Describe Your Relationship With God

Seven weeks ago in the United States, we relived some of the terrible experiences of September 11, 2001 when our nation was attacked. During these attacks, cries for help were coming fast and furious from those caught in it. “God, help us. God, please let us out of here. I have a family who really needs me.” People were turning to Almighty God for help.

As I listened to their prayers being lifted up to God, I wondered how they knew God. Would they have described him as the God of their life, or simply a higher power? Had they called on him daily when all was going well and life was moving on routinely, or only when they had no one else to help?

My heart was touched that many of these people had a faith in God, and I was thankful for those prayers. We do not know how God dealt with them in their dying moments. However, this we do know: God wants us to have a personal relationship with him. And so we can hear him calling for us in our text, pleading with us to come to him. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”

Now I would like to turn to two fictional families who suffered tragedy on that day in 2001. The children in these homes were back in school. The mothers had a busy day scheduled, and the dads were headed to their offices in the World Trade Center.

The first family had a devotion, a reading from the Bible, and prayed together. Then when it was all over, they hugged one another and went about their day. They left their home carrying love from one another and, more importantly, having heard a word of love from Jesus Christ their Savior.

When the man got to his office, he went about his work. That office Ð neat and well-cared for Ð in a few minutes was nothing more than rubble. People were shouting and crying. The tower had been hit by an airplane, and they realized death could be very near.

That dad, who left home with such a beautiful beginning, was frightened too, even though he was a committed Christian. He was concerned that he would not be around to lead his family, who needed him. However, in the midst of all the turmoil and tears, he remembered God’s Word from that very morning: “Cast all your cares on me because I really care for you.” He didn’t understand why God would permit anything like this to happen, but he also knew his family were in the hands of their heavenly Father, come what may. If God was going to take him to heaven that day, then that would be all right too. It was not the way he had planned it, or the way he liked it. Yet, he had a personal relationship with his Lord, and in those trying, difficult moments, God had clearly spoken to him through his Word, the Bible.

The second family got up about the same time. Mother was busy with all kinds of things, so the children grabbed something to eat on their way out the door. They believed in God and they were nice people, but this family had a very impersonal relationship with God. They went to church only on occasion and had no prayer time in their home.

When the towers tumbled down from the attack, this father tried praying to a higher power. God had not spoken to him that day, because he had not picked up God’s Word. This was the first time he had prayed for a long, long time. This dad probably had little comfort and no assurance for what the future held for his family and himself.

Two families, both praying to God Ð one with a personal relationship, and the other with nothing but a very distant relationship.

We live in an imperfect world. It is broken, so we need a message like today’s text from God. Humble yourself therefore under God’s Almighty hand that he may lift you up at the right time. Cast all your cares on him, because he cares about you.

We all have our experiences that, symbolically speaking, are 9-11s for us. I served 43 years in one parish and watched many terrible things happen. Many 9-11s.

I stood once with a family who lost three sons in a motorcycle accident. This family was crushed. All three sons had a great future before them, but now had been killed.

I know a woman who was married to a university administrator. He was traveling to another town on business for the university when his car collided with a large truck in the fog, and he was killed. One of our members, who was on the university staff, and I went to the home and broke the news to her. She was crushed in despair, for her whole life was turned around. It didn’t seem to make any sense. It was her 9-11.

But now God has lifted her up in Jesus Christ. She has a beautiful home and another God-fearing husband. She could talk to you about casting your cares on Him, that in good time He will lift you up. This healing doesn’t take place just all of a sudden; it can take years sometimes. But the day will come when you can rejoice in your Savior.

I know another woman who has a great son. However, he has gotten into some difficulty with the law and was sent away to prison for a long time. We sat in the court-room and heard the judge speak to this man as a kind father. “I have to send you away for a long, long time. The law demands it, for you have done something terribly wrong.”

That man still sits in prison today, and his mother’s heart still aches. But she has been lifted up and has cast her cares upon the Lord. It is very difficult, but she has someone to turn to with whom she has a personal relationship. She’s not just praying to some higher power.

I know a young lady who is only in her 50s. In the course of her short time on this earth, she has buried four of her loved ones Ð her father, her mother, her husband, and her brother. Her only family left are her two children. Yet, in spite of all this tragedy, she’s been lifted up and is a powerful witness to all around her.

Jesus, in our text, wants us to humble ourselves. When we begin a new day, we don’t know what it will hold. When we have our 9-11s, will our prayers go out to a personal or an impersonal God? Without a doubt, many people in the Twin Towers thought they were adequate to take care of the day, but soon the circumstances showed they were not.

It is necessary to humbly take ourselves aside and say, “God, I know how weak I am, but I know how strong you are. I know you will receive me in spite of my sins because your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ has died for me.” That is humbling yourself that in due time he may lift you up.

Whether it is a time of real circumstance Ð such as we have described on September 11 that saw the hijacked airplanes attack us or when you are crushed because a loved one has been a disappointment Ð God is there. He is anxious to help you. Cast your cares on me; you can’t take all the worries that come along.

When all is said and done, He promises to restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. I have seen people go through some terrible tragedies, but they had a personal relationship with the Lord to carry them through. We may understand the reason for these events while we are yet on this earth, but in other cases the reason will not be fully understood until we go to be with the Lord in heaven.

That is our Savior who was with us in America on September 11, 2001 and wants to be with us in America today. However, we need to come to him humbly. Just think of how he could lift us up. Think of all the sorrow we have seen in one war after another, anger and fighting instead of living in peace, love, and joy for all God has given us.

These words hold a message from God to us both individually and to us as a country. “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Cast your cares on me, for I care for you.” That is a promise from God.

Christians’ Lives Are Different

If we are committed to Jesus Christ, our lives are different.

That is what our text is teaching us. Listen!

Peter was well acquainted with many of the churches in his day. Some of them, he started; Others, he visited many times. Many of the people in these churches were committed to Christ, and Peter was thankful for that. Others, who had not received Christ as their Savior and Lord, attended with their Christian relatives or friends. However, they became a bad influence in the church. The world was in the churches.

This disturbed Peter. You might wonder how we know this was happening in the early church. After reading today’s text, I am convinced that it was happening in Peter’s day, because it happens today as well. Listen to what he writes.

“Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do Ð living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:1-5).

These are strong words. Peter had presented the Gospel to the people and was anxious to share the message that God loved them. He emphasized that not only could their sins be forgiven, but they could also have a different attitude toward these sins. When they slipped and fell back into some of their old ways, He would pick them up. However, their attitude toward these sins would change and many would disappear. We are sinners, but we do not rejoice in living in the cesspool of immorality contrary to God’s will.

The Bible teaches both the Law and the Gospel. In my early years, we had a strong emphasis on the Law. In many cases, congregations began to interpret the Law in various ways.

The Law said, “Thou shall not steal.” Gambling was considered to be stealing, and it was related to playing cards; therefore we were taught, Thou shall not play cards. To the best of my knowledge, we never had a deck of cards in my childhood home. I have to confess that, as an adult, my wife and I have enjoyed many evenings playing a game of bridge with other couples. This is legalism.

The Bible teaches, “Thou shall not commit adultery.” Some interpreted dancing as a method to arouse the sexual drives, which could lead to adultery. The fear of this happening gave us another law, Thou shall not dance. The result was that many of us, who belonged to the same church, could not go to our freshman reception at high school for fear that we would dance and fall into adultery. As a result, my wife and I have never danced a step. Now she is unable to dance, and sometimes I wish we could have had that opportunity throughout our married life. I believe the people who danced on The Lawrence Welk Show were enjoying themselves and not entertaining impure thoughts.

The legalists meant well. They thought their man-made laws would protect God’s Law from being broken. However, the danger of legalism is that it robs people of their assurance of salvation. They believe Christ has done 99% of what is necessary and the sinner has to contribute 1% by keeping this man-made list of dos and don’ts, which he is unable to do.

Having said all of this, it is not our main problem, for today it seems that anything goes. Some teach an adjustable Christianity. Peter writes against this thinking. God’s Word tells us that when a person receives Christ, the Holy Spirit begins to make him a new person. The Christian is challenged with these words: “Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:7b-10).

The Scriptures make it clear that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ who did it all for us on the cross and at the empty tomb. When we have this assurance of salvation, we desire to live for that Savior. He becomes our Lord.

Do Not Erase

On Sunday, September 11, our nation paused to remember that horrific day we refer to as 9/11. It’s been ten years since terrorists attacked our country, killing thousands of innocent people, and leaving millions of us feeling shocked, grieved, depressed, anxious, and insecure. The message on the anniversary of that day was that we not forget the horror of the actions, the pain of lost lives, as well as the heroism exhibited by those who stepped up to serve, save, and protect.

Our President, speaking to the nation, directed our attention to many remembrances. He began with a Bible verse that we must remember, “Though weeping lasts for the night, joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm 30:5b). He then took us through the remembrances of things learned over the past ten years since 9/11. He also reminded us of the principles and values upon which this great nation was founded. By the time he was finished, I felt inspired, hopeful, and strengthened for the future.

As I thought about his words, I was also reminded of a Bible verse that has carried me through rough circumstances. It was written by St. Paul to Timothy, a young clergyman who was fighting the good fight for the gospel in a congregation that was giving him some problems. This congregation suffered a lot of confusion as well as hostility and suspicion from the surrounding community. I imagine Timothy must have wondered what in the world he was doing there and how it was all going to end. Some days I’m sure he might have even wanted to pack up and leave it all behind.

His older pastor friend, Paul, wrote to encourage him in his ministry. Paul began by reminding Timothy of his upbringing, of how his faithful mother and grandmother had raised him in the faith knowing the gospel. He encouraged Timothy to be strong in the grace that is ours in Jesus and reminded him that ministry is hard and that he’s not exempt from the challenges of life. Then he wrote this simple, yet very profound, statement: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of DavidÑthat is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal.” Let’s take a look at these words.

“Remember,” Paul said. To remember is to bear in mind, keep hanging on to, do not erase from your thinking. There is power for us to experience in remembering. In memories, we can look back and count our blessings of experiences from God. In memories we can look back and see more clearly God’s hand at work. With memories of past graces and God’s faithfulness, we are strengthened to face the present as well as the future.

“Remember Jesus Christ.” The name, Jesus, means He saves. He was telling Timothy to remember that he has a Savior.

In the book of Matthew, the angel told Joseph to “give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). He’s the one that the prophet Isaiah foretold would take our punishment upon himself on a tree, the one who would suffer and die as a sacrifice on the cross as a payment for humanity’s sin.

Then, we have that word Ð Christ Ð tagged onto Jesus. Christ is not the last name of Jesus; it’s his title. It means the Anointed One, the King. He’s the one for whom Israel had been waiting so many years, the Messiah King. When Jesus began his ministry, he announced that the Kingdom of God had come. He was ushering God’s Kingdom into the world, and he was the King. He’s the one the prophet Isaiah described as the “Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.”

This Jesus Ð the Savior, your King, and God’s answer to the prayers of Israel Ð “. . . was raised from the dead.” He died on a cross, but God raised him on Easter morning. He lives! Death is defeated and does not have the final word over the person who trusts in Jesus Christ. Not only do we have victory over the power of death in Christ, but we also have the assurance that he is present. The risen Christ says, “I am with you always to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b). He will not leave you orphaned, but will come to you. You’re never alone; he’s there to be your strength, your friend, your comforter.

Finally, Paul adds, “a descendant of David.” Jesus is the sign of God’s faithfulness. He is the fulfillment of all God’s promises, the one Micah described as coming to rule the people from the house of David, who would feed his flock. His lineage was from the house of David.

This is a reminder of history in this little aside of Paul’s as he points to Jesus as the descendant of David. He’s reminding Timothy of the big picture of God’s plan. God himself has been faithfully working in history, carrying out his salvation plan, and Jesus is the culmination of that. All who belong to Jesus have assurance that God keeps his promises about the future. He holds our future in his hands. He has the final word.

Timothy, you’re on the right team. You’re in a movement that God himself has begun. Don’t give up. You belong to the God who is faithful. Some day Christ will reappear, and every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. You’ve got to remember that. I know life is complicated. I know that you’re facing disappointments. But remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David.

As I listen to Paul’s words about remembering, I’m finding that I’m not remembering things as well as I used to. Names, addresses, life experiences, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, whether I took my cholesterol medicine or not, even what I ate for lunch Ð sometimes these things just don’t stick in my mind anymore. Life sometimes gets harried, and we worry as it gets out of control, which makes our memories even a little more shaky. We need to constantly be reminded, in the midst of all that chaos, this major bit of counsel from the Holy Spirit coming through the pen of the apostle Paul. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, victorious, present, foretold by God, the Way, the Truth and the Life, descended from David, God’s sign of faithfulness working in history toward the final consummation. Remember Jesus Christ.

It’s interesting the way Paul then goes on to say, “That is my gospel.” That’s my good news. It has gotten me in trouble, but it is also my hope, and my strength, and my encouragement for the facing of the rest of my days. So, Timothy, remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David, for this is your gospel, Timothy.

Dear friends, those of you listening today who have placed your trust in Jesus Christ, let me remind you: that is your gospel, as well. Remember it. Carry it. Bear it in mind constantly in every circumstance. Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David. It’s so simple, yet so very strengthening and profound.

Dr. Albert Einstein was a world famous mathematician in the past century, who at one point was even named TIME Magazine’s “Man of the Century.” All kinds of stories have floated around about him, but one of my favorites is this: One Friday afternoon, a cleaning person arrived at Dr. Einstein’s seminar room. As she began to prepare the room for the next week, she found sections of the blackboard covered with intricate equations and formulas. Over these equations Dr. Einstein had boldly scrawled, Erase.

Over one section, however, he had carefully written, Do Not Erase. Below it was this equation: 2 + 2 = 4.

What do you suppose Dr. Einstein was trying to say with these instructions? Was he telling his students that the mind can wonder far if it knows its home? Was he reminding himself of the fact? It’s true that it’s often easier to deal with the complications of life if we keep reminding ourselves of its simplicities.

We can apply this principle to our lives of faith as well. We need to remember, in the midst of complicating circumstances, the basic fact of God’s love for us and his promises for us. We need to remember, “Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.” Do Not Erase.

It’s true that life has its complications. However, this is our gospel: Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, holding us in the palm of his hand for eternity, a descendant of David, the fulfillment of a God who is faithful to us and to his promises.

Yes, life does get complicated and hard. Timothy experienced that reality. So did the Apostle Paul, and so will we. But I encourage you to follow the Holy Spirit’s counsel this day. Let it be your strength and your solid rock in all circumstances life throws at you. Place this verse in your heart and repeat it to yourself day after day, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David. This is my gospel.” Do Not Erase!

What If?

Christians talk about the joy and peace they experience by trusting Jesus as Savior and Lord. However, Christians can also experience suffering and hardship for the cause of Christ.

When suffering comes your way, are you tempted to ask where is this God of love? Today’s text talks about what happens to the Christian in times of suffering, and we use it as our theme for this message, What If?

Peter, the writer of our text, understood the power of temptation and the depth of suffering. In Matthew 26, Jesus tells the disciples that they would all turn away from him that very night. This was offensive to the disciples, and Peter responded by saying, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I will never disown you.” All the others said the same. Jesus answered, “This very night, Peter, before the cock crows, you will disown me three times” (Matt. 26:31-35).

Then Jesus and the disciples went to a place called Gethsemane where he was arrested. The high priests and the Sandhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so they could have him put to death. Finally, when Jesus confessed that he was the Son of God, they had the evidence needed for death, and they took him to the Roman governor.

As Peter was in the courtyard watching all that was going on, a servant girl came by. She saw Peter warming himself and said, “You also were with that Jesus of Galilee.” But Peter denied it. When the servant girl saw Jesus again, she said, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Again Peter denied it. Later those who were standing near Jesus said, “Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.” Peter began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, “I don’t now the man.” Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And Peter broke down and wept bitterly (Matt. 26:69-75).

Peter had been taught the power of temptation and the depth of suffering.

Years went by, and Peter was a new man in Christ. About that time, Herod, the King, put Peter in prison and was planning to kill him the next day. We read in Acts 12, “The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.”

Being in this situation did not disturb Peter’s sleep. He had gone from being afraid of identifying himself as a disciple of Jesus before a young lady, to standing before the high court, freely confessing that Jesus was his Savior and Lord. He had learned the truth of Jesus’ promise, “I am with you always to the end of the age.”

We need to be prepared for tough times. Our faith does not take difficult times away, but it tells us how we can face them with Christ at our side.

The Navy taught my brother-in-law what to do as a chaplain on the Gambia Bay if his ship were ever sunk. Then the day came that it did sink, and many were killed or badly injured while others swam around with life jackets and life rafts in shark-infested waters for 48 hours. He knew God was with them, and so his task was to share passages of comfort from the Bible he had committed to memory and pray with the sailors. They were prepared.

The words of our text say, “Who is going to hurt you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should have to suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

As an older person, living among other old people, one sees a lot of suffering. The 80s and 90s are often referred to as the Golden Years. However, it is also the time of our lives when the bodies are wearing out. If we are suffering pain that can be unbearable, our doctors can do a marvelous job keeping us going Ð new knees, new hips, and new parts added to the hearts. However, we realize they cannot do the impossible. God reminds us that it is appointed for man to die.

What a great time to bear witness to the truth that, when this life is over, Christ has prepared a place for us in heaven. For the believer in Christ, it is the beginning of eternal life with Jesus. This is our assurance, because our salvation does not depend on our good works but by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. We have been prepared through His Word to accept death as a conquered enemy. To share that promise of eternal life from Christ is our Christian witness.

Many parents are brokenhearted because their children have left the faith. What if this should be our loved ones? They question some of the basic truths in the Bible. Seldom do they go to church, and they never open the Scriptures. The parents ask honestly where they have failed. If they have planted the seed in the lives of their sons and daughters, and those children have learned the gospel from dad and mom, they have been taught the way. God has given us a promise, “My word shall not return void.” You may not have been able to reach them for Christ, but your word of comfort to share with others is this: “God is not done with them.”

I close with King David’s words of comfort to his son Solomon, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished” (1 Chronicles 28:20).

Evangelism in the Home

In our text today we are introduced to an interesting thought Ð evangelism in our homes. We talk much about evangelism in our congregation, community, and the world, but what about our homes where some have yet to meet the Savior?

As the Gospel was preached in the church of the apostles, many people committed themselves to faith in Christ as their Savior and Lord. From the text, and from early church history, it appears that more women converted than men. This caused some problems. The wives were anxious to have their husbands receive Christ, but the husbands were not interested in the Christian faith. In our text Peter talks about the problem.

We have the same situation in many of our congregational homes today. So today I speak to you on the theme, “Evangelism in the Home.”

When I conducted premarital counseling during my years as an active pastor, we discussed the spiritual life of both the man and the woman planning to be married. One time, a young lady came to visit with me about her upcoming wedding. In our conversation I asked about her fiance’s church home and she told me that he, and his whole family, had no church affiliation. When I asked if she thought this could be a problem in their marriage, like any young lady madly in love, she replied, “No, I am sure that he will join the church after we are married. I don’t want to push him right now.”

I pointed to the Scripture, II Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be mismated with unbelievers,” and asked her to give it some prayerful consideration. She was concerned about having a Christian home, and she discussed it with him. He consented to be a part of my class that people who were joining the congregation were asked to attend. He asked many questions in the class and I believe was very interested in what he was learning. After completing the class he was baptized and became a member of the congregation. However, following the wedding, she began to attend church alone.

We visited about her problem, and she told me that something in their marriage was missing. She had suggested to her husband that they have a devotion daily, but he wasn’t interested and told her that he didn’t know how to pray. “What,” she wondered, “would happen when they had children?”

Then she opened my eyes when she asked, “Why didn’t you talk to us about this when we were in confirmation class?” You can be sure that, from that day on, it was a part of my instruction to these young people.

Well, the story has a great ending. She stayed with her husband and remained faithful. When the children did come, he began to realize that Christ was necessary in their home and in his life, and he received Christ.

How encouraging it is to have such an ending! Sad to say, not all of them end that way.

Perhaps you have lived in a divided house as far as a relationship with Christ is concerned. Your words to make your husband respond have not made it happen.

The words of other people have not created an interest either. Then, why not turn to God’s Word and see what the Bible teaches.

This could be called “behavioral witnessing.”

1. “Wives, in the same way be submissive (respect) to your husband so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives.”

In our day that word “submit” is offensive. Therefore, we will change the word to respect. You are not being called to follow him in matters that are contrary to your conviction. However, if he thinks differently than you, respect his opinion. In other words, cut down on some of the irritating arguments.

2. Let them witness “the purity and reverence of your lives.” This means a kindness, a willingness to forgive, and being thoughtful of other people’s needs. This is your way of life. It is the way you have been raised in a Christian home, and now you let it shine in your own home.

Then the day may come when your husband responds to the workings of the Holy Spirit, and he says to you, “I am so thankful to have you for my wife. You have been true to your conviction. What makes you so different?”

This is the hour you have been waiting for through the years. You can look into your husband’s face and say, “What makes me different is Christ, and a personal relationship with Him. You can have this relationship, too. Just spend a few minutes each day with His Word and in prayer talking things over with Him. Life will become different for you as it has for me. You will not only have a Savior, but also a friend to whom you can turn for guidance and strength.”

This is not theory, this is fact. Millions of people have been won for Christ through evangelism in the home. What better place?