Jesus, Teach Us to Pray

Matthew 6:5-13

When I was boy growing up in Belmond, Iowa, one of my best friends was Billy Walrod. Our yards connected to an alleyway, and in the summer time we’d run barefoot every day, swim in the pool, play ball, and ride his go kart. We had a blast!

One morning Billy was sleeping in and I was impatient, so I picked up some pebbles and began throwing them at his bedroom window. Billy didn’t wake up, but his mother came out the door. That is when the trouble started.

A man named R. S. Thomas once said, “Prayers are like gravel flung at the sky’s window hoping to attract the loved one’s attention.”

Is that how you think about prayer? Like we are flinging some words up, hoping someone is listening?

Do you remember the Gospel song,

♬”It’s me, it’s me, O Lord,
standing in the need of prayer.
Not my mother, not my brother, but it’s me, O Lord,
standing in the need of prayer.”♪

Each of us needs prayer. We need to connect from our heart to God’s heart in a relationship and believe we are loved, our lives matter, and we have a purpose. But we don’t always know how to pray. We don’t know what words to say. We don’t know who God is in order to talk with Him. No wonder the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And Jesus did just that.

Our Father . . . Jesus gives us a beautiful acknowledgment that God is not only the source of all life, the designer of the beauty in this world, and the designer of our physical bodies, but He is also our Father. Galatians 4 tells us that we have the spirit of adoption as His children. So we can call Him “Abba” – daddy – a term of endearment, affection, and intimacy of relationship. Scripture tells us in John chapter 1, “As many as receive Him (Jesus), to them God gives the power (the authority) to become the children of God who were born not of the will of blood or of man but the will of God.” Just think of it – you and I, by faith, are children of God! Jesus says we can call God, our Father.

Notice also, Jesus uses the plural pronoun our. Whatever church family you belong to, the family of God is much bigger than your individual congregation. Denominations of every church body in America? Yes! On Easter Sunday morning at the resurrection celebration, as Christians all over the world celebrate and worship God in the name of Jesus, we are all the family of God. We all call God, our Father. Whatever your vision of God’s family, it’s simply not big enough.

My grandmother used to say in Norwegian, “God has many strange children,” and then she would turn to me and say, “You are a funny boy!” God has many children in the family and we need to be welcoming of all of them. So when we pray, we pray “Our Father.” This means that, in relation to our Father, our spiritual status might be in one of three categories:

• We are prodigals, far from God and running from Him.
• We are more like the older brother – doing things out of religious duty instead of love. We do things out of obligation, not out of gratitude.
• We are fully aware of how blessed we are, privileged to trust the God of all things as our dear Father. We live in a sense of loyalty and joy because we know we are His children through Jesus Christ.

Who art in heaven . . . God is both our heavenly and our holy Father. He is heavenly not so much by location, for God is everywhere present, but because He is above us. He is distinguished from our earthly father. When dads and grandpas put on their “Best Dad Ever” shirt on Father’s Day, no matter how good they are, they are not perfect. God is our heavenly Father. He is perfect. His love for us is unconditional, and He is not limited in His reach to come to where we are, provide for us, and care for us.

Oftentimes I visit with those who had a difficult childhood due to having an unhealthy father. Perhaps their father abandoned them totally. It is good, therefore, to remember that whatever the limits or difficulties of our earthly father, our heavenly Father is perfect. He is the opposite in an ideal sense of a beautiful love dedicated to bless all his children.

Hallowed be thy name . . . Our Father is holy. He is set apart, totally different from any other being in all of reality. Therefore, God is to be glorified in our lives. We are to exalt His name, meaning we are to lift up His name and honor Him with our lives. I think it’s a good ethical filter, at the end of each day when you lay your head on the pillow, to ask, Have I carried myself as a man, as a woman, in a way that glorified the name of our Father in heaven?

Thy kingdom come . . . We can welcome God’s kingdom and surrender to His will in this prayer.

A theologian said years ago, “God will be God, though all men be dead.” In America, we have the privilege of voting in our political leaders, but we don’t vote on whether God is King. You don’t have the authority to determine whether God has the right to rule over all things as King. God is King, whether I acknowledge it or not. St. Augustine once said, “God is reigning now. But just as a light is absent to those who refuse to open their eyes, so it is possible to refuse or reject God’s rule.” Luther said, “God’s kingdom indeed comes without our praise, but in this petition we pray that God’s kingdom would come for us and to us.”

Every heart possesses a yearning for eternity. One biblical scholar said, “When we pray ‘Thy kingdom come,’ it must also simultaneously mean, my kingdom go.” We give up self rule.

Why does God have the right to reign as King?

1. He created all things. In the fall of humanity recorded in the story of Genesis 3 (Adam and Eve), we pull God down from His rightful position to rule over all things.

I don’t just blame Adam and Eve, I myself, many times, have asserted my independence of God in rebellion. In this prayer, I acknowledge the need to invite God to reign over me.

2. He sent Jesus, His Son, to die for me and redeem me by His blood shed on the cross of Calvary.

3. Jesus, by the power of God, was resurrected from the dead! He, in His living state, forgives your sin. He redeems our life and reconciles us in relationship with Himself. He has overcome even death and promises us that, when we breathe our last in this world, we will live forever in His glorious presence.

God has right to reign over us. Indeed, thy kingdom come!

Thy will be done . . . St. Ignatius once said, “Jesus Christ is the great physician.” He went on to explain that, when we pray for God’s will to come in this world, we’re really praying, by the power of Jesus Christ, for a total reversal of all the negative effects of human rebellion and all of the brokenness because of sin in the world. When the fullness of Jesus’ power ushers in His kingdom and we surrender to His will, we become partners with God in bringing the reign of God. God gives to us a kingdom of love. We are in a kingdom of forgiveness and reconciliation. We are part of the healing all things and restoring all things in the blessed name of the Lord Jesus.

Give us this day our daily bread . . . This prayer acknowledges our dependency upon God as the provider of all things. It stirs an attitude of gratitude.

Notice, Jesus uses the word, our daily bread. Our big egos should not hoard things in selfish stinginess. We share our daily bread with others.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us . . . Every time we approach God the Father in prayer, we are prodigals asking for His forgiveness. Like Jesus in His parable of the tax collector, we are in the corner of the temple, flat on our faces saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

We swim in grace as we gladly receive God’s unmerited favor, which empowers us to freely give grace to all people we meet. Forgiveness is the essential key to us being peacemakers in this world.

Deliver us from evil . . . The devil is clever, isn’t he? He is a deceiver. In this prayer, we ask God to awaken our spiritual eyes so we might have insight to see the full, true consequences of every temptation the devil would throw at us. We pray we would keep vigilance in watching so we will persevere in the battle of our spirit united with God’s Spirit against the flesh.

But remember, as you live your journey of faith every day, we live from victory, not in order to gain victory. We are more than conquerors through Christ who loves us. The Word tells us, “Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world” (I John 4:4).

I recently heard a story about a soldier serving in the Army during the Civil War who received a telegram from home telling him they had tremendous problems and trouble. His camp was just outside Washington, D.C. So the soldier journeyed to the White House to see President Lincoln and ask for a leave from his service to tend to the problems at home. When he came to the White House, however, he was told in no uncertain terms, “No, the President is too busy to visit with you.” “No, you are not going to see the President today.” Despondent, miserable, and sad, he sat down on a bench on the White House lawn.

After a few minutes, a young boy sat down on the bench beside him. “What’s the matter, mister?” he asked.

“Well, I need to see President Lincoln, but I’m not able to today.”

The boy thought a minute and said, “Come with me, mister.” The boy led him – not to the front door – but to the back door of the White House. When they entered the house, the staff straightened and addressed the young man with formality and respect. The little boy journeyed through the White House until he came to the President’s office. He didn’t knock; he just opened the door, went right in, and said, “Hey dad, there’s a man here who needs to talk to you.”

We thank God that He has sent Jesus, His Son. In the name of Jesus, God gives us access to His very presence in prayer. We can pray with confidence, as Jesus said, knowing God will hear us.

Keep praying. God hears you. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

All the Places to Go: Opening Doors for Others

TEXT:  Luke 12:13-21

Who Left the Outside Door Open? It’s Freezing in Here! Did You Grow up in a Barn?

Who Left the Cupboard Doors Open? It Makes My Kitchen Look like a Mess!

Open doors, I know, are not always welcome occurrences. It’s true. But these past few weeks we have been talking about open doors in a positive way. We’ve been talking about God opening doors to us – how we can recognize them and choose the best ones.

As we look through Scripture, we learn that God’s open doors are typically invitations to make our lives count with God’s help, for His glory and for the sake of other people. Ultimately, God opened the Door for us so we might open doors for others. Unfortunately, though, some miss going through these doors. They miss the joy and satisfaction they can experience in their own lives, as well as bring into other people’s lives. It can happen for a variety of reasons, like the one we encounter in today’s story from Luke’s Gospel.

One day, while Jesus was teaching, a person interrupted Him and said, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me!” Apparently, a skirmish had been going on in his family, and this man was afraid he was going to miss out on his fair share of the family inheritance. Jesus doesn’t play the role of judge as the man would like Him to do. But He does give a caution: “Take care and be on guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

Be careful, Jesus says. Greed is dangerous. It shrinks our souls. It keeps us from walking through open doors that God places before us to serve others. It narrows our vision of the world to me – with a capital M – E.

You’ve heard this little poem, I’m sure,

“I had a little tea party
this afternoon at three.
‘Twas very small,
three guests in all:
I, myself, and me.

Myself ate all the sandwiches,
while I drank up the tea.
‘Twas also I
who ate the pie,
and passed the cake to me.”
Me, myself, and I.

Greed is a dangerous thing. It is one of the seven deadly sins, because it is so insidious. It is all too easy to get caught up in if you are poor, but especially if you’re a person with some wealth.

Haddon Robinson, a preacher I respect, once said, “For every verse in the Bible that tells us the benefits of wealth, there are ten that tell us the danger of wealth.” One of the dangers is greed.

These days a new term has been coined from the technological world of Facebook. It’s called FOMO, an acronym that means “the fear of missing out.” On Facebook, people share the wonderful things happening in their lives. However, in doing so, we can soon begin to sense that person is getting more than me – more vacation opportunities, more fun, more invitations for fun events, more friends. It can make a person feel depressed, like they are missing out. My life should be better than this.

We actually see a bit of FOMO in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. The serpent approaches Eve and says, “Did God say you shouldn’t eat from that tree?”

Eve replied, “Yes, He told us that we couldn’t eat it. We couldn’t touch it, lest we die.”

The serpent says, “That’s not true. God just doesn’t want you to be like Him. You are missing out. All you need to do is just take a bite!”

We have an insatiable hunger within us for more. When it is focused on self gain, it is a foolish, ungodly, dangerous, lonely, dead-end street.

Jesus goes on, then, to make His point with a parable. He tells about a man who was living for himself. The land of a rich man produced plentifully. He was a rich farmer and had a bumper crop. A strange thing happened as a result, though. He had a conversation with himself – not with God, not with the wise elders who would sit at the city gates and help with decision-making in the community. No, he had a Board of Directors of one – himself.

Notice all the “I’s” and “my’s” in this: “What should I do with my crop? I’ll tear down my barns and take my grain and my goods. I’ll say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years: relax, now. Be merry. Have a comfortable retirement. I have myself well taken care of. What a good life I have created!’”

The story doesn’t end there. Jesus went on to give God’s take on his life: “Fool! This very night your soul, your very life will be required of you. Now these things – whose will they be?”

Jesus summed it up by saying, “So are the ones who lay up treasures for themselves and are not rich toward God. They are nothing more than fools.”

To be rich toward God means to treasure God above everything else, to use one’s life for Him. To walk in His ways. Jesus is saying that leaving God and others out of the picture to pursue treasures for yourself is considered a wasted life in God’s eyes. It is foolish and very shortsighted when you think about it. You can’t take it with you. How many U-Hauls have you seen on the way to the cemetery? Everything goes back in the box. This is the big picture.

In the verses that follow this parable, we see Jesus turning to His disciples and basically telling them, God has a better plan for you as His people. “Don’t be anxious about your life, what you will eat, what you will drink and about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” He talks about the birds of the air and the beauty of the fields with the flowers. “If God takes care of those things, how much more valuable you are to him!” If His eye is on the sparrow, you can be sure He watches over you.

He points out, “You can’t add an hour to your life by worrying about these things. The nations (pagans) of the world strive after all these things. Your Father knows what you need. Trust Him. Seek first His kingdom instead. Serve your heavenly Father by serving others.

“Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions. Downsize. Hold them more loosely. Sacrifice and give to those in need. Replace greed with generosity. Make wise investments in others that will open doors for them with acts of kindness. Help with your resources, your time and skills. Make money bags for yourselves that will never wear out in heaven, an unfailing treasure where thieves cannot steal and moths cannot destroy.”

Jesus sums it all up by saying, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If God is your treasure, your heart is in a good place and you are living wisely. But if personal comforts, security, well-being, personal glory, and possessions are your treasures, you have a serious heart problem.

