God’s Word Is Relevant in Every Day

A man, who once lived in our community, returned for a visit. We had lunch together, and he commented to me, “I am amazed you can still hold the attention of your congregation!” He was not necessarily complimenting me on my ability to communicate the gospel. Instead he was telling me that the topic I used the previous Sunday is not relevant for our day.

What I said to him is this: “All I can tell you is that Jesus Christ is the same today, yesterday, and forever, and so is his Word. I must be faithful to the proclamation of his Word, for it is sufficient for relevancy in any age.”

I think of this man often and wonder what he would say about our text in today’s message. Although it is only one verse, it speaks to the hour.

We live in a day of great immorality. When I turn on my television, read my newspaper, or listen to the conversations of people, I can see things are often not very good. I often found this to be the case during my pastorate when I spoke to couples during premarital counseling. One of God’s greatest gifts to the Christian is the gift of the marriage bed. God instituted that unique relationship for a husband and a wife. Today we wrestle with the matter of cohabitation. I’m sure it has been a part of secular behavior from the very beginning, for we find it happening even in the Old Testament. But simply because it has been common doesn’t make it any right, only a little less embarrassing, perhaps.

Many people today are living in cohabitation. However, it is still not God-pleasing. I recall visiting with a couple who were going to be married. She was a member of our church; he was unchurched. During the meeting, she stated that they were living at the same address. So I asked how they felt about this. She said she felt really good about it. It helped her know him better, saved expenses, etc. Then I asked him the same question, and to my surprise he replied, “Not good. It is not right, pastor.”

She looked at him very astounded and said, “You agreed to this type of behavior. You said it was the right thing to do.” He replied, “I am not saying I do not enjoy living with you. But I know it is not right.”

So we discussed it a bit further, and finally she said, “I can tell you this: 95% of people my age have had sexual relationships of one type or another.” It seemed clear to her that, because her lifestyle is popular with her crowd, it was an acceptable way of life. But does general acceptance really make it right, friend?

Well, certainly it does not for those of us who have sensed the coming of Jesus Christ into our lives through that redemptive experience. When he lives in our life and we have a personal, intimate, relationship with him, the secular lifestyle and the Christian lifestyle simply do not go together.

In this message, I am going to speak more plainly than I generally do. When God created the earth, after he had created all the birds and the fish, the flowers and the landscape, he said, “Now let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the ground. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number (Genesis 1:26-28a).

Then, in Genesis 2:18, it says, “The Lord God said, ÔIt is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'” Notice that one of the purposes for marriage was a unique, intimate fellowship only husbands and wives can enjoy and understand. That is the uniqueness of the sexual relationship.

Genesis 2:21-25 tells us that God made a woman from Adam’s rib, then he brought her to the man. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked and they felt no shame.”

It is very clear, from the creation story, that our Lord as the Creator was making a very unique relationship between a man and a woman. When they have that union, the two become one. These words are quite relevant, even for us today.

This teaching is found not only in the Old Testament, but it is also scattered throughout the Scriptures. Hear the words of our Lord Jesus Christ himself from Matthew 19:4-6: “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female and said, ÔFor this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?’ Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

We can live in sexual immorality if we wish, but the church must speak against it. Our text, taken from Hebrews 13, tells us that marriage is to be taken extremely seriously.

Stop and think of what it means to the marriage when a person sleeps around. I heard of a man in our community who supposedly has had relationships with 25 different women, including his wife. Every time an affair occurs, a tie is established. Physically he is married to his wife, but spiritually he is married to another woman. So what happens?

Studies of unfortunate marriages have shown that these affairs spoil the marriage, for the memory of those immoral convictions plagues the relationship and robs it of the marital joy God intended us to have with our spouse. So the church must utter the voice of our text today. “Marriage should be honored by all and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”

I am sure I speak to many of you who are living pure lives as far as sexual activity is concerned. You’ve lived 60 or 65 years with one spouse, and you never tire of one another. You have a story to tell to those who do not know this type of marital relationship.

I am certain the words of this message anger some who listen to it. I don’t want you to be angry, nor does God. However, God will not change his message to make an exception for you. Only one voice can make it right. It is the voice belonging to Jesus Christ. He came into this world to suffer and die on the cross of Calvary to pay the price for our sins. He is willing to take all our sins upon him. If you believe with all of your heart that you have been doing wrong according to the will of God, take it to him. Don’t try to make it right yourself, for you cannot. Just take it to God. Go into your bedroom, get down on your knees, and confess to Jesus Christ what you have done. You will hear him say, “I forgive you.” Then you will sleep soundly, for although this is a bad sin, it is not an unforgivable sin.

I am not attempting to take the situation of sexual immorality lightly. Instead, I am simply telling you that living in immorality is wrong. It is wrong according to the Word of God, and cohabitation is not the way in which Christ wants us to live our lives.

So what does this message have to do with Christmas? The Christmas gospel says, “Unto us is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Go to that Savior and pour your heart out to him. Confess your sin. Say to him, “Lord Jesus, I cannot properly celebrate Christmas with this burden on my heart.” You will hear him say, “I forgive you.”

That is the Christmas gospel. Then we can truly sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men,” for we have a Savior who can deliver us from all our immorality. In Jesus’ name.

The Door Is Open. Welcome!

The book of Hebrews was written before the year A.D. 70 by an unknown person. In the first two chapters, the writer talks about Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. In the last chapter, the writer gives the church some practical advice on topics that are important for Christians in order for their life to be enlightened by Jesus Christ. So for the next few weeks, I will center my sermons on this chapter to enrich our Christian celebration of Christmas. I pray it will grace your joy in the coming season.

A common question asked at this time of the year is “Are your kids coming home for Christmas?” Often the person will then smile and say something like this: “Yes, we will be together for the first time in years.” They will then reminisce of the days when the children were at home and the fond memories they have of Christmas.

“Are you also inviting some strangers?” I might add, to which they would reply, “No, not at Christmas. That’s the day for family and dear friends. You just don’t invite a stranger on Christmas Day.”

I can understand that, and I can appreciate it to a certain extent. But the Christmas message emphasizes many times in the Advent season that it is a good time to invite a stranger to your home. Perhaps you see a new family in church one day, so you introduce yourself. “I don’t believe we have ever met.” Then you perhaps invite them to dinner in order to become better acquainted.

The new family smiles and says, “We’d love to come! We just moved hundreds of miles away from our family and, frankly, we are feeling just a little bit lonesome.” So they come, everything goes fine, and you have a good time.

Soon it’s Christmas Day. What do you do about this family? You’re not sure if they are strong, committed Christians or if they just happened to drop in at church hoping to get better acquainted in their new community. Wouldn’t it be a marvelous experience if the subject of the birth of Jesus Christ came up in the conversation, and the new family said, “We are committed believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is important to us that we go to a church where the gospel is preached every single Sunday. What a joy to be in your home, for we sense that he lives here too!”

Or what a challenge it would be if the husband should say to you, “My wife was raised in a church home, so Christmas means a lot more to her than it does to me. In one sense of the word, Christmas is just another day. However, I am so happy that she can be surrounded with that old message of her childhood, which means a great deal to her. So thank you so much for having us here.”

Wouldn’t that be an interesting conversation? Perhaps you will have one of those conversations if you invite that stranger to your house on Christmas or another day preceding it.

What about a person in your family who does not have a personal relationship with Jesus? That person could be your child or your parent. And as you gather, you think of how your heart breaks because that loved one is not in a personal relationship with God. They will be kind and go to church with you. They will sing the songs. And you will think to yourself, “If this could only be real and living in his life.” But it is not so.

Wouldn’t it be a good time during the course of that Christmas celebration in your home, to share the Christmas story? And then, if there is a chilly moment as you bear witness to the story, you put your arms around your loved one and say, “We don’t want to be preaching to you all the time, but we must share with you what a difference it would make in the raising of your children if Jesus Christ had a central place in your home.” Then, if there was a negative response, you say, “Well, we won’t get into that any further. We don’t want to spoil our time together. But you know what is on our hearts, and that is because we love you very much.”

This leads us then to the next question: Is the “Stranger from Galilee” present in your life, or is he just a stranger? Is it only at Christmas, or perhaps at Easter, that you talk about him and have a family devotion, or is it a daily affair? Throughout our days Ð July 1 as well as December 25 Ð we hear all kinds of voices. We need to spend time in devotion and the Word talking about the Christ. First, he was born the God incarnate (not just a man), and he came to this earth to suffer and die for our sins. Second, as you get closer to the Easter season, he is the resurrected Lord. Those kinds of conversations have real meaning when it comes to the matter of having happy holidays.

If the person with whom you are sharing does not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but at best is a stranger, then you could be helpful by saying, “Christianity is not about a lot of laws. Sure, we believe in the Ten Commandments. We teach them, we preach them, and we seek, by the grace of God, to live by them. But Christianity is also letting the babe of Bethlehem’s manger Ð the Christ of Calvary’s cross Ð into our lives, into our hearts, and into our blood streams. It is making the big decisions of life in his presence, knowing that he who was born in Bethlehem’s manger is the same person who says, “Lo, I am with you forever, even unto the ends of the world.”

Today I am emphasizing the relationship between Christ’s coming and the home. However, sometimes I wonder if the home is emphasized less these days than it used to be. For example, I hear of people staying in hotels at Christmas. Think back to how nice it was to have the family in your home. Perhaps the furniture was a little older and the carpets were worn. But nobody cared, for you were together and it was Christmas.

I enjoyed many experiences as a pastor. One of them was family life in the parsonage. We often had missionaries come visit. I remember one time a missionary from Nigeria visited our home, and my wife tried to describe to our young children beforehand what this person might be like. She told our children, “Now remember, this person is black.” When the missionary came, we enjoyed a nice dinner. When we were all assembled and before we ate, we bowed our heads in prayer. Then, as we were beginning to eat, my wife went into the kitchen, and my son got up and followed her. Then he said to his mother something we will never forget: “He’s not licorice; he’s just chocolate. Is he that way all over?” He was just a little boy, probably only three years.

When I told our guest what he had said, he began to talk to our little boy, “You see my skin? It’s black. Or you can call it chocolate. Yours is white, and that’s nice too. But inside we have a Savior. That is where he lives Ð inside of us. So it really doesn’t matter whether our skin is black or brown or red or white or any other color. When Jesus is our Savior, we can expect great things to happen to us.”

I remember another missionary visiting our home who had spent time in Africa. My wife had met her earlier and said to her, “We are very happy to have you. But if the children are too boisterous, don’t hesitate to calm them down.” When she came, she had a saddened expression on her face. One of our little girls went into the kitchen and said to her mother, “Do you think she has ever been kissed?” We had to laugh about that, and we chose not to share the comment with our friend from the mission field.

This is the blessing of a home with the family gathered around. It is especially rich when Jesus is not just the Good Shepherd, but also the Son of God and the Savior of the world. When he’s not just the stranger from Galilee, but also the personal Lord who has invaded our lives until he is our best guest.

Advent and Christmas can be one of the loneliest times of the year. During the past year, some have had a death in their family, and this is the first Christmas without that loved one. Why don’t you say to somebody who is down in the dumps and going to be alone, “The door is open, and you are welcome.” Then you can understand what Jesus meant when he said, “Remember those people who are strangers. Entertain them for they can become angels in your midst.” We’ve experienced that, and we hope you will too.

Just a Closer Walk Means Continuing in His Word

♬ Just a closer walk with thee,

grant it Jesus is my plea . . . . ♬

In our passage for today, Jesus tells us, I have answered your plea! Jesus is speaking to people who believed in him. “If you truly want to be my disciples, continue in my word.” Let’s look at some of his words more carefully.

“Continue,” Jesus said. It means to abide, stick with, remain in, learn it, work with it in your life. Obey it as your authority. Trust that it really is God’s wisdom from above.

“If you continue in MY word . . .” Jesus is talking about his message, the message of who he was. It is about a God who loves us and wants to have a relationship with us. It is Jesus saying my Word means all of Scripture.

“Truly my disciples.” If you continue in the Word, you will be a real disciple of Jesus Christ. You will know the Word. You will believe it, study it, trust it, give it authority, take it seriously, and operate your life by it.

“You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” This is a promise. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. As we live with him in his Word, he teaches us what we need to know for our lives. His Word reveals the heart of God and teaches me that God created me, I am precious and important in his sight, and I need him for my life.

God’s Word shows me that I am a sinner in need of forgiveness. I need God. Like a helpless sheep who is lost, I need the care of a Shepherd. God has provided the solution for my lostness. He has given us his Son, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and who takes away my sin. As I continue in his Word, he helps me see that I need him to take over my life and direct me. He alone knows what brings satisfaction, what brings abundance, and what brings the good life God intended for me. He really does know what makes life add up to something!

As Jesus takes me through the truth in his Word, he challenges my natural way of thinking. This is God’s way. Do it God’s way. This is what makes life add up. He challenges my core values and my instincts as a human being, and he puts me on the path of righteousness. Then he continually teaches me how faithful and present he is as he keeps his promises to us.

“The truth will make you free.” Free from what? Jesus said we would be free from the power of sin. Each of us has sin in our lives. Sin is not just the things we do; it is the very core of our being. It is an addictive power that holds its way over us. Jesus said that everyone who sins is a slave to sin. We all have self-destructive behaviors and attitudes that mess up our relationship with God and with people around us.

But Jesus sets us free with a Word of forgiveness as he points us to the cross and reminds us that he has paid the penalty of our sin. He changes us on the inside and frees us from the destructive hold sin has on our lives as we live as new creations in him.

Jesus also sets us free from the consequences of sin. Scripture tells us that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Jesus Christ Ð the truth Ð has given himself for us. God raised him from the dead on the third day, and all who trust in him will have eternal life. This means, then, that I am free from a sense of fear and hopelessness as I look toward the future knowing I am not alone. Nothing can separate me from the love of Jesus Christ my Lord, not even death. “His eye is on the sparrow,” as the song says, “and I know he watches me.”

This is quite an offer that Jesus gives to us this day, isn’t it? He is telling us, if you want a closer walk with him, devote yourself to his Word. Continue in it, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.

As we look at these words of Jesus, I can’t help but wonder what you would consider to be the most important word or words in this passage? Is it “continue”? It is important that we continue to abide with the Word.

Are the most important words in this passage, “My word”? Of course, those words are important as well. What about “truth”? Truth is important. “Free”? We love to hear the word, freedom. It means new possibilities.

All these are important words, but the most important in this passage for you and for me is the word, “if.” “IF you continue in my word,” Jesus said. This is a conditional promise. “If you continue in my word, you are my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” It is inviting us to take a step and to involve ourselves as people of the Word.

There is a wonderful story about a man named G. K. Chesterton. He was a joy-filled Christian from the first half of the twentieth century. Someone once asked him, “If you were marooned on a desert island and could have only one book with you, what would you choose?” Given his reputation as one of the most creative Christian writers of his time, one would naturally expect his response would be the Bible. But it wasn’t. Chesterton instead chose “Thomas’ Guide to Practical Ship Building.”

That makes sense, of course, for when we are trapped on an island, we want a book that will help get us home! We don’t want to be entertained or informed. No, we want a book that will show us how to be saved from our situation.

The truth is that all are trapped in patterns of thought and behavior that lead to death called sin. Chesterton himself once said that the doctrine of the fall into sin is the one Christian belief that is empirically verifiable and validated by thirty-five hundred years of human history. We are trapped on an island Ð an “I” land Ð where we know neither ourselves nor God and are looking for a message that help is on the way.

The followers of Jesus Christ have historically sought to be people who were devoted to continuing in the Word. Let us be the people of one book Ð the Word of God.

How do we do that? Well, first of all, make a commitment to open that Word daily. Read it and have a devotional time with Jesus. As you open that bible, ask him, “Lord, what do you want to teach me today?” Maybe read just a paragraph or two and then ask some questions of the text. What is he saying? What does this have to do with God? What does this have to do with me? What is he telling me I could be doing with my life? What is he promising? And then walk with that verse throughout the day.

Get into a good Bible study book and perhaps a class. One of my favorite classes in understanding the Bible was “The Divine Drama,” written by Harry Wendt. Last year my congregation studied a narrative of the entire Bible called “The Story.” This thirty-one-week experience literally brought people back to life again in their love of God’s Word. If you want to become more knowledgeable about the Bible, I recommend it to you.

Take Jesus at his word. Forgive those who have hurt you. Live by his commands. Believe him when he says, “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36). Decide to live your life in accordance with what his Word is telling you instead of what the world is telling you. Discover for yourself the truth found in the wisdom of Jesus.

Never neglect to participate in worship. If you are going to be devoted to the Word, you need to come to worship and hear that Word. Continue to tune into us here at Christian Crusaders. Participate in worship where you can hear the Word of God as it reminds us again and again of our forgiveness and the grace of God in his love for us.

Finally, find a friend or two with whom you can study. There is great value in a small group gathered around the Word of God as they deal with questions about that Word, challenge each other, and share how Jesus Christ has made a difference in their lives. It can be such a blessing. I have seen lives change in such an experience.

It really comes down to that word, “if.” “If you continue in my word, you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” This is quite an offer for the disciple of Jesus Christ, for as we continue in God’s Word, we begin to realize that “Just a closer walk with thee, grant it Jesus is my plea,” is a possibility.

Jesus has indeed granted our plea; He has given us his Word. Draw close to him and be a person of the Word.

Who Is Your Favorite Saint?

Do you have a favorite saint? Most people would answer, “No. I don’t think I have a favorite saint.”

Perhaps the most common definition of a saint would be someone who has been a great person in the church. He is a spirited person who has departed and is in heaven, so the church has canonized him and made him a saint. Examples would be St. Peter, St. John, St. Paul, etc.

However, the Bible uses the word saint in another way. For example, in the book of Romans, Paul is writing to the saints in Rome. “To all in Rome who are loved by God and are called to be saints.”

In II Corinthians, Paul addresses “the church of God in Corinth, together with all the saints throughout Achaia.” In the book of Ephesians, Paul writes “to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.” And in the book of Philippians, Paul writes “to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons.” In these letters, he is writing to people who are still living and are God-possessed. Jesus Christ is their Savior and their Lord. They lived for him; some even died for him.

I would like to talk to you today about a couple of my favorite saints. The first one is Martin Luther. I was raised in the Lutheran Church and have been given books on the life of Martin Luther since I was a little boy. Therefore, he has become quite an important individual in my life. He certainly was never considered to be perfect, and he did a lot of things wrong. At times he could even be downright obnoxious.

For example, Martin Luther’s wife, Katie, did not have much money to feed her family. However, she managed to save enough to buy a new table. Martin was forever bringing students home to talk about theological matters. One time a student became so excited that he carved his name into Katie’s new dining room table. When the students left and she was fixing the table, she saw those initials and began to cry. Martin saw her tears and said to her, “I never knew you were such a materialist.” Those were harsh words, and I believe Luther was out of line when he said them to her.

No, Martin Luther was not perfect. But saints are not perfect. But because Martin Luther has revealed to me that I am saved by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ alone, he is one of my favorite saints, and one I turn to often. He has taught me that Jesus suffered and died for me on the cross. Therefore, I can never set this teaching aside. If I would sometime begin to have some questions about the assurance of my salvation, I can turn to the Scriptures and my favorite saint, Martin Luther, to remind me that I am justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

This message about salvation by grace through faith is also for those of us who listen to Christian Crusaders, and it is what we proclaim. Good works are very important. However, they are only a fruit of our faith; salvation comes through our Savior, Christ Jesus our Lord. Our desire to make him known wherever we may be is a result of that faith.

Another favorite saint of mine died only a few years ago. His name was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This great man of God was a pastor, a prophet, and a spy in Nazi Germany during the days of Hitler. The gestapo put him into a concentration camp, and as he was being led to his death in Flossenberg, he wrote, “The end is near.” It was a Sunday, and Bonhoeffer had a service for his fellow prisoners. He had hardly finished his prayer when two evil looking men came in and said, “Prisoner Bonhoeffer! Get ready to come with us!” The prisoners all knew that had come to mean, “You are going to Flossenberg where you will die on the gallows.”

Those who were with him told him goodbye and entrusted him into the hands of God. Bonhoeffer said to one of them, “This is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life.” This young man, not yet in his 40s, was a great scholar, with a warm, quiet, childlike faith. He trusted Jesus Christ for everything. And although the soldiers could take away his life, they could not take him away from his Heavenly Father.

When I have a hardship, I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. When I fail to challenge somebody with the gospel, Bonhoeffer comes to mind. Jesus forgives me time and again, but I also need a saint, someone who has served as an example in a particular part of the Christian faith. Bonhoeffer is that person.

The third saint I would like to tell you about lives quite a bit closer to me and has meant a great deal to me. She has comforted me when I was down and redirected me when I was wrong. She is my wife.

I have seen her live in a personal relationship with Christ for more than 65 years. She has a strong devotional life. When my messages would stray a bit and become a bit impersonal, Eunice would say to me, “Don’t you think you need to spend a little more time with your Bible?”

I have known her as a pastor’s wife, which is very important in the congregation. I saw her as a teacher in our church with a Sunday morning Bible class number up to 90 persons. I watched her spend two or three days at times talking to ladies groups in the surrounding areas.

Eighteen years ago, this favorite saint of mine had a terrible stroke. Since then she has been unable to use her entire right side. She can no longer write or walk without assistance. She can no longer play golf with me. Often her memories lapse. When I ask her a question, she’ll reply, “That went with the stroke.” She has suffered with all ailments, but I have never heard her complain. I have seen her alone with her God as I tiptoe through the room so I do not disturb her. My wife Ð a saint.

Paul wrote to the saints at Philippi, “Grace to you.” He writes those same words to the saint in Cedar Falls Ð Eunice Ð and millions of other saints. We need those saints to walk with us, so that we can learn what God has done for them despite their weaknesses. God worked through these saints to help us face life in all kinds of situations. The Christian life of the saint points us in the right way again and again.

On this All Saints Sunday, you may find your favorite saint in an inspirational book. As you read that book, the author helps you at the given hour. Or he can be a person who has written one of the books of the Scriptures, such as St. Paul. God uses these saints to reveal himself to us, so we may know him better. We are to read the scriptures often and be saturated by them, for they are a tangible means whereby we can experience God. He wants us to hear that Word as it is preached throughout the church. And He wants us to experience it in a tangible means as we kneel at the communion table to receive the body and blood of our blessed Savior, Jesus Christ.

We have been catechized that Holy Scriptures and Holy Communion are God’s way of revealing himself to us. However, we also have one more way of experiencing God. This is through the saints: those of old and those who live today. May they lead us on to do greater things in the kingdom of God.