Jesus, Soul Doctor

Isaiah 9:6-7

When a doctor tells a young woman she is going to have a baby, it stirs a mixture of emotions – joy and shock. Perhaps the timing is unexpected. Maybe dad and mom feel inadequate or overwhelmed by the magnitude of a life that’s now growing within the woman’s womb. I once had an expectant mother say to me, “The human gestation period is too short for me to be ready for this baby!” Pregnancy stirs joy, hopes, dreams of heart as we wonder about the potential of life and the personality this child will have. The moment a child is on his way, and especially when the child is born, life is changed forever for the family. Perhaps it is changed in even broader circles than that!

When the prophet Isaiah, 700 years before Jesus was born, said, “A child is to be born whose name will be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” that promise fulfilled sets the heart to hoping and dreaming.

We live in wonder as we unpack the truth that God sent Jesus, His Son, to be incarnate into the human experience and to be our Savior. We might be wonder filled at Jesus’s origin. Just as a girl in a Disney movie sings, “Someday my prince will come,” believers in Old Testament homes sang, “someday Messiah will come” after centuries of suffering darkness and oppression from military entities in neighboring kingdoms. They may have experienced periods of despair as God’s people were unfaithful and wandered far from God. During one period, the word of God was lost in the temple. When the King Josiah discovered it, he implemented all kinds of spiritual reform for the nation.

A remnant prayed all through the centuries for Messiah to come. Isaiah says, Jesus will be born, and His name will be Wonderful Counselor. The Messiah, the King, literally translates, The Anointed One. Each time a king was crowned in Israel, the people would ask, is this the One? Is this the One who will usher in God’s will in a way that our life experience will be permanently altered according to the promise of Shalom?

Isaiah 7:14, says, “This will be a sign: a virgin will conceive a child.” So when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and said, A child will be born, and you, a virgin will conceive, the Holy Spirit came upon Mary. And when a sky full of angels, glorious and radiant, appeared to shepherds out in the hillside, they proclaimed the arrival of this Messiah. “Good news of great joy, for to you is born a Savior” (Luke 2:10).

Do you ever hear this news, even as we celebrate Christmas, and think, I wonder what God is up to in the twenty-first century? Do we still wait and hope for God to bring things into harmony with Himself? To bring peace on earth? The birth of Jesus and the story accompanying Him is incomprehensible, full of wonder beyond our understanding. Part of the wonder is that Jesus embodies God coming down to where we are to be with us as we are. The birth of the Son of God is Immanuel, God forever with us. The infinite takes on the finite so He might redeem us. The Creator comes to dwell among His created people. The One without limits willingly takes on self-imposed limits in order to make Himself accessible to us.

Soon after Jesus finished His mission by dying on the cross, being raised from the dead, and ascending into heaven, God sent the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Counselor, who comes alongside us to help. Now God is not only with us, but He is also within us. Jesus comes down to where we are and even deeper. He comes within us to restore and heal all that is broken.

God sends Jesus down to where we are; He does not wait for people to come to Him. He never turns us away. Instead, Jesus seeks us where we are – out in the streets, at weddings, at house parties, by a lakeside, on a mountain, in the wilderness, in our darkness where, like He asked Adam, He also asks us, “Where are you, child?”

People in the life of Jesus were amazed and wonder filled with His teaching. How could an uneducated son of a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth know all the things that Jesus taught? The Scripture says they were amazed at His teaching! Like one with authority, Jesus taught us that the all-powerful God is actually our Father, our Abba.

Jesus taught us about the reign of God ushering in His kingdom. He used parables to help us picture what it might be like. It was counterintuitive, an upside-down vision of what ultimately has value. In the Beatitudes, Jesus redefined blessing saying,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .
Blessed are the meek . . .
Blessed are those who mourn . . .
Blessed are the gentle and the merciful . . .
Blessed are the pure in heart . . .
Blessed are the peacemakers . . .”

Jesus taught us that we should love our enemies and rejoice if the world hates us, for so it also hated Him.

Jesus was wonder filled because of His power. Crowds of people thronged around Him everywhere He went, on the edge of their expectation: I wonder what’s going to happen next!

He did miracles where He commanded creation. He spoke to storms, the wind, and the waves, and they calmed down like a dog coming to heel. Jesus showed flashes of His cloaked identity as He changed water into wine or multiplied fish and a few small loaves so a multitude ate and were satisfied. Jesus healed the sick. More than that, He restored and recreated those who were born with physical deformities. He sent demons back to hell, and He raised the dead back to life. People were wonder filled at Jesus’ power.

Perhaps most amazing and wonderful of all, however, is the law of Jesus that universally includes all people, every one willing to believe in His name. Jesus loves the irreligious, the rebels, and the sinners. Jesus loves the rejected and the unwanted, the people on the margins, those whose lives are broken. Jesus loves us individually; He looks into our soul and tells us, You are precious and important to me. So we say with the apostle Paul, “(Nothing) will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39). How wonderful!

We have another piece to His name in Isaiah 9 this day. He is a wonderful counselor. He holds wisdom like King Solomon. “His counsel is wonderful, his wisdom is excellent” (Isaiah 28:29). Jesus knows what is in each person’s heart (John 2:25b). In Him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). “He (Jesus) is our great high priest who is able to sympathize with all our weaknesses, we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus can resonate with our humanness, yet He is perfect to show us the way.

Jesus is the counselor who is our confidant. He listens to our problems, speaks the truth without judgment. We have no need to hide our dark stuff from Him. Tell it to Him so He can lift your shame and guilt away. His love is so deep, it is beyond our ability to comprehend.

Jesus, our wonderful counselor, is ultimately the doctor of our soul. He restores our inner health and reconciles us to God.

Max Lucado, in his book, In the Grip of Grace, writes, “In Romans six it says, ‘When people sin, they earn what sin pays – death.’ Sin does to a life what sheers do to a flower. A cut at the stem separates a flower from its source of life. Initially, the flower is attractive, still colorful and strong, but watch that flower over a period of time and the leaves will wilt and the petals will drop. No matter what you do, the flower will never live again. Surround it with water, stick the stem into soil, baptize it with fertilizer, glue the flower back on the stem. Do what you wish, the flower is dead.

“A dead soul has no life. Cut it off from God, and the soul withers and dies. The consequence of sin is not just a bad day or a bad mood, but a dead soul. The sign of a dead soul is clear – poisoned lips and cursing mouth, feet that lead to violence and eyes that don’t see God. The finished work of sin is to kill the soul,” so writes Lucado.

Jesus came to be our soul doctor – to heal our sin-sick soul and rejoin us into a relationship with God as the living one. God sent Jesus as our wonderful counselor, the doctor of our souls.

Do you remember how Jesus, the Lord of the universe, stood before the blind man, Bartimaeus, a man who’d been pushed to the peripheries, who had no value, sitting in the dirt? Jesus asked, “What would you like me to do for you?” (Mark 10:46-52).

Jesus came to the woman at the well knowing her deep thirst. He also knew the complexities of her broken life, the stories of men who had used her and then rejected her. Jesus knew she was beaten down by shame and sin. She had been rejected and discarded. Jesus spoke truth, but also poured grace and love into her as well. He became for her the living water, and He healed her life with His love. (John 4:4:5-26).

Jesus came to the woman caught in adultery. He knew her circumstances as well and never excused her sin or her responsibility. Jesus did not reject her or condemn her. (John 8:1-11).

Jesus stood outside the tomb of Lazarus and wept with grief and frustration at the deadness of life in this world. “Lazarus, come out!” He said. The dead man heard His voice and came out of the tomb. (John 11:43-44).

Jesus is our soul doctor. He goes deep into people’s hearts to heal and forgive, to love and transform. He is the One who was born as our Savior. We rejoice in His birth as our Savior, the soul doctor, the Wonderful Counselor.

Where do you need Jesus, the soul doctor, to heal your life today? I encourage you to bring your brokenness to Him and ask Him to heal you in His love. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

Ready or Not, Here I Come: Present Yourself Available

Luke 1:26-36

Jesus once told a story to His disciples about a master who left his servants in charge of his house. Each had his own work and commands until the master’s return. They were to stay awake lest he come home and find them asleep. Jesus said, I want you to consider yourselves to be like those servants while you wait for my return, because the Son of Man is coming again.

The question for us is, What should God’s children, His servants, be doing as we wait for the return of Jesus? This is what we have been discussing these last couple of weeks. The answer from our story today is inspired by Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Throughout the centuries, Christians have wondered what to do with Mary. After all, she was the mother of Jesus, so she has some special status, right? She has been revered and venerated – even prayed to – in the Catholic Church. However, in the Protestant tradition, she has been somewhat passed over. Yet something helpful and important can be learned from Mary and her experiences with God, as we see in today’s text.

Mary was a teenager living in the village of Nazareth without any authority or power to call her own. She was betrothed to a man named Joseph, who was descended from the house of David. From this story we learn she was a virgin and an ordinary girl who was tapped on the shoulder to do something extraordinary for God.

The angel Gabriel’s announcement to her was, “Hail, oh favored one of God. The Lord is with you!” Favored means, grace. Gabriel was basically saying, God is showing you some grace, Mary. You are favored. You are graced by God.

He went on to say, “You shall bear a son and shall name Him Jesus. He will be called great, Son of the Most High. The Lord will give him David’s throne,” just as He had promised King David back in the Old Testament days. What’s interesting here is Mary’s response.

First, she asked a question inquiring how this could happen. “How can this be since I am a virgin? (I have had no sexual relations with a man.)” The angel went on to explain that the child would be conceived by the power the Holy Spirit. This would be a virgin birth, because nothing is impossible for God.

After hearing his answer, she responded with this marvelous statement that has been revered over time: “Here am I, a servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your Word.”

Mary was presenting herself as available for service to the Lord, not sure where this would take her in life. It was like handing a blank check over with her signature saying, Go ahead. Use my womb. Use my life to be a parent to this Savior. And God did use her for His purposes.

By the way, this was no short-term mission trip. It was a mission to last a lifetime. It would be difficult. Mary became pregnant and had to experience condemning looks and rumors amongst her fellow villagers of Nazareth, as well as the sadness and hurt in Joseph’s face when he heard of the pregnancy. And what about her parents? What kind of disappointed looks did she receive from them?

Mary gave birth in the most inconvenient and uncomfortable of circumstances. She ended up having to fear for His life and hers after His birth by the hand of King Herod. They were forced to run for refuge in order to escape the slaughter of the infants, which Herod ordered to get rid of Jesus. They lived as refugees in a foreign land.

She raised Him and took care of Him. That was no easy task either. She worried about Him as parents do. We even read of her experiencing the great anxiety of losing track of Him as a twelve-year-old in the city of Jerusalem. We know she went through the heartbreak of watching Him leave home to do ministry. She worried and perhaps was embarrassed as she heard people question His sanity. She herself may have wondered about Him a bit.

Then, of course, there was the horror and despair she faced on Good Friday as she watched her beloved Son beaten and humiliated, and then nailed to a cross. There was the grief she felt on Friday evening and Saturday as she remembered the words of the priest Simeon, “A sword shall pierce your own heart, Mary.”

Have you ever wondered if she felt it was all worth it?

She must have had great joy in her heart when she heard the surprising news of His resurrection. He’s alive again! Praise God from whom all blessings flow. It’s a new day! I’m going to see my boy again! How exciting to see this movement take off that first Pentecost as she experienced the power of the Holy Spirit with many others who were waiting in the Upper Room.

Did the song she sang right after the angel’s announcement play in her head after the resurrection: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the loneliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;, for the Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is his name. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever” (Luke 1:46-55).

She felt the pain. She experienced the grief and the inconvenience of it all. Yet I believe in my heart of hearts, Mary would say, Yes! It was all worth it! I truly do see that I was favored. I was given God’s grace when He gave me the privilege of serving Him with my life as the mother of Jesus. It was a privilege, and I would do it all over again!

Back to my original question – What are we to be doing while we wait for Jesus to return? Mary is our example today. The answer is, We present ourselves available for service to God, who presented Himself available to serve us through the first arrival of His Son Jesus.

What about you? As you carefully examine your life, would you say you, like Mary, have presented yourself available for service to Him in grateful response for all He has done for you? After all, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are a beneficiary of His service to you at the cross. He emptied Himself for you when He entered the world that first Christmas and became man. He went to the cross to pay for your sins. He is your servant King. It is He who said, “I came not to be served but to serve,” as He washed the disciples’ feet in an upper room before His crucifixion and instructed them to follow His example and wash other’s feet. Life in God’s kingdom is about serving others in His name. It is part of God’s overall redemptive plan for those He has favored, and He invites us to join Him in serving others.

Have you presented yourself on call for His bidding? Have you discovered, like Mary, that although serving God’s purposes in not always easy, it is a privilege and a joy? It is grace, and it’s worth it.

It is important to ask ourselves these questions because it’s so easy, as followers of Jesus Christ, to get mixed up and lose our way. We live in a day when people bounce from one church to the next asking the consumer question, What will you do for me? The question God longs to hear His people ask is, What can I do to advance God’s cause in the world through this church and other venues as well? Have you committed yourself to being the Lord’s “yes” woman or “yes” man, to say Use me. Have you committed yourself to be a “yes” person in the church? Have you committed yourself to do His bidding, to be available for ministry in His world, like . . .
• Sharon and Dave who work with the children’s ministry so kids can grow up with the best chance of connecting with Jesus and following Him?
• Ralph, a retiree, who still works with youth ministry alongside of parents to bring up young people to know Christ?
• Julie who has taken on the responsibility of leading a women’s Bible study group?
• Duey who leads a men’s group and made the commitment to study, prepare, and pray for the people they are leading?
• Dick who gives 20% away to support the ministry of our church reasoning, The Lord has blessed me so! I trust Him. I love Him. How can I do anything less?
• Brian, a busy dentist, who makes time to mentor young adult men in their walk with Jesus Christ within our church?
• Ingrid who uses her cooking skills to serve meals for adults taking a course on the basics of the Christian faith on Thursday nights?
• Deb who faithfully goes to the food lines, preparing meals and serving them in downtown St. Paul?
• Heidi who sends cards and notes to those who have lost loved ones letting them know they are not forgotten, but are being remembered in prayer?
• Kathy and Carol who make quilts for Lutheran World Relief and pay for them out of their own pockets?
• Keith who uses his carpentry skills for Habitat for Humanity?
• Elaine who serves food on the midway to those who are hungry?
• Dave and Claudia who work a food pantry among the low income?
• Rick who does dentistry in Honduras?
• Dick who works with the Gideons by handing out Bibles and sharing the Gospel in other parts of the world?
• Deb who runs the Teens that Serve meals?
• Larry and Pam who volunteer with the Union Gospel Mission serving homeless men and women?
• Phyllis and Hans who visit and serve in nursing home ministry?
• Carrie who sees her home as a lighthouse in her neighborhood, where kids can visit and experience God’s love and hospitality?

Opportunities for service abound. I have barely scratched the surface.

There is a world around us in need of people who, like Mary, are dedicated to being God’s “yes” people – always ready for service, to love others into a saving relationship with Christ Jesus, the servant King. Jesus once commented to His disciples, rather sadly, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Each of us is a missionary on call. If you are in a relationship with Jesus Christ, you are a missionary right where God has you. You don’t have to travel to other parts of the world. God has placed you in a mission right where you live. Look around! The fields are white, and God can use ordinary people, like those in our story today, to do extraordinary things for His glory and His honor.

This is the appeal from God’s Word today to you. Present yourself available to Him for service starting right now. Tell God, Here I am, Lord. I am your servant. Saved by the servant King Himself, Jesus Christ. Saved for serving His purposes in this world. Reporting for duty, Father. Use me. Help me to see the people around me whom I can serve in Your name.

I promise you this: when God hears you offer yourself in this way, He will gladly honor your request. Present yourself available for God’s service. This is our message today. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Ready or Not, Here I Come: Proclaim!

Luke 3:1-6

As children, many of us played a game called, “Hide and Seek.” Whoever was “it” would count to a certain number while others would hide. When the count was done, he or she would proclaim, “Ready or not! Here I come!” It was now time to seek.

The season of Advent reminds me a bit of this game. As we approach Christmas, Advent serves as a countdown to once again preface for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. I just bought my grandson, Henry, an Advent calendar with stickers to count the days before the birthday of Jesus. Some families will do daily Advent devotions with an Advent wreath as a countdown to the great celebration of the birth of the Christ Child.

When you think about it, the Christ Child’s arrival ended the countdown. The countdown for a Savior (from God’s Old Testament promises), was fulfilled with His coming at Christmas. God basically was announcing, Ready or not; Here I come! The apostle Paul, describing Christmas in one of his letters, wrote, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son . . .” (Gal. 4:4).

Like the game of hide and seek, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, arrived in the flesh to seek us out. Jesus told His disciples, “I came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He not only came to show us what God is like, but to also carry out a rescue mission. Jesus would go to the cross for the sins of you and me. He would rise victoriously from the grave so we might have eternal life and be saved. Jesus’ coming was a heavenly invasion to conquer the power of sin and death and the devil.

This is the good news we gratefully think about in these Advent days before Christmas. But there is so much more for us to consider as we observe Advent.

Advent brings to remembrance the fact that Christ is coming again. We need to constantly be ready for His arrival. The One who arrived as a baby will arrive again in glory and power. We live in the in-between times. A theologian once wrote, “The Christian is always living between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet.’ He or she is one for whom something has already happened and for whom something still has to happen.” We are people in waiting.

As Christians, we confidently wait to see Christ coming again in power and glory to establish a new heaven and a new earth where people love God with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love one another as themselves. Where there is no more sin, no more pain, no more mourning, no more death, no more suffering. Only living in the light of God’s love, which was God’s original intention when He created this world. This is what lies ahead.

We know this to be true, because Jesus told His disciples – and even His opposition – these things. At His trial, He told them “the Son of Man will come again in power to rule over all” (Matt. 16:27).

An important question for us to be asking is What do we do in the meantime while we wait upon the Lord? This is what we began exploring last in Sunday’s message entitled, Watch and Pray. We will continue to explore the question for the next two Sundays.

As we again turn to Scripture for guidance, today’s reading about John the Baptist’s ministry has a vital word of instruction for us. The word is PROCLAIM. John’s job was to prepare people for Jesus, who was coming, by proclaiming the Good News of a rescue about to happen. All flesh will soon see the salvation of God, just as the prophet Isaiah had spoken of in the Old Testament. Central to John’s proclamation was a call to repentance, a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

In calling for repentance, John pointed out that we need a Savior. We are not okay with God. We are in need of forgiveness and cleansing. We are sinful and unworthy to have a relationship with the God who created us. We are rebels in His sight with our thoughts, our words, and our actions. We have made a mess of things and are unable to make things right in order to save ourselves and restore a relationship with God.

Through the years, human beings have tried all kinds of ways to deal with our sinfulness.
• We rationalize it. I had a good reason to do this or that.
• We minimize it. It’s really no big deal; everybody tells a little white lie once in a while.
• We project the guilt. It really isn’t my fault. It’s the way my parents raised me.
• We deny it altogether. I really didn’t do anything wrong. Why should I feel guilty about it?
• We anesthesize it with alcohol, drugs, and pleasures of this world.
• We try to pay for our sins on our own by doing good things to get right with God.

However, all these efforts to take care of our sinfulness fall short. They just don’t work. We come up empty and miserable. John’s preaching reminds us that God is holy and just. He cannot and will not ignore our sinfulness. Sin does not go on punished. There are consequences, and the consequence for sin is judgment, separation from God for eternity.

When we come to the realization that we’re sinful and God is holy and just, we ask, Then who can rescue me from this body of death? John answers us: God will. REPENT!

To repent is to be sorry for, confess, and move away from the old ways of living. It means to return to God. Change your mind and direction, and surrender life to God. Tell Him you have made a mess of your life, and you need Him to take over.

John says his baptism in the Jordan River would be a sign of repentance. John’s baptism was a symbol of purification, cleansing back in those days. A pastor was only used for the cleansing of Gentiles who wished to enter the Jewish faith but needed to be purified. Yet John was saying everybody needs purification. Everybody needs to repent.

What awaits those who repent?
The forgiveness of sins, which is given us by God who sacrificed His right to get even.

How does He cancel our debt?
Through His Son, Jesus Christ.

John the Baptist went on to say, “There is one who is coming whose sandals I’m not worthy to untie. I baptize you with water. He will change your life and baptize you with fire and the Holy Spirit.” Forgiveness, purification.

Later on, he would say as he pointed to Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

By the way, this command of John to repent and be baptized is an important phrase, Jesus used it in His ministry as well. We especially see it in His commission to His disciples after the resurrection, with one exception – He added to it. They were to proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name to the nations of the world. This is why, on the day of Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus, Peter proclaimed, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ so your sins will be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Forgiveness of sins comes through Jesus Christ, the perfect sacrifice for humanity’s sin. It is offered to all people to receive through faith.

So there you have it! John’s job before Jesus’ first arrival was to prepare the way by proclaiming the news of God’s rescue mission through Jesus. That, my dear friends, is the job given to each of us as Christ followers as we live out our days waiting for His return arrival in power and glory. We are called to be proclaimers, to tell others about Jesus’ first arrival in order to prepare them for His next arrival. Jesus Himself said, “You shall be my witnesses from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and the ends of the earth.” He clearly stated, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” He commissioned on the mountaintop, “Go, make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit teaching them to obey all I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19).

This is the Church’s purpose in this world – to proclaim the Good News of forgiveness through Jesus Christ our Lord! It is also why this broadcast called Christian Crusaders exists! We are here to proclaim the forgiveness of sins through Christ. It is the responsibility of the individual Christian as well. We are to be proclaimers, to help people see not only their need for forgiveness, but the solution for it – turn to Christ.

The whole world is full of people whom God loves and need Jesus. God is counting on you and me to proclaim the Good News of salvation to them.

When you think about it, believers in Christ have already experienced the blessing of a John-the-Baptist type of person pointing them to the rescuer, Jesus Christ. Someone who showed them their need for forgiveness and pointed them to the solution, Jesus. Perhaps you had faithful parents who brought you to baptism and then raised you up in the covenant of your baptism, brought you to worship and Sunday school, youth groups, confirmation, taught you the importance of prayer, and modeled what it looks like to be a faithful follower of Jesus. Faithful parents who helped their children understand the basic doctrines of the faith. Maybe you were connected to faithful pastors, Sunday school teachers, or youth workers who patiently and lovingly brought the gospel message message of Christ’s death and resurrection for salvation to you and encouraged you to place your trust in Jesus.

Many of us have friends, relatives, and spouses who have played the role of John the Baptist in our lives proclaiming our need for a Savior and pointing us to Jesus. I invite you to take a moment and think about all the people God has used in your life who He empowered to bring you faith. You didn’t come to Jesus Christ on your own. You have people in your life who told you about Him, pointed out your need for Him, and called you to faith in Him. It might be a good idea to write a card during this Advent to thank someone for playing the role of John the Baptist in your life and pointing you in the right direction.

Today’s main teaching for those of us who are wondering what we do while we wait for the arrival of Jesus is simply this: Proclaim Christ. Just as someone did for you, go and do likewise. As the Word of God came to John the Baptist in the wilderness commissioning him to proclaim God’s message to all the people, today it is coming to you. Consider yourself called by the Word of God today to proclaim the Gospel until Christ comes again or until we breathe our last breath in this old world of ours.

I know some people shudder at the thought of proclaiming. How do I fulfill the Great Commission to proclaim the Good News? Will anybody listen? Will I be rejected? Jesus’ disciples had three years of training and learning, so why wouldn’t we, His disciples, also learn and train to get good at the art of Christian conversation? To be able to listen, ask good questions, and be familiar with what the Good News really is about: sin, grace, forgiveness, and faith.

I have found training classes to be very helpful for people in my own congregation. Classes such as Evangelism Explosion, Becoming a Contagious Christian, Irresistible Evangelism can be quite effective. Ask your pastor to train you. It will make their day because our main job is to quip the saints.

“Living Like a Missionary” by Jeff Iorg is a good book I have read and taught. I would recommend it to those who take this calling of God upon their life seriously.

And then pray! Pray for opportunities for God to use you. I know from personal experience that God loves to open doors for people like you and me who ask for the opportunity to be proclaimers.

You can do this! You can confidently proclaim and boldly trust in the promise Jesus gives: “I’m with you always you” (Matt. 28:20). As a believer, you have the Holy Spirit’s power working in you, with you, and through you as you proclaim. In fact, you can consider yourself armed and dangerous!

God is counting on you to be a John the Baptist in someone else’s life. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Ready or Not, Here I Come: Watch and Pray

Luke 21:25-36

This is a time of year when people say to one another,
“Are you ready? It’s coming.”
“Ready or not, here it comes.”
“Christmas is just around the corner.”

We talk about Christmas countdowns. We go to the stores, and we listen to Christmas carols. The Christian Church, however, traditionally calls this time of year the season of Advent, which means so much more than simply a warmup for Christmas Day. It is a time to remember that Christ has come, He is coming again, and we must be prepared for Him. The One who came quietly and humbly in the little backward town of Bethlehem will arrive again in glory and power and majesty one day. The One who humbly rode a donkey into Jerusalem and was hailed as a King on Palm Sunday will appear to us on a cloud.

The first advent was the birth of Christ. It will be followed by another advent – the reappearing of Christ. Where do we get this notion? Jesus told us so. As you examine the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you find Jesus freely spoke in the parables about His second coming. In the Apostles’ Creed, we say we believe He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Some people feel a little uneasy when it comes to the subject of the second coming of Jesus. I am here to assure you, this need not be the case. For the Christian, it is very good news and should not frighten us. Instead, it is our confidence as followers of Christ. We have the big picture before us. History is not a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Followers of Jesus Christ know better than that. We know history is, in a very real sense, HIS STORY. All of history is headed toward a grand finale. Christ says, The world is mine. I have final word over it all.
• I am the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 22:13).
• All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (Matt. 28:18).
• Heaven and earth may pass away but my word endures forever (Matt. 24:35).

This is really good news!

The world, oftentimes, appears to be hopeless, dark, scary, and totally out-of-control. However, the second coming of Jesus reminds us, He has got this. We don’t need to worry. In fact, Jesus is reassuring His disciples of this when He describes the second coming.

While some are uneasy about the second coming, others go completely in another direction and obsess on trying to figure out when it will happen. They spend a lifetime conjecturing and speculating on it, to end up disappointed and looking rather foolish, as we’ve seen in past history. I am acquainted with people who are great end-times enthusiasts. A friend of mine said recently, “I am fascinated by the end times. I love to try to figure out when it’s going to happen.” It is a hobby in his Christian faith. We must remember, though, that Jesus said it will happen unexpectedly, suddenly like a thief in the night. He seems to be telling us that we are not to be simply sitting around, speculating about His return while we wait.

In our passage for today from Luke, Jesus is teaching His disciples about His second advent. He doesn’t tell us when He’s coming, He just assures us that it will happen and what it will be like. The stars will fall from the sky, the sun will refuse to shine, and the moon will turn to blood. He uses Old Testament prophetic language like in the book of Joel. There will be havoc, chaos on the earth, distress among nations, a roaring of the sea and the waves. There will be great fear and trembling – people fainting with fear and foreboding. Then the powers of the heavens will be shaken. The sky will be in havoc.

“Then they will see ‘the Son of Man’ coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” The Son of Man is used in the book of Daniel to describe a messianic figure from God who will come in power someday for His people. It was one of Jesus’ favorite titles to describe Himself. Jesus is a power figure, a deliverer. “Then they will see ‘the deliverer coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.

“When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads.” This is a posture of hope and confidence.

“For your redemption is drawing near.” Redemption! It will be a great day! Christ’s return appearance is the Christian follower’s hope and confidence. Help has arrived! Redemption of the body will take place. Paul describes it:
Our spirits groan for the completion of His saving work: perfect, resurrected bodies (Rom. 8:23).

Jesus also talked about the redemption of the body,
“. . . I will come again and take you to myself that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3b).

Christ’s return will bring about a final deliverance, a final redemption. The book of Revelation says there’ll be a new heaven and a new earth. It will be perfect in every way, just as God intended in the beginning, in the garden of Eden – people loving God and loving one another. “The second coming of Christ will be so revolutionary that it will change every aspect of life on this planet. Christ will reign in righteousness. Disease will be arrested. Death will be modified. War will be abolished. Nature will be changed. Man will live as it was originally intended he should live.” – Billy Graham.

This is our grand vision as we live each day as followers of Jesus, serving Him and telling others about Him. When it appears the world is falling apart and out-of-control, we have this good news that Christ will make a second appearance, and all will be well. As Billy Graham once remarked, “I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right.”

It’s like a story about a man who saw some young boys playing baseball out on the field. He yelled over to the right fielder, “What’s the score?” The young boy said, “Seventeen to nothing!” The man replied, “It doesn’t look very good for you, does it?” The boy just smiled and said, “We ain’t been up to bat yet.”

My friends, joy awaits us. Unimaginable joy. Heavenly joy like we have never experienced on this planet! We will be with Him, and every knee will bow and every tongue confess in heaven and on earth and under the earth that Jesus Christ is Lord. Jesus tells us in his teaching today, Now in the meantime, be ready. Always be ready for that great day. He offers directions for His disciples to follow while we wait for the day of His reappearing. They don’t involve just sitting around and waiting. We are to be engaged in active, positive, healthy kingdom activity. Obedience, holiness, witness, and service in His name.

As Jesus sits down with His disciples and tells them all these things, I can’t help but be reminded of a parent giving a bit of caution and warning to his young teens for their first night alone at home. Knowing how much trouble they can get themselves into, they need some instruction. I remember my parents giving me those kinds of instructions when they would go away. He is basically telling them, This is what you are to do with yourselves.

It is important to note that Jesus is speaking to the disciple of Jesus Christ who has placed their trust in Him. I would be remiss to not ask you at this time, Have you done that? Have you come to a place in your spiritual life where you know for certain if Jesus came tonight, or you died tonight, you would be with Him forever?

Earlier I stated that the second coming of Christ is good news for the follower of Christ. It is our hope and confidence. However, this is not the case for those who stand outside of a relationship with Christ. It will not be good news for them, for Jesus is coming to judge the living and the dead. In the Christian faith, we do not believe in universalism (everyone is saved, no matter what).

Today is a day to ask Jesus Christ into your life, if you haven’t already done it. Surrender yourself to His care. Place your trust in Him and what He has done for you. He loves you! He died for you on the cross to pay for your sins. He rose from the dead, the first fruits of the resurrection so you can have a resurrected, eternal life with Him, and a restored relationship with your heavenly Father. Ask Him into your heart today. Now is the time!

For those of you listening today who already follow Jesus, you have placed your trust in Him, and receive forgiveness and grace in His promises, Jesus instructs you to watch yourselves. It is important to remain faithful, run a good race of faith, so you will be able to say, like Paul at the end of his life, “I fought the good fight. I have run the good race.” Do not be distracted, off on rabbit trails gradually getting yourself further and further away from Him. Jesus tells us to, “Watch yourselves.”

“Be on guard so your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation . . .” Dissipation is a word for wasted living or drunkenness, carousing, totally taken up with the cares of this world, of this life, as if this is the only life there is. It so easy, isn’t it, to make idols out of good things like family or finances or prestige, to lose sight of the big picture and walk away from Christ, to be unfaithful to Christ and His kingdom. Jesus says, “Watch yourselves!” Keep your eye on the ball. Focus on me. I am coming again!

Gordon MacDonald shares the following old story: “In ancient days when the King of Siam had an enemy he wanted to torment and destroy, he would send the enemy a unique gift – a white elephant, a live, albino elephant. These animals were considered to be sacred in the culture of the day. So the recipient of the elephant had no choice but to intentionally care for the gift. This elephant would take an inordinate amount of the enemy’s time, resources, energy, emotions, and finances. Over time the enemy would destroy himself because of the extremely burdensome process of caring for the gift.”

Our spiritual enemy uses the same strategy on us.
• Let’s say you buy season tickets to watch your favorite sports team. Because you still have a lot of games to go to, you no longer have time to serve in some area of ministry or to worship.
• Or perhaps you buy a summer cottage. Now you miss weekend worship services between the beginning of May and the end of September.
• Let’s say you buy a health club membership to get in shape. You used to get up early in the morning to read your Bible and pray, but now you don’t have time because you’re working out before work.
• Perhaps you buy a spot for one of your kids in a traveling sports team. Now you are too busy to join the community impact ministry of serving the poor.

What are the white elephants in your life? Do you spend money on things, which take your time away from God? Money isn’t the problem. The activities aren’t necessarily the problem. The problem is a white elephant gift has pulled you away from Christ-honoring pursuits. Watch yourselves!

Jesus then gives further instructions: Stay awake at all times! Be spiritually alert so you might overcome these temptations that destroy one’s faith.

By the way, remember this: Satan is prowling around seeking to destroy our faith and our lives. He is seeking to devour us, and he loves to use temptations like this. We need to keep our eyes wide open. Jesus tells us the best way to stay awake is by praying.

He once told a parable to encourage His disciples to keep praying. It was a story about a widow who kept after an unfeeling, unjust judge for justice until he gave in to her nagging. Jesus pointed out that when you approach God in prayer, He’s just the opposite of the judge who had to be nagged. He wants you to talk to him.

Then Jesus remarks, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” It was His way of saying, Keep praying. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, beginning with me.

Jesus counted on prayer for vigilance, strength, and focus. He wants His disciples to do the same and lean heavily on daily prayer.

This is our good news of Advent. Christ has come. He is coming again. He is coming to take over once and for all. He loves you. He who died and rose for you has the final word over you, and nothing can snatch you from His hand or separate you from His love. Trusting in Christ, you belong to Him forever and ever. This is your hope, your confidence. Your future is bright.

Today, though, I appeal to you to recommit yourself this Advent season to trusting Jesus in all this. Use your days to further His kingdom’s cause by witnessing and serving in His name. Pray constantly for His kingdom to come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Live out the rest of your days to hear Him say to you when you see Him face-to-face at the end, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

All the Places to Go: Living With Closed Doors

Luke 22:39-44

Have you ever had a door slammed in your face or stood at a closed door that no one would answer? I imagine most of us have literally experienced something like this.

We can also, however, experience closed doors in a figurative sense. Perhaps an opportunity presented itself that looked so right and promising, but didn’t work out. We say the door closed. Or a relationship with a special person, who you thought God had chosen for you, breaks up. The door slammed in your face.

Perhaps you found a job you felt would be a perfect fit, or you felt especially qualified for a spot on an athletic team, but you don’t get the position. They wouldn’t even let me in the door! Those closed-door experiences can be quite painful, even depressing and maddening.

Sometimes heaven’s door seems to stay closed on us or we feel like it’s been slammed in our face. You are praying for something to happen but it doesn’t happen. You are doing the right thing – perhaps it is even for the kingdom of God – but it just peters out and dies. It can be painful and frustrating, especially when we’re so sure we were right. People can become very disappointed, depressed, even angry with God and cry out with the psalmist,
“How long, O Lord, will you forget me?”
Or, Why, Lord? 
Or even, Why not, Lord?

The truth is, sometimes God allows us to go through His open doors, His divine opportunities, as we’ve discussed the first few weeks of this series. But sometimes God says no, which is a difficult word for us to swallow. It can cause us to throw a good, old tantrum before God, like a child in the store being denied a bag of candy at the checkout line or a certain toy dad or mom is denying them.

If you are encountering one of those closed-door experiences in your life, I’m really sorry. I know they’re not fun. I know from personal experience and from walking alongside a lot of people as their pastor. But, when we run into these and attempt to regroup from the experience, some things need to be considered from God’s Word.

First, God sometimes closes the door because something better is ahead that we don’t know about. I think of examples in Scripture: Paul and Silas in the book of Acts. They wanted to go to Asian and Bithnia, but the door to go was shut. Instead, a door opened for them to Macedonia where they established some of their best churches, the Philippian and the Thessalonica churches.

I am reminded of our first attempt at relocation as a congregation. We had run out of space in our old building and were growing big. We had no more space on which to build. I was so certain we were to move to a certain acreage I had found. I had it all picked out, and I was sure God was with me on this one. I even convinced my board this was the way to go. What I discovered painfully was I was wearing blinders. We were not ready as a congregation. God closed the door. It was painful, and I was angry. But two years later, in God’s good time, we were a united church again and were ready when a beautiful piece of land came up for sale at a bargain-basement price right off of the freeway. We relocated there, and God blessed us with growth beyond what we had ever imagined for ourselves. Looking back on that experience, I learned God knew something better lay ahead for us.

A humorous story: Pastor Tim Keller shares with us from his early 20s. He said, “I prayed for an entire year about a girl I was dating and wanted to marry, but she wanted out of the relationship. All year I prayed, ‘Lord, don’t let her breakup with me.’ (Of course, in hindsight it was the wrong girl.) I actually did what I could to help God with the prayer. One summer near the end of the relationship, I got in a location that made it easier to see her. I was saying, Lord I’m making this as easy as possible for you. I’ve asked you for this and I’ve even taken the geographical distance away.

But as I look back now, God was saying, Son, when a child of mine makes a request, I always give them what they would have asked if they knew everything I know.

Sometimes God closes the door because you’re knocking on the wrong one. We want the wrong thing. It’s not a wise choice. Or maybe we’re selfishly or sinfully motivated, and God is protecting us from ourselves. Remember when the disciples James and John came to Jesus asking for top positions when He came into power? He said, no. He knew they were selfishly motivated.

I think of Elijah, Moses, and Jeremiah crying out to God, “Take my life. I want to die!” I’m sure that, looking back, they thanked God He didn’t answer their prayer, because it was the wrong thing to ask for.

Have you ever stopped to think what would happen if God answered every prayer with a yes? What a mess our world would be in! Humorously, ball games would always end in ties, and how frustrating would that be! O, thank God for closed doors.

Sometimes God closes the door because I need to grow in my relationship with Him, or in my character, or in my skills. The apostle Paul talked of having a thorn in the flesh given to him, He said, to keep him from being too elated, too full of himself. Three times he asked God to take it away, but God simply replied, “No, my grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness” (II Cor. 12:8-9).

Paul said learned humility and contentment as he faced hard times when he was weak. But he was strong because God was working through him.

When I was graduating from the seminary back in 1980, I was convinced I should be a solo pastor and running my own congregation. When I graduated, I waited six months for my first call, but it never came. The door was closed. I was frustrated. It was a long wait.

Finally a call came from a congregation – a big congregation – in Winona, Minnesota that wanted me to be their youth pastor – part of their staff. I said yes, and God used those six years at Central Lutheran to prep me for Shepherd of the Valley.

Sometimes things in life need some tweaking. Maybe I needed to grow in my dependence on God instead of my own devices so financial doors get cut on me, and I really have to count on God to provide. Or I need to grow in humility so my wishes for grandiosity are lovingly ignored by my heavenly Father.

Sometimes God closes doors because He has plans I don’t know about. Looking at Scripture, I think of Israel. He called them to be a blessing, a light to the nations of the world. They didn’t quite understand that. They wanted to be the boss of the nations of the world. So they were allowed again and again to be put into exile, etc. However, God had His way. He had plans they didn’t understand or know about. Along came a Savior in Jesus Christ.

Solomon says, “The heart of man plans his ways, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Prov. 16:9). We may make plans, but God’s will is definitive. It might be that the loss of a job is an open door to a ministry God has in mind for us in His redemptive plan, one that serves people and brings others to Christ. Maybe God has a part for you to play in this whole redemptive drama that you haven’t become aware of yet. Sometimes God closes the door simply because He is God and I am not.

The mystery of closed doors can be so frustrating. When I start something but it doesn’t work out and there doesn’t seem to be a good answer why. I’m left mystified, puzzled by that closed door.

I think of Job and all the terrible things that happened to him. In the end Job is crying out for a hearing before God; He wants an explanation. God basically lectures Job and asks, Why do you ask? How dare you? Did you put this whole creation together? Remember your place. Sometimes closed doors don’t make any sense to us at all, and we live with a mystery.

The question is however, when you face a closed door, what do you do? How do you persist in seasons like this? Some people throw a tantrum and turn away from God. They close the door on God! You hear them say things: I used to believe in God, but I know better now. Others pray for wisdom, insight, and faith to keep trusting. They pray to be okay without knowing what the next week or month or year holds. They decide to trust Him step by step. Still others simply respond in trust, perhaps from maturity, and say, No matter what happens, Christ is for me. He is with me. He will see me through it, and that’s good enough for me! Which one of these responses best describes you?

I would encourage you, if you are going through a closed-door experience, to rest in this thought: God understands your frustrations. He knows about closed doors from personal experience. Remember God’s Word in the book of Revelation, “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” He is outside waiting to be let in. Oftentimes the holy Scripture reminds us of people who, in their stubbornness, won’t let Him in. How we, as simple humans, can leave Him standing outside – our closed door. The whole story of the Bible is basically about that, isn’t it?

Surely Jesus knows how you feel. Hebrews 4:15, says we have a great high priest who understands our weaknesses and sympathies. He has gone through them. He faced many closed doors in His ministry as well as God’s closed door. Let me explain.

Today’s passage is a closed-door story from Jesus’ life. The cross loomed ahead. It was Thursday night. Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to spend time in prayer with His heavenly Father. He asks His Father, “Father, take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet not my will, but yours be done.” But God didn’t say yes to that prayer, and we thank God for it! That closed door is our Gospel, our Good News of rescue. Jesus took on that closed door so we could have an open door to a relationship with our Father. The One who died and rose again is resurrected. He is with you and tells you, I am with you always as you face all kinds of doors.

One last thing to consider – the big picture. In the end, the door opens to all who trust Jesus. He said, “I am the door.” And heaven awaits. The apostle John said that he caught a glimpse through an open door of heaven in Revelation 4. Paul describes his sufferings to early Christians in this way: “This slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure because we look not at what can be
seen, but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary but what cannot be seen is eternal” (II Cor. 4:17-18).

What about our questions? Scripture says, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (I Cor. 13:12).

I believe that, on the other side of that door, we will be grateful for God’s closed doors, just as we are grateful for His open doors in the here and now. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer