It is difficult for us to know what it would be like to live in captivity. When we see stories on television about people who are enslaved in certain parts of this world, we are very grateful to live in the land of the free.

Did it ever occur to you that we can live in freedom and still be in bondage? In John 8:31 and 32, Jesus says, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” In other words, He is telling us today that if we will live in His word, study it and interpret life in the light of that Word, we will know the truth, and that truth will set us free.

The Jews, to whom Jesus was speaking, replied, of old said “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” It was true. They were the descendants of Abraham. They were the chosen race and had a freedom in the sense that Abraham was their father and God was their Father. We could interpret those words by saying we are children of George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. We have that lineage and are blessed by it. However, at the same time, we can still be held in captivity.

One way in which we are held captive is by our fear of death. Although those of us who know Christ are not afraid to die, many others do not believe in life after death. Their belief is they will live out the years they’ve been given, then die Ð end of story. Yet that is not what the Bible teaches. It tells us that we are eternal beings and will live forever.

I have stood at many bedsides and heard people say, “I’m going to die! I’m going to die!” Yes, we are all going to die, but our Lord tells us, “If you abide in My Word, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The day we die, we will be in good hands. When will it happen? What will it be like? What about the pain and the separation? When we abide in God’s Word, we have Jesus’ promises to depend upon, and we need not fear.

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he dies, yet will he live.”

“In my Fathers house are many mansions, if it were not so would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself.”

None of us want to die. We don’t like the idea of pain. One young mother told me she had only a short time to live. She had two little girls and so many plans for their lives; she didn’t want to die.

One day I stood by her bedside and watched her two toddlers running around in the bedroom. She said, “I carried these children in my body. They are mine. No one else, in all this world, can give them the care that I can. How can I be free from the fear of wondering what will happen to them when I will no longer be here?”

When we abide in God’s Word, we turn it all over to the Lord Jesus. As she did so, her prayer then became, “Jesus, I bore these children and I raised them for the short time I was here. I would love to go on raising them, but I cannot, for you are going to take me home to be with you. And so, Lord, Jesus, I know you will take care of my little girls. But while I am still here, I know you are with me, even as I endure this pain. And when I draw my last breath, you will receive me into your heaven, and I will be with you always.”

I watched her fears vanish as she prayed that prayer, placing her life and her daughters’ lives into God’s hands. Through the years, I have watched Jesus care for those two little girls as that mother prayed. All she had to do was to abide in His Word, and then leave all her cares in God’s hands.

What about the fear of oneÔs children departing from the faith? Here is a couple who raised their son according to the will of God. They took him to church and Sunday school and taught him in the home to do what is right according to the will of God. His parents have taught him how to follow the Savior since he was a little boy. But now he is moving away from the Lord, and he doesn’t go to church anymore.

One day they overhear him mention that he doesn’t know whether he even believed in Jesus Christ anymore. Religion was all right for his father and mother’s generation but he was more learned than they and would not be dishonest enough to say he was a believer. The church had far too many hypocrites; he didn’t want to be one of them.

“We don’t know what to do with our son,” the parents say. “We plead with him to come to church with us, even if it is only on Christmas and Easter, but he gives no sign of faith.” What do they do?

“If you abide in God’s word, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Years go by, and the son experiences many things. Then, one day he is back in church! He has come to hear of God’s forgiveness for his hostility to the Word and needs Christ’s strength to overcome his rebellious thoughts. That son became a blessing to his age-old parents.

Those parents planted the seed of God’s Word in their son’s heart. They sang, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong; they are weak, but He is strong” to him when he was just a babe. The seed of faith went deep into his heart. Now that seed has bloomed and their fifty-year-old son has become a confessing Christian who carries the message Jesus Christ to those in his own life. Those parents didn’t need to fear, for God provided for his spiritual needs by giving him parents who faithfully shared the Word of God with him, even while he was a child.

I say now to you, young fathers and mothers, plant the seed of God’s Word in the hearts of your children. Then leave it to God and claim the promise that “if we abide in His word, we will know the truth, and that truth will set us free.”

What about parents who do not teach their children the Word of God? Parents who don’t take them to Sunday school and church and allow profanity as common language in the home. If these parents don’t meet Jesus until the children are out of the home, is it too late for their children?

If you abide in God’s Word, you will know that, if you confess your sins to your Heavenly Father, He will forgive you. You will also see that someone else, at the proper time, took care of your child spiritually speaking. Your child is God’s child, too.

I have personally witnessed these stories and many, many more. It is true that, if you abide in God’s Word, all will be well.

Death comes with its share of fears. The thought of a son or daughter leaving Christ and the church also carries fear. But take heart, for if you have been in that Word, if you have surrendered your will to Him and confessed that Jesus is God, He will go with us. Though circumstances look bleak, when we put our situation in God hands and leave it there, we find the answer.

That is our message for today. “Fear not for I am with you, be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will be with you.” Those are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray.

How to Keep It Together

Have you ever felt everything is falling apart, and you are having a hard time keeping it together? Some days are worse than the others, and it is sometimes difficult to keep it together. We all have had seasons that we go through when life throws us some really rough stuff.

A friend of mine recently visited his doctor and was informed that he had a tumor in his brain. Another family in my congregation has shared with me the heart aches of trying to raise a troubled teenager. Some kids I know are being left out at school. Others I know face issues at work Ð it seems that the harder they work, the more behind they get. I think of my friend who went into work and was told to pack up his office; he was done.

Those kinds of events can bring about a real crisis in one’s life, because they seem so unfair. A person who has been a faithful follower of the Lord may even feel cheated.

Asaph was a guy who could identify with having a faith crisis. He actually wrote a song (Psalm 73) when life wasn’t going the way he wanted. It begins like this,

“Truly God is good to the upright, to those who are pure in heart.”

Perhaps he had learned Psalm 1 as a child, which says that those who follow God’s way will be like trees bearing fruit by streams of water. Asaph holds onto that promise, but in verse two he moves into the crisis:

“But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had well nearly slipped.”

His faith walk was crumbling beneath his feet. What was its cause?

Verses 3 – 9.

“For I was envious of the arrogant, I saw the prosperity of the wicked. . . .”

Asaph was bothered by the fact that even though bad people take advantage of others, they seem to be doing all right.

It also bothered Asaph that others were also buying into this lifestyle. It’s like these evildoers were celebrities. They live an immoral life but are very popular in society. And it seems like God does not even notice.

“Therefore the people turn and praise them; and find no fault in them. How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High? Such are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches” (vs. 10-11)

To make matters even worse, Asaph has a chronic illness. Every morning he wakes up and feels absolutely miserable!

“All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been plagued and punished every morning.”

Asaph is complaining that even though he is one of God’s faithful people, he is sick and can’t seem to get well, while the wicked people who thumb their nose in the face of God are doing great! It’s not fair.

Afraid that he would hurt his children spiritually, Asaph also complains of his loneliness in keeping his problems to himself.

“If I had said, ÔI will speak thus,’ I would have been untrue to the generation of thy children.”

He couldn’t make heads or tails out of it, so he just gave up.

“But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task.”

Asaph was having a terrible time keeping it together as he watched evil win over good. He was having a faith crisis. Yet, even though he says his feet almost stumbled, his steps had well nigh slipped, he didn’t stumble and he didn’t slip. Why didn’t his world cave in? The secret is found in verse 17.

“. . . until I went into the sanctuary of God, then I perceived their end.”

Asaph went to church where he was overwhelmed by the greatness and majesty of God. He received a changed perspective. Asaph saw the big picture, which is Ð God wins, not evil.

“Truly thou dost set them in slippery places; thou dost make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! They are like a dream when one awakes, on awaking you despise their phantoms.”

I belong to God, and He has the last word over me. Asaph rediscovered how big his God really is.

Jack Hayford writes in one of his books about worship, “God calls us to worship where he displays his might, because he knows we will face tasks in which we need to act mightily. He wants us to transplant our unholiness with holiness, our unwholeness with his wholeness. He is not disposed to frighten us to death for entering into his presence, but to awe us to life because we have been in his presence. The ground of all being wants us to be able to stand our ground in life’s trials. To do so in the face of sorrow, temptation, illness and disappointments requires frequent visits to the holy place.”

Asaph was reminded of his great God and so he turns to Him in confession.

“God, when my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was stupid and ignorant. I was like a brute beast toward you.”

He admits it was not smart to stop trusting God.

“Nevertheless I am continually with you. You hold my right hand. You guide me with counsel, and afterward you will receive me with honor. Whom have I in heaven but you, and there is nothing on earth that I desire but you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but you are the strength of my heart and portion forever. Indeed, those who are far from you will perish. You put an end to those who are false to you, but for me it is good to be near God. I have made the Lord God my refuge to tell of all your works” (vs. 23 – 28).

Asaph got a nevertheless in his worship experience. Life wasn’t adding up, it was true. But nevertheless, God is with me. He is good to me and He holds my right hand. Asaph is revived, confident, and hopeful as he moves on to face life’s twists and turns.

My dear brothers and sisters, it is so good that you are here with us in this worship service; for bad times will come right along with the good, whether you are a Christian or not. According to Asaph’s testimony, worship is the location to be.

Some people run from worship when life is falling apart, but that is a disastrous thing to do. You should run to the presence of God. James tells us, “Draw near to him and he will draw near to you.” It is in worship that we rediscover who we are, whose we are, and how nothing can snatch us from His hand. It is in our worship time that we see beyond the tragic and the terrible, the sorrow and the sadness, to a God who loves us and gave His Son for us at the cross. It is where we get the big picture of a grand, majestic God.

Luke tells us that worship was a habit for Jesus. He needed to be in the presence of His Father. The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us not to neglect the meeting together, but to encourage one another (10:25). We need to go to worship for encouragement, to get our nevertheless to hang on to, just as Asaph did.

Life is a mystery. Nevertheless, God is with me and holds my right hand. Say it with me: God is with me! And He holds my right hand.

Yes, I am hurting.

Nevertheless God is with me, and He holds my right hand.

Yes, I am afraid.

Nevertheless God is with me, and He holds my right hand.

Yes, I am disappointed and discouraged by situations in my life.

Nevertheless God is with me, and He holds my right hand.

And yes, you may be dying.

Nevertheless God is with you, and He holds your right hand.

St. Paul tells us nothing can separate us from the love of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Our purpose at Christian Crusaders is to be a ministry that builds the person up. Worship is a key component. This is a worship service to help you keep it together and grow stronger in your walk with the Lord.

People of God, you are not alone. As you go on today after this service, I invite you to hang on to your nevertheless. Keep on worshiping. We’ll see you again next week at worship. God bless.

The Lepers

Jesus was a master artist with words. He could take words and form a picture into which we can find ourselves. Today’s text is an example of that statement. In that text, Jesus is talking to the lepers. Without a doubt, we can place ourselves in the story Ð not as one of those who suffer from leprosy, but from ungratefulness.

Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem when ten men with leprosy stopped him. They stood at a distance (for they were not allowed to go near anyone who was clean while they were unclean). They cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”

Jesus looked at them, had pity on them, and told them to show themselves to the priest. As they went on their way, they were healed. But only one returned to throw himself at Jesus’ feet and thank God. That man was a Samaritan, who was considered to be an outcast of His chosen church. He didn’t think he had any relationship with God at all! Yet, there he was, praising and thanking God, while those who claimed to be God’s own had merrily gone on their way.

Perhaps the others were anxious to hug their children Ð they hadn’t be able to do that for a long time now. Or perhaps they were just plain needed to get home and check on the farm. Surely Jesus would understand. How ironic it was that the only one who took time to thank Jesus was an Samaritan!

Drawing a conclusion from this story, one could say that those outside the church can reveal a more thankful spirit than those of us who are in the church. That is the lesson being taught there. We can be quick to ask and slow to thank.

Place yourself in that picture. I often hear myself speaking with an unthankful spirit. Complain, complain, complain. Awhile back I went in to see my doctor and told her my legs hurt. She said to me, “Did it ever occur to you that you are 89 years old?” When I went home later that night, I thought of all the many places my legs have carried me. Now here I was complaining about them! It is easy to forget about the good and complain about the not-so-good situations in life.

I live in a very nice retirement home where we receive a very good meal every night. One evening, I listened to the three other persons at my table complained unsatiably. I know them quite well and was felt comfortable in saying to them, “You know, since we sat down here at this table, we have done nothing but complain. The Bible tells us that we are not very happy people if we are complaining. And besides, all this complaining could cause some indigestion.” (I was kidding, but with a note of seriousness about it.)

One of the men then shouted back at me, “Our food shouldn’t be prepared this way!”

Now I felt I had more liberty to be speak freely, so I said, “Did you see that program on tv the other night? They showed little boys who only ate three meals a week. If they were lucky, they would get more. And you can be just as sure that hunger exists just a few miles from us. Yet, here we are, pushing good food away, simply because we don’t like the way it has been prepared.”

Is this where we find ourselves in the text?

What about our political leaders? Following Syria’s bombing of her own people Ð many of whom were children Ð our President worked hard to know the appropriate punishment we should give Syria’s leader, who ordered the attack. Some felt we should blow him off the map; some felt we should do nothing. What is the right answer? It is easy for us to be critical of our President concerning his decision in this matter and not be thankful for those who are doing their very best to find an answer amid this dilemma.

So, people can’t satisfy us, cooks can’t satisfy us, our government leaders can’t satisfy us. Many of us have to put ourselves in the category of “difficult to satisfy.”

We are sinners, and when we examine our own lives, we realize we often are not too good. However, God has come into this world in the person of Jesus Christ to take away those sins. Through his suffering, death, and resurrection, He has made atonement for our sins. Our sins can be taken away, even the sin of unthankfulness. If I bring these cares to Christ, He will forgive me and even promises me eternal life!

One night a few months ago, my wife was suffering greatly. The night came when nothing more could be done for her. My three children decided then to stay with their mother until she had drawn her last breath.

It wasn’t long before our son said to her, “Mother, I want to thank you for all you have done for me. But above all I want to thank you that you have led me to Jesus Christ.” The other two repeated those words. Then I looked into her face and said, “Eunice, you have been a great partner. I would never have gotten half as far in the ministry as I did had it not been for you.”

Her breathing became very labored, then, and suddenly quieted. So I said to her, “We are going home now, and so are you. We’re going to our earthly home, but you are going to your heavenly home. In just a matter of seconds, you will look into the face of Jesus, Eunice!” Shortly thereafter, her breathing stopped. But oh, the joy of being able to know, beyond all doubt, that she has really and truly gone home!

We don’t know when that day will come for the rest of us. Life can be very short and unsuspecting. But that night, as I traveled home knowing my wife was in the presence of Jesus Christ Ð did I have any right to be unthankful? No.

I urge you to let Jesus lead you through this word picture. He wants you to learn something from it, whether it be thankfulness or something else. There are plenty of things he wants to tell us. When we are open to His leading, we will be drawn closer to Him, and we will be happy people, for thankful people are happy people.

Will you use this text in this way? I hope so.

You Have Forgotten Your First Love

Some time ago, a friend of mine asked me a question: “What does the Bible mean when it says, ÔYou have forsaken your first love’?” I gave him a rather flimsy answer, but when I went home, I began to research this phrase. I was convicted with the message of this text from Revelation 2.

Ephesus had a beautiful harbor and people came to this port from all over the world. Along with the positive gifts this diverse people brought, they also brought influences that went contrary to the Word St. Paul had communicated when he began the Christian church in Ephesus. The Ephesians became known for the beautiful temple to the goddess, Artemis. This strong emphasis on polytheism was the culture in which the disciples had to work. St. Paul ministered in Ephesus for three years, and he warned the Christians that false teachers would try to draw people away from the faith. These false teachers did indeed cause problems in the Ephesian church, but the church resisted them, as we can see from Paul’s letter.

John also spent much of his ministry in this city, and he knew the Ephesian church had resisted false teaching. The Holy Spirit prompted him to write this revelation from God, he says, “I know your works, Your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear evil men but have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and found them to be false; I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.” In many other places, people who claimed to be Christian just walked away from the church and did not want to be identified with the Christian faith at all; the Ephesian church did not. They were active and won many for Christ with their polemic attitude.

The problem was something much more subtle. The Christians lived among wicked men in Ephesus and often made their living by doing business with them. They did not want to offend them so the Christians began to compromise their own faith. The attitude began to be more like “our religion is just one of many. We all have a right to believe what we want to believe. It is all good.”

However, God’s call to truth was mightily at work in the Ephesian church. He did not want the people shaping their faith according to their own fashion. So St. John writes to the congregation: “Yet I hold this against you: You have abandoned your first love. Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” God is saying, Take my Word as it is or bear the consequences.

So the people in Ephesus received this stern message: “You have forgotten your first love.” This is a warning for all of us as Christians. Let us consider our local church body. A person may become restless and weary of working with the same group of people, even though they share their foundation in Christ. They travel to a different area of the country and visit a church. Everything in that church seems fresh and energetic. They tell a friend, “I loved this church! My home church does not begin to have what you have! When we get home, we are going to search for a new church home where things will be better.” The music, the preaching, the love for each other in their home congregation wasn’t what it had once been. They had forgotten their first love – the excitement of serving Christ without all the complications of humans trying to work together.

Love for Jesus Christ will bring about a love for His church. If you see your love for the church is not growing, look around and see if your love for Jesus Christ is also hindered in some way.

Another relationship where first love is sometimes forgotten is in a marriage. When a marriage is new, the couple is very much in love and would do anything for each other. Soon the children come along, and life becomes quite hectic. The years fly by, and life suddenly seems dull and routine; the wife gets weary, the husband spends more time at work. The man becomes an important person at the office and the wife has to keep dinner warm until he gets home at night. They began to drift apart. Then the wife’s coworker notices she is feeling blue and asks her about it. She explains her home situation, and he offers to take her out to dinner so they can talk more about it. She tells her husband she will be home late from work the next night because she has a meeting.

The next night, she sits down with the coworker, who has all the time in the world to listen. When she gets home, it is much later than she planned. So her husband asks about her meeting, but she explains that it was very serious and confidential, so she can’t talk about it. He lets it go by, never thinking her meeting was dinner with her unmarried boss.

A few nights later, she goes to dinner with her boss again, but this time her husband is a bit suspicious. So when she comes home, he asks her about it. “Where were you tonight?’ She replies, “Things are not the same as they used to be. I might as well tell you Ð I don’t love you like I used to. I think we should get a divorce.”

“Well,” he says, “I don’t want one. We have two lovely children. I wonder if the real problem is we have forgotten our first love in the faith. We have ceased having our devotions together. We no longer talk about the will of God in our lives. It’s all what we want and us going our own way. I, for one, am ready to make a real change and go back and capture my first love.” But she is not and so they divorce. They had lost their first love. Every couple should make very sure they do not lose their first love.

As Christians, we should heed this warning also. Live in the Word and ask for forgiveness. Paul and John are echoing Jesus’ words: He will give us enough endurance so we will not forget our First Love. We can then say, “That which I did yesterday was wrong. Jesus. Help me to correct it.’ When you do those two things, you will not lose your first love. Life will never be the same if Jesus is your First Love.

Your church home, your marriage, your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ Ð He is there to help you with these relationships every single day. Turn to Him. Find your way into a good Bible class at your church.

Remember, John was writing to an established church. Yet Jesus told him through divine revelation that they had forgotten their first love. That was His message to the believers at Ephesus, and it is His message to the Believers of Christ today.