The Supreme Sacrifice

Romans 5:6-11

Sacrifice. What is so important in life to you that you would die to protect it or obtain it? Who is so precious to you that you would sacrifice everything to rescue them from danger?

Love involves sacrifice. There are many examples of sacrifice. We think of an athlete who disciplines their body in the rhythms of life to maximize their ability in the designated sport. We think of a parent who sacrifices greatly to protect or improve the quality of life for their child. Or missionaries who leave their homeland, family, and comfort share the life-changing message of Jesus’ love with another culture. On this particular weekend we think of soldiers who put their lives on the line to gain or protect our freedom. They might have even paid the ultimate sacrifice so we can enjoy our freedom.

Today I want to talk with you about God’s supreme sacrifice in offering Jesus to us, and Jesus’ supreme sacrifice in going to the cross so we might be forgiven, reconciled to God, and live with Him by faith in a relationship of love.

We know the verse, John 3:16 and 17, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life, for the Father did not send Jesus into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

In 1967, a man named Dennis Hensley wrote a fictional short story, which has been read and retold countless times. It is called, “The Railway Switchman and His Child.”

“There was once a swing bridge that spanned a large river. During most of the day, the bridge sat with its length running up and down the river parallel with the banks allowing ships to pass freely on both sides of the bridge. But at certain times each day, a train would come along and the bridge would be turned sideways across the river allowing the train to cross it. A switchman sat in a shack on one side of the river where he operated the control to turn the bridge and lock it into place as the train crossed.

“One evening as the switchman was waiting for the last train of the day to come, he looked off into the distance through dimming twilight and caught sight of the train lights approaching. He stepped onto the control bridge and waited until the train was within a prescribed distance, then he turned the bridge into position. However, to his horror, he found the locking control did not work. If the bridge was not securely in position, it would cause the train to jump the track and crash into the river. This last train of the day would be a passenger train with many people aboard.

He left the bridge and hurried across to the other side of the river where there was another lever switch he could hold to operate the lock manually. He would have to hold the lever back firmly as the train crossed.

“He could hear the rumble of the train approaching now. He took hold of the lever and leaned backward to apply his weight locking the bridge. He kept applying the pressure to keep the mechanism locked. Many lives depended on this man’s strength.

“Then, coming across the bridge from the direction of the control shack, he heard a sound that made his blood run cold. ‘Daddy? Where are you?’ His four-year-old son was crossing the bridge looking for him. His first impulse was to cry out to the child, ‘Run! Run boy!’ But the train was too close. He knew his tiny legs would never make it across the bridge in time. The man almost left the lever to snatch up his son and carry him to safety, but he realized he will not get back to the lever in time if he saved his son. Either many people on the train would die, or his own son must die.

“He took but a moment to make his decision. The train sped safely and swiftly on its way, and no one on board the train was even aware of the tiny, broken body thrown mercilessly into the river by the onrushing train. Nor were they aware of the pitiful figure of the sobbing father still clinging to the locking lever long after the train had passed the bridge. They didn’t see the man walking home slowly to tell his wife that their son had died.”

If you feel the emotions surging through the father’s heart in this tragic story, then you begin to understand the feelings of our heavenly Father when He sacrificed Jesus, His Son, to bridge the gap between us and God. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world . . .” No wonder the day Jesus was crucified creation turned dark and the earth shook, for the Lord of creation, the Lord of life, the Son of God, was being sacrificed. Why? There’s only one answer. The love of the Father God for all people in the world. The sacrificial love of God for you.

But it wasn’t just the Father who made a great sacrifice. Jesus himself also made a supreme sacrifice, and Jesus’ sacrifice was more than the moments on the cross of Calvary. In Philippians 2 it said that when Jesus came to earth, He emptied Himself of all His power and glory. Like the gospel song, “He left the splendor of heaven knowing His destiny was the lonely hill of Golgotha, there to lay down His life for me. If that isn’t love, then heaven is a myth. If that isn’t love . . .”

Jesus became a man and experienced the limits of our humanness. He knew what it was like to feel nauseated or vomit. He knew what it was like to spit and cough. Yes, He required human elimination. He experienced fatigue, pain, hunger, the perpetration of injustice. He knew every human emotion. It wasn’t just the agony of Passion week on the cross when Jesus was beaten, whipped, and pierced with spikes through His wrists and His feet to attach Him to a wooden cross and hang suspended between heaven and earth.

It also is true, as it says in Romans five, that Jesus died for the helpless. Jesus died for the ungodly. Jesus died for sinners like me. Sinners not only by my immorality or failures, but also by our defiant rebellion. He bridged the gap. Isaiah 53 sheds more light on it. It says Jesus carried every form of curse, rebellion, and brokenness in His body. It says “He took our infirmities and sicknesses onto Himself. He bore our sorrows and carried our grief. He lifted our guilt and took our shame.” The full fury of evil’s worst was vented on Jesus, the Son of God, so you and I, in faith today, can say we are more than conquerors because of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial love.

It was a battle between God and Satan. God sacrificially loved us in a way to give us victory. Jesus knew no sin but became sin that through Him we might become the righteousness of God. The perfect Son of God, the perfect Son of Man bore the guilt of all of humanity – not only so we’re not condemned, but also that we might be reconciled into the family of God.

How can we respond to such a great sacrifice? Paul says we do it by offering our lives as a living sacrifice back to God. In Romans 12, Paul writes, “I appeal to you by the mercies of God, present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, which is your spiritual expression of worship.”

He wrote also in II Corinthians 5, “. . . so we might no longer live for ourselves but for Jesus who died and rose for us.”

Recently I read the bio story of a man named Dr. Mark Jacobson and his wife Linda. Mark was a brilliant man. He graduated the valedictorian at Harvard University and went on to the University of Minnesota medical school where he again was top student in his class and gave the valedictorian address at the graduation. An incredibly brilliant man, he felt the Spirit of God calling him to another culture, to Arusha Tanzania, a place of the world with great health care needs and great human suffering. Each year the hospital in Arusha, Tanzania takes care of 35,000 patients. Each patient pays one dollar so the total income of the hospital in Arusha is $35,000 paid by the patients and their families for their medical care. The patients feel good and self-respecting about paying those medical bills.

Dr. Jacobson could have used his intelligence and education for a lucrative medical practice in the United States. However, he heard the Spirit call him to follow Jesus and offer his life as a living sacrifice to make a difference in the lives of the men and women, boys and girls of Tanzania. A living sacrifice.

We can learn a lesson from a story in history. “During his reign, King Frederick William III of Prussia found himself in trouble. Wars had been costly, and in trying to build the nation, he was seriously short of finances. He couldn’t disappoint his people, and to capitulate to the enemy was unthinkable. After careful reflection, he decided to ask the women of Prussia to bring their jewelry of gold and silver to be melted down for their country. For each ornament received, he determined to exchange a decoration of iron as a symbol of his gratitude. On each decoration would be inscribed, ‘I Gave Gold for Iron, 18l3.’

“The response was overwhelming. Even more important, these women prized their gifts from the king more highly than their former jewelry. The reason, of course, is clear. The decorations were proof they had sacrificed for their king. Indeed, it became unfashionable to wear jewelry. Thus, was established the Order of the Iron Cross. Members wore no ornaments except a cross of iron for all to see.” (Taken from “I Gave Gold for Iron” by Dr. Paul Chappell).

So also for us who belong to King Jesus. We exchange the trinkets of our former life for the way of the cross. Some people call it the cruciform life, the way of living sacrifice for Jesus Christ.

Preacher and teacher Fred Craddock says, “To give my life for Christ appears glorious. To pour myself up for others, to pay the ultimate sacrifice of martyrdom. I’ll do it! I’m ready, Lord, ready to go out in a blaze of glory. We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,000 bill, laying it on the table, and saying, Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving you my all. But the reality for most of us is, the Lord sends us to the bank and asks us to cash in a thousand-dollar bill for a pile of quarters. And we go through life giving out $.25 here and $.50 there. We listen to the neighbor kid’s troubles instead of telling him to get lost. We serve on a volunteer committee for the sake of an organization. We give a cup of cold water to a shaky old man in a nursing home. Helpless little mundane acts of service expressing love, the same love King Jesus has poured into our hearts.

Usually giving our lives to Jesus Christ isn’t glorious. It is done in little acts of love $.25 at a time. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory; it’s much harder to live the Christian life little by little, a day at a time over the long haul.

“God so loved the world he gave Jesus to us that we who believe in him might not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God’s love for us is so great that He sacrificed Jesus, and Jesus laid down His life in love.

What should we do in response? Confess our sin and ask Jesus’ forgiveness. Confess your faith in Jesus as your Savior and Lord and God. Thank Jesus for His supreme sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. Invite Jesus’ Spirit to live within you. Thank Him for indwelling your life, and rise each day to offer your life as a living sacrifice to build the kingdom of God. Amen.

Rev. Lee Laaveg

Get a Grip on Contentment

Back in the 1980s, I really liked a song by the band U2. The title was “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” The song sounds a bit like a personal lament, like a Psalm out of the Bible in a way. Something is missing in this person’s life, and he can’t find it. Perhaps it is satisfaction, perhaps contentment. After all, contentment is something we all long for in our lives, don’t we? Yet it seems to elude so many people. I heard someone say one time, “Contentment makes poor men rich; discontentment makes rich men poor.” Someone else said, “Discontent, like ink poured into a bottle of water, turns all to blackness.” It can have a really nasty effect on us and turn things dark.

What’s behind the discontentment we sometimes experience? One word that comes to mind is envy. It’s an age-old human problem. Proverbs says, “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot” (Prov. 14:30). Again and again throughout Old and New Testament we see the problems attached to envy. For instance, Cain was envious of his brother, Abel. Sarah was envious of Hagar, who could have a child though Sarah could not. King Saul was envious and jealous of David’s popularity and chased him out in the wilderness to kill him.

In the New Testament, we find the Pharisees envious of Jesus. Pontius Pilate even remarked on it as Jesus stood trial before him. Envy has the power to bring out the worst in us. Essayist Joseph Epstein once said, “Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.”

When the Grand Hall in Florence, Italy was being decorated a long time ago, outstanding artists were asked to submit drawings. Leonardo da Vinci, the artist of his time, seemed to be the man for the job. However, a young man by the name of Michelangelo submitted some sketches, and they were magnificent! The committee was so enthusiastic, they gave the job to him. When the news of this choice reached Leonardo da Vinci, the old artist went into a decline from which he never fully recovered. Evidently, envy of his young competitor took its toll on da Vinci.

On and on it goes, even amongst us in this day and age. We are envious of the person who got the promotion at the office instead of us, the guy on the team who gets more playing time than we do, the woman at the office who receives more attention from the boss than the others. Envy can kick in and cause us to do, think, and feel some ugly things. This battle goes on inside of us because of our sinful nature. It all begins when we compare ourselves with other people. Our ego, selfishness, and pride kick in.

External triggers can get us going. Outside sources may point out what we’re lacking in our lives and make us feel like we’re missing out. Turn on the television set and you see commercials telling you that you need their product. You will be happy if you only purchase this, use this, take this, eat this, drink this, drive this, or wear this. On Facebook people post highlights of them having the best of times. Sometimes we read them and think, Look at the pictures! Boy, I wish I could go on a vacation like that! If only I had a bit more money. My life isn’t half as fun and exciting. I wish I had those kinds of friends. I’m really missing out.

There’s financial envy too – I wish I had their income, as we watch the neighbor build a big and beautiful house.

Or relational envy – I wish I had friends or family like hers.

Or circumstantial envy – I wish I had a spouse, as I sit and watch couples having a good time.

Envy can get us into such trouble. Every time someone feels green with envy, they are ripe for trouble. It can ruin your attitude, steal your joy, and move you to do some unwise things like purchase things you can’t really afford in order to keep up with others, or talk other people down who have what you don’t have, or wish ill will toward those who have what you want.

It can wreck our relationship with God. We become upset with Him and blame Him for our unhappiness. Lord, you shorted me! you think to yourself.

So how do we get on the road to contentment and leave discontentment behind?

The Apostle Paul, in the early days of Christianity, wrote some words in a letter about contentment. It’s a personal testimony, really. It’s meant to teach the people about where to find true contentment. Found in a book called Philippians in the New Testament, it’s kind of a thank-you letter and includes some teaching for their edification.

Paul really loved the Philippians. They had been very supportive of him. Near the end of the letter, after saying thanks for the gift they’d sent him, Paul says, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances, I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need” (Phil. 4:10-13).

The first thing that jumps out at me in this passage is the personal pronoun he uses. I know, and I have learned. Paul is speaking from personal experience. He’s not simply laying some philosophical statements on them that he dreamed up on a mountaintop. This statement comes from one who has experienced the ups and downs of life, just like you and me. In fact, his downs were probably worse than any I’ll ever have.

The Apostle Paul basically lived the life of hand-to-mouth each day, traveling and doing work for the cause of Jesus Christ in the world. But his life wasn’t always like that. He lived a fairly comfortable existence until he met Jesus on a road outside Damascus. His life was never quite the same afterward. He found grace in Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of God, the assurance of everlasting life, and a relationship with God. Paul also received a calling, a new purpose in life – to serve Jesus in this world.

Paul had been on the go for the cause of Christ ever since. It was not always easy, and he did not always have good times. In one of his letters, Paul writes a bit about some of the hard times. He says, “Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches” (II Cor. 11:24-28).

Paul had a very rough time! He wasn’t just sitting around studying his Bible! He wrote his letter to the Philippians from jail. It is an amazing letter, reflecting such joy and contentment. One has to wonder where his joy is coming from.

Earlier in this particular letter, Paul reflects on the things he gave up: “I consider them to be nothing in light of what I have now.” He follows up with, “I’ve learned to be content.” He continues, “Along the way I have learned the secret to facing life’s ups and downs.”

What stories were in his mind, I wonder, as he wrote this statement? Was he thinking about lying in a Philippian jail the first time he visited the area after being arrested for causing trouble? Was he thinking about other times when he was shipwrecked and so on? I have learned through personal experience, he is saying, (the classroom of life). Then he says: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Athletes often use the statement, “I can do all things in Christ.” I can run faster, pitch better, hit harder. But this really isn’t the intent of the context of Paul’s statement. It’s about facing circumstances, going through hard times, failures, and disappointments as well as navigating the good times in a healthy manner and finding the strength through Christ to overcome trials as well as temptations. He says, All I looked to for security and contentment is absolutely overrated compared to having Jesus Christ in my life. By trusting and obeying Him, I have found inexhaustible resources for living life with contentment, through ups and downs.

Paul says, first of all, I found that in all circumstances with Christ in my life – good times or bad – weakness or strong – Christ is faithful. He is always there with me strengthening me, carrying me with His Spirit’s power. I face nothing alone. He has never deserted me or left me like an orphan to face matters in life. I know Christ has prepared a place for me. He’s given me a glimpse of what awaits me when I breathe my last in this old world. I’ve placed my trust in Him, and the best is yet to come. He’s prepared a place in His Father’s house for me in heaven.

And so Paul can say confidently to those Philippians, “To live is Christ, to die is absolutely gain.” As one places his or her faith in Jesus Christ, they are heaven bound. They know the big picture now. Paul would say, As I’ve lived with Him and followed Him as His student, living in His Holy Word and talking to the other disciples who walk with Him, Jesus has taught me what makes for contentment and how to avoid pitfalls that can pull me into being discontented. What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and wreck his soul? What is really important in life, anyway?

Giving yourself away, Jesus teaches, is where real life, contentment, and fulfillment is found. He points me to a loving Father. When I’m worried, He says, “Don’t worry about what you eat or drink or wear. Look at the birds of the fields; God takes care of them! You’re more valuable than they” (Matt. 6:25-27). He loves you. He knows what you need.

He teaches me gratitude for what I have, pointing out that God is busy in His creation. He is providing for me, and I need to count my blessings. When I let Him down with my thoughts, my words, and my actions, He points me to the cross and tells me, You are forgiven. I love you.

This is what Paul would say to us. The secret of contentment is living and following Jesus Christ, who gave His life on the cross for you and me, then rose from the grave. He is present and available to live with us all the way into eternity. This is where contentment begins and ends – Christ!

In his autobiography, Just as I Am, Dr. Billy Graham tells a story that speaks to this truth of where to find contentment. “Several years ago, Ruth and I had a vivid illustration of this (contentment) on an island in the Caribbean. I have a friend who is one of the wealthiest men in the world. He asked us to come to his lavish home for lunch. He was 75 years old, and throughout the entire meal he seemed to be close to tears. ‘I’m the most miserable man in the world,’ he said. ‘Out there is my yacht. I can go anywhere I
want to. I have my private plane, my helicopters, I have everything I want to make life happy. Yet I am miserable . . .’

Billy Graham says, “We talked to him and prayed with him trying to point him to Christ, who alone gives lasting meaning to life. Then we went down the hill to a small cottage where we were staying. That afternoon, the pastor of the local church came to call on us. He was an Englishman, and he, too, was a widower like the first man. He spent most of his time taking care of his two invalid sisters. He was full of enthusiasm and love for Jesus and others. ‘I don’t have two pounds to my name,’ he said with a smile, but I am the happiest man on this island!”

Billy Graham relates how he asked his wife Ruth after they left, “Who do you think is the richer man?” She didn’t have to reply because they both already knew the answer.

I have a friend named Frank, a fellow pastor, who started a recovery ministry years ago for alcoholics and addicts. Our congregation began financially supporting this ministry, which is a few miles away from us. It’s been a rough, challenging, and effective ministry. Frank will share stories with me over coffee that cause me to shake my head. He and his wife have been living for years hand-to-mouth, month-by-month. Somehow or another God provides and keeps them going. They have displayed such great faith.

Frank’s wife, Lois, recently passed away at a rather young age and Frank insisted on preaching at her funeral because she wanted him to. In the midst of his message, he told us this: “Through Lois I’ve learned to have faith in Christ’s promises. He’s been taking care of Lois and me for a lot of years. He surprised us not only spiritually but even materially along the way as we have entrusted everything to Him, and He’s kept us going in this ministry.” Then he stopped and said to us, “And you can trust Him, too!”

Frank found contentment – not an easy life, but a contented life following Jesus. He learned the truth of Paul’s statement, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

And so can you, my dear friends. Trust Christ. Amen.
Rev. Steve Kramer

Get a Grip on Parenting

II Timothy 1:1-7

I’d like to share a quote with you on parenting I have come to appreciate, and I think you will too. It was written by pastor and author Chuck Swindoll.  “Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.”

As Christian parents, Julie and I worked to deposit many things into our children, such as our love for them, how much we value them, our wisdom, our knowledge. We tried to give them our best. We also passed along our love of music, learning, reading, baseball, and the Minnesota Twins. Our love for our extended family. Our values, service and respect, kindness and compassion, love of neighbor, citizenship, acting rightly, doing one’s best, working hard, being honest. At the end of our lives when Julie and I are in heaven, we will pass along some of our possessions to them through our will as well.

We have also passed on our faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, it is at the top of our list. We want our children to always trust in Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life. We want them to follow Him, serve Him, and shine for Him. I’m glad to say they do.

It all began at the baptismal font when they were infants. We promised God we’d do our best, and it continues even today as they are grown and have their own children. We love being grandparents and want to pass the same spiritual legacy onto our grandchildren as well. After all, without Jesus Christ they would be lost now and for eternity. They’d be lacking in the fruit of the Spirit – joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control – which enriches one’s life and their relationships with others. Without Jesus they’d be living without knowing God’s true purpose for their lives.

As followers of Jesus, we were taught by our parents who modeled the importance of parenting. It is a sacred trust from God. He loves our kids even more than we do and wants them to follow Jesus Christ. Someone once said, The home is God’s built-in training facility to relay the truth of Jesus diligently and consistently. So how does one get a grip on this high, challenging calling called parenting?

Today, we read the Apostle Paul’s encouragement to young Timothy about his Jewish mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois, who took their calling quite seriously. They were a real blessing to Timothy, and they passed on some good things to him. Good deposits.

Of course, they loved Timothy and saw to his physical, emotional, and intellectual needs. Family was an important part of the Jewish culture. We read about the importance of family in the books of Psalms and Proverbs. The Old Testament has many stories about family – parents raising their kids, taking care of them, and loving them.

Eunice and Lois also saw to Timothy’s spiritual needs. They introduced him to Jesus Christ and raised him in the faith. They wanted him to know and follow Jesus and to have eternal life. They recognized the value of the Christian faith from their own experience. Lois and Eunice had become believers in Jesus in the early days of Christianity when they heard the Good News of Jesus during Paul’s first visit to their area. They lived in a place called Lystra. They were Galatians. Eunice was married to a non-Jewish man. We don’t know if he even had a faith life.

Paul, on his second visit, was so impressed with young Timothy and his faith in Jesus that he took him on his mission trip and mentored him. Timothy eventually became Paul’s right hand man in his ministry and spent many a night, I suppose, in jail with Paul. When they’d enter communities and share the Good News of Jesus, they would often be arrested. Timothy learned what it meant to deny oneself, pick up the cross and follow Jesus. Paul came to love him like a son.

Years later when Timothy was leading his own church, Paul wrote him a letter of encouragement. He had heard Timothy was having troubles, and he wanted to strengthen him in his resolve and his leadership. The letter was written from prison. These words could very well be considered Paul’s final words before his death.

In this touching letter, Paul makes a point of talking to Timothy about his mom and his grandma, and the positive influence they had on Timothy. He writes, “I am reminded of your sincere genuine faith, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice.”

Paul is reminding Timothy that his saving faith was passed on to him by his mother and grandmother who shared the gospel, the Good News of Jesus. We know, of course, that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the power the Holy Spirit, but the Spirit has His tools. I would imagine they prayed for that boy as he was growing up. Lord, may Timothy grow up to trust in you and serve you all his life. Help me to lead him on the right paths and bring him along to enjoy a personal relationship with you just as I have. The Jewish believers were people of deep prayer.

Even before becoming Christians, Lois and Eunice had regular, set-aside times for prayer each day like any good Jew. They were people of prayer. They modeled what it meant to follow Jesus, and brought Timothy to worship each Sunday. Lois and Eunice modeled what it meant to walk obediently before God, walk in the footsteps of Jesus, and to love God and love neighbor as best as they could.

Children learn what’s important to their parents as they observe their actions and attitudes in living out their own life. Faith is caught as well as taught. They knew from their Jewish roots a bit of wisdom from the book of Proverbs 22:6,
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and he will not stray from it.”

Timothy was faithfully trained to follow Christ’s great commandment –
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37, 39).
“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33).
“I (Jesus) am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6).

Timothy was blessed with a mother and a grandmother who loved him and wanted him to trust Jesus. Maybe you were too. Thank God for the parents in your life.

I know I was blessed in that way. My mother and father brought me to the baptismal font as a baby in 1954. They promised to raise me in the covenant of my baptism. As I grew, they taught me to pray, and they prayed for me. They brought me to worship and Sunday school each week and helped me prepare my weekly lessons. I fondly remember our Saturday night routine of taking a bath, polishing my shoes, and sitting at the kitchen table with Mom as she prepared to teach her Sunday school class and I worked on my lesson for the next day. When it was finished, we put away our materials and watched the TV show Gunsmoke. Then it was bedtime.

As I grew into my junior high years, Mom and I worked on my memory assignments of Luther’s Small Catechism. On Confirmation Day, Dad and Mom stood next to me in front of the church as I signed my baptismal certificate as an affirmation of my faith.

After confirmation, Mom and Dad never let me off the hook. The discipling was not done, and they knew it. Each week I went to worship and High School Sunday school. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. They never stopped praying. As I fought for my independence in my rebellious teen years, I gave them plenty cause to worry, but their love for me never stopped. Neither did the prayers and the questions about where I was in my walk with Christ. There was never a doubt, we were going to worship on Sunday as a family, whether I felt like it or not. They saw this as their calling, and I was blessed.

My mom is in heaven now, but Dad, if you’re listening today, thank you.

Later in Paul’s letter, he brings up Timothy’s childhood again in regard to the importance of sticking with the Bible in his life and ministry. He calls Timothy to hang onto the basics handed down to him by his mom and grandma in “the sacred writings,” as he describes them. Listen to these words:
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (II Tim. 3:14-17).

They passed on the family-of-God stories to Timothy, their love for the Psalms, the wisdom of the Proverbs, and the words of the prophets. They passed on the sacred writings of the Old Testament, which was the Bible for the early Christians and the first Scripture they had. They learned the big picture of what God had accomplished for a sinful world through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. They were always looking toward Jesus, and now they looked back through the eyes of Jesus at the Old Testament.

These writings had lessons to be learned for following Christ. Paul seemed to be saying, Timothy, the Scripture your mom and grandma taught you changed your life, and it can still change the lives of people in your church. It’s powerful stuff! Stick with it! Keep feeding your congregation the solid food of God’s Word. Paul reminds Timothy that Scripture is inspired by God, literally meaning “God breathed.” Just as God breathed His life into Adam in the book of Genesis and gave him life, so God breathed His Spirit into Scripture. It’s alive and it’s powerful.

• It’s useful for teaching – it tells us the truths about Jesus.
• It’s good for reproof – it tells us when we’re being knuckleheads, when we’re going wrong.
• It’s good for correction – it points us in the right direction and not be a knucklehead.
• It’s good for training in righteousness – it teaches us what it means to live God’s way. It prepares and equips us for service in the kingdom of God and makes us useful to God and the people around us.

Stick with Scripture, Timothy, the Scripture your mom and grandma passed on to you.

Again, we see behind Timothy’s faith was a mom and a grandma who passed along their love for God’s Word, which they valued in their own lives. Now the seeds that were planted had taken root. The boy grew up to love Jesus and serve Him.

You might wonder what became of Timothy. As his right-hand man, Paul had a lot of complimentary things to say about Timothy’s service in the kingdom of God and about what a trustworthy servant of Jesus he was. This young man made a major impact for the cause of Christ in this world, and we know he stuck with it to the very end. Church tradition says he was martyred for his faithful service to the Lord Jesus. Just think about it, behind this faithful man of God was a mother and a grandmother who, I’m sure, Jesus welcomed into His heaven with these words, “Well done, good and faithful servants.”

Moms and Dads, you have been given a great calling in life to raise your children to trust, follow, and serve Jesus Christ. It is an enormous privilege to raise your children to be followers of Jesus Christ. It’s challenging, I know – perhaps the greatest challenge you’ll ever face in life. The good news I have for you is God knows and has provided help for your mission.

First of all, you have been given a promise by Jesus: “Lo, I am with you always to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). He promises to be with those who He commissions to make disciples. Be confident. Lean on me. You are not alone.

Furthermore, He has given you the Holy Spirit, who gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies a person with the Good News of Jesus. You plant the seeds, and the Spirit will take care of the growth. The seed is good and powerful. Keep planting the seeds of God’s Word, God’s Good News.

We also have the power of prayer. Your heavenly Father loves you and is available to strengthen and guide you as you surrender yourself to Him in prayer. Keep praying.

Finally, we have His all-sufficient grace. We receive forgiveness when we fail, strength and power when we’re weak. Billy Graham once said, “Parenting is the most important responsibility most of us will ever face, and none of it us does it perfectly.” So there is grace.

Moms, dads, grandmas, and grandpas – your mission field is right before you: your children and your grandchildren. The commission has not changed. Go. Make disciples of them so one day they will look back on their lives with Christ and say, Thank you, Lord, for parents who gave their all to bring me to You. Amen.

Rev. Steve Kramer

Get a Grip on Soul Care

Matthew 11:28-30

Let me tell you a tragic story. When I was younger, I owned a beautiful little 1965 VW bug. My grandfather gave me the car my senior year of college in 1976. It had been his for many years – it only had 30,000 miles on it. I loved that car, and for many years I took good care of it and it took good care of me. About nine years later when our firstborn arrived, Julie and I decided we needed to become a one-car family. So I ended up selling it to a neighbor who purchased it for his teenage daughters to drive. They were so excited to get this cute little car!

Unfortunately, since I lived across the street from them, I began to notice the car was not being taken care of very well. Little by little I watched it disintegrate before my very eyes as these girls drove it around and mistreated it. One day, when it was parked at the high school, some boys jumped on the side boards and broke them off the side of the car. I noticed dents and scratches. The car looked terrible.

Then one day I asked them why they weren’t driving the car. One of them said, “We didn’t know we had to check the oil.” They had burned the engine up. Tragic! I hope those girls learned a valuable lesson – maintenance matters.

But maintenance is not just important for cars, it’s also for all kinds of things, including people. The lack of it can cause some major breakdowns in our lives. Our bodies, for instance, need maintenance. They get tired, rundown, and exhausted if we don’t give them proper rest, diet, and exercise.

Our minds need maintenance as well. They can get tired when they never turn off. Many of us live with a constant information overload. I came across an article that read, “If you feel overloaded, you’re not crazy – you’re normal. You may feel distracted, frustrated, or half sick because the average office worker gets 220 messages a day in emails, memos, phone calls, interruptions, and advertisements. No wonder a survey of thirteen hundred managers on four continents found one third of managers suffer from ill health as a direct consequence of stress associated with an information overload.”

We find ourselves checking messages on our cell phones all the time – first thing in the morning, last thing at night. I find it gets me more tired because sometimes I get messages late, they bug me, and I find I can’t sleep at night.

Facebook is so popular these days. I recently read a story in the newspaper about the effects of facebooking. The American Psychological Association recently released a study on social media use, and its impact on American stress levels. Nowadays 43% of Americans say they check their emails, texts, or social media accounts constantly, and their stress levels are paying the price for it. They’re higher than the average person by several percentage points. People spend an enormous amount of time in front of a computer screen and the television screen with all kinds of junk on, which will take a toll on one’s mind.

Finally, our soul needs maintenance. In the early days of Methodism, John Wesley had class meetings, kind of the original small groups. At those meetings, Wesley always had people ask this question of each other, “How is it with your soul?”

How would you answer that question? The soul is the deepest part of your whole inner being. It is a combination of your whole person. It’s what makes you, you. Dallas Willard, a respected Christian scholar on soul matters, says, “The human soul seeks to combine our will, our mind, and body into an integral whole person. It seeks to connect us with other people, with creation, and with God himself who made us to be rooted in Him the way a tree is rooted by a life-giving stream.”

Our soul has the capacity to pull together all our parts into a whole life. It’s something like a program that runs a computer – you don’t usually notice it until it gets messed up. Our souls crave refreshment and rest. It needs God. As Augustine said in the early days of Christendom, “Our souls are restless until they rest in Thee.” And when it starts to disintegrate, all of life gets crazy.

There are indicators of soul fatigue in people’s lives. For instance, things seem to bother you more than they should during those times and it’s difficult to make up your mind about even simple decisions. You may have impulses to eat or drink or spend or crave that are harder to resist than they otherwise would be. You’re likely to favor short-term gains in ways that will leave you with long-term costs. Your judgment suffers. You find yourself with less courage. You feel like you are coming apart at the seams, and you feel far from God.

I came across the testimony of a fatigued and disintegrated soul in a book I read recently. The author writes, “When I was young, I had finished college and started life. I was married, had children and got a job as a financial analyst for an investment firm in Manhattan. I monitored the world. Currencies were my specialty. I placed bets on when the yen was going up and when the euro was going down. I had monitors that kept me in touch with every time zone every hour of the day. My cell phone was set on vibrate 24 hours a day because a window can open and close at any time.

“My boss was a remarkable man, one of the inventors of the hedge fund, which can enable investors to make money on anything, whether the price goes up or down. Everybody who worked in the firm was 20 years younger than he was. We would sometimes sleep on cots in our offices to be able to pull the trigger on deals in a heartbeat.

“I got more money for Christmas bonuses than my dad ever dreamed of making in a lifetime. My family lived in an apartment not far from Central Park. My kids went to a private school. We bought a place in the suburbs to escape to on the weekends. I’d wake up at 5:00 A.M., start a coffee IV, and live on adrenalin all day long. My wife did most of the day-to-day stuff with the kids. We had a kind of inside/outside arrangement where I was Mr. Outside.

“I had only one secret: I heard voices. Only one voice, actually. It came at random. I could never make out what it was saying. Whenever it spoke, something else was going on, or someone else was making noise, or I was on my way somewhere. It bothered me because I couldn’t figure it out. When I would be still to try to catch it, I heard nothing. It was like footsteps behind a character in a movie. As soon as the character stops to see if there really are footsteps, the footsteps stopped too.

“One day, though, when I got home from work, I heard it clearly. It said, ‘I am your soul, and I am dying.’ I didn’t hear it again for many years.”

Too many damaged souls are living in our soul-damaged world these days. The problem is, the world doesn’t teach us to pay attention to what really matters. You and I need to remember that the most important thing about us is not the things we achieve. It is the person we become. So what are we to do for soul care, to get a grip on our souls?

In today’s reading from Matthew 11, we find Jesus offering help for the soul. It’s an invitation to people who were getting jerked around by life and trying to meet impossible demands. First He says to them, “Come to me.” Who is me? We’re talking about Jesus Christ, the One who lived and died and rose again, who has all authority in heaven and on earth, who loves you and gave His life for you at the cross for your forgiveness. He’s the specialist in soul care. Because He made you, He knows what makes you work and what you need. He says, Come to me. Move toward me. Trust me with your life. Follow me and I will give you rest. He is speaking to those who are weary and feeling burdened, those who are tired of carrying such a heavy load in life.

What kind of rest is He describing? Some might think He is talking about our eternal rest in heaven. It could be, I suppose. We talk about a person who has passed away by saying, “Rest in peace.” Someone might wonder if Jesus is talking about physical rest. No, because we know following Jesus involves caring a cross, which is not restful.

What Jesus is talking about is rest for your soul. Listen to His words: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:29).

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me . . . Back in those days, a student would symbolically accept a teacher’s yoke – submit to the teacher, become a disciple, an apprentice, a learner. Jesus is saying, Learn from me; be schooled by me; be my apprentice; listen, watch, and apply. Don’t be afraid. I’m gentle and humble. You can trust me. What comes to mind as He says these words is the image of Him riding into Jerusalem humbly on a donkey to sacrifice His life for you and me.

. . . and you will find rest for your soul. You will have refreshment and renewal of your inner person. You will be strengthened to face the things life throws at you.

My yoke is easy and my burden is light. You won’t be oppressed or crushed by my yoke because you are yoked to Me, to my indestructible, resurrected life. This statement is an invitation to come and learn from Jesus how to live our total lives, how to find rest for our souls, how to invest all our time and energies of will, mind, and body as He did. To approach life with the same general strategy as His by following His preparations and habits that enabled Him. To receive His Father’s constant and effective support while doing His Father’s will, making Jesus able to keep His calm and His peace in His crazy, demanding ministry.

Jesus had spiritual habits that the disciples observed and picked up on just like He wanted them to. For instance, notice how Jesus was constantly turning off the noise in His life. He would often be by Himself for silence and solitude. Jesus knew the power of being still, of disconnecting from the noise and simply being in the presence of His heavenly Father. He knew how to surrender Himself and do absolutely nothing but being with God. Scripture gives us this truth earlier on – “Be still and know that I am God.”

Eugene Peterson, a Christian author whom I enjoy, says, “Two commands direct us from the small-minded world of self-help to the large world of God’s help. First, ‘Come, behold the works of the Lord.’ Take a long scrutinizing look at what God is doing. This requires patient attentiveness and energetic concentration. Everybody else is noisier than God. The headlines, the neon lights, the amplifying systems of the world announce human works. But what about God’s works? They are unadvertised but also inescapable, if we simply look. They are everywhere. They are marvelous. But God has no public relations agency. He mounts no publicity campaign to get our attention. He simply invites us to be still and look.

“The second command is, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ Be still. Quit rushing through the streets long enough to become aware that there is more to life than your little self-help enterprises. When we are noisy and hurried, we are incapable of intimacy – deep, complex, personal relationships with God and others. If God is the living center of redemption, it is essential that we be in touch with and responsive to that personal will. If God has a will for this world and we want to be in on it, we must be still long enough to find out what it is (for we certainly are not going to learn by watching the evening news). A wise man had a wise word about this subject when he said, ‘Nothing was ever accomplished in a stampede.’”

Be still and know that I am God. When is the last time you took a walk out in God’s creation and just took notice of His marvelous work? Or found a quiet place to just be silent, just be with God.

Jesus also meditated on the Word of God. The wilderness temptations, the pressures – He always had a Word to lean on for strength. We know that from the temptation story. Scripture was in His heart! He was always off praying. Before He went to the cross, He went to the garden to pray. He prayed for all kinds of things He was facing.

Corporate worship. Scripture says He went to the synagogue “as was His custom.” The disciples learned, applied, and found it to be a valuable teaching for their souls. Therefore, they passed it onto others, and it has been passed down through the ages. People have been discovering it is good stuff for the soul, which is so prone to being fatigued.

My personal question for you today is, How is your soul these days? Is it fatigued? Is it well rested? Is it totally out of commission?

The appeal today is really quite simple: Jesus wants to give you rest for your soul. Take His yoke. Learn from Him. Enter into His habits. You can trust Him, because He gave His life for you at the cross to restore your relationship with God. And He rose from the grave – God’s affirmation. He wants you to be able to answer that question, How is it with your soul? with, It is well with my soul, just like the hymn.

Years ago, a book was written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which was a classic. It was entitled, “The Cost of Discipleship.” Have you ever stopped to consider the cost of non discipleship – a shrinking, shriveling, fatigued soul with no strength and no joy?

I invite you – I encourage you – to sign up for Christ’s soul care class today. Learn from Him, and you will find rest for your soul. This is His promise. Amen.

Rev. Steve Kramer