Why Did You Come?

If worshipers were asked as they entered a church why they came, what would the survey reveal? Here are a variety of valid reasons for people coming to church:

1. Tradition.

Sunday morning is church time in our family. Traditions build stability in the family.

2. Fulfilling an obligation.

The third commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” I attend worship to keep the Law.

3. See friends we have not been with all week.

Fellowship with friends at church can be an enriching experience.

4. The need for a quiet time after spending a week in a noisy world.

Jesus found it necessary to have his quiet time. Is it not reasonable that we need such a time?

5. To worship God.

Singing praises to God from whom we have received all of our blessings is a part of the Christian life.

6. To satisfy another person who wants me to attend worship.

You might think this is a queer reason for going to church. However, I have seen it bring great joy to a mother when her son attended church with her each Christmas Eve. I’m sure it made the son feel good, too.

There are many other reasons for attending church. The most important reason, I believe, is so God can have a personal visit with you through His Word. That visit will feed your soul and strengthen your relationship with him.

In His personal visit with us, Jesus reveals he wants to be our friend. “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (15, 16).

What do these words say about God’s relationship with us? They clearly teach that he does not want it to be an impersonal acquaintance with him. He lets us to know that he is the One who is initiating this friendship. “I chose you.” As friends, Jesus wants no secrets about himself, nor about us. Both his life and ours are to be “open books.”

Jesus makes clear that he is the Son of God who came to restore us into fellowship with God. He calls us to be his disciples and assures us that if we follow him, life will not always be easy, but it will be abundant. He promises to be faithful and to never forsake us. He further assures us that one day all who trust him will inherit an eternal home where there will be no sorrow, suffering or death.

Through Jesus’ personal visit, He gives us an honest understanding of who we are. We are the crowning work of God’s creation made in his image, but we are not sweet, innocent people as sometimes we would like to believe we are. We are sinners who have broken God’s Law. Our Father can have nothing to do with sin, so he sent into this world His Son, Jesus Christ, who died for our sin. Payment has been made for our sin and if we will receive Christ, our sins are forgiven and we are restored into fellowship with God. What a friend! Yes, it is important to meet old friends in church on Sunday. However, it is far more important to be with our greatest friend, the Lord Jesus, and receive a good word from him.

In this personal visit with us, God looks at our spirit and tells us that we need some help. Let’s imagine we came to church this morning with some strong feelings against another person. We can hide these feelings from other people, but God knows our hearts. If we are left to ourselves, this hatred toward another person can continue to live in us. God is not willing to let this happen. We have to get rid of this spiritual garbage. So He says, “Love each other as I have loved you. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”

These words from our Lord might force us to have a visit with this person whom we have grown to dislike very much. We cannot be the recipients of God’s love and live from day to day with an unforgiving spirit and malice toward another person. The time to justify our anger is over. We have to deal with it.

Isn’t this valuable counsel? It is if we let Christ have this heart-to-heart talk with us in the worship service. Tradition might let us go to church just because it is the thing our families do. However, when worship is more than fulfilling an obligation, God speaks to us, and big changes take place in our lives.

As the worship service continues and God speaks to us through His Word, He might detect a lack of joy in our lives. So Jesus says, “I want my joy to be in you that your joy may be complete.” When we hear these words, our natural reaction is, “We are happy people. Things do happen that can make us sad, but give us time and our old happy personality will shine again.” Nevertheless, Jesus is not talking about happiness that comes and goes depending on the day. He is speaking about joy. There is a difference. Maybe the sermon will call to mind a person who was very unhappy while having an inner joy.

Let me tell you about Lois. It was a cloudy day when she said good-bye to her husband after breakfast. He had to attend a meeting seventy-five miles from home. They had plans for the evening. However, a message came from the highway patrol that Lois’ husband had been in an accident and was killed. I was asked to deliver this sad news to the family.

When Lois saw me coming up the walk, she later told me that a cold chill went down her spine. Something had happened. Opening the door she said, “Don has been in an accident, hasn’t he?” In a few seconds she knew the full story. She was crushed. It was not a happy household, and the shock of that news has put a cloud of sadness over the family that will not go away as long as they live. You don’t get over an experience like that. You simply adjust to it. However, even in her toughest hours there has been a joy in her heart. She held onto God’s promises. Don was in heaven by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, and the Savior walks with her through tough times.

Yes, we come to church for a quiet time. It is in the quietness of God’s house that he assures us, “Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil for he is with us.” It is during that quiet time the Holy Spirit speaks through the Word to strengthen our faith and create within us a joy that abides even when our little world may be falling apart.

Why did you come to church? This question could be a bit abrasive. Think about it. It’s not a bad question to ask ourselves each Sunday as we prepare to attend church.

We may not be able to minimize the difficult times people experience. However, if we walk with Christ, we can be assured that the sun will shine again, and he will put a joy in our hearts that will help us deal with our unhappiness.

Apologizing Is Not the Same As Repenting

The Arizona Republic recently carried the story of Patrick Poland, who had been convicted of murder. The day before his execution, Poland said, “I want to say I’m sorry. I’ve lived with this every day and I wish I could go back in time and correct what was done. I hope everyone can accept my apology, understand me, and forgive me.” But, despite Poland’s remorse and passionate plea to spare his life, the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency voted 4 to 1 to go ahead with Poland’s execution. He died by lethal injection the next day.

The same day my wife and I attended a Lenten service where we witnessed an emotional presentation of Judas and his betrayal of Jesus. When Judas saw that Jesus was going to be crucified, he said, “I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

Both stories send a strong message that apologizing is not the same as repenting. We can be ever so apologetic about our sins, and not be repentant. The Bible teaches that without repentance there is no forgiveness. Let’s pursue this thought further.

It is obvious that Judas never grasped what Jesus’ mission was all about. When it was clear to Judas that the kingdom Jesus constantly talked about was not of this world and he would not be one of the benefactors sitting in a prestigious position, he made plans to sell Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. No matter how little the amount would be, Judas was going to salvage what he could out of the ordeal which had cost him three years of his life.

Later, when Jesus stood as a condemned man, Judas saw his sin. He didn’t want the money he had received for selling Jesus, but neither did the priests. In his depressed state, Judas committed suicide. From this tragic life we learn that apologizing, remorse, and confession do not add up to repentance and forgiveness. This was what Judas, along with millions of others in every age, has never understood. What adds to the tragedy of Judas’s story is that he was so close to being forgiven and being able to start life over again, but he missed what Christ wanted to give him forgiveness.

Think of what Judas could have become! Had Judas taken the final step after showing remorse and confessing his sin, and turned to Christ, the Lord would have forgiven the betrayer. This is not just a sentimental thought. Did not the Lord forgive King David after he had Uriah murdered and committed adultery with Bathsheba? (II Samuel 11) Was Peter not forgiven his sin of denial? (John 21) Had not Jesus told the story of the Prodigal Son? (Luke 15) When the son “came to himself” and returned to the father, he was forgiven. These Biblical accounts tell us that repentance is more than apologizing.

Joseph Stump, Lutheran theologian of the last generation, defines repentance in this way, “Repentance is that act of the Holy Spirit by which, through the Law and the Gospel, God works a change of mind in the sinner so that he comes to a contrition of his sins and to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal Savior.”

Apologies are human acts trying to express regrets for what we have done. Repentance is coming to the foot of the cross and pleading for God’s grace and forgiveness.

Think of what Judas could have become. Had he walked along with Peter and eventually met Jesus, he could have been forgiven. What a preacher he could have been. Standing before the masses, Judas could have told how low he had fallen. He could have entitled his sermon, “First then I met Him.” Jesus had not yet become real to Judas after three years of being together on a daily basis. He had not experienced the power of Christ even though he had seen Jesus perform miracles and change peoples’ lives. The forgiveness of sins meant little to Judas, because he yet had to confess his own sins. The kingdom Jesus continually made reference to, in Judas’ thinking, was some earthly organization that would offer prestige to those who were a part of it, like belonging to some internationally-known congregation.

But then came that night when, in the act of betrayal, Jesus asked, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you betray the Son of Man?” As Jesus was led off to be tried and crucified, Judas first then knew who Jesus was and what he had done. The Holy Spirit could have made the truths that Jesus taught alive in Judas’s soul had he not taken his own life. That first meeting with Jesus would have been painful, but can’t you see Jesus saying to Judas, as He did to Zacchaeus, “The Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

The conversation could have continued as Jesus would never have condoned nor excused what the betrayer had done, but He would have forgiven him. Judas could have become a new man and Jesus would have commissioned him to go out and “feed all the goats” those hardened, crude people who would do anything for a buck.

There is a lot we can learn from Judas, because there is so much of him in all of us. Is it not true that we are often confused about the Kingdom of God when we equate being a part of God’s Kingdom with belonging to a church? Membership in that congregation becomes the end rather than the means to an end. When a woman, who was using profanity as she called her daughter in to supper, was asked by her neighbor, “What is your relationship with God?” she replied, “I belong to St. John Church.” That mother was later converted, but at the time of her statement, “I belong to St. John Church,” she had little or no relationship with God and was not a part of the Kingdom. This is not my judgment of the person. It is the statement she has made to many people since her conversion.

Like Judas, do we not often equate knowing about Jesus with knowing Him? We have been schooled from childhood in some of Jesus’ teachings. We know He healed a blind man, but we do not yet understand that He wants to heal our spiritually blind eyes.

We know that He told the story of the Good Samaritan, but it has yet to dawn on us that we are to be the Samaritan in our society reaching out to the person by the side of the road and minister to all of his or her needs.

As Judas had heard the great truth, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son to die, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” we too have committed to memory these words, but need to experience their meaning in our own lives. We can be forgiven, and daily we can be drawn closer to our Lord. God wants more than an apology from us.

“A broken and contrite heart He will not despise.” With that contrite heart He wants us at the throne of grace trusting Him for forgiveness. At that time and at that place, he will abundantly pardon and life will begin again.

This is the daily experience for all who know Jesus.

Who Is Monica?

Let me tell you an interesting story.

Over sixteen hundred years ago a child was born in Tagaste,ÊNorth Africa. It was evident early in his life that this boy had aÊgreat intellect. He desired to be an orator and was given the finest education in Tagaste, other small communities, and finally the educational center at Carthage. During his student days, the young man was a rebel. He was part of a boisterous group of students who enjoyed the fast life. At the age of 16 he lived an adulterous life with a concubine, and by the time he was 17Êhad fathered an illegitimate child.

The young man’s conduct broke his mother’s heart. She received little comfort from her pagan husband. She prayed for her son daily. Once, when she was most distraught, the mother went to her priest. The priest comforted her with the words, “A son with so many prayers and tears will not be lost.” Later, the son announced to his mother that he was going to Rome. She pleaded with him not to go, feeling that spiritually he would not be able to withstand the temptations he would meet. But he went and became involved in the philosophies of the day, affiliating himself with the cults. It would be like a young person in today’s world moving to Los Angeles or New York and becoming involved in the New Age Movement.

In Rome, hisÊadulterous life continued. His mother was so anxious about her son that she went to Rome to confront him with his sinful ways.ÊHe resented her visit and reminded his mother that he was a grown man.

Some years later he went to Milan, where he served as a teacher of rhetoric. One of the reasons he went was to hear the preaching of Bishop Ambrose. He marveled at the bishop’s oratory, though he cared little about the message being proclaimed. However, as he studied Ambrose’s oratorical style, the Gospel was winning its wayÊinto this skeptic’s heart. Now came one of his lowest moments. He was under a conviction of sin, but refused to turn to Christ. He did,Êhowever, pick up his Bible and began to read.

One day, as he sat by an open window, he heard a child in the garden say, “Tolle lege.” Translated, this means take and read. He opened his Bible to Romans 13:14, and his eyes fell on these words: “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lust thereof.” This man was converted.Ê

Finally, on Easter eve, he and his illegitimate child, Adeodatus, were baptized by Bishop Ambrose in Milan. His mother was present at the baptism. After she heard her son confess his faith in Jesus Christ, she decided to return home. On her way back to Africa, she died, but she left behind a son who was to become a spiritual giant. He was to Christian theology what Babe Ruth was to baseball and Bach to music. It is generally believed that he influenced the Church more than any other person between the time of St. Paul and the Reformation. Martin Luther declared himself more indebted to this person than any other individual he had met, save Jesus and the Apostles. There you have the evidence. When your witness at home is strong, the message of the Gospel can travel to the far parts of the world.

This man’s name was Augustine, and he became bishop of Hippo.ÊHis name is widely known. His writings are read in all universities and colleges even today. Perhaps he is best remembered for his famous quote, “We praise Thee, O Lord. Thou has made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”

But the title of my sermon is not, “Who’s Augustine?” but ratherÊ”Who’s Monica?” Monica was Augustine’s mother. Had it not been for Monica, the Church and the world would not have had an Augustine. Isn’t it true that behind so many great people in our world are the mothers who go unintroduced and unnoticed? On

this Mother’s Day, I use Monica symbolically and historically as an example of those powerful mothers who live behind the scenes, praying for their children and leaving a clear witness as they point their sons and daughters to Jesus Christ.

There are many other examples of great mothers. In the Scriptures we read about Timothy. St. Paul wrote, “I marvel at the faith that was first in your grandmother Lois, then your mother Eunice, and now in you, Timothy.” (II Tim. 1:5) In other words, a faithful mother and grandmother had been the instruments of the Holy Spirit in leading this young person to Christ.

Since Monica had such an influence on her son, it is well for us to look at some of the characteristics found in her life as a mother. Let me point out three of them for you.

First, Monica never excused Augustine for his sins. She could have made a real case for her son. Augustine’s father was an unbeliever and gave his son a poor male image. This would have excusedÊAugustine for his immoral life. Monica didn’t go that route. She was confrontive. She told Augustine that his sins would destroy himÊand eventually damn his soul. Those are tough words to speak, but she spoke out of love for her child.

Our excusing the wrongs of children enable them to continue in their sinful ways. I have great respect for the discipline of psychology.ÊHowever, I am thoroughly convinced that we have been intoxicated with some of the teachings that explain the behavior of people, but do not offer a Biblical cure. Monica kept her son’s real problems before him.

Second, she did not forsake Augustine. Is it not easy for us to reason that we have done everything possible for the child, and now we have to wait for him to act? Maybe that is the answer at times, but this was not the way Monica dealt with Augustine. She would not get off his back.

Third, she was persistent in her witness of God’s grace. While Monica confronted Augustine with his sin, she also told him of God’s grace. God would reach down and accept him where he was a miserable mess, spiritually speaking. But Christ would not only forgive him,ÊHe would also change him. All he had to do was permit the Holy Spirit to work in his life. Augustine could become a brand new person in Christ. Monica never was afraid that she would be offensive toÊAugustine and that he would turn her off. She continually kept Christ before her son.

Without grace, it is cruel to preach the law. If we are going to talk with our children about their sins, we must never forget to tell them they can be forgiven. We must also go a step further and say, “The Lord will not only forgive you, He will give you strength and power to rise above your sins.”

Remember those three characteristics never excusing, never forsaking, but always persistent as you bring the message of God’s grace to the people. There are all kinds of mothers in our world. There are millions of Monicas. They have shared their faith with their children and have seen them grow to mature Christian people.Ê

Many of us will never become Augustines, but our mothers were certainly Monicas. There are millions of brokenhearted Monicas.ÊThey shared their faith with their children, they prayed for them daily,Êbut to date their children are away from the Lord. If this is your experience, remember God is still at work. You have not failed.ÊThat individual has a right to reject Jesus Christ. The purpose ofÊthis sermon is not to produce further guilt in the hearts of some mothers whose children are still away. Rather, it is to encourage you.Ê

If you have confronted these sons and daughters with Christ, give God time to work. Remember, there was a day when Monica

was brokenhearted.

There are those mothers who have not talked to their childrenÊabout Jesus Christ. They do not know Christ themselves. If I speak to you as one of those mothers today, it is not too late. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, let Jesus Christ into your life and begin to live with Him in His Word, that you will be able to share with your child before you close your eyes in death.Ê

And there are mothers who know the Lord Jesus, but simply do not talk to their children about Him. That is sin. Remember what Jesus said, “You are to be my witnesses at home.” That means you, mother, and you too, dad. Why not talk to those children, whether they are 50, 55, or 60 years of age. Talk to them and tell them what Jesus Christ has done for you.

In this day of the women’s movement, our eyes have been opened to what women have to offer our world. They have a great deal to offer. But let us never minimize a mother’s place in this world. Let us never forget the important role of Monica in shaping the destiny of our society.

Who’s Monica? Historically, she is the mother of Augustine. Symbolically, Monica is a mother who daily brings her child to the Lord in prayer and forever confronts him or her with the powerful

message of God’s Law and the grace of God in Jesus Christ.Ê

Feed My Sheep – A Big Order

If you worshiped with us last Sunday, you will recall that in our text, which is the same one I am using today, the disciples were with Jesus on the shore of Lake Tiberias. Peter and six of the disciples had been fishing and when they returned to shore Jesus was there. They had breakfast together, and then it was time for the Lord to talk. After questioning Peter about his love for Him, Jesus commissioned the apostles to “feed his sheep.” Those were Peter’s marching order.

We can read over this word lightly and not catch the depth of its meaning. Even Peter, I am sure, did not realize the magnitude of that command from Jesus. He was to minister to all kinds of sheep. There were the awkward ones, those who were bedraggled and dirty, others who were butting, and some who wandered off for what to them seemed “greener pastures.”

So it is with God’s flock. The Good Shepherd loves them and makes no distinction among them, but they are different in many ways. People haven’t changed in two thousand years. So let’s take a look at some of these sheep that the Christian, individually, and the Church, collectively, are called to feed.

There are some we could label the seekers. Peter was in the middle of a large crowd in Jerusalem. It was Pentecost, one of the religious festivals of the Jewish religion. Their religion left them with many questions regarding their relationship with God. Therefore, they were spiritually hungry and longed to know God more intimately. In his sermon that day, Peter answered many of their questions. He first told them they were a part of a “corrupt generation who crucified Jesus.” Even though many in the crowd had heard Jesus preach and had seen Him perform miracles, they still turned their backs on Him.

“This Jesus, whom you crucified, is the one who can help you. He alone can forgive your sins and bring you into a personal fellowship with Almighty God,” was the heart of Peter’s sermon. The sermon continued, “Yes, you crucified Jesus, but God raised Him from the dead. He is the living Lord.”

Hearing this stirring message, the congregation rushed forward and asked, “What shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38) That day 3,000 people responded and were baptized. That’s the day the Church was born.

The seekers are still with us. In fact, all of us are seekers in one way or another. You might say, “This is preacher’s talk. I don’t find people that interested in religion. They might enjoy discussing religious subjects and even take a class in religion at the church or college, but they are not interested in letting spiritual matters be an integral part of their lives.”

I challenge that statement. Take time to get into a meaningful discussion with your friends about life and see what comes to the surface. When I visit with our young people who are about to graduate from high school or college, there are some questions which are very important to them. Yes, they are interested in where they are going to live. They want to live in a nice climate where there is plenty to do. They are interested in a comfortable salary, but give them credit. Their questions go much deeper than these things. They have seen the restlessness of society and they are seeking answers to what will make life meaningful to them. The question of the people on that first Pentecost is what they are asking today, “What shall we do?”

These are some of the sheep Christ has told us to feed. Tell them the Gospel and challenge them with letting Christ be the Lord of their lives no matter what they do. This is for youth, middle age, and even old people who are sitting around with all kinds of questions in retirement years. There are some wonderful ministries going on in our day.

A few nights ago we had dinner in the home of a woman who was raised in Germany. Many Bosnians have come to our country and our hostess that evening told us she is helping these people with the English language, but she is using a Bible study to do it. Yes, they are learning English, but they are also learning about Jesus, who is a complete stranger to some of them who are Muslim.

Another group of sheep Jesus told us to feed are the unbelievers. In Peter’s day, and in ours, there are those voices in important places who become irritated when the name of Jesus is heard in public. When the leaders of the Jewish religion heard Peter and John talking about Jesus, they reminded them that His name was off limits. “They called the apostles in and told them never again to speak or teach about Jesus. Peter and John replied, ‘Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than Him? We cannot stop telling about the wonderful things we have seen and heard.'” (Acts 4:18-20)

You would think that this negative attitude towards Jesus would have changed in two thousand years, but it hasn’t. There are many who feel that the public use of Jesus’ name, except for profanity, is unacceptable where there is a mixed audience of Christians and unbelievers.

I recently heard a speaker at the National Conference on Preaching tell of a severe reprimand he got from a public leader for delivering a prayer in the name of Jesus. The pastor had been asked to speak at the local service club. Before the luncheon started, he was asked to deliver the invocation, which he willingly did, ending his prayer, “in Jesus’ name.” A few days later he received an irate e-mail letter from the leader of that service club telling how offensive he had been to those in the audience who were not Christians. The leader hoped that in the future the minister would be more sensitive to the feelings of the people in the audience by refraining from using Jesus’ name. Not much change from the days of Peter, is it?

Does the believer adjust to this request to never again conclude his or her prayer in the name of Jesus in public? No, we must feed the angry unbelieving sheep and not give in to their demands. Even these unbelievers are a part of the sheep fold created by God and people for whom Christ died.

Still another group that Peter was commissioned to feed were those people who were different than he was. Peter would have been perfectly content to limit the feeding to his own people, the Jews. That was not God’s will. One day a man by the name of Cornelius, who was not a Jew, was told in a vision to send for Peter that he might come and share the gospel with him. Cornelius was a good man. He was liberal with his wealth and prayed often. When Cornelius’ servants got to Joppa where Peter was staying, they told him of their master’s vision and requested that the Apostle accompany them back to Cornelius’ home. After listening to the men, a reluctant Peter went to Cornelius. When he arrived at the house, Peter greeted the people by saying, “You are aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should call no man unclean or impure.”

Peter saw this as a difficult assignment, but he shared Christ with one of God’s sheep who was different than he was, but yet so precious to God that Jesus died for him. In the quietness of that leader’s residence, Peter led Cornelius to Christ. Like Peter, Christians in every generation, including ours, have had difficulty in sharing Christ with those who were different than they were. How easy it is for us to look over the flock of humanity and choose those who are most appealing to us. With them we have a comfortable ministry. They have a similar background to ours. We think alike, talk alike, look alike.

From my childhood to old age, I have seen the Church fall into this practice of neglecting the “outsider,” which is not pleasing to God. These “outsiders” were not only people of another color, but folks with differences in family background, social status (either too elite or too crude), cultural differences, or in other ways different than we were. We were not too comfortable around them, so it used to be said that the Pentecostals got the poor, the Baptists got the emotionalists, the Episcopalians and Presbyterians got the educated and rich, the Methodists and Lutherans got the middle class, and the rest were up for grabs. Well, it wasn’t quite that bad. It just makes a good story, but we did seem to gravitate to our own kind.

I conducted a workshop on church growth with a congregation that complained of having no field in their present location. They were thinking about moving to another site. When I asked them about their neighborhood and if they had surveyed the area, their answer came quickly, “No, we have not conducted a survey, but just from all appearances these people would not be interested in our congregation’s ministry. They are not our kind.” How did they know? This could just be the sheep that Jesus was telling that congregation to feed. Not all the sheep in the fold look and act the same, but God still wants them as a part of His flock.

Little did Peter realize all that was included in Jesus’ orders, “Feed my lambs and sheep,” but that command kept the Apostle going until he died as a martyr for Christ. Little do we know what the marching orders of Christ to His Church in our day include until we begin to move out with the Gospel to seekers, unbelievers, and those who are different than we are.

The orders are challenging, but they stand signed by Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church. They have not changed for two thousand years.