Carriers of the Gospel

Our Lord wants his Church to be in the hands of responsible people who are committed to him and living in a personal relationship with him. That has always been his desire, for the church must be the Church. Therefore, Jesus prayed all night for his Father’s guidance when choosing the apostles. It was a very important item on Jesus’ agenda.

When morning came, Jesus announced his apostles. They were neither wealthy nor educated. Peter and Andrew, James and John were fishermen Ð people who were making a responsible living, feeding their families and raising their children as best they could. You would think Jesus would have chosen one of the scribes, the priests, or the rulers who had studied under the learned theologians of the day. But he was not concerned about wealth or education. So he chose ordinary people.

Those men became eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life. They walked with him around Judea and Samaria as he raised the dead, healed the sick, and proclaimed the Word of God as man had never heard it before. They got to know the Lord Jesus Christ on a personal level.

After Jesus died on the cross, the apostles also were eyewitnesses that he had been raised from the grave. It was important for them, as apostles, to have that personal time with him. They were in a home when Jesus suddenly appeared. Thomas was not with them, and when he returned, he said, “Unless I put my fingers into those nail-pierced hands and my hand into that sword-pierced side, I will not believe.”

Then, a week later, Jesus Christ appeared to them again. This time Thomas was with the group, and Jesus said to him, “Thomas, put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas was taken aback and said, “My Lord, and my God.”

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” From that day, Thomas was a believer (John 20:24-29).

The apostles were appointed to preach the message of salvation through the atoning work of Christ to the far corners of the earth. But it was not until after they had experienced Jesus’ miracles and his resurrection that they began to understand it and put it all together.

Then, on Pentecost Sunday, Peter stood up and told the people, “Look, this Jesus has been raised from the dead. And you were the ones who crucified him. You were the ones who put him in the tomb. But God raised him up.” Then Peter told them that they, too, could have the forgiveness of their sins and the promise of life everlasting, in spite of what they had done. On that day, three thousand people came to Jesus Christ and were baptized.

Some time after that, the apostles began to travel to various parts of the world. Some stayed around Jerusalem, while others went off to other parts of the world. (Thomas, we are told, went as far as India.) They started churches, made disciples, and appointed leaders for those congregations. Those leaders were to be committed Christians who would proclaim the truth that Jesus Christ was Lord to the glory of God the Father.

However, the apostles also needed to remember that it was possible to fall away. Even one of them Ð Judas Iscariot Ð was an unbeliever. After Jesus sent him away on the night He instituted the Lord’s supper in the upper room, Judas hanged himself, for he had been excommunicated from the group and sent on his own. What a terrible picture.

Can that happen today? Yes, it certainly can.

At the beginning of this message, I stated that Jesus wants a true church where the leaders fully understand that Christ was God and the Savior of the world. If that church is weakening today, I wonder if it is not because it has begun to liberalize itself.

A man recently told me about a funeral he attended where the pastor read John 14:6 Ð “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” The pastor said that not so long ago people believed this verse Ð that the only way to heaven was through Jesus. However, today we no longer believe it. Theological education teaches that other ways to heaven exist. He was talking about the belief that followers of other religions, such as the Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and quite possibly even atheists, will go to heaven.

This is an example of the weakening of the message of the church. It is not the same message the Bible teaches. Reason tells us that if we are all going to heaven, why worry? This is a huge cause for concern.

Jesus expects the church to remain faithful to his Word. That Word tells us the only way to heaven is through Jesus Christ. This is where I see the church weakening. And if it is, we should be very concerned, for it is a serious matter.

Consider the process of calling a pastor. This is not an insignificant job, for this person will stand in the pulpit and preach a message every Sunday. Did this person receive their theological training at a seminary that is faithful to God’s Word or at a liberal school where it is taught that Jesus was primarily a teacher of morals? We cannot afford to have people in our pulpits who do not trust Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. We cannot afford to have higher officials of the church Ð sometimes known as bishops Ð who do not confess from the bottom of their hearts that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and the only way to heaven. And we cannot afford to have theologians teaching in our seminaries who relax scriptural teachings, for when we do, the church ceases to be the Church.

Many years ago, our Lord Jesus Christ set up the Church to be made up of godly people in positions of leadership. Those people are to lead all who need to hear the Gospel. This is a very serious matter.

This past week has been a very difficult week for me. If I have stumbled in this sermon, it is because my life is now just a little bit different. On May 18, my wife of nearly 66 years died. My three children and our loving daughter-in-law had been at her bedside all day. She didn’t respond to much of what we said, although at times a little flicker of life gave us some hope. We kept talking to her, singing the hymns of the church, and telling her how much we loved her. We quoted portions of the Bible to reassure her that she would soon be in the presence of Jesus. We told her we were ready to let her go to her heavenly home. I’ll never forget how our three children put their hands on her head and said, “Mother, you have been a blessing to us. You have raised us in the right way. You have taught us that Jesus is our Savior. We will be terribly lonesome without you, but we know you are not going to a cold grave, but to heaven. Jesus is here with us.”

Then they said to her, “Mother, it’s difficult for me to say, but because I love you so much and I want your suffering to cease, I am ready to let you go.” And I told her, “Eunice, you’ve been a wonderful wife and everything God could give me in a wife. I’ll miss you, but I’m willing to let you go.”

Shortly thereafter her breathing stopped, and we committed her in prayer to the Lord Jesus for the rest of eternity. What a way to go! We believe all the truths we spoke to her because the church has been served by good, consecrated, loving ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Can Fix People

Whenever we begin a new relationship, we like to spend time getting to know that person. The best place to get to know the Risen Christ is in the Gospels Ð Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Scripture tells us Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), so we can really get to know Jesus by reading stories about him.

In my congregation this summer, we’re doing a series called “The Jesus Profiles.” In that series, we’re using stories from Luke’s Gospel to learn more about Jesus. What’s he like? What are his likes and dislikes? What pleases him? What can he do? It’s important for us to learn about him. Today we’re going to learn about what he can do with a life that is totally out of control.

Jesus was getting out of a boat in a foreign country, and a frightening figure approached him. It was a man who was possessed by demons. He had become a real terror in his community as he ran around stark naked and out of his mind. He lived among the cemetery tombs and would roam around, screaming and scaring people. His life was totally out of control.

The community tried to control him by putting shackles and chains on him, but when they did, a supernatural power would come upon him and break the chains. So they just didn’t know what to do him.

When this man saw Jesus coming on the shore, he ran at him. I imagine the disciples wanted to jump back in the boat and head out to sea, but Jesus stood there and received him. The man fell down before him and began to scream. “What do you have to do with me, Jesus, Son of the most High God?” The demons knew Jesus and they named him. (It was believed in those times that, if you could name someone, you could control them in some way.) Jesus had already told the demons to come out of the man. And as they cried out to Jesus, a power struggle was going on between evil and good. They knew the power and authority of Jesus.

When Jesus asked his name, the man said, “Legion,” which means he was filled with demons. And as they began to negotiate, they said, “Don’t throw us into the abyss; instead give us permission to go into that herd of pigs.” Jesus did give them permission, and they entered the swine, but the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned. Then all was quiet, for Jesus had taken care of them once and for all. I am reminded of those words in Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” where it says, “though devils fill the land, one little word subdues them.” The power of Jesus.

The hog herders ran away to the countryside and into the towns to tell what they had witnessed. People rushed out to see what was going on, and they were absolutely shocked to see this man, who had been so out of control, now sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And you know what? They were afraid. They sensed that they were standing before someone who had great power, and it scared them. So they asked Jesus to leave. And Jesus, who never forces himself on anyone, walked back to the boat.

The man who had been healed ran after him and begged Jesus to let him go with him, but Jesus told him to go home and tell everyone how much God had done for him. This man, who had once been possessed by evil, was now possessed by Jesus. He testified for him, for Jesus had given him a story to tell. I was captive but Jesus set me free. I had no hope, but Jesus gave me a future. I am a new person. He understood that when you look into the face of Jesus, you are looking into the face of Almighty God

Paul was another person whose life was fixed by Jesus. He wrote in II Corinthians 5:17, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” When Jesus steps into a life, he can fix it and make all things new. People to this day are discovering that this risen Jesus can bring about changes in people and set them free from bondage.

Recently, I worshiped at a nursing home near our church. A couple young men gave their testimony of how their faith Jesus had taken over their lives. They had once been addicted to drugs. It was ruining their lives, and they were in desperate need of help. Then Someone brought them to church for a Celebrate Recovery meeting, which is a Christ-centered sort of alcoholics anonymous. During that meeting, they turned their lives over to Jesus Christ and surrendered to his care. As those young men stood before us at that nursing home that day, they said, “We were hooked, but Jesus fixed us and set us free. We were awakened through this meeting, and Jesus has been walking with us ever since. He set us free, and he’s still working on us.”

Years ago, I came across a story by one of my favorite Christian writers, named Tony Campolo. He tells of a time when he was asked to pray for a man who had cancer. In the middle of the week, he received a telephone call from the man’s wife who said, “You prayed for my husband, who had cancer.”

Tony asked, “Had?” and was amazed that the man had been cured of cancer. But she then told him that her husband had died. Tony felt terrible.

She continued on, “Don’t feel bad. When he walked into church that Sunday, he was filled with anger. He hated God, for he knew he was going to be dead in a short period of time. He was only 58 years old and wanted to see his children and his grandchildren grow up. He was so angry that an all-powerful God would not take away his sickness. He’d lie in bed and curse God in the morning. And the more angry he grew at God, the more miserable he was to everybody around him. It was an awful thing to even be in his presence.

“But after you prayed for him, a peace came over him, and a joy came into him. Tony, the last three days have been the best days of our lives! We sang together, we laughed together, we read scripture and prayed together. These have been wonderful days! I called to just thank you for laying your hands upon him and praying for his healing.”

Then she said something incredibly profound: “Tony, he might not have been cured of cancer, but he was healed.” Jesus had fixed that man’s spirit. He has the authority and the power to make the old pass away, and a new person come forth.

I have heard countless stories of people who were set free as they called upon Jesus’ name for help. I’ve seen individuals, possessed by guilt and shame, who were set free by Jesus’ forgiveness. I’ve heard individuals talk about being possessed by fear of all kinds, but then say, “Jesus came in, and he set me free.” One individual was possessed by self-pity; his life was lacked meaning and purpose. But Jesus gave him a new purpose and set him on a new way. Over and over again we learn from people such as these that Jesus can fix a life.

Dear friends, if Jesus has this kind of power and authority, then I appeal to you to call upon him in faith. No matter what you may be caught up in, you can call to him. He loves you. He gave his life for you at the cross, and he rose again to walk beside you. That risen powerful Christ is here for you, and he can fix a life Ð even yours.

The Wow Factor

A few years ago, I attended a conference for business leaders in the Twin Cities led by a business guru named Tom Peters. On that day, he talked about the importance of the pursuit of wow. The wow factor is something that causes a customer to say “Wow!” after an encounter. The concept of wow yells out surprise. It’s about exceeding customer expectations.

You’ve probably experienced the wow factor somewhere along your way. Perhaps you received a nice meal at a restaurant. The server was outstanding and at your beckon call. You left that restaurant thinking, “Wow! What great service!”

Perhaps you purchased a new car. A few days later the dealership calls, “I hope you’re enjoying your new car. Is there anything we can do to make your experience with us even more positive?” And you think to yourself, “Wow! What great service!”

Recently I experienced the wow factor when I attended a preaching conference in Cedar Falls, Iowa for local pastors hosted by our own Christian Crusaders. We were wowed by the teaching of Dr. Jeff Arthurs from Gordon-Conwell Seminary. But we were also wowed by the volunteers and coordinators who set up the day-long experience for us. They exceeded all expectations and treated us like royalty. At the end of the day, I thought, “Wow! That was a great experience! I am so glad I came!” The wow factor.

Here is a question for us to consider this day: What wows Jesus? What thrills him, surprises him, exceeds all his expectations? Our story in Luke’s Gospel is about a person who did just that. He surprises us right away because he was considered to be an enemy of the Jews Ð he was a Roman centurion in charge of a hundred soldiers. His job was to police the Jews around Capernaum.

The Romans were Gentiles and considered unclean by the Jews. No love was lost between the Jews and the Romans. But, as we read about this individual, he surprises us, for he sounds like a pretty good guy. First of all, we see he had a slave whom he valued highly and who was close to death. In those days, a slave’s life was rather cheap, so this centurion’s attitude toward his slave was very unexpected. He felt kindness toward him and wanted to get him help and healing.

This soldier must have been a religious seeker. We can assume he somehow heard about Jesus from the Jews in his community. His ears must have perked up as he heard stories about Jesus’ miracles and the claims he made about himself. So he reasoned that maybe Jesus would help him as well.

It is obvious the centurion had developed a positive relationship with the religious leaders of the community of Capernaum, for they had good things to say about him. They told Jesus, “This man loves our people. He is kind and very generous. He even built our synagogue. Jesus, he is really worthy of your help. Please come with us.”

Sometimes our prayers are spoken with that same kind of sentiment:. I’ve been a really good follower, Lord. I’ve done everything you asked me to do. Now, please do me this one favor. I deserve it.

So Jesus went with them, but before they arrived at his home, the centurion sent another friend to tell Jesus not to come, but just speak the words of healing, for the centurion was not worthy to have Jesus in his home. He was looking out for Jesus, and didn’t want Jesus to be seen entering a Gentile home. This man was deeply humble.

The centurion knew authority when he saw it. “I say to one, ÔGo,’ and he goes, and to another, Ôcome,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ÔDo this,’ and the slave does it.” So he tells the Lord, “. . . only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.”

Notice, he called Jesus, “Lord.” That title was reserved only for Caesar. In Luke’s Gospel, it was used in reference to God. Although the centurion doesn’t come right out and say he believes Jesus is God, he does believe Jesus has some authority. He believes Jesus has been sent by God and can heal the slave by just speaking the words.

Jesus was amazed at this man’s faith! His last statement really wows the Lord and he says to the crowd, “I tell you, not even in all of Israel have I found such faith.” This man had no doubt that Jesus could do anything he wanted and the authority of God resided within him. He knew Jesus owed him nothing, but he trusted what the eye could not see. He trusted Christ’s Word and humbly asked for help believing Jesus could help him. His trust and faith caused Jesus to marvel.

We are a bit like that centurion, for although we can’t see Jesus standing before us, we have his Word and his promises, and that’s all we need. We trust his wisdom and insight. Remember Jesus’ words to Thomas in the Upper Room after the resurrection: “. . . blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). We take Jesus at his word. That’s what this centurion was doing, and Jesus was wowed by the sheer quality of his faith.

This is one of the few places in the Bible where Jesus is actually surprised. The healing itself is almost anticlimactic. The main thought here is the surprise, the wow of Jesus in the face of an individual’s faith in him.

Jesus loves it when we trust him fully and give ourselves over to his Lordship. He is wowed when we humble ourselves before him and say, “Lord, I trust in you. I trust in your Word. You can do anything, and I give myself over to your care.” The wow factor.

Jesus loves it when we trust him with our salvation. The Bible tells us we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. We know we will die someday, but how comforting to have a promise from Jesus that when that day comes, we will be with him in heaven. Jesus has taken care of everything for us at the cross and the grave. He loves it when we trust him with our guilt and shame, and then accept and believe in his forgiveness.

A young preacher named Matt Chandler has written a book called, “The Explicit Gospel,” in which he tells this story. He was once speaking at a men’s conference near his hometown. When he was done, he drove to that town to walk down memory lane. As he drove into town, he passed a field in which he once was in a fist fight with a kid named Shawn. In that fight, he did some shady things and completely humiliated that kid in front of a large crowd of people.

Later he drove past his first home and thought of all the wicked things he had done in that house. Then he passed a friend’s house where he once did some shameful things at a party. On the drive back to the conference, Matt was overwhelmed with guilt and shame about the wickedness he had done in the town prior to knowing Jesus. He could hear whispers in his heart, “You call yourself a man of God? Are you going to stand in front of those men and tell them to be men of God after all you’ve done?”

But in the middle of that guilt and shame, he began to be reminded by the scriptures that the old Matt Chandler is dead. The Matt Chandler who sinned in those ways had been nailed to the cross with Jesus Christ. All his sins Ð past, present, and future Ð were paid in full on the cross, and Jesus remembers them no more. No longer did he have to feel shame, for he trusted in Jesus who atoned for them. I can imagine hearing Jesus say, “Wow, that was great!”

What about with your relationships? Jesus knows what makes relationships work; he invented them. Trust him with yours, whether it is your marriage or your children. Jesus has the wisdom to know what makes them work. How it must wow him when we trust him enough to put his instructions to work.

I invite you today to join me in amazing Jesus with our faith. Believe and trust in him so completely that he turns to the Host of Heaven and says, “Look at her! Isn’t it amazing to see the way she fully trusts my Word. See how she believes in me. Wow!”

God Can Use Us

Recently I heard a lay preacher deliver a sermon in our church that really grabbed my heart. When the service was over, I thanked him for his message and told him what it meant to me. He said to me, “Thirty years ago, you hired me to assist in the youth work of this congregation. I’ve never been to a seminary and I’ve never been ordained. However, I am the executive pastor at another congregation. I hope I have been a blessing to this community as a result of what God has empowered me to do, for I could only do it by remaining close to him.”

Then he said, “We need to tell people how God has changed us. God has enlightened me, and the message I give is from him; it is not from me. He is just using me. He has given me the opportunity to cause some great changes in the kingdom.”

My friend was not bragging, he was simply saying, “Jesus Christ is the potter, I am the clay.” He was in a situation where he could be used by God to do some mighty things for the Savior, but he gave all credit to God.

I listened to that sermon once again, and then turned to the Bible, wherein you don’t have to go any further than the Apostle Paul to find a great man of the New Testament. Paul had done everything he could do to blot the Christian faith out of existence. He was on his way to Damascus to take Christians as prisoners back to Jerusalem. But on the way, Jesus appeared to him in a bright light and said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Paul fell to the ground in fear and answered back, “Who are you, Lord?”

Jesus replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” So Paul went to the home of Ananias where he received direction concerning God’s will in his life. Paul would be a different person and accomplish great things Ð not because of his dynamic personality, but because God would empower him. God would be the one who would strengthen him, and God is the one in whose name Paul would go.

Paul went to Damascus and stayed four years. In a goodly amount of time, he went back to Jerusalem where he met Peter and other leaders in the church. It was decided that Paul would go to the Gentiles, and Peter would go to the Jews to tell the story of the gospel. Many people were thus converted and great things were accomplished for Jesus. But Paul knew full well that he would accomplish nothing had it not been for the Lord working through him and making him the witness he really was.

When we go to the early church of the middle ages, we find Martin Luther who lived in the sixteenth century. Martin Luther was an unhappy man. He was living life on his own power. God had given him a brilliant mind, and so he entered law school. Yet, he wasn’t satisfied. So, contrary to the wishes of his father and mother, Luther left the law school and went to the Augustinian monastery to try to find peace with God.

The church taught salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, but it also emphasized the importance of keeping the commands of the church. Consequently, no one was ever sure he had done enough to have assurance of his salvation. While Luther was in the monastery, as he prepared a lecture on the book of Romans, he came upon chapter 1, verse 17: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” Suddenly the Word of God really began to work in Luther’s heart. The Holy Spirit was telling Paul as he wrote these words, Look, Paul! Open your eyes! You are saved by grace and grace alone through trusting Jesus Christ, who paid the price for your sins at the cross of Calvary. And it is yours forever!

Luther then knew he was changed and spoke about it in his lectures and books. However, the church tried to quiet Luther’s message. They brought Luther before a council at the Diet of Worms. At that assembly, Johann Eck asked, “Martin, I ask you, do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors they contain?”

Luther replied this way, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason Ð I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other Ð my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

Martin Luther was able to speak these words only because God filled his heart with strength, courage, and power to act in God’s behalf. Luther was consequently condemned and cast out of the church. He could be hunted and killed without worry of legal consequence. But Luther kept right on proclaiming the truth. Because of that man, we have the Protestant Reformation where once again the gospel of Christ is heard.

I personally believe it is necessary for us to have a reformation, whether in the 16th century or the 20th century, for man continually tries to operate on his own power, not the power God gave to him. The result is that we have all kinds of errors, and we move away from the clear gospel message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Have you experienced God’s power into your life, your heart, your mind, making you a spokesperson for him? God can use us because he is doing the speaking, and not us.

If you are in Christ, you have experienced what Christ has done in your life. Tell the story to anybody who will listen of how you were baptized as a child, grew up in the faith, and how Christ never left you. Tell how, as you went through those teenage years when the world tried to pull you away from him and deny the faith in which you had lived so many years, God had a hold of you and told you, “No, you can’t do that.”

That is your story, and it is the power of God working through you and me. We can honestly say, “Because of the power of God and his directing force in my life, I can never think of a time when I did not claim Christ as my Savior and Redeemer. I may not have spoken against my friends as they renounced some gospel truths, for I didn’t have the power to tell them they were wrong. But then life later changed, and I felt free to tell the story of Jesus and his love.”

Remember how God helped you raise your children. The world tells us that many go astray as terrible crimes are played over television every day. But Jesus has good news: He will empower us to raise our children as he wants them to be raised.

In this message, we first talked about God using the man who preached in church one Sunday not long ago. Then we talked about God using Paul, and thirdly, Luther. Now it comes down to you and me! Your name may not be well known except among a small group of people; but like that preacher, Paul, and Luther, we have experienced what God can do to change us. So we can take that son or daughter aside and lay our whole faith before them. And if you haven’t done it before, then say to them, “O, Bob (or Betty), forgive me for being so tardy in coming to you with the message of Jesus. But I want you to hear it from me, not just from the pastors. He has empowered me to do some marvelous things.”

Then, when you are dead and they take you to the cemetery, those children will be able to say to their friends, “The greatest theologians I ever knew were my father and my mother. They were my evangelists.” That is the kind of parent we can be, friend, for God will empower us and direct us to serve him in the quietness of our home.

Yes, it is true. God can use us. He used that young man one morning in church to grab me. He used Paul, and he used Luther to tell the world of Jesus Christ and his love. And he can use us in the same way, for countless numbers of people are waiting to hear the message of the gospel.

A Weakened Gospel

A few weeks ago, we talked about declining church membership. This thought came from our Lutheran magazine, published by our particular church body. Today’s text gives us another chance to talk about a weakened gospel making it right to assume that, with the exception of a decline in community population, a fading church is caused by a weakened gospel.

In today’s text, we read that we are justified by the redeeming grace through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, we can stand before him, spotless and clean. That is the Gospel.

Paul goes on to describe the Gospel in this way: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” When this message is weakened in one way or another, the church is weakened for it has nothing unique to proclaim.

This causes me to shiver a great deal, for where will we go to find peace with God if the Gospel is not proclaimed? No matter how much joy or sorrow we may find with the gospel, we always need to find peace. We can have our good days and our bad days, but when we hang on to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we find a peace that passes all understanding.

Paul goes on to say, “. . . when you were powerless . . .” Isn’t that interesting!

We have been foolish enough at times to think we have all the power we need in this world. However, we soon discover we are actually powerless. God gives us power through Jesus Christ, who is the very center of the Gospel. The Gospel can change the world, and it is the Church’s contribution to our society.

Erwin Lutzer has just written a book entitled, The Cross in the Shadow of the Crescent. In his book he states that an attempt is made in our day to make Christianity appeal to unbelievers by speaking of the Gospel as love and not mentioning sin. Therefore, without an appeal to repentance, Christians are freed from suffering and hardship. This message is much more pleasing to the general public, for some don’t want to go hear about their sinful acts.

Dr. Lutzer tells us that some people have become advocates of what is called “Chrislam.” They believe Islam has common ground with Christianity, for the Koran, which is the Muslim holy book, mentions Jesus and shares some insights with the Bible. They teach that Christians and Muslims should worship together, for they are united in the same God.

Lutzer goes on to give us a warning. People say it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe. There is one God and various ways to get to him.

May we never allow this statement to come from our lips! And may we never soften the Gospel by agreeing with that statement when it comes from those with whom we are speaking to at the time. It waters down the Gospel, which stands by itself! Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). Although his words are very exclusive, it is what JESUS said!

Sometimes our churches can become involved in a social or political cause and be the main thrust of the message on Sunday morning. So those who come to church on Sunday morning to hear the Gospel, instead get an update on a particular issue.

Not all churches are declining in membership, and if that is the case with your church, I am very happy for you. Many churches are growing and thriving today as they stay true to the Gospel Sunday after Sunday.

Recently, while visiting with a man in our congregation, I asked about his grown children. He told me where they live and then, with a great smile on his face, he said, “They are very active in their church and witness to their faith. They even invite their mother and me to worship! Their church started in the living room of a home a few years ago. Last Sunday, approximately 20,000 people worshiped there, I have been told. They have multiple services and now have a satellite service going out to different parts of the Midwest. People are being converted, and their spirits are being awakened.”

We thank God for churches like this, and we know there are many of them. But not so with others who can say, “No, that’s not the way with me.”

A man awakens on a Sunday morning and says to himself, “I know something is wrong. I am depressed and disturbed, but I don’t want my family to know. So I’ll go to church with them.”

On that particular Sunday, the sermon is centered around troubles in the school system. This man didn’t come to church to hear a lecture on school activities and its various problems; that is a subject for which he has no responsibilities. He came to hear the Gospel of Christ, but he didn’t hear it. That church is watering down the Gospel, and it will not grow, nor should it grow.

So this man and his family go to another church Ð which is the right thing to do Ð where they find people who have come for the same reason. We find these Bible churches springing up all around us. They are filled with hundreds and thousands of people singing songs that can be understood by a common person with no great musical training. They hear the simple gospel message Ð Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

It is Sunday morning, and your soul is heavy. Where should you go? Go to your church if it is proclaiming the Gospel. However, if it is not proclaiming the gospel, seek out some other place that is.

Yes, the church is declining in membership attendance, but the Gospel is still there to be proclaimed. Hope exists for even a church that waters down the Gospel, if it will turn to Christ, for he alone is the great Gospel that cannot be watered down in any way.