The Greatest of Counselors

Today is Pentecost Ð the third great festival in the church year. Without Pentecost we would not have an understanding of God the Creator or the meaning of Christmas. So we turn to the second chapter in the book of Acts and talk about what happened on that particular day.

The Bible says in Acts 2:1-13, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

“Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: ÔAre not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs Ð we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongue?’ Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ÔWhat does this mean?’

“Some, however, made fun of them and said, ÔThey have had too much wine.’

“Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: ÔFellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel . . . ‘”

Peter told the people that this Jesus of Nazareth ministered to them for three years. He moved among them, raised the dead, healed the sick, and did many other miraculous signs. He preached as no other person had preached. But the people became angry to him and turned him over to the Sanhedrin, who gave him to Pilate. And, though he found nothing wrong with Jesus, Pilate gave him over to be crucified for political reasons. Jesus died on the cross of Calvary as a payment for the sins of the world. This was all part of God’s plan so that we could have eternal life with him. Jesus is our advocate. He is the one who has come to deliver us from our sins.

After listening to Peter’s stirring sermon, the people asked, “What can we do?”

Then Peter offered this great invitation in verse 38: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The Bible tells us about three thousand people were added to their numbers that day that the Church was established. Three thousand people who confessed Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and received the Holy Spirit. It was to this group of people that Jesus says to go and make disciples of all nations. Salvation is yours. Forgiveness of sins is yours. However, you cannot get along as my followers without the Holy Spirit.

In today’s text, Paul writes that the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. He is the guiding hand in our lives. We often do not know what is best for ourselves because we do not know the future. Then the Holy Spirit speaks to us through the Bible. He keeps us in his hand, guides and directs us. No matter where we go, he is with us. He looks into the inner most parts of our soul and sees that we are lost. He feels our groanings, searches the heart and then intercedes. He leads us all the way to Calvary. He is the greatest counselor who has ever lived.

We seek out counselors; sometimes they help us, and sometimes they don’t. But the Holy Spirit will not only tell us what is right and what is wrong, but also where to go and what to do. He enables us and he empowers us to counsel others who then can accept our advice as they please. If they have no other person to ask, they will probably try what we have said for a little while, then let it go by the wayside. However, the Christian knows the Holy Spirit is living in him, and when the Spirit tells us some particular thing, we know that he will also give us the strength and guide us along life’s way until we become more Christ-like in our living.

Awhile back one of my grandsons sent me a fascinating book called A Passion for Souls: The Life of D.L. Moody. It tells the story one of the greatest evangelists ever known. Following his conversion, D.L. Moody worked tirelessly to tell people what it is to live according to God’s will. He traveled to England and back eventually raising enough money to build a Sunday school in Chicago for people of all ages, which enrolled twelve hundred people. When the Civil War began, Moody saw people dying in battle without Jesus. So he worked as a chaplain, preaching to and teaching the soldiers.

Moody sometimes spent months away from his family, and he carried a lot of guilt for being away from them. But it was not until after the Chicago fire that his heart was turned around. Seeing the extent of the fire, Moody went to New York City to raise money in order to rebuild the city.

As he walked along on Wall Street, he was quite weary and nearing a nervous collapse. Soon the Holy Spirit began to speak to him about his relationship with God. Sensing he had to be alone with God, Moody went to the home of a friend in New York City and asked to stay in a room. In that room Moody thrashed it out with God until he heard the Holy Spirit say to him, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” It was then that he began to understand what some of his friends had been trying to tell him Ð that even though he was mighty enough to do it all himself, he needed to let the Holy Spirit lead the way. Then he could walk along as God’s capable servant. God will give him the power and the strength when it is needed.

From that day on, Moody never started a mission by himself, but instead waited for the Holy Spirit to first lay it upon his heart, then he walked in the Lord’s footsteps as his loyal servant. Moody’s plans and life were much different. He was invited to come to New York and build a much bigger ministry for the Lord Jesus. He found much wealthier men in New York than in Chicago who gave him the financial aid he needed. Moody had learned to first wait for the Lord to speak, then follow.

From that time on, Moody was a great preacher and teacher. He rebuilt his Sunday school and started a publishing house. My grandson attended the Moody Church in Chicago. The Moody Bible Institute has been a blessing to those who want to learn more about the Word of God, some even going to the mission fields.

But the point of this illustration is this: Moody had to first learn that he was a sinner and was weak. Yet Jesus Christ had died for him. Christ did it all, and Moody didn’t have to contribute one single thing. The Holy Spirit then gave him the power to clean up some things in his life that were contrary to the will of God and to ask the Spirit to guide him, direct him, and lead him. Moody then became one of the great evangelists of his day and is remembered even to this day by many.

That same Holy Spirit who worked in the life of Moody, also worked in the life of the Apostle Paul long before Moody. He worked in the life of the reformers, Luther and Calvin, and all the rest. Nothing they accomplished for the good of the Gospel would ever have happened had it not been for the power of the Holy Spirit.

And so it is rather tragic that the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, has sometimes been forgotten. God grant that we may understand that, no matter how much talent a person may have, he will not do much for the kingdom of God until the Holy Spirit lives in his heart, leads him, and then that person follows.

I wonder if we, in the planning of some our churches, do not put too much on our own shoulders without leaving it to the Holy Spirit. He speaks to us through the means of grace and the Word, which he has inspired. That Word is the only foundation on which the church can build. God speaks to us both as individuals and as a corporate group. He leads us to a conviction of our sins and sets us on our way.

We look for counselors in many fashions, but the greatest counselor of all counselors is God the Holy Spirit who leads us to the foot of the cross and the empty tomb. That is Pentecost, which we celebrate not only today but every day.

Happy Ascension Day!

Happy Ascension day! Ascension Day was May 17 Ð did you celebrate? We tend to overlook this Church holiday, probably because it is kind of a strange story and we really don’t know what to think of it. The idea of Jesus rising into the clouds puzzles us, and we’re not sure about it. But, is that really what the Ascension Day story is about?

Scriptures tell us that Jesus appeared to his disciples and instructed them for forty days after his resurrection. He instructed them on the scriptures to show them God’s plan. Then he told them to stay in Jerusalem where they would receive power from on high to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. And then he was lifted up from their sight into a cloud. Two angels standing nearby said, “Why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus, whom you just saw, will come again someday. He will come again.”

In the Apostles’ Creed we say, “On the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” This reflects the ascension. What is really happening in this little episode?

This story is not about geography, but theology. Actually, it is Christology. In the Bible, the cloud was often the very presence of God. It was not a spatial sort of thing, but the glory of God. Jesus entered into the very presence of his heavenly Father. This is a transformation of presence, not a withdrawal of presence. Transformation, not withdrawal.

Jesus appeared to his disciples many times so that they might be comfortable with the notion that he would always be with them. But now in this particular episode, Jesus is telling them that he will have visible visits with them. However, they will live in God’s presence until he comes again. And Jesus will continue to work in them and through them with the Holy Spirit.

The authors of Ephesians and Hebrews talk of him being raised to sit at the right hand of the Father. Again, that has nothing to do with locality. Instead it is a biblical way of saying that Jesus was given authority and power over the world. The risen Christ fills the universe with his presence, and he has been given final authority over it. Jesus told them that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him, and then he told them to go and make disciples.

What does all this mean? Dr. Kent Knutson, former president of the American Lutheran Church, wrote of the ascension in his book, His Only Son Our Lord. He said, “It all comes down to this: Jesus is Lord. He is Lord over me, Lord over the Church, and Lord over all. ÔJesus is Lord’ was the earliest Christian creed. And we see it referred to many, many times in the New Testament. Jesus is King; Jesus is Master; Jesus is God.”

This makes all the difference for us. It is more than a doctrine to memorize. It is a statement that ministers to us in our fear and hopelessness.

First of all, Jesus is Lord of all the universe. Things are not as out of control and hopeless as they appear. Christ is in control of history, not man. Jesus Christ holds this universe in the palm of his hand and all things are under his feet. All authority and power have been given to him. He has the final word over this world, just like the umpire at a ball game has the last word. Jesus has the last word over this world. And all history is headed toward the day when Jesus will appear again and every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord.

I found this story once about a lady who once worked as a temp at a local bank. Her team and supervisor were very unprofessional in their behavior and shunned another member of the team who had come on staff a week earlier and was a generation older.

Two weeks into the temp job, the lady walked into the office on Monday morning and was surprised to find a much different scenario. All the workers had their eyes riveted on their work, and the previous supervisor had been replaced. There was even a bit of fear in the eyes of the staff. The new supervisor was the woman who had been shunned and mocked. The bank had hired her to be their new supervisor, but concealed her true identity so she could see the true work style of the team.

In some ways, this story resembles Christ’s first coming to earth. Jesus revealed his true identity to his followers, but it was largely hidden by his humanity to those who didn’t believe him. After his resurrection, Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father, and one day we will all see him as he really is. On that day there will be no more mistaking who is ultimately in charge. All people will know that Jesus is Lord over all the earth!

As a child of God, you know who is in charge and holds the future. Trust in that. Some days when you feel overwhelmed and depressed, trust in the knowledge that Jesus is Lord over the universe.

Jesus is also described as the Lord over his Church. He is the head; we are the body. He is in our midst energizing us with his Holy Spirit. He feeds us with his word and comforts us with his presence. He leads us in the direction he wants us to go. We are his precious bride. Jesus promises that his Church will prevail even over the gates of hell. When we belong to Christ, we are on the winning team. The Church will prevail.

This is great news! In other parts of the world, where the Church is under persecution, people are actually being martyred for the faith. This is a great reminder for us in America that in order to impact the world around us, we need to do things his way and by His Word. Only then will we prevail.

Finally, when we say, Jesus is Lord, scriptures remind us that we are saying he is my Lord, my master. He owns me.

You and I have been bought with a price Ð the precious blood of Jesus Christ. When I turn my life over to him, I become his possession. I know him personally, and I can meet with him in the Word and in the sacrament of communion. I am his treasure and his possession, and he promises me that nothing can snatch me from his hand. I belong to him forever.

When Christ is not only my Savior, but also the Lord over my life, I find that is what leads to the ultimate joy in life that Christ promised. I have someone to turn to who knows what my life really needs and gives it joy, satisfaction, and contentment. As I turn to him, I find that it makes all the difference between unhappiness and joy, dissatisfaction and satisfaction.

As we hand over our energy, time, dreams, family, even our retirement, we soon discover that our greatest good is to be wholly owned by him. He knows what makes life work, and our greatest joy is to live for his good pleasure. To lay down my life for his sake means I will find my life.

Jesus is my Lord. On this Ascension Day, Jesus is Lord over the universe, Lord over his Church, and Lord over each and every one of us who call upon his name. In the end when he reappears, he will be acknowledged as Lord of all.

HAPPY ASCENSION DAY! Jesus is Lord! Hang onto that thought as you watch the news, worry about the church, or are fearful about your life. And remind yourself again and again, Jesus is Lord.

The Necessity of Friends

Jesus used the word love in many ways depending upon his audience. For instance, when Jesus said to Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him may have eternal life,” he was speaking of a love that flows to all people who had been made in the image of God. God loves them all and did not want any to fall. Oneness in Christ Jesus, however, comes only for those who trust him as their Savior and Lord.

In today’s text, Jesus is talking to a different audience. He tells us to remain in his love, meaning that it is possible for us to fall out of love. We find that can be true in earthly situations. The love we felt for our high school friends is much different at our 50th class reunion than it was on our graduation. While we may still have really strong feelings for them, the relationships are not as intimate as they once were.

Our relationship with Jesus Christ is very special, for he gave his life for us. Jesus Christ paid a great price in order that we could be called the sons of God. Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for the sheep. Jesus said that our relationship with him is more than being his servant, because the servant does not know the master’s business. “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.” Jesus is calling us his friends. We need him, and we need our Christian friends. We need to stand together and love one another.

Living in our world, with its indifference and hostility to the Christian faith, can be a challenge. It is during those times when we feel hostility that we need our brothers and sisters in Christ to give us encouragement. For instance, let’s say it is Sunday morning. We can’t wait to get to church and sing some great old hymns like “The Church’s One Foundation,” and “My God, How Wonderful Thou Art.” The pastor spent a lot of time preparing his sermon and wants to make his point in a dramatic fashion.

In that setting, we are in the midst of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our oneness with them is different from what is in the world, for Christ has bound us together. I go there and worship with others who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior and need him in their lives. Their situations may have been very disappointing, but in that setting they are able to find others who are disciples and with whom they can discuss their difficulties. As we share our experiences with one another, we are again reminded of Jesus’ words: “Cast all your cares on me. I really care for you.”

We need to be reminded of that promise and many others. We also need to be reminded that, although life can be extremely difficult, our days on this earth are limited, but eternity is before us. And when my last breath is made, I will see Jesus face to face.

Think of how difficult life must have been for the apostles. Paul was thrown into a dungeon. However, his friends came to be with him, and, more than that, he had a Lord who was right there with him.

It is good to know we have these friends in Jesus Christ. The church worship service gives us the opportunity to experience that oneness we have in Jesus Christ. The radio also is a wonderful thing. We at Christian Crusaders are so grateful to God that we can proclaim the Gospel to you today, that they can also sense our oneness. And, if they are not already a believer, they can accept him into their life.

Some of you have sons or daughters who attend a university. In many of these schools, the environment is very indifferent, even hostile to Jesus. I visited one day with my granddaughter who is graduating from a large university, and I asked her about the temptations at that school. She replied that the temptations were many, both inside and outside the classroom. If a person confessed Jesus Christ as Savior, they were considered somewhat different. Social concerns, such as sexual intimacy, could be tremendously difficult. But she found it very helpful to be a part of a group of like-minded individuals. That small group of friends helps take away much of the pressure to join the crowd. They also help bear the burden when something is breaking the heart, which can happen often at the university setting. It is good to have a small group with whom they meet regularly knowing that no matter what the situation may be from one week to the next, they could discuss it with one another.

Jesus had his small group Ð only twelve disciples. And you can be sure that Peter, who often was rather mouthy and an extrovert, could turn to Andrew, who was much quieter, and say something like this: “Andrew, you are a person of prayer Ð I am too. I know that while I have been out proclaiming the Word, you have been at home praying for me. I really need to talk with you right now.”

Imagine how Thomas must have felt when he admitted that unless he could put his finger into those nail-pierced hands, he would not believe Jesus had been raised from the dead. Think of him going to Philip, and saying “Philip, you didn’t doubt Jesus’ resurrection. Your faith might have been stronger than mine. I fell, and my heart is heavy. Can you help me, Philip? Can you help me?”

Or think of the family whose son comes home and tells his parents that he and his wife are going to divorce. Although both he and his wife know divorce is not God’s will, they believe it is for the best because they do not get along.

So the parents open the scriptures to their son and daughter-in-law, but with no success. Finally, they turn to their Christian friends and ask how they handled it when their daughter divorced her husband. They have friends with whom they spend more time, but none closer than these, for they have studied the scriptures together, and they know the Lord Jesus personally. They have prayed together. Those are the kinds of friends we need at times like these.

We are so thankful for our Christian friends and long to be with them when they are far away. We will even drive a great distance to spend time with them, for we need our small groups.

We also need our church friends. Sometimes I hear people say they get more out of the Word if they stay at home and read the Bible and pray alone. It is very important to spend time alone with God in his Word and in prayer. However, our Christian faith needs close friends if we are to get along in this world. That is why Jesus Christ commands us to love one another, just as he has loved us.

Think of how the Lord loves us in the small group sense of the word. Love one another.

Our Devotional Life

In my parental home, we generally had family devotions every day. We’d read a portion of scripture and talk about it, or perhaps read a little devotion booklet to learn what the writer had to say about God’s word. Then one of us would pray a brief prayer.

God gave our family a thought for the day through these daily devotions, and they were a great part of my early life.

It was during one of these devotions, that a verse of scripture really impressed me, and it is a part of our text today. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

This is not emotionalism. It comes right from the heart of God’s Word and is the objective message Ð I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me Ð Homer Larsen Ð you can do nothing.

Let’s say that I was 15 years of age when that passage first spoke to my soul. Now I am 88. Those words have spoken to me all my life. You may have a little ego and sometimes some pride, but I want you to know that apart from me you can do nothing.

Jesus is writing these words to those who have been made clean through him, those who live in a personal relationship with him. And he says, you remain in me and I will remain in you. We (the branches) cannot bear fruit by ourselves. Jesus is the vine, and he wants those who bear this name to bear fruit. We need to grow in grace and see how he can really use us.

I was reminded of that not long ago as I sat in a Bible class at our church. A man was speaking that night about his feelings of worthlessness as a servant. “I have nothing in my life that is really bringing glory to God,” he said. And his story caused another person to say something of the same nature. I couldn’t hold my tongue any longer as I said to him, “Let me give you some good news. See who is sitting beside you, your daughter. Put your arm around her. On your other side is your wife. You wanted to marry a believer, and she wanted the same. From that home have come children, one who is with you today. She is a very talented and great person who is giving her life to the Lord Jesus Christ. She will offer many fruits to the Savior. You have offered your home to God by the power of the Holy Spirit, and therein is the fruit.”

“Apart from me you can do nothing, but with me you can do many great things.” What greater accomplishment is there in life than for us to raise our children around the throne of grace that they may grow up to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ. It takes a Christian home, one that feeds the children through the years.

Another couple in that same Bible study at one time were not Christians. After their conversion, during a devotion one night, it was their little girl’s turn to pray. She prayed, “Jesus, thank you for giving me a new mother.”

“If you abide in me, and I abide in you, you will bear much fruit.” A father and a mother working with their family to bring them to the throne of grace, praying that one day all of them will confess Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord Ð this cannot be done alone. These parents need that vine, the Holy Spirit. “Apart from me you can do nothing, but with me just see what power I am giving to you. See what words you were able to speak that otherwise you were not used to speaking.”

This is a marvelous word of God. Underline it in your book, commit it to memory and know that in Jesus Christ you’re going to be great people for God.

I think of that sometimes when people are facing death. One well-churched woman from our retirement center said to me one day, “I am concerned about dying. I hope I will go to heaven.” If she will take her Bible and turn to John 14, she would find a very familiar passage where Jesus says to her, “I have gone to prepare a place for you. And if I have gone to prepare a place for you, I will come again to get you that where I am you may also be also. You know that way.”

And if she had replied, “I don’t know the way. I am trying to live a good life,” Jesus’ response would be, “Apart from me you can never know that your sins are forgiven. Apart from me you can never know that you are going to go to heaven. But apart from me, know this: I, the Lord Jesus, am the way, and the truth, and the life. And no one will ever come to the Father but by me.” Is it not clear enough?

This is what we can learn in a devotion. Pray that it will happen in the church service, too, because we need to hear that gospel every single Sunday. Then it needs to be followed up when we are in the quietness of our home and Jesus wants to have a few minutes with us. Then listen to him say to you, I am the way. I died on the cross for your sins, and I was raised again. I can bestow my Holy Spirit upon you, and if, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you will ask me into your heart, I will come in. That is what a home devotion is all about.

Jesus is a good example of the need for personal time with God. While he was on this earth, he was not only true God, but also true man. The Bible tells us that he was in all points tempted as we are, but without sin. Think of the help he needed on the night he was betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He took his eleven disciples with him, three of them Ð Peter, James, and John Ð into the inner garden, and then asked them to remain there while he went in further to pray. He asked the Father, “If it is possible, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless not my will but yours be done.”

There he was, in his human state, explaining to us in action, “Apart from (my father), I can do nothing.” And so we say, apart from the Lord Jesus, we can do nothing. Isn’t that a marvelous example?

What about your home? Are you so busy that you can’t take a few minutes every day? Think of what a wonderful experience it would be if your children could hear you and your spouse pray together and listen to your comments on what was read in the scriptures. Your children, no matter where their life may take them, will have that lasting impression.

I wonder if we could afford to get along one day after another without taking God’s Word, reading it, meditating upon it, applying it to our lives, and then saying, “Lord Jesus, apart from you I can do nothing. Help me, I pray.”

I pray you will.