The Bridegroom

Ephesians 5:21-30

Do you love church? Or do you love the Church? I remind you, the Church is not a building of brick and mortar, or wood, plaster, sheet rock, and shingles. The Church is the people, the people of God. One of the scriptural images of the Church – believers in Jesus Christ – is that the Church is the bride and Jesus Christ is the bridegroom.

Scripture makes clear as we read from Ephesians that Jesus Christ loves the Church. The Church is full of imperfect people, yet Jesus is crazy about His people in love, committed to our well-being, sacrificial in serving us. His love for us is unconditional and eternal. So I’d like to explore some powerful truths about Jesus the Bridegroom and those who believe in Jesus as the bride of Christ.

First, Jesus is the Bridegroom who pursues the Church to rescue her. As in Ephesians 5, “. . . as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her. . . .” Anytime a wife would be in danger, the husband, because of his love, would put his life on the line to rescue her.

I recently read a story in the newspaper of a man in Gwembe, Zambia Africa. In the year 2011, his wife was snatched by a big crocodile while she was washing clothes in the river. The man dove into the river and swam to where the big crock had his wife in his jaws. He grabbed the crocodile around the belly and dragged it back to the shallows. Then he jammed his hand and arm into the mouth of crocodile and began to beat the crock on the head with a stick until finally it released it’s grip on his wife and tried to snatch the husband in it’s jaws. The crocodile missed the husband and swam away. Both husband and wife were bloody but safe. The husband had rescued his wife.

Jesus is the Bridegroom who rescues His people, the bride of Christ. He does it in love at great sacrifice. Every Popeye has his Olive Oyl. Every Tarzan is willing to rescue his Jane. I love reading Louis L’Amour westerns where the hero cowboy defeats the evil people, and in the end gets the girl.

This is the Bible’s eternal plot line. Jesus comes for His people to rescue us in love and defeat the evil one. Jesus is the Bridegroom who pursues us to rescue us in love, but He also comes as the Bridegroom to propose to His beloved. It’s an invitation of love that requests a response. This is the nature of love – to confess it and risk rejection.

Do you remember the movie “Runaway Bride” where Julia Roberts plays the character Maggie Carpenter? The movie is called “Runaway Bride” because Maggie has been engaged multiple times but always leaves her betrothed husband standing at the altar.

The essence of the lifetime love that God offers us in Jesus Christ is not one only based on momentary passion or feeling. God offers us a covenant of love that evokes a commitment of love and trust from us. The Bridegroom and the bride are invited to say I do, and our yes to Jesus Christ invites us to say yes in faith in response to Jesus Christ.

Have you ever, in a simple prayer of faith, said Yes, Jesus. I believe in You. God’s Spirit continually whispers His invitation that we would share His love and His life day by day in a covenant of love.

Jesus is also the Bridegroom who protects His bride to keep her safe in His arms of love. In Psalm 62 we read, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone.” When the arms of Jesus’ promises surround us, our faith trusts His strength. Jesus is our safe place. His strength holds us up. We hide in His love.

But that type of protective love also is a jealous love. In Exodus, it says, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (20:5). God is not insecure or paranoid. He tolerates no rivals. Intimacy by definition means being exclusive to one. God is a jealous God who wants us to love Him above all others.

Do you remember when God asked Hosea to take a prostitute to be his wife as a living image of the Lord’s love for His people, Israel? Hosea’s love for Gomer, whom he bought off the streets to be his wife, took her into his home and loved her, was an image of the Lord’s love for His people. Undeserved, yet God was willing to make the commitment to pay the price that His people would be His wife.

Gomer gave birth to two children for Hosea. The promise of the Lord is, I will betroth you to me forever. Sadly, though, Gomer eventually returned to her life on the street, selling herself for personal gain and indulging herself in unfaithfulness to her husband. But God asked Hosea to buy her back again – to pay for her to be his wife again.

This is an image of God’s love for you and me. Jesus fights for us to stay in His love. He forgives us with His grace over and over again so we might, as the recipients of His love and desire, delight to live in His presence as our Bridegroom. Remember how in the Song of Songs it says, “I am my beloved’s and he is mine” (6:3), and “His banner over us is love” (2:4b). It also says in Romans that Jesus is the Bridegroom who prays for His bride (8:36). “Nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:39).

Christ Jesus is He who died on the cross, who was raised from the dead, and now is at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. Jesus knows your every need before you even name it to Him in prayer. What a powerful truth – the Lord of the world, the Lord of life, who died on the cross to buy you to be His bride, is raised from the dead to give you life forever in His name, and now is in the presence of God praying for your every need. That’s how much He loves you!

