God’s First Marriage

Genesis 2:18-25

Grace, mercy, and peace are always for you from God our father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Would you associate the words “paradise” and “marriage” in the same sentence? In American culture, we grew up listening to Snow White from Walt Disney’s 1937 animated movie classic singing the song, “Someday my prince will come” It creates a utopian idea of love, a longing of the heart for a euphoric, romantic connection that will last forever. This is natural. In fact, it is how God created us.

Today I want us to look at Genesis 2, the story of God’s first marriage joining Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the garden of paradise. What can we learn about the lifetime covenant of marriage from this story?

The first thing is, God says it’s not good for man to be alone. He has created us to be relational and to love one another. Adam named the parade of birds and wild beasts but no soul mate was fit for him. It’s difficult to cuddle up with a giraffe, share your mind with a monkey, or think of a loon as your soul mate. So God made a helper suitable for Adam.

Scriptures teach that God created us in His image. The essence of God’s character is to love. God created this world and the people in it so He could give His heart to us in love and share a relationship with us in a joyful way.

It’s not good for man to be alone. When you and I give and receive love in our relationships, we are reflecting the very image of God.

Second, God said He would make a helper suitable for the man. In our culture we think of the word “helper” as meaning inferior, subservient, or of lesser value or status. In the Old Testament this particular Hebrew term is used twenty-one times – twice for Eve in the garden, three times for other helpers, and sixteen times as a description of God Himself. If the term describes God’s action and heart, it can’t possibly imply someone who is inferior or subservient.

The term literally translates, someone who is vitally, powerfully, important. A person who is essential in support within a relationship. An individual who brings strength to another and seeks to bless them. No wonder God describes the woman as a helper, a strong, essential, powerful helper vital to Adam in his paradise life.

We can conclude that the gift of love – particularly married love – is God’s treasure given from woman to man and from man to woman. Love in this sense is something beautiful. The lover sees the gifted potential in the spouse and draws the best out of them by encouraging and affirming them. Love builds the other up and cheers them on to live for God’s glory.

Scripture goes on to say God fashioned the woman for the man. He designed the woman for the man, and we might imply that God designed the man for woman. In our society today there is a promotion of the idea of gender confusion, a blurring of the lines. I’ve even heard people say, “Pick your gender.”

In Genesis 2, the Bible tells us something vastly different. It tells us that God, as the Creator, the source of life, designed man for woman and woman for man. Though they’re integral in their connection and made of the same flesh, they are distinctively, delightfully different. Male and female are harnessed together in a way that is a beautiful enhancement of both. As they come together in partnership and companionship, they are stronger together. That is marriage at its best! God fashioned a companion for the man, and she was a wonderful friend and partner to the man.

When I think of how God must’ve presented Eve to Adam, I can imagine Adam saying, Wow! At last I have a soul mate. Someone who will resonate with my heart. Someone who will dream dreams with me about our future together. It says the man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and the two become one flesh.

Through the years, I have known many wives and children who were left behind by their husbands. They had higher priorities in life than the commitment, care, and love for their wife and children. This is not what God planned. I’ve also known young couples who ran to their parents the first time they had some fight or disagreement, and the parents resonated with the perspective that their young person had married a monster.

The term “leave father and mother” suggests the new marriage creates a new family, a new circle of relationship, and that new marriage has to have the highest priority of love of any other relationship in life.

The idea that they cleave to one another also suggests that they cling tenaciously to one another in the ups and downs of life. When the storms come and when the sun shines, they cling to one another and find a way to make it work. Marriage, you see, is not based on a utopian feeling of the prince coming to create some romantic sensation within the heart. It is a commitment of the heart, man to woman and woman to man. Further, it is God binding them together by His power into an integral oneness that cannot be separated. The man leaves his father and mother. His new highest priority is to cleave to his wife. The commitment they make to one another is for life.

In becoming one flesh, the two become one. An intimacy is experienced that is beautiful. It is God’s gift. Intimacy is defined as an interpersonal relationship, which is emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual. In married love, the intimacy is romantic and sexual to give pleasure to both and further deepen their bond to one another. But it’s more than that. Married intimacy is the closest of friendships with deep personal trust. Intimacy always has honesty, trust, vulnerability, unconditional love.

Intimacy is an acceptance of one another within the construct of mutual respect. The promise made to one another invites trust and freedom within the love.

That is the difference between living together and marriage. Living together by definition is conditional. A big question mark is put over the whole relationship. We even use language like, “Let’s try it, and see how it goes.” Living together is performance-based. I’ll stay with you if you continue to please me. I’ll live in this relationship as long as I am pleased by all you do. It is performance-based.

In contrast, marriage promises the heart in devotion to the other for life. The covenant promise frees the couple to relax in their relationship trusting that, with God’s help, they will journey through life together. The covenant promise means they share mutual values, dreams, and goals. There is a oneness.

When couples in their faith journey draw closer and closer to Jesus Christ, they also draw closer and closer to one another. That is the power of the spiritual component of marriage at its best.

As you are listening to me, you may think, My marriage isn’t anything like that. That idea may haunt you. Notice that the Bible is full of stories where God heals broken hearts and resurrects people to new beginnings. So if you have been in a marriage that ended against your will or by your will, know that God still loves you and invites you to receive His love. Trust Him to raise you up to new beginnings again.

Perhaps some of you are in a marriage where painful moments have wounded your heart and seeded sadness and distrust. I encourage you to ask Jesus to forgive you for your failings and empower you to forgive the other the wrong that was suffered so there may be healing in love. Jesus, in John 15, said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. As you abide in me, love will flow. As you abide in me, you will have great joy. As you abide in me, you will enjoy fullness of life.” Bring the needs of your marriage to Jesus Christ and ask His Spirit to maximize the wonderful potential of your love.

Some of you may have developed patterns of relating to one another within the marriage that are not healthy. You spend your time bickering, nagging, and being hypercritical of one another. Again, I ask you, as by faith you abide in the grace of Jesus, to ask His Spirit to break those negative patterns and empower new patterns of loving each other that are filled with mutual respect, sensitivity, and compassion.

Some of you, in the course of your marriage, may feel like you now live with a stranger. You’ve grown apart. Ask Jesus’ Spirit to rekindle your love and affection, heal the breach, reconcile your hearts to one another, and restore your joy in the marriage.

The oldest couple I ever had the pleasure to marry was Ralph and Gina. Ralph was ninety and Gina was eighty-four when they spoke their vows to one another in God’s presence. At the end of their ceremony, I invited them to kiss, and it lasted more than thirty seconds. When they parted, Gina announced, “That’s just a foretaste of the feast to come!” They were filled with joy. Their faces were beaming. Even though both of them had been through some rocky moments in previous love and marriage relationships, in faith they believed that the love of God in a marriage would fill them with joy, hope, and a new beginning.

May the Lord Jesus bless all your love relationships, strengthen your households and families, and rekindle the fire of love and passion in your marriage. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

He Was Promised Like No Other

Isaiah 53:2-12

What’s so special about Jesus? This question has been asked down through the centuries by many people, and it’s still being asked today. It is asked by the person, who sees all the various faiths of the world around him, then scratches his head and asks, What makes Jesus so special from the others? It is asked by the husband whose wife insists on going to church on Sunday for worship and giving away some of their hard-earned money for the church offering. Who is this Jesus? What makes Him so special?

How do you answer that question? We have to admit, He has made quite a splash in this world.

I came across an article that points this out. The author, Philip Yancy, writes, “When I switched on my computer this morning, Microsoft Windows flashed the date, implicitly acknowledging that, whatever you may believe about it, the birth of Jesus was so important that it split history into two parts. Everything that has ever happened on this planet falls into the category of before Christ or after Christ.

“Richard Nixon got carried away with excitement in 1969 when Apollo astronauts first landed on the moon. ‘It’s the greatest day since Creation!’ crowed the president, until Billy Graham solemnly reminded him of Christmas and Easter. By any measure of history Graham was right. This Galilean, who in his lifetime spoke to fewer people than would fill just one of the many stadia Graham has filled, changed the world more than any other person. He introduced a new force field into history, and now holds the allegiance of a third of all people on earth.

“‘More than 1900 years later,’ said H. G. Wells, ‘a historian like myself, who doesn’t even call himself a Christian, finds the picture centering irresistibly around the life and character of this most significant man . . . The historian’s test of an individual’s greatness is ‘What did he leave to grow?’ Did he start men and women to thinking along fresh lines with a vigor that persisted after him? By this test Jesus stands first.’ You can gauge the size of a ship that has passed out of sight by the huge wake it leaves behind.” One has to admit, Jesus Christ has left a HUGE wake.”

What makes Jesus like no other, so unique? This is what our sermon series until Holy Week is going to answer.

Today, first of all, we say Jesus like no other because He was promised like no other. The entire Old Testament points to Him. God promised Him long before Jesus even entered this world of ours. We see this pointed out again and again in the Gospels, which were written about Jesus – how He fulfilled the Old Testament promises. When He began His ministry, He said in His first sermon, “The time is fulfilled! The kingdom of God is at hand,” as He pointed to Himself. In the Sermon on the Mount, He said, “I have come to fulfill the law and the prophets.”

Throughout the Gospels, especially in Matthew, we hear editorials – “This happened to fulfill the prophecy of (so-and-so).” Near the end of Luke, when Jesus has been resurrected and is with His disciples, He explains how the entire Old Testament pointed to Himself. Beginning with Moses and the prophets, Jesus interpreted all the things about Himself in all the Scriptures. All of the Old Testament, you see, points to Jesus.

I came across something by Pastor Timothy Keller that I thought really makes a good point here for us. “The Bible is not a series of disconnected stories. It’s a single narrative pointing to one person – Jesus Christ.”

Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden (His garden, the Garden of Gethsemane, a much tougher garden). His obedience is now imputed to us.

Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go into the void not knowing wither He went . . .

Jesus is the true and better Isaac who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us.

Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.

Jesus is the true and better Joseph who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his power to save them.

Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant.

Jesus is the real Passover Lamb. He’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true light, and the true bread.

Jesus is true and better. All of the Old Testament points to Him.

When you examine the Old Testament, you find three kinds of writings. The first is what we call the Law, the first books of the Old Testament. They describe how the world got to be in such a sad shape because of our sinfulness and then the covenant God made to restore us to Himself. In those books, we read the stories of the beginnings of Israel and their calling to be the people of God. Even in those writings, the Law points us to Jesus.

Next we find the writings called the Psalms, the wisdom sayings. Many of them, as well, talk about Jesus long before He ever came.

Then we come to the prophets. Their prophecies given to Israel are about a Messiah who would come and fulfill the promises of God to His people. We find three hundred thirty-three prophecies in the Old Testament about the coming Messiah, and all of them kept by the coming of Jesus.

I tell the people in my congregation again and again that Christmas really is all about kept promises. He is the Promised One.

Today we look at Isaiah. He says some wonderful things about the Messiah at the beginning of his book. The Messiah is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (9:6). Near the end of this book, we find writings as in today’s text. Isaiah 53 is called the servant songs. It tells about the suffering of the Messiah who would deliver His people from their sins.

It says He was very ordinary looking. No one thought that much of Him.
Can anything good come out of Nazareth?
Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?
Why should we listen to him?

He was despised and rejected by the religious authorities.
Who gave you the right, Jesus, to forgive sins?
And they began to plot to kill Him.

He was a man of suffering.
He bore our infirmities and carried our sorrows. He was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. Upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, and the Lord has laid upon Him the iniquity of us.
Isaiah is talking about the cross.

He was oppressed and afflicted but did not open His mouth as He was beaten by the Roman soldiers. By a perversion of justice He was taken away.
We think of the kangaroo courts as He stood before the Sanhedrin on Thursday night before His crucifixion.

He was killed, and they made His grave with the wicked. He was crucified between two thieves and buried in a rich man’s tomb, Joseph of Arimathea. No deceit was in His mouth, and He did not defend Himself – all the way through.

Near the end – I will allot him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong. By His righteousness, He will make many righteous.

Let me ask you, who and what does this sound like? It describes Jesus and His passion to the tee. It is Jesus. The same Jesus who was promised wants to have a special place in your life. This is the call today, the appeal. His promises are as good for today as yesterday. They are good for today as well as all the way into eternity. This One, who came to be our Savior, is still available to all who call upon Him in faith.

If you have done some things in the past and are wondering where you stand with God, if you think that maybe even God would never be able to forgive you – Jesus offers pardon for our sin. He points us to the cross. Our relationship with God was broken. Yet God intended for us to live in a personal relationship with Him.

At the cross, the Suffering Servant, Jesus, gave His life. He poured out His blood, to make our pardon happen. On Him our iniquity was laid, and the promise is He will make many righteous in God’s sight as sin is covered by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Now the door is open to have a relationship with God that will last all the way into eternity as we receive His forgiveness.

To the individual who might be feeling overwhelmed by life, who is facing so many obstacles and hardships, this One, the Suffering Servant, offers the peace of His presence. He promises, I will never leave you orphaned or on your own. I will walk alongside of you. I will carry you through the roughest of times. You can count on me. It gives a person peace to know, I am not alone.

To those who struggle with prayer . . .
Sometimes I feel like I’m just talking to the ceiling, a person might say.

Jesus tells them, I am interceding for you. I am at the right hand of the Father. I am connected with Him. I bring all of your groans, all of your hurts, before Him. You are being heard. I am interceding for you.

Turning to Jesus for help is the wisest thing you will ever do. He’s like no other.

I’m reminded of a story from the book of Acts, chapter 8. It’s the story about a fellow named Philip, who was known to be a real evangelist. One day the Spirit nudged him to go out to the countryside and wait by a road. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a chariot coming down the road. As it got closer, Philip realized it was not a local person, but an African. As the chariot came even closer, he heard the person reading our passage from Isaiah 53. The Spirit nudged Philip to approach the chariot where an Ethiopian from the royal court sat. Phillip asked, “Do you know what you’re reading about?”

The Ethiopian answered, “How can I understand unless someone explains this to me? Come on up and talk to me about this.”

Philip, using Isaiah 53, told the story of Jesus and His sacrificial death. He told how Jesus fulfilled the promises He gave to His people as He went to the cross and rose from the grave. He is the fulfillment of God’s promises. All who trust in Him shall have salvation and a new life with God.

The Ethiopian was so taken by this Good News message that he asked, “What does it take to get in on this?”

Phillip replied, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.”

The Ethiopian asked, “Well, I see a pond over there. What’s to prevent me from being baptized?” Then he pulled the chariot over, and Philip baptized him in the water. When the Ethiopian came up out of the water, Philip had a new brother in Christ. God had a new sheep for His flock as the Ethiopian jumped back into his chariot and headed home with the Good News of Jesus Christ ringing in his ears. Even today, a great Christian church exists in the country of Ethiopia.

I want to use the Ethiopian’s statement made to Philip – What is to prevent me from being baptized and receiving these promises? My question is, What is to prevent you from receiving these promises? The answer is this: Absolutely nothing! The only thing that could possibly prevent you from receiving all this is your self and your own foolish pride. Jesus stands ready to give you life – His life – a life like no other.

This our Good News for today. Receive Him. He will give you a life like no other. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste But a Wonderful Thing to Invest In

Romans 12:1-2

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, a mind is a terrible thing to waste. This phrase actually originates from an advertising campaign for the United Negro College Fund back in 1972. It has been with us for a lot of years. The organization seeks scholarships for young African-Americans so they can go to college. True, a mind, not given opportunities to learn and to grow, is a terrible thing.

The apostle Paul couldn’t agree with it more. Our reading from Romans 12 affirms its truth. It begins with an appeal. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God . . .”

Whenever we encounter a “therefore” in Scripture, we need ask what it’s there for. Paul has just spent the first eleven chapters of Romans describing God’s many mercies, what He has done for us through His Son, Jesus Christ.

He begins by telling us how God had a problem with us. Our sinfulness led to a broken relationship with Him – and the consequences of sin is death, separation from God forever. God’s answer for this problem was Jesus Christ. While we were still sinners, He gave His Son to die on a cross to pay for our sins. We are justified by faith and receive peace with God as we place our trust in Jesus Christ.

God has given us new life in the Holy Spirit who works to reshape and conform us to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. We are considered adopted children of God. The Holy Spirit is the sign of this. For the believer in Christ, the promise is God is for us and “nothing can separate us from His love in Christ Jesus,” as Paul tells us in the first eleven chapters of Romans.

Then Paul tells us, Therefore, in light of all that God has done for us, because of all the mercies He has shown us, live your new life in Christ in grateful response to His grace. Paul’s appeal is this: “. . . offer your bodies (which means your whole self) to God.” Make your life an offering to Him. Paul is using sacrifice language. Dedicate yourself to Him. Your living (holy living set apart for God) is your spiritual worship to the God who saved you.

Paul continues, “Don’t be conformed to this world.” In the Good News Version, J. B Phillips says, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its own mold.” This present age, this culture, has twisted values and teaches us that me, myself, and I is number one. We live for ourselves. The Apostle Paul tells us that since we are now in Christ – that is changed – we are to live for others. Don’t be shaped by the world’s norms, but by God’s norms.

I came across an article by James Emery White entitled The Most Powerful Education System Ever Known. He writes, “Todd Gitlin, one of the leading thinkers on media and our lives, recently said this: ‘The torrent of images, songs, and stories streaming has become our familiar world. This ‘torrent’ determines what we see and what we don’t, what we think about and what never enters our minds.’

“The media we watch every day has been shaping us for years, whether we know it or not. For example, think of MTV. As its founding chairman, Bob Pittman, stated in a 1982 interview, “If you can get their emotions going and make them forget their logic, you’ve got them. At MTV we don’t shoot for the 14-year-olds; we own them.”

“Think of the TV show ‘Friends’ which ran for 10 years in the 90s and into the early 2000s. It is now one of the most popular shows in syndication. Funny, right? But not innocent. A survey of 236 episodes of the sitcom found the characters had a total of 85 sexual partners, and that’s only counting those who appeared on screen.

“What does that do to us? More than we realize. What the media does is normalize things like that. If you see likable characters on TV having sex outside of marriage enough times, it becomes not only acceptable but desirable. That’s why Fred Fedele, author of one of the most widely used college textbooks on mass media, writes, ‘The media may constitute the most powerful education system ever known to man.’”

Those two value systems – the world and God’s will – are incompatible. In fact, they are in direct collision with one another. Whether we are thinking about the purpose of life, or the meaning of life, or how to measure greatness, or how to respond to evil, or about ambition, or sex, or honesty, or money, or community, or anything else, these two sets of standards diverge so completely, there is no possibility of compromise.

Paul says, Don’t be conformed to the old system but be TRANSformed. Transformed means a metamorphosis, changed. The word was first used in the New Testament when Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John on the mountain. He was outwardly changed. Jesus shined brightly displaying the glory of God. He was different.

How can I be transformed as a follower of Christ so my character and conduct display the glory of God? Paul answers this question for us. “. . . by the renewing of your mind.” By the renewing of your mind. You see, our inner life needs reshaping in a big way. Our thinking needs some work. It needs renewing.

Why do our minds need renewing? The answer is easy. Because our minds are fallen. We are sinful. We’re into the “me, myself, and I” thing.

We’re really talking about mindset here. The mind doesn’t just have a view, but a viewpoint. It doesn’t just have the power to perceive and detect, it also has a posture and attitude, a certain bend to it. It needs to be changed.

After the fall into sin, Paul says in the first chapter of Romans, since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind, which means lower in quality, character, things that should not be done. If transformation is to take place so we might live a life that glorifies and pleases God, it begins with the mind.

We know Proverbs 23:7, “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.” Right-thinking leads us to right actions, which will turn us around to have right feelings. This is a critical priority. We have a tendency to follow our feelings first, and then act. The problem is our feelings are always fluctuating and not dependable or well informed. We need right-thinking first.

We cannot renew our own minds. Paul tells us in other places of the Bible that the renewal of the mind is only possible through the working of the Holy Spirit. This is our Good News! As we trust in Christ, we receive His Holy Spirit to renew our minds. He is our change agent. His job description is to transform us. The main tool He uses to transform our thinking is the Word of God, the gospel.

N. T. Wright tells the story in one of his commentaries that speaks to this. “A friend of mine described the reaction when he went home, as a young teenager, and announced to his mother that he’d become a Christian. Alarmed, she thought he’d joined some kind of cult. ‘They’ve brainwashed you!’ she said. He was ready with the right answer. ‘If you’d seen what was in my brain,’ he replied, ‘you’d realize it needed washing!’

“Of course, he hadn’t been brainwashed. In fact, again and again—and this was certainly the case with my friend—when people bring their lives, their outer lives and inner lives, into the light of Jesus the Messiah, things begin to come clear. If anything, it’s our surrounding culture that brainwashes us, persuading us in a thousand subtle ways that the present world is the only one there is. This is seldom argued. Rather, a mood is created in which it seems so much easier to go with the flow. That’s what happens in brainwashing. What the gospel does is to administer a sharp jolt, to shine a bright light, to kick-start the brain, and the moral sensibility, into working properly for the first time.”

The Holy Spirit works in our inner lives through the Word of God, the gospel. He reshapes us. This means we find it important to develop a holy habit, like personal reading and study of the Bible. In the spirit of praying, God, show me what you want me to see. Or the spirit of repentance, I will do what you want me to do because I know that you know what makes my life work best. We move through it slowly, reflectively, asking questions, taking it a little bit at a time. We need to be involved with time with God’s Word.

If you’re thinking you might need some help with this, I recommend getting the book, “Reading the Bible for All it’s Worth” by Fee and Stuart. It’s a godsend for those who want to know how to get to know God’s Word better. For instance, memorizing verses for your struggles can be very helpful.

• If you are struggling with fear, memorize Psalm 27:1.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation. Of whom shall I be afraid.”

• If you struggle with pride, put Philippians 2:3 in your heart.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but count others better than yourself.”

• Perhaps worry and anxiety are eating away at you. I Peter 5:7 says,
“Cast your anxieties on Christ for he cares for you.”

• Perhaps you have a sense of weakness in your life. Paul says in Philippians 4:13,
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Tuck these verses away. Memorize them. Walk with them throughout your day.

I recommend taking a Bible class. At our church on Monday night, three hundred men meet for Bible study and fellowship. Lives are being changed. In the past, we have taught a course called Divine Drama, which gives us insight as to how the whole Bible works together. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The power of a small group is very popular in my church. Some people get together surrounding God’s Word. They study it, discuss it, pray about it, and ask one another what they are going to do with it.

My friend recently was showing me his daily devotional method. He has a Bible app and uses it every day.

When was the last time you dove into some theological reading, not just some lightweight stuff? Perhaps even a review of Luther’s Small Catechism – the basics we need to cling to, which can shape us. I’m teaching a class right now called Alpha. It answers the questions of life, the great ideas of the faith, which hold the answers for us.

We tend to spend so much time filling our minds up with junk food. Cell phones have taken over our lives. Television consumption is out of hand, social media and the Internet as well. Through those media flows the world’s values. It gets to the point where it’s difficult to tell the truth from lies.

My dear friends, why not, in light of the mercies of God in your life, devote yourself to spending more time in God’s Word this year. It will be a transforming experience for you. Huge dividends are to be gained.

Imagine having a mind cleansed of all the debris blocking your best intentions. Imagine if each time you saw another person, your first thought was to pray for them or bless her. Imagine what it would be like if each time you are challenged or anxious, your reflexive response would be to turn to God for strength. Imagine, if you’re a married man, that whenever you look at any woman other than your wife, you would see her as if she were your sister or your daughter. Imagine genuinely wishing your enemies well.

This is a possibility for you and me as we allow God’s Word to wash over our thinking, our minds. As we allow it to dwell in us richly, we will find ourselves transformed in wonderful ways.

So it is true. Your mind is a terrible thing to waste, but it’s a wonderful thing to invest in. My appeal today is you would take care of your mind, renew it, and commit yourself to God’s word being a regular habit in your life. God has a great plan for you. He wants you to have a new abundant life in Christ. He loves you as you are, but refuses to leave you that way. He gave His Son Jesus to die on a cross and rise from the grace so you can receive this wonderful new life, grow in it, and use it to His honor and glory.

My appeal today is, why not get in on this? Perhaps you need to take the first step of receiving the mercies God has prepared for you through trusting in His Son Jesus Christ. Ask Him in and commit yourself to following Him. You can do it today. He will not turn you away.

If you have already taken this step, then open your mind to the life-giving, life-changing soul food God has prepared for you. Develop the holy habit of being a person of the Word of God, because a mind is a terrible thing to waste, but a wonderful thing to invest in. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

I Need to Make Some Changes in My Life

Luke 15:1-2, 11-32

Have you ever found yourself saying, “I need to make some changes in my life.” Oftentimes we’re brought to this conclusion by circumstances. For instance, my pants are uncomfortably tight. I guess I better make some changes in my eating habits. Or this one: I’m scaring my wife and my kids with my drinking. I guess I need to make some changes in my life and get help. Or, I’m feeling stuck in this job. I need to make some changes.

The truth is, we get to those kinds of places in life because we’re not very good at running our own lives. I know I’m not. I am a sinner, and when I try to do life on my own terms, which is what sin is all about (like the old song says, “I did it my way”), it typically leads to disaster. I’m just not very good at running life on my own; I’ve learned along the way that no one is. And we’re not very good at getting it fixed either as I try to do it on my own willpower, my own strength.

This is illustrated for us in a little children’s book, Frog and Toad Together. The two central characters discover their limits by merely trying to stop eating cookies. When frog bakes a batch of cookies, he says, “We have to stop eating these,” but they keep eating. “We must stop,” they resolve as they eat some more.

“We need willpower,” frog finally says while grabbing another cookie.

“What is willpower?” asks toad, swallowing another mouthful.

“Willpower is trying very hard to not do something you want to do very much,” frog says.

Frog discusses a variety of ways to help with willpower – putting the cookies in a box, tying the box shut, putting it high up in the tree – but each time toad points out in between bites that they could climb the tree and untie the box.

In desperation, frog finally dumps the remaining cookies outside on the ground and says, “Hey, birds. Here’s cookies.

Toad says sadly, “Now we have no more cookies.”

“Yes,” says frog, “But we have lots and lots of willpower.”

Toad replies, “You may keep it all. I’m going home to bake a cake.”

We’re just not very good at changing our lives on our own willpower.

Jesus told the story about a young man who tried doing life his way. He insulted his father by saying to him, “I want my share of the inheritance now,” which is the same as saying I wish you were dead. He put the family in financial jeopardy by taking away his part of the inheritance. He cut himself off from his family, his community, and his security, breaking his loved ones’ hearts.

He took his money, ran off to the far country, and spent it all. Then a famine hit the land, and he wound up in very sad straights working for a Gentile farmer tending pigs in the field. He would get so hungry, he was tempted to eat what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything. No one cared for him. He was destitute and hit bottom.

He finally came to a senses. He had a wake-up call of sorts. He thought to himself, My life is heading in a bad direction. I had it made back home under my dad’s roof. What was I thinking? So he put together a little repentance speech to tell his father: I have sinned against God and against you, dad. I’m not worthy be called your son, but I’ll be your hired hand. Just let me do that and he headed toward home, not sure what he would find there. His father could very well, within his rights, have formally cut him off from the family.

As he drew near to home, he saw figure running toward him. As the figure got closer, he saw it was his father running like a fool toward him. The father did not care what anyone thought as he lifted up his robes and exposed his underwear to keep from tripping on the robe. We read that the father was waiting and watching for the boy to return, hoping. When he saw him, he lay aside all dignity and ran to him, put his arms around him and kissed him.

Then the son starts his speech: “Father, I have sinned against God and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son . . .”

And before he could even get the rest of the speech out, the father broke in saying to his servants, “Quick, get the best robe for him. Get a pair of new shoes. Get the family signet ring. Kill the fatted calf. Invite the neighbors over to celebrate with me, for this son of mine was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found.”

The boy went back into the house with his father. No arguing, no trying to make a deal to work for dad. He simply went in the house and was home again.

This story has been referred to as a repentance story. Repentance basically means making a U-turn. It means coming back home to live under the authority of God, under God’s roof so to speak.

By the way, Jesus points out that this father had another lost son who also needed to repent. He had been trying to live life on his own terms as well. It’s the elder brother. He stayed home but seemed to grow further and further away from his father. We see it all spewed out as he refuses to come into the house and celebrate his younger brother’s return. It turns out he wasn’t serving out of love and gratitude for his father but out of selfishness, trying to maintain control of his destiny. He was living with the attitude, The old man owes me. I’ve been good to him. He, too, is living in the far country. When he wouldn’t come into the house, the father gently, lovingly appeals to him, “Come on in.”

But Jesus doesn’t tell us if the brother went in or not. What you think?

The far country, where is it? Actually, it’s a picture for when we’re distanced from God, our heavenly Father and His will for our lives. We’ve all been there. It’s very easy to get to the far country on our own. It’s actually part of our nature. Like the old hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” says, Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.

For some, it’s an intentional rejection of God’s authority over their life, a rebellion of sorts. It is the attitude I don’t need some God telling me how live my life. It’s too restrictive! Maybe you are living like the older brother and it’s been a turn off. You don’t want to live like that and look like that. Maybe you are upset with God because you feel He has let you down. He has turned His back on you when you needed His help during a bad time. So you’ve run away.

Sometimes it’s the distractions of life, chasing after all the trophies of what the world might call “the good life,” accumulating status and wealth, pleasures and wonderful experiences. These are good things but they can become idols in our lives. They take over and lead us to the far country, away from God, as we chase after them. We are like sheep who nibble themselves lost from the Shepherd.

The far country can happen right in our very own hearts as we sit in our church pew. The attitude that I can earn my way into the Father’s good favor or God owes me for trying to maintain my independence. Symptoms of living in the far country can be self-righteousness, judgmentalism, and legalism. This is living in the far country.

By the way, I found repentance is something I need to do every day. Martin Luther tells us daily repentance is like my daily baptism. I’m drowning in my old sinful self, which keeps rearing its ugly head up telling me I can do this life myself, on my own terms. I can do it my way, which is nothing but a lie.

The truth is, I need to turn around every day, confess, and surrender again and again. For it is deadly to stay long in the far country. Staying there can lead to a sad waste of life. You miss out on what Paul calls the kingdom of God’s righteousness, peace, and joy of living with the Holy Spirit. You miss out on having a right relationship with God, being at peace within when you know you have a Father who loves you, and the joy of the Holy Spirit working in you. You miss out on God’s purpose for your life, which is to glorify and enjoy Him forever. And you miss out on the power God offers to turn things around and live a healthy and truly happy life, even in tough circumstances. Still, it happens to far too many people in this world. They stay in the far country.

In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus tells us it doesn’t have to end that way. You see the real prodigal, (the word prodigal means lavish and extravagant) in the story is the father who is ready to give his all to his children welcoming them back home, trying to get them back in the house with him. That is lavish and extravagant grace.

The holier-than-thou Pharisees’ criticism of Jesus actually is our good news for today. Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them. This is good news for this sinner. Jesus is God’s open door for those who want to come home. He went to the cross so you could come home. He paid for our sinfulness at the cross so you could come home. He rose from the dead so you could come home eternally. In Him is the welcome to the loving promises of God.

He holds the power, and He alone, for making positive changes in your life. As you come to Him and surrender your being to His care and leadership, as you follow Him, trust Him, obey His word, and live with Him, you’ll soon discover He knows what makes your life work best.

Another parable. A man riding on a train noticed a young man across the aisle who was highly anxious and agitated. He kept looking at his watch, glancing out the window, and was unable to sit still for more than a few seconds at a time. The man asked the young person what the problem was and was told the following story.

Several years earlier the young man had run away from home simply because his parents had not given him his own way in some matter of minor importance. Though he knew it would break their hearts, he stubbornly persisted in not writing to them so that for several years they had no knowledge of his whereabouts or his activities.

Finally one day, he was filled with remorse as well as homesickness. So he wrote to his parents to say he’d like to come back home if they were willing to have him. In order to know whether or not they would forgive him and welcome him back to the house, he suggested they tie a cloth to a pear tree in the corner of their orchard, which he could see from the train window as he went past the farm just before arriving at the railway station. The cloth would indicate their willingness to forgive and receive him, and he would then get off the train. If no cloth appeared, he would know he wasn’t welcome home and would continue on. He confided to the older man that they would be passing the farm soon, and so he was filled with agony and suspense wondering what the answer would be.

The older man said he’d look and if the answer is negative, he’d try to soften the announcement for him. So the younger man agreed, described the characteristics that would make this farm recognizable, and told the man they would pass it in about one minute.

The older man looked out the window as the train rolled past the family farm. Smiling, he turned to the young man said, “It’s all right, son. You are forgiven. A cloth is tied to every tree in the orchard.”

Come home. This is the message today. Turn your heart toward home and know this: your Father will never turn you away. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer