The Conversion of Lydia

Bible Reference: Acts 16:9-10; 13-15

Jesus gave us the Great Commission in Matthew 28: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Have you ever heard the Commission – to reproduce as believers, to draw more people to become disciples of Jesus – and wondered, What are the qualities of a devoted disciple? I’d like to suggest four.

First, they would have a vibrant faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the Lord of the universe. More than just an intellectual agreement that these things are true, that the faith would trust Jesus in a relationship that is integral to how life is lived every day.

Second, that the person would be committed, throughout their life, to learn everything Jesus can teach them in the Word of God and live under Jesus as a master teacher.

Third, that their hearts would be open for the Holy Spirit to shape the character of Jesus Christ within them.

And fourth, that they would, offer their lives as Jesus Christ’s servants to be partners in the building of God’s kingdom on earth.

Lydia was one of those devoted disciples. I want to talk about her story of coming to faith in Jesus Christ today.

Throughout history God’s love story with the people of His creation had women filling an integral role in God’s plans. Where would we be in the Church of Jesus Christ without women? All the cleaning days, the church suppers, the mission societies, the Sunday school teachers and Bible study leaders, the active prayer groups, the mothers who nurture faith in the hearts of their children within the home. Where would we be without the passion and compassion of women in the church?

But it is also true of women in the Bible. Think of Rahab who helped the spies outside of Jericho before it fell. Or Ruth; Esther; Jael; and Deborah, brave judges; or Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist; Mary of Magdala; or Mary, the mother of Jesus. When the angel, Gabriel, visited this virgin girl, she asked, “How could it be that I, who have never known a man, could be impregnated with the Son of God?” The angel said, “No word of God shall be impossible for God to make happen.” Then Mary, in the submission of her heart, said, “Behold, I am the bond servant of the Lord. Let it be in me according to your word.” Let your promise be realized and fulfilled in and through me.

Throughout the history of the Christian Church, and without any question in the biblical narrative, God used women in His plan of salvation, in His love for God’s people, even in periods of time when society was dominated by male only leadership.

Lydia was the first convert to Christian faith on the continent of Europe. She was a woman of faith, a Gentile believer, from the town of Thyatira. She was unique in her time period as a businesswoman, an independent entrepreneur. That was extremely unusual in a patriarchal culture. She was a seller of purple clothing about the year 50 A.D. It’s presumed she was also wealthy.

John, in writing the book of Revelation, names Thyatira as one of the churches of Jesus Christ. Lydia, having come to faith in Jesus Christ was from Thyatira, so she had to have gone home from her business journey at Philippi and started a church in Thyatira. She had a role in God’s plan. Several things about this story are extremely intriguing.

The first is God’s divine providence. In the working of the Holy Spirit, Paul describes a vision he was given in the life of a man saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” It was Paul’s sensitivity to the Spirit and his obedience to the Spirit that brought Paul and Lydia together so she could hear the message of the Gospel.

On the Sabbath day, when a group of women gathered by the river for prayer, Paul had the chance to sit down and share his faith, his understanding of the Scriptures. In this story of divine providence, we see what was fulfilling from Acts chapter 1, “You will be my witnesses when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall bear witness to me in Jerusalem, and Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”

The Word of God, the message of the gospel, was spreading to the ends of the earth. God isn’t interested in including only men in His salvation. He is working by His Spirit in the hearts of women too.

God is orchestrating a big picture here, but He is also responding to each individual life. He has a heart for Lydia to belong to Him. As those women gathered by the river, God’s Spirit spoke to Lydia through the words of Paul. So the second intriguing thing is Paul’s witness to that group that had gathered.

Think about who he had been – a terrorist and a persecutor of believers in Jesus. He was radically converted to Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, bowled over by the bright light of Jesus as He revealed Himself to Saul. I’m sure Paul told the story of his conversion to those women that day.

He also, I’m sure, told them how Jesus bled on the cross for the sins of the world as the perfect Son of God, how God raised Him from the dead, and that in His name is forgiveness of sins and the promise that all the broken world, all the rebels of humanity, are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. That God waits for each of us to come to Jesus Christ, confessing our sin and believing. You remember the promise, “All who call upon me, I will never turn away.” Maybe, because Lydia was in the textile industry dealing with the dying of cloth into purple, Paul quoted Isaiah, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they will be white as snow. Though they be red like crimson, they will be like wool.” Maybe he went on to share how Jesus is the Son of God, and that He lives. He who was crucified lives to make His home in our hearts and give us abundant life.

The third thing of the story that is striking to me is that Lydia had been a believer of God but through Paul’s sharing she came to be a believer in Jesus Christ. She placed her faith in the message of the Gospel, and, through the wonder of the Word, she invited the Spirit of Jesus to come into her life.

It says that Lydia listened intensely as Paul shared, focused on his words. Her faith went from general to specific. No doubt she heard the truth – “There is no other name under heaven given whereby we can be saved,” or maybe she heard Paul quote Jesus from John 14, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. Come to the Father through Me.” Jesus is distinctive as powerful Good News. More than just a general belief that God exists, Jesus is Good News because the message of the cross tells us that God is very serious about the sins of His people.

But the cross also tells us the depth of the Father’s love for all people, despite our sin. It tells us of God’s willingness to forgive all our sins and immoralities, and that He desires to reconcile us back into a relationship with Himself in Jesus’ name.

The cross also speaks to the truth that there is no darkness, no trouble, no adversity, no evil that can separate us from the love of God. No matter how dark the hell we might experience, the cross tells us that Jesus whispers to us even in that moment and says, “I’ll never leave you or forsake you.”

But God never forces Himself on anyone. So the fourth thing that compels me in this story is the phrase, “The Lord opened Lydia’s heart.” We remember how Revelation 3:20 says, “Jesus says, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in.” God opens our heart, and Jesus is willing to come in. The Lord opened Lydia’s heart.

Sometimes in the church, we talk about growing the church or a strategy for Christian growth as a technique or a marketing approach. Yet church growth is actually the Holy Spirit revealing the powerful Good News of Jesus to each individual heart that hears. Faith is a gift. That gift is offered to you today too.

Finally, I want to say that Lydia’s life was transformed magnificently by the gospel she heard from Paul that day. She became an enthusiastic believer in Jesus Christ. How do we know that? Because she immediately requested baptism, together with her whole household – whether that was her children or the servants of her household. That is, though she was a businesswoman, she was uninhibited. She didn’t worry about what people might think of her if she openly declared her loyalty of faith in Jesus Christ.

It reminds me of Paul’s words in Romans 1:17, “I’m not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God for salvation to all who believe.”

Lydia also showed her enthusiastic faith by welcoming Paul and his followers to her home. She had hospitality. Those who were far from home now received her love and care in an accepting atmosphere to assist them in their comfort, to show them love.

As I prepared for this message, I visited with one of the members of my church named Darrell Heckathorne. We were talking about when God’s Spirit opened our hearts to understand the message of the gospel. Right away he said. “I know when it was. I was four years old, and there was a woman named Irene Weist, who came to the farm. She asked my father, ‘Will you and your family come with me to church?’”

My father said, “No, we don’t go to church.”

“Well, could I come and take your boys to Sunday school?”

And he said, “No, Sunday is just another workday.”

Undeterred, Irene continued. “Well, sir, I’m gonna pray each day for your boys to know Jesus.” Darrell shared that in his mid-30s, when he came to faith in Christ, he was publicly sharing his love for Christ, and a person in the audience that day was none other than Irene Wiest who had come to the farm when he was four. “My prayers have been answered,” she told Darrell.

God can use you to share your love for Jesus with other people. The Holy Spirit is still in the business of using the Word of God to bring people to faith in His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

In Acts 16 is the story of Lydia, a devoted disciple. When a seeking soul met an obedient witness, the wonder of the Word together with the power of the Holy Spirit, brought a dear one to faith in Jesus Christ. Glory to God. Amen.

Rev. Lee Laaveg

Homesick

Bible Reference: Psalm 84

Have you ever felt homesick? It’s a common experience for many people. Perhaps as a child at camp, on a trip, or even on an overnighter at a friend’s house you longed to be home with family, in your own bed with familiar surroundings. You felt a little sick. You may have even called your parents and asked them to come get you. My little sister did that now and then when she was growing up.

I remember, I was very homesick when I went off to college. I had moved more than 1,000 miles from my familiar surroundings in the mountains of Montana to the fields of Iowa to attend Luther College, and I was so very homesick!

We had no cell phones in those days, and I plugged many quarters into a payphone. When the quarters ran out, I’d call home collect until my mom and dad finally said one day, “You’re calling home too much. You need to settle in and quit calling so much.” I couldn’t wait to get back home on that first Christmas break.

Now as I’m older, I still get homesick now and then. When I’m off on a trip for a week or more without my wife, Julie, I find myself missing her so much, and wanting to be with her. I’m homesick for her. Even when we travel together, I get a little homesick for my house, my select comfort bed, and my daily routines.

Some of you maybe have experienced homesickness in your life. When I visit with people in nursing homes, they oftentimes speak with longing in their voices for their homes where they raised their families. They’re homesick.

I’m talking about homesickness today because it is written all over Psalm 84. This songwriter has longing and yearning in his words as he describes homesickness! What’s interesting is what he is homesick for – going to worship. He’s telling God that he can’t wait to get to church.

Those who are homebound are familiar with this sense of homesickness for church. They miss the fellowship, the good feelings, the familiarity, the good memories of going to worship, the elements of worship. If this describes you, let me assure you, God is with you right where you are this moment, and He knows your heart. As you worship with me today, you are with Him.

Listen to the emotional description of the psalmist’s homesickness. First of all, he really misses the building. He says, “How lovely is your dwelling place. In my mind, it is one of the most beautiful homes I can imagine.”

Then he talks about his inner feelings. “My soul longs, yes faints, for the courts of the Lord, the Church.” Lord, I’m just dying to be there! “My heart and my flesh even cry out for the living God.” I’m so homesick, I hurt emotionally and physically. I long to be there. I think of the sparrow and the swallow. They get to make their homes near the altar in your courts. I envy them.

I’m envious of the happy worshipers who are blessed when they are singing your praises. I consider a day in your courts so much better than a thousand elsewhere, no matter how good they may be. Nothing compares to being home at worship. This guy really has homesickness, doesn’t he? He just has to get to worship!

Why do you suppose going to church for worship is such a big deal to this guy and to so many other people? We find out in verse two. “(When I come to worship you Lord,) my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” When you come to worship, you are coming into the presence of the living God. It is a big deal! You are meeting with the great God of the universe. An encounter takes place. I would dare to call it a joyful homecoming. Let me explain why I say that.

Have you ever heard the saying, Home is where the heart is? Many years ago, a great Christian named Augustine said to God in one of his writings, “God you have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” There you have it! God has placed a homing instinct deep in our hearts to be with Him. Coming to worship is coming home to rest with God.

I’m reminded of a humorous story I heard years ago. One Sunday, a Sunday school teacher instructed her class to write a letter to God that afternoon and bring it back to class the next weekend. One little boy wrote,

Dear God,
We had a good time at church today. Wish you could’ve been there!

Little does he know, God is there! When we come to worship in the Lord’s house, He is present in a variety of ways. He inhabits the praises of His people. He is filling every nook and cranny of the space we are in. As we praise Him, as we hear His Word and He speaks to us, as we pray to Him, as we say the Creed together, or come to the Lord’s Supper together – He is there with us. As I draw near to God, He has promised to draw near to me. There I will commune with Him! I am given the privilege of being with Him, and He breathes new life into my dry and thirsty soul.

I am reminded of a story told by Gerhard Frost, a Lutheran writer, in one of his devotional books. He wrote, “Yesterday, as I walked down the airport ramp to board a plane, a family of four was in front of me – mother carrying the younger child and father holding the other by the hand. The older girl appeared to be about four, and her every step was a bounce. She radiated expectancy, joy. It was obvious that this was THE day – the day that had been talked about and planned for – and she couldn’t wait. Her father looked down at her and asked, ‘Where are we going?’

“‘To Grandma’s!’ she shouted, punctuating her words with a higher bounce than usual. She didn’t say, to Bismarck, or to Billings, but to Grandma’s. As far she was concerned, she was going to be with a person, and the place didn’t matter at all.”

When we go to church to worship, we are going to spend time with our heavenly Father. That’s all that matters.

Our songwriter goes on to give us another reason why worship is such a big deal. He says, I am blessed as I’m blessing God. In the reading, when the writer talks about those who are blessed, he means happy. Happy are those who dwell in the house of the Lord. Happy are those who find their strength in God and journey to Zion for worship. Happy are those who trust in the Lord, who build their lives upon Him, spend time with Him, reach out to Him in a variety of ways including worship. You see, worship re-awakens me to who I am and who God is. I am reminded that I am not God. (I thank God for that, for what a mess this world would be in if I were God! What a mess my life gets in when I start believing that I am like God.)

I also learn how great my God is, how much I need Him, and how much He cares for me. The psalmist, for instance, reminds us, “He is my sun and my shield.” In the Old Testament, the sun was a symbol for restoration and healing. The shield was for protection. He is the God who takes care of me and is present. He builds me up and helps me face these days as I walk in this world of mine. I am blessed with these things in worship.

God also bestows gifts upon me in worship. He calls these gifts, favor and honor. A better translation is grace and glory. I don’t know what favor and grace and honor looked like for that songwriter, but I do know what it looks like for you and me. In worship I’m again and again pointed to the cross and told I am sinful, but loved. Jesus died for my sins and rose so I could be with my Father who created me. I am forgiven in Christ, and nothing can separate me from God’s love in Christ, not height nor depth, nor sickness, nor suffering, not even death!

As I come in to God’s presence at worship, I am reminded that one day my homesickness will be taken away once and for all as God receives me into His eternal home into eternal joy.

C. S. Lewis, a wonderful writer from the past century, said this in regard to the Psalms, “These poets (the Psalmists) knew far less reason than we for loving God. They did not know that He offered them eternal joy; still less that He would die to win it for them. Yet they express a longing for Him, for His mere presence (to spend time with Him).”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, how much more do we have reason to love God and want to spend time with Him after all He’s given us?

I came across a very moving and inspirational story a while back about a fellow named Christian Wiman, and the blessing he received from church. He said, “I got the news that I was sick on the afternoon of my 39th birthday. It took a bit of time, travel, and a series of wretched tests to get the specific diagnosis, but by then the main blow had been delivered, and that main blow is what matters. I have an incurable cancer in my blood. The disease is as rare as it is mysterious, killing some people quickly and sparing others for decades, afflicting some with all manner of miseries and disabilities and leaving others relatively healthy until the end. Of all the doctors I have seen, not one has been willing to venture even a vague prognosis.”

“Then one morning we (my wife and I) found ourselves going to church. Found ourselves. That is exactly what it felt like, in both senses of the phrase, as if some impulse in each of us had finally been catalyzed into action, so that we were casting aside the Sunday paper and moving toward the door with barely a word between us; and as if, once inside the church, we were discovering exactly where and who we were meant to be. That first service was excruciating, in that it seemed to tear all wounds wide open, and it was profoundly comforting, in that it seemed to offer the only possible balm.

“So now I bow my head and try to pray in the mornings, because to once feel the presence of God is to feel His absence all the more acutely.”

“I go to church on Sunday, because faith is not a state of mind but an action in the world, a movement toward the world. How charged this one hour of the week is for me, and how I cherish it.”

That is why we have this worship service – to cure homesickness. Worship is for the homesick, for you and me, because the truth is every one of us needs to come home and spend time with the living God who loves us through Jesus Christ. Every one of us needs this time to reconnect with the sunshine of His life-restoring grace, and be touched once again by His love for us.

So weary, homesick pilgrim, let me welcome you home. I invite you to keep coming to worship with us. And feel free to bring your friends, by the way, who need God every bit as much as you and I do. Amen.

Rev. Steve Kramer

He Knows You, and You Can Know Him

Bible Reference:  Psalm 139

How do you feel when you drive through the mountains and look up at those majestic peaks? How do you feel when you sit on the shore of the ocean and listen to the waves pounding against the rocks or look out the window of a plane to the world below? How do you feel sitting in a stadium with 40,000 cheering people around you pulling for their team, or when you look up into the sky on a clear night and see the thousands upon thousands of stars? Some might say it makes them feel small and insignificant. It would be natural to feel that way, I suppose, when you compare yourself to the mighty creation around you.

I am reminded of a story told by William Beebe, a friend of President Theodore Roosevelt, about a conversation they had with one another. “At Sagamore Hill, Theodore Roosevelt and I used to play a little game together. After an evening of talk, we would go out on the lawn and search the skies until we found a faint spot of lightness beyond the lower left-hand corner of the great square of Pegasus. Then one or the other of us would recite, ‘This is a spiral galaxy in Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of 100 million galaxies. It consists of one hundred billion suns, each much larger than our sun.’ Then Roosevelt would grin and say, ‘Now I think we’re small enough! Let’s go to bed.’”

Though many people go through life feeling small, insignificant, unnoticed, Scripture tells us nothing could be further from the truth. We see it expressed in Psalm 139, written by King David of Israel. In this Psalm, David celebrates the truth: GOD KNOWS YOU. Let me say it again: God knows you.

He begins by saying, “Lord, you have searched me and you know me.” He uses the word “know” seven times throughout this song. It’s not simply knowing about someone, but an intimate knowledge. You know me through and through is what David means here. The God who created the majestic mountains, the billions of people, the galaxies in the sky, is the personal God who knows me.

Now, its important to keep in mind that David is not just waxing eloquently here. These are not just some beautiful words based on wishful thinking. They are based upon personal experience. Just go back and read 1st and 2nd Samuel in the Old Testament. You will see why David is able to write beautiful words such as these. He had experienced God’s presence and faithfulness in his life again and again. As David expounds on how much God knows him, it doesn’t seem to bother him at all as it might when we look at own sinfulness. He seems to delight in the truth that God knows him.

The Psalm is praise being lifted to the God who was been good and faithful, who David knows loves him. David says, God you know me personally.
• He knows everything I do. When I sit down and when I rise. He knows my every thought, happy or sad, contented or anxious, rattled or peaceful, loving or judgmental, pure or dirty – God knows my thoughts!
• God knows my path. All my ways, my comings and my goings in life. He watches over me when I’m working, or when I’m on vacation, how I operate at work, how I treat others, what I do at home, how I act driving on the road. He knows my path, my comings and goings.
• He even knows my talking. He knows what I am going to say – He’s that familiar with me.

He basically knows what makes us tick. He is familiar with all my ways and all my actions, David reflects.

As a disciple of Jesus, David’s words remind me of Jesus’ words in Luke 12:7. “Even the hairs in your head are all numbered.” That is how well my heavenly Father knows me.

David continues, He is everywhere. He knows where I am, and He is with me in all life situations. “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.” This is a picture of the loving arms of God around David, a gentle reassuring touch reminding him, David, you are not alone. I am with you.

David says, You always know where I am. You are everywhere. “If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I make my place in the land of the dead, you are there. If I dwell at the uttermost parts of the sea, you are there.” In the darkness and in the light, you are there with me. I awake in the morning and you’re with me. In other words, up, down; east, west; day, night; God is with me. It’s like Paul says in Romans 8: “Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is ours in Jesus Christ.”

David goes on to say, Not only do You know me and are with me, but You also made me. Therefore, I am precious in Your sight. “You knit together in my mother’s womb. I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” I am valuable to God. I am the crown of His creation.

The song ends with David breaking into praise. “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is a sum of them! If I were to count them – they number more than the grains of sand.” In other words, I can’t think enough thoughts to even measure up to the wonder of your love for me. Your thoughts about me are innumerable. They are so precious to me, God!

Then he says, God, I am with You. Everyone who hates you, Lord, I hate. I surrender to you. “Search me, O God, and make me what you want me to be. And lead me in the way everlasting.”

It’s a wonderful song, isn’t it? It’s a love song! David loves this God who has loved him. It is a personal relationship. He knows me; He is with me; He made me. And He knows you!

I ask you today as a listener – Do you know Him personally? Some people scoff at the idea. How can a God, who has made all these wonderful things, be known in a personal way? He’s so supreme. Can we know Him personally?

Scripture says, we can. It is a tough truth for many to grasp. A personal relationship with God, the maker of the universe? Sometimes when I talk to people about God and their relationship with Him, I’ll ask if they believe in God.
“Sure, I believe there’s a God. I believe in God.”
“What do you believe about God?”
“Well, I believe He made me. He provides me with my home and my family. I shout out to Him now and then when I’m in trouble.”
“Does He speak to you? Relate to you? Make Himself known to you?”
Frequently the response is, “No, not really. Well, maybe in His creation, I suppose.”

How sad. That is not what God intended for you. You were created to enjoy God in a personal way. He created you for an intimate, close relationship just like He created David. He invites us – His creations – to walk with Him and come to Him for strength, rest, guidance, and forgiveness for our sins. When God steps into a person’s life like that and the relationship becomes personal, it’s not a crushing thing that happens to us. Instead, it fills us with confidence, assurance, and joy.

I am reminded of a book C. S. Lewis wrote about his life. He was an atheist, then an agnostic, and then he became a believer and one of the great Christian apologists of his time. The title of his book is Surprised by Joy. Isn’t that great! As we come to know God in a personal way, be surprised by joy! You see, God knows you. He wants to have a personal relationship with you, to give you a song to sing like He gave David.

Dr. Gerhard Frost, a wonderful Lutheran writer of years ago, told a good story in a devotional book that I purchased. He said, “It was a concert in the park, and my friend and her little granddaughter were enjoying it together. The child was completely captivated by this first orchestra concert. She sat transfixed through each number and then, forgetful of her surroundings, she moved a bit closer each time the music stopped with grandma following each time she moved. At last she was as close as she could get. She stood at the very foot of the stage, lost in the sights and sounds of the many instruments.

“The concert ended and for a brief anxious moment the child realized how far she wandered. She turned to see her grandmother standing behind her, and with a smile of relief she cried, ‘Oh, I knew I could depend on you, grandma.’”

Frost reflects, “It’s good to be sought after when we stray. It’s good to be cared for when we forget. How fortunate we are that the Good Shepherd follows us more faithfully than we follow Him.”

Like sheep, we tend to nibble ourselves lost, wondering in trivia and minor distractions, or we run around panic stricken into the wilderness because our faith fails us and fears take over. But God never leaves us alone, not even for a moment, not even for a moment. He knows us. He knows you.

A dear friend of mine, many years younger than me, is battling ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). His name is Dan. He has such a great attitude and keeps himself moving. If you ask what helps him stay that way, as I have asked, he will point to his heavenly Father and tell you, “He keeps me going.” God is present in Dan’s life. He knows Dan, and Dan knows Him. Dan is finding joy in life, even in the midst of this awful disease.

So how does one enter into a more personal relationship with God?

God revealed the answer to that question in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus stepped in our world and announced, “He who seen me has seen the Father.” He died on a cross to pay for your sins in order to restore you into a personal relationship with the God who made you and loves you. He raised Him up and promises that all who trusts in His Son Jesus can have a personal relationship for eternity with Him.

Listen to His invitation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). It’s a very intimate picture – table fellowship with the Lord.

And after we invite Him in, He wants to speak to us and reveal more of Himself to us through His Word, the Bible. As we reflect on His word each day, He draws us closer to Himself and builds us up making us aware not only of His wisdom and grace, but also of His very presence and love for each of us. As we keep our daily appointment to meet with Him in prayer, we soon discover what it means to have a personal relationship with the God who made us, who sent His Son to die and rise for us. He breathes His Holy Spirit into our lives and draws us close to Himself.

It’s true, you and I have a very big God who created the galaxies. He is mighty, and has made a very big world and a big universe around us. But know this: He knows you. If He had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. He wants you to personally come to know Him. Jesus says that God even wants us to address Him as Father. Now if you ask me, that’s quite personal.

I want to close this message today with a song that’s been a favorite of mine for the past few years. It’s a newer song that captures the essence of what David is sharing with us in Psalm 139. The song is entitled, He Knows my Name.

I have a Maker;
He formed my Heart.
Before even time began,
My life was in His hands

He knows my name.
He knows my every thought.
He sees each tear that falls,
And He hears me when I call.

I have a Father;
He calls me His own.
He’ll never leave me,
No matter where I go.

He knows my name.
He knows my every thought.
He sees each tear that falls,
And He hears me when I call.
Rev. Steve Kramer

Stronger in Faith

Bible Reference: Acts 2:1-24

If I want to have stronger legs, I will do some exercises to make them stronger – like side lunges or pistol squats, or working out with some barbells. If I want a stronger grip, I will use a grip master hand exerciser or squeeze a tennis ball on a regular basis. A few years ago I had a serious neck surgery and needed to build my neck back up afterward. So the therapist gave me isometric exercises with a resistance band to build the strength in my neck.

Now let me ask you, how can a person become stronger in their faith? The standard answers are to go to church so you continue to be fed by the Good News of Jesus Christ and come to the Lord’s table for communion. Be with the family of God. That’s a good thing to do for strengthening faith. Others will point to prayer. An intimate relationship with God can be developed in a regular prayer life. Others will point to Scripture. Of course, we know that spending time each day in God’s holy Word has a way of building us up in our faith. Those are all correct answers.

While I do these things on a regular basis )maybe you do too(, I sometimes find myself feeling weak in my faith. I hit valleys sometimes, or it gets humdrum, boring, or lacks vitality. I find myself getting maybe even a little fearful and pessimistic, hesitant to step out and take on risks for God. Each day in my prayer time, I find myself praying for boldness and faith building to make me stronger, to overcome what weakness I have so that I might make a difference for Christ in this world.

Have you ever been in that place where you are searching for answers? How can I make my faith stronger? I feel stuck. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be like that. God’s power is available to the follower of Jesus Christ to make that strengthening happen.

I want to spend a few minutes with you this morning seriously considering a biblical principle to help a person grow stronger in their faith. The case study we’re going to look at is this story from Acts chapter 2.

If this is the first time you’ve ever heard the story, I’m sure it sounds quite strange and bizarre. Surreal, in fact. The violent wind, tongues of fire resting upon the heads of individuals, this praising of God’s mighty works in various languages, the babbling by the one hundred twenty in the Upper Room who soon found themselves on the street surrounded by crowds. Uneducated men and women talking like they’re experts at the United Nations in various languages.

But what grabs the attention is Peter. He courageously told the story of Jesus and what He has done for the world. Peter spoke to the crowds in the hostile territory who hated Jesus and had watched as He carried His own cross. Yet, Peter spoke on behalf of Jesus, and 3,000 people received Christ into their lives that day.

Have you ever wondered, What if Peter hadn’t spoken up when the people were questioning what was happening? What if he had just continued praising and worshiping God with the other disciples? I think it’s important to look at what perhaps was behind Peter taking action like this.

I believe some promises were rolling around in the back of Peter’s head when he saw the crowd asking about the mighty acts of God that day. Jesus had told Peter and the other disciples in the Upper Room that when the Holy Spirit came, some amazing things would be done through them. His last words before He ascended were, “When the Holy Spirit comes upon you )the power from on high(, you shall be my witnesses” Acts. 1:8. Jesus was telling them, You are going to have an impact on other people’s lives for me.

In John chapters 14 – 16, as Jesus talked with His disciples in the Upper Room the night before He was crucified, He spoke about the Holy Spirit. He described Him as the Helper for the disciples. I think these words might have been rolling around in Peter’s head when the crowd asked what was happening on that first Pentecost. Jesus had promised that when the Helper came, He would convict people of their sin and their need for a Savior. He also said the Helper would bring to remembrance the things Jesus had shared with them when the opportunities arose.

Now the moment was here; the waiting was over. The Helper had arrived, and Peter recognized this as an opportunity for action. He took a test run, so to speak. He opened his mouth and put in a word for Jesus. He told the crowds what was happening and how Jesus had gone to the cross and rose for the salvation of people. Lives were changed that day.

Matthew earlier spoke in his Gospel account about Peter getting out of the boat and walking on the water toward Jesus for a few moments. Now we see Peter getting out of the boat again, so to speak, on the basis of a promise from Jesus that the power was there for him to do what he was called to do – be a witness for Christ. And as Peter told the Jesus story that day, the Spirit of God showed up and went to work, and the people were cut to the heart.

Do you know what it means to be cut to the heart? They were convicted! They were convicted of their need for a Savior; they were convicted of their sinfulness, and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, they put their trust in Jesus Christ, just as Jesus promised. And when the people asked what they should do now that Peter shared this message with them, Peter closed the deal. He called for a decision. “Repent and be baptized. Be saved, and you will receive the Holy Spirit yourselves.” About three thousand heard Peter and asked Jesus Christ into their lives that day. They surrendered themselves to the kingdom of God, to Jesus.

In the rest of the book of Acts, we see the boldness and strong faith of Peter at work following that great day. We see Peter standing before some religious leaders a few chapters later, who were telling him to be quiet about Jesus. But Peter tells them he can’t keep quiet. He’s on fire. Scripture reports that when they saw the boldness of Peter, James, and John, they realized these ordinary men had been with Jesus.

I want to point out a principle at work here. God promises power along the way as we step out in obedience and faith to what He is calling us to do for Him. Let me say it again. God promises power along the way as we step out in obedience and faith to what He is calling us to do for Him.

The book of Acts isn’t the only place you find this principle at work. It’s found in the Old Testament as well – a wonderful story about Joshua and the people of Israel at the Jordan River. It was time to cross over and take possession of the Promised Land after forty years of wandering in the wilderness. But it was the flood season, and the people were afraid, so Joshua had the priests, who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments, walk out, ankle-deep, into the water.

Guess what happened? The waters parted! Here is the principle. When you get your feet wet, God shows up with power along the way.

A book came out a number of years ago that I really enjoyed. It was written by John Ortberg and is called, “If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.” In it he writes, “Most people I know love to hear stories and images about the powerful God we serve. But here is the problem: That information alone is not sufficient enough to create courageous human beings. I can receive much information designed to assure me that God’s power is sufficient. But the information alone does not transform a human heart and character. In order for such a transformation to take place, certain actions and experiences are required.” You need to take that first step. You need to get your feet wet. That is how faith grows.

I find this to be true in my own life. For years I had not received any evangelism training. I knew I needed to be doing this, and I needed to train my people to do it. Yet, I was very hesitant and afraid of stepping out, so I just blundered my way through the activity. One day, though, I took a step in the right direction. I went to Evangelism Explosion training at a big Missionary Alliance Church in Omaha, Nebraska. And I found myself doing things I never dreamed I’d do. I knocked on apartment building doors )while praying at the same time that nobody was home – after all, I’m Lutheran!( But I was invited into some of those homes and as I was given the opportunity to talk about Jesus with someone I barely knew, I began to see the power of God at work, and my faith grew stronger and more alive.

This continues to be the case for me as I step into people’s lives and share the Gospel. Again and again, I’ve seen God show up and work in me as I step out for His cause. When I find my faith getting weak, I need to take a risk for God by asking what He is calling me to do these days? Whose life is He wanting me to touch for the cause of His kingdom? God is more than willing to display His supernatural power in the challenges of your life, providing you are willing to get in motion, to walk in obedience and trust toward those things He is calling you to do.

So I ask you, What great things are you attempting to take on for the cause of Jesus Christ these days? Or maybe a better question would be, Where have you sensed God calling you to boldly step out for Him, to take a risk for Him? Perhaps it’s in the area of loving some people in your life. For instance, maybe an individual is crossing your path who drives you absolutely crazy. You want to run in the other direction when you see them coming.

Maybe you are being called to pour some of God’s kindness into a person’s life. It might be something only you can do by the power of God working in you. I dare you to try it. Perhaps it’s forgiving someone you’ve been keeping at arm’s length for a long time. You tell yourself you just can’t forgive that individual, and it’s eating you up inside. Maybe taking a reconciling step toward that individual is something God is calling you to do.

Maybe someone in your life is traveling with an addiction, and it’s destroying his life and his family. Everyone is living with it but not saying anything. An intervention needs to happen. Perhaps that intervention would happen if you speak up.

Or maybe someone you know really needs to know what Jesus Christ has done for him. Bob, a friend in my Bible study group, came in to me one day to talk. He said, “I need some coaching. My relative is dying, and he doesn’t know Christ. I need to talk to him about Jesus. I don’t want him to die without the peace of knowing Christ.” So I did a little coaching with Bob that day.

A few days later I received an exciting phone call from Bob. “You won’t believe what happened! I visited my relative and took my brother along, who is an unbeliever. I shared the Gospel with him, and he prayed to Jesus with me. And then he died. The amazing thing is, my brother for whom I’ve been praying for a long time, asked me to tell him some more about this Jesus Christ!”

WOW! Power along the way!

Get up, and try this principle out. I dare you to walk in the general direction of where God might be calling you to serve Him. Believe that God will give you an infusion of His strength that will build your faith greater than you’ve ever experienced it before.

If you are a person who trusts Jesus Christ for your salvation but you’re feeling stuck in your faith these days – it’s gotten rather humdrum and is lacking vitality – then I plead with you to get up out of your seat or out of your pew. The Spirit is here! Ask yourself what needs to get started or what needs to get stopped in your life that would bring glory to God. Please stop the waiting. Get up and start walking in the general direction and experience God’s power along the way. Let me tell you something, you will find your faith growing stronger and stronger as you go. Lives will be changed because of your efforts through the power the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Steve Kramer