The Door to Abundant Life

John 10:7-10

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

All our lives, we have heard messages from the church the biblical truth that God loves broken sinners, and that is gloriously true. We stake our faith on this truth. But today I want to talk with you about the rhythms of the abundant life, which Jesus Christ offers to all believers. Where and how do we experience transformation and newness in the presence of the Holy Spirit?

First, we experience the abundant life when we drop our baggage.

It has been my privilege as a Christian pastor to listen to people share their life stories. So many people carry heavy burdens. Have you ever carried something very heavy for a long distance? Sometimes, until you put it down, you don’t realize how heavy it was or even that you were still carrying it.

The Word of God says, “Cast all your care upon him, for he cares for you” (I Peter 5:7). So many people have wounds from past hurts, difficult experiences of childhood, broken relationships, loneliness, feelings of resentment, guilt, shame, a cloud of grief over lost loved ones or even self-hatred.

Jesus has forgiven you. The One who went to the cross forgives us so we might be empowered to forgive ourselves. Please know this: The abundant life Jesus offers us can never be lived by looking through the rearview mirror. Press forward, believer, and experience the abundant life Jesus has in mind.

The second area to experience the abundant life is when we walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This past Easter Sunday, some of our family was home for the holiday. In the afternoon, the grandchildren flew kites in our backyard. Glorious color rose to float in the blue sky empowered and lifted up by the wind. The kites had no power to fly on their own; it was the power of the wind that lifted them to soar.

So also in our Christian life. We don’t have the power to become all God intended for us to be without the indwelling and life-giving power of the Spirit. Breathe it in. Confess to God so you may receive it gladly. Ask God to show you where the Spirit’s power needs to be released so you might be lifted up to new rhythms of life. Acts 1:8 says, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be my witnesses.”

Sometimes the Spirit comes like a dove gently resting on our soul, or like oil anointing our body, flowing over us, till it covers us with the fragrant scent of God’s perfume. Sometimes when the Spirit comes, it’s like standing under a waterfall. The sheer force, exhilaration, refreshment, and cleansing of the Spirit as it pours over us is amazing!

God’s promise to St. Paul was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in your weakness” (II Cor. 12:9). Three times Paul asked God to remove his thorn in the flesh. What was it – a secret sin? A physical illness? A character flaw? A nagging temptation? We’re not sure. But we know this truth that God said, My grace is more than adequate for what you wrestle with. More that than, God’s power is made perfect in our human weakness. We need the power of the Holy Spirit.

I have a friend who works in prison ministry doing spiritual retreats. He tells of a friend he met in one of those retreats – a Christian businessman who says, “I’m on a first-name basis with the Holy Spirit. So I just call Him ‘Holy.’ Do you know the Christian country song, “Jesus, Take the Wheel”? The Christian businessman says, “Each day I surrender to the Spirit’s leading and ask Jesus’ Spirit to take the wheel. So I climb into the passenger seat of my life. I look over, and Holy is in the driver’s seat. Do you know what? Holy is a crazy driver. He says to me, ‘We’re going to Russia.’ I tell Holy, ‘I’m too busy; I don’t have time.’ But now I’ve made multiple trips over there to share the Gospel. Holy says, ‘We’re going to Uganda, Africa,’ and now, together with other Christian believers from my church, we’ve established a mission partnership there.”

This man is a construction company owner, and he is always short of help. So Holy led him to buy a house, hire a spiritual director, and receive men who have completed their prison term to come live in the house. They then join, by their decision, an intentional Christian community. The Christian construction owner gives them work, but in that community, they also have shared lives, meals, friendship, Bible study, and prayer. Together they have their character in Christ deepened in that way.

Holy is a crazy driver. Is He directing your life? The abundant life is an adventure led by the Holy Spirit where we understand how we are to serve God’s mission.

The third area to experience the abundant life is  to walk in the Word of God. We need to know the Story, know God’s will and wisdom for us, and walk in harmony and in obedience to God. We need to know God’s promises for us.

A U.S. plantation owner from the 19th century had a wonderful friendship with one of his former slaves. When the plantation owner died, he left $50,000 inheritance to the former slave. It would be like $500,000 today. A lawyer for the man who passed away notified the former slave of his gift. Weeks went by, but the beneficiary of the inheritance never touched a dime.

Finally, the banker called the man and said, “I’m just reminding you, you have $50,000 to use or spend for anything you might want or need.” The former slave asked the banker, “Do you think I can have enough money to buy a meal of corn?” The man had never handled a dollar in his life. He had no concept, no comprehension of money or its value. Therefore, he had no understanding of how rich he was.

The Word of God says that we as believers have received the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ. We need to know the Word so we know all the beautiful promises made by God and guaranteed by the blood sacrifice of Christ on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. We have inherited so much from God because of the love of Jesus Christ.

But we need also to walk in harmony with the Word in obedience to God. No one who lives in defiant disobedience can fully experience the abundant life Jesus offers. So I encourage us to do two things.

• Learn to listen for Jesus’ voice and obey Him.
• When the thief comes to steal and kill and destroy, tell the devil to go to hell where he belongs. Tell him in the name and power of Jesus Christ to leave you alone, and then pray Jesus will fill you with His Spirit and guide you in the path of obedience. When we walk in obedience to the Word, claim it, and cling to the promises of God, we begin to experience the abundant life God wants for us.

The fourth area to walk in abundance, we must walk in the Law God gives. Receive it gladly and freely love everyone God brings to you. In Romans 8:32 we read these powerful words, “God who did not spare his only Son, but gave him to us to die, will he not also, with Jesus, freely give us all things? Who will separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ?” Answer, nothing. No one is going to condemn us; no one is going to reject us. We are more than conquerors. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. It is unconditionally enveloping us. His favor is for us.

In the love God has for us, we learn to love ourselves. So many people don’t like themselves. If only they could see themselves as God sees them – His beautiful, gifted, precious child! We learn to love ourselves because we receive God’s love for us and believe it. It is the power of God’s love flowing into us that empowers us to love all people – not just the people who live close to you, are in your family or in your friends circle, but every person God brings to you in the power of His Spirit. Let the love of God flow through you to that person.

The fifth area of abundance is flying after Jesus every day of life.

I recently had a conversation with a retired DNR agent from north-central Iowa. He told the story about his boys.

When they were growing up, someone brought a little gosling goose who had just hatched but was abandoned by its mother on a cold and rainy day. They asked their dad about this wet, scrawny, shivering gosling, “Can we keep it, dad?” he nodded.

They borrowed mom’s hair dryer and warmed that little goose up. Then they put it under a heat lamp in a box, put water out, and ground feed for it. They played with it, and the goose imprinted on the boys. Mary might have her little lamb, but these boys had the goose follow them everywhere they went.

When it was time for the goose to fly, one boy held the goose on the ground holding its wings, and the other boy ran as fast as he could across the grassy meadow. When the boys were about 50 yards apart, the other brother let the goose go. The goose ran on his flat feet as fast as he could go, and then nature took over. His wings came out, and he started to flap them until he flew to the boy, landed in front of him, and waited for him to catch up. Then he flapped his wings and flew again.

From then on, the goose followed them everywhere. Whether they rode their bikes or jogged through the meadow, the goose flew by their shoulder. The goose was imprinted to them.

Through the cross of Jesus and His gift of grace and salvation, we are imprinted to Jesus Christ. We owe Him our life, and all our life we fly after Him, following Him in loyal service to be His friend, to do whatever He asks of us, to work for this King.

Jesus said, “I am the door. If you pass through me, you will be saved. I come that you might have abundant life.”

When I was four years old, my father was the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Belmond, Iowa. My Sunday school teacher was an older woman named Mrs. Kirkendall. She taught us a song that I still have in my heart.

♪One door and only one
and yet its sides are two.
I’m on the inside,
on which side are you?♬

Are you on the inside of the door of Jesus Christ?

An old farmer met with his doctor and received the difficult diagnosis that he had terminal cancer and was going to die soon. So he went to his pastor and shared this difficult news. He was troubled because, though he had been a faithful churchman all his life, he didn’t have peace or assurance that he was okay with God.

The pastor shared with the farmer this passage from John 10. “Jesus said, ‘I am the door. Come in through me and be saved. I have come to give you abundant life.’” The farmer and the pastor prayed together a prayer that the farmer had confessed all his life, but yet again with fresh resolve.

Dear Jesus,
Thank you for forgiving me my sins, for dying on the cross, for being raised from the dead, and for the promise that You give me life forever. In Your name. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

The Mark of Authenticity

John 13:31-35

I recently attended an event held by the local historical society. I don’t typically go to those kinds of things, but I was invited by a friend who knew I would find it interesting. The speaker that night was the curator for the Minnesota Twins baseball team. (I am a huge Twins fan.) This man, named Clyde, had been with the team a long time, and he had some fascinating stories to tell about some of the players, owners, and managers he had gotten to know.

One thing he taught us as baseball fans was how to tell whether a signed baseball or jersey was authentic. He explained it would have certain marks that would tell the truth. He talked about hologram tags and other signs to look for. It was fascinating!

It got me thinking about the church. What would you say are the identifying marks – the hologram tags – of an authentic Christian? In today’s passage, Jesus tells us the answer to that question.

Jesus is in the Upper Room with His eleven disciples (Judas has gone off to betray Him). Jesus tells them He is about to be glorified. With Judas’s departure, events were set into motion. The cross and resurrection were Jesus’ glorification, and the glorifying of God the Father. His perfect obedience – carrying out the plan of salvation – was His glorification.

Jesus was also glorified at the resurrection. He was exalted by His Father, held up for all to believe and worship. This glorified Jesus.

Later on, after the resurrection, Jesus told His disciples, “I’ve been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go make disciples” (Matt. 28:18-19). Jesus is identifying Himself as the Glorified One, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the One with authority. Jesus’ resurrection at Easter is the proof.

Since Jesus really is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, He deserves my trust and my obedience. This Glorified One wants you and me, as His followers, to carry out a new command. “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another.”

The word “new” means literally fresh. Not that it’s absolutely new in time, but it’s fresh. What makes it fresh?

We’ve been taught by the Lord Jesus about loving God above all things – heart, soul, strength, and mind – loving neighbor, even loving enemies. Now we see Him talking about loving one another, meaning the Christian community. He’s talking to His disciples, the future Church. He knew the disciples very well – their selfish motivations, and their desire for personal status and greatness, their tendencies to live for themselves. In order to keep them together and carry out the Great Commission, they would need to truly work at loving one another first.

Jesus uses the word “Agape” for love in this commandment. (Greeks used three other kinds of words for love as well.) Agape is not about emotions and affections, but is an act of the mind. It requires a commitment. It is a decision and a verb: To love. It means to sacrificially give yourself away for the sake of someone else.

Upon closer examination, you will find all kinds of “one anothers” in the New Testament: Encourage one another; teach one another. They all stem from this new commandment: Love one another. But Jesus takes it a little further, which is what really makes it new.

Love one another AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.

A pattern exists here for us – founded in Jesus. As Jesus has loved us, love one another. Jesus had just washed their feet. It was the act of a servant in those days, a menial task, a lowly servant’s job. Yet Jesus washed the feet of His disciples in the Upper Room prior to making this statement.

He also loved them in the everyday routine of life with His patience and His kindness. He shared all He had heard from His Father with them. He showed them the Father’s love.

His love also involved the heroic. He laid down His life in love for them. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. I call you my friend” (John 15:13-14). He laid down His life for us. So the love Jesus is commanding here encompasses everything from the lowly and the routine all the way to the heroic, and every self-giving act in between.

By the way, this love is not given on the basis of merit. Notice, Jesus also washed the feet of those who will fail Him miserably. First, we find Judas who will betray Him. Even while knowing what was ahead, Jesus washed Judas’ feet. If you believe yourself to have a valid excuse not to love a particular person in your church, just consider the context in which Jesus has spoken this command: He washed the feet of Judas!

We also find Peter who denied knowing Jesus three times and the others who failed to stand by Him in His hour of greatest distress. Yet Jesus washed their feet and laid down His life for them in order to pay for their sinfulness and everyone else’s at the cross. This is an amazing, gracious love!

Love one another as I have loved you.

This is His orders to those of us who call ourselves His followers.

This commandment is so simple to remember, but not always so easy to obey. We say, Sure, I can love. I can love! And it is easy to love people with whom we agree or are partial to. But what about the rest of the folks we come into contact with? What about the unlovable types, the odd ones, the quirky ones, the irritating ones, the trouble makers? It’s easier to love those who are lovable.

We are often drawn to make boundaries as to whom we will love. We find personal attacks, criticisms, and name-calling within the church. Our own selfish interests trump the common good of the Christian community and ruin the health of the church. People in need of compassion find judgment instead. Those in need of help find apathy or disregard as we reason, Let somebody else get involved and take care of them.

I have such pride and ego. (I imagine you do, too!) I can easily get involved with some very destructive “one another’s” in the community. It must break Jesus’ heart.

In an article I read, Pastor Ray Ortland identifies some of the “one anothers” you don’t find in the New Testament, but unfortunately are found in the church today.

Scrutinize one another
Pressure one another
Embarrass one another
Corner one another
Interrupt one another
Sacrifice one another
Defeat one another
Shame one another
Judge one another
Run one another’s lives
Confess one another’s sins
Intensify one another’s sufferings
Point out one another’s failings

This commandment to love is difficult. Yet, it is doable. This is good news! For while it is impossible to follow this command perfectly (for we are both saints and sinners), it is possible to obey this concept of love. While we may not feel a certain affection for some people, we can step up and help them out of obedience to Christ, whether we feel like it or not! The emphasis is not on feeling the emotion of love, but acting on it. This is what Jesus is asking of us.

We can truly obey this command, then, when Christ enters into our lives. When “it is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me,” as the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 3:20, I am empowered. Jesus promises to work in us producing the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, generosity.

As with all the commandments, this one ultimately requires us to rely on God’s grace. We cannot do it by our own abilities. We pray for grace to keep it and for grace when we fail. But we still work to carry it out for our King of Kings and our Lord of Lords who has done so much for us!

Why is this commandment to love one another as He has loved us so important for us to keep? Jesus explains: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples . . .” The word “love” is the mark, the badge, the hologram tag, the defining characteristic of an authentic believer in Christ. John Piper has written, “. . . if you declare yourself openly to be a disciple of Jesus . . . then your love for others will be decisive in showing that you are real.” Love confirms your profession of faith in Jesus is real.

Jesus is quite clear on this. It’s not our theological correctness; it’s not by our moral purity, or by our impressive knowledge that everyone will know we are His disciples. It is quite simply by our acts of love, service, and sacrifice. These acts point others to the love of God for the world, which is made known in Jesus.

Maybe you have heard this statement from an unbeliever, Who you are speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you’re saying. How true it is!

Following Jesus’ commandment to love one another also serves as an attraction, a light to those around us. We live in a polarized, individualized, broken, hurting, lonely world. Loving one another is an opportunity to shine for Christ, attract others to Him. Let us not contribute to the polarization in this world, but be a light and a refuge in the name of Jesus Christ as we love one another. This is what Jesus had in mind for His Church.

A great theologian once said, The Church exists to be a provisional display of God’s original intentions for his world. Loving God and loving one another is His original intention. Some people in this world around us may never open or read the Bible. Yet, they are reading us, and so we need to ask ourselves if they are able to see the love of Christ in us. Do we let our light so shine that people see Jesus and give glory to the Father in heaven? Loving one another as Christ has loved us is the real litmus test.

Finally, it’s important to love one another as Christ has loved us because together we stand strong as the Church of Jesus Christ. We need each other in order to grow and thrive in our relationship with Jesus and in our service to Jesus in the world.

In her book, Grapes of Wrath or Grace, Barbara Brokhoff tells the story of a group of American tourists who were taking a bus tour in Rome. Their first stop was at a basilica in the Piazza, which was surrounded by several lanes of relentless Roman traffic. After they were all safely dropped off, the group climbed the steps and took a tour of the church. Then they spread out to board the bus, which was now parked across the street from the church. The frantic guide shouted for the group, “Stay together! You cross one by one, they hit you one by one. But if you cross together, they think you’ll hurt their car, and they won’t hit you.” Much can be said for the strength of unity – especially unity in Jesus Christ.

Some people wonder if Jesus’ disciples followed through and obeyed the commandment Jesus gave them. My answer is found in the first few chapters of the book of Acts and the letters of Peter, Paul, and John. There is a strong emphasis on taking care of one another and loving one another. It is what they strove to do. They held it up as a value and taught others to do the same.

Later on, even after the disciples were gone, Tertullian, a Christian leader, wrote, “It is our care for the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of our opponents. ‘Look!’ they say, ‘how they love one another. Look at how they are prepared to even die for one another!’”

More importantly than the disciples in the early Church is a question for you and me. We know they obeyed and they worked at loving one another as Christ loved them. But after having studied these words of Jesus today, what about you? If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? What does this kind of love look like?

Take Sunday morning worship for instance. Julie and I visited an area church lately, and from the moment we stepped inside the door until we left, people were embracing and offering handshakes, welcomes, and smiles. People were praying for one another and offering to pray for us. It was heavenly. It was love as Christ describes it.

In day-to-day life, the church shows love by taking care of one another. A wife and mother died leaving behind two boys and a grieving husband. The congregation delivered food every day for many, many, many weeks.

There’s the card sent or phone call made saying, I’m thinking about you and praying for you. Know you’re loved.

I think of a family whose house burned down. A couple in our congregation had a large house and offered to let them move in until they were back on their feet. “Consider our home, your own.” This is what Jesus had in mind when He talked about loving one another as He has loved us.

My dear friends in Christ, it’s just as the old song says:
♪”They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”♬

Love one another as Christ has loved us. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer


John 10:22-33

A painful thing in life, which people struggle with, is the matter of insecurity. I suspect we all have an insecurity or two rolling around in our heads and a variety of questions we wonder and worry about:
• Am I doing good enough at work?
• Have I saved enough?
• Have I done a good job of raising my kids and taking care of my family?
• Am I pretty enough (or handsome) enough?
• Am I smart enough to do that?
• Will my health be well enough to take care of myself as I get older?
• Is my heart well enough to avoid a stroke or heart attack?
• Do my kids love me enough to take care of me if I need their help?
• When I die, will my spouse have enough money and capability to take care of herself (or himself)?
• Am I safe enough in this troubled and violent world?
• Have I done enough good to be received into heaven?

The list goes on and on. Living in this broken world of ours makes it difficult to avoid having a few insecurities.

Did you notice the word “enough” seems to be a major culprit in our insecurities? Our questioning? It implies a sense of inadequacy.

One of my favorite preachers of God’s Word, Stuart Briscoe, said a number of years ago, “Deep down, we have a sense of individual insecurity to cooperate with other people.” Maxwell Maltz who wrote the book, “Psycho Cybernetics,” estimates 95% of people in our society have a strong sense of inadequacy. I have no difficulty believing that figure. My only surprise is why the other 5% aren’t feeling insecure.

Jesus, in our passage for today, has some reassuring words, which have proven helpful for me in facing – even overcoming – insecurities in life. I’m sure you will find them helpful for yourself as well.

The words stem from a conversation Jesus was having with some of His adversaries who are trying very hard to wreck His reputation and ministry. They even went so far as to do Him in once and for all. They surrounded Him in Solomon’s colonnade around the temple area and asked, “How long will you keep us in suspense, Jesus? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Jesus responded to them by saying, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you refuse to believe because you are not among my sheep.”

Then Jesus speaks these wonderful words about the blessing of belonging to Him as one of His sheep.

My sheep hear my voice. So many voices speak out to us, offering misguided, harmful information that can harm us saying, Follow my advice and wisdom, and I will show you how to live the good life.

Satan is always busy seeking to make a wreck of our lives and destroy us. He throws temptations our way and says, Go ahead! Give into it. You will enjoy it. Nobody will get hurt. You deserve it!

Jesus promises to speak into our lives. He is our Shepherd. Though usually not audibly, He speaks to us as we open His holy Word. He assures us of His love. He shows us His way. His voice is a voice of wisdom and truth, which protects me, guides me, and gives me real life. It is the voice of real love reassuring me that I belong to Him.

I recently read this story by David Prince.

I know a family who adopted an older child from an unspeakably horrific orphanage in another country. When they brought her home one of the things they told her was she was expected to clean her room every day. She fixated on the responsibility and saw it as a way to earn her family’s love. In other words, she isolated the responsibility and applied it to her existing frame of thinking, which was shaped by life in the orphanage. Thus, every morning when her parents came to her room, it was immaculate. She would sit on the bed and say, “My room is clean. Can I stay? Do you still love me?” Her words broke her new parents’ hearts. Eventually the girl learned to hear her parents’ words as their unconditionally beloved child who would never be forsaken.

After she knew she was a part of the family, even correction and discipline did not cause her to question her family’s love for her. She understood it to be a part of what it meant to be in the family.

When we belong to Jesus as His sheep and place our trust in Him, we are considered adopted children of God, no matter what.

I know my sheep. Think of that. If you are walking with Jesus Christ, you are not just another face in the crowd. He knows you. He knows your name. He knows what is going on in your life. You are precious and important in His sight. He knows everything about you, and He loves you.

Walt Handelsman of the Times-Picayune in New Orleans wrote a story about Pulitzer prizewinning cartoonist, Jeff McNally, the creator of the comic strip, Shoe.

“I once received a call from editorial cartoonist Mike Peters complimenting me on a cartoon of mine. He said Jeff McNally and he had just been talking about how much they liked my cartoon. When I got off the phone, I told my editor that was a highlight of my career. Just knowing someone like Jeff McNally knew who I was. It is hard to explain, but to have someone great know who you are brings a sense of significance to life.”

My dear friends, Jesus Christ, the Lord of the universe, knows you by name. He knows everything about you, and He loves you anyway.

My sheep follow me. When Jesus is in a person’s life, He is there to lead them. Like the shepherd in Psalm 23, Jesus leads us beside still waters to green pastures. He leads us down right paths for His namesake. I don’t know about you, but oh, how I need that!

He is the leader I can truly trust. He is the leader who went to the cross for me. He is there for me, looking out for me, and He has all power and wisdom. With a voice of divine authority, Jesus announces, “And I give them eternal life.” When a person trusts in Jesus, they receive a new life. It is what He calls the abundant life – a life lived in the presence of a loving God and Father.

They will never perish. This life with God has longevity, eternity. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Not even death can steal my sheep from me, Jesus is saying. No one can snatch them out of my hand (not the evil one, not death – nothing in all creation!) My sheep are My sheep, and I am their Good Shepherd. Jesus’ strong hand holds His followers tightly.

Notice: His hand is nail pierced. It reassures me. I have been bought with a price. His innocent and precious blood was shed at the cross for me.

No one is able snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I am His forever. This, my dear friends, always gives me a deep, confident sense of security. When life appears to be coming apart at the seams, it seems to be going totally out-of-control, I don’t know where to turn, and I am sensing a bit of panic, I remember that I have a Good Shepherd. He knows me. I am His, and He is mine. Nothing can snatch me away from His love.

At the end of His speech, Jesus says something that made His listeners get so angry, they picked up stones and tried to kill Him . . .

I and the Father are one. Jesus is claiming deity. He is God. They reject His statement as blasphemy, a total falsehood, which was deserving of being stoned to death according to Jewish law.

But you and I know, Jesus was not blaspheming. The resurrection on Easter proves that. He and the Father are one. Jesus is the Son of God. His claims were endorsed, and He was vindicated when God raised Him from the dead on the third day after His death on the cross where He paid for our sins.

As I read these words of Jesus and the response of His audience wanting to stone Him, I can’t help but be reminded of some words written earlier in the Gospel of John, the first chapter.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, yet the world didn’t know him. He came to his own and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him and believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:1-3, 11-12).

Even though He is still rejected by many today, the One who clearly states, “I and the Father are one,” wants to be received and believed by all. So we, who were children of wrath because of our sinfulness, might become children of God trusting in the One who said, “If you’ve seen me, you have seen the Father.”

Now, our belief in Jesus as the Son of God is not a simple intellectual assent, as some might think. It’s trusting Him. Trusting in all He has done for you at the cross and at the grave. It is betting the farm on Him. It’s giving your life over to His care and to His leading. It’s stepping into a personal relationship, surrendering with the risen Jesus Christ who wants to befriend you and give you life.

Yes, it’s true. Life’s challenges and the world’s brokenness can stir up insecurity storms within us. Jesus knew that about us. He knew that we human beings are sheep. We are helpless, prone to nibble ourselves lost, easily led astray, and not as smart as we think we are. But, He wants you to know that, when He is the Shepherd of your life, you have promises you can count on. I encourage you to daily claim these words of assurance He gives you in this passage.

Bob, I know you. You are valuable and precious in my sight. I know what you’re going through. I know your strengths; I know your weaknesses. I know you, Bob, like an open book.

Betty, I have such a good word for you. Just open your Bible to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, and let me speak into your life. I will lead you down the right paths. I am with you. Follow me and serve me.

John, I have given you eternal life, a life lived in the presence and steadfast love of my Father. You were separated from God by your sinfulness, but it has been taken care of. I suffered and died on a cross and rose again so you could be His and live with the Father.

Julie, you are mine forever and ever. You will die someday, it’s true, but it’s not the end of your story. There is a place prepared for you. I’ve prepared it in my Father’s heaven.

I know, Sam, that this world sometimes seems dark, evil, and undefeatable. But know this: I’m stronger than anything in this whole wide world. I will not allow anyone or anything to snatch you from out of my hand. Nothing – absolutely nothing – can separate you from me.

I want to end this message for today with a statement Christian songwriter and singer Twila Paris made in an interview. I think it’s very profound for us.

“We human beings are so security oriented. Whether it is conscious or not, we all need and want security in our lives. From the time we were born, we were clinging to something. That’s okay, but we must cling to the right thing. When we are holding onto Jesus, that’s when we’re holding on to real hope.”

Amen to that!

Pastor Steve Kramer


John 21:1-9

“Do you love me?” This question is asked in almost every human heart. We all have a deep need to feel loved and to know we’re loved. We need to hear that we’re loved.

“Do you love me” can be a painful question for us to be asked, especially when it comes from those with whom we are close. It implies we have not communicated our love very well. When a wife asks a husband, or a child asks a parent this question, it’s painful.

I am reminded of a funny story I heard about a Scandinavian couple named Ole and Lena.

Scandinavians are not exactly known to be very demonstrative. Well, Ole and Lena had been married forty years, and Lena was barely surviving on a starvation diet of affection from Ole.

One day she broke down at the dinner table and said, “Ole, do you love me?”

Ole responded sternly, “Lena, when we were married, I told you I loved you. If I change my mind, I’ll let you know.”

Poor Lena. ☺

“Do you love me” is a question being asked by Jesus in today’s story. It was early morning a few days after Jesus had shown the disciples that He was resurrected from the dead. Seven of the disciples had been out on a fishing trip all night. A misty fog hovered over the waters as they headed toward shore with no fish to show for their efforts. They had gotten skunked. Suddenly they saw this figure. Someone was standing on shore and shouted out to them, “Catch any fish, boys?”

“No, they responded. Then He told them to throw their net on the right side of the boat and they would get some fish. Surprisingly, they did! The next thing they knew, the net was full of big fish, and they were having trouble hauling it in.

John, who liked to call himself “the one whom Jesus loves,” said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” Peter immediately jumped out of the boat and swam to shore on his own leaving the others behind with a huge catch of fish. He’s in a rush to get to Jesus.

When they got to the beach, they saw Jesus who was cooking fish and bread over a fire. “Bring some of your fish and let’s eat breakfast together,” Jesus said. They sat with Jesus around the charcoal fire quietly eating breakfast, but they didn’t dare ask Him Who are you? for they knew it was Him.

It strikes me as odd that they’d even want to ask the question for they had already encountered Him twice since the empty tomb, according to John’s Gospel. He was obviously transformed physically in some way after the resurrection.

Then came Jesus’ question to Peter – and not once, but three times.

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

The first two times Peter responded, “Yes, Lord. You know I love you.”

After the third time, Peter was grieved. “You know everything! You know that I love you.” I wonder, if something was coming back to him as he smelled that charcoal fire. He was being asked this question in front of everyone else. It’s like he had been in this place before. It was uncomfortable.

Notice also, three times Jesus also gives a commission, an important job, to Peter. “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.” In other words, Take care of my Church and bring others who are not yet in the kingdom of God so they might know Me and be rescued for eternity.

It is important to notice of what is actually happening in this scene. Peter, you remember, denied knowing Jesus three times as he stood around the charcoal fire in the high priest’s courtyard the dark Thursday night when Jesus was arrested and stood trial. A rooster crowed after the third time, just as Jesus had predicted.

Now Peter stands among the other disciples and three times he is publicly asked, “Do you love me?” Three times Peter replies, “Yes,” and Jesus gives him an important ministry to carry out as a disciple. An absolution is, in fact, taking place. Peter is receiving forgiveness and grace as he is given a second chance and restored into the community of disciples.

I think it was Max Lucado who entitled a chapter about the story in one of his books with these words: “The Lord of the Second Chance.” It’s true, Jesus is that. But He is not just Lord of the second chance, but also Lord of the third and the fourth and the fifth and sixth and seventh chance as well. His mercy is freely given to us when we let Him down.

At this outdoor breakfast meeting, we see Peter receiving restoration, forgiveness, and a very meaningful job – preach the Good News of Jesus Christ. He will be pastoring the people whom the Lord wants to rescue. He will be watching over them and nurturing them into becoming effective disciples of Christ.

Jesus concluded the conversation with a prediction that must have caused Peter and the others to take a big anxious gulp. The future would not be easy, Peter is told. Jesus said it this way: “I tell you the truth (this is what’s going to happen).” He describes Peter’s own crucifixion, which will glorify God.

Then came the words Peter had heard three years before when it all started for him with Jesus: “Follow me.” It’s in the present imperative, meaning, Keep on following me, no matter what – even if there’s a cross. Spend the rest of your days following me daily. Be willing to ultimately sacrifice your life to bring glory to God.

As we know from the New Testament, Peter faithfully did just that. He did not do it perfectly. He was constantly being faced with his shortcomings – sinfulness and pride – as we all are. Like us, he was a saint and a sinner who still had much to learn about kingdom living. Yet God used Peter in a mighty way as He filled him with the promised Holy Spirit of God and let him loose on a surprised world. What an impact Peter made for Jesus Christ!

As a follower of Jesus. I find this story to be both relieving and challenging. Let me explain . . .

I find that I let Jesus down frequently, in a variety of creative ways. However, as with Peter, undeserved forgiveness from Jesus awaits me. For instance, each time I have a time of confession, I am reminded that, although I profess love for Jesus and promise to love my neighbor, I don’t do a very good job of showing love. Like Peter, I can be self-serving, afraid, prideful, lacking in faith, looking out for my own safety and survival. The truth is, I am a mess before a holy, perfect, righteous God.

But it’s not the end for me – or for you for that matter. Just like Peter in our story, I find absolution – words of forgiveness made possible by the cross of Christ where my sins were paid for once and for all. I have the assurance that I still belong to Jesus and to His Church. He loves me, weak and sinful person I am. Awe. I find such freedom and relief in this absolution! Thank you Jesus.

I am also recommissioned and reminded that I have been redeemed by God for a purpose, just like Peter. I have been given the privilege to once again do important, meaningful work that matters – kingdom-of-God work. I will work to bring the Good News of Jesus to others around me beginning with my children, my grandchildren, my friends, others in my family and those with whom I work. I am considered “on call” for Jesus, to go public for Him. I will let my light shine before others showing love and kindness, then put in a good word of where that love and kindness is coming from: Jesus working in me.

This story holds good news for you and me. Jesus doesn’t give up on us. When we fail Him as His disciples, He forgives us and continues to call us His own. He counts on us to carry out the ministry. He has forgiven us right where we are.

I’d like to get personal with you as Jesus did that morning with Peter.

Do you love Him?

I’m not asking if you like Him or admire Him or are a fan, or feel warm fuzzies toward Him. I’m asking if you love Him to the place where you would sacrifice anything for Him.

Is He your all in all?

Will you follow Him, serve Him, and do His will? Because friends, He loves you! He died on a cross and rose again to pay for your sins and purchase a place in heaven for you. That’s how far His love goes.

If you do love Him, His word to you this day is, Go, do something about it. Because love is more than words and feelings; love DOES. You are surrounded by people who need what Jesus has to offer. He is counting on you to do something to make this life-giving connection happen. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer