David and the Spear Thrower

I Samuel  18:5-12, 19:1

Every person experiences life’s unfairness. Every person goes through periods of suffering. And in every person’s life, are moments where people in our circle of relationship treat us with injustice and unfairness. Today I want to visit about David and King Saul.

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle, when the sun comes up, you better be running.

In today’s story, King Saul is the lion and David is the gazelle. David spends 10 years of his life on the run in danger from Saul. David is the prey, and King Saul is the predator. How do we deal in life with people who mistreat us? How do we deal with life when all of it feels unfair? I think David teaches us some important lessons of faith. Let’s remember a little biblical history.

King Saul was anointed by Samuel to be the first king of God’s people. He had a prophetic gift. He had leadership qualities. He was tall and a victorious warrior. He was the type of individual that dripped with potential, and every man would want his daughter to marry a man like Saul. But, despite all his good qualities, King Saul, at key moments, lived in disobedience to God without remorse. None of us are perfect but when we fall or when we fail, we repent of our wrong. We regret what we have done. Not King Saul. He was defiant in his disobedience. So God said, “I have taken your kingdom, Saul, and gave it to another. In another place in God’s Word it says, “The Spirit of God left Saul, and he knew it not.”

So Samuel, instructed by God, anointed David to be the next king. It’s a fascinating story in I Samuel 16 where God reminds Samuel, human beings look at the outward appearance, but God sees the heart. It says in the book of Acts that God found in David a man who sought His heart. I wish to be that man in my faith life.

The proof of God’s anointing with the Spirit’s power in David’s life was played out when he was victorious over the giant Philistine, Goliath. Saul saw in David someone he could use for tremendous advantage, so David became a tremendously victorious soldier in Saul’s army, and he became wildly popular with the people. That led to this song of the women,
“Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his tens of thousands.”

In that moment, the heart of King Saul was revealed. Saul was jealous, angry, and displeased. From that day on, Saul’s heart turned against David. Saul was troubled and obsessively paranoid, insecure. He found it difficult to trust anyone and thought everyone was against him. He was the victim, and he blamed others for his failures. He would attack anyone who he thought was a threat to his power or made him look bad. He was an emotionally unbalanced narcissist, and he thought the kingdom was his to possess, not God’s.

On one occasion, Saul promised his daughter in marriage to David but gave her to another. Then Saul learned that his other daughter Michal loved David. Perfect! King Saul thought. I’m going to require a dowry of David of proof of a hundred Philistines’ lives. He’ll either die in battle or become the loathed, hated target of the Philistines. David continued to have tremendous military success and raised the dowry by killing two hundred Philistines. That led up to that day where Saul was so upset emotionally, in a reactive moment he hurled the spear trying to pin David’s body to the wall as he played the harp.

Do you know anyone in your life who is the equivalent of a spear thrower like King Saul? Someone who is toxic, self absorbed, and committed to your destruction? Someone who wants to dangerously hurt you in order to promote themselves? Someone who is willing to damage, hurt, criticize or destroy you? Someone who is truly a threat your well-being? With words and actions, they try to bring you down. They are spear throwers. Maybe you work for them. Maybe when you married your dear spouse, you discovered the extended family is filled with dysfunction and chaos – a group of spear throwers – who make your life miserable. Maybe you live with someone with some form of addiction or someone who cycles with anger issues.

How do you deal with spear throwers? How do you deal with difficult people? Eventually King Saul sicced the whole Israeli army on David, and he spent ten years hiding in the wilderness and in caves. David was literally a hunted man on the run. What does he do in response? Here is where we learn important lessons for our faith journey.

First, in the midst of his adversity and suffering, David cries out to God. Psalm 59 says, “Deliver me from my enemies, O God. They lie in ambush for my life. They try to attack me.” In Psalm 143 David wrote, “My enemy persecutes me and tries to crush my life, and I live in darkness.” In his emotional terror and pain, David cried out to God.

Second, David did not retaliate. He did not return evil for evil. He did not seek revenge. The Bible tells us David could’ve killed King Saul two different times, but he said, “I will not raise my hand against the Lord’s anointed.”

Third (this is an important one), David prays himself through his sense of helplessness into a position of confident hope. Let me say that again. David prays himself through his sense of helplessness into a position of confident hope.

When you are struggling in emotional pain, do you pray your self through that sense of powerlessness?

Fourth, even in his suffering David praised God. Again we read in Psalm 59: “I will sing of your strength. I will joyfully sing of your loving kindness in the morning. You are my stronghold, my refuge in my distress.”

Fifth, David lived into his anointing. His anointing was not just proven in the slaying of giants with raw power. Another proof of the Spirit’s touch on David’s life was that he lived with gentleness and self-control.

Sixth, David asked God for mercy. He didn’t come to God and say, Lord I’ve been such a good boy, I deserve it. He always came to God with humility begging for God’s mercy.

Seventh, David waited for the Lord to deliver him. The Bible says David wrote, “Wait for the Lord. Be strong. Let your heart take courage. Yes, wait for the Lord.” For ten years, he lived like a wild animal in caves but his heart was waiting expectantly for God to deliver and save and rescue him.

So during this whole period, what is God up to in shaping the inner heart of David? And why did Saul rule so long? Why would God allow Saul to be in power for so long?

Gene Edwards, in his book The Tale of Three Kings writes this, “God sometimes gives unworthy vessels a greater portion of power so that others will eventually see the true state of internal nakedness within that individual.” God let Saul reign that long to expose his weakness and his flaws for all to see. “But it also says,” Edwards wrote, “for David, his suffering had this purpose: God wants to take the Saul out of us. In each one of us, there’s a sinful leaning toward egocentricity, toward pride and jealousy and resentment and a willingness to do harm to others. If it helps us, God wants to take the Saul out of your heart and life. God sometimes will use suffering to purge and purify the believer’s heart to shape our character to the heart of Christ.

So in the midst of it all, God taught David to love the unlovely. God taught David to live without bitterness. God taught David not to live as a psychological victim wallowing in his own self-pity, but rather to trust God deeply in all things.

David’s hope was in God’s power, in the history of God’s faithfulness, in God’s promises, and the truth that he knew he had been anointed for a future to serve God and His purposes. David’s hope was in God’s power. That’s why he said in Psalm 27, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear.” Paul wrote in Romans 8, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

The working of the Spirit is not always in the raw power of deliverance. Sometimes the working of the Spirit empowers perseverance and patient endurance so we learn to trust God in all things. Our hope is in God’s power, but our hope is also in the history of God’s faithfulness, which is found in the biblical witness of God’s story with His people. However, it is also from our personal story of God’s moments of deliverance and help and grace to us in our own journey of faith.

Our hope – like David’s – is in God’s promises. David wrote in Psalm 139, “Lord, you are intimately acquainted with all my ways and you’ve laid your hand on me. Where can I go from your Spirit? If I go to heaven, you are there. Even in hell, behold you are there. Even there your hand will lead me. Even the darkness is not dark to you, O Lord.”

We need to remember that Jesus, the Son of God our Savior, went to the cross to absorb the worst evil that the world can hurl at Him, to absorb into His own body the darkness of the world’s injustice so we would know in times of difficulty, adversity, and suffering, we are not alone. The presence of Jesus within us gives us strength to persevere in faith, no matter how dark the way. We are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ who loves us.

Finally, David knew he had been anointed by God for God’s purposes. Jeremiah 29 says, “I know the plans I have for you, for your welfare and not calamity, to give you a future full of hope.” As a believer, you are anointed by God’s Spirit. God has plans for your life – plans to bless you and to use your life for His glory!

Trust the Lord, even in times when spear thrower is trying to do you wrong. Even when you go through suffering and pain and great adversity, the Lord is with you. Trust in Him. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

Good News for Those Who Are Saying, “I Need All the Help I can Get”

John 15:18-27

I have experienced times in my ministry when I struggle with writing a sermon for the week, or I feel overwhelmed by a big project. In talking with a friend about the challenges I am facing, he’ll say, I’ll be praying for you! And my response is typically, I can use all the help I can get!

I imagine many of you have uttered those same words at one time or another. Jesus’ disciples probably felt the same sentiment as He spoke to them in the Upper Room about the challenges that lay ahead. He was basically telling them, You are going to take some hits for me. Earlier He had told them the student is not above the master. If they hated me and rejected me, they will respond to you in the same way as my disciples, for you belong to me instead of the world. You throw your loyalty and identity to me instead of the beliefs and values of those who are opposed to your heavenly Father.

Jesus knew what He was talking about. Those disciples were arrested and stood in courts before the powers that be. They were persecuted for their faith, thrown out of communities, stoned to death, tortured, fed to the lions, and executed as the stories in the book of Acts tell us. They all died as martyrs.

It hasn’t stopped throughout history. We still see the truth of Jesus’ words in our modern world today. I regularly get an enewsletter from a group called “Voice of the Martyrs.” Their stories are so tragic! Anti-Christian hatred is expressed and Christians are openly attacked for their belief in Jesus Christ in places like North Korea, Pakistan, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan, Laos, and China. The list goes on and on.

Persecution also happens in the West, but in more muted ways. It might be expressed in the form of disapproval, ridicule, pressures to conform, shunning, harassment, lost opportunities, a condescending attitude, intolerance, name-calling. I remember reading a story years ago that was written by a child’s mother. It said, “My child was at an overnight party one time. He was just a little elementary school kid. They were watching some things on TV and he said, “I wonder if Jesus would watch this stuff.” Of course, the host was horrified that this child pointed this out and apologized to the mom and dad. However, the child was never invited to another party.

I’ve had friends who, when I tell them I am a Christian, respond, “You’re kidding me. I thought you were more intelligent than that!” We are oftentimes referred to as intolerant or narrow because of our belief of Jesus being the Way, the Truth, and the life. We believe no one comes to the Father but by Him. Those disciples had to have been feeling, This is too much for me to put my head around. I’m going to need some help, all the help I can get.

First Jesus gave them some reassuring words. He told them, “Some will reject me, but you will have some wins along the way. Some will believe in the midst of these negative statements. Some will respond positively, put their belief in me, and follow my teachings.”

But notice, in the last two verses of our text for today, Jesus gives us some powerful assurance. I’m sending you help. Help is on the way. “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” Jesus promised them a Helper, and He kept His promise. Today is Pentecost in the church year. We remember the day that Help arrived, just as Jesus promised. He testified to Jesus on that first Pentecost. There were wind and flames, tongues of fire, different languages. Three thousand people converted to the Christian faith and received a changed life. All this happened in a very hostile environment, the city where Jesus was crucified. And it was the work of the Holy Spirit testifying, convicting, converting through those disciples as they testified about God’s mighty deeds in Jesus Christ.

I imagine that evening Peter probably said to Andrew as they were sitting around a campfire, Wow! Jesus wasn’t kidding about this “Helper.” Look at what happened today in the very city where He was killed.

Guess what? That same Helper – the Holy Spirit – is available today! If you are feeling like I need all the help I can get in order to follow Jesus and serve Him in the world, you have help. He is good news for you and me. You are not alone. Jesus is not abandoning you to take on life by yourself. It is true that we need all the help we can get, but you and I have a terrific Helper – the Holy Spirit.

What do you know about the Holy Spirit? He doesn’t really get much attention in the church. As one looks at history, we find there are always a fear and uneasiness about the Spirit. We find division in the church concerning spiritual gifts in the book of Corinthians. I remember even in my own congregation growing up when the charismatic renewal movement was really taking off. Our congregation experienced a lot of division over it. Some looked down on others who didn’t have the gift of tongues. In the old days, we called Him the Holy Ghost, which gave me the willies as a kid. He is known for change, which can make Christians a bit nervous. Our famous seven last words – We’ve always done it this way before.

The supernatural can scare us a bit. I heard a story about a church in Great Britain. It was very formal and didn’t give much place to the Holy Spirit. It was also pretty much a dying congregation. One Sunday a woman attended who had just become a Christian. She was born again and very excited about her experience through the Holy Spirit on a retreat. In the middle of the service after a hymn she shouted “Hallelujah!” One of the ushers standing in the back came in, tapped her on the shoulder and said, “Shh. Ma’am, you mustn’t say that here.”

She whispered back, “But I’m so excited! I got Jesus. I got religion!”

He said, “Well, you didn’t get it here, Madame.”

So, who is the Holy Spirit actually? He not a “force” like in Star Wars – May the force be with you. He’s not an “it” as I sometimes Him referred to as – it. The Holy Spirit is a who. He has a will. He calls. He guides. He chooses. He loves. He gifts people. He changes us with His fruit. He shapes and teaches and brings to remembrance the teachings of Jesus. He’s the third person of the Trinity, oftentimes described as the shy one of the Trinity because He doesn’t really want to bring attention to Himself but to Jesus. He is always pointing us to Jesus. He’s present in the whole biblical story, from Genesis on (when the Spirit of God hovered over the waters) all the way to Jesus’ baptism (as He descended upon Him in the form of a dove).

Now we see Him coming to the disciples, being poured out just as Jesus promised. He knew we needed Help. So the Spirit comes, and the Word Jesus uses to describe Him is Paraclete, which means helper, advocate, comforter, counselor. Basically He is one who comes alongside to help us, encourage us, comfort us, strengthen and guide us. He empowers. He is mighty. He changes us, and He draws us closer to the heavenly Father.

I came across a story about a little ship. When it would get in trouble on the Mediterranean Sea, a large ship would go out to it. Then it would come alongside and bring it to the safety of the harbor. Do you know the name of the large ship? It was called the Parakletos (Paraclete), the one who comes alongside and helps. You see, God in His grace has not left us alone to fend for ourselves. He has given us someone to come alongside of us. Jesus says He even dwells in us and empowers us.

Why is He here? Jesus tells us in this passage – to come alongside as we serve Jesus in a world that needs Him and doesn’t even know it. He comes to testify to the truth of Christ and His teachings. He comes to glorify Jesus as He did on that first Pentecost when He made His appearance, which we read about Acts two. He is here to keep pointing us to Jesus and the truth about Him – He is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and Lord of Lords. And we need His encouragement and strength.

It can be so tempting to quit on the faith, to give up trying to serve Jesus, to give up trying to share Him with others when you’re taking it on the chin again and again or when life gets hard and seems unfair. The Holy Spirit comes alongside and points us to Jesus again and again and again. He reaffirms for us the truthfulness of the revelation of God in Christ. He reassures us that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Don’t let that one go! He helps us understand Jesus more and more and grow in our personal knowledge of Him and in Him.

G. Campbell Morgan, a great preacher, wrote in his commentary on Acts, “Thirty minutes after Pentecost, the disciples knew more of Christ than they had learned through three years of following Him as Jesus of Nazareth. What’s the difference? The Holy Spirit!”

He is our confidence builder. He’s powerful and makes us new. So when we step out in mission, we know – we know for a fact – we’re not alone in this mission. The Spirit is at work, even in our most feeble attempts – and I know about feeble attempts.

I’ve been in situations where I’ve shared the gospel with people and thought they were never going to buy into this. Then they come back to me later and say, I want to hear more. Eventually many of them ask Christ into their lives. It’s not because of anything special that I did. I know it’s the working of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus tells us the Spirit is here to help us point others to Him. He empowers those words of ours with the good news of what Christ has done when He went to the cross for our sins and paid the penalty. The separation between God and ourselves was there taken care of. Jesus took God’s wrath for our sins upon Himself. God raised Him up from the grave on the third day. Everyone who comes to Christ is saved and has a new relationship with God.

One commentary says the coupling of the witness of the Spirit with that of the disciples’ defines their reciprocal relationship. Without the witness of the Spirit, the disciples’ witness would be powerful, but without the disciples’ witness, the Spirit would be restricted in His means of expression. That’s why Jesus went on to say, You must be my witnesses. You’re a team! The apostle Paul tells us in Scripture that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

I love what Martin Luther said in his meaning of the third article in the small catechism. “I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel and enlightened me with his gifts.”

So, how can I have the Holy Spirit working in my life, helping me? There is a story about a boy. One day, as they were out on his grandpa’s sailboat on the lake, he asked, “Grandpa, explain to me: What is the wind?”

The wise old grandpa said, “I can’t explain the wind to you, but I can teach you how to raise your sail.” This is a good description of our need to raise our sail to the wind of the Holy Spirit, as we sometimes describe the breath of God that gives new life and power.

The first way to raise your sail is simply to open up the Word of God itself. Read it daily, study it, be a student of the Word, and put it to work in your life. (It doesn’t do much good if you are not willing to apply it into your daily living.) You will soon find that the Holy Spirit uses it as His tool. The Word is the sword of the Spirit, He will come to fill you up as you involve yourself in the community of faith, the church, your brothers and sisters in Christ. As you confess together and hear the absolution in the message from the Word, in the Lord’s Supper, and the fellowship of small groups with others who are in the same boat as you, as you study the Word of God and seeking to be faithful to God as you are, the Holy Spirit shows up. Remember those disciples on Pentecost were together when the Spirit arrived, and they were finally praying. So we ask in prayer for Him to come to us and help us, to fill us, lead us, and give us a fresh indwelling of His power and wisdom, peace and joy.

When new members join our church, we pray in the liturgy near the end of the service that God would continue to strengthen them with the Holy Spirit and daily increase in them His gifts of grace, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear the Lord, the Spirit of joy in God’s presence.

So this is my prayer for you today. Since Help has arrived and is available to you as a follower of Jesus Christ, He is here to help you stand up for Jesus and live out your faith in a dynamic and joyful way in a world that sometimes isn’t very open to the Gospel of Christ. It’s simply a matter of asking Him in today, saying, Come Holy Spirit. I need your help. I need your help. He will come today and every day. You will have strength and the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of counsel and might, knowledge and the fear of the Lord as you live out your life in God’s presence. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

The Lord’s Prayer for Us

John 17:6-19

Today is Mother’s Day, a time to focus on mom, to think about her and maybe even give thanks for some good memories with her. I have to say, I’ve been blessed with some good ones.

I was blessed with a loving, nurturing mother. I never had a moment of doubt that mom loved me. She gave her all in raising me, taking care of me, helping me, encouraging me, guiding me, hugging me, forgiving me when I messed up, loving me no matter what, not to mention seeing to all my physical needs – feeding me and putting clothes on me. I felt absolutely secure in her love. She and dad took those promises they made at my baptism seriously. They raised me in the Christian faith keeping me connected with the church and trusting Jesus.

A memory of my mom comes to mind as I was studying the passage for today. It was when I was leaving for college, and she put me on the train leaving Livingston, Montana for Minneapolis, Minnesota and then down to Iowa. On that day it seemed like the other side of the world for mom and for me.

As we stood at the train station, I gave her a hug and said goodbye. While we squeezed each another, I felt her shaking a little bit. I looked into her face, and saw she was crying. My heart melted as I saw her tears, and I got a little teary myself. It was hard for both of us to say goodbye. We had done a lot of life together. But I knew that as I set off on this new chapter of life, mom would continue to pray for me and hold me up to God for protection, guidance, and blessing. I knew that because mom loved me.

I thank God for her and all she did for me. She graduated to heaven back in 1993 at the young age of 59, and I still miss her. I always will.

I share this story with you because I wonder if Jesus had to choke back a tear or two – like my mom – as He sat with His disciples in the upper room the night before He went to the cross to complete His salvation mission. Everything was about to change. These men had been with Him in training for 3 years, 24/7. They were close!

Now He is about to leave them to return to the Father. He would no longer be present with them, at least not physically present as they had experienced Him for three years. We know Jesus loved them deeply. While we don’t know if there were tears, we do know He prayed for them, and it was a touching, heartfelt prayer – so heartfelt, in fact, that John recorded in his Gospel. Some scholars refer to this prayer as the real Lord’s prayer, because the prayer He had taught them earlier was for the disciples – not Him – to use. He never had to ask for forgiveness, for He was perfect.

In this passage, they heard some wonderful, intimate, personal praying. The prayer has three parts and begins in John 17. In the opening, Jesus prays for His mission, that God would be glorified in Him as He went to the cross. Then He began to pray for His disciples.

I wonder how they felt as they listened to those petitions on their behalf. I can only draw from my own experience. When someone is praying for me in front of me, I feel cared about. The truth is, folks, you really don’t have to wonder how they felt because interestingly enough, you are included in His prayer. That’s right. He was praying not only for them but for you and me as well.

In verse 9, Jesus says about believers in Christ, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.” The things He wanted for the disciples, He wants for you. So let’s take a look at the petitions He gave for them and for you.

Jesus told the Father of the disciples’ (and our) value to Him referring to them as gifts from God. He described what He had been teaching them and how far along they had come. He said, Now that I am about to leave them behind in this dangerous world, I’m entrusting them, Father to Your care. Listen to these petitions.

First of all, He prayed for our protection. “Protect them in your name . . . so they may be one, as we are one” (11). The word “protect” means preserve them, defend them, keep them safe. And “in your name” stands for the power of God manifested in His person, in His character.

Keep them close to you. Keep them trusting and believing in You. Walk so they may be one, loving one another and standing together as they face this hostile world in Christ’s name.

Jesus knew He was sending them out into a world that was so oppositional to the cause of Christ and spreading the good news of God’s love in His Son. He had set them apart for kingdom work – called them out of the world and trained them. The worst thing that could happen was if they would fall away from that community and go back into the world that is hostile to God, give into the temptation to quit the mission, or walk away from the faith and be pulled back into the darkness of life apart from God. He knew we need to be reminded to live out our faith in the church community, which keeps us strong in the faith as we support each another and love each another, as He loves us.

Keep them together. Keep them in church, basically. He knew the evil one, Satan, would be attacking us, seeking to destroy our relationship with God, tempting us to pull us away. So He prayed, “Protect them, Lord, from the evil one” (12).

Protection was at the top of our Lord’s prayer list for us. As He sends us into the world to live as kingdom of God people and share the good news of Jesus, keep them connected, Father, with you. Keep them in your name, and keep them connected with one another so they may be one.

Not only did He pray for protection, but He also prayed that we might have His joy, no matter what life may throw at us (13). He wanted us to have the joy that comes when we know we belong to God and are forgiven children of God. No matter how badly we may mess up, we are forgiven children of God because of what Jesus did for us at the cross. He is with us and He is for us! It’s the joy of looking forward to seeing Him face-to-face in glory someday, knowing history is His story! That is Joy! A protective joy!

Finally, Jesus prayed for our sanctification (17). Another word for sanctify is holy. Jesus asked God to make us holy. He’s talking about spiritual growth. Growing closer to God, exhibiting the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

The word sanctification means to be set apart for a good purpose. Jesus is asking the Father to set us apart; work on us; make us different from the world so we might be useful instruments for Him. As we’re sanctified, we’re put to good use for God’s purposes in this world as sent people. The tool for that to happen – Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in your truth. Your Word is truth” – the Word of God, the Bible.

Friends in Christ, this is why we need to daily be in the Bible. God’s truth builds us up and sets us free from the pitfalls of life without Him. It teaches us how life really works best. Jesus desires so much goodness for us! Protection, joy, and sanctification. How does that feel for you? It makes me feel quite good! And it must’ve been comforting and encouraging for the disciples as well.

A question I pose to you is, Why do you suppose Jesus prayed for them and for us? We find our clue at the very beginning of this upper room episode in chapter 13.

Listen to these words: “Now before the Festival of the Passover, Jesus knew His hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved His own who are in the world, He loved them to the end.” This prayer is Jesus loving them to the end. He prayed these things for us because He loves us. He loves you even more than a mother can love her child, as hard is it is to imagine. But it really is true. You can bet the farm on it!

Jesus went to the cross because He loved us. He suffered and died a cruel and humiliating death to save us from sin, death, and separation from God. He died as a sacrifice to pay for our rebellion against God so we might not perish but have eternal life with God and have the wonderful life He has in mind for us as we trust and follow Him. He wants us to have a personal relationship with God, protection, love in community, joy, fruitfulness, spiritual growth, eternity with Him.

Now get this: He is still praying for you and me. I came across these words from the Apostle Paul in Romans:
“Who will bring any charge against God’s elect (us). It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship,or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us” (8:33-35, 37).

Did you catch it? Jesus is still interceding for us, praying for us with the Father as He sits at His right hand. He speaks on our behalf. And you know what? Nothing can separate us from His love! Paul personally testifies to this based upon his own experiences with Christ.
“I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (38-39).

My dear friends, I know life can sometimes get hard. Sometimes you suffer. Sometimes you feel alone. This passage encourages you to take heart and place your trust in what Jesus prayed. Place your trust in Him. You have someone who wants nothing but the best for you – the eternally best for you. Someone who has prayed for you and is praying for you, talking to the Father on your behalf. He loves you, He died and rose for you, and He promises that nothing can snatch you from His hand.

The appeal this day then is to trust Him. Open His word, read it, and study it daily. Let Him speak to your life, and watch what happens. He will change you into someone more and more beautiful! Call out to Him in prayer. Ask Him for the very things Christ Jesus prayed for you to have. God loves that kind of prayer – He will answer. After a while, you will have the ability to say with all your heart, Yes, Jesus loves me! He really does. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

You’ve Got a Friend – Be A Friend

John 15:12-17

The human heart possesses a deep longing for friendship. As human beings created in the image of God, we are wired for friendship. A great author of long ago wrote, “A friend is what the heart needs all the time.” How true it is!

We long to know and to be known, to be accepted and cared about by others. We long for intimate connections, to have someone in our corner in the good times and the bad, through thick and thin, who won’t desert us when the going gets tough. We need someone who understands us, knows us through and through and likes us anyway. From the time we are young to the end of our lives, we are always on the lookout for a friend.

We see signs of this longing in our culture, signs of the importance of friends. Years ago, back in the late 60s/early 70s, a song came out that received a lot of air play. It was called, “You’ve Got a Friend,” and it seemed to resonate with the longing in our human hearts to be a friend and to have a friend.

♪Just call out my name,
You know wherever I am,
I’ll come running.
You’ve got a friend. ♬

Of course, we remember back in the 90s a popular TV show called “Friends.” It had a big audience. The show seemed to resonate with that generation. One of the better selling books in the 70s and 80s was “The Friendship Factor” by Dr. Alan Loy McGinnis. People were trying to figure out how to have more friends in their lives. Lately we find a lot of talk about Facebook friends.

Over the centuries, even, we find very positive statements about the value of having friendship. For example, Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.” The philosopher Cicero said, “What sweetness is left in life if you take away friendship?” Even way back in the biblical times, King Solomon wrote in the book of Proverbs, “A man with many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). Solomon also said, “A friend loves at all times. Kinsfolk are born to share in adversity” (Prov. 17:17). He understood the value of friendship.

We value friends and typically long for more of them in our lives. However, close friendships are missing in some people’s lives, which can be quite a painful experience. I recall Mother Teresa saying one time, “The greatest disease today is not leprosy or cancer; it is the feeling of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for.” People need friends. Yet 70% of Americans admit that while they have many acquaintances, they have very few close friends, and they recognize this as a void in their lives.

Listen to this sad scenario about Ken who played golf with the same group of guys for 15 years. When he had to give up golf, he was surprised and dismayed to find he seldom saw his companions or heard from them anymore. “I guess all we had in common was golf. Our conversations were at the head level but not at the heart level.”
A close friendship was missing there.

These days, I’ve noticed that as people try to fill the void with Facebook, they find themselves disappointed. Facebook friends, you see, mostly are not really friends. They won’t be there when you need someone in your corner.

Deep inside of us, it’s true – there is a longing, a voice that says I wish I had someone who really understands me, likes me, and is there for me.

The good news for the day is you do! You really do! You have the best friend of all in Jesus Christ.

When I was a kid growing up in church, we would sing a hymn about Jesus.

♪One there is, above all others,
Well deserves the name of friend♬

It is so very true – we all need proper friends in life. Jesus Himself is the truest of all friends. Let me explain.

On the night before He was crucified, Jesus, in an upper room with His disciples, said some very important things to them. His words are recorded in John’s Gospel, chapters 13-17. One of the subjects covered by Jesus was friendship. “I do not call you servants any longer, but I call you my friends because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (15:15). That must’ve been quite a stunning honor for them to hear. They had always known Him as master and themselves as servants, but now they moved from servants to friends. This is quite a move! A servant knows his instructions, but a friend is given the inside track on what’s going on.

A friend knows all the background. One typically guards what they say to others, but is completely open with a friend. Jesus says to His disciples, I have been open with you. “Everything I have heard from my Father, I’ve made known to you” I have been transparent. Someone once said, “A true friend lets you in and never lets you down.” It is a good description of Jesus as a friend.

He let them in on the Father’s plans for the world. Jesus said, “I have not come to condemn the world but to save the world” (John 3:17). God wants to save His world from sin.

He let them in on the Father’s love. “God loved the world so much he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

He let them in on the Father’s desires for them as Jesus’ followers. He demonstrated the blessedness of serving as He washed their feet and explained He was doing this as an example. “Blessed are you if you do this for one another” (John 13:17).

He let them in on the promises that awaited them. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so where I am, you may be also” (John 14:1-3). They had never heard this before.

He told them about the coming of the Holy Spirit who would minister to them and empower them for ministry, so they didn’t need to be fearful and anxious about the future. He promised He would not leave them orphaned, but would be with them. He was talking about the resurrection even before it happened, the plan God had. Jesus shared truth from God with them, which was evidence of His love and friendship to them. Never were friends so generously provided for or so intimately honored.

Bishop J. C. Ryle writes about this passage. “There is nobody so rich, so strong, so independent, so well off, so thoroughly provided for as the person of whom Christ says, ‘This is my friend.’”

I want you to know that the same Jesus Christ who said those things in an upper room to His disciples is risen! He is alive, present among us, and still stands ready to call us friends and impart the truths of God’s Word as we open our Bibles. He is there to expand our understanding about God, about ourselves, about life in His kingdom, and about building our faith in the promises and wisdom of God.

Jesus also gave them His trust. “You didn’t choose me, I chose you.” What an honor! He expressed confidence in them when He said, “I appointed you to bear fruit, fruit for the kingdom of God” (John 15:16). In other words, I am trusting you with a mission to impact the lives of others for the Gospel. I believe in you. I trust you.

The same Jesus Christ, the Risen One, extends His trust and confidence to you and me when we step into a relationship with Him. He calls us into His ministry saying, “You are the salt of the earth. . . . You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13-14).
You are my witnesses. I am trusting you to carry out the mission I have begun in you.

There is a made-up story (but a good one) about Jesus returning to heaven after the Ascension. The angels gather around Him to find out about all the things that happened to Him on earth. Jesus explained how He lived among people sharing His teachings and expressing His love. How He suffered and died on a cross to atone for humanity’s sins and rose from the grave. As He is telling the story, Michael, the Archangel, asked, Do they understand how much you did for them?

Jesus said, I hope so.

Michael asks, What happens now? What’s the next move?

Jesus answered, I left behind a handful of faithful men and women to tell my story, to express my love. They are going to spread the kingdom.

That bunch? Michael asked. Are you kidding me? What if they fail? What is your backup plan?

Jesus answered him, There is no backup plan.

Jesus has entrusted us as His friends to be instruments for the spreading of God’s truth, His Gospel. He trusts us with it.

The greatest demonstration of friendship Jesus showed was in laying down His life for people like you and me. “Greater love hath no man than this – to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). When Jesus said this, He knew what was ahead. He was headed to the cross for you and for me, for all have sinned. All are separated from God. All of us are lost and helpless. Out of great love, Jesus came to earth to die on the cross and pay the penalty for our sins. His blood covers over our debt. As the old hymn says,
“There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus,
No, not one! No, not one!
No one else can heal all our souls diseases.
No, not one! No, not one!”

Jesus is the ultimate friend in a number of ways.
▸ He is constant.
▸ He never leaves us.
▸ He tells us things we need to hear about ourselves and about God.

But the greatest demonstration of His friendship is in laying down His life for us. When you look at Him as a whole, you see He is a friend who perfectly meets every yardstick for friendship. “Greater love hath no man than this – to lay down his life for his friends!”

In the Old Testament book of Proverbs, Solomon describes Jesus as the “friend who loves at all times,” and one who “sticks closer than a brother” (17:17; 18:24). He is one who forgives and is willing to tell us the truth we need to hear, as painful as it might be sometimes.

My dear brothers and sisters, as the song says, “You’ve got a Friend,” and He is a friend you can trust with your life – Jesus Christ.

The text for today is not simply about Jesus calling His followers’ friends. It is also instruction on how to be a friend to Jesus. He is basically saying, You’ve got a friend in me. Now be a friend. “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” The directive He gives here is not a way to get Jesus to be your friend. He already did that for you when He died and rose for you, and you received Him.

Jesus is a describing a response after you’ve received His friendship. This is how my friends operate with one another – Obey my command to love one another as I have loved you. He is insinuating that when we follow Him, we are to live out our faith in the Church and be a friend to other believers. Nothing casual is being described here. He is not talking about simply gathering on Sunday and drinking coffee together, but a major commitment to others in your community of faith, a willingness to actually love as He loved you, to spend yourself on others, to risk for others, to support and be transparent, to encourage, forgive, serve, instruct, exhort, and pray for others just as Jesus does for you.

This personal relationship is meant to be lived in community, which serves as a school for building Christlike character into us. It makes us more loving so we might be more fruitful influencers for Christ in the lives of those who have yet to meet Jesus and trust Him for salvation.

It is true. It can be a lonely world. But it doesn’t have to remain that way for you. As the popular song says, you’ve got a Friend. His name is Jesus, and He is the ultimate friend. He came to make us His eternal friends through His death and resurrection. When you say yes to following Him, He goes with you and never leaves. He also surrounds you with brothers and sisters and says, You are my friend; now be a friend. As you treat them as He has treated you, you find yourself not only getting closer to Him but also enjoying life with new friends in the faith who are also committed to loving you as Jesus loved them. When that kind of love is happening in the Church among Jesus’ friends, it has a dynamic power to attract new friends for Jesus Christ.

Let me give you the big idea one more time just so you don’t miss it.

You’ve got a friend – Jesus Christ. Now, be a friend.

Love one another as Jesus has loved you. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer