick (1892-1980). One of Dr. Buttrick’s prestigious pulpits was Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church (1927-1955). In his preaching, Dr. Buttrick leaves no doubt that within the visible church are all kinds of people, and God will be the final judge.

This moves us to the congregation. Jesus likens us to a fish net. All kinds of people join us in the congregation, and we are thankful for this. We find the committed, seekers, respecters, and those who have come because of domestic or social reasons. This will continue to be the make up of any congregation, which is also referred to as the visible church.

Then comes the day of sorting who is who and what is what. This is God’s job. Only he is Judge. Hear Jesus’ words, “This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Is Jesus contradicting himself when a hurried reading of his words could lead one to say, “If I live a good life, I am classified as righteous, and I am saved. If I do not live a good life, I will be lost eternally.” Not at all, for there is only one way that we can be declared good, and that is when the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all our sins. Then we stand before God through Christ as spotless and clean.

Universalism (all are saved) sounds comforting, but it is not biblically correct. Study John 3:16. The first part of that verse reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son . . ” However, the last part of it reads, “. . .that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” That is the meaning of the miracle.

We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

The Day of Grace Will End

Why do we go to church?

The unchurched neighbor might say, “People who go to church are religious and believe it is one of the commandments that God has given to them. It certainly is a good habit, and it wouldn’t hurt our family to go more often. However, neither my wife nor I came from families who went to church.”

How would you as a regular church attender answer the question? Here would be some of the reasons:

1. To fellowship with some close friends.

2. To learn what is going on within the congregation.

3. To share joys and sorrows.

These are very important reasons. However, the basic reason to go to church is to hear the Word of God.

What does God have to say to me and the congregation?

Our text today in Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23 talks about the farmer sowing the seed. It is a parable referring to faith being sown in the hearts of those hearing the Word of God.

God speaks to us through His Word proclaimed in music. We hear the choir sing Beautiful Savior as arranged by F. Melius Christianson. God is the “King of Creation” and “Son of God and Son of Man.” We sing Luther’s reformation hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” The seed is being planted when we sing, “What though they take this life, goods, honor, child, and wife. Their hatred still is vain, they have no lasting gain. We still possess the Kingdom.” And then in a more contemporary style we join and sing, “There is a Redeemer. Thank you oh my Father, for giving us your Son, Leaving your Spirit, Till the work on earth is done.”

As we continue in our worship, the Word is read and proclaimed. The pastor has been working on the text, praying to God, and asking Him for guidance as he stands before the congregation assembled for worship. He must feed the believers on the Bread of Life, and yet remember the many who have yet to receive Christ Ð the seekers, respecters, and those who have no interest in Christianity. The seed is being planted Ð the basic reason for going to church.

In this parable, Jesus helps us understand that many kinds of hearers need to hear His voice. One man is depicted in the text as sitting in the congregation and not understanding what is being said. The evil one snatches away what is sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. He is the 30-year-old man to whom I preached one Sunday morning who had never attended a worship service in his life.

Another worshiper is the person who receives the seed that fell on rocky places. He hears the Word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the Word, he is gone. Sometimes he is referred to as the “new Christian.”

The one who received the Word that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the Word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. This person is busy. He has been convinced that material possessions deliver happiness. How many wives have warned their husbands that the family needed more of him, and still his defense was, “Look at the standard of living we have. If we want all of these things, I have to work.” The poor man, in his confused thinking, has not even had time for God. Mother takes the children to church alone. All the while the children are building the impression that church is not all that important. If it were, Dad would be with them in church.

However, not all the planting is in vain. Some seed fell on good soil. This man who hears the Word and understands it, trusts Christ as his Savior. The Lord lives in his life, and whether it be in his work, with his family, or in his social life, he is a witness in word or deed for his Savior.

The seed is being planted in our lives today. Each one of us has an “up-to-date report” on which seed describes our life. The benefit of this sermon will be whether or not we take time to honestly appraise our relationship with Christ. Where do we stand with God? This is why the Holy Spirit speaks to us in this parable. It is time for us to make an honest evaluation.

Why do we go to church?

Why Do We Go to Church?

Why do we go to church?

The unchurched neighbor might say, “People who go to church are religious and believe it is one of the commandments that God has given to them. It certainly is a good habit, and it wouldn’t hurt our family to go more often. However, neither my wife nor I came from families who went to church.”

How would you as a regular church attender answer the question? Here would be some of the reasons:

1. To fellowship with some close friends.

2. To learn what is going on within the congregation.

3. To share joys and sorrows.

These are very important reasons. However, the basic reason to go to church is to hear the Word of God.

What does God have to say to me and the congregation?

Our text today in Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23 talks about the farmer sowing the seed. It is a parable referring to faith being sown in the hearts of those hearing the Word of God.

God speaks to us through His Word proclaimed in music. We hear the choir sing Beautiful Savior as arranged by F. Melius Christianson. God is the “King of Creation” and “Son of God and Son of Man.” We sing Luther’s reformation hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” The seed is being planted when we sing, “What though they take this life, goods, honor, child, and wife. Their hatred still is vain, they have no lasting gain. We still possess the Kingdom.” And then in a more contemporary style we join and sing, “There is a Redeemer. Thank you oh my Father, for giving us your Son, Leaving your Spirit, Till the work on earth is done.”

As we continue in our worship, the Word is read and proclaimed. The pastor has been working on the text, praying to God, and asking Him for guidance as he stands before the congregation assembled for worship. He must feed the believers on the Bread of Life, and yet remember the many who have yet to receive Christ Ð the seekers, respecters, and those who have no interest in Christianity. The seed is being planted Ð the basic reason for going to church.

In this parable, Jesus helps us understand that many kinds of hearers need to hear His voice. One man is depicted in the text as sitting in the congregation and not understanding what is being said. The evil one snatches away what is sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. He is the 30-year-old man to whom I preached one Sunday morning who had never attended a worship service in his life.

Another worshiper is the person who receives the seed that fell on rocky places. He hears the Word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the Word, he is gone. Sometimes he is referred to as the “new Christian.”

The one who received the Word that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the Word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. This person is busy. He has been convinced that material possessions deliver happiness. How many wives have warned their husbands that the family needed more of him, and still his defense was, “Look at the standard of living we have. If we want all of these things, I have to work.” The poor man, in his confused thinking, has not even had time for God. Mother takes the children to church alone. All the while the children are building the impression that church is not all that important. If it were, Dad would be with them in church.

However, not all the planting is in vain. Some seed fell on good soil. This man who hears the Word and understands it, trusts Christ as his Savior. The Lord lives in his life, and whether it be in his work, with his family, or in his social life, he is a witness in word or deed for his Savior.

The seed is being planted in our lives today. Each one of us has an “up-to-date report” on which seed describes our life. The benefit of this sermon will be whether or not we take time to honestly appraise our relationship with Christ. Where do we stand with God? This is why the Holy Spirit speaks to us in this parable. It is time for us to make an honest evaluation.

Why do we go to church?

What’s Going On Inside?

“Why do I act or speak as I sometimes do?” That is a question people have been asking from the beginning of time. Today’s text can help us with the answer to the question.

St. Paul writes in Romans 7:21-23, “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being, I delight in God’s law, but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.”

To understand this inner conflict, we must have an understanding of our sinful nature. The Bible says, “Sin entered into the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all men sinned” (Romans 5:12). We are not born as sinless people, but with a sinful nature.

Many people do not believe in this teaching known as original sin. Rather, they believe we are good people, and society makes us sinful.

God gave us his Law, which is perfect. Within our inner being we have a sinful nature doing battle with God’s Law, which shows us what is right and wrong. Therein, we have our spiritual battles.

A few illustrations will give us a better answer as to why we act as we do and say things we do not want to say.

Let’s turn to the Apostle Peter. Jesus told his disciples that He was going to be arrested and tried in Pilate’s court. Then Jesus would be sentenced and crucified. However, three days later he would rise.

Peter said, “This will never happen, Lord. Though they may all leave you, I will never leave you.”

Then Jesus replied, “Before the cock crows you will deny me three times.”

The conversation ended, and Jesus was soon arrested. As he was being taken to Pilate’s court, Jesus walked past where Peter was standing and looked into the Apostle’s face, and the cock crowed.

Peter was crushed. He went out and wept bitterly. Although he wanted to be true to Jesus, Peter was afraid that if he confessed he was one of Jesus’ disciples, the officials might also crucify him. A war going on inside of Peter. He knew the meaning of these words, “The good I want to do, I do not do.”

Here is another illustration. I was walking back to school after our noon lunch with my friend, who was at the most nine years old. We decided to go into the drug store and buy a candy bar. I paid the clerk five cents. As we were walking along eating the candy, my friend said, “I didn’t pay for my candy. I stole it.”

When we were walking home, my friend said, “It was wrong to steal that candy bar.” All afternoon he had been miserable because of his theft. I don’t think he ever did that again. He knew the meaning of this Bible verse, “Sometimes I do the things I should not do.” His sinful nature won out over God’s Law Ð “Thou shall not steal.”

I was counseling a couple one day who would soon be married. I had to get their address to fill out the wedding license. The man gave me his address and the woman gave me hers. They were cohabitating.

This caught me off guard. I looked at them and asked, “How do you feel about cohabitation?”

She quickly replied, “I love it. It gives us a chance to really know each other.” (This has been proven wrong.) She also said, “It will help us financially. Now we only have one rent to pay.”

Then I asked the man to express his feelings. He surprised me when he said, “I believe it is wrong. We should have waited until we were married.”

Hearing his answer she said, “Well, why didn’t you tell me? You seemed to enjoy the closeness of our relationship.”

“I do,” he said, “but that does not make it right.”

What he was saying, “The good I want to do, I don’t do. What I don’t want to do, I do.”

Well, can we eventually win this battle? No, we can’t.

God gave us the Eighth Commandment: “Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

Luther wrote this explanation to the Commandment: “We should fear and love God so that we do not lie, betray, backbite nor slander our neighbor; but apologize for him, speak well of him and put the most charitable construction on all that he does.”

How do I break this commandment? Rather than apologizing for someone who has done wrong, I make critical remarks of this person and do not try to find out what his motive was in doing or saying what he said.

I am reminded of Scripture, which says, “The good that I want to do, I do not do; but that which I don’t want to do, I do.”

The point of these illustrations is to show that, no matter what the age might be, this inner conflict between good and evil is found in all of us. Do we not have to join with Paul and say, “Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me”?

Thanks be to God. It is through faith in Jesus Christ that I am forgiven and rescued from these and all my sins. That is the Gospel.

Our salvation is sure, for Christ and He alone can save us.

Our sanctification is always in the making. Because we have a part to play, Satan is always at work within us appealing to our sinful nature.