God Can Use Evil for Good

During the Lenten season, my sermons will deal with the general theme, “I walk today where Jesus walked.” My inspiration for these sermons comes from a popular book now being read by millions of people. This book is “The Purpose-Driven Life” written by Rick Warren.

Mr. Warren writes, “Since God intends to make you like Jesus, he will take you through the same experiences Jesus went through. These include loneliness, temptation, stress, criticism, rejection, and many other problems. Why would God exempt us from what he allowed his own Son to experience?”

All of us have had some difficult moments. Therefore, we will first discuss our common problems, see how Jesus dealt with them in His life, and what help he has to offer us. Today, in this introduction of this sermon series, I would like to talk with you about the familiar statement: God can use evil for good.

An angry woman said, “If God is so good, why do such horrible things have to happen? I have just been to the funeral of a mother. She leaves behind her husband to raise two small children. Why, why, why? Answer that question, and I might show more interest in this loving God you and so many others talk about in a very pious way.”

There is a lot of anger in that statement, and the tragedy is that anger comes from an ignorance of who God is. People assume that, since God is God, he is responsible for everything that happens. That is a wrong assumption.

People also assume that we have the possibility of living in a world that is a utopia. That assumption is also wrong. Let us open-mindedly discuss the question –– if God is so good, why do such horrible things happen. Whether or not the answers satisfy you, they are found in the divinely inspired Word of God.

In Genesis chapter 1 we read these words: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.’” After all of the creation had all come into existence, then He created man –– the human being –– male and female. And He created them “in the image of God.” The human being was the crowning work of all creation. This does not mean that we have our body like God’s, for He does not have a body; He is a spirit. However, there are certain characteristics within the human being that are found in no other part of creation. Yet they are found in God. For example, the human being has a mind with which he can think; God has a mind. The human being has a will with which he can make a decision; God has a will. The human being has a spirit (or a soul); God is a spirit. In that sense of the word, we are created in the image of God. We are people who can think, we are responsible, and we do not cease to exist when our final breath is taken. We are a soul, not just a body. That soul is immortal.

Making reference back to the angry woman who questioned God’s goodness, who of us would not shed tears and grieve with that family. Still, the point is that the mother, though we feel she should be here, has a soul. That soul, resting in Jesus Christ, lives with Him forevermore. That is different from any other part of God’s creation. It is the crowning work of God’s creation.

Though we do not know why God created us this way, He gave us a will. That will is free to reject God. This is something we all do many times throughout the day. It is also why we see the terrible mess we live in, and have always lived in since the fall of the human being. We live in a fallen, sinful world. The human being can be, and often is, a spiritual rebel. God can have nothing to do with sin. The reason we have sin in this world is that the human being has ushered it in.

St. Paul put it so well: “Therefore, just sin has entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way, death has come to all men through sin . . .” He is simply telling us that our imperfections are caused by our rebellion against God. This should not be interpreted to mean that a person who dies at a young age is more sinful than a person who lives to an old age. It is simply saying that sin ushers in imperfection, and a part of the imperfection is death. Because we are a part of this world, we will all pass through it. That is what death is. Man’s rebellion against God is its cause.

God could have discarded us and forgotten all about us. Instead He chose to set up a plan of redemption by which he could take that sin, and the guilt of it, away from us. Then He could begin working on making us more Christlike. That is the heart of the Lenten message. God sent into this world His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who, upon the cross of Calvary, suffered and died for the sins of the world.

When Jesus died and was raised from the dead, full atonement was made. God had accepted it, and sin could be forgiven by grace through faith in Jesus Christ to those who believe in Him. That is the core of the Gospel. It is the message of the Church of Jesus Christ that is today, has been in the past, and will be until Jesus Christ returns. No one in the Church, no matter how high their rank, can ever erase the center of the Gospel upon which the Church of Jesus Christ is built.

Now, because God created the human being to be free, and man chose to walk away from him, we have a fallen world. God created us to have a free will. When we fall in sin, He will forgive us and work with us so that we want to live for the Lord Jesus. “He is the one who controls my life.”

It is the human being, then, who has brought sin into the world. That is the answer to the question of why we have this mess. Not because God did it or because He foreordained it, but because He gave man the right to say no and walk away from Him. The results are what we see and read about in the newspaper every day. It is sin that brings all of its imperfections and so much suffering as we experience its heartache on a daily basis.

Maybe Leslie Weatherhead, a professor at the University of London, can help us. He wrote a little book that I would highly recommend. It is still in print. It is entitled, “The Will of God.” In this book, Dr. Weatherhead says that there is an intentional will of God, a permissive will of God, and an ultimate will of God.

God’s intentional will when He created this world was that everything would be perfect. All would be exactly as He wanted it to be. If that were the case, there would be no sickness, no death, no crime.

However, since God created man with a free will, he allowed for a permissive will of God. If we want to go contrary to what God has taught us, He will permit it. It is within his permissive will.

The third part of that will is the ultimate will. When, in God’s time, this world is done, then, by grace through faith in Christ, He will gather those in the kingdom of Heaven where His ultimate will is to be done. That ultimate will will be exactly as the intentional will was for those who have come and been cleansed through the blood of Jesus Christ.

Time does not permit us to discuss the story of the Old Testament character Joseph in detail, but you will recall that Joseph was a favored son of Jacob. The others did not like Joseph very well. One day they decided to get even with him. So they sold him to some Ishmaelites, who were on their way to Egypt.

When the Ishmaelites got into Egypt, they found a man by the name of Potiphar, who bought Joseph to be his servant. Potiphar was a servant of King Pharaoh and lived in the royal court. One day Pharaoh had a horrible dream and could not understand it. So he brought asked Potiphar what to do. Potiphar brought in Joseph who was able to foretell the future in a dream.

Joseph told Pharaoh there would have an abundant crop for seven years, but then would come a famine. He recommended Pharaoh save much of the grain that would be harvested in those abundant years.

Pharaoh did exactly that and Egypt had much grain. They not only fed themselves, but also many people who lived in other countries. Among those who came from foreign countries were Joseph’s brothers. They did not know that Joseph had anything to do with the excess food. One day Joseph finally told them he was their brother. When the brothers discovered who Joseph was, what he had done to help Egypt and other countries, and what he could do to them, they wondered if they would die.

Joseph saw their fear, and thus spoke the words of our text: “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

That is where that great old Biblical teaching comes: God can use evil for good. He does not send the evil, and He permits us to go contrary to his will when it comes. However, God will use the evil to bring us closer to Him.

When evil comes to us, no matter what it may be, it can either move us further away from God, or move us closer to him. What I have experienced is that when we are mad at God, we are not very happy people. We cannot live with that bitterness in our souls against God. For to whom, then, do we turn? God is telling us that He did not send it, but it is here, it has afflicted you, now come, let him use it. Let Him draw you closer.

The world is full of people who would not listen to God until they were finally brought to their knees not knowing where else to turn. God is not angry with them. He was right there to help them. He is interested in you.

This Lenten season, we are going to look at some of these afflictions under the general theme, “Today I Walk Where Jesus Once Walked,” see how we handle it, and if it will help us.

How Did You Like the Sermon?

How did you like the sermon? This has been a question of the ages. I was only a kid when one of my friends told me they had “roast preacher” for dinner. Not familiar with that term, I asked what that was. He replied, “It is when you sit around the table and talk about the sermon. If the sermon was not good, you roast the preacher.”

In some circles the sermon has been a part of the Sunday menu for many years. Preachers should take heart, because the greatest preacher who ever lived, Jesus Himself, was criticized for the content of his sermons. This sermon is not a defense of poor preaching, nor is it meant to discourage people from discussing what they heard from the pulpit. Let us see if God might use this message to help us a bit in understanding the scripture text.

As Jesus went about preaching, his followers grew in number. However, so did his critics. Jesus’ ministry bothered the Pharisees who were the defenders of the Jewish faith. They were appalled when He healed the man with a shriveled hand on the Sabbath. Jesus had broken the law, and they debated what should be done with Him. They hung on every word Jesus spoke hoping to find some heresy so they would have cause to get rid of Him.

It had been a difficult night for Jesus. He had been in the mountains praying for guidance as he selected the twelve disciples, known as the Apostles. These men would be leaders in bringing the Gospel message to the world. It was not an easy job to choose the right people, for many among Jesus’ followers had received Him as the Messiah. He was their Savior. It was from that group of disciples that the Apostles were to be chosen.

Having been guided by His Father, Jesus announced who they were. We have to believe there were some very disappointed people. Perhaps a man was present who had an outgoing personality and was convinced he would do a better job than Andrew. Perhaps a mother knew her son would be more faithful to the Lord than Judas Iscariot. (They had known Judas’ family, and those people were not to be trusted.) Then there was Matthew, a tax collector, who had charged a man’s father an exorbitant amount of money for his taxes. How could this man be an apostle?

Jesus was off to a bad start with the crowd and would be severely criticized for what he had to say. But the Lord began to preach what some have called the Sermon on the Plains.

This sermon had only two parts. In part one, Jesus brings hope to those who would suffer for His cause. The culture had not received Jesus, and they would not accept His disciples. These disciples would often go hungry, which would be especially difficult if they had a family to feed. Hardships would cause grief. Their families could experience sickness and strife. They would be ostracized by some of their dearest friends. Walking with Jesus would bring no assurance that life would be smooth sailing.

Jesus reminded them what suffering they would go through. However, He also told them to rejoice, the day is coming when things will be different. By being faithful to Him they would receive a great reward in heaven. It was a message of hope. He did not say they would earn their place in the heavenly mansions. This was a complete gift. But because they loved Him, they would be anxious to serve Him. For their expression of love for the Savior, He would reward them.

Then, turning to those who had not received Him as their Savior, Jesus preached the second part of his sermon. This was a message calling the crowd to repentance.

“Woe to you who are rich.” It was not their money, but their love of money that hindered their relationship with God.

“Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will be hungry.” It was not that they had ample food, but their neglect of starving people that was displeasing to God.

“Woe to you who laugh now . . .” Jesus was not opposed to having a good time. He enjoyed laughter, but life for them had become nothing but a big party while they did nothing to relieve all the suffering around them. “The day will come when your laughter will turn to tears.”

“Woe to you who enjoy the popularity of being liked by everyone.” It was not that people liked them, but their willingness to be all things to all men that was wrong.

This was very direct talk. It made some of the crowd quite uncomfortable. What did they think of Jesus’ sermon? The text gives us the answer: “They were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.” Their religion was a law religion. The ceremonial law had to be kept. If you broke the law, you were to be punished. Jesus broke the law when He healed a poor man with a shriveled hand.

Now, two thousand years later, the same question is being asked: What did you think of the sermon? As Garrison Keiller would say, “It had been an interesting Sunday morning.”

Church was over and the group of eight had gathered at the restaurant for brunch. “How did you like the sermon?” one man asked.

“Well, it was a little long. Otherwise, I guess it was all right. You can’t argue with the content. But it seems to me these ministers can probably say what they have to say in twenty minutes.”

“Well, the preacher is new. You must give him some time to get used to us. Then he will know what we want to hear, and he will avoid those topics that irritate the congregation. You know the most important part of being a successful minister is getting along with the people. He cannot irritate the congregation and expect to be here very long. Still, this man looks like he is an intelligent fellow and knows this. Probably the trouble he got into with his last congregation has taught him a lesson.”

“A little more humor in the sermon would help,” a woman added. “The cold and snow makes it gloomy enough without him talking to us about our shortcomings. We all know that we have them.”

About this time one of the more courageous in the crowd says, “Let’s change the subject. We have had enough church for one day. Who’s going to win the football game this afternoon?”

“The Packers have it sown up,” one fellow said from the end of the table. “You can’t beat that Fahr when it is zero outside. Those fellows from the south will wilt like a poinsettia left in the garage the day after Christmas.”

The football conversation finally quieted when someone asked, “I wonder if the new preacher likes sports. A little sports talk from the pulpit helps keep the congregation awake.”

“I don’t know if he likes sports. But one thing I hope is that he will not bring politics into the pulpit. When they begin talking about caring for the people in the third world and all the street people, you know they have been at some conference where the speakers were democrats. I resent that because I am a republican. We don’t need any of that political talk on Sunday morning.”

“Well, I agree, but he can be radical on other things, too. I don’t like it when he intimates that someone in the congregation is not a Christian. Then his sermon sounds like he has been influenced by the far right, and most of them are republicans. He made my daughter-in-law uncomfortable, because her folks don’t believe in God. But they are nice people. I don’t think they are going to hell if they keep the Golden Rule.”

Realizing the conversation was getting a little warm, and people from other table were listening, she tried to change the subject and asked, “I wonder how he feels about the place of women in the ministry? That’s a very controversial subject in our day. I could never figure out why Jesus didn’t include a few women in the group of Apostles. Some of them would have been much more outspoken that Nathaniel was.”

The conversation was out of hand, so the oldest member in the group said it was time to go home. “It’s been quite a conversation. Now what was it that the preacher talked about in the sermon?”

The server, who had been listening to the conversation, could not resist answering the question: “I was at the first service,” she said, “and in his sermon he talked about how Jesus loves us and wants us for His own. I needed to hear that sermon, because I am a university student, and we need every bit of spiritual help we can get. I am so sorry you feel as you do. I believe it was a great sermon, and I will be back for more next Sunday. Hope to see you there.”

Not another word was spoken by the “wounded eight.” If they did not get a message from the pastor’s sermon, God had used the server to speak to them.

Is it wrong to discuss the sermon? Absolutely not! Most preachers I know want you to do that. However, when you discuss the sermon, know the criteria for a good sermon. It must be true to the Word of God. That is our authority. You must ask, Was Jesus at the center of the sermon? Was the way of salvation made clear? Does it make an appeal to the unbeliever to receive Christ in faith and walk with Him? Does the sermon call us to repentance and faith?

With these criteria keep right on asking the question: What did you think of the sermon?

Does Your Congregation Have A Future?

A month ago the state of Iowa had a political caucus that gave some indication of whom the Democrats would favor as their presidential nominee. While the television commercials became tiresome, we can learn much from the caucus. It was often debated which candidate had the best organization. Was Kerry’s organization stronger than Dean’s organization? How did Edward’s organization help him in the closing days of the campaign?

From all this discussion on the power of the organization, one could only conclude that it played a big role in the candidate being successful. Perhaps it is necessary for any organization to be strong in order for its mission to be successful. Jesus must have seen the importance of the organization, for He put together one that would carry out His mission of bringing the message of salvation to the world. We learn this from our text. Let us look at these verses of Scripture carefully.

When Jesus began to preach sermons and perform miracles it was not long before people began to flock to Him. The Bible tells of a day when He preached to 5,000 people. After the service was over, Jesus fed the people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. It would be natural for a parent to bring a sick child to the Lord. His dynamic messages got their attention also. People burdened with guilt loved to hear that Jesus could forgive their sins, and their life could start over. Those who had little time left on this earth were elated to know the promise of eternal life for all who die trusting in Christ.

The Gospel, which is so comforting, has always been a message that wins people’s attention. Consequently, Jesus had His admirers. However, these admirers didn’t seem to be around when He got serious and began to talk about a personal relationship with Him. When His message changed from “Come unto me and I will give you rest,” to “If you want to be my disciple, you must take up your cross and follow me,” the crowds became much smaller. That was true then, and it is true today. Christmas and Easter always attracts more people to worship services than Stewardship Sunday.

Jesus knew his admirers were precious in God’s sight, but they could not be counted on for building His Kingdom. They would not be able to handle the difficult test of defending the faith before leaders who could put them to death if necessary. The day might come when these admirers would be of great value to the Lord; however, it had not yet happened. They were not a part of His organization at that time.

Nevertheless, there were some among the admirers who were much more serious about a relationship with Jesus. They had come to the place where they were ready to live in a committed relationship with Him. These people became known as His disciples. They were not frightened when Jesus asked them to come and follow Him. Instead they left their work and families just to be near Him. They wanted to learn from Him.

This learning, then and now, means not just learning more about Jesus, but also about becoming better acquainted with Him personally. It is what we might call experiential learning. I can learn about the President of the United States from books and magazines. However, I get to know Jesus only if I have the opportunity to live with Him for a while. Then He not only gets into my head, but also into my soul. It is like a man and woman who have fallen in love and cannot get enough of each other. These were the people Jesus could use in His organization to build a Kingdom that would change the world.

So, let us take a look at our text. It says, “One of those days, Jesus went out to a mountain to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” From this verse we learn that choosing His leaders was serious business for Jesus. God grant that we might be reminded of this truth in our day.

The text goes on: “When morning came, he called the disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.” An apostle means an ambassador. He lives with the truth that he has been sent. The number of apostles in Jesus’ organization was limited to the original, or restored, twelve listed in our text. Plus, Paul and Barnabas are also mentioned as apostles in Acts 14:14. In Jesus’ organization these men were to live and work in establishing the Church in the first century. None others were appointed to take their places.

From then on, Jesus’ organization consisted of disciples. These were the people whose lives were committed to Jesus. They had received Him as their Savior and Lord. These were the only qualifications: they had experienced God’s love in Christ, and they loved God. Wealth, education, and social standing were not qualifications.

We thank God for people of all positions in life who have become disciples of the Lord Jesus. Some of the wealthiest, best-educated, and most prominent people are numbered among His disciples. This has been true throughout history, and it is true today. However, let us say it again: Wealth, education, and prominence are not necessary qualifications to be Jesus’ disciples.

This is Jesus’ organization. It is the same today as it was 2,000 years ago, and it will continue to be the same until He comes again. He calls people to be His disciples and then to go and make other disciples.

With this background, I come to the question that serves as our theme for this sermon: Does your church have a future? You may wonder why I confront you with this question. Let me share something that has been on my soul for a long time and was brought to the forefront of my thinking by a book entitled Power Surge. It was written by Michael Foss. In his book, Pastor Foss quotes Bill Easum, a sociologist and a student of the Protestant church internationally. Easum writes, “Most mainline and established churches are dying, because they only try to take care of their members. Others have suggested that one-third of the more than 325,000 Protestant churches in the United States will close their doors within the next decade. And this is a conservative estimate.”

What is the cause? One reason is the decline in population in certain areas. Many of the people have left rural American. The farms get larger, and there is no work for those who live there. Communities have changed. Schools and business establishments have gone out of business, and churches have closed their doors.

However, it is not only in these areas of decreasing population that churches are dying. It is sad to admit, but many churches have what Foss calls a membership congregation rather than a discipleship congregation. In a membership church the biggest percentage of the people have little or no personal commitment to Jesus Christ. They have joined the church for many reasons. Perhaps the relatives of earlier generations were disciples of the Lord, but such is not the case with the present membership. In this case, the church has ceased to be the Church, and it should close. Their burning desire no longer is to bring people into a living relationship with Christ. At best they are a social group who might have some nice projects that help their members and others in the congregation. There is really nothing to hold them together, and so they will close their doors.

There is an old saying that God has no grandchildren Ð only children. Each person must come to the Lord. I had grandparents who came from Europe with a strong love in their hearts for the Lord Jesus. Not all of their children had that same faith and love for the Church. They drifted away and today have little to do with any congregation.

What about your congregation? Does it have a future? It will only if it continues to follow Jesus’ organizational plan of holding Him up as the Savior of the world, and it ministers in His name. This type of congregation is not simply out recruiting members; they are making disciples for the Lord Jesus. This discipleship congregation is not simply interested in caring for its own membership, but also in reaching out to those who live in spiritual darkness never having heard the Gospel.

Christ’s Church was organized to proclaim a message that would change the world. Those congregations who are faithful to His organization will continue to minister to the people who live in their communities until the Lord Jesus comes again.

Far More Than a Fish Story

In my opinion, one of the most gifted entertainers today is Garrison Keiller with his Prairie Home Companion show. This man has a great talent to draw verbal pictures of life in Lake Wobegon. This fictitious Norwegian community in Minnesota, according to Keiller, is a place “where the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all of the children are above average.”

Garrison Keiller, in his presentations of this community, describes life in Lake Wobegon in such a way that makes the characters seem alive. You can actually picture them going about their daily tasks with all the joys and frustrations of their rather simple life. While these stories make one double over with laughter, they are far more than fairy tales. They become real people.

Those of us who have come from similar backgrounumor, but acknowledge the truths being presented. On a vacation in northern Minnesota some years ago, I found myself looking around for this community and wonder, one of the town characters, was still living.

Today, in our text, we meet another great story teller. His name is Luke, and his inspired pen brings us some great Biblical truths that are an important part of our Christian faith. I relived the story in our Scripture text several years ago as I stood on the shore of Lake Gennesaret. I recalled the days when Jesus sat in a boat teaching the crowd that had gathered. It was also the day when Jesus called Peter and Andrew to leave their fishing nets and become His disciples.

Seventy years ago, my Sunday school teacher, Mary Thompson, taught me this story. This woman, like Garrison Keiller, could make stories come alive. “Today, Jesus is calling all of us to be fishers of men,” Mary emphasized. “Some might become pastors and preach these great Biblical truths from a pulpit. Others will remain right here in our hometown and work in the paper mill where they will have an opportunity to tell the same story to their friends. It matters not where you tell the story about Jesus. It only matters that you tell it.”

Then she taught us this song that I have sung all these years:

I will make you fishers of men.

Fishers of men,

Fishers of men.

I will make you fishers of men

If you’ll follow me.

If you’ll follow me.

If you’ll follow me.

I will make you fishers of men

If you’ll follow me.

Think of it! This gifted woman taught this lesson to her Sunday school class, and it lives not only in my head, but also in my heart today! That shows how important it is to have good Sunday school teachers. They impart truths that we carry with us for the rest of our days.

Let us study this story in more detail. Jesus stood by the Lake of Gennesaret teaching the people. The people crowded around Him in order to hear. So, to give Himself a bit more freedom, Jesus got into a boat, which belonged to a fisherman by the name of Simon. When he finished speaking, Jesus said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down your nets for a catch.”

Simon replied, “Master, we have been fishing all night and did not catch anything. (Those of us who are professional fishermen know you do not catch fish at this time of the day, nor do you catch fish in deep water.) Yet, because you have told us to do this, we will obey.”

Can’t you see the crowd? Most of them knew the basic rules for fishing, and this simply did not make sense. Probably someone in the crowd said, Jesus is a master teacher, but it is obvious He knows nothing about fishing. Another could have argued, Don’t be too sure. I am sticking around to see what happens.

When Peter and his brother Andrew did what the Lord told them to do, they caught fish. They caught so many fish, in fact, that their nets broke and they had to ask other fishermen, probably James and John, to assist. The crowd went wild. They had seen Jesus perform a miracle before their very eyes.

This was too much for Peter. When on the shore, standing in Jesus’ presence, he fell on his knees, and said, “Lord, go away from me. I am a sinful man.” (I don’t belong in your presence.)

Then came Jesus’ punch line: “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” The Bible says they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything, and followed him.

Yes, this is a great story, but it is more than a story. It carries with it an important lesson for those of us who trust Christ as Savior and desire to follow Him as Lord. For in fact, Christ calls us to be fishers of people. This then leads us to a couple of questions: Who is Jesus calling to fish, and where are the fish they are supposed to catch?

The fish in our text symbolize millions of people in our world who do not know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Where are these people? Many live in parts of the world where the Gospel of Jesus has never been heard. Hearing Jesus’ command to go and tell the Gospel, the Church, throughout its history, has sent thousands of people to proclaim it. The results are that some of the strongest parts of the Christian Church today are in Africa.

During these last years we have become better acquainted with the Mideast where the name of Jesus is not known. Though the doors are often shut to the Gospel of Christ in these Moslem-dominated countries, our missionaries continue to labor there, often in great danger.

Our young people have a renewed interest in world missionaries. Some denominations and para-church groups are sending hundreds of people to these wide-open fields to bear witness to Christ, both in word and in deed.

The Internet gives us another opportunity to proclaim the Good News of Christ. Even in our small Internet ministry we hear from many countries on a weekly basis. People hear the message on ChristianCrusaders.org and want to know more about the Christian faith.

The United States continues to have masses of people who live without Christ. We find many in our prisons. The Church has been responsive to the needs of the men and women who are incarcerated. Prison Fellowship, under the leadership of its founder Chuck Colson, has had a rich ministry among these people. Not long ago a man, who greeted me following a service, told me he became a Christian while in prison.

When we look at what is happening in our government, we find evidence that many of our leaders have no relationship with Christ. The decisions of our judges and legislators reveal their defiance of Christian teachings. If that were not so, abortion would not be legal, and the blessing of same sex marriages would receive no consideration. What shall we do? Jesus tells us to use every opportunity we have to let people know that God’s Word is still supreme.

Unbelievers are also found in our churches. Some stand in the pulpits; others are found in the pews. Much work needs to be done within the walls of some of our most beautiful and prestigious churches. Let us not kid ourselves. Not all that is proclaimed on Sunday morning has the blessing of Almighty God.

It is exciting to know spiritual fishing is good right in our everyday society. Unbelievers are all around us – at our schools and where we work, play, and socialize.

Who again are those Jesus is calling to fish? He is calling those who know Him in a personal way. They are Sunday school teachers, pastors, lay people who share Christ with others during the week. They are parents who have built their homes with God’s Word at the center and are teaching their children the great Biblical stories that will shape their lives and make them great people of God.

Tell the story. Many are anxious to hear. Some of them are walking around you every day.

Following Christ Is a Growing Experience

I have a friend who is mentally handicapped. If I asked him how much is five times five, he would reply that he does not know. Putting Tom in such an embarrassing situation would be cruel, and those present would not like it.

As many know, my wife is physically disabled due to a stroke nine years ago. She in unable to walk without some human assistance, and even then she moves slowly. Sometimes, when I am helping her into our house and it is bitterly cold, I will say, “Eunice, can you hurry up?” Then she will say graciously, “I am going as fast as I can.” At that point I realize how cruel and stupid my remark was. Will I ever learn the simple lesson that you cannot expect a person to do something he cannot possibly do?

To expect the impossible from a person who is physically disabled is wrong. But what about the person who is spiritually disabled? We continually tell this individual to straighten out. He was born with a sinful nature and has had very little contact with Jesus Christ throughout his life. He cannot change his life.

Some sharp conflicts exist between biblical Christianity and humanism. Christianity teaches that humans are born with a sinful nature. Humanism believes that we are born basically good and can control ourselves with the help of good education and perhaps some counseling.

George Forell, in his book, “The Protestant Faith,” takes issue with humanistic teaching. He writes, “The human being is born in revolt against God. He does not have to be taught to sin; it is the pattern of human nature. This does not mean that we are unable to live like gentlemen and ladies. It does not mean that we are beasts. It does, however, mean that sin perverts our social life as well as our personal life. It affects our relationships with our friends and with our enemies. Our revolt against God is noticeable in all areas of our lives.”

The Law of God can tell us what to do, but it does not empower us to obey it. Paul gives expression to this frustration. He writes, “The good I want to do, I do not do. What I do not want to do I end up doing . . . Wretched man that I am. Who will deliver me?” It is like my wife saying, “I would like to move faster, but I cannot.”

Life goes on, and you continue in your unhappy state of mind. Ever more people do not care to be around you. Your family avoids you. You seek counsel, but again it does not seem to help. Paul describes your life when he says that it is filled with impurity, hatred, jealousy, temper tantrums, envy, and occasionally some drunkenness.

Let me tell you the story of a man who was very unhappy with his life, although he had many material blessings and a pleasant wife and children. Something had to change in his life. So in desperation he accepted a fellow worker’s invitation to attend church one Sunday.

The entire service was an experience for him. Everything in the service seemed to center on one person, namely Jesus Christ. The music that was sung, the Scriptures that were read, and the sermon that was preached all pointed the listener to Christ as the One who could change his life. He learned the meaning of the cross Ð that Jesus Christ died as a payment for his sins and invites people like this man to receive Him as Savior and Lord. He then would enter into a personal relationship with Christ and changes would begin to appear in his life.

The next Sunday he was back in the same church for more. This was repeated week after week, and his family began to make fun of him saying, “Are you getting religion, Dad?”

Finally, however, his wife attended the worship service with him. This time he felt comfortable enough to stop at coffee fellowship and visit with those he knew. While he had never gone to the coffee fellowship after the service, that Sunday he suggested to his wife that they spend a few minutes visiting with the people with whom they had worship, some of whom were friends. The friendliness of those people impressed both of them.

After many months of worshiping regularly, they made an appointment to visit with the pastor. During that visit, they made a commitment and received Christ as their Savior. Later they joined the congregation.

Now comes the crucial question: Have they arrived in their relationship with the Lord Jesus? The answer is no. The Lord has just begun to work real changes in their lives.

These changes came, and continue to come, from their relationship with the Savior, because they have experienced God’s love, they love Him, and they will show this love to others, especially their children. There is a joy in their lives that was once not there. They focus on all the good things the Lord has done for them. This brings them the peace of knowing that, whether they live or die, they belong to Him. Life has more security. It offers greater challenges than they have ever seen before.

Christ has made them different people. Oh, there are those times when they resort back to the old ways of unkindness and hatefulness. They are quick to say their lives are not always gentle, and losing self-control is not difficult. They have not arrived at the state of perfection, and they know full well the truth of the Scriptures when says that following Christ is a growing experience. St. Paul says it so well, “Not that I have arrived, but I press on to the high calling that I have in Jesus Christ, my Lord” (Philippians 3:12).

This is a true story. Each congregation has members who could relate to the experience of this husband and wife. The Christian faith is a way of life. It is Christ who lives in us, and the Holy Spirit continues to work changes in us. We are not under the Law. We are being changed by our daily walk with the Lord.

Rick Warren, in his book, “The Purpose Driven Life,” said it well, “While effort has nothing to do with your salvation, it has much to do with your spiritual growth. You do not just sit around and wait for it to happen.”

What do we do? Find a church, if you do not already have one, that will help you get into the Bible. Read your Bible. Join a small group Bible study, worship regularly, and spend time with Christian friends.

These are a few steps that the person who wants a more Christ-like life can take. Unlike changing your life, which you cannot do, you can take steps that will put you in contact with God’s Word through which He will speak to you, and the changes will take place.