Father Or Higher Power

I was visiting recently with a man who had been in a very serious automobile accident and I asked him to tell me about it.

The man said a semi truck hit him, and his car was totaled. However, he came out of the accident without any serious injuries at all. He concluded his story by saying, “There must have been some higher power watching over me.”

I wish I had asked him what he meant by a higher power. I’m sure he would have said, “Well, I am not an atheist or an agnostic, but I also don’t go to church very often. I’m not sure you can bring God down to our human level. So I think that a higher power, whatever that means, can somehow protect us in a given situation. And that is how I describe coming out of that automobile accident with no serious injuries.”

As I left, I wondered how a person prays to an impersonal God. When someone has something on his mind, how do they pray? Do they say, for example, “O thou great higher power, protect our son or daughter who is fighting in Afghanistan”? This prayer does not show any meaningful relationship. Holy Scriptures never refer to God in this way; he is always considered personal.

Although our heavenly Father is a higher power, he is far more than that. God wants to have a really personal relationship with us. If you have come from a home filled with love, the term father, mother, parent takes on a really personal relationship with you. The text is more meaningful if we have had these kinds of parents.

When I look back over my life, I see how my father and mother were very personal in their relationship with me. They cared for me. I was a big part of their life. They sacrificed for me. My father worked in a paper mill; he never made a lot of money. Sometimes it was nip and tuck, especially during the days of the Depression. However, we always had good food on the table, presentable clothing, and sometimes a luxury.

I recall when I was growing up, I wanted to play the trumpet in the junior high band, but we did not have the money. During that time, my father received some money from World War I. The question was whether he should buy a much-needed suit for church or buy me a second-hand trumpet? He chose to forsake himself and give me a trumpet so that I might play in the band.

The same thing took place when it was time to go on to college. The folks sacrificed and sent money to me regularly. I was also expected to get a job while I went to school, but nonetheless, my parents were very anxious that I have an education.

At times during my young life, the task before me was more than I could take. During times like these, my father and mother would intervene with their strength and help so the particular problem could be solved.

For example, two brothers liked to beat up on me, no matter how nice I was to them. So one day, when I came home with a black eye, my father said, “Enough is enough,” and off we went to visit with the parents of those two boys. “We could not permit this any longer,” my father told them. What I was not able to stop, he did. That was my father, with my mother equally supportive in everything.

When you come from a home like that, you have some understanding of what our text says. God wants to be our Heavenly Father; we are his sons. He wants to live in a very close relationship with us. So close, for example, that he speaks to us regularly at any given moment.

Today’s text tells us that God is our Heavenly Father. He is far greater than any earthly father we could have, for he gave us his Son to suffer and die for the sins of the world. John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Notice: God loves the world! His believers were to go into the far corners of this world telling the people that God loves them so much (as their heavenly Father) that he has given his Son. Now this is not an impersonal, but a personal relationship with God.

When Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross of Calvary, he had all the sins of the world upon him. He came to redeem us, to win us back, and to make us his, for now our sins have been taken away, and we have the full rights of a son. That is not the action of some higher power. It is a God who walks with us under all conditions.

Let’s take a look at some passages that we often mention.

“Cast all of your cares upon me; I really care for you” (I Peter 5:7).

“Today, you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43) Ð words of forgiveness spoken while on the cross to a robber who evidently had done something bad.

“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 and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-4).

Scripture makes it very clear that God wants a personal relationship with us, doesn’t it?

Last evening I listened to an interview with an actor. The man conducting the interview asked him, “Can you tell me what you believe about God?”

The actor replied, “I am my own God.” When asked if he believed in eternity, the actor didn’t have much to say, for to him, eternity is all such a mystery. This man, with multimillion dollars and great prestige, is living with the opinion that he can know nothing about heaven until that day that comes. Then he will understand, but it will be too late, for God calls us while we are right here now.

Jesus told us to follow him. The Holy Spirit will press the Lord Jesus into our hearts and go with us all the way. You cannot do it, but the Holy Spirit can. That is what we need to realize today.

Isn’t it a terrible thing to go through life believing the greatest strength you can surround yourself with, as far as this world is concerned, is another person? We thank God for these people who are of great comfort and security to us. Yet, how sad to have no divine power, no heavenly father who says, “Yea though you go through the valley of the shadow of death, fear no evil for I am with you.”

So, if someday someone has to say to you or to your loved one, “It doesn’t look good. You have a malignancy, and it’s inoperable. You have six months,” remember that you have a personal God, a Father who is standing right there with you in the doctor’s office, a Father who will stand by your bedside when you draw your last breath.

Friends, don’t become a prey to those who say they don’t know, when it is so clearly written that God has left us a witness. He does not want us thinking we must run the show ourselves. Instead, he wants us to know we are dependant on him, and no one under heaven can give us that security except Jesus Christ himself.

Listen again, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law (what for?) to redeem those under law that we might receive the full rights of sons.” We are his sons.

As a father comes to his son, and a son to his father, so it is in our relationship with God. When life is too much for us, and we can’t stand it any longer, we go to him and hear him say, “I am with you always.” That is why the Psalmist could say, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). He is our help in every situation.

So it comes down to this: The Almighty God wants to live in you. The Holy Spirit will plant him in your being. He will be your supreme being. You have a choice: Do you want to live in a daily relationship with Jesus Christ, or are you at best only willing to call upon some higher power that will do you no good? Only when you know him as your Savior will you have the peace that passes all understanding.

God’s Word in My Heart

The psalmist asked, “How can a young man keep his way pure?”

Let’s broaden that question and ask, “How can a person of any age, educated or uneducated, rich or poor, churched or unchurched, keep his way pure?”

The psalmist then answers, “By living according to God’s Word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:9-11).

Note these words, “Hidden your word in my heart.”

The New Testament teaches us that the Holy Spirit will move these words from our heads to our hearts. When this happens we begin to see a difference in our thinking. We are becoming new people in Jesus Christ. It is God’s will, not our own, that controls our life style. We are living with God in our hearts.

This is demonstrated by Jesus’ parable of the prodical son, recorded in Luke 15.

This family has two sons. The younger one became bored on the farm. Even though life was good, he wasn’t content and wanted more of what the world could offer him. So he asked his father for his share of the inheritance. The father was concerned about his son and tried to convince him to change his mind, but the boy was determined to go to the city, get an education and have a better life.

He squandered his money with fast living and was soon broke. None of his new friends wanted to help him. Consequently, he either had to find a job or starve to death. Having been raised on the farm, he asked a farmer for a job and was hired to tend the hogs. However, his pay was not very attractive. He could fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

It was down in the pig pen that this younger son came to himself. He saw the shambles he had made of his life. So he decided to go back to his father and ask for a job on the farm.

When his father saw him coming home, he ran out to meet him, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son confessed, “Father, I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:19). But the father accepted his son and had a feast. So they celebrated.

The prodigal son had become a new man.

Note these words of the psalmist, “Do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

What was going to help all of us to be faithful to our Lord?

God’s Word.

Where is that Word to be found?

In my heart.

The Holy Spirit takes these words and moves them from our heads to our hearts. When God’s Word lives in our heart, He strengthens our faith in Jesus Christ. He is our Lord. He strengthens us as our Redeemer and guides us in our daily lives. Our desire is to live according to the will of God.

Does God’s Word live in our hearts? Are there things that we hold on to that we know are contrary to God’s will? God’s Word not only enlightens our minds, but also empowers our souls to keep our minds and actions pure.

What about our congregations? Is the pulpit making the way of salvation clear every Sunday? Are the Sunday school teachers people of God who are teaching the truths of God’s Word? Are we reaching out to the lost in our families and communities?

You see, friends, if God’s Word is living in our hearts, it will not let us continue things that are contrary to God’s will go unattended.

Does this sound strange?

Of course, because the questions are too hot to handle. Our churches, which have God’s Word living in the hearts of its members, are being used by the Holy Spirit to change lives.

Pretty serious business.

Yes, the psalmist presents us with a thought-provoking question: “How can a young man keep his way pure?”

He Brought His Brother to Jesus

Have you ever met someone who made such an impression on you that you wanted others to meet them?

That was Andrew’s experience the day he met Jesus.

He and another man, presumed to be John, were in the wilderness listening to John the Baptist who was a forerunner of Jesus. They were so impressed that they returned the next day. When Jesus passed by, John the Baptist pointed to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

They followed Jesus, and after a bit of conversation, spent the day with Him.

The first thing Andrew did after leaving Jesus was to find his brother, Simon (Peter), and tell him, “We have found the Messiah (that is the Christ).” Then he took him to Jesus.

Andrew couldn’t rest until Peter had met Christ. Andrew knew he would live in the shadows of his brother, if they were both to live as followers of Jesus. Peter was an extrovert, vocal and had great leadership ability. Although Andrew knew what Peter was, he also knew what Peter could become under Jesus’ leadership.

How right Andrew was. Peter was chosen as one of Jesus’ three special disciples in times of great need. He addressed the people in Jerusalem on Pentecost when 3,000 people received Christ. He was the leader of the disciples.

During the three years that Peter walked with Jesus, he and the other disciples became changed people. They showed their weaknesses and fought some of the same sins that we fight today. Yet, four basic truths of Jesus turned their lives around.

1. “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3). You are not sinless. You were born in sin and continue to sin daily. It separates you from God. You need a Savior to take these sins away, for you cannot work your way into heaven.

2. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Christ atoned for our sins through his suffering, death and resurrect-ion. By receiving him as our Savior and Lord, we have the assurance of eternal life.

3. “I am the vine; you are the branches. He who abides in me and I in him will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). These words were spoken to Peter, a man who thought he could do anything he set his mind to do.

4. “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).

Just imagine the changes when these teachings became basic truths in Peter’s life. Apply them to your life and see how necessary it is to bring our loved ones to Jesus. These truths speak to people who have not seen a brother or sister for years. They need to take Jesus seriously.

This leads us to two important questions that would be great to discuss with loved ones in this Christmas season.

1. Who invited you to Jesus? If your parents were Christians, they would be the natural answer. Many children do not live with their parents today, and many more do not live with Christian parents.

A sister or brother might have led you to Christ. A good friend would be another possibility. They invited you to church where the pastor made the gospel very clear giving you and your friend an opportunity to have some Bible studies together. As the Holy Spirit worked, Christ entered your life to make you a new person.

I would think hard to identify the person who was your Andrew in your life.

2. Who have you led to Jesus? Perhaps your child. But instead you say, “We took our son and daughter to church each Sunday. They were in Sunday School and confirmation class. The Bible was read, and we prayed in our home. However, neither of them are Christians today.”

Don’t blame yourselves. You led them to Christ. The seed was planted. Who knows when it might bear fruit? This is the work of the Holy Spirit.

But there is something exciting: More children, I believe, are leading their parents to Christ today, than when I was growing up. Many of our youth are having some great experiences in Christian high school or college groups. These kids then go home and share Christ with their parents. At times these conversations can become quite personal Ð “Dad and mom, you gave us a wonderful home, including seeing that we got good religious instruction. However, we never realized one can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Now I have this relationship with him. Do you?”

God is speaking to us Ð either to lead someone to Jesus or to accept him as Savior and Lord.

Don’t Worry

One of the greatest gifts that God can give us is peace of soul and mind. Looking at such counsel as we find in out text, we wonder how we can not worry. Look at our world. We continue to fight wars during which some of our sons and daughters are badly wounded or killed. Following the television, we get updates on crime that are unbelievable. Unemployment numbers are high. Serious health problems face people of all ages. Some well-meaning people say, “Don’t worry,” but we respond, “Easier to say than to do.”

It is one thing to receive this advice from friends, but another to hear Jesus tell us, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink or about your body, what you will wear.”

The first question we must consider is to whom Jesus is speaking. The answer is clear Ð Our Lord is speaking to those who live in a personal relationship with him. Those who have received Him as their personal Savior and trust for their salvation. He is their Lord.

For others Jesus’ statement to not worry makes no sense.

When Jesus spoke to people about their life as His followers and how they should live as His witnesses, they had experienced His love for them. Our redemption comes when we receive Him as our Savior. We might say that it is an instantaneous act. Our Christian life, called sanctification, is a life-long experience. St Paul says it well, “Not that I have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:12).

Jesus is not advocating a reckless, shiftless life with no purpose and responsibility. He talks in other parts of the Gospel about the “faithful workers.” But those who are His children and seek to do his will turn to him for help and guidance. His grace is sufficient. Therefore, do not worry. He talks about the sparrows and lilies and how He takes care of them. And then he asks, “Are you not of much more valuable than they are? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?”

Now Jesus goes back to the basic truth when He says, “But seek first the Kingdom of and his righteousness, and all of these things will be given to you.” The prisoner might have sinned grievously, but Jesus stands at his side and says, “I will forgive you.” The prisoner looks forward to that day when the prison doors are opened and he is set free. However, whether free or incarcerated the Lord says, “Do not worry.” This makes sense only to those who are in Christ, and even then it calls for much maturity in the faith.

These words of Jesus shine through in a believer’s life when death draws near, regardless of age. Here is a statement of a person dying and leaving a family with small children: “I don’t worry about my dying. I know where I am going. Christ has prepared a place for me, but how I wish that I could continue to live and assist my wife in raising those children He has given to us.”

He knows God will provide for the family, but he just wants to be a part of it. That is a human emotion, I believe, and said in the spirit of Jesus’ words Ð “Don’t worry, I will be there.”

Sometimes we as Christians have to say, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future,” and leave it in our Heavenly Father’s hands.

Let Jesus close this sermon with His comforting words, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

If this does not give peace of mind and soul, I don’t know what does.

You’re Covered

A few weeks ago I took my daughter, Martha, to a restaurant for a brunch after church services. At that restaurant, we greeted a few people from our church and some community people that we knew. Then we sat down and ordered a delicious meal. When it came time to pay for our meal, I asked the cashier for the bill. She smiled at me and said, “Don’t worry about it, you’re covered.” When I asked who bought our meal, she replied that they made her promise not to tell.

Whenever I need to go out of town, I can trust my associate to cover for me. He does a really nice job.

Sometimes you can hear a soldier in a battle movie say, “I’m going over on the other side; cover me.” And the guy will say, “I’ve got you covered.”

Today, the Holy Spirit has a song for us that I’ve entitled, “You’re covered.” The people of Israel needed these words of encouragement to pick them up. Their hopes were low for they were facing big bullies like the Assyrians and the Babylonians. Often these other nations would laugh at Israel’s God saying, “Where is this God of yours?”

This song begins with a confident prayer of faith to God saying, “Not to us, but to your name,” meaning give glory for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness. These words Ð steadfast love and faithfulness Ð are covenant language. The songwriter is saying, “These nations are poking fun at you, God. We love you and trust you. Show them that you are God.”

And then he goes on to say in the next verse, Our God is the one and only God, and he does what he pleases. They claim to have their gods, but they are only idols made of silver and gold. And those who make them are just like them Ð dead, lifeless, as are all who put their trust in them.

In our world today we don’t have any idols in our backyard. However, we often have a tendency to make idols of all kinds of things. They may not be wooden or silver or gold. Sometimes our idols are us. What’s good for me is our number one concern.

It’s basically worshiping an idol Ð me Ð becoming like God. When we face a situation, we may believe that we’ve got what it takes so take care of the problem Ð if it’s to be, it’s up to me. We forget that we are not as smart as we think we are. That is idol worship.

Sometimes we worship the ground that other people walk upon. We believe that they can do no wrong and what they say can be trusted wholeheartedly. Those other people might be our parents, for instance. We work so hard at getting their approval and our need for affirmation becomes kind of an idol.

Sometimes material possessions can take over our lives, like the rich, young ruler who asked Jesus how he could have eternal life. When Jesus told him to sell all he owned and follow Jesus, he went away very sad. We sometimes see sports and leisure activities become idols in people’s lives and what people pay most attention to.

The songwriter is telling us that these things are nothing but dead, lifeless things that cannot give us life or help us. And so then the songwriter tells us three times to trust in the Lord. Lean on the Lord and surrender everything to his care. Be willing to declare total dependence on him. “Lord, I don’t have all the answers, I’m feeling this helplessness about me. I’m trusting you with this situation. I’m trusting you with my marriage. I’m trusting you with my business.”

Why should we trust in the Lord? Because the Lord is our help and our shield. When the songwriter calls the Lord our help, he’s saying that the Lord is the one who comes alongside and helps us do what we cannot possibly do on our own. We may think we can do all things, but without God’s strength we cannot.

God is also our shield. The shield was used as battle equipment to protect the soldier. As we face life’s spiritual battles, we experience personal attacks and anxiety caused by circumstances. The songwriter is reminding us today that as we face those things being shot in our direction, we’re covered. God stands there and he is our cover in those particular attacks upon us. He is our help; he is our shield. God says to us this day: Dear friends, I’ve got you covered.

As he tells us to trust in the Lord, the writer is also telling us to surrender control and hand it over to God in prayer. Pray all the time.

Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire? God gave us this wonderful resource Ð prayer Ð so he can be our help and cover to carry us through any circumstance in life. We are being called to entrust ourselves in prayer to God’s help and God’s covering.

He then goes on to say, Look at all God has done for them as a people. Remember the Exodus, how God led them through the wilderness, protected them, gave them victory in the battle to take the promised land, provided for them, and continued to show patience even when they sinned against God.

We ourselves can look back and see all his blessings; how he has blessed us in the past and has been mindful of us through the person of His Son, Jesus Christ and the giving of the Holy Spirit. As we look at the past year, we see how he has come through for us and was there for us.

And then three times he says, “God will bless you, Israel . . . house of Aaron . . . those who fear the Lord.”

Then he gives this benediction, “May the Lord cause you to flourish, both you and your children. May you be blessed by the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

He ends this song by saying, Let us spend the rest of our days praising God because someday we’re going to take our last breath. When dead people die, they can’t praise him anymore.

Now you may wonder how you can know that this is not just a nice song and not a lot of religious, wishful thinking. How can you really know that you are covered? I invite you to look at the cross of Jesus Christ. At that cross God had his Son crucified to cover our sins and the distance it put between God and humanity. He has covered our way into heaven as we receive Jesus into our lives. We know we can count on this God because every time we look at that cross we hear him saying to us, Look at how I’ve covered you with my grace. Put your trust in me.

As we look into this new year, we don’t know what is coming. But something that we can know and hang on to is that God has got us covered. He revealed himself to us through His Son, Jesus, as a faithful God who has us covered. We can count on him.

And as you’re making your resolutions for next year, children of God, consider this one: Make a resolution to trust God and talk to him every day about what’s going on in your life. Give your concerns over to his care and leading. Make this a year of praise. Worship regularly, and focus on him, and praise him confidently with all that is within you.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ Ð Good News! Good News: you and I are covered.