Holding Hope Through Tears

Jeremiah 20:7-11a, 13-14, 18

How do we hold hope when tears of sadness or despair stream down our cheeks? The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah was called by God to deliver a challenging message. The call was to God’s disobedient, defiant people to repent, turn back to God. Leave their rebellion, immorality, and unfaithfulness behind and return by their hearts to God who loved them and desired to share life with them. Yet they did not listen and instead ridiculed Jeremiah for his message. It is no wonder he is called the weeping prophet.

How do we hold onto hope when the tears roll? Here is an eclectic group of individuals: Winston Churchill, Patty Duke, Abraham Lincoln, Isaac Newton, Vincent van Gogh, Ludwig von Beethoven, Jane Pauley, Terry Bradshaw. A weird group, wouldn’t you say? What do they have in common? At different periods in their life, all of them had periods of the soul, deep despair, times of discouragement. Yet, they were able to continue to offer their abilities back to the world in a way that made an impact in their respective fields.

How do we hold hope? How do we rise above despair to be faithful to what God asks us to do, like Jeremiah?

Discouragement is a part of life. We might work hard but see no progress toward our goals. An athlete might practice diligently every day yet not win the starting position or their team win many games. We, as parents, might love our child and do our best to raise them, but they might rebel. It can consume our spirit and make us want to give up.

That’s how Jeremiah felt. God called him to the difficult task of bearing a message to His rebellious people. Jeremiah obeyed, but it was not easy. One time Jeremiah’s prophecy angered Pashhur, an assistant to the high priest and chief security officer for the temple. Pashhur had Jeremiah arrested, beaten, and thrown into jail. He then locked him into stocks so his hands, legs, and neck – his whole body – was contorted and writhing in pain. This action represented the religious leaders of Jerusalem’s Temple publicly rejecting Jeremiah as Yahweh’s prophet.

Jeremiah preached his heart out for forty years begging the people to see the error of their ways and come back into a faith relationship with God, but no one listened. He experienced deep distress. No friends, no wife, no family, no positive response to the message. He endured physical, emotional, and spiritual anguish. He walked in deep despair, all for being obedient to God’s will.

So what is it that causes your despair? When do you become blue? It is a chronic condition of life, the circumstances of which are not changing? Are you struggling with faith? Are you in great physical pain? Are you wrestling with financial pressure that might turn your life upside down? Have you lost a loved one, and the loss has left you so lonely that you can taste the emptiness? Perhaps your marriage ended in divorce. Maybe you have a child or grandchild who is trapped in an addiction. Maybe you have experienced some great personal failures, which has thrown your life into chaos. When we experience difficulty and tears roll down our cheeks, how do we hold on to hope?

Proverbs 18:14 says, “The human spirit can endure a sick body but who can endure a crushed spirit?” We can learn from Jeremiah’s faith journey that which will empower and inform our journey of faith today.

First of all, confess your frustrations and all your feelings toward the Lord God. Be honest with God about the matters of your heart. Jeremiah was honest. He told God he felt deceived. God prevailed in His call to make Jeremiah His messenger, and now Jeremiah was the laughingstock of his people, ridiculed, humiliated, offended. His voice was not making a difference. Jeremiah even cursed the day he was born.

Throughout my ministry, many people have asked, Is it okay to be angry with God, to be disappointed? If so, should I tell Him? My answer to them is, Yes! God knows how you feel whether you tell Him or not. You might as well tell Him and get it out there. God’s love for you is deep enough and big enough to handle your feelings.

Most important, if in our discouraged anger we become silent toward God, the enemy of our soul can strip us of faith. Then we may be pulled down even deeper into the darkness of despair. It is better to be honest with God. He wants to hear your heart sing. He wants to know how you feel.

Second, like Jeremiah, we need to ask God for a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit. We need to ask God to restore our joy, give us strength to persevere despite our emotional despair, light up our lives with hope, and replenish our courage and our resolve. Ask God to fill you again with a fresh anointing of His Holy Spirit.

Third, trust God in your time of darkness. Like Jeremiah, remember that the Lord is always with you and fights for you. Often, in our discouragement, we look inward at our capacity, at our own problems and frustrations. Instead, we need to look upward to the Lord. He has not abandoned us. He is with us.

Corrie ten Boom who the book, The Hiding Place, worked with her sister Betsy and her father to assist Jewish people in escaping the pursuit of Nazis during World War II. They were later arrested and taken to a Nazi concentration camp where Betsy and their father died. It was a place where hope was lost for many people. However, Corrie survived to tell her story of unfaltering faith and tightfisted hope in God. She had seen the face of evil up close and personal. She witnessed the most atrocious and inhumane acts a human being can perpetrate on another.

Here is what Corrie said, “If you look at the world, you will be distressed. If you look within you, you will be depressed. But if you look to Jesus Christ, you will be at rest.”

Jeremiah realized in faith that the Lord was with him. The Lord was a dread champion, a violent warrior who was victorious! Jeremiah would not be on the losing side. He was going to win because the Lord was his mighty warrior.

This is true for us, too. We eventually win because God wins. He has sent our champion, Jesus Christ, to fight for us. He has already won the battle. He went to the cross and was raised from the dead. “We are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus who loves us,” (Romans 8:37).

A. W. Tozer wrote, “Living in the glow of God’s presence will enable you to fight on despite discouragement.” Trust God in the darkness remembering He is with you and fights for you because He loves you.

Fourth, recommit to doing what God has called you to do in your life. Jeremiah said that God’s message was like a fire in his bones and he couldn’t hold it in. He had to speak for the Lord. So when he came out of that stockade punishment, he immediately said to Pashhur, “The Lord’s judgment will come upon you for your lies and your deceit. With your own eyes you will see the defeat of God’s people by Babylon’s hand. All of them will be hauled off into exile, and you will die there.” Jeremiah was a man of integrity. He was faithful, though it was hard. He recommitted to doing what God called him to do, even as he honestly told God his discouragement.

Fifth (and this is counterintuitive), praise God with your whole heart even when you’re in the midst of adversity. Worship God as the fruit of your lips. Praise God as a way to take the focus off of yourself, off of your problems, and onto the Lord Jesus’ capacity to help you and to love you. In the midst of his expression of honesty, Jeremiah says, “Sing to the Lord! Give praise to the Lord!” Praise is the one weapon in a Christian’s arsenal against which Satan our enemy has no defense. Praise expresses our faith that God is for us.

Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through Jesus, let us offer a sacrifice of praise . . .” A sacrifice of praise means I’m going to praise God even when I don’t feel like it. A sacrifice of praise puts to death my human pride. A sacrifice of praise puts to death my desire to control the circumstances of my life and reminds me that I’ve surrendered to the Lord by faith. My life is in God’s control, whatever the outcome. A sacrifice of praise puts to death my fear and rekindles faith in God’s ability to be my deliverer.

Isaiah 61 says that we should put on a garment of praise. It reads, “Console those who mourn. Exchange beauty for ashes, oil of joy for mourning, and a garment of praise for your spirit of heaviness.” Are you feeling wounded or hurt or despairing today? Is your heart blue? God says to you, Try on this garment of praise. I will fill your soul with joy. I will cover your wounds. I will lift you up. Jeremiah’s praise of God turned his despair into joy. His praise, I believe, was the key that unlocked the door to hope. Sing praise to the Lord. Praise the Lord.

Finally, remember that by faith your life is inseparably yoked to Jesus Christ Himself. Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-29: “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden. I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Your life is linked inseparably to the power and love of Jesus Christ. He became God incarnate. He descended into the brokenness of this world and faithfully went all the way to the cross. He was then raised from the dead, above all that is broken in this world. He raises our burdens off us and holds us in His strong arms of love.

Often, a little child will come up to mommy or daddy and say, Pick me up. Perhaps the child is weary of walking, fatigued. Perhaps the child wants to feel the strength of the father’s arms lift him up, or maybe the child wants to feel daddy’s arms hold him intimately against his chest, against his heart, so he can feel his father’s loving presence.

Never forget that when Jesus offers His arms to you, He says, Wherever you are and whatever is going in your own life, you can come to me. My arms will wrap around you. I will link your life to mine. I will pour my love into you. I will yoke you to me. “Come to me,” Jesus says.

So our prayer of faith today in the midst of difficult times can be, I will hold on to hope because I ask my Daddy to pick me up. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg
Christian Crusaders

A Deeper Pause

Matthew 11:28-30

A photographer was snapping pictures of first graders at an elementary school, and he was making small talk to put his little subjects at ease. “What are you going to be when you grow up?” he asked one little girl. “Tired,” she said.

A lot of tiredness is going around these days. We live in a fast-moving world with lots of pressures, deadlines, problems, and tough circumstances that put us under a lot of stress and can make a person feel very tired. A certain fatigue sets in, a physical fatigue, emotional fatigue, and even spiritual fatigue. It makes our lives feel very flat.

I came across a wonderful analogy written by Mike Penninga comparing life to a flat bike tire.

On a recent bike trip it wasn’t until I finally arrived home that I noticed something wrong. My tires were low. They needed air. The funny thing about bike tires is I don’t remember taking air out of them. It just went. Somewhere. Somehow. Air leaks.

My tires weren’t crazy low, but low enough to know that my efforts in peddling were not producing maximum return. Each rotation was just a little bit harder than it would be had the tires been properly filled.

It got me thinking. Life is like a bike tire. We don’t intentionally take air out … it just leaves. And just as it’s harder to peddle with flat tires, it’s not as fun to live when the air has leaked out of our lives. We don’t know where it goes or how. Life just has a way of deflating us. Difficult conversations . . . hisssssss (that’s the sound of air leaving your tires!). Tough day at work . . . hisssssss. Overwhelmed by circumstance . . . hisssssss. It happens to all of us.

What about you? Are you going through life with flat tires? How fun is that?

It is to the people who are feeling like flat tires that a sweet invitation comes today. Come to me all who weary and are carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. These are the words of Jesus. He has just told His listeners that He and the Father are one. To know Him is to be connected to God.

Now He claims to be the Lord of rest. He’s the rest giver. “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” It turns out He is not talking about offering a nap for the body, some advice for the scrambled mind, a breathing exercise, stretching to relax your body, a vacation, how to slow down, or leisure activities. No, He is talking about a deeper sort of rest when He says this. He is talking about rest for the soul. “You will find rest for your soul.”

That statement begs the question, What exactly is the soul? How would you answer the question? We know of soul music. Aretha Franklin was the Queen of Soul. I love eating soul food. We talked about the danger of selling your soul. When I was a kid, I was taught, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” Sports franchises talk of a certain player being the soul of the team. The eyes are described as the windows of the soul. So what exactly is the soul?

Dallas Willard, a Christian writer, compares the soul to a stream that needs to be tended. Gordon MacDonald talks about it as an inner garden that needs to be carefully kept. It’s the inner part of you, the life center of human beings.

So we hear the soul being addressed – in the book of Psalms for instance. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (13:1). All that is within me – that’s what the soul is. We all have one.
• It is the deepest part of you. It integrates your will, your mind, and your body.
• It is the most important part of you. It needs continual care in order for you to thrive.
• It, perhaps, is the easiest part of you to neglect. We work so hard on our external existence and don’t take much time thinking about the soul. That’s not good because it is the most needy part of you. Totally dependent! It has deep desires that long to be satisfied.

What the soul truly desires is a connection with God. We know from the book of Genesis that God breathed life into man, and man became a living soul. Our souls were made by God for God, and they were made to need God. We are wired for God. We might try to fill this need with other things, but the soul will never be satisfied.

So we hear it again: The psalmist says, “My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord” (Ps. 84:2).

I want to be with God. “As a deer panteth for the water, so my soul longs after thee” (Ps. 42:1).

When the soul is neglected – when that refreshing stream isn’t flowing and we’re trying to operate without God – it becomes polluted, fatigued, and is soon in a condition of deterioration.

We see signs of soul fatigue in statements like these: I feel like my life is falling apart, or I’m coming apart at the seams, or I can’t seem to get my act together anymore. We see signs of it in other ways like these:
• Things bother us more than they should.
• We ruminate.
• It’s difficult to make up our minds about decisions we face.
• We develop impulses to eat and drink, or spend, and they are a challenge to resist. They get out of control.
• Our judgment suffers. We make bad decisions or have less courage.

Fatigue has a way of making us a little more cowardly.

In this passage, Jesus points out that the state of soul can be in one of two conditions. It can be either weary and overloaded or at rest and have peace with Him as God intended.

These words of Jesus beg a personal question – How is your soul these days? If it is restless and overloaded, the antidote is not a program but a person – Jesus Christ, the Son of God. “Come to me, and I will give you rest for your soul.” Have a relationship with me. Live with me. Follow me. Walk with me, and you will find rest. Jesus is inviting us to live intimately with Him from one moment to the next. The One who lived 2,000 years ago promises His followers, I am with you always. I’m available. I want to walk with you.

Then He tells us what coming to Him really involves. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” That yoke is oftentimes a symbol of being under the direction of someone else, a student under a teacher. So Jesus is saying perhaps, Be my disciple. Come under my control. Submit to me. Follow me.

We also know from the form of the yoke over the oxen. Come alongside of me, perhaps Jesus is saying as well. Let’s share the load of life together. Let me teach you the rhythms.

There are all kinds of yokes out there that can control your life and make you absolutely miserable.
• There is the yoke of the law – you have to do this and do that in order to get God to love you. If you are not keeping all the commandments, God will have nothing to do with you. He doesn’t love you, and you can’t go to heaven. So you feel absolutely, totally, strung out because of it, wondering, What’s going to happen to me?
• There is the yoke of the various appetites. Humanity has a desire for success or possessions. Those things become idols and taskmasters in our lives.
• There is the yoke of perfectionism. I need to be a perfect person.

The list goes on and on. Jesus says, Take my yoke and learn from Me. Be My apprentice. Come study under Me. Do life with Me. In doing so, you will discover that I am gentle and humble. I am not an unloving taskmaster. I love you. I care about you. I have your best interests in mind.

After 38 years of ministry, I have come to the conclusion that we need to remind ourselves now and then that while Jesus is our Savior and Lord, He is also a teacher. He knows what our lives need to work best. When He came into this world, He announced, “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel”(Mark 1:15). He was pointing to Himself. He has come to teach us kingdom life, God life, what’s important.

Jesus teaches us kingdom living as we live with Him in His holy Word, as He speaks to us. For instance, “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose their soul?” (Mark 8:36). This is diagnosis, not destination. Jesus is not talking about going to hell, but about a deteriorating condition of the soul.

He also tells us, Life is more than what you eat, drink, and wear. So don’t worry. Your heavenly Father knows you need these things. Trust Him (adapted from Mark 6:25).

Jesus warns us to be careful. “Be on guard toward all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Possessions may be nice to have, but they can overcome your life when they become the center of it.

Listen to Him say,
• “You are valuable to your heavenly Father. You are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 6:26).
Beware of the Pharisee types, legalistic rule keepers who don’t understand God’s grace (adapted from Matt. 16:6).
You are forgiven. I died on a cross for your sins.

On and on the truths come from the lips of Jesus for kingdom living. If lived out, these truths lead to a healthy soul and a very contented, joyful, peaceful existence. As we observe Jesus and not just listen to Him in those statements, as we observe Him in action in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we can also learn how to invest our time and energies, our mind, our body as we copy Him.

Notice how busy Jesus always was. He was constantly under a lot of pressure facing obstacles and opposition, but He was still under control and able to obey God. He was compassionate, loved God with all His heart, soul, strength, and mind, and His neighbor as Himself. He even loved the unlovable neighbor and remained cool under pressure. Jesus had a well-rested soul focused on God.

What were the activities, the disciplines that helped Him?
• Jesus was big on solitude, silence. You find Him getting away from the crowds, the noise, the temptations, and the distractions of life. His time alone with God became a shelter, a refuge for Him to face the busyness.
• Jesus often took very long walks. He enjoyed taking in the majesty of God’s creation as we hear Him describe the birds of the field, and the vines and the farmers and all creation. He was enthralled by the majesty of God’s handiwork, knowing God was in control as He took it all in.
• He fed on the Word of God. He knew the Old Testament.
• He regularly took breaks; He even took a nap on a boat, and He insisted His disciples take breaks as well. One day, when the disciples returned from a witnessing trip, He said, “Come away by yourselves and get some rest.”
• He enjoyed spending quality time with close friends, laughing and sharing life.
• He was a worshiper. It was His custom each Sabbath to go to the synagogue with the people of God and take in the word of God.

Are you enjoying the life Jesus came to give you – a healthy, rested soul? The invitation this day is to come to Him and apprentice yourself to Him. Take His yoke upon you. Do life with Him. Place your life in His hands and trust Him with it. Trust Him not just with your eternal life but also with your day-to-day life.

You might wonder how you can be sure He holds the real answers to a healthy and rested life. I think of the cross where Jesus was restlessly writhing from pain. I think of Isaiah 57:20 where the wicked are described as the tossing sea, which cannot keep still. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul says, “He who knew no sin became sin for us.” He became wickedness for us. He experienced restlessness so we could have rest.

I think of the empty tomb. The resurrection where God affirmed Him and says to us, His words are true. They are life for you. Come to Him, and you will find rest for your soul.

Horatio Spafford lived in Chicago and invested most of what he had in real estate. However, he lost everything in the great Chicago fire of 1871, including his home and most of his money. They had no insurance.

In 1873, Spafford put his wife and their four daughters on a ship headed to England as he stayed behind to restimulate his business. A few days after the ship departed, he received a telegram from his wife. “Saved alone. What shall I do?” Their ship had wrecked and all four of their daughters perished.

Spafford quickly boarded another ship to England, and as he passed over the same place in the ocean where his daughters had drowned, he wrote these words to a song:

When peace like a river attendeth my way.
When sorrows like sea billows roll.
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

What makes it well with one’s soul? A close walk with Jesus Christ who promises, I will give you rest for your soul. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Pause: God Insists!

Exodus 20:8-11

One of the greatest joys in my life right now is being a grandparent. I love watching little Henry and John grow and explore and enjoy things. It’s simply fun to watch them play and learn.

One thing I’ve noticed, though, since my own children were young, I had forgotten the importance of those kids taking a quiet time for a nap each day. They don’t function very well without one. In fact, they can be quite a challenge to be around when they don’t get their nap. They need to rest. Mom and dad need them to take a rest as well. Otherwise their craziness, crankiness, and rebelliousness can set in.

As children of God, we place our trust in Jesus Christ (that’s what makes us children of God). We can get quite crazy, cranky, and rebellious as well without proper rest in our lives. Our heavenly Father knows well that we don’t do very well when we’re all tired out. All of God’s children need a quiet time. Yet, when you look around, there seems to be an epidemic of tiredness. People are overwhelmed, overworked, overscheduled, and overstretched.

When you talk with people and ask them how they’re doing, they will often say, “I’m so busy,” or “I’m tired.” It seems like we have this illness called “hurry sickness.” We’re always on the run. Dr. Richard Swanson, who wrote the book “Margins” a few years ago, shares these words: “Even our sentences are peppered with such words as time crunch, fast food, rush-hour, frequent-flier, expressway, overnight delivery, and rapid transit. The products and services we use further attest to our hurry: We send packages by Federal Express, use a long-distance company called Sprint, manage our personal finances on Quicken, schedule our appointments on a DayRunner, diet with SlimFast, and swim in trunks made by Speedo.” It seems like whether we are Christian or not, we’re extremely overwhelmed.

All too often we are on the phone as well. Think about it – we take in a steady stream of information, reading, typing, so on. We’re wearing out our brains. All kinds of things get damaged when that kind of thing overtakes our lives. It hurts our physical and mental health. A fatigue sets in, an exhaustion. You hear people talk about burnout, depression, and it does damage to our ability to have relationships. It’s difficult, pretty much impossible to build meaningful relationships when you’re always on the run.

It’s difficult to have a good relationship with God, to build a solid, close relationship with Him if we’re always on the run. It’s so easy to forget Him and end up chasing little idols in life we think we need, such as getting ahead, personal security, possessions, reputation, and so on. God gets put on the shelf.

It’s difficult to build a relationship with others as well in this world. It’s difficult to love when you’re always tired out. Have you ever noticed that? Sometimes the best thing I can do for my friendships is to make sure I get enough sleep!

I love the story about the businessman who constantly is bringing his briefcase home from work each day. His little boy disappointedly watches him pull his briefcase out every night after supper to do more work. One night his son asks him, “Dad, why do you do that?”

The dad answers, “I can’t get all my work done at the office.”

The little boy thought for a moment and said, “Well, can’t they just put you in a slower group?”☺ Sometimes it would be nice if we could just get into a slower group, I think.

We do damage in our relationship with our self. We get crabby, lonely, and stressed. Perhaps you’ve heard the statement, “Constant work turns human beings into human doings.” We’re not meant to be human doings. Have you ever gotten to the place where you say, I don’t like me this way. I don’t like what I’m becoming. Have you ever found yourself longing for childhood again? I just want to go back in time and be a little kid again when life was simple. God says to those of us living in this world, Take a pause. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Now why would I be willing to do that? Three good reasons I can give you.

1. As an expression of your love for God. It’s a responsive obedience to the One who saved you for Himself. Israel had just been saved from slavery in Egypt. As Christians, we’ve been saved from slavery to sin, death, and the power of the devil through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. He has given us this gift of life, saved us, and given us eternal life with Him. The question, then, for the recipient becomes, How can I say thanks? How can I express my love and gratitude for belonging to Him?

“Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy,” our Lord says.

2. Remembering the Sabbath is the wise thing to do because it is for our good. We are actually wired for it. In Genesis chapter 2 at the end of the creation story, we see God rested on the seventh day. In the passage we looked at today in Exodus, Moses is basically saying, The Lord God rested on the seventh (Sabbath) day; rest then your self. Rest like me, and rest with me. God’s pause, though, was not because of tiredness – He is God. It was a pause to enjoy what He had created in the previous six days. Remember, after each thing He created God said, “This is very good.” His pause was a time to enjoy some triumph as someone pleased with what He had just accomplished. His pause was to relate to His creation, to put in some of what we might call “garden time” with Adam and Eve.

Believe it or not, we are wired to take a pause and a rest. Think about it, we were created in the image of God. That means that if the Sabbath is in God’s being, then it should be in ours as well. It is part of God’s maintenance plan for your body, your mind, and your spirit. It is a wise thing to do.

3. We remember the Sabbath because Jesus did it! Jesus in fact called Himself the Lord of the Sabbath. One day when He was being hassled by the Pharisees and the religious scribes who had turned the Sabbath day into a legalistic burden for the people, Jesus took them on. He didn’t deny the importance of the Sabbath – in fact He said, “I am the Lord of the Sabbath,” but He talked about it in another way. He said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” It is a gift from God to us for our good.

So let’s explore a little bit this thing called the Sabbath. It is an old-fashioned, churchy word. Sabbath means a time of rest, to not work. It is holy to the Lord, Scripture tells us. It is a day to pause from our labors and routines. It is a special day set aside for us – and we all need one. God is very insistent that we take one.

The Sabbath is a time for resting. We take a physical break, an emotional break, a spiritual break from the run, run, run of life.

It is a time for remembering. We remember God. We remember ourselves – who we are and whose we are. We remember God’s grace and what He has done for us through Jesus Christ. We remember the big picture – God has a whole world in His hands. Forgetting that kind of rest can lead to sometimes forgetting God, how big, and powerful He is, and how much we need Him.

It’s not only time for resting and remembering, it is also a time for resisting the world’s call to work, work, work in order to justify our existence. It is basically a declaration of freedom, when you think about it. I am not a slave to my work. I belong to God. In Deuteronomy chapter 5, which is another repeat of the Ten Commandments, God says, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” Remember that you were a slave. Not anymore though. God has set you free.

The Sabbath is also a time for reflecting about what’s important and looking at where my life is headed. Am I on track with the Lord? It is a time to relate to God. It is a time to set aside and put some focus, some intentional focus, on the God who created me and saved me through His Son, Jesus Christ. In other words, it’s a rhythm for living out life with God, and it’s a rhythm we were created for.

I like what writer Eugene Peterson says about the Sabbath. “Sabbath is the time set aside to do nothing so that we can receive everything, to set aside our anxious attempts to make ourselves useful, to set aside our tense restlessness, to set aside our media-satiated boredom. Sabbath is the time to receive silence and let it deepen into gratitude, to receive quiet into which forgotten faces and voices unobtrusively make themselves present, to receive the days of the just completed week and observe the wonder and miracle still reverberating from each one, to receive our Lord’s amazing grace.”

Still, we struggle to follow this commandment. Why can’t we – and why don’t we – hit that pause button more eagerly and more regularly than we do? It’s probably a variety of reasons.

1. We probably don’t want to believe this. I like to believe I am tough and can handle things myself. I’ve heard people say, I can rest later. I have things to accomplish. I don’t need a rest.
2. Perhaps we want to get ahead, outdo the doers, and come out on top in the race. We sometimes feel we have to keep up in order to attain a better life that we dream for ourselves, to hang onto the American dream.
3. Perhaps we don’t have the time to enjoy the things we want to enjoy in life because we’re working all the time.
4. Perhaps we simply see working as a justification for our existence to others. Look at what I’m doing. Look at what I’m doing. I’m important! I belong in this world! I think people sometimes wear busyness as a badge of honor. It’s almost like they’re proud of saying I’ve been way too busy and I’m tired.
5. Sometimes we try to justify our actions to ourselves. It’s like Rocky said to Adrian in the first Rocky movie when she asked, “Why are you going to all this trouble?” he said, “I just want to go the distance so I’ll know I’m not a bum.”

Someone once wrote, we have become a generation of people who worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship. I think there’s some truth to that.

6. Finally, I think we struggle with keeping this commandment because it doesn’t come easy. Sabbath keeping is hard. Taking a Sabbath rest requires effort, because it’s going against the current of the times. It doesn’t come as naturally as we like to think. It can be very difficult for us to just drop things. We just can’t do it! It is a strenuous act of the will. It’s intentional. It’s learning to say no.

To not take a Sabbath pause is a dangerous and disastrous way to live one’s life. We need to do this because without it, there will be breakdowns and burnouts. We all know stories of people who have wrecked their bodies, their families, their friendships, even their very souls because God’s instructions were ignored. Even Jesus said, “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose his very being (his soul)?” Mark 8:36. The folks of Jesus’ day never slowed down. They never paused. They never scheduled a deep Sabbath rest into their weekly calendar, and there is a price to be paid for it.

It does not have to be that way for you. God has been forthcoming on giving you the solution to avoid that kind of ending. The question is, What are you going to do (or are doing) about it?

We need to ask ourselves, Who do I want to become in this season of my life? Do you want to get closer to God? Do you want to be more effective in serving Him in this world? Do you want to become more loving and patient and kind and filled with joy? How you decide to treat the gift of the Sabbath, which God has given you, will have an impact on whether that happens in your life or not.

Today I encourage you to make a commitment to be a Sabbath person in Christ. Build that pause into your life. Here are some things you can do.

• Be a regular worshiper. It was the habit of Jesus, Scripture tells us, to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath. Find yourself a church and go regularly. Put worship on your calendar. For people, the day has too often become a coin toss because so much it going on, competing for your time on a Sunday morning. If you want to become a dialed-in, growing Christian, someone who knows a little more about your faith, someone who looks a little more like the One you follow, then write church on your calendar and keep that appointment.
• Use the day to relax with others as well, to laugh and enjoy people, have recreation and time of play.
• Build some quiet time into your life on that day. Make it a time to reflect. It is a great day for picking up on your hobbies, doing what you like to do when you’re not doing what you have to do.

My appeal this day is to be careful with this one and only life God has given you. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, and you will thank God you did. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

You Can Have a Deeper Certainty

I John 5:11-20

The older I get the more I realize the number of things I don’t really know. For instance, I don’t really know much about technology. I struggle with my computer; I even struggle with my TV set. I don’t know how my health is going to be in the next two years.

As far as deep questions go, I don’t know why bad things happen to good people. I don’t know when I’m going to die. I don’t know what heaven is going to look like. There are so many things I don’t know. It appears I’m not alone.

I came across a humorous article written by a gentleman who has questions about things he doesn’t understand. He says,
Why is it doctors call what they do, practice? I don’t know.
Why is the person who invests all your money called a broker? That I don’t know either.
Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour? I don’t know.

And my favorite,
If flying is so safe, why do they call the airport, the terminal? I don’t know.

While there are many things I don’t know, today I want to share with you some things I do know, and I want you to know as well. They are important. When I talk about knowing, I’m talking about a deep certainty within, a confidence that it is a fact I can build my life on. I know these things.

We’ve been looking at the first letter of John for the past several weeks in our Deeper series, and now we’re at the end, chapter 5. John’s congregation had a lot of I don’t know, I’m not certain, and I’m not so sure happening in its midst. Times were difficult for the early Christians. They were being persecuted. People didn’t understand them. They were a real minority, almost viewed as a cult. To top it off, false teachers were coming into the church with doctrines that were different from what the people had initially learned from John. Questions arose about the basic tenets of the Christian faith. John, being a good pastor, reassured them, There are some things I really want you to know.

First of all, everything I have shared with you is based upon testimony God Himself has given us through His Son, Jesus Christ (His life, His death, and His resurrection) and through the Holy Spirit. Here are some things I want you to pick up on.
• Eternal life with God is available. God has given us eternal life (vs. 11). The definition of eternal life is the life of the ages. It is life with Him, living with God as His child now and forever. It is eternal.
• Eternal life is found in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, alone. He is where it is found and experienced. Whoever has the Son has life. He who doesn’t have the Son doesn’t have life (vs. 12).

Then John says, Not only do I know eternal life with God is available and it’s found in Christ, but I also know who has eternal life, who can live with assurance. This is my purpose for writing this letter in the first place. “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God – Jesus – so you may know (have a deep certainty) that you have eternal life” (vs. 13).

You who believe in Jesus. He is writing to believers. You can know . . . I want you to know . . . God wants you to know . . . His promises are true.

It is very interesting to note that before John wrote this letter, he wrote his Gospel account to people who were checking Jesus out. In his statement of purpose, John wrote, “These things are written in order that you might believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and through believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).

In his letter, John is writing to those who are believers. They’ve said yes to Christ. He spends a good share of the letter talking about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. In the last chapter, John says, As a follower Jesus Christ, you can know you have eternal life.

Early in my ministry at Shepherd of the Valley, I was interested in teaching my folks how to share the Good News of Jesus with other people. So I took a course to share with my members called, Evangelism Explosion. One of the opening questions it teaches you to use in a spiritual conversation is this: “Are you to the place in your spiritual life where you know for certain that if you are to die today you would go to heaven?”

I am always amazed at the number of people who look like a deer in the headlights when asked that question, including Christians. They say things like, I hope so, or No one can know for sure, can they? John tells us today, I write these things so you may know (and live with a deep certainty) that you have eternal life in Christ. To be able to say, I know I have eternal life is not presumptuous or arrogant thinking based upon your own goodness or merit. It is a deep certainty and confidence in the promises of Jesus Christ.

John is saying there is no need for doubts about your standing with God, about your present or your future with God. You belong to Him. There is no need to wonder if He hears you when you pray. We can pray with confidence in Christ’s name knowing our Father hears us.

John also says I also know that we are God’s children by trusting in Jesus (vs. 19). The rest of the world lies under the power of the evil one, but not us. We have a glorious future ahead. We are God’s children who share in the victory of Jesus Christ. And it’s almost as if he is saying to them, Yes, bad things will still happen in this broken world of ours because Satan is still around. Sin is still is at work. Disappointments happen and hardships come, but know this: nothing can snatch us from Him. Whether you live or whether you die, you belong to Him forever.

The last thing John says is, You can know God Himself. You can enjoy a personal relationship with the heavenly Father and grow closer to Him. John says, “We know the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so we may know him who is true” (vs. 20). We are in Him who is true and His Son Jesus Christ.

You can know Him. You can actually say along with Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me . . . Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for he is with me; I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

John says You can know Him. You can know the Good Shepherd. God has given us testimony about His Son by raising Him from the dead on Easter. It was God’s stamp of affirmation. Jesus is the resurrection you’ve longed for, the life with God you thirst for. You can know you’re going to heaven and nothing in this life can separate you from God because of what Jesus has done for you. You can know you are loved – not just today but all the way into eternity – as you trust in Jesus Christ and receive what He has come to give you. Wow! All these things we can know.

God has communicated everything we really need to know. Yes, there will always be things we don’t know, but He has told us everything we need to know through His Son Jesus Christ. The bottom line for John is faith – faith of the Church and your faith. Trust Jesus Christ and what He has done for you at the cross. Build your life upon Him. Be confident and full of courageous hope as you live with Him and live for Him as a shining light and a witness in this world.

Follow Jesus and live life Christ’s way. Walk with Him, and come to know Him more and more through the gospel stories in Scripture. Grow to be like Him as you do life as He did life, as you strive to be a person who is full of love, kindness, joy, patience, faithfulness, and self-control, and give yourself away to others out of love for them because God first loved you.

All this leads, according to John, to a deep certainty. Hope instead of doubts. Confidence instead of worry. Assurance instead of anxiety.

Gerhard Frost, a Lutheran writer I enjoy, tells the story of a powerful man in the world of business who was accustomed to having his own way. One day, late for an appointment, he decided to take a shortcut. To his dismay he found he had chosen the wrong road and was completely lost. Determined to ask the first person he saw for directions, he saw a child on the side of the road. He addressed the young boy gruffly, “Boy! Which way to Dover?”

“I don’t know,” the child responded embarrassed.

“Well then,” the man demanded, “How far to Paynesville?”

“I don’t know that either,” the child answered.

The man’s questions grew angrier as the boy repeatedly responded with the same answer, and the boy grew more and more uncomfortable. Finally the man lost his temper and shouted at him. “You don’t know much, do you!”

Then, for the first time, the boy smiled and looking up the winding road to a little house where the evening light shown through the window. “No, but I know I ain’t lost.”

Isn’t that what we all want to be able to say as we look to our own future, as we look at the various questions we can’t answer but can always say, “I know I ain’t lost.” That is why Jesus Christ came into this world – so you could have an assurance in your life that comes from being connected to the heavenly Father through faith in His Son.

Notice John’s progression here. It is kind of a roadmap of the spiritual journey from his Gospel through his letter. Near the end of the Gospel, he says, “I have written all these things so that if you’re wondering about Jesus, you can come to understand Him better” (John 20:31). My hope is you will believe. Take the next step and trust in Him.

Then we get to his letter where he is talking to believers about following Christ throughout life. Follow life out with Jesus. Grow in knowledge of Him and of God. Give yourself away to others out of love. Be a person of integrity and walk life out as Jesus would walk it if He were you.

This deep confidence within leads to a certainty that no matter what happens, I know the end of the story. I know God wins. I know whose I am. I know why I’m here. And I know where I’m going.

Where are you on this roadmap? Are you hearing it for the first time? Are you a believer? Have you taken a step to live with Him, follow Him, and grow in Him? Because the knowing John is talking about is waiting just for you.

A word of encouragement. How about taking that next step? Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer