God’s Intentional Plan for Humankind

It must have been a beautiful evening when David, the author of this psalm, wrote these words. When God created man in his image, He gave him a prestigious place in the creation. Creation has three levels. The first level was God, the Creator, then the angels, and then the human beings created just below the angels. And although mankind was given charge over the universe, he fell far short.

In the first chapter of Genesis, we read that after God created everything, he named the head of his creation man and woman. They were created in God’s image, which means they have a mind with which they can think, a will with which they can make decisions, and they are immortal. God did not create man to be a puppet, but with the ability to go contrary to His will. And that is what happened. Satan came into the garden and asked, “Did God really say, ÔYou must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

Eve said, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ÔYou must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'”

“You will not surely die,” said Satan. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

The Bible says that Eve ate of it, and it was good. Then she gave some to Adam and he ate it. Sin had now entered the world and Adam and Eve were no longer innocent, but fallen. Everything they did from then on was a result of their fallen nature. They had turned themselves into little gods. God gave them a tremendous responsibility to rule the world, but they couldn’t do it because they had lost the power.

Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain became angry with Abel and killed him. Adam and Eve were helpless against sin even in their own family.

God created us to have dominion over the works of God’s hands, and he does not take it away after the fall. Man still has the ability to turn away from God, because God created him in His own image, which includes the will.

Adam’s problem is also our problem. We like to make ourselves little gods thinking we can rule ourselves. However, Psalm 8 tells us that we are not God. We are part of the third level Ð under the angels Ð trying our best to run this world, but without the power to do it. We rule our lives without consulting God, and we make decisions that will affect many lives.

How often do we ask what God’s will is for our nation? Just imagine the Congress of the United States or the legislature of your state meeting a few minutes early each day to implore the Lord of the heavens as they rule in their great places of this country. Think of them bowing their heads and asking Almighty God to lead them in the decisions of the day. Dream with me about what would happen if God’s intentional will for this particular group of people had been carried out, and they were ruling the nation according to the power he has given to the authorities.

What about the home? Many parents, sinful though they are, live under the grace of God and try their hardest to be good parents. They bring their baby to the baptismal font, but do not stop there. As they hear the pastor’s admonition, they take the child home and introduce him to the Lord Jesus Christ. The Word is read. Prayers are made. They are brought church, Sunday school, to catechetical instructions, and the youth events. Many of these children grow up to be great men and women of God themselves and raise their own children the same way.

So here you have two, three, or four generations of people who realize their role in raising their children is under the guidance and help of Almighty God.

But then, as can sometimes happen, the relationship between parents and children breaks, and parents wonder where they went wrong. To those in that situation, I would say to them, take heart my brothers and sisters in Christ. We raise our children as sinful people. However, if we have brought them to the means of grace, then we have to leave the rest to God. For you have been a good example according the Psalm 8.

During the forty-three years I served in the church, I performed around 1,200 marriages. In preparation, I would talk to the couple about their relationship with the Lord Jesus. Every so often I would hear one of them say, “I have no relationship with him at all.” I’ve often wondered if I should have told them to get their relationship with Jesus straightened out first, then come back to see me. I failed in that way, for I was afraid of what the congregation would say if I had told them they are not yet ready for marriage. I was afraid the father and the mother might leave the church. It sounds ridiculous that someone would leave the church because their pastor was enforcing the Word of God, but I was afraid it would happen. This is my confession.

So the young people were married and the years flew by, one after another until one night one of them said to the other, “How long can we keep doing this? We fight with one another. We don’t have any real love for one another. We don’t have anything in common. Our marriage has gone to pieces. It has no depth. Don’t you think it’s time to get a divorce?”

God did not intend marriage to be that way. He knew we would have difficulties in the home. If he had trouble in the garden, we can have trouble in the parlor and can get into some very tough times. But he tells us in his Word to forgive. Look at yourself. What are you contributing to the problems? Go and get some help from your pastor or a good Christian friend who knows the Word of God well. Let God lead you during this time when your marriage is on the verge of breaking.

But often times it does not happen, and the divorce comes. Children, who love both their parents, live with a broken heart because they want to live together as a family.

This is not the will of God. He created us in his image to turn to him, not live according to our own will making ourselves little gods. Instead, God asks us to come to him, and he promises to lead us.

What about the Christian church? You would think that those who confess faith in Jesus Christ certainly would want to know what the Word of Christ says and be faithful to it. But that is not always the case. History books are full of the heresies, and they continue on today. We debate the primary mission of the Christian church. One article after another fails to clearly ring the purpose of the Church to “go and make disciples of all the nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I command you. And lo, I am with you always to the end of the age.”

Our Heavenly Father wants us to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, comfort and counsel in any way possible. We are to be the light of the world and salt of the earth. But it is our second mission. The primary mission is to proclaim the contents of the Word of God.

Still we chip away at it and make something else the great mission. We feel we have to adjust it to make it fit with our culture better. Something that was considered a sin five or ten years ago is all right today, because culture has said so. This is not what our Heavenly Father intended when he gave us the right to be the human ruler of the Church. We need to come to him in his Word and listen to his voice. Then we will be in charge.

We may not change this nation; I pray we could. But we can listen to a psalm like this one as far as our own person, our own church, our own marriage is concerned. These are the words God sets before us this day. In Jesus’ name,

Take Heart! God Is Still at Work

People come to know Christ in many ways. Some are sudden conversions. A person may be sitting in a church or at a crusade, when the Holy Spirit suddenly opens the heavens, and Jesus Christ becomes very personal. That is one way in which a person becomes a Christian, and many people who have that experience talk about it.

Some of us have been raised in a Christian home. And when we were young, our parents brought us to the baptismal font where God met us and made us his own. Then our parents were instructed to “take this child home and introduce him to Jesus Christ.”

As the days go by and we grow, our parents pray for us and they talk to us about our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. We go to church, attend confirmation classes and then stand before the congregation and confess Jesus as our Savior. In many cases, these people are very sincere and this is an affirmation of their faith.

In other cases, they are not so sincere and soon walk away. After they leave their childhood home, they stop attending church and don’t read the Bible. When their parents realize what’s going on, they pray that their child will return to the Savior. Sometimes it may take a long time Ð forty to fifty years Ð and the parents die before they see their child return to the faith.

Perhaps you are in that situation right now. You met Christ as a child. He counseled you through your parents, Sunday school teachers and pastor. But you thought you could handle life using your own power and strength.

But now you realize you need a Savior. The Holy Spirit can now open your heart to let Jesus come in. Then you can walk in a living relationship with him. Many people who have been raised in church homes confess their personal faith in the Savior in this way.

Nicodemus was a man who also came to faith in this way. He was coming to Jesus for the answer to two pointed questions: “Who are you?” and “Why have you come?” Jesus’ reply Ð that it is necessary to have a new birth Ð confused Nicodemus. “How can that be? Man cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be healed.”

Then Jesus begins to tell Nicodemus that God had sent Him into the world, and that, through faith, Nicodemus could have the promise of eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Nicodemus went home with more questions than answers, but I believe that whenever Jesus was preaching, Nicodemus was present if he could be. At other times, when Jesus was present in a small group, he might have found his way into joining them. When we think of Nicodemus in terms of what we could experience today, we realize that Jesus is a person like we have never seen before.

At the same time that Nicodemus was learning from Jesus, the group of which he was a part Ð the Sanhedrin Ð was beginning to get nervous and wondered what they should do with Him. They pondered whether they should have him done away with.

As they discussed this in their own little group, Nicodemus asked, “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?” Nicodemus was asking if they were being fair with Jesus. We accuse him of saying things that don’t make sense to us, but have we really heard him? Has he had a trial before us?

But the rest of the Sanhedrin did not want to listen, so they replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Look into it and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee” (John 50-52).

Nicodemus stood beneath the cross of Jesus and heard him say, “It is finished.” He had earlier heard Jesus say he was dying for the sins of the world and that if the people trusted him, they would have the promise of the forgiveness of their sins and the assurance of life everlasting.

A wealthy man named of Joseph of Arimathea, who had built a beautiful tomb, went to Herod and asked for Jesus’ body. He then took the body from the cross to put it in his tomb. Nicodemus went along with Joseph and brought 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes. The two of them wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices in strips of linen in accordance with Jewish burial customs.

Nicodemus came to know Jesus as the Messiah and his Savior, but it probably took more than two years. Each time that Nicodemus came in contact with Jesus, God was at work, until finally, beneath the cross, Nicodemus was taken by the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ body to make testimony of his faith by helping to bury it.

That is why I say, my friend, “Take heart. God is still at work.”

Perhaps you have a child who doesn’t want anything to do with Jesus. Take heart. God is still at work. Many a time we have seen young people leave home with no understanding of how the Holy Spirit works in their life. But then, as they grow old, when they make some wrong turns in their life and they are desperate with nowhere to turn because everything has failed them, they begin to understand Christ as the Holy Spirit speaks to their heart, “Your hour has come.”

If you are praying for a loved one in this situation today, take heart. God is still at work. Perhaps that person is yourself. You may be disappointed because of what life throws at us as Christians. Perhaps we are disappointed in ourselves: things we feel and activities we do. “How can I do this? I’m a member of the church. I confess my faith in Christ. But look at me now.”

Remember this: the one putting those questions in your mind could well be the Holy Spirit who is working to bring you to a greater faith.

Take heart. God is still at work.

Who Is Feeding Your Soul?

The Bible tells us we have a body and a soul. It isn’t difficult to answer who feeds our body. However, today’s text confronts us with the question, Who is feeding your soul?

The Lord Jesus Christ was talking to his followers when he said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” What did Jesus mean when he talked about being the bread of life?

Certainly Jesus isn’t talking about meat, potatoes, vegetables, and dessert that feeds the body. He gives us those things from the bounty of the earth. Rather, he is talking about food for the soul.

In the first and second chapters of Genesis, it says that in the beginning the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Man became a living soul. God created man’s soul by breathing the breath of life into his nostrils. Man then becomes a dichotomy Ð he is a body and a soul. Because of the fall into sin, the body will return to dust and be destroyed. However, we have an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

Our bodies remind us that our years on this earth are limited. The length of our days are generally somewhere between seventy and eighty years. The obituaries in our newspapers pretty much bear that out. During our time on this earth, our bodies are fed from some of the finest kitchens. Then we get the rest we need. We get along very well.

However, Jesus is talking today about being the bread of life. “He who comes to me will never hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst.” Jesus is telling us that our souls must also be fed. I am afraid most people give little or no consideration to feeding their souls. They feel that we are just another part of the creation, and we’ll get along the best that we can. We have things on this earth to strengthen our life.

Jesus is telling us that there is more to it than that. In the first letter of John, he writes a passage of scripture that is truly food to change your life if you really understand its meaning. The Lord Jesus Christ is speaking to the people through his Apostle John, and he makes it very clear that He alone is the way of salvation. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:7-9). What spiritual food this is!

Stop and think of the number of things we do that are contrary to the will of God and the will of man. But here is a great promise from the Lord Jesus Christ that if we will confess our sin, no matter what it is, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness. When Jesus Christ lives in you Ð when you not only have a head knowledge of him, but he also lives in your heart and your soul Ð he will forgive you.

If you are living today with some unconfessed sins and don’t know what to do with your guilt, come to him. Confess your sin Ð no matter what it may be Ð and place your faith in Jesus Christ. His Word says he will forgive you. That is the bread of life.

Isn’t that something we need? Isn’t it more important than other things that play a big role in our lives, such as our financial statement?

Paul talks about relationships between people in his letter to the Ephesian church. Relationships even between a husband and wife, between children and parents can become quite stormy at times. You may live with this particular situation for awhile until it finally gets to you.

As you sit with your Bible, you find the bread of life to feed your soul. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:29-34).

You’ve exchanged angry words with your brother over the settling of your parent’s estate. Those words turned to bitterness, and you’ve carried difficult thoughts toward one another for a long time. One Christmas after another went by and you did not do what you should have done Ð go to him and wish him well. You used to enjoy spending Christmas together, but no longer.

The years go by and eventually your brother dies. You go to the funeral but don’t want to sit with the family. You’d rather sit in the back row of the church, all because you didn’t let the bread of life really come to you and get rid of your bitterness.

Sometimes people talk about what God wants them to give him, financially speaking. We pondered that question many times in our church.

One day a man directed me to II Corinthians chapter 9 where he said is God’s plan for stewardship. This portion of the bread of life has been my solution to the problems of finance in my congregation for a long time. Paul writes, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (vs. 6-8).

We pondered those words for a long time and came up with the basis of our stewardship program, which served us for many years and caused us to have more than enough to do the work we had to do in the ministry. Our stewardship theme was this: Give out of love to Christ in relationship to your faith.

Another one. Sometimes you feel very lonely. You feel like everybody has left you. No one is there to lift your spirit. So, in the quietness of your study, you open your Bible and learn that Jesus is always there. “I will never leave you, I will never forsake you.”

Who is feeding your soul? We may have enough material blessings to take care of us for awhile, but those blessings can soon disappear. What then?

As we age, we miss those with whom we have shared so much. Sooner or later, a spouse or child can be taken. Do I stand alone then? No, not at all, for the Bread of Life has said, “I am with you. I will never leave you, I will never forsake you. Come to me.”

Who is feeding your soul? Do you spend some time alone with the Lord Jesus Christ? Spend some time with Him in his Word every day. Open your Bible and let him really speak. Speak to him when all have gone to bed and the house is quiet. I find that to be where I get the most strength. I know Jesus has just spoken to me in a very special way. This is what he meant when he said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”

We are concerned about our aging bodies, and so we take care of them while we are here on this earth. May God give us the grace to see how important it is to also care for our souls by letting him speak to us everyday through these blessed promises.

First Things First

What does it take to bring an unbeliever to Jesus Christ? This question has been asked throughout the history of the Christian faith. Jesus gives us some help.

In our text, Jesus had just fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. It was a tremendous miracle. When the crowd was satisfied, they rushed around him and the disciples. So Jesus told the disciples to get in a boat and go to a quiet place where they could get some rest.

So the disciples got in the boat to sail across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum. However, during the course of their sailing, a tremendous storm came up and they were very afraid. Suddenly Jesus came walking on the water and said to them, “It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

Some do not believe Jesus could walk on the water and believe this story must have another interpretation. But I say, why is it so difficult to believe? When you see all that Jesus has done on this earth, can it be beyond reason that he could also walk on water? Think of how intricately the heart was put together. Is it so difficult to believe the Savior can do anything, even walk on water?

The next day, when the people realized Jesus and his disciples were not there, they went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him, they asked, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” They were looking for miraculous signs so they might see and then believe in him. Jesus answered them in verse 29, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” He was telling them that only after they believe Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, would they begin to see his miraculous powers.

The same is true today. We think that if we could only see one great miracle, then we could believe. It is not enough to hear something being preached from the Bible; I have to be shown proof before I will believe. This is especially true when it comes to important matters for which someone does not have an answer, like health problems.

I once walked into the hospital room of a man’s dying daughter. She was the mother of two little children. He took me into the corridor and said, “Pastor, I know you are going to read a passage of scripture, and I want you to do that. I know you are going to pray, and I surely want you to do that. But if Jesus would only give me a sign that my daughter is going to live, then I would believe in him.”

Jesus does not work this way. He never said he was going to heal the sick in that manner. Instead, we must first trust him, and then see what he’s doing. That is the order in which he works. It’s not first give the great miracle, and then I’ll believe.

People from the very beginning of the Christian faith have sought to find something more tangible than the words of the gospel. St. Paul said, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (I Corinthians 1:22-24). These verses are telling us to trust Christ first, then we will find the miracles we seek.

In the book of Acts, Paul and Silas were at Philippi. The leaders became disgusted with them and threw them into jail. One night, as they sat in the jail cell waiting to be killed, they had a terrible earthquake, and the prison doors flew open. Seeing this, the jailer, who was held accountable for the prisoners, drew his sword with the intention of taking his own life. But Paul stopped him by saying, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

The jailer rushed into their cell and said to them, “You’ve been singing these hymns. What must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved Ð you and your household.” That is the order Ð first believe, then all these things will come your way. You can read this story in Acts 16.

Bishop Ryle, who lived hundreds of years ago, was a bishop in England. He wrote this: “Humans say Ôshow us some miraculous signs and I will believe.’ But I say this is the common language of many unconverted hearts.”

Asking for a miracle before faith is evidence of an unconverted heart, according to the bishop, and it is inverting God’s order. Faith must come first; sight will follow.

My wife had a stroke seventeen years ago and since then, she has been unable to walk without assistance. Following her stroke, I did everything humanly possible to help her, medically speaking. We consulted some of the greatest physicians we could find, but no one could help her, for the damage had already been done. As time went on, I grew somewhat depressed, but did not give up, and began looking for a miraculous sign. I got it.

I got it one Sunday in church. As I listened to my pastor speak from the pulpit, he said words to this effect: “After we have tried everything to solve our problems and there is nothing else we can do, remember this: Jesus stands there with us.” Does that mean he will give us all our desires and work these miracles? No, and the pastor did not ever intimate that. But he did say that Jesus stands with us.

As I sat in the pew that day, I felt as if the Holy Spirit had taken those words, which came from the Scriptures, lifted me up and said, “Look! I have said, ÔCast all of your cares upon me, I care for you.’ I haven’t left you. I’m right here!” I left the church that day feeling elated because of the words delivered to me by a faithful pastor who not only ached with his people, but also knew it is true Ð Jesus stands with us.

That week my wife entered the hospital for some tests. As we settled into her room, here came our second pastor! He opened the book of Psalms and read, “Trust in the Lord, for all things are in his hand. Therefore, I will not fear.” Then he prayed from the bottom of his heart that we may continue to have that peace.

This pastor knew my wife and I had lived in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ for many years. We were assured of our heavenly home, and we still are today. But no matter how long I had lived with that assurance, I needed to be reminded of it.

Faith must come first, and then the earth becomes new. When I look at my wife today and see all the things she can do, then I know all is well.

It is a tremendous opportunity to have a Savior like this. But first we have to be in a living relationship with him, then our eyes are opened. Can I believe Jesus walked on the water? Of course. Why not? Can I believe his promises are true when he says, “Come unto me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest”? Of course. Why not? For he is my Savior, the Creator of it all. But please remember the order.

We started by asking what it takes to bring an unbeliever to Christ. It takes the Word. Jesus speaks through the Word Ð the Word that comes from the pulpit. The Word you read in your home and share with others. The Word that tells you Jesus is standing with you forever. Then when the eyelid closes, we will be at home with him.

First things first. Christ and then all the other things.