Who Am I?

I walked into the hospital room of a dying woman early one morning. The sleepless nights had been long and hard for her. Her beautiful face was now only a skeleton draped with skin that was wrinkled and discolored. As I sat there holding her hand, I asked, “How is it going?”

Looking into my face, she said, “Oh, pastor. I am well, but my body is worn out.” Then she said, “Those words are not original with me, but they describe so well exactly how I feel.” She died within a few hours, and three days later her body was buried in the family plot. I’d watched another person die.

I have watched hundreds of people die during the course of my years in the ministry. But always I had to stop and ask, What really has happened? The only answer that really counted for me was found in the Word of God where the Bible says, the body returns to the ground it came from and the spirit returns to God who gave it. When you really believe those words, it molds your personality and gives you a whole understanding of what life and death are really all about.

The Bible teaches very clearly from passages such as these that we are a dichotomy. We are a body and a soul. Listen to this Word again. “And the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” I read these words from the King James’ version of the Bible because these were the words I learned as a youth sitting on a church pew and in confirmation class. They told me who I am. I am indeed thankful that I have not had to spend the last 75 years wondering who I really am.

It is true that the relationship between my Creator and me was broken because of my sin, but I have been created by God and redeemed by Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection. We are now, therefore, united. I am blessed daily by my Savior’s presence that offers me His continual grace and forgiveness of sin. I am blessed with the assurance that when my earthly stay is over, I shall leave my worn-out body behind, and, clothed in a new body, I shall stand in the presence of my God who created me and redeemed me. That is who I am.

I realize that there may be more to the whole question of who I am, but this is sufficient for me. Created in the image of God, fallen in sin, I have been redeemed to live with the Lord Jesus Christ forever.

As humans, we are both body and soul. There is much study in our day about trying to figure out how you treat the whole person. We have come to understand that while we are here on this earth, we cannot deal with the two separately, for the body affects the soul and the soul affects the body. Psychologists, clergy, and physicians work much more closely today than was the case 50 years ago.

We have learned that the soul, or the spirit, affects the body. If you and I are angry, if our lives are tortured with fear, if we carry around a lot of hate, this is going to show up physically through the blood pressure, or ulcers, or whatever else it might be.

On the other hand, physical problems can affect our spirits as well. For example, you and I know that when we become very tired, it is easy for our tempers to flare. When we are anxious or disturbed or depressed about something, it is often difficult for us to eat or to sleep. The soul and the body work together, and we realize that as we begin the sermon today.

Let’s take a look at the body and what God’s Word has to say about it. The text begins by presenting God like a potter with clay. We are created from the dust of the ground. We are earthy, and a part of us is tied to this old earth. We are created in the image of God, but we have come from the dust of the ground. Statements like these often cause us to study and discuss what the real meaning is. But here they stand: We are body; We are soul.

The intricacies of our body keep our medical research people challenged. The psalmist wrote, “I praise you God because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Certainly we have learned that to be true as the years have gone by, haven’t we. Not long ago I talked with a prominent neurologist at the Mayo Clinic, and during the course of that visit he said to me, “We know a great deal more about the heart than we do about the brain. But there is so much for us to learn about all parts of the body.” Yes, our doctors and medical research people know a great deal more about the body than they did a hundred years ago. Just wait until another hundred years passes, if the Lord does not come before. They will learn a great deal more in those days to come.

I visited with an ophthalmologist not long ago about the focusing of an eye. He told me that there is a little nerve called the rectus that controls of the focusing of the eye, and if that nerve is in any way assaulted, it isn’t long before you begin to see double. I never knew that before until my rectus was assaulted. It was interesting to have that great man of science talk to me about the intricacies of that little organ on which we also depend, the eye. The body is very detailed.

While Plato called the body a prison from which the soul desired to be free, St. Paul referred to the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit. As believers in Jesus Christ, we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Remember what Peter said on Pentecost Sunday. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). That same Holy Spirit dwells within us. The body is its temple.

So we care for this body. It is not a prison. It is not something that we have the right to abuse. It is instead something that God has told us to take care of, and probably some of us have not done a very good job of doing it. As believers in Christ, we realize what a gift our heavenly Father has given to us in the body. But we also know that the body is mortal. St. Paul has an interesting description of this as he writes to the congregation at Corinth. “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” (II Cor. 5:1).

Isn’t it interesting to notice how Paul talked about the body? It’s a tent. A tent doesn’t last many years but is going to be destroyed. After it has been destroyed, we are going to get a new body, one that is not made with hands, that is eternal in the heavens, and will last forever and ever.

Most of us do not like to accept this emotionally. We just like to hang on to what we have here. I hear people say, I can’t understand what’s wrong with me! This doesn’t work right and that doesn’t work right in my body. I guess we have to stop and say, Well, yes, we do really know what’s happening. We’re wearing out!

Some will say that is being very negative. But is it really? I don’t believe so. I think is being realistic because the body is mortal. That part of our being, the body, is going to die. Medical science can keep us going for a while. It can clean out one part, it can remove another, but eventually it is going to die!

That is the one part of our being and what place does it have on our agenda? I wonder in the case of many of us, if the body receives a lot more attention than does our soul. We have a soul, and so let’s talk about it. In fact, you are the soul.

The soul lives within the body for the years that we are here on this Earth. It is eternal. While the body is important, the soul is so much more important, according to our Lord Jesus Christ. Listen to these words: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). Jesus is making a real comparison here, and again He says “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” and, “What can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36, 37). The importance, then, of caring for the soul should have a top priority in your life and mine, for it, too, needs a lot of attention.

We talk about the body needing to be nourished very well, don’t we, and we see to it that we try to get the finest in foods. We count calories because we know excess weight is not good for us. It needs to be nourished.

Friend, what about that as far as the soul is concerned? It, too, needs to be nourished with the teachings from the Word of God. We feed our souls all too often on junk food Ð that which we get from our society and can cause us to be upset, torn apart, thinking in the wrong way. We need the Word of God, the Scriptures. We need to hear the Word of God. We need to read the Word of God. It is in that way that our soul, the most important part of us, is fed.

It needs to have exercise, doesn’t it? In the town where I live, we have some beautiful bike trails. They are also used by walkers too. I see them early in the morning and late at night on their bicycles and walking, and I congratulate these people on the discipline they have to get out and exercise. So we also need to exercise our soul by reaching out and doing something great for Almighty God. If we’re going to grow, we need to reach out to another person, talk to them about Jesus Christ. We need to be active in the work of the kingdom of God if the soul is going to grow.

The soul needs to be prepared for the day when we shall leave the body. That is done only when we are repentant of our sins and by grace through faith in Jesus Christ have received Him as our Savior and our Lord. For then, when that day comes that we are called from the earth, then we know that we shall inherit a new body and then live with our heavenly Father forever.

Do you know who you are? Life helps us answer this question as we honestly examine our thoughts and our words and our actions. We know pretty well who we are, and we don’t always like it. But just remember this: in God’s Word we have the basic answers. We have a body that is mortal and a soul that is eternal. May the soul may be ready to leave the body whenever God calls us to live with Him in the new body forever and ever.

Help Is Here

Happy Pentecost! In the Christian church, we’re comfortable celebrating Christmas and Easter, but not too sure what to do with this festival. My first couple of years at Shepherd of the Valley, I tried to get my congregation excited about Pentecost. I even had everyone wear red or yellow for the fire of Pentecost. I think they thought I was just a little bit off. They had the same questions as many still do: What’s the big deal about Pentecost?

First of all, one has to admit, it is a great story filled with special effects: wind, tongues of fire, languages. However, what really makes it a good story is the meaning behind all this. Pentecost, you see, is the day we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. He’s very important to us. Luther reminds us in his meaning to the third article in the small catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own understand-ng or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel . . .”

Christmas and Easter really wouldn’t mean much to us without the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives coming to us in the gospel. He makes it possible for a sinner like me to believe in Jesus and what He has done for me. Paul says, “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (I Cor. 12:3). So, I want to share with you in the message today that is very good news for you and me about Pentecost.

The main idea of Pentecost is this: HELP IS HERE. Jesus promised His disciples in John’s Gospel that He would not desert them. “I am sending you an advocate”(John 14:16), the Holy Spirit, which means Counselor, Helper, One to come alongside to support. Jesus said that when the Spirit comes, He would indwell in every believer, teaching, guiding, and empowering. (We find those promises in John 14 and 16.) Pentecost is good news about a kept promise that Jesus made to reassure us that we are not on our own as His followers.

As I was thinking and studying about this Helper and His job, I discovered some very helpful and hopeful implications for my life and for yours as well.

1. Because the Helper is here, I can tell the story of Jesus with confidence. Acts chapter two reveals this confidence as people were influenced by the story of Jesus Christ. Jesus had said that the Helper would come and would give the people the words to say. He would testify to the truth, convict people, and convert people to believe in Jesus. The Helper, you see, applies the good news of Jesus to the hearts of individuals exposing their guilt and their need for a Savior. The people were cut to the heart and asked what they should do. Peter pointed them to Jesus Christ, and on that day three thousand people received Jesus.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw two roses on the altar in the sanctuary of my church. I always point those roses out to my congregation at the worship service, because they represent a story. That week, the story of Jesus was told to two individuals who received Him as their Lord and their Savior. The roses remind us of the power of the story, the power of the Helper.

I find this message about a Helper very reassuring. It is quite a challenge as a parent to raise children in the faith, and it is good to know we have a Helper. This Helper is our hope and confidence as we tell them how Jesus died on a cross and rose to save them from sin and death. I have been blessed; both of my children are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ and follow Him because of the Helper.

2. Because help is here, my life can be changed. I don’t have to be helplessly stuck in my old ways and patterns of behavior. We see this revealed in Acts chapter two as well. The disciples were changed from being cowering, fearful individuals to bold preachers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Peter was changed. He who had denied Jesus now stood openly in the marketplace of Jerusalem declaring that salvation was found by trusting in this Jesus Christ whom the people had crucified days earlier. Later on he was changed from being prejudiced against non-Jewish people to loving and accepting them. We read in Acts chapter ten how Peter even began sharing the Gospel with them so they might become brothers and sisters in Christ.

Not only was Peter changed, but also James and John. These “sons of thunder” had been self-centered and wanted everything to be done for them. They wanted the world to revolve around them. But in John and James’ letters in the Bible, we find them as loving servants, and serving others. A change had taken place.

In Acts chapter nine, we find a hater of Christianity named Saul having a conversion experience and became Paul who was changed. This believer in Jesus Christ was one of the greatest missionaries who ever existed on this planet having led many people to Jesus. This is the work of the Helper, you see. The Helper is still at work today.

Recently I had a conversation between services with an alcoholic in the lobby area of my church. He has found his way back to the church. What he has been hearing is starting to change his life.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard the story of a marriage that had been rescued because the husband began studying His Word in a daily quiet time with the Lord Jesus. The Helper is still at work. The Helper, you see, can do great things in you and me.

Paul talked about the fruit of the spirit in the book of Galatians. Chapter 5 says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.” Wonderful character qualities that our Lord Jesus had. The Spirit can make them happen in your life and mine over a lifetime.

3. Because help is here, I have the ability to make a positive difference in other people’s lives. I can leave my mark in this world. In First Corinthians, chapter 12, Paul talks about the Holy Spirit bringing a spiritual gift, special abilities, that are given for the common good. As the body of Christ, each of us has a special ability that helps the others out. It might be encouraging or teaching or serving, or administrating. The list goes on and on. We have the ability, through the Helper, to make a positive difference in other people’s lives.

4. Because help is here, I can rest secure, assured by my relationship with the Lord. Ephesians one tells us that we have been marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. In Paul’s day, people used a seal on an object to indicate ownership. Sealing was done by dripping hot wax on an item and then pressing a person’s seal into it. People sealed valued documents, letters, and objects.

When Paul tells us the Holy Spirit has sealed us, he’s reminding us that we belong to Jesus. His seal of ownership is upon us, and our ultimate destination is heaven. We can be free of doubts about our eternal destination.

Paul goes on to describe the Holy Spirit as a pledge from God, a guarantee, an earnest deposit like we put down on a house. God is telling us He is serious about us. We belong to Him. He has made a down payment on our eternal inheritance.

Jesus has given us quite a package of gifts on Pentecost! He has given us His Helper, which is yours and mine to claim, use, and enjoy to the glory of God. So Happy Pentecost! Help is here for you and me.

Where do I encounter this Helper? How do I put His power to work in my life? I like what I heard about a little boy who asked his grandfather, “Grandpa, can you explain to me what is the wind?”

The old fisherman grandpa said, “I can’t explain the wind to you, but I can teach you to raise your sail.”

That is what Pentecost reminds us to do. It is an invitation to raise your sail and experience the power of God working in your life.

How can I raise my sail? Raise the sail of prayer. The disciples in Acts chapters one and two were praying in the upper room as they waited for the power from on high to come that Jesus had promised, the Helper. And He came.

So we pray, “Lord, come Holy Spirit. Kindle in us the fire of your love. Holy Spirit, come in and change me. Use me to the glory of God.”

God can still do great things for you, in you, and through you, just like that old Gospel song, which really is a prayer, says,

♪ Have Thine Own Way, Lord. Have thine own way.

Thou art the potter, I am the clay.

Mold me and make me after thy will

while I’m waiting yielded and still. ♬

Do you want the Helper? We have only to be yielded in prayer, surrendered, and willing. He will do the rest.

We have the sail of the community of faith, our church, small groups, fellowship with other believers. The disciples were together when the Holy Spirit came upon them. Stay connected in the Christian fellowship. Come for the Lord’s Supper in worship. Listen to the holy Word as it is preached. You will meet the Holy Spirit.

Then raise your sail to open the Word. People exposed to the Word about Jesus on Pentecost had their hearts and minds opened. Their lives changed.

Happy Pentecost! Jesus has sent you a wonderful gift! I hope, with all my heart, that you are enjoying it. Amen.

Why Study?

A disturbing article came out a while back by a religious news service. Its title is “Americans Love the Bible, but They Don’t Read it Much.” The survey was done in 2013 by the Barna group for the American Bible Society. It revealed that one half of Americans think the Bible has too little influence on a culture they see in moral decline. And while 88% indicated that they own the Bible, only one in five read it on a regular basis. Of the people surveyed, 57% said they only read the Bible four times or less a year. Very alarming.

How about you? What are you reading these days? Are you reading and studying your Bible? If you own a Bible, you own a library with 66 books just waiting to be checked out. Which of these books are you currently reading?

People have a number of reasons for not reading or studying their Bible. One is time. People are busy. Others find it confusing and intimidating to understand. Some have a King James version of the Bible and struggle with the language. Others say they’re not sure anymore if it’s really true. Others, yet, say it is irrelevant to present-day life. And still others say, I go to church every Sunday. That is enough for me.

What would you say if someone asked why they should read the Bible? Why should they study it and make it a regular habit in their life? That is our question for today Ð Why study? Our text has an answer for us to consider.

The issue of people wandering away from God’s Word is an age-old issue for the Christian church. Paul, an old pastor in the last stretch of his life, was sitting in a jail for his faith. He is writing to a young, beleaguered pastor, Timothy, who is struggling with his congregation. It seems his members are listening to all kinds of “new and improved teachings.” They are walking away from God’s Word, the Bible, setting aside the Gospel and getting themselves lost.

Paul reflects on this in his letter, then turns to Timothy and says, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, . . .” In other words: stick with Scripture. Stick with the doctrines that have been passed on to you knowing from whom you learned it. Paul is basically pointing to himself. Let me be your example. You’ve always looked up to me. I’ve been your mentor. You see how important the Word of God has been in my life. Let it be the same in your life. Stick with the Word.

Then Paul takes it back even further. “(Remember) how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings . . .” Timothy was blessed with a mother and a grandmother who were Christian and raised him in the faith. They taught him Bible stories from an early age.

We thank God for mothers who faithfully do that. My mother sat with me on Saturday nights doing Sunday school lessons so I’d be prepared for the next morning.

Paul goes on. He tells Timothy to continue in that Word, read it and study it. Why? Because “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” It is God’s Word. God is speaking in these words in this book. This book is alive! It breathes with life. It has energy. These words are alive and powerful and able to change anyone’s life who might dare to open them and read them. The Spirit of God, who spoke through many writers to cause these words to be written, is as powerful today as He ever was. I love what Martin Luther says about the Bible: “The Bible is alive. It speaks to me. It has feet and runs after me. It has hands and lays hold of me.”

John Stott, a great biblical theologian out of Great Britain, writes, “Scripture is far more than a collection of ancient documents in which the words of God are preserved. It’s not a kind of museum in which God’s word is exhibited behind glass like a relic or a fossil. On the contrary, it’s a living word to living people from the living God. A contemporary message for a contemporary world. When you pick up that Scripture, that Bible of yours with those sixty-six books, you are dealing, in every one of those books, with dynamite. They have an impact on you when you read it.”

What impact do they have on you? First of all, they make us wise. Paul says these God-breathed Scriptures “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” They wise us up to see things we can’t see on our own, things about God, about ourselves, and about other people in the world. They point out God’s plan for us, our need for a Savior in our sinfulness, what God has done for us in Christ Jesus, and how faith in Him can save us for eternity. Where would we be without the Scriptures that make us wise to salvation!

Not only the Scriptures give us wisdom for salvation, but they are also useful. Paul tells us, “All Scripture is profitable.” Profitable and useful for what? For teaching, for reproof, and for correction.

For teaching, first of all, so we can learn about God, about Jesus, about the Holy Spirit, about humanity, and about all the things in life God wants to show us.

They are also good for reproof. Sometimes I need to have things pointed out to me, such as when I am going in the wrong direction and doing things I shouldn’t be doing. I need to be reminded that God has standards and I shouldn’t be breaking them. He shows me things to avoid lest I fall prey to the political correctness of my day. He protects me that way.

For correction as well. God is out to improve me. As the statement says, God loves me just as I am, but He loves me too much to leave me that way. He wants to improve me in my relationships with Him and with others. He wants to improve me as a father and a husband. He wants to improve me as a child of God, as a witness for Jesus Christ.

Finally, Paul says Scripture is useful for training in righteousness. It not only helps me get right with God as I study it, but it also helps me to stay right with God and do what’s right in His sight. It matures me as I put it to work in my life, and I find myself becoming more loving and more servant-like, like Jesus.

Scripture keeps me in a right relationship with God and people. Paul tells us it is not only profitable, but it has a great end result. Its ultimate purpose is for everyone who belongs to God to be proficient, equipped for every good work.

John Ortberg writes, “Paul doesn’t say that the purpose of knowing Scripture is to enable us when we go to heaven to get 100% score on an entrance exam. Its purpose is for us to become equipped for good works.” Or to put it another way, it enables us to become transformed into the kind of people from whom goodness flows like an unceasing stream of water.

So Paul tells Timothy, this Word is “God-breathed.” It can change your life and wise you up so that you come to know Jesus Christ to be saved. It is profitable in teaching you all about God and yourself. It keeps you on the right path. It reproves and improves your life. It helps you have right relationships so you are equipped to do God-pleasing work.

In our church we have a monthly men’s breakfast. A lot of guys turn out for this event. Recently we looked at how important it is to read the Bible. One of the guys, a successful business leader named Dave, gave his testimony. He talked about how his life has been changed since he began to spend some quiet time each day with God in His Word. He told about how it has grown him and his relationship with God. It was very inspiring to listen to Dave tell his story.

We heard a second story about a very successful businessman. He has coffee with God each morning in his rocking chair overlooking his backyard. His life has been turned around by the Gospel. The story was very impactful.

So we have Paul saying how important the Gospel has been in his life. Look to me. See how important it was to your to your mom and your grandma; they passed that word on to you. And remember what I told you Ð that it is so powerful it could change your life because it is God-breathed and points you to Jesus. You are saved by it, and it helps you grow in your relationship with God and with other people. It equips you and readies you to do sorts of good stuff for the Lord.

We have Dave and this rocking chair guy who say that is why the Bible is important and why we study it.

But we have one more reason to study the Bible and put it to work in my life that I don’t want to leave out. Why? Hear these words of Jesus, our Master: “The one who hears these words of mine and acts on them is like the wise man who built his house upon the rock. The rain fell and the floods came and the winds beat on that house, and IT DID NOT FALL, for it was built on ROCK!” (Taken from Luke 6:47-49.) We need to build our lives on rock Ð the Word of God.

Another reason people aren’t very involved with the Bible is they don’t know how. They haven’t been taught how to study it and wonder how to start. If this describes you, here are some pointers to get you going.

1. Set a time in your day. Maybe early morning before you head off to work. Set aside 20 to 30 minutes as your appointment with God. I’ve discovered in my own life that I make time for those things that are important to me. This is important for you. So find a quiet place and make time. It might be in the front seat of your car before you walk into work. Maybe in the parking lot. Who knows?

Also, I would recommend that if your Bible is old, as nice as it is to have those old Bibles, go get yourself an updated translation Ð maybe a New International Version or an English Standard Version. Get a translation with study notes that can help you along. It is helpful to have an introduction with background information to each of the books you want to read. Very helpful.

Then pick a book of the Bible to study. If you start at the very beginning, you might get discouraged. So I recommend you start with the New Testament, maybe John’s gospel. Then take on one of the letters such as Paul’s letter to the Philippians. And as you sit down with your Bible with a pen and a notebook for notes, pray to God for insight and help. The Holy Spirit is there to give you understanding. Tell Him you are willing to obey and submit yourself to what you read. Tell Him you want Him to work in your life. God loves it when we pray like that.

Finally, read slowly a little bit at a time. If it’s a narrative, read just one story from beginning to end and read it slowly as you would read a novel or a love note from a special someone. Chew on it a little bit in your mind. Ask questions of it. Hold it for a while. Ask yourself, What did I learn about God or Jesus or myself in the story or in this particular letter? You may choose to pick up a helpful book. One that has been useful to a lot of people is, How to Read Your Bible for All it’s Worth, by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. It has great insights to every book of the Bible. I recommend it highly.

Pick up your Bible, read it, study it, and recommit yourself to be a believing, reading, and studying-the-Word-of-God Christian. The better you get to know the Scriptures, the more intimately you will know the Lord of the Scriptures, and you will never lose your way.

Why Give?

I have a personal question to those of you who believe in Jesus: how did you come to believe in Christ? In all likelihood, someone told you about Him. Parents or grandparents, spouse, friend, college roommate, maybe a pastor Ð someone took the time and trouble to tell you about Jesus and what He has done for you, and then you came to believe.

The reason I ask this question is, I am concerned that we in the church spend so much time talking about a personal relationship with Christ that we sometimes fail to emphasize the public side to our faith. We are called to go public for Jesus Christ and talk about Him with others who don’t know Him yet.

When the subject of talking about witnessing comes up in the church, it can sometimes raise people’s blood pressure. Witness? Me? Why would I want to do that? People balk at the idea of sharing their faith for a variety of reasons. People’s faith Ð or lack of Ð is no business of mine. I don’t want to be a meddler, someone might say. I’ve heard also someone say, I don’t want to come off as judgmental or intolerant. And I surely don’t want to offend anyone or lose a friendship. Others have said, Witnessing doesn’t work anymore in this day and age. (This is an especially sad statement, for it reveals a loss of faith in the power of the gospel.)

Others might say, Well, it’s not my spiritual gift. I’m not a Billy Graham type. Or, I’m so busy, I can barely keep my own act together. Or, I get so distracted with my own life I don’t really think about it when I’m with other people. And then others fall back on this one: I think I can just live out my faith and hope that someone will see the difference and maybe ask about it, which is silly. Good deeds are never a bad thing, but simply cutting someone’s grass or being nice to them is not witnessing or evangelism.

Francis Chan, a pastor in California whom I greatly admire, writes, “I think one of the biggest problems in the church is that no one feels like it’s their job. I hear pastors say, ÔWell, it’s not really my job to go out and share my faith with people. I’m really supposed to equip my people to do that.’ And the people say, ÔWell, I’m not the preacher, and I don’t like to preach to anyone, so I just show them by living a nice life.’ The bottom line is today no one is really getting the gospel out, and the truth is, it’s everyone’s job.”

We hear in our text today the main reason for witnessing. Jesus, the risen Lord, says to His disciples, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” He then says to them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.” YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES.

What is a witness? A witness is one who tells the truth of what he has experienced or observed. We are called to talk about Jesus, what we know about Him, what He has done for us, who He is, and what He means for our own life. The word used for witness is actually the root of the word, martyr. It means Jesus is calling us to a very high commitment.

These words are a commission from the risen Lord who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Witnessing is a matter of obedience to Him. It’s a display of our loyalty to Him. That commission has never changed, and it never will until Jesus reappears on the last day. Until then, every believer in Jesus Christ has a personal responsibility to be a missionary right where we are Ð a spokesperson, a witness for Christ, telling the good news of Jesus. We are to do everything in our power to tell who He is and what He has done. We are called to make an impact on those around us Ð perhaps starting by building a relationship with people, eventually getting to that story about Jesus Christ.

I came across this a quote one time. It says, “The danger for any maturing disciple is that of becoming a thermometer instead of a thermostat. Immature believers reflect the temperature of the world around them, but disciples of Jesus Christ set it.”

What is the best reason to witness? It’s scriptural. It is a matter of obedience to the risen Lord, and it is a response of loving action for the One who laid down His life to save me Ð Jesus. But it’s even more than our love and commitment to Jesus. It is also a matter of love for people, the ones in your life that God has placed around you, the ones that need you to be in their life that maybe you haven’t met yet. Everybody needs the forgiveness and grace of God in their lives. Scripture tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

It goes on to ask, How are these people to believe and be saved from their sin without hearing? Who is going to tell them if we don’t? Jesus wants everyone in on that salvation plan according to our text today. Notice again His words: “And you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth.” Jesus died and rose for all kinds of people, Jewish and non-Jewish. He loves them all. Our attitude, as followers of Jesus Christ, is to be that we don’t want anyone to miss out on meeting Jesus and the great life He wants each one of us to have Ð abundant life, eternal life. We don’t want anyone to experience a Christless eternity. To witness is to be so loving toward people and honestly convinced that having Christ in one’s life is trading up, and you’ll do anything to connect Jesus and this individual in your life, because you believe that their life would be so much better with Christ.

Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian once shared this statement that Bill Hybels talks of in one of his books. He says, “True followers of Christ who really get it right give themselves to people. Most importantly they give themselves to pointing people to faith in Christ. That’s the highest and best use of a human life Ð to have it serve as a signpost that points people to God.”

Finally, why witness? It is where the power and the joy of following Jesus Christ are best experienced Ð out on the front line, bringing others to Christ through your efforts. It is the most important thing you can do in your life! Witnessing is also the most exciting thing to do! To step out in faith in Jesus and tell that story, and then to lead that person across the line. Most of us want our lives to count for something. Here is a way to make it count: make it count for Jesus Christ and His cause. Be a witness. Bringing someone to Jesus Christ is the most meaningful thing you can do with your life!

Now, if you’re thinking, Well, okay. Scripture says it, but I don’t know if I can do that, you’re not alone. The disciples, when they heard Jesus, must’ve thought the same exact thing. But in these words of Jesus, we also see some very good news: We are not on our own. He gives us the promise of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promises us, “You will have power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” That word “power” is a Greek word Ð dunamis Ð from which we get the word dynamite. Man! That’s powerful stuff!

It turns out that the Holy Spirit has been given to empower our witness for Christ. That’s the purpose of the Spirit! Jesus described His work in John’s Gospel. The Holy Spirit will empower us as we tell the gospel story. He’ll show the world that it needs Christ. So you’re not on your own, you see, when you tell the story of Jesus, or share your personal testimony of what He’s done in your life.

We see that again and again as we look through the rest of the book of Acts. First, Peter tells the story of Jesus on Pentecost Day, and 3,000 people are saved. Then Philip is led by the Holy Spirit out onto the roadway where he meets an Ethiopian eunuch who comes to know Christ. Then Paul and Silas, as they sit in a Philippian jail of all places, share the Gospel with their jailer, who has his whole family then baptized. And listen to Paul speaking to the believers in Thessalonica: “Our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction” (1 Thess. 1:9). You are not on your own!

I’ve experienced this myself, not just in preaching but also in my personal witnessing. I remember taking Evangelism Explosion training years ago down at a Missionary Alliance Church in Omaha, Nebraska. They teach you the gospel outline, you learn how to share it and be comfortable with it, then they take you out to knock on doors and have the opportunity to get comfortable telling the story to people.

One night one of the groups came back on fire and excited. One of the members of that group then related his story. He said, “When I got to that house, the person let me in, and I started to share the gospel. I forgot the outline, but I remembered some of the main points. Of all things, the Holy Spirit used me and this person asked Christ into his life! I can’t believe it!” The place erupted with applause for the Holy Spirit.

As you read the book of Acts, you’ll find that those disciples did turn their world upside down for the cause of Christ. They reached Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth, just as Jesus said they would Ð not on their own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Their stories, then, are saved to testify to you and me that YOU CAN DO THIS. You could have an impact on your world for Christ by the power the Holy Spirit as you tell that story. It has the power to actually awaken a person and change that individual’s life.

So how do we get going? What is the strategy for witnessing? I will briefly share a little strategy that can, I believe, work for everyone who uses it.

First of all, make a list of the people in your life network. Perhaps you don’t know where they stand with the Lord. Maybe they’ve strayed. Who are the people in your Jerusalem? Your home, family relationships? It might be one of your children or an aunt or and an uncle, a relative who you have contact with.

Who is your Judea Ð someone outside your home? It could be friendships, work relationships, social relationships, sports relationships. Write those down.

Who is your Samaria? This would be an individual in the same city or area in which you live, but relationally distant to you. Perhaps it is the person who cuts your hair, the person at the checkout at the grocery store that you’ve gotten to know. It might be a neighbor down the street.

Then we go to the ends of the earth. Those are the places outside of everyday routine. It might be some people who need some attention at a nursing home, or a school where you volunteer. Perhaps a prison down the road that offers opportunities to come in and do volunteer work. Make contact with nonbelievers, the ends of the earth.

You’ve now got your list in each of these categories. So now pray for these individuals. I totally believe in the power of prayer to open doors. When Billy Graham was once asked about the success behind his crusades, he said, “Pray, pray, pray.” Pray for these individuals on your list, that the Lord would bless them as the Spirit works ahead of you to open that door to share the hope that is in you in Christ. And pray for yourself to see the open door, be a good listener, love that individual no matter what. And when that door opens, pray that you can share in a natural conversational way the difference Christ can make in their life.

Finally, prepare yourself. Scripture says to always be ready to make a defense for the hope that is within. Have you written a testimony? There’s an assignment. Write your story in a hundred words or less. Tell about the difference Jesus has made in your life. It has to be short. Practice it and practice and practice telling it aloud. Use it on a fellow believer, a spouse, or a friend until you’ve got it down and can tell it naturally.

And then of course, most importantly of all, learn to tell Christ’s story, what He has done for the world, and who He is. It’s really quite simple but we need to get it down. Number one: you created for relationship with God. Number two: you can’t have one on your own. You are a sinner and separated from God. But God loves you so much Ð number three Ð He gave Jesus Christ who died on the cross and paid for your sins. Then He rose from the grave and offers you a gift of eternal life, which you receive Ð number four Ð through faith. Faith is simply trusting in Jesus Christ and what He has done for you. There you have it.

A while back the Mercedes-Benz company had a television commercial that showed a Mercedes-Benz automobile colliding with a cement wall. The commercial was demonstrating the energy-absorbing car body that all Mercedes automobiles have. In the commercial, a company spokesman was asked why the company did not patent the car body design to prevent it from being copied by other automobile companies. The spokesman replied, “Because some things in life are too important not to share.”

How true that is as we consider the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So enough talk about this! Let’s go out and share Christ this week with the people around us. Why? Because someone’s eternity is depending on your faithfulness. And most importantly of all, because Jesus Christ is counting on you.

Why Witness

I have a personal question to those of you who believe in Jesus: how did you come to believe in Christ? In all likelihood, someone told you about Him. Parents or grandparents, spouse, friend, college roommate, maybe a pastor Ð someone took the time and trouble to tell you about Jesus and what He has done for you, and then you came to believe.

The reason I ask this question is, I am concerned that we in the church spend so much time talking about a personal relationship with Christ that we sometimes fail to emphasize the public side to our faith. We are called to go public for Jesus Christ and talk about Him with others who don’t know Him yet.

When the subject of talking about witnessing comes up in the church, it can sometimes raise people’s blood pressure. Witness? Me? Why would I want to do that? People balk at the idea of sharing their faith for a variety of reasons. People’s faith Ð or lack of Ð is no business of mine. I don’t want to be a meddler, someone might say. I’ve heard also someone say, I don’t want to come off as judgmental or intolerant. And I surely don’t want to offend anyone or lose a friendship. Others have said, Witnessing doesn’t work anymore in this day and age. (This is an especially sad statement, for it reveals a loss of faith in the power of the gospel.)

Others might say, Well, it’s not my spiritual gift. I’m not a Billy Graham type. Or, I’m so busy, I can barely keep my own act together. Or, I get so distracted with my own life I don’t really think about it when I’m with other people. And then others fall back on this one: I think I can just live out my faith and hope that someone will see the difference and maybe ask about it, which is silly. Good deeds are never a bad thing, but simply cutting someone’s grass or being nice to them is not witnessing or evangelism.

Francis Chan, a pastor in California whom I greatly admire, writes, “I think one of the biggest problems in the church is that no one feels like it’s their job. I hear pastors say, ÔWell, it’s not really my job to go out and share my faith with people. I’m really supposed to equip my people to do that.’ And the people say, ÔWell, I’m not the preacher, and I don’t like to preach to anyone, so I just show them by living a nice life.’ The bottom line is today no one is really getting the gospel out, and the truth is, it’s everyone’s job.”

We hear in our text today the main reason for witnessing. Jesus, the risen Lord, says to His disciples, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” He then says to them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.” YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES.

What is a witness? A witness is one who tells the truth of what he has experienced or observed. We are called to talk about Jesus, what we know about Him, what He has done for us, who He is, and what He means for our own life. The word used for witness is actually the root of the word, martyr. It means Jesus is calling us to a very high commitment.

These words are a commission from the risen Lord who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Witnessing is a matter of obedience to Him. It’s a display of our loyalty to Him. That commission has never changed, and it never will until Jesus reappears on the last day. Until then, every believer in Jesus Christ has a personal responsibility to be a missionary right where we are Ð a spokesperson, a witness for Christ, telling the good news of Jesus. We are to do everything in our power to tell who He is and what He has done. We are called to make an impact on those around us Ð perhaps starting by building a relationship with people, eventually getting to that story about Jesus Christ.

I came across this a quote one time. It says, “The danger for any maturing disciple is that of becoming a thermometer instead of a thermostat. Immature believers reflect the temperature of the world around them, but disciples of Jesus Christ set it.”

What is the best reason to witness? It’s scriptural. It is a matter of obedience to the risen Lord, and it is a response of loving action for the One who laid down His life to save me Ð Jesus. But it’s even more than our love and commitment to Jesus. It is also a matter of love for people, the ones in your life that God has placed around you, the ones that need you to be in their life that maybe you haven’t met yet. Everybody needs the forgiveness and grace of God in their lives. Scripture tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

It goes on to ask, How are these people to believe and be saved from their sin without hearing? Who is going to tell them if we don’t? Jesus wants everyone in on that salvation plan according to our text today. Notice again His words: “And you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth.” Jesus died and rose for all kinds of people, Jewish and non-Jewish. He loves them all. Our attitude, as followers of Jesus Christ, is to be that we don’t want anyone to miss out on meeting Jesus and the great life He wants each one of us to have Ð abundant life, eternal life. We don’t want anyone to experience a Christless eternity. To witness is to be so loving toward people and honestly convinced that having Christ in one’s life is trading up, and you’ll do anything to connect Jesus and this individual in your life, because you believe that their life would be so much better with Christ.

Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian once shared this statement that Bill Hybels talks of in one of his books. He says, “True followers of Christ who really get it right give themselves to people. Most importantly they give themselves to pointing people to faith in Christ. That’s the highest and best use of a human life Ð to have it serve as a signpost that points people to God.”

Finally, why witness? It is where the power and the joy of following Jesus Christ are best experienced Ð out on the front line, bringing others to Christ through your efforts. It is the most important thing you can do in your life! Witnessing is also the most exciting thing to do! To step out in faith in Jesus and tell that story, and then to lead that person across the line. Most of us want our lives to count for something. Here is a way to make it count: make it count for Jesus Christ and His cause. Be a witness. Bringing someone to Jesus Christ is the most meaningful thing you can do with your life!

Now, if you’re thinking, Well, okay. Scripture says it, but I don’t know if I can do that, you’re not alone. The disciples, when they heard Jesus, must’ve thought the same exact thing. But in these words of Jesus, we also see some very good news: We are not on our own. He gives us the promise of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promises us, “You will have power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” That word “power” is a Greek word Ð dunamis Ð from which we get the word dynamite. Man! That’s powerful stuff!

It turns out that the Holy Spirit has been given to empower our witness for Christ. That’s the purpose of the Spirit! Jesus described His work in John’s Gospel. The Holy Spirit will empower us as we tell the gospel story. He’ll show the world that it needs Christ. So you’re not on your own, you see, when you tell the story of Jesus, or share your personal testimony of what He’s done in your life.

We see that again and again as we look through the rest of the book of Acts. First, Peter tells the story of Jesus on Pentecost Day, and 3,000 people are saved. Then Philip is led by the Holy Spirit out onto the roadway where he meets an Ethiopian eunuch who comes to know Christ. Then Paul and Silas, as they sit in a Philippian jail of all places, share the Gospel with their jailer, who has his whole family then baptized. And listen to Paul speaking to the believers in Thessalonica: “Our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction” (1 Thess. 1:9). You are not on your own!

I’ve experienced this myself, not just in preaching but also in my personal witnessing. I remember taking Evangelism Explosion training years ago down at a Missionary Alliance Church in Omaha, Nebraska. They teach you the gospel outline, you learn how to share it and be comfortable with it, then they take you out to knock on doors and have the opportunity to get comfortable telling the story to people.

One night one of the groups came back on fire and excited. One of the members of that group then related his story. He said, “When I got to that house, the person let me in, and I started to share the gospel. I forgot the outline, but I remembered some of the main points. Of all things, the Holy Spirit used me and this person asked Christ into his life! I can’t believe it!” The place erupted with applause for the Holy Spirit.

As you read the book of Acts, you’ll find that those disciples did turn their world upside down for the cause of Christ. They reached Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth, just as Jesus said they would Ð not on their own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Their stories, then, are saved to testify to you and me that YOU CAN DO THIS. You could have an impact on your world for Christ by the power the Holy Spirit as you tell that story. It has the power to actually awaken a person and change that individual’s life.

So how do we get going? What is the strategy for witnessing? I will briefly share a little strategy that can, I believe, work for everyone who uses it.

First of all, make a list of the people in your life network. Perhaps you don’t know where they stand with the Lord. Maybe they’ve strayed. Who are the people in your Jerusalem? Your home, family relationships? It might be one of your children or an aunt or and an uncle, a relative who you have contact with.

Who is your Judea Ð someone outside your home? It could be friendships, work relationships, social relationships, sports relationships. Write those down.

Who is your Samaria? This would be an individual in the same city or area in which you live, but relationally distant to you. Perhaps it is the person who cuts your hair, the person at the checkout at the grocery store that you’ve gotten to know. It might be a neighbor down the street.

Then we go to the ends of the earth. Those are the places outside of everyday routine. It might be some people who need some attention at a nursing home, or a school where you volunteer. Perhaps a prison down the road that offers opportunities to come in and do volunteer work. Make contact with nonbelievers, the ends of the earth.

You’ve now got your list in each of these categories. So now pray for these individuals. I totally believe in the power of prayer to open doors. When Billy Graham was once asked about the success behind his crusades, he said, “Pray, pray, pray.” Pray for these individuals on your list, that the Lord would bless them as the Spirit works ahead of you to open that door to share the hope that is in you in Christ. And pray for yourself to see the open door, be a good listener, love that individual no matter what. And when that door opens, pray that you can share in a natural conversational way the difference Christ can make in their life.

Finally, prepare yourself. Scripture says to always be ready to make a defense for the hope that is within. Have you written a testimony? There’s an assignment. Write your story in a hundred words or less. Tell about the difference Jesus has made in your life. It has to be short. Practice it and practice and practice telling it aloud. Use it on a fellow believer, a spouse, or a friend until you’ve got it down and can tell it naturally.

And then of course, most importantly of all, learn to tell Christ’s story, what He has done for the world, and who He is. It’s really quite simple but we need to get it down. Number one: you created for relationship with God. Number two: you can’t have one on your own. You are a sinner and separated from God. But God loves you so much Ð number three Ð He gave Jesus Christ who died on the cross and paid for your sins. Then He rose from the grave and offers you a gift of eternal life, which you receive Ð number four Ð through faith. Faith is simply trusting in Jesus Christ and what He has done for you. There you have it.

A while back the Mercedes-Benz company had a television commercial that showed a Mercedes-Benz automobile colliding with a cement wall. The commercial was demonstrating the energy-absorbing car body that all Mercedes automobiles have. In the commercial, a company spokesman was asked why the company did not patent the car body design to prevent it from being copied by other automobile companies. The spokesman replied, “Because some things in life are too important not to share.”

How true that is as we consider the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So enough talk about this! Let’s go out and share Christ this week with the people around us. Why? Because someone’s eternity is depending on your faithfulness. And most importantly of all, because Jesus Christ is counting on you.