In His love for you, Jesus the Bridegroom wants to perfect our love for Him as He calls us into a deeper level of intimacy. Like the Scriptures speak of husband and wife becoming one, Jesus wants our bodies, our minds and emotions, our spirits to all be one having the mind of Christ and truly affectionately loving Jesus with gratitude, trusting Him and giving ourselves to serve His mission in the world. We are inseparably one with Jesus Christ.

Maybe the most profound of all is that Jesus is the Bridegroom who dresses us in the glory of His love and the garments of His salvation to cover our flaws, our failures, and our naked shame. It says in Isaiah, “I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God. He has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in the robe of his righteousness” (61:10).

I remember once, when my wife Denise and I were young parents, we went with our family on a vacation and stayed overnight in a motel. The kids were hoping to go swimming in the pool, but I had forgotten my swimsuit. The motel, however, had a vending machine with a paper weave swimsuit. What could go wrong there? It was probably 20 or 30 minutes after we were swimming, and my daughter Andrea said, “Daddy, is the back of your swimsuit supposed to hang down like that?”

In every person’s life, there are moments where we stand exposed. Where in our foolishness, our failures, or our sinful ego we have done wrong. We’re flawed, broken, dirty. We’re naked, ashamed, and guilty. To the glory of Jesus, the Bridegroom never stops loving us despite our imperfections. He dresses us in the clothing of His salvation that He drapes around us, the glory of His love and the robe of His perfect righteousness. The whole basis of you and me belonging to Jesus the Bridegroom is the power of His promise to be faithful. We gladly dress in His righteousness. Then Jesus the Bridegroom presents us proudly as His bride.

Have you seen my beloved, my delight? Wonder of wonders how Jesus continually loves us. Scripture says someday Jesus, the Bridegroom, will return for His bride on earth, the Church. That will be our wedding day. In Revelation it says, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him . . .” (1:7). And “The name of the one on the white horse is faithful one” (19:11). Jesus the Bridegroom is coming someday for His bride.

One of the last words in the scriptural witness is the Aramaic word Maranatha. Simply translated, Come Lord Jesus. As we revel in the love Jesus has for us, as we trust Jesus as our Savior, the Son of God our Lord, we would say Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.

Jesus makes us ready for that day. He has placed on us the glory of His righteousness. Remember that Disney song – “Someday my Prince will come. Someday I’ll find his love.” Someday Jesus is coming for us.

One of the greatest Christian leaders of the last century was John Stott. He was the director of All Souls Langham Place in London. Stott was a wonderful preacher, Bible teacher, author, global leader to many. Os Guiness wrote an article about his relationship with John Stott. “I knew Stott over many decades,” wrote Os, but I will never forget my last visit to his bedside three weeks before he died. We spent an unforgettable hour and more sharing memories over the years, and then I asked Stott how he would like me to pray for him. Lying weakly on his back in bed and barely able to speak, he answered me in a hoarse whisper, “Pray that I will be faithful to Jesus until my last breath.”

Isn’t that our prayer? That we, who are the bride of Christ and the recipients of His love, would be faithful to Jesus the Bridegroom until our last breath? You see, we are the bride of Christ Jesus the Bridegroom, and someday He is coming back for us. We live with an eye to the sky, expecting the Bridegroom will come on our wedding day.

Jesus loves us with passion, affection, and commitment and we bask in the love of Jesus as the Prince of love. In His love, the Spirit fills us so we can love others in His name – Jesus the Bridegroom – perfect in His faithfulness. We are His bride. Amen.

Rev. Lee Laaveg

Get a Grip on Aging

Psalm 71

Back in the 80s and 90s, I used to do quite a bit of running and managed to complete a couple of the Twin Cities Marathons. At the starting line of a marathon, everyone is chattering, happy, and chirpy. Many people show up in costume, and many others are bundled up because it’s usually cold in the early morning.

The end, however, has an interesting change. People’s faces are much more stern. Not much talking is going on; the runners are gutting it out. Some people are barely putting one foot in front of the other. The only real talking you hear is from the sidelines as friends and loved ones scream, “Come on! You can make it! You can make it!” The last part of the marathon is typically the hardest.

Such is the case with the seasons of life. A fella I know, who works with senior citizens, said one time, “God seems to save the hardest part until last.” Have you ever heard the phrase, “Growing old ain’t for sissies”? Maybe you know exactly what that means.

Having many years, though, is considered a blessing according to Scripture. Still we know the last stretch can oftentimes be quite hard. The body isn’t working like it used to. Parts are wearing out. The memory isn’t as sharp. A grieving is going on – loss of spouse, loss of friends. Physical abilities are starting to fall by the wayside. More and more we experience a loss of independence, and you find yourself going to more funerals for peers. Some people go through the experience of feeling quite alone and isolated, forgotten. They feel they’ve lost the respect of others around them. It’s a sad time for them.

It’s a real shame when this happens, because the elderly are meant to be prized. The Bible tells us to honor them, for they have so much to teach those of us who are coming up the ranks to join them someday. Such is the case in this prayer, Psalm 71. It was written by an elderly person of God who was facing hard times in his last stretch of life. He has something very important, I believe, to teach us.

This person is not feeling very prized by others either. He’s under fire and going through tough times. People try to “get after” him and give him a hard time. Something bad is happening in his life as he talks of the hands of the wicked and the unjust and the cruel person. He describes conspiring accusers out to get him, to wreck his life, and he’s feeling forsaken by God. He’s even worried about whether God is looking over him. His strength is gone. He’s tired; he’s sick perhaps.

Some Bible scholars have speculated that this Psalm could have very well been written by King David when he was running from his son Absalom, who was trying to overthrow his kingdom. He is desperate and in need of refuge, rescue, help, strength, and vindication. As you read it, you see all those words. He’s under attack, and he’s feeling old, because he is old. Things are so bad, he seems to have a touch of anxiety about his standing with God at this stage in his life. “Do not cast me off in the time of my old age, God,” he says. “Forsake me not when my strength is spent.” Perhaps people had been saying the Lord has deserted him. God has grown tired of him and won’t take care of him. Now we can get him.

This person is absolutely overwhelmed by life. Have you ever felt that way? Like you need refuge? You need strength, because yours is spent. You are feeling under attack. How do you get through it? How do you get a grip on aging? Well, let me tell you, this guy is very wise in Psalm 71. He knows exactly where to turn.

Verse 1 – “In you, O Lord, I take refuge.” He knows how big and faithful God is, and what He can do. Listen to his God descriptors in this song, this prayer he’s written. “(You are) my rock, my Refuge, my Fortress.” Righteous, faithful, holy One, mighty, Savior, powerful, Creator, personal, in control. Wow! That is quite a resume, wouldn’t you say.

How does he know all this? The answers can be found in verses 5 and 6. “For you, O Lord, are my hope, my confidence, my trust from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from before my birth. You are he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.

Do you see what he’s doing there? He’s doing a life review of his experiences with God. He’s looking back and counting his blessings. God, you were there even before I was born. You were there for me to lean on, to learn from. You know me. You made me. When I came into this world, Lord, you were present. And as I’ve gone through life even from youth till now, You have been alongside of me. And I remember the many times when I was able to lean on You through the years as I faced various life circumstances, and I couldn’t overcome them on my own.

If David was indeed the writer, perhaps he was thinking about facing Goliath early in his life. Lord, You were there. You were there in all those times!

Have you ever looked back on God’s faithfulness in your own life saying, “I remember when . . . ”? I remember when I was sick and in the hospital. It was not looking so good for me. But God kept showing up and He carried me through that experience. Now here I am. This is what the psalmist seems to be saying. “Lord, you helped me out of so many tough times before. I’ve been depending on you ever since I was born. I know I can trust you. You are my hope. And you never change. How about helping me again?

The Psalm ends with trust and affirmation. It starts out sounding desperate, but the end is the strength. He says, “I believe you will help me. I will be singing your praises and telling others about it.” That’s why this song can be classified as a psalm of trust.

We can learn a couple of lessons from this veteran of the faith. The first one is this: there are seasons in life when life can be challenging and tough, BUT you do not have to face it alone. Lean on God. That is what this guy was doing. Start leaning on God now, even before those times hit, and watch Him work in your life. You’ll learn this truth: “If you’ve made a habit of communing with God when the sun is shining, you’ll find it much easier to sing when it rains.” Lean on Him now. If you have been leaning on Him, keep leaning. Keep turning to Him. He’s available. His love for you is unchanging.

Another lesson we pick up from this person is this: When life gets tough, look back at your lifetime of experiences with God and His faithfulness working in your life. Count your blessings; name them one by one. Many of you have some great memories and great stories of the faithfulness of God at work in your life. It might have been His presence in a hospital experience or how He has provided daily for you when it looked like you didn’t know where the next dollar was going to come from. All kinds of experiences where God showed up. He never changes. Remind yourself of that.

Finally, the last section of this prayer holds a third lesson from the senior saint, which I want to look at with you. It is addressed, I believe, to senior saints. Listen to these words: “O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wonderful deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me until I proclaim your might to all the generations to come.

He is saying, Lord, help me so I can keep on doing ministry for you. There is work left to be done. I’m not ready to hang it up until I proclaim Your might to another generation. Keep me going. I want to proclaim your might in my testimony. I want to be able to tell the world what a faithful and loving God you are in my life and what you’ve done for the world. I want to tell the Good News – how we were lost in our sinfulness, but You in Your mercy sent Your Son, Jesus Christ, to die upon a cross so no one might be lost but all might be restored into a relationship with you. I have people – generations coming up as well as generations around me – who need to hear about your grace. They need to hear about your power, which changed my life and can change theirs. I want to keep talking about you, Lord.

This guy is not ready to hang it up. There is no retirement in his service to the Lord. This is a truth for us as well. There is no retirement in the kingdom of God. God always has something for us to do. No matter how old we may be getting, ministry is for life.

I had a friend named Joanne Jackson who has graduated now to be with the Lord in His heaven. She was a person who just kept going and going and going even though she was quite elderly and not healthy. Every time I went to see her in the hospital, it seemed almost certain it was her last stretch. She would be dying, but always seemed to beat the odds and snap out of it. At times she would say to me, “Steve, I don’t know why God doesn’t just take me home. I’m ready to go. I want to see my husband who is waiting for me in heaven.” Then she would smile and say, “I guess God still has more work for me to complete.” This is the psalmist’s attitude.

Let me get personal and specific with you who are veterans of the faith. How would you finish the psalmist’s statement? “So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I . . .” Now fill in a ministry or a mission. It doesn’t matter how old you are. You are needed. You are on call. No retiring here.

Finish this verse: “Even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me until . . .”
. . . my friends all know that Jesus is the Savior of the world that everyone needs?
. . . I have learned how to share my testimony or to effectively share your story and then share it with those You have placed in my life.
. . . I have prayed daily for the mission of my Church and for the missionaries for the next year.
. . . every refugee and poor person has a blanket to cover up with in the cold of night – a blanket I could make.
. . . a great awakening happens in our country and a great harvest of souls, to the glory of your holy name.
. . . I have brought my children who have strayed from the faith back into a relationship with you.
. . . my unchurched grandchildren have come to personally know and believe in Jesus Christ.

The list can go on and on. How would you finish that verse? Look around. What is God challenging you with, even in this season in your life? There is no retirement.

Thank God for senior saints! I love my senior saints! I respect them and esteem them in my own congregation. I hope that is happening for you, too. I especially thank God for the senior saint who penned Psalm 71, because he has given us quite a lesson on how to get a grip on aging. Life can be tough in the last stretch, but you don’t have to face it alone. You can lean on the God who loves you, who gave His Son to die for you on a cross so you could have a personal relationship with Him. He has promised to never ever leave you orphaned or on your own. He is present for you.

When life is looking particularly tough and rough, remember to look back. When you’re wondering if God has turned His back on you, look back and review His faithfulness in your life. Remember this truth: God is never changing. His love for you is never changing. The God who has taken care of you in the past is there to walk with you in the present.

NO RETIREMENT! God has something for you to do. Retirement isn’t meant to be spent sitting around or chasing a golf ball around a golf course, which is fun I know. While there is nothing wrong with those activities, don’t build your life on them in retirement. Keep serving the cause of Jesus Christ. There are people in this world who still have not met Him. God is counting on you, who have been so blessed by Him along the way with His presence in your life, to point them in the direction of Jesus Christ.

By the way, this is where real joy is found in the last stretch of your race. It is in serving Christ. Serve Him, trust Him, and lean on Him.

God bless you in your final stretch. Amen.

Rev. Steve Kramer

Get a Grip on Love

John 15:12-15

Many years ago, Dionne Warwick sung a hit song on the radio. It went like this: “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of . . . “

How true those words are. Love is important. Love is needed in our marriages. A loveless marriage is not going to last long. If it does, it’ll be a long, miserable experience for both parties.

Love is needed in our churches. As we love one another, we represent Christ better to those who stand outside the Christian faith. Maybe you’ve heard this statement: A cold church – like butter – will not spread.

Love is needed in our homes, amongst our family members, and in our friendships so we might grow closer and enjoy one another.

Love is needed in our world. This world can seem so gloomy and loveless some days. As we watch the news, we see people being terrible to one another in a host of creative ways.

Jesus made a big deal about love. Love one another; love your neighbor; love God. So today I thought we’d answer this question, How do we get a grip on love? Jesus is our expert coach for today because He is the ultimate when it comes to the matter of love. He modeled it and stressed the importance of love in our relationships during His ministry on earth. In fact, He even covered this topic on the very last night He was with His followers before He was taken to the cross. Listen to His words again: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

Jesus said something similar earlier in the Upper Room. “A new commandment I give you: Love one another as I have loved you. By this all people will know you are my disciples [if you love one another]” (John 13:34-35). What did Jesus mean when He said love?

The word love is used so freely in our world and sometimes in a most confused way. It may be related to a feeling, like you fall in love. A romantic sort of thing. But Jesus isn’t talking about this when He speaks about love to His disciples.

The Greek language has four words for love in the New Testament.
• Phileo – friendship type of love.
• Storge – family type of love.
• Eros – romantic attraction kind of love.
• Agape – sacrificial love that gives for the sake of the other.

Agape is the word Jesus uses in His statements. In fact, He pretty much defines agape in the next statement He made after the commandment. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Love is not a noun; it’s not a feeling. It’s something you do. It’s active. Love is an act of the will, not something you conjure up like a feeling, but a decision. I’m going to love that person.

Jesus even gives us a clue as to what love looks like when He says this little statement at the end, “As I have loved you, love one another.” We ask, How has He loved those disciples? and How has He loved us? We find our clues about His intent as we watch Jesus’ actions in the Gospels.

We first learn that Agape love is a love that gives. Love gives! He sacrificed His life for them and for us at the cross. He gave Himself away. He emptied Himself so we could be rescued from sin and death. Love gives.

Anne LaMott wrote of an eight-year-old boy who had a younger sister dying of leukemia. He was told that without a blood transfusion, she would die. So his parents asked if they could test his blood to see if he was compatible with hers. He agreed, was tested, and it was a match. Then he was asked if he would give his sister a pint of his own blood – which could be her only chance of living. He said he would have to think about it overnight.

The next day the little boy told his parents he was willing to donate his blood. So they took him to the hospital where he was put on a Gurney beside his six-year-old sister. They were both hooked up to IVs. A nurse took a pint of blood from the boy and gave it to his sister. The boy just lay there in silence as the blood that would save his sister dripped from the IV. When the doctor came over to see how he was doing, the boy opened his eyes and asked, “How soon until I start to die?”

Wow! Love gives sacrificially. Love is never so fully love as when it is giving.

Love serves. Jesus, before He gave them this statement, went around the circle of His disciples in the Upper Room with a towel and a bowl of water. He washed their feet – much to their horror because that was something a servant would do. He was the Master. When Jesus was finished, He said to them, “Do you see what I’ve done? I’ve given you an example. If you call Me your Lord and Master, I am. I also want you, then, to wash one another’s feet.”

I’m seeing this kind of serving love taking place right before my eyes these days. In a home in my congregation, Dan is dying of ALS. He is losing abilities daily now. His wife, Sara, is his caregiver. Some people might run from being placed in her role. It is overwhelming some days. But she is living her marriage vows – for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer. She never dreamed of doing anything other than what she’s doing for her husband. She serving, and that is love. When couples are married at our church, I include the promise – I will serve you until death parts us – in their vows.

Love prays for others. Jesus prayed for His disciples in John 17 before He went out into the world to face the horror of the cross. What did He pray? He prayed, “Father, protect them. Keep them in the truth. Keep them unified.” Imagine, all He was about to face, and yet He was praying for them and their welfare. As He hung on the cross after they deserted Him and as others were taking out their hatred toward Him, He said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” He prayed for them!

By the way, I’ve noticed it is difficult to stay mad at someone if I’m praying for them. That kind of prayer does a number on me. It changes my heart and moves me toward loving again.

Love speaks. Jesus loved them with His words. He spoke to them all that the Father had given Him, a glimpse of the Father’s heart. He spoke important truths into their lives, like God loves you; He is your Father; He hates sin but He loves you; He has a plan to make your life work to His glory and His honor. He is offering you an abundant life, eternal life. Listen to these words of Jesus again: “I no longer call you servants because the servant doesn’t know what the Master is doing. But I’ve called you friends because I’ve made known to you everything I have heard from my Father.”

He spoke to them of love. He spoke words of encouragement and affirmation. He looked at Peter and said to him one day, “You are no longer Simon. You are Peter, which means rock, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the Gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). He gave Peter a positive vision of who he would be someday.

Jesus also used words of discipline to put them in their place and set them in the right direction. For instance, when they argued with Him about going to the cross, He said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking like God. You are thinking like the world thinks.”

Finally, love looks. Jesus listened not only with His ears but also with His eyes. After it had become apparent to the disciples that Jesus was going to be taken from them, He looked into their weary, anxious, and upset faces and said, “Let not your hearts be troubled . . .” He saw trouble in those hearts. Love notices things like that. It pays attention. Only then was He able to give them words of assurance in the great, comforting promise of a heavenly home He was preparing for them in the future.

So love gives and love prays; love serves and love speaks. Love looks.

Now that we understand what love is about, it’s apparent that it’s a very tall order. As I look at myself and begin to understand what a sinner I can be and how selfish I can be, I wonder how I can pull off this kind of love life in my marriage, my friendships, my family, or my church or community. The answer is, dear friends, we can’t do it very well. But I have good news for you – we really don’t have to. We really don’t have to.

Some of you who are listening today are thinking, I’d like to have a life like that. It might begin with you saying yes to Jesus Christ for the first time or coming back to Him after having walked away. It means asking Him into your life, admitting you need Him to forgive you, and asking Him to help you start over. In doing so, you will receive His love, His forgiveness, and His promises. One of those promises is this: I will reside in you, guide and teach you in the way of love. I will empower you to put My counsel to work as you relate to others in your life.

Many of you who are spending time with me today know the value of a relationship with Christ already. Followers of Jesus are not on their own as they grow in love toward others.

We just celebrated Pentecost, which is when the Holy Spirit was given to help us get better at loving other people. The Apostle Paul, in fact, wrote about the fruit of the Spirit in a person’s life. At the top of the list of great qualities for successful relationships is love! It is just what He wants for us. He is willing to put it into our lives for the working of His Holy Spirit.

Jesus said on that same evening that He gave a new commandment to love one another as He has loved us. If we abide in Him, we will bear much fruit. To abide means to remain connected to Him. What does it mean to remain connected to Jesus Christ? It means connecting ourselves to Him in a daily devotional life of Bible study, reading, and prayer. He gives His Spirit to us in those means, and the Spirit has the opportunity to shape us and fill us to overflowing with love for other people. He conforms us to the image of His Son Jesus Christ, the great lover of all. Lover of my soul.

To take His words and trust them enough to actually put them to work in our lives and obey them will bring about growth in our ability to love like Jesus. For instance, when He says, “Forgive as I have forgiven you,” try sacrificing your right to get even or hold a grudge. Forgive! Even if you don’t feel like it, make the decision to forgive. Step by step you will discover the freedom of forgiving, and you will grow in your love.

When you hear Him say, Real life is found in giving yourself away for others. This is what life and love are all about! It’s where joy is. As we begin to take our eyes off of self and ask what we can be doing for Christ – even when we’re not feeling like it – we find that the Holy Spirit enters in, we become more and more mature along the way, and grow in doing His Word. Loving.

Jesus says Serve instead of being served. It is a way to have a great relationship and glorify me. How about taking steps to do that in your relationships, no matter how awkward or frustrating it might be? You find the Spirit will use your serving to grow you in your ability to love. Start small. For instance, start by listening carefully to someone. Pay attention to them without trying to give advice or spacing out or trying to share your own experience. Just listen. It’s one of the great acts of love.

Stay focused on the person. It can be hard, but you can do it powered by the Spirit. It’s a valuable service, and you will grow in your ability to love.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus wants us to grow in our ability to love? It’s because though this world of ours does need love, ultimately it needs HIM. Your loving ways toward people can lead them to come to know or desire to know the One who loves them more than anyone in this world could possibly love them – the One who gave His life for them at the cross and rose again so they might be rescued from sin and death. Jesus Christ! Jesus tells us, “By this all people will know you are my disciples. (They’ll want me in their lives.)”

That is why it is important to Jesus that you and I have a grip on love. We are walking advertisements for the kingdom of God, and our service has the power to affect the people we encounter for eternity. No wonder the Apostle Paul would write later on, “Now faith, hope, and love abide – these three – but the greatest of these is love” (I Cor. 13:13).

Love one another as Christ has loved us. That is the word for today. Amen.

Rev. Steve Kramer

Get a Grip on Witnessing

Acts 2:1-42 (Selected verses)

Have you ever felt intimidated? Intimidation is defined as scared, unnerved, or even terrified by something or someone. We can be intimidated by all kinds of things, such as circumstances and various situations in life like a huge project at work with a deadline to be met.

Maybe you need a major surgery. You know the risks and the long recovery with it. It can be rather daunting, intimidating.

Perhaps you need to make a change in your living situation. A move from a familiar setting to something new can be intimidating as well.

People can be intimidating. Some people, just by their size, can intimidate us, especially if they have a mean streak in them.

Some people with strong personalities can be intimidating. Bosses, managers, or coaches who are screamers can be very intimidating, which is not very helpful.

I have found many followers of Jesus Christ in my years of ministry in the church who tend to feel intimidated at the thought of talking about Jesus outside the church building.

A few years ago a blockbuster movie called “The Silence of the Lambs” hit the market. This title fits well for us within the Church who Jesus described as His sheep and His lambs. There is a lot of silence of the lambs when it comes to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others outside the church. We’re intimidated.

Years ago I caught a vision for training my congregation in evangelism. I started teaching Evangelism Explosion, which trains them in the classroom as they practice the story of Jesus with each other. Then we went out to knock on doors. A couple of my young trainees ran to the restroom to throw up each time before they went out. I know that feeling. I felt the way when I started my training in evangelism as well. But, wow! Did we learn how to share the Gospel!

I found, however, that even after people are trained, they never use it. They just maintain silence. We have to wonder what causes the silence. For some in the church, it’s simply not knowing how. No one has ever taught them. That is the church’s fault, if it is your reasoning.

For some, it is a poor theology they’ve picked up along the way. They reason, All roads lead to the same place. We’re going to heaven, so why bother? But it’s not true.

Some people believe their life is their witness. I don’t have to say anything. People can just observe my lifestyle and be able to figure it out. While it helps to have a consistent life for Christ, words need to be shared as well.

More often than not, I’ve discovered the reason we don’t talk about our faith is intimidation (fear of rejection) and ridicule (fear of blowing it and causing further damage to someone’s spiritual walk), fear of causing friction in the home or amongst the larger family, fear of losing a friendship, or fear of being offensive. For some it is a legitimate fear because when people do this sort of thing, they could lose their lives or their jobs or even their families as they are disowned for their faith.

But the truth is, Jesus called us to be His witnesses out in the world. So how does a follower of Jesus Christ get a grip on the calling from Jesus to be a witness? I believe we have some good news in our text for today. If you put your trust in it, it can help you overcome your intimidation.

It’s an unusual story. It’s inspiring and amazing as well. The followers of Jesus had been told by Him that they were to be His witnesses from Jerusalem to Judea to the ends of the earth. He gave them an amazing vision of their future. They, of course, must have been more than a little intimidated at the thought of carrying this out after Jesus ascended. After all, they had witnessed their Master being treated very cruelly and nailed to a cross only a few weeks earlier for His message. But during that talk, Jesus promised them that they would be baptized by the Holy Spirit.

In Acts chapter 2, we find Christ’s promise fulfilled on a special Jewish festival called Pentecost when Jerusalem was filled with people from around the ancient world to celebrate the festival. The waiting for the disciples was over that day. The new day had arrived. Suddenly there was a mighty wind and tongues of fire lit upon them. They began to praise God in various languages and were empowered from on high with the Holy Spirit to speak to strangers in their own language about the mighty deeds of God in Jesus Christ. By the time Peter was finished telling the story of Christ’s death and resurrection, people were awakened to the gospel and moved to turn to Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord! You might say they had become armed and dangerous!

In the days that followed as the disciples continued to tell the story to those they ran into, they were seen as dangerous in the minds of those who opposed them – the religious and political authorities who had earlier tried to do away with Jesus. Now, in their boldness, they were very effective. They were empowered. The authorities wondered, Who are these guys? They’re Jesus’ followers, and they’re dangerous. Intimidation didn’t win out over the disciples that Pentecost. They opened their mouths, were filled with the Spirit, and God’s will happened, just as Jesus said.

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you have been given the same powerful, wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit. You are armed and dangerous for Jesus Christ. He resides in you, and He is powerful! He has the power to awaken and call people to faith through the Good News of Jesus that you speak.

The Apostle Paul says in First Corinthians. “No one can say Jesus is Lord but by the Spirit.” Paul knew that! The working of the Spirit brings faith. Martin Luther knew that way back when he said, “I believe that I cannot, by my own understanding or effort, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel. . . .” That is the purpose for which the Holy Spirit was given to us – for service to Christ, for the glorification of Christ, for witnessing to those who need the gospel, the Good News of Jesus’ forgiveness, and eternal life.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells His disciples that when the Spirit comes, He will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. That is exactly what happened! They were convicted of their sinfulness. As Peter pointed out, “You killed the Messiah.” They were convinced of righteousness – the righteous One of God who died on the cross. They were filled with a sense of judgment from God and asked in their conviction, What should we do? Impact happened in the telling of the story Peter gave them. The Holy Spirit went to work, and lives were changed.

This is not simply an amazing story from the past for us to say, “Oh, how wonderful that must’ve been.” It is an encouragement story for those of us who are intimidated by our surroundings as we consider the call of Jesus to witness. Pentecost happened, yes, but Pentecost is still happening. The Spirit is every bit as present and powerful today in our world as people step up and speak out for Jesus Christ.

At a preaching conference Christian Crusaders recently hosted, the speaker, Leith Anderson, said to us, “We sometimes wonder why we don’t have Pentecost going on in the world today. It’s because we need to look at the whole world and not just our own neighborhood.” He’s thrilled us by telling us, “If you do the studies, you find 3,000 people coming to Christ per hour, 365 days a year. The Holy Spirit is at work as people carry out the calling around the world. I can imagine standing in line with Peter and Andrew in heaven and asking them, ‘What was it like that first Pentecost? It must have been fantastic!’ And them saying to me, ‘It was great, but what about you? What was it like during your time? Pentecost every hour! What part did you play it in? It must’ve been exciting!’ What part did you play in it?”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, now is the time for boldness! Pentecost is happening! The kingdom of God is calling us to action. Our world needs Jesus Christ more than ever. My encouragement today is for you to see yourself as armed and dangerous, and you continue to get armed and be dangerous.

First, keep being filled with the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 5:18, Paul writes to the church, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit” He is speaking in the present tense, in terms of continuing to be filled. He knows, like D. L. Moody, that we have the Holy Spirit, but we continually leak. We need to be filled up again and again on a daily basis with the Spirit who makes us effective for Christ. As He works in us, He shapes us and mold us into more loving people for Christ as we go with Him. He empowers us to speak up for Jesus Christ and uses us in a powerful manner.

How can we be filled and continue to be filled? If you are in a sailboat, the only way to get that boat to move is to lift its sail to the wind. A mighty Wind blew on Pentecost, and He is still blowing. Lift your sail to the wind of the Spirit by living in God’s Word. Become saturated in God’s Word. Read it, study it, memorize it on a daily basis. Ponder it, reflect upon it.

Lift your sail to the wind of the Spirit through prayer – Come, Holy Spirit. Kindle in me the fire of your love. Use me. Wherever you lead me, I will go. I will obey. He will answer a prayer like that.

Lift your sail to the wind of the Spirit through worship and fellowship. Be a worshiper on a daily basis as well as on Sundays or whenever you worship. Fellowship with other Christians. The disciples were together on Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit came upon them, they were praying, and they were worshiping. They were lifted up by the power of the Spirit and used mightily.

Get yourself prepared. Be always prepared to the story of Jesus.

Who Jesus is . . .
~ The Son of God who descended from heaven to rescue us.

What He did . . .
~ Died on a cross to pay for our sins and rose from the grave to give us eternal life.

What He offers . . .
~ Forgiveness and eternal life for all who come to Him.

What He is asking from you . . .
~ Your faith, your belief, your trust.

Learn to tell your story about the difference Jesus has made in your life. Sit down and write it out. Memorize it so you are ready. The Apostle Peter said, “Always be ready. Be prepared to make a defense for the hope that is within you” (I Peter 3:15).

Offer yourself to the Lord each day in prayer. Lord, use me for Jesus today. I want to be armed and dangerous for you.

I came across a story awhile back written by Erwin McManus. He said, “One summer, my son went to a youth camp. His name is Aaron. He was a little guy, and I was kind of glad he was going to a church camp because I figured he wouldn’t hear ghost stories. Unfortunately, however, since they don’t tell ghost stories at a Christian camp because we don’t believe in ghosts as Christians, they told demon and satan stories instead.

“When Aaron got home, he was terrified. ‘Daddy, don’t turn off the light!’ he said before going to bed. ‘Stay here with me, Daddy. I’m afraid. I worried about those demon stories.

“I wanted to say, Don’t be afraid.

“He continued, ‘Daddy. Daddy. Would you pray for me that I’ll be safe?’ I could feel it. I could feel the warm blanket of Christianity beginning to wrap around him, a life of safety, safety, safety. I said, ‘Aaron. I will not pray for you to be safe. I will pray that God will make you dangerous, so dangerous in fact that the demons will flee when you enter the room.’

“And he goes, ‘All right Dad, but pray I would be really, really dangerous.’”

That is my prayer today for you and me – that we would trust this story from holy Scripture and become really, really dangerous for Jesus Christ.

Watch out world. Here we come! Amen.

Rev. Steve Kramer