The bottom line here is, Jesus points out, the wise way to live as His disciple is found in taking the focus off of me, myself, and I. Instead, look for ways to serve, to open doors, to help others. It is in using all God has given me – my time, my money, my skills, my talents, my connections – to open doors for others.

Doors open when we look closely for ways to live that way – to be rich toward God as we put ourselves out there and take these words seriously. We begin to notice and care about people whom we might overlook. We begin to see them through the eyes of Jesus. Love and generosity open up all kinds of opportunities for us to be door openers in other people’s lives. This is when life gets exciting.

You don’t have to look far for divine opportunities to open doors. It can begin right at home, in fact, with our spouse as we listen, as we pay attention to one another, as we go out of our way to serve each other, affirm one another, encourage, and ask what we can do for them.

I have a friend named Jim whose wife recently went through some serious surgery. He called me and said, “I won’t be at Bible study for a few weeks. My wife is laid up, and I am playing nurse. She’s going to have to learn how to put up with my cooking for a few weeks.”

I think of my father taking care of my mother for many, many years as she suffered with lupus. He served her hand and foot, clothed her, bathed her, worked two jobs to support them.

It is in caring for your parents. I’m thinking of another friend of mine, Phil. He and his wife’s health are not the best. Their son recently told them he is adding a new addition onto his home so Phil and his wife can move in, and they can take care of the mom and dad.

I think of other door openers. Rob has a real skill at helping others figure out directions in life, how God has wired them, and what they might do with their careers. He is constantly giving himself over to consult with people – no charge – to help them figure out where to go next with their lives.

I think of Vicki and Jim who have become involved with the Haiti Teen challenge ministry. Through their finances, time, and talents, they pour themselves into helping young people develop into godly leaders in Haiti.

I think of Larry who spends more time at projects serving other people than he sometimes spends at home. Or Dave and Claudia who work at the food shelf each week. I think of Nancy who is big on sending sympathy cards and encouragement cards, you name it, every-kind-of card in the book to others within the congregation. They remind others how much God cares about them, we care about them, and we are praying for them. I think of people who give up their Wednesday nights to work with our young people. They are opening doors for these kids to find Christ. We have a team of people who are adopting a refugee family from the Congo. They are thrilled! All of us are thrilled for them.

A person might wonder, Why would I opt to live that kind of life? It could be inconvenient. It could be uncomfortable and sacrificial. It could be messy.

My response is, it is the “Jesus’ way.” Don’t you want to please Him after all He has done for you? I know I do. Think of the door God opened for us through Jesus. He opened the door of salvation for us. He laid down His life for us so the door of heaven might be open to us. He paid for our sins so we might have a relationship – which was broken by sin – restored, and we can live with our Father in Heaven. He rose from the grave so we might live under Him in His kingdom in the here-and-now, living the good life God intended for us in the first place.

Jesus called it the abundant life, the life of putting self aside for the sake of others. Acting on opportunities to be kind in Jesus’ name. Jesus said this is where you will find a fulfilling life – in giving it away. He has opened the door for us so we might open doors for others. You and I were saved for a purpose – to open doors for others to serve.

Jesus knows exactly what He is talking about. His way is the way, His truth is the truth, and His life is the life for you and me. It was affirmed at the resurrection. He lives! He rose from the grave. You can believe Him, then, when He says it is in losing your life for others that you find it.

This, my dear friends is God’s ultimate plan for your life. With all kinds of open doors out there, He calls you to step into them. Be a door opener who can offer life to others in His name.

My encouragement to you today is to be on the lookout for divine opportunities, open doors to love and be generous and kind – even in small things – whether it’s buying a cup of coffee for the person standing behind you at the coffee shop or giving the waitress who is waiting on you in the restaurant an extra big tip. (Christians should be known as big tippers.) Instead of just saying, “I’ll be praying for you,” offer to pray on the spot with someone who is struggling. Do it then and there. When you see a person struggling with a project at work or school, offer a listening ear and a helping hand. Step through that door, I dare you. This is where the excitement is. It is where the abundant life is.

This is God’s Word to you today. Let’s do something with it and act upon it.

Are you ready? On your mark, get set, go! Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

All the Places to Go: Door #1 or Door #2?

Philippians 1:9-11

How do you pray for your children or your grandchildren? I am a parent and a grandparent, and I pray for my kids. I pray they will be healthy, protected, and so on. Most important, however, I pray they make good decisions in life and walk in God’s ways. After all, a lot of bad decisions can be made in life.

Making decisions is an important and often very difficult part of life. Some of us have a tough time making decisions. We are afraid of choosing the wrong path, the wrong door. Many are hesitant to make ironclad commitments for fear of getting stuck in something. We want guarantees that all will work out fine. However, life isn’t always like that.

Open doors. We all face them.

As we talk about open doors in this sermon series, a TV game show comes to mind that I watched when I was a kid. It’s called, “Let’s Make a Deal” with Monty Hall. The idea of the show was to come in costume to compete for money and prizes by striking wacky deals. If Monty chose you, you could trade something for a bigger prize, hopefully trading up to the biggest prize of the day. “What’s behind this door (or curtain)? Will you trade us for it?”Everybody, of course, was anxious because they were afraid of taking the wrong door and getting zonked (the white elephant prize). The final contestants got three doors to choose from – Door #1, Door #2, or Door #3.

When you think about it, life is full of doors. We have so many decisions to make, so many choices. We don’t want to get zonked. “Which decision is the right one?” we ask ourselves. It can stress a person out and even paralyze them from making a choice at all, which is a choice in itself.

People have interesting methods for making choices, for choosing doors. Such as flipping a coin. Superstitions like Ouija boards, horoscopes, and fortunetellers. Some people will say they just follow their gut, which can be dangerous because of our sinful nature. I know what I want and I’m pretty much gonna follow what I want. I tell my gut to do the same.

Some of us operate like Yogi Berra: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it” without any thought at all. Interestingly though, as you look in Scripture, the Bible doesn’t really provide an outline for the various big and little decisions we have to make in life. However, it does tell us quite clearly that God wants us to become good choosers. This would make sense when you think about it. After all, we are created in God’s image, He has given us a mind with which to think and reason, and a will to exercise. He has given us Himself and promised to be with us in all of life’s decision-making.

In today’s passage, we find the apostle Paul telling a congregation of Christians that he is praying for them. Paul is their spiritual father, their pastor. He brought them to Christ. They are like his children. This letter, therefore, drips with love and affection more than any other letter Paul wrote.

Today we learn about his prayers for the Philippians. His prayers boil down to this – that they grow to make good decisions as they face the various doors and opportunities they encounter along the way. His words again: “My prayer is that your love may overflow with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best.”

What is Paul really communicating here? It is important for us, as followers of Christ, to become good choosers. We should be able to determine what is best as we live our new lives in Christ so our love for God and one another might overflow. We are to grow as
we live out Christ’s great commandment and great commission.

Paul says, “I pray you grow in love.” The love he is talking about here is called agape love. It means to live sacrificially for the sake of others, to give self away as Jesus did. Jesus once talked about agape love in the Upper Room with His disciples as He described life in the community. He said, “Love one another as I have loved you. By this all people will know you are my disciples.” This is the way to live.

Paul not only prays that they will grow much, but also well. May your life of love be peppered with knowledge and full insight.

Love is not meant to be blind (as some people will say) or a sentiment or an emotion. It is meant to be thoughtful and insightful. This is love at its best.

He says, “May your love overflow with knowledge . . .” Knowledge of what? Knowledge of God from His Word. This is where we find knowledge. It is where we learn His ways, His love for us, His mind, His will for our life, His kingdom principles and values that make for abundant living. It is where we learn knowledge of how we need God.

Full insight – what is that? Full insight basically means spiritual discernment. Another word would be wisdom. It refers to people who have mastered the art of living and tend to make decisions we can describe as wise.

Paul says, I pray these things for you in order to help you determine what is best. That is, make good decisions, choose right doors. To help you make good decisions and act in ways that will truly benefit others and glorify God. To help you not only discern what is morally good or bad, but also know the difference between what’s better and what’s best.

Paul goes on to say, When all is said and done, you will stand before the Lord on that great day, pure and blameless. This is his way of saying you will look like Jesus who is described as the pure and blameless One.

. . . having produced the harvest of righteousness. The word righteousness means right living before God. We know about righteousness. Psalm 23 says, “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his namesake.” We will live a fruitful life for Christ, causing others to glorify and praise God.

This is Paul’s prayer for them, and for us as well – that we live our life loving God, neighbor, one another as Christ’s people, making good, wise decisions.

Therefore, it is important to ask, what are some basic principles to help us grow and become wise, knowledgeable, and insightful.

First of all, ask God for it. Ask constantly, not just once. Asking is the starting point. Paul is praying on behalf of his beloved people. He knows from personal experience that we can’t gain wisdom on our own. We need God’s help. He who knows so much more than we could ever know. He asks God to help us become wise and make God-pleasing decisions.

I am reminded of James’ words: “If any of you lack wisdom, ask for it and God who is generous will give it” (1:5). When Solomon became King of Israel, he prayed for wisdom to lead the people. God blessed him for his request and gave him His wisdom.

Asking requires humility. It means acknowledging we are not wise enough on my own. I think of the Serenity Prayer, which the Alcoholics Anonymous organization uses – “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Paul and James would say to us, This God, to whom you pray, is generous. He wants to give you the wisdom you need in life.

Become more intentional in your decision-making. Develop some skills in how to make wise decisions. Begin with little issues before you face the big issues in life. Choosing doors is a process of recognizing opportunities. As we said last week: God opens doors. What is this a chance to do?

Identify some options. What could I do in this situation – A, B, or C? Evaluate whether your decision would be good or bad, fruitful or unfruitful, pleasing or displeasing to God.

Make a choice and get to work. Learn from the experience. Do you have a free evening after supper? This is an opportunity. This time could be spent well. What can I do with it? Look at the options: I could play with the kids. I could read to them or play a game or talk with my wife. I could spend some quiet time reading, or I could pick up the remote and turn on the TV set.

Then evaluate: which option works best for me? What is good? What is bad? What is better? What is best? Choose and then learn from the experience. Look back on it and review.

As you do these tasks in the small events of life, you will find it easier to make the big decisions. You have disciplined yourself to begin thinking wisely.

By the way, it is important to constantly keep your eye on the ball. Ask the right questions – big picture questions. What is God’s priority, His purpose for my life? This is an important thing to recall. God’s primary will for your life is not in the achievements we accrue. It’s not in the busyness we can fill our lives with. It is in the person we become – pure and blameless, producing fruits of righteousness like Jesus.

We need to constantly ask, Why am I here? I hear people typically ask this question after a near-death experience. God spared me, they say. He must have a purpose for me. I wonder what it is. Why do we wait until we have a heart attack or a near-death experience to ask it? It’s good one to ask it on a daily basis. Why am I here? What am I investing my life energies into at this point in my life? Making myself comfortable? Getting my personal security? Or am I investing in larger, more noble things – God things? “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world (all the small things),” Jesus said, “and lose your soul?” (Mark 8:26). Ask the right questions.

Put together a door-selection committee for yourself. Have a counselor or team of wise counselors who know you and who you trust to tell you what you need to hear. The Philippians had the apostle Paul to speak truth into their lives. King Solomon says in Proverbs, “The way of a fool seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice” (12:15). We have blind spots as individuals and restricted vision. We need others who can speak truth into our lives.

Learn to expect that, even after all this, your decisions will sometimes lead to failures. It is okay. If you run into difficulties and failures, you will learn and grow from it. God’s love will still be there for you. He will still value you as you. You can learn from your failures as well.

Finally, THE all-important ingredient for making wise decisions in life, for determining what is best is this: connect yourself and stay connected to one person in particular. This person will prove to be the wisest friend you’ll ever had. In talking of Himself, Jesus said, “Someone greater than (wise old) Solomon is here” (Matt. 12:42). He referred to Himself as THE ultimate door, THE gate to abundant living. He said that when His words about living a good life are applied by someone, he or she will be like a wise person who built his house upon a rock. The storms of life cannot blow it down.

This person told His disciples that He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the God life but by Him. He wasn’t just talking about heaven, but also life now and into eternity. The apostle Paul says, “through Him come the fruits of righteousness.” In another letter to the Colossians, Paul talks about the riches available through this person – in Him are hidden all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom.

Of course by now, you’ve figured out who I am talking about. This person is Jesus Christ. This is what He did: Proverbs 9 writes of wisdom speaking to us from on high, from the Temple. Wisdom came down from on high and dwelt among us to rescue us from our sinful ways. Jesus sacrificed Himself for us. He rose again as God’s confirmation for you and me. God said, “This is my beloved Son. It is wise to listen to Him and follow Him.

He promises to be with you. He’ll teach you and lead you in kingdom ways. As the Good Shepherd, He leads us down paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

As you choose this door of Jesus who called Himself the Door, you will learn that it is the wisest decision you have ever made in your life. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

All the Places to Go: The Open Door

Genesis 12:1-7

Sometimes God calls us into an adventure we never anticipated. I’ve heard people refer to these sorts of things as God’s “open doors.” These open doors can take us in directions and to exciting places we never dreamed of. Maybe you’ve used this statement before, If you had told me a few years ago I’d be doing this, I would have never believed it.

I think of my own life, for instance, and how I became a pastor. My senior year at college I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my life, but I began to sense a nudge toward going to seminary and maybe becoming a pastor. I really wrestled with God about it. I asked all kinds of people, “How did you know? How did you know you were called to ministry?” and I never really found a satisfactory answer.

One day I was lamenting this to a friend of mine named Eli who was headed off to the seminary. He listened to me and replied, “Stevie,” which is what he called me. “Why don’t you try it? It sounds like an open door to me. You are wrestling with God. If it’s not an open door, you’ll find out soon enough. What do you have to lose?” So I went.

Seminary was challenging, especially the first year. But I hung in there and the door stayed open for me. So when people ask how I became a pastor, my response is, “God opened the door for me. I went, and I have to say, I’m glad He did!”

God places all kinds of open doors before His people on a daily basis. He can lead us to some very interesting circumstances and adventures.

In the next few weeks, we are going to learn how to recognize “open doors” and how to go through them. Our teacher in this first lesson is Abraham and his wife Sarah. If anyone can teach us about entering open doors, Abraham can.

We see God opening a door to Abraham in our passage from Genesis 12. The book of Genesis begins by describing how God created the world, and it was good. However, in chapter 3, the world absolutely falls apart. In Genesis 12, God begins His plan to put it all back together again. He doesn’t turn away. Instead, He calls a man named Abraham and promises him three things: land, many descendants, make him a blessing to the families of the world.

Something amazing then happened in the story. Abraham went! He walked through the open door God placed before him. He had no strategic outline, no map to follow, no detailed agenda. He didn’t have a clue how God was going to make this happen. He and Sarah just went.

By the way, the entire story of the Bible hinges on the moment when Abraham went. It was not an easy door to pass through. Open doors frequently are not easy. Many of you have probably already learned that along the way. Abraham was leaving behind the familiar – the security of home, all that was comfortable – to follow this God and His plan who promised him great things. He was going into the unknown – a land called Canaan – and there was nothing great about Canaan. Living in Ur and Huran, Abraham was in the center of civilization. He had it made. The place he was headed was uncivilized, foreign, filled with enemies. He would be trading down, so to speak. Canaan was four hundred miles away from home, which was a long, arduous trip for an elderly couple. The land God described to them was already inhabited by the Canaanites, who surely were not going to simply hand it over.

Abraham had to have faced some ridicule as he considered God’s call. When he talked about God’s promise to give him many descendants, which seemed an impossibility, their friends and family must have thought they were off their rockers. He was 75 years old and Sarah was way beyond her childbearing years. What were they thinking – moving so far away to an unknown land? Still they went, trusting this God who had opened the door. They eventually learned they could trust God with everything.

Along the way, they experienced plenty of close calls. As we read Genesis 12 through 21, we find times when Abraham and Sarah were afraid. They fought famine, near death experiences, and some real hair raisers, but God took care of him through it all. It was a long, painful wait for the child. They had to learn patience. Sarah was barren when they started this venture. Ten years passed and still they had no child. Abraham took his doubts to God who said, Just keep trusting. When the child arrived, although it was a miracle, it could not have been an easy thing. What do you think about parenting at the age of 99, which is how old Abraham must have been? It would be very challenging. I am a 65-year-old grandparent, and I love my grand kids. But after five hours of being with them, I’m totally exhausted and ready for bed. How did Abraham and Sarah do it?

Someone might think Abraham was a super godly man, more than qualified to take on this challenge. No, he was not. In fact, if you look ahead to the book of Joshua chapter 24, we learn that Abraham was an idol worshiper when God called him. He was a rookie in his relationship with God and had a lot to learn! He had the faith to go when God called him, but it was a small faith, which faltered frequently along the way. Yet look what came of it!

Even though Abraham didn’t get to see his descendants grow into a great nation, they received the Promised Land – just as God promised – and his family did eventually become a blessing to the families of the world. In Matthew chapter 1, we find the family tree of Jesus, the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of ABRAHAM. The blessing to the nations was Jesus Christ who died on the cross as a sacrifice to pay for humanity’s sinfulness and then rose again in the promise that all who call upon His name shall be saved. A blessing to the world!

The New Testament book of Hebrews chapter 11, sometimes referred to as the “Spiritual Hall of Fame,” actually talks about Abraham’s faith. It inspires us as we consider our own open doors – to not only see those doors, but enter in.

What are some things we learn about God’s open doors from Abraham and Sarah’s experience?

1. Open doors are not usually scripted out for us with specific instructions. God just said, “Go where I lead you.” Abraham and Sarah had to get comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. So will we, for open doors are not always scripted.

2. Open doors are not always easy or convenient or comfortable. You will sometimes feel you are in over your head, as Abraham and Sarah did. There will be moments when you have doubts, wondering what in the world you signed up for. But we must understand that God’s open doors are always for the glory of God and the blessing of others. They are never essentially just for us.

3. They have no special requirements. Abraham was an idol worshiper, as I said. He was an ordinary guy, even elderly when God opened His door to him.

4. Sometimes we learn that these open doors benefit us as well – most often to develop godliness and make us more like Jesus – more loving, patient, kind, full of joy, faith, generosity, and self-control. If we want to experience more of the Spirit of God working these gifts in our lives, we need to train ourselves to look for open doors and respond to moments of divine opportunity.

What open doors has God placed in your life lately? Is there something you sense God might be calling you to? There are all kinds of open doors in life, when you think about it. Maybe you are in transition, changing jobs, or your company has been sold. Perhaps you are considering a career change. This could be an open door. Does God have something new in mind for me? you might ask. Or do I just buckle down where I am and work all the harder.

Maybe you are feeling like you are in a rut. You have a bit of discontent. Could it be God is placing an open door before you to get outside of yourself and take care of someone or step into something new for the cause of God?

Maybe you are retiring and you wonder what’s going to be the next chapter in your life. That’s an open door. What does God have in mind for the rest of my days? We need to ask, because there is no such thing as retirement in the kingdom of God according to Scripture.

Maybe a passion has stirred in you lately. You have observed a great need in this world or in some person’s life and you want to help, make a difference. Perhaps you can get involved personally or financially invest in it. That is an open door!

Perhaps you are in an exciting relationship and thinking about marriage. How do you know this person is the one? Is this is an open door? Will this person come alongside of you to serve God or will they distract you from that relationship?

Perhaps God has placed an opportunity before you to be a blessing in someone else’s life – to serve them, share with them the Hope that is within you, because you have Christ in your life. Maybe you’ve noticed a person who needs a helping hand. Your heart is touched and you are wondering if you should be doing something. That is an open door. The only question is, will you go in?

All these open doors – what will you do? We learned that Abraham went. Have you? Will you? Open doors from God are given to be entered. They invite us to step out in faith – faith in God. Trust Him, turn your life over to His care and leading, and just go.

Remember, as you consider going through these open doors, God is trustworthy. Look at what He went through to make you His own so you could be part of His people. He opened the door of heaven and entered through the back door of Bethlehem. He gave you the opportunity to see Him in the flesh. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The Word was God and became flesh. He gave Him as a sacrifice to open a door closed by sin. Jesus died upon a cross, and God raised Him from death back to life as He rolled away another door, thereby conquering death’s hold on you.

Dear friends, our God is trustworthy. You can count on Him.

The appeal for today is to be an open door person. Look for and be ready to embrace the divine opportunities God will place before you this week. Do you see an open door? Go for it trusting the promises of God. He will lead you, He will be with you, and He will help you as He helped Abraham and Sarah. Believe that He wants to use you to be a blessing in someone’s life. With Him you can do significant, exciting, adventurous things and make a difference in this world.

Be on the lookout. In fact, I’m gonna give you a homework assignment to help you start seeing open doors. I encourage you to do this exercise and then dare to take a step of faith when you see doors. Are you ready? Here it is.

Pick a day this week to experiment with openness. Shortly after you wake up, talk with God, indicate your desire to be open to whatever He brings your way that day, whatever that means. Then, as you go through the day – breakfast, work, lunch, family time, a trip to the store, hanging with friends – keep this in mind: you are being open. You are on call. You don’t need to plan to do anything religious, just be open to what God might bring in your direction.

This might mean paying attention to the people around you, noticing what needs they have. How can you show them the love of Christ?

It might mean taking some extra time with a friend or a family member who needs to talk. It might mean enjoying a sunset or a great piece of music. Or God might throw a challenge your way. Will you face it openly, trusting in His help?

O people of God, do this and let the adventures began. I dare you! Